Yes! You Can Do Both Universal Orlando Parks in One Day. Here’s How.

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Welcome sign at Universal Studios Orlando
Universal Orlando Resort welcome sign. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

The writer was hosted.

I have done Universal in one day — twice. The first time was in the off season, an early November visit with my cousin. We wanted to see and experience as much as we could. A long day and 19,954 steps later, we were exhausted but happy. The second time I was traveling solo during the height of summer. It was a little tougher to do everything I wanted to do on a sweltering day when the crowds were maxed out. But it still can be done!

Here are my tips for seeing Universal Studios, including advice on what it’s OK to miss!

SheBuysTravel Notes: You’ll need a two-park ticket to see both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Universal sells a 3-park ticket that includes access to Volcano Bay, Universal’s waterpark. You won’t have time for that if you only have one day at Universal Orlando. Besides, that amazing water park is worth an entire day all on its own. If you’re headed there, check out our tips for first-time visitors to Volcano Bay.

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Make a Plan

It’s always important to do a little research before heading into one of the giant theme parks, whether you’re heading to Universal, Walt Disney World, Cedar Point, Six Flags or one of the many other theme parks that dot the country.

Each one is filled with fun and it’s easy to get distracted by the eye candy of the colorful signs, hidden features and, of course, the treats.

But you’re on a mission to see as much, ride as much and experience as much as you can in one day at Universal. So spend some time studying the theme park maps, reading about each ride or experience and deciding which rides, shows and attractions are your must-dos so you don’t miss them.

My Plan for One Day at Universal Orlando

The Incredible Hulk Coaster at Universal Orlando Resort
The Incredible Hulk Coaster at Universal Orlando Resort. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

On the theory that you can get launched at high speeds and turned upside down at just about any big theme park, I chose to prioritize the ride experiences like Men in Black: Alien Attack, the silly The Simpsons Ride and the sweet E.T. Adventure that are unique to Universal.

But I do have a need for speed, so when I passed a coaster (hello, Jurassic Park VelociCoaster!) I whipped out my Express Pass and jumped aboard. (More on the Express Pass in a minute.)

On the chilly November visit with my cousin, we chose not to ride any of the water rides such as the Jurassic Park River Adventure and Dudley Do Rights Ripsaw Falls. On my 2024 visit, the temperatures were in the mid-90s, so I wanted to be first in line for those! If you love those rides, plan to wear clothes that dry quickly so you aren’t walking around dripping until you dry.

The point is this: Figure out your priorities so you don’t miss any of those rides you really want to ride. And, be sure to read the ride description. If, for example, you’re prone to motion sickness, you’ll want to skip some rides (hello, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey).

SheBuysTravel Tip: You won’t be allowed to take anything onto some of the roller coasters, so you’ll need to store purses and packs in lockers nearby. If possible, plan to carry only small bags. They’ll fit inside the small lockers that rent for free with the bar code on your ticket. If you have bigger bags, you’ll need to pay for a larger locker rental.

Choose the Right Time of the Year to Visit

A empty ride queue at Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon at Universal Studios Florida.
Tip for making the most of one day at Universal Orlando: Get there when it opens and head to the back of the park first. You might find you’re the first person in line to ride, like we were at Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

My November 1, 2021, visit came the day after Universal’s popular Halloween Horror Nights event ended and before the Christmas celebration started. It was a Monday during the school year. Crowds were very small. Even the most popular rides had standard wait times of 60 minutes or less.

It is more difficult to cover both parks in one day during the summer or school holidays. But it’s possible. I did it in the summer, with a lot of help from my Express Pass.

Download the App

Screenshot of the Universal Orlando app
Download Universal’s app to make navigating the parks easier. Screenshot by Cindy Richards

The official Universal Orlando Resort app is available free from your app store. Download it, store your credit card info and spend some time playing around. That way, when you get into the parks, you’ll be able to easily look up ride wait times, pre-order food through the app to cut down on food wait times and always know exactly where you are in the parks — all important when you only have one day to see both Universal parks.

As a directionally challenged person, I found the interactive map to be the most important feature of the app. I loved seeing that little blue dot that was me. And I loved that it moved along with me as I walked to show me that, in fact, I had turned the wrong way and had to turn around if I wanted to ride Skull Island: Reign of Kong.

