Photo Credit: IG @johnnyslytherin
Traveling is looking a bit different nowadays; even the thought of traveling may feel daunting. One thing is for sure, though — we could all use an escape of some sort. Even if it’s a short road trip or a staycation nearby.
I’ve started to explore doing my own mini vacation soon, and I’ve discovered even the planning for a vacation has changed. As I look up the best things to do in an area, I’m now looking for what safety precautions they’ve taken, too. I’m also looking for the best ways to maximize a visit to minimize contact, while still having all the fun.
This article contains helpful tips, recommendations, and ideas on how to create lasting vacation memories at Universal Orlando Resort, all while keeping social distancing in mind.
PRE-TRIP PLANNING TIPS
I recommend starting your planning by clicking here to find all of the current safety guidelines and a full list of FAQs for Universal Orlando Resort. I will be highlighting key guidelines throughout this article but encourage you to check out this link and the video below.
Here are a few tips I find to be the best for maximizing your time, navigating crowds, and being as contactless as you can during your visit.
- Purchase Tickets Ahead of Time: Skip waiting in line at the gate and buy your tickets online before your visit. Make your purchase contactless by buying them through the app, which allows for a simple and quick scan at the turnstiles. Speaking of…
- Download the Universal Orlando Resort App: Make your visit simpler by downloading the Universal Orlando Resort App. See ride wait times and showtimes, make your dining contactless with mobile food and drink ordering, and more. Click here for a list of its features.
- Visit During the Week: If you can swing it, aim to visit during the week versus the weekend. You’ll experience fewer crowds, which also means shorter wait times!
- Stay at a Universal Hotel: Take advantage of benefits like Early Park Admission, resort transportation to the parks, and more. Click here to jump to recommendations on where to stay.
- Consider Park Upgrades: If you really want to make your visit intimate and exclusive, explore adding on Universal Express Passes or booking a VIP Tour Experience.
- U-Rest Stops: Keep an eye out for these outdoor areas throughout Universal where you can remove your face coverings and take a breather or enjoy a quick drink or snack.
3-DAY SOCIALLY DISTANT ITINERARY
Florida is fortunate to be blessed with fantastic weather, especially during the winter months. With a few exceptions, many of Universal’s rides, restaurants, and entertainment are outdoors — making it easy to stay socially distant and enjoy your time.
The 3-day itinerary I outline below is loosely structured so you can choose how to customize your experience. Spend more time where you like, eat what you want to eat, and, most importantly, do what you feel comfortable doing. There is a lot of Universal to explore!
DAY 1: Start at Universal’s Islands of Adventure
Start your vacay off right by heading to Universal’s Islands of Adventure to explore The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade. I recommend going here first in the morning to do all the things you want to do before the afternoon crowds come in. Make sure to fill up on an early breakfast at the hotel or something quick from Starbucks in Universal CityWalk before you head to the park.
- First up is flying through the Forbidden Forest on the newest roller coaster Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.
- Check to see if the Virtual Line experience is available when you first arrive in the park to better guarantee an opportunity to ride.
- Hop aboard Flight of the Hippogriff for a fun and quick roller coaster ride with some of the best views of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts castle.
- Hand sanitizer is provided before you board every ride and is available after you ride, as well.
- After a ride on Flight of the Hippogriff, pose for a photo in front of Hogwarts castle.
- Get your interactive wand out and practice casting spells throughout the land. Need to pick out a wand? Check out this guide!
- Explore the shops for fun wizarding finds like sweets, Quidditch supplies, Hogwarts house gear, and more. You can even send family and friends postage with a Hogsmeade stamp at the Owl Post.
After a packed morning, head on over to one of my favorite areas, Jurassic Park. You’ll find rides, entertainment, dining, and shopping fit for the adventurous at heart.
- If you’ve always wanted to meet a Velociraptor, today is your day. Stop by Raptor Encounter to see Jurassic World’s Blue. Check with the Raptor Handler (who is socially-distanced) to see when the baby Raptors, Sierra and Tango, are coming out, too!
- Keep an eye out for the blue social distancing markers on the ground throughout attraction queues to help guide you.
- It may start to heat up in the afternoon, so cool off on Jurassic Park River Adventure (yes, you may get soaked!).
- One of the lesser known rides is Pteranodon Flyers in Camp Jurassic. If you are with your kids, it’s a can’t miss!
