Universal Orlando Resort: Hotels, Food, Entertainment and Rides
By Dalia Colón
A family getaway to Universal Orlando Resort — with Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, Volcano Bay, and the Universal CityWalk entertainment complex — is like four vacations in one.
From tiny tots to thrill-seeking teenagers to laid-back grandparents, Universal Orlando Resort offers a galaxy of fun for every member of the family.
Here’s what you need to know about the resort’s hotels, food, entertainment, rides and attractions to plan your visit.
After a full day at the parks, you won’t need to travel far for a good night’s rest. Universal Orlando Hotels include free transportation via shuttle bus or water taxi; some are even within walking distance of the parks.
There are family-friendly options, too.
“The hotels are great for families, especially because of the terrific pools,” said Kristi Kingston, content director for Undercover Tourist, which offers discounted theme park tickets, vacation planning tools and more. “For families, you can’t beat Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, with its lazy river, dive tower-themed water slide and zero-entry pools.” The retro-themed resort features family suites with two queen beds, a living room with a full-size pull-out sofa bed, an oversized bathroom and a kitchenette. With enough room to sleep six people, these suites also feature walk-in closets, and two televisions so the grownups can continue to enjoy vacation once the little ones are asleep.
Insider tip: Regardless of which Universal Orlando Resort Hotel you choose, you’ll get to enter the theme parks an hour before the general public, and guests at select hotels get free Universal Express Unlimited to Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure. Mayhew advises heading to the Harry Potter attractions first, before the lines get too long.
Walking around the parks will really work up an appetite, and Universal Orlando Resort has great eats for everyone, including treats inspired by some of your favorite television programs and films. In Universal Studios Florida, rise and shine with breakfast at TODAY Cafe, which opened in spring 2019. This restaurant is inspired by the popular morning TV show, complete with stage lighting, a live broadcast feed of the show and a menu inspired by Al Roker’s favorite dishes.
Head over to Springfield U.S.A., home of The Simpsons, and try a Krusty Burger or a brave the Flaming Moe at Moe’s Tavern. At The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, catch a Chocolate Frog and wash it down with a refreshing Butterbeer. For fine dining, Mythos, named Best Theme Park Restaurant by ThemeParkInsider.com for several years, offers a wide range of Mediterranean-inspired dishes.
For dinner, don’t miss the Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar at Universal CityWalk. The littles will love the creative dishes and presentation with Bento boxes, while adults can experience burgushi — a fusion of burgers and sushi. Order a few trays of burgushi for the family to share. High Class Hillbilly features southern style Bar-B-Q-Shi with pulled pork, caramelized onions and topped with coleslaw and bacon. It’s an innovative dish that won’t leave you hungry.
For authentic Italian cuisine, dine at VIVO Italian Kitchen where the children can see the chefs making homemade pasta, and you of age can enjoy a glass of wine in one of the restaurant’s round tables.
Other restaurants at Universal CityWalk include Emeril’s, Red Oven Pizza Bakery, Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food and Hot Dog Hall of Fame.
And save room for sweet ending at Voodoo Doughnut. The Universal CityWalk location of the Portland-based franchise is the first east of the Mississippi. Indulge in flavor combos like the Bacon Maple Bar, Grape Ape and Voodoo Doll doughnut. Hey, you’ve already walked off the calories.
Insider tip: Eating on a budget? Kingston offers this advice: “When it comes to meals, go for the counter-service, versus sit-down restaurants. CityWalk has options like Moe’s and Burger King. Inside the parks, Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck and the London stand that sells jacket [baked] potatoes offer popular low-cost options. Most meals are big enough to split.” Kingston also suggests bringing a water bottle to refill throughout the day, and eating during non-peak hours to avoid the crowds.
When the sun goes down, the fun heats up in this hub for restaurants, shopping, nightlife and entertainment.
“The clubs and restaurants in Universal CityWalk not only offer great food, but there’s something for everyone — from dancing and singing, to dueling pianos and first-run movies,” Roseboom said.
Take surf and turf to the extreme with The Cowfish, a restaurant that pairs burgers and sushi. Experience an interactive — and sometimes messy — show with the Blue Man Group, test out your karaoke skills complete with live band and backup singers at CityWalk’s Rising Star or hit the links at Hollywood Drive-In Golf, a miniature golf course themed to a comical interpretation of horror and sci-fi film tropes.
There’s no entrance fee at Universal CityWalk, so even if you’re not spending a full day at the theme parks, stop by in the evening to check out the after-dark vibe.
“Universal offers one of the coolest nightlife scenes in Orlando,” Mayhew said. “Regardless if you’re looking for a club, some food and drinks, a new outfit, late night dessert, karaoke or a show, Universal’s City Walk has it,” Mayhew said.
Insider tip: Universal’s late-night fun extends beyond CityWalk. “We love the intimate Velvet Session concerts with famous rockers, held once a month inside the Hard Rock Hotel Orlando,” said Kingston. The Hard Rock is also located on Universal property.
Rides and attractions
Each Universal theme park features a world of exciting rides, 3D and 4D experiences, shows and other attractions.
“Universal Orlando’s attractions are what make them stand out,” said Matt Roseboom, editor/publisher of Attractions Magazine. “They have some of the most unique and thrilling rides, and they have fun properties like Marvel, Harry Potter, Simpsons and more. You won’t find another ride like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Although it’s an older ride, The Many Adventures of Spider-Man is still one of the top-rated rides in the world. And Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure is opening this summer and will be one of the most unique roller coasters in the world.”
The new Hagrid ride is part of Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which features some of the most popular attractions in the park. To maximize your experience, follow this advice from Jason Mayhew, owner/site administrator of OFF On The Go, a website featuring fun things to do in Central Florida and beyond:
“Park hopper passes are needed in order to ride the train back and forward from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade. Without this ticket you cannot experience the train! Make sure you use those tickets,” Mayhew said.
Of course, the fun goes beyond Harry Potter.
“Universal does a great job by utilizing amazing rides and shows such as Despicable Me, Harry Potter, Marvel, Dr. Seuss, and more,” Mayhew said. “They also incorporate daily kid-friendly dance parties, parades and character meet and greets around the park.”
Insider tip: Splurge on a Universal Express Pass for shorter wait times at most of your favorite rides and attractions.
For a detailed guide to Universal Orlando’s rides and attractions, check out A Guide to Universal Studios Rides and Attractions.
In addition to great rides, shows, hotels and restaurants, Universal’s annual events take seasonal fun to the next level.
Start by ringing in the new year in one of Universal CityWalk’s six New Year’s Eve party zones, all with entertainment and signature drinks.
In February, get in the spirit during Rock the Universe, a two-day festival at Universal Studios featuring some of the biggest names in Christian music.
Keep the party going during Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras season, with nightly parades, A-list performances, and all the beads and beignets you can stand.
Springtime brings Gradventure, a two-day party for middle schoolers featuring DJs, karaoke, rides, meal vouchers and more, all in a supervised environment. Not to be outdone, graduating high schoolers get their special night during Grad Bash, an evening of rides, DJs, karaoke, street entertainment and more.
In the fall, brave the streets of Universal Studios Florida for Halloween Horror Nights. Leave the littles ones at home while you enjoy this spooktacular celebration full of haunted houses, scare zones.
The end of the year once again brings family time, with Universal’s over-the-top holiday celebrations. Experience Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, witness a live retelling of Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, indulge in some holiday shopping, catch a live concert by Mannheim Steamroller on select nights and grab a good spot for the holiday parade.