Get There Early

If you only have one day, you don’t want to miss a minute of it. My cousin and I were in line at Guest Services to pick up our tickets at 8:30am, ahead of the park opening at 9. We tried the self-service kiosks, but weren’t able to get our tickets there so we had to stand in line waiting for a human to help us. Luckily, the line was not long.

The way to guarantee you can get into the parks early is to stay in a Universal Resort hotel. Staying on property means you can get into he parks an hour before they open to the public. Check Universal’s Early Park Admission Calendar to see which park will open early on your planned travel date.

Sign advertising Universal Express Pass for sale at the Jurassic Park gift shop.
If you wish you had bought a Universal Express Pass to help you do more in 1 day at Universal, you can buy them throughout the parks. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

Consider Buying Express Passes

This is a pricey option. Express passes allow you access to a faster ride line. Prices, which vary by date, start at $89.99 per person for one express access per ride, and can cost as much as $319.99 for the Universal Express Unlimited Pass that allows you early access as many times as you want per ride.

Don’t bother with the upgrade when you only have one day to see both parks. If you goal is to see as much as you can, you’ll only have time to ride each ride once.

If you don’t want to spring for the Express Pass (and there are times when the Universal Express Pass is not worth the cost), consider the single-rider line for rides where it’s available. People in that line get placed on rides with strangers to fill a row. It means you will have to ride separately from others in your party. But you’ll cover more ground faster.

Hogwarts Away, the dramatic nighttime show at Universal's Islands of Adventure
Hogwarts Away is the dramatic nighttime show projected onto the Hogwarts Castle at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

Choose Your Starting Point

There are two parts to this: Choosing which theme park you’ll visit first and then choosing where you’ll start in that park.

When I visited with my cousin who doesn’t love big coasters like the Jurassic World VelociCoaster and the Incredible Hulk Coaster, we opted to start in Universal Studios, where the rides are more CGI thrills than zippy roller coaster thrills. We also wanted to end our day in Islands of Adventure, which was open an hour later than Universal Studios when we visited. (I also opted to end at Islands of Adventure on my summer visit to see the new Hogwarts Always nighttime show.

Then we chose where to start. Since we arrived the moment the park opened, every ride was available, but the lines already were starting to form at the rides just inside the entrance. We headed to the back of the park where we rode Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, Transformers: The Ride 3D, Revenge of the Mummy and Fast and Furious – Supercharged — all in less than 40 minutes.

On my solo trip in 2024, I also started in Islands of Adventure, but headed straight to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to ride Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, which does not accept Express Pass.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort
Muggles abound at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

Should I Start in Harry Potter World?

This is most certainly an important question. If you’re a family of Muggles heading to Universal to be steeped in All Things Wizarding, then by all means, start at Islands of Adventure.

Make your first stop Ollivanders Wand Shop to buy the kids (and you!) magical interactive wands. The lines here get verrrrry long. So do it first before the crowds arrive.

The wands come with a map to magical spots throughout the park where you can stand on a marker and wave your wand while uttering a magical incantation to make it rain, turn on the lights, open a book or some other mystical event.

Another argument for spending the morning exploring All Things Wizarding: This section of the park is especially popular with tweens and teens. And tweens and teens like to sleep in. So the crowds grow exponentially in the afternoon. The shortest lines for the best rides at Islands of Adventure — Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, Flight of the Hippogriff and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey — will be early in the day.

Hogwarts Express train at Universal Orlando Resort.
Even with an Express Pass, the wait for the Hogwarts Express was long enough to take a chunk of time from our busy schedule. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

Riding the Hogwarts Express

Your park-to-park ticket entitles you to a ride on the Hogwarts Express from Kings Cross Station in Universal Studios Florida to Hogsmeade Station at Islands of Adventure. This experience is not available if you buy a one-park ticket.

If you have the time, ride it both ways for different experiences. But unless you do it very early in your one day, you likely won’t have time. Even with our Express Passes, we waited more than 20 minutes for the 4-minute train ride.

A nearly empty Louie's Italian restaurant at Universal Studios Florida.
Plan to eat before the lunch rush and you might find a nearly empty Louie’s Italian restaurant at Universal Studios Florida. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

Eat Early. Or Late.

The key is to eat when others aren’t so you don’t spend time waiting in line. Mobile ordering through the app helps too.

