After a week in Orlando, Florida and three days spent at Universal Studios Orlando I am already planning a return trip. This was an absolutely magical place and perfect for all ages.

Universal seems to be a mixture of Walt Disney World which is perfect for children and Busch Gardens which is great for thrill-seekers. It’s for sure one of the best theme parks in the US!

I didn’t do quite enough research before my trip so I feel like my time wasn’t used as efficiently as it could have been. And I don’t want that happening to you!

So here are my top Universal Studios tips for 2023.

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What to Know Before Going to Universal Orlando in 2023

There’s no way you’ll have it all figured out before your trip, but it’s great to have a head start! These Universal Orlando tips and tricks will hopefully help you create a plan and know what to expect on your trip.

Globe with Universal written across the front over a fountain

1. Get to the Parking Garage by 8:30

We got there at multiple times during our stay and by far the easiest time to get in the park was at 8:30.

Since the park opens at 9 it seems like everyone wants to get there right then and there is a bottleneck effect.

When we arrived just after 9, it took us 40 minutes from the time we drove into the park to when we scanned our ticket since the morning rush hadn’t cleared out.

When we got there at 8:30 we were scanning our tickets into the park at 8:50. We were some of the first people in the park and first in line at the rides.

2. Make a Game Plan

Look at the park maps before you get there and figure out which rides you want to get on. Once you figure out your top rides, figure out which ones are close together.

You can group the rides together that you’d like to visit and then make a plan of which you’ll visit first.

You can also make a plan based on the region of the park you want to visit. Maybe you want to visit Harry Potter World first (like we did). I highly recommend this if you’re a big Harry Potter fan.

If you are spending one day in each park then this won’t be as big of an issue. A day gives you plenty of time to see everything in one park depending on how long the lines are and what all you want to ride.

3. Buy the Express Pass

Universal Orlando Resort express pass in front of a girl's face. Buying the express pass is one of my top tips for visiting Universal Studios.

Okay the Universal Express Passes are EXPENSIVE. In the app it kept saying starting at $99 for the Express Unlimited Pass well that’s on a weekday in the off-season.

On Friday April 23, 2021 they were $262 including tax. (That’s for only one.)

Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Well, the Express Pass was, but maybe not the Unlimited. They have one pass that lets you skip the line at each ride only once and if I had it to do over again I would get that one instead of the Unlimited.

We didn’t have time to ride many things more than once. Try buying your pass ahead of time to see if you can get a cheaper price instead of buying it on the day of.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but if I had it to do over again I think I would buy the Express Pass on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. Those were the cheaper days. There will still be crowds so it’s worth it but it’s cheaper.

We did not have the Express Pass on Thursday and only rode four rides… Yes, four rides because we were standing in line so long. On Friday we got the Express Pass and rode eleven different rides and two of those twice.

So compare getting to ride four things to riding thirteen and you’ll see why it’s worth it to me.

I absolutely hate waiting in line – I’m really not patient at all – and yes, I know that’s a terrible trait. So the Express Pass made my day infinitely better and purchasing it is one of my biggest Universal Studios tips for 2023.

Only you can decide if the price is worth it to you though.

You can buy the Express Pass cheaper on Undercover Tourist sometimes so be sure to check them out!

Just a note – I don’t always recommend buying the Express Pass for theme parks. Especially when you visit places like Dollywood or Busch Gardens.

4. Bring a Fanny Pack (Small Backpacks Work)

You may be thinking “Anna there is no way in heck I am wearing a fanny pack, you are insane.” Well when you see how functional they are at Universal you might just change your tune.

Fanny packs are allowed on almost all the rides at Universal which means you don’t have to waste time with the lockers before the ride and you can keep your phone or anything else with you.

The lockers can get very congested and it takes up valuable time trying to stuff your backpacks or anything else in them. More on lockers in a minute.

If you don’t have a fanny pack and are absolutely boycotting them then a small backpack (like this Kavu bag) is the next best thing. Just note that these will have to be stored in the lockers.

5. There are Lockers for Most Roller Coasters

Circular barge on a water ride with bridge over the top

The locker situation is awesome for groups that don’t have a person who isn’t riding the coasters. There are standard-sized lockers available for free at many of the roller coasters that measure 5.5” tall, 14” wide, and 16.9” deep. This fits a small backpack or miscellaneous items.