- You may be ravenous like a Raptor by this time. For a full lunch option, I recommend checking out Thunder Falls Terrace (the bowls are so good). To satisfy your snack craving, check out the Natural Selections cart for dulce de leche churros and empanadas.
- While you’re snacking, take a peek at the Jurassic World VelociCoaster. You’ll be able to try out this new roller coaster this summer!
After lunch, it’s time to go check out some things to do in Universal Studios Florida. My favorite way to get there is to hop aboard the Hogwarts Express. You’ll get your own cabin for a relaxing, cool ride.
You’ve arrived! Here are my favorite things to do to finish out your afternoon:
- Meet and take photos with some of your favorite characters like the towering Transformers robots, Shrek and Donkey, and the Mummy guards. All the characters are socially-distanced but positioned higher up and away – whether on stage or stilts – so you can still see and interact with them.
- Check showtimes in the app and let loose with laughter during the hilarious, comedic Horror Make-Up Show. It’s an indoor show, but they space you out to socially distanced standards and limit capacity. (You can learn more about the show by clicking here!)
- Finish the day strong by conquering heights on the towering roller coaster, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit.
It’s time to enter relaxation mode after a busy first day in the parks. Start to unwind with these:
- You have to see Universal’s Cinematic Celebration nighttime show over in Universal Studios’ lagoon if it’s showing during your visit. Check the app for available showtimes.
- Looking for something to do before dinner? Head into Universal CityWalk for a signature margarita or appetizer over at the outdoor bar Lone Palm Airport.
- Outdoor seating with great views of CityWalk, delicious food, outrageous desserts, and fun entertainment make The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen my top recommendation for dinner.
- Make your dining reservations ahead of time to guarantee your seat!
DAY 2: Start at Universal Studios Florida
We’re going to start day 2 of vacation in Universal Studios Florida with breakfast and checking out The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley.
- Before heading into the wizarding world, let’s first get energized with coffee and a bite to eat from TODAY Cafe located right when you enter the park. I highly recommend the avocado toast.
- Friendly tip, you can mobile order ahead your food and drinks through the app to save time.
Stroll on over to London outside of Diagon Alley and say good morning to the Knight Bus Conductor and shrunken head before you head in.
- You’ll want to see all the Diagon Alley shops from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes to Borgin and Burkes in Knockturn Alley.
- Get out your wand again as there are TONS of spells to cast throughout Diagon Alley. If you need to grab a wand still, check out Ollivanders and experience having a wand choose you.
- Try to catch an outdoor performance of either Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees or The Tales of Beedle the Bard.
- Grab a mug of Butterbeer or some ice cream from Florean’s Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour and pose outside in front of the fire-breathing dragon!
After doing all there is to do in Diagon Alley, let’s start heading to lunch in CityWalk to power up for an afternoon back in Islands of Adventure.
Let’s start the second half of the day with lunch at one of my favorite quick spots.
- Red Oven Pizza Bakery has delicious, made-to-order oven pizzas and lots of outdoor seating. You can even order your pie to go and enjoy it down by the lagoon.
- Select restaurants are open in CityWalk during the lunch hours. Check the app to see what’s open and when during your visit.
After your meal, the adventure continues!
- Head to Marvel Super Hero Island in Islands of Adventure. First stop is launching at high-speed on The Incredible Hulk Coaster.
- Really put your thrill ride pro title to the test on Doctor Doom’s Fearfall, which blasts you 185-feet straight up in the air. You also get your own ride vehicle per party on this ride.
- Meet and pose for socially-distanced photos with your favorite Marvel Super Heroes and villains.
- We’re all big kids at heart, so let it loose in Seuss Landing with a ride on The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride (great views of the park on this one!).
- Take a spin on the Caro-Seuss-el, which is faster than it looks!
After enjoying a day at the parks, I recommend heading back out through CityWalk to the hotels and trying one of their many restaurants for dinner.
- But first, mobile order a few Voodoo Doughnuts as you’re leaving so you can have dessert later tonight. Or have them for breakfast — you’re on vacation, you’re allowed to indulge.
- Hard Rock Hotel is a short walk from CityWalk and has the Velvet Bar, which has a beautiful outdoor view of the pool and is great to enjoy happy hour at before dinner.
