First time at Universal. Tips?

Hello! Going to Universal at the end of August. Staying onsite at the Portofino Bay. 5 nights, Friday through Wednesday. Two adults and an 11yo Harry Potter/rollercoaster fan.

Trying to figure out how to attack it. We’ll have four full days in the parks. Do we dedicate a day to each park and then hop around? Or what? Which park has the best Harry Potter stuff? Is the magic wand as cool as the “Where’s Perry” stuff at Epcot?

Is the waterpark worth spending time on?

Is there any place to get decent “light” food? Nice salads, fresh fish, etc.?

Is it possible/easy to Uber offsite to better/cheaper restaurants?

Thanks in advance for any tips/info. The touringplans community was super helpful when we went to Disney a few years ago. I really feel like we maximized the fun that time thanks in no small part to all the helpful advice we got from this site.

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We are going at the end of August as well!!

Looks like you will have EP right?

We have been twice now without EP but we will have it this time as we are staying at the Hard Rock. Both times we went we only had two days and we accomplished everything with ease even without the pass. You can do one park per day if you want but we went back and forth quite a few times and it was easy and fun. Both the parks are awesome as far as HP goes. We haven’t used the interactive wands so I can’t speak to that.

We haven’t been to VB so I have nothing to share on that. You might find better selection of lighter foods in City Walk instead of the parks. We have always rented a car so never had to Uber anywhere but I am sure that its not hard.


We’re there at the end of August as well! Staying at Hard Rock. With the Express Pass I think you can probably do whatever you want. Make sure to have park-to-park so that you can ride Hogwarts Express. With 5 days I think I would plan to spend one at the water park. The interactive wands were a lot of fun but the spell casting areas get pretty crowded. I have heard that it is less busy in the evening.

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That’s a lot, especially if you have Express Passes.

It suggests to me that you work through the parks at a very relaxed pace. A day at VB makes a lot of sense.

IOA has Hogwart’s Castle — which is visually stunning — and Hogsmeade, which I maybe didn’t really appreciate first time round last year. It has the Forbidden Journey ride, which I didn’t particularly rate, but this year they’ve upgraded the screens to 4K and that may well be a game-changer.

USF has Diagon Alley — which is utterly immersive and generally amazing. It has the Gringott’s ride, which includes the bank, which is visually stunning. And I thought the ride was better than FJ.

I bought an interactive wand. I found the spells difficult to cast, but then I was hugely self-conscious about being an adult waving a wand in a theme park. I ended up giving the wand away to some kid, whose parents thought I was a pedophile.

Quite a few of the rides are motion-simulators — don’t do too many in one day. First, they get kinda samey. Second, the motion-sickness will accumulate and it will eventually get you.

As you have so much time, don’t always use the EP. Some of the lines are great and you miss them if you use your EP.

My top rides were: Spider-Man and Kong. Warning: Kong has some pretty intense visuals — think about whether your kid can handle them: they’re the stuff of nightmares.

Not much advice to offer on food: I went to the Leaky Cauldron and Three Broomsticks and didn’t rate either. But I’m doing both again this year because, well, they’re convenient and the theming is cool (especially at LC) and Butterbeer.


Thanks! That’s helpful. Do you think four days in the parks is too much? We want to be able to be leisurely and spend afternoons at the pool, etc.

I don’t think so, but others may disagree. We spend 5 days at Universal two years ago and loved it. We stayed at HRH so we had EP. We would go to the parks in the morning (not necessarily at park opening). Ride what we felt like since it’s so easy with EP. We took an afternoon break to hang at the pool and relax. We went back to the parks in the evening. It was so leisurely and relaxed.

We were just there this past week; family of 5 with 3 11-year olds. Huge HP fans. Huge thrill ride fans. Spent 2.5 days in parks with Express Pass. Stayed at Royal Pacific.

We spent day one at Universal Studios. Lunch at Toothsome then to park. Did most of the non-HP rides there that interested us: Rip Ride twice, minion ride, jimmy Fallon, mummy, caught parade, fast and furious, MIB and simpsons ride. Ran out of steam at that point. Liked all the rides except fast and furious. Lots of screen rides but no issues with queasiness for any of us.