They have larger lockers available for $2 if your things don’t fit in a standard size. These would be regular size backpacks or large souvenirs. These single-time use lockers are only good for a certain time frame – maybe an hour but don’t hold me to that.

If you are bringing items in that you won’t need all day then Universal also offers all-day locker rentals. There are lockers for $10 at Islands of Adventure and $15 at Universal Studios Florida. You’ll have unlimited access to these lockers during the day.

At the Popeye water ride you must pay for the lockers because they offer a covered place on the “barge” for you to place your things. However, they will definitely still get wet so if you have anything that can’t get wet definitely buy the $2 locker.

On Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit and the Hulk Coaster you have to pass through a metal detector before you can go on the ride so you are required to put everything you have in a locker or with someone not riding.

6. Download the Universal Studios App

You can do so much with the Universal Studios App. You can get in the virtual lines for any attraction with that capability. You can order food and drinks on the app. The app holds your tickets, maps, show times, wait times for attractions, and general park info.

At many of the sit-down restaurants, you can mobile order – at least the ones in Harry Potter World. Then at restaurants with walk-up windows you can mobile-order and pick it up at a specific mobile-order pickup spot. It’s actually super efficient and you don’t have to wait in the long line.

Some rides go to virtual line only when the parks are at capacity. The Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure had a virtual line the first two days we were there and the third it was virtual until the afternoon.

On our third day there the Revenge of the Mummy was virtual and Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon was virtual all three days.

Honestly, this is one of the top tips for visiting Universal Studios. The app is so helpful.

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7. Virtual Lines Open Before the Park

You can get a spot in virtual lines through the Universal App. It gives you the option to get a spot in line within a certain timeframe so all you have to do is show up at the ride and show the attendant your phone.

The Race Through New York ride opened by 8:30 everyday so you could get a spot. On the day we finally got there early enough to get a spot on Hagrid’s ride the virtual line for it opened at 8:45.

Hagrid’s ride always ran out of virtual spots so we were so excited to get in. By 9 all the spots were always gone and we never could find an opening throughout the day. Until the third day when they opened the line so you could physically wait in it instead of having to use the app.

Moral of the story is that if you want to ride something really bad, make sure to get there early and check the virtual line.

8. The Crosswalk Isn’t Always Open

There are three ways to get between the two parks – Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. This is only if you have a Park-to-Park ticket for the day.

First – You can walk out the exit of either park and through CityWalk by the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Hard Rock Cafe and into the other park. The walk is about 15 – 20 minutes depending on where you’re at in the park.

Second – There is a crosswalk between the two parks, but it is not always open so not an option all the time. It wasn’t open during any of the three days that we were there.

Third and my personal favorite – Take the Hogwarts Express! This is definitely the most fun way to get between the parks. However, the line gets incredibly long as the day goes on. If you’ve already been on this ride then I wouldn’t recommend waiting over 30 minutes on the train.

9. Many Restaurants on Universal CityWalk Require Reservations

Two restaurants across the river on CityWalk. Making reservations is one of the top tips for visiting Universal Studios.

 We made the mistake of not making a dinner reservation on a Friday night and were out of luck when it came to eating on CityWalk.

Every restaurant either had an hour and a half wait or was reservation only. I’ve already told you how impatient I am so you know I’m not waiting that long to eat.

For those of you who exercise your patience daily, you can grab drinks and appetizers at little kiosks around the CityWalk while you wait.

10. Express Passes Get You In Regardless of Virtual Lines

If you couldn’t get in the Virtual Line, but still want to ride something you can use your Express Pass if the attraction has an Express Line.

Not everything has an Express Line, but most do. One very popular ride that doesn’t is Hagrid’s.

11. Wear the Right Clothing and Shoes

One of the most important Universal Studios tips for 2023 by far. I wore a dri-fit t-shirt and shorts that dried quickly because I knew that we would be getting on the water rides.

I also wore my Chacos ZX3 sandals. They’re comfortable and do so well with water.

Comfortable shoes are a must. If you don’t plan on riding the water rides then I would go with sneakers. I’ve actually put together a whole list of the best shoes for theme parks if you need some new ones!