My cousin and I had skipped breakfast to get on the road early to head to the parks. So we were hungry when the restaurants opened for lunch at 11. We were among the first customers, so we got our food quickly and had time to eat without rushing.

Skip the Butterbeer

Yes, it’s a sweet treat and fun to say you’ve tried butterbeer, the favorite drink of wizards and witches. But it’s a hot ticket at The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade and The Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley. That means long lines. And long lines (with no Express Pass access) are the enemy of people who want to see as much of Universal as they can in just one very busy day.

Jurassic float in Universal Orlando's Universal Mega Movie Parade
The Jurassic Park float in the Universal Mega Movie Parade. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

Decide on the Shows and Parades

The challenge here is that the shows don’t run continuously. Unlike rides, which you ride at the time of your choosing, the shows happen at set times that work better for visitors who plan to spend one entire day in each of the theme parks.

My cousin and I have hoped to see The Bourne Stuntacular show. But the showtimes simply didn’t work for our schedule. We needed to catch the Hogwarts Express to Universal’s Islands of Adventure to get on with our packed day.

Lucky for us, there are mini shows happening all of the time throughout the parks. We did catch a rockin’ Blue Brothers show. And, on my 2024 visit, I planned ahead to ensure I would catch the new Universal Mega Movie Parade, with a collection of floats and dancers celebrating Universal movies from E.T. to JAWS to Jurassic Park.

Michael Jackson portrait in a hallway at Hard Rock Universal in Florida
The Hard Rock Hotel, which leans into its rock ‘n’ roll theming, is one of the hotels that includes the Unlimited Express Pass with the room rate. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

Stay on Property (If You Can)

While there are lots of hotel options near Universal Studios Florida, staying at an official Universal hotel can give you a big boost when you have only one day to spend in the parks. Here’s why:

  • Early Park Admission: This hotel perk gives you an extra hour in one of the parks. Check the app to see which rides are open early during your visit.
  • Easy Access to the Parks: The hotels offer free water taxis, shuttles and walking trails between your hotel and the theme parks, which saves you the time to drive, park and stand in the security line.
  • Universal Express Unlimited Pass: This perk is included for guests who stay at Loews Royal Pacific Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel Orlando, and Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. Yes, these can be pricey hotels. But if you are visiting with a family of four, you’ll all get Express Unlimited Passes, which would cost $480 or more per day if you had to buy them. That makes an $800 hotel room seem far less expensive.

Accept that You Can’t Do it All

Both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure really are one-day parks. There is so much to do at each that they deserve a whole day — or more than one day! — all on their own.

But life doesn’t always give us the time we need. So accept that you will miss some things on this race through Universal. That’s why it’s so important to have a list of your must-ride rides, must-see shows and must-eat treats before you go.

Cindy Richards is a Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist who serves as the Editor-in-Chief of SheBuysTravel.com. She also is the mom of two now grown kids who have traveled with her since that first, fateful plane ride when one preschooler discovered a barf bag in his seat pocket and his sister, finding none in hers, demanded, “I want a barf bag too!” She has been a reporter, editor and columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, an editor at Chicago Parent and Catalyst Chicago and an instructor in the graduate school at Northwestern’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism.
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5 responses


  1. Hi,

    My fiance and I are planning our honeymoon in Disney next spring (Apr 29-May 6). He LOVES Universal! I’ve never been. Do you think it’s possible to do both Universal parks in 1 day? We’d also like to spend some time at City Walk. We could start at early as park opening and stay until 5 or 6. Or would you recommend 2 days?

    Thanks

    1. 2 adults & a 10-yr old boy spent 2 days, but we rode many rides 2 or 3 times. We entered 1 hr early (was staying at Hard Rock), left ~6pm each night . The combination of 1-hr early admittance and the included ExpressPass meant we finished early every day, despite riding many rides 2 or 3 times. Could’ve been done in 1 day easily, at the pace we were walking. It was Easter ( medium-sized crowds). We didnt spend any time in the shops. Had i been there without the boy, would’ve done more looking/shopping, especially in WWHP and CityWalk. If you’re going in the summer or Christmas or Spring Break, and don’t get early-admission and don’t get the ExpressPass, you’ll need 2 days (or you’ll have to forfeit some rides/exploration).

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