- My top pick restaurant-wise is The Kitchen at Hard Rock Hotel with a wide variety of options for everyone and great outdoor seating by the pool, too.
DAY 3: Wild Card Day!
On the last day of your vacation, it’s all about what you want to do. Sleep in and relax, or get up first thing for a full day in the parks — It’s up to you!
- I’m a fan of taking it easy on the last day of vacation. Spending the morning relaxing with a leisurely breakfast at the hotel and lounging by the pool is the way to go for me.
- If you’re heading back into the parks, you can click here to see all of the breakfast spots.
On this choose-your-own-adventure option, you’re back in the parks. Do you want to hit up all of your favorites again? Catch things you missed the other day? Your choice, but here are a few more outdoor attractions I recommend checking out if you didn’t already:
- Another favorite show of mine is Animal Actors on Location! in Universal Studios. I mean, c’mon. Seeing how they train cute dogs and cats for films in-person is so much better than watching them on YouTube videos.
- Check to see when stars from the Universal’s Superstar Parade comes out in Universal Studios for a socially distant celebration outside Mel’s Drive-In.
- For food, I recommend trying the new Crepes stand in Universal Studios or the different Tater Tot options at Green Eggs and Ham Cafe in Islands of Adventure (open seasonally).
- For a couple of more outdoor rides that will cool you off, head over to Toon Lagoon in Islands of Adventure for Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges and Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls.
- Get competitive with a round of putt-putt at Hollywood Drive-In Golf with two courses themed to sci-fi and haunted.
- Pick up those last few vacation souvenirs and gifts at the Universal Studios Store. Toothsome Chocolate Emporium also has a really fun gift shop if you didn’t get a chance to see it before.
- Grab your last dinner at The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar and try “burgushi,” the perfect combo of burgers and sushi. They also have some great cocktails to try, including “adult” milkshakes. Plus, you can’t beat the view of CityWalk from the upstairs outdoor patio.
Check the website frequently or follow @UniversalORL on Twitter as you’re planning your trip for updates on current offerings like attractions, restaurants, and entertainment. Your favorite ride, show, or restaurant may have a shift in operating hours or have new safety guidelines.
WHERE TO STAY
Each of Universal Orlando’s hotels offers a unique, comfortable, and clean experience, all while being located just moments away from the theme park fun. The resort hotels have implemented the same safety guidelines as the parks, including face covering requirements, temperature checks, and enhanced cleaning of guest rooms and public areas. There are also plenty of outdoor activities and seating to allow for a comfortable space to have fun or kick back and relax.
- FREE Universal Express Passes: By staying at one of these hotels, you get complimentary Universal Express Passes for the parks. That means skipping the standby line for rides and getting to the front of the line quicker.
- Early Park Admission: This is a must if you want the parks pretty much all to yourself for one whole hour before they open to day guests. This is the perfect time to explore everything in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
- Complimentary Water Taxis: Get to the parks and CityWalk with a relaxing ride on an open-air Water Taxi.
- Winding Walking Paths: These two hotels also have the best walking paths. Take a leisurely stroll to CityWalk for a meal or to start your day in the parks. You can also check out Hard Rock’s butterfly garden.
- Huge Pools: Both Hard Rock and Royal Pacific have spacious pool areas to relax the day away. Royal Pacific’s lagoon-style pool also offers private cabana rentals, and Hard Rock sports a 260-foot slide and an underwater sound system.
- Lots of Outdoor Restaurant Seating: Both hotels have some of my favorite restaurants with gorgeous outdoor seating. Hard Rock has The Kitchen and the Velvet Bar, which has a beautiful outdoor lounge area looking over the pool (perfect happy hour spot!). Over at Royal Pacific, Jake’s American Bar is perfect to chill out next to a cascading waterfall with a beer flight and burger. There are also great grab-and-go items to enjoy like Tuk Tarts from the Tuk Tuk Market.
Select hotels are currently open during this time. The two hotels I listed above are both in the Premier category. Click here to explore more options and choose what fits in your style and budget.
If you are still hesitant to travel for any reason, we understand and can’t wait to welcome you back to the parks when you’re ready. In the meantime, you can still enjoy the fun, food, and thrills of Universal Orlando Resort at home by clicking here.
Must be 21 years and older with valid identification to purchase or drink alcoholic beverages.