My Chacos are super comfy and did well when we walked 6 miles. Our last day we walked 12 miles though and my feet were hurting pretty good at the end of the day.

I’ve put together a packing list for any trip you can think of taking. Check it out so you don’t forget anything.

12. You Can Bring in Some Food

Here is one of the ultimate budget tips for visiting Universal Studios. You can bring in snacks and food that you don’t have to heat. What you cannot do is bring in a picnic lunch with a main course and sides.

I would highly recommend bringing some snacks and if you really want to watch your budget then take sandwiches for lunch. A good ol PB&J will always do the trick.

You are also allowed to bring up to two liters of water into the park. We brought in two water bottles each and that was plenty for us.

13. Buy Tickets in Advance

If you buy tickets in advance you’ll save a bit from what you would pay at the gate. It won’t be huge savings but everything adds up. Again, check with Undercover Tourist to buy your Universal Studios park tickets.

You can also see if Express Passes are discounted if you buy them when you purchase admission tickets.

I loved having my tickets on my phone in the Universal App. It was super convenient and I didn’t have to keep up with any extra pieces of paper.

More Universal Orlando Tips and Tricks 2023

14. You Must Have the 2-Park Ticket to Ride the Hogwarts Express

If you want to ride this then be sure you purchase the 2-park ticket! Honestly, if you want to save money you can purchase the 2-park ticket for one day only and do individual parks for the rest of your stay.

The Hogwarts Express is a must for any Harry Potter fan. Be sure to take the train both ways as the video is different depending on which station you come from.

15. Choose the Right Accommodations

Staying on the resort property would be nice, but it’s very expensive. Sometimes the included perks are worth it though. Undercover Tourist also sells hotel packages where you can sometimes find a deal!

For example, I’ve heard that one of the hotels within Universal Orlando Resort will include Express Passes for your whole family if you stay on their property. Depending on the size of your family this might be worth it.

We stayed at Club Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort which is on the Walt Disney World Campus. It isn’t part of the Disney Resorts though so the weekly price is much cheaper.

I’ve also written a complete Club Wyndham Bonnet Creek Review if you want to know what to expect. Need something even cheaper? Check out my guide to finding cheap places to stay.

This is sometimes an overlooked Universal Orlando tip!

16. Universal has Free WiFi

This will save your data plan if you connect to the free WiFi. It doesn’t require a password but if you don’t have an Xfinity account you’ll have to enter your email and zip code.

There is good coverage throughout both parks and most of CityWalk.

17. Buy Souvenirs Before You Arrive

Hogwarts Castle in Harry Potter World.

This is mainly for Harry Potter World but can apply to other sections of Universal.

Many people love wearing Harry Potter shirts and cloaks. You can buy these on Amazon before your trip for much cheaper.

There are also necklaces, scarves, and so much more sold in the park. The prices really are outrageous so if you can buy them ahead of time I would do that.

The one thing I would buy in the park is the interactive wand if you want that. It is really cool to do the magic in the park.

My sister got Snape’s wand for $58 but I didn’t want to pay that much.

18. You Don’t Have to Buy Your Wand at Ollivanders

Everyone wants to visit Ollivanders to buy their wand which can make the line incredibly long. There are so many other places to buy a wand though.

In Diagon Alley you can visit Wands by Gregorovitch when they are open. You can also go to Knockturn Alley into Borgin & Burke’s if you want a dark wizard’s wand.

In Hogsmeade you’ll find a cart between Hogwarts and the shops where you can buy wands. You’ll also find wands at Dervish and Banges.

19. How Many Days Should You Spend at Universal Studios Florida?

People walking under a bridge with the message "The Adventure Lives On."

I would say three at the very least. It takes a day or two just to get your bearings – especially if you haven’t made a plan. We didn’t make a good plan and we spent most of the first two days walking around figuring stuff out.

If you can make it on Tuesdays or Wednesdays those are the best days to visit too. Weekends are absolutely horrendous for crowds. I would hate to see the place when they weren’t limiting access.

Hopefully these Universal Orlando tips and tricks will help you take advantage of all your time there!

20. Visit During Shoulder Season

Unless you have to visit during the school breaks, I would make it a point to avoid those. You’ll spend your whole vacation waiting in line.

According to the Undercover Tourist, the best times to visit Universal over the next couple years will be weekdays during September through December with September being the best.

