Our First Non-Disney Orlando Trip

We’ve done Disney several times and I’m a huge planner, so I almost feel like I could be a TA myself for those trips. We’re now considering the non-Disney part of Orlando, so I feel like a complete novice. I’ve been to Universal (Studios only) once 20 years ago and the rest of my family (hubby, 13yo son and 7yo daughter) have never been.

Looking for any advice, but specifically:

I’m considering the following (but definitely not set in stone on any of this yet):
-Saturday-Saturday arriving first Saturday in June. We may drive so would need to plan very light on arrival day and nothing on departure day
-Sunday, Monday & Tuesday - Park to Park (2 park) US and IOA only, 3 days
-Wednesday - Friday - SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and possibly a rest day
-When we’re at Disney, we aren’t an open to close family. We typically rope drop and then leave early to mid afternoon. We’ll sometimes return early evening.

Specific Questions:

  1. If we stay at a premium resort to get Express Pass Unlimited, do we need more than 3 days at Universal? Or is that sufficient?
  2. Would you recommend staying the entire stay in a premium resort? Or doing a split stay?
  3. What character meals are available and are they open (or do we know if they will be by that time)?
  4. How flexible is Universal with changes to your package?

Thanks in advance for any help.

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My family easily accomplished everything we wanted to in 3 days, including Volcano Bay. We didn’t ride everything, but we didn’t want to, and instead did repeats (mostly focused on Harry Potter and Jurassic Park). Three full park days should be plenty, IMO, but you could do more days and take a slower pace / experience secondary attractions and not get bored.

I really like the premium resorts, but Cabana Bay looks like a great option if you want to do a split stay.


I’d say 3 days is plenty. I don’t think you need to stay in a deluxe once you don’t need the express passes. It might be fun to stay at one of the others - Cabana Bay looks brilliant. I don’t know anything about character meals. Universal are pretty flexible I think but I’ve never needed to change anything.


I would do a Split Stay. With a Universal Premium for the beginning and my favorite in Orlando, Drury Inn for the remainder.

Pre-lockdown we did a Minions character breakfast. I think it was at Royal Pacific. I think it was offered weekends only. It was awesome.

I also really like Royal Pacific as a hotel. The nice thing about the Universal Premiums is that they are so close, mid-day breaks are super-easy.

The reasons I like Drury Inn:

  • Relatively cheap while still being nice.
  • Free hot breakfast AND
  • Free hot dinner AND
  • Free soda fountain AND
  • two free alcohol drinks per adult per day

Now I want to stay there :joy:


I agree, 3 days is perfect if you don’t want to visit Volcano Bay. (I do recommend VB, especially the Fearless River for the whole family, very much worth it)

3 longer days without EP or 3 days with breaks using EP.

Thanks for sharing, I have not heard of you mentioning before. It looks like Drury and Cabana Bay are similar in price. Drury also has the free bus to UOR besides all the free food.

Cabana Bay has the lazy river along with the big pools. And when you stay onsite, you can pool hop to any hotel pool. Sapphire Falls right next door has a huge pool.


We always drive to Orlando, so I’ve never used their park shuttle.

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One thought on arrival day. We do the same thing, declare the arrival day a rest day. It is really helpful to get into vacation-mode. BUT, if the parks start to call to you late on arrival day, have in mind the price difference between 3-day tickets and 4-day tickets. That way you can give yourself permission to check things out in the parks if you want to. The price difference probably won’t be much. Also, late in the day is really the best time to do the wand locations. The sun causes interference. So, assuming at least one of your children wants a wand, maybe meander over to the parks early evening on arrival day, do the wand ceremony and some of the wand locations, then back to the hotel for early sleep. Also, when we planned our first trip Feb 2020, 4-day tickets and season passes were the same price. Although we were off-season.

One thing I thought I’d mention on the RP pool. When we were there, I thought the water was saltwater. My skin felt sooooo good being in that water, when normally pool water makes it feel worse. But they don’t advertise that, and that would be insane. So, maybe it was just minimally chlorinated and yet still clean. Otherwise it is just a really big pool and a water play area.

  1. Express is a nice benefit but not necessary for touring if you rope drop and come back last hour or so the park is open. One day at each park plus another to hit up favorites/clean up is more than enough.
  2. Stay at a UOR resort when visiting those parks then move towards something on I Drive/SW when visiting SW/Busch/etc.
  3. There’s a Despicable Me character breakfast at Royal Pacific and a Marvel dinner in Islands. I don’t think either are running right now due to COVID.
  4. Don’t book a Universal package, buy it all a la carte. Not only will you be possibly paying LESS booking separate but if you have to change or cancel it is way way easier than with a package. There are reports of people canceling packages and waiting weeks and weeks for a refund.