We wanted day two to be all HP. We went to Diagon Alley in morning: stopped first at telephone booth, night bus, and Grimmauld place. Then walked into Diagon Alley. Just perfection. Walked in amazement first 30 minutes. Saw dragon breathe fire several times. Marveled at dragon. Did wand ceremony. Bought three wands. Very serious business. Got butter beer and caught three brothers storytelling act. Talked to goblin in money exchange. He called one of us an embarrassment to mankind. Went on Gringotts ride. Amazing. Ate at Leaky Cauldron for lunch. My chicken sandwich was great. DH liked his fish n chips but kids didn’t. No Diet Coke in Diagon Alley! Fully immersive experience. Then kids did wands for 2 hours? About 15 spells in Diagon Alley and knockturn Alley. I’d say 85% worked. Witches and wizards nearby to help. We loved these. Way better than Agent P in Epcot, I thought. Then took Hogwarts Express (do you have park to park tickets?) to Hogsmeade. Walked around. Not as incredible in town, but Hogwarts is just perfect. Did Forbidden Journey twice. Probably my favorite ride we have ever done, but we all are huge HP fans. Then did Hippogriff ride. Worst part of the two lands and queue was hot, but I liked seeing Hagrid’s Hut. Think I bought some grapes and chips here…all getting hungry but didn’t Want to eat another heavy meal. Thunderstorm trapped us outside of a store for 30 minutes. Kids wrapped up the 9 spells in Hogsmeade. Hogwarts train back to Diagon Alley. Did Gringotts ride again. Kids made a few purchases with their allowance savings (we gave them the wands as a gift) and then we got ice cream from Florean’s. One son needed bed so we headed bavk without seeing the Hogwarts lights. Perfect day. My favorite day of this 10-day trip we had.

Day three we focused on Islands of Adventure. Did Hulk twice (we loved this ride). Did Spider-Man. Hot. Got some grapes and drank Powerade. Decided the wet rides in comic area looked too wet. Did Kong. None of us liked it. It was glitchy. Did Jurassic park ride. Enjoyed that. Ate a relatively healthy meal at Terrace Falls. Then kids loved Camp Jurassic play area but looked about to die of heat stroke after 45 minutes in there. Back to Jurassic ride. Raptor encounter was fun. Did forbidden journey again. Then…I think we took Hogwarts train to re ride our favorites at USO and a few we had missed. Did jimmy Fallon again and rip ride again. Did transformers. ET broke down when we were about to board. Sick of park food we walked to Citywalk for Mexican restaurant. It was okay. Salads weren’t great there or at toothsome. Tasted like bagged greens. Back into IOA. Did hulk two more times. Forced kids into Cat in the Hat. Meh. Did poseidon’s Fury show. A standing show. My feet hurt and I wanted to sit, but the kids enjoyed it. Then…I think we set up camp for Hogwarts lights. Waited maybe 45 minutes. Good views everywhere. Short show but I loved it. Got teary eyed. Did hulk one more time on way out.

Walk to/from resort was easy but we usually took boat back at night. We did pool time next morning then left. Buffet at breakfast was expensive but I got a huge bowl of fresh strawberries and watermelon…worth the $20.

Did not do Volcano Bay. Have fun! We loved it.


We did four days in February. We didn’t have the Express Pass, but most of the lines weren’t terribly long.

I posted a Trip report if you want to get all the details:

Thanks, so it sounds like we’ll be able to be nice and leisurely with lots of pool time and chilling out.

Did any of you go off-site at all during your stay, for meals or groceries or anything?

We stayed off-site when we went to Disney a few years ago and saved a ton of money by swinging through Panera on the way back to the hotel…

We didn’t say on property, but rented a condo, so most of our meals were off site, other than lunch.

I think it means you can be super chilled out the whole time. You are pretty much guaranteed to achieve everything you want to. Very relaxing — and no need for massive amounts of WDW-style planning.

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Yes. This.

Since you are taking 4 days, you might want to dedicate one day (or part of a day) to Volcano Bay. We didn’t go, but since you will likely have the time, it would be worth checking out if you like water parks.

@elvissinatra - great questions here - so glad you asked so I could read all the replies. We will also be at Universal end of August (at Royal Pacific) for first time. Only 2 days for us - thinking one HP and one everything else. Now to decide which comes first …

@jamesandkrissy - super helpful - thanks for the details!

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Realistically, it will be more like 1/2 day for HP. You could probably stretch it out, but truth is you can get through most of it (both sides) rather quickly. But 3:00 or so you would be pretty much done and could start moving into the rest of the parks.

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No way! I am looking forward to an upcoming trip with 5 days of EP and being able to relax and do whatever I want whenever I want!