Our visit was in April and I’m sure the crowds weren’t bad compared to the summer months when school is out.

21. How Much Money Do You Need in Universal Studios?

This is totally dependent on your preference. Do you plan on bringing a picnic and re-entering the park? Do you plan on buying souvenirs? Playing arcade games? Alcohol?

Another thing to think about is the CityWalk. Will you eat or shop here? The main extra expenses that you’ll have inside the park are food and souvenirs.

I would budget $60 per person per day especially if you’re doing two meals in the park. That will likely get you a snack too.

For souvenirs, I recommend setting a budget before you go. For example, I knew the only thing that I wanted was a refrigerator magnet and possibly a Christmas Tree ornament so my budget was around $25 for souvenirs.

Best Things to Do at Universal Studios Orlando for 2023

Okay here are some new things to do at Universal Studios plus some oldie but goodie memorable experiences that we had.

Number one – the Jurrasic World Velocicoaster is open! This looked like an absolutely epic ride so if you are a big coaster fan then check it out.

Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike AdventureTM, Escape from GringottsTM, Revenge of the Mummy, Rip Ride RockitTM , and the Hulk Coaster were our favorite rides. Again, these are for the big roller coaster fans!

Check out at least one of the shows while you’re here – they do a great job! Universal keeps a list of all the current shows.

Make sure to allow some time to explore city walk. It really is an attraction to itself. Grab some doughnuts at Voodoo Doughnuts where you can skip the line if you order on the Universal Studios app.

Do you love seasonal events? Then plan a trip to Universal around Halloween, the Holidays, or Mardi Gras! Check out their event list for other things throughout the year.

For Harry Potter fans, make sure you visit Hogsmeade at night if they are doing the light show at HogwartsTM. They don’t do this every night though so ask an employee when you visit.

Oh and make sure you check out the Knight BusTM right outside of Diagon Alley. Across from the bus, you’ll see 12 Grimmauld Place and if you hang out a bit you can catch Kreacher peeking out the window.

Make sure you eat all the Butterbeer in as many different ways as you can. Check out the Three Broomsticks for the atmosphere and Mythos is an award-winning restaurant in the park.

How to Get to Universal Studios Orlando

If you live in the southeast then you may consider a road trip to Orlando so you can drive to the park. Depending on where you live, Orlando is also a cheap place to fly into.

You can either fly into Orlando and rent a car or contact your hotel to see if they have a shuttle service from the airport. This will save you money, especially if you are staying at a Universal hotel.

Ubers are plentiful around Orlando in case you need to go somewhere other than the park. If you aren’t staying on property, many local hotels have a shuttle service that will take you to the park.

This just means you are at the mercy of the shuttle schedule or you’ll have to take an Uber depending on when you want to arrive and leave the park.

Other Things to Do Near Orlando

Here are a few fun things to do in Orlando or for day trips!

Museum of Illusions Ticket

Kennedy Space Center & Everglades Safari

Helicopter Night Tour Over Orlando Theme Parks

Crystal River Manatee Swim

Wekiva River Guided Kayak Tour

Things to Do in Everglades National Park

Where to Stay in Orlando

If Club Wyndham Bonnet Creek isn’t what you are looking for then check out the other Orlando hotels at the link below!

Orlando Hotels on

WRap Up: Tips for Visiting Universal Orlando

I know that was a lot of info but I hope even one of these tips will help you! The most important tips for Universal Orlando are to figure out how to skip the crowds whether that is planning your vacation in the off-season or getting the Universal Express Passes and make sure you remember these budget tips!

I hope you’ll have a fantastic trip in Orlando and you’ve found these Universal Orlando tips for 2023 helpful.

Do you love theme parks? Here is a list of the best theme parks in the US!

Pin for later!

Looking for Universal Studios Orlando planning resources? These are my top tips for Universal Orlando in 2021!

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  1. There are some really handy tips here! I visited a few years ago and we had tickets that lasted for 2 weeks as part of our holiday package and I really enjoyed the park.

  2. Great tips! I heard they’re doing awesome deals on season passes too! I really want to go to Volcano Bay!

    1. Thank you! Yes, they have some really good deals going right now. We didn’t make it to Volcano Bay but I’m sure it’s great!

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