Qwerty needs help USO/IOA - 96% of a plan - and we are very excited!

DH and I were last at USO/IOA in 1998 or 1999. None of our kids have ever been there. Our last real full family vacation was August 2019. We moved this year and that has provided a lot of novelty and new experiences, but we want a vacation on the books to look forward to.

Our first choice is a cruise, but there is honestly no way I can plan that right now. Between yo-yo covid stuff and my oldest kids’ labile schedules, I don’t want to book something we either can’t keep or have to tweak so much it doesn’t even look like what we started with.

Florida seems like a very reasonable destination. We can drive there, change the number in our party, change dates, etc., with relative ease (compared to a cruise).

We homeschool, and college course wrap up the last week of April, so pretty much any of May would be an option.

I’m thinking a Saturday to the following Sunday. A few (4?) nights on property for early access (that’s a thing, right?) and move to a rental for the balance (to spread out better).

I’m interested in Cabana Bay. It looks like it would be fun. My DH and DS19 are very into that retro thing.

Since we have nothing to compare it to, we aren’t likely to be disappointed if it isn’t back to 100%.

We aren’t into Harry Potter, but if a ride was particularly novel we’d probably enjoy it.

I don’t know what I don’t know… I do know that I know next to NOTHING about Uni.
@bebe80 - I know you are a big fan. Who else has a lot of experience? @ryan1

What do I need to start looking at and considering?



Yes early entry is a thing. It’s an hour and it’s usually just one park. The Harry Potter areas are open, I’m not sure what else these days as it’s a couple of years since our last trip. Cabana Bay gets rave reviews so that would be a good choice!

You don’t need to do a lot of planning to be honest. Book the hotel, buy tickets. You need park to park tickets to ride the Hogwarts Express. Volcano Bay is a fantastic water park if you’re interested in that. There are only a couple of TS restaurants in each park but loads in CityWalk.


Oh my stars I’m so excited for you!!! :smiley:


To FULLY appreciate the WWoHP, you should probably at least be familiar with some of the HP movies, even if not fans. But even if you don’t know anything about HP, Hagrid’s is the best ride in all of Orlando (in my opinion), and doesn’t require any knowledge of HP to enjoy it. (Knowing HP does add something, but not necessary.) The other rides in WWoHP are somewhat unique, but probably rely moreso on knowing HP.

Having said that, there is a lot to enjoy at UOR aside from the HP areas. The experiences are quite different from Disney. A lot of motion simulators are involved, but in a way different from Disney’s technology.

Highlights, for me, include:

  • All of the coasters, including Hulk, Rip Ride Rockit, Velocicoaster, The Mummy, and Hagrid’s.
  • The ride simulators, including Spider-Man, Kong, Gringott’s, and to a lesser degree, Despicable Me and The Simpson’s. (Transformers is a little frenetic, but is still worth experiencing.)
  • The Bourne Stuntacular was incredible. Definitely do this!!!
  • The water rides are a lot of fun. Even though I generally don’t like getting wet in the parks, we honestly had more fun on Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges than any other ride. You just can’t help but laugh and have a good time. We did it twice in a row, in fact! (But…bring something to change into, or pay the bucks to use the family dryer.)
  • Men In Black is similar to Buzz Lightyear, but a bit more fun. Not a great ride, but still fun. My family also loved the Jimmy Fallon ride. I was less enthralled by it, but definitely, again, worth doing.
  • Take time to take in the details. There is a lot there, much like there is at Disney, that isn’t an attraction. (For example…in the queue for Men In Black, you need to try to open the door that’s across from the aliens in the break room!) We spent a lot of time, for example, just exploring the streets and alleys around San Francisco, etc.
  • Food is the weak point of UOR.

Unlike at Disney, you don’t really need to plan. We have never bothered with Express Pass, and have been able to do everything in 3 days no problem (and that’s leaving the parks by around 3:00 each time).


Check out the articles from this thread. Take your time going through.

Look into the room size options at Cabana Bay. You have like 7 people right? Standard/Family Suite/2 bedroom Family Suite.

You guys should definitely take some time this winter and watch the first couple Harry Potter movies. The Wizarding World is the highlight of UOR, so it’s a bonus to get a little familiar with Potter. The atmosphere at Diagon Alley in USF and Hogsmeade in IOA are unreal to experience.


Qwerty loves water parks! She was loving VB in my trip report as I reported details about it.

Definitely get the 3 park, park to park tickets.


We went the end of April/first of May this year and loved it.

Since you will be there a week and driving, I’d get the Preferred passes for everyone. Those passes get you early entry and free parking. For the free parking, just one person needs the preferred. Our first trip (Feb 2020) we stayed offsite, so we wanted everyone to have early entry, so got Preferred. Also keep in mind that just one person in the room needs an annual pass to get the passholder rates at Universal.

One idea, get everyone the preferred passes, get a rental for the entire trip. Reserve two one-night reservations at a Premier hotel. Somewhere in the middle of the trip with at least a night in between. One night in a premier hotel gets everyone (up to 5 people) express passes from check-in to check-out days. You probably won’t want to move to the hotel room.

Another idea, is Premier gets everyone an express pass starting at 4pm. So, maybe skip the premier hotel and just make sure to ride lots of rides in the evening.


I’m standing in line at Hobby Lobby and giggling. I have SO MUCH to learn.

Ok. Thank you. These are great leaping into pieces. How fun to have a focus again.

@shawthorne44 I may need some help crunching those numbers etc. I’ll be back!

@bebe80 great links and YES to water @missoverexcited :+1:

@ryan1 I love coasters. They don’t always love me anymore but I always try. Boat/splash rides are a family favorite.


Yay for vacation planning! How exciting!


Before DW and I had kids, we went on two UO trips (2012 and 2014) with my niece and nephews. We all had a blast! When my youngest is 8, we will likely switch to spending at least half of our trips at UO (right now we are WDW only).

We did 4 nights with 3 full park days and found that was the right amount of time.

We stayed at Hard Rock and loved it. Walking distance to the parks (and Citiwalk) was great, and the express passes that came with the deluxe resorts had a lot of value (very short lines). I don’t know anything about Cabana Bay so can’t help out with that.

DW and I are not into Harry Potter, but we really enjoyed the rides and seeing the detail in the construction of the lands. We skipped the minor HP attractions like the wands and stores because that stuff seemed very focused on HP fans.

Some good restaurants at Citiwalk. Cowfish is our favorite.

The best part about UO is that it doesn’t require all the extensive planning that a WDW trip requires. It feels more relaxed. I will likely get ripped by some for saying this, but for adults and older kids, I prefer UO to WDW.


Excel is definitely required.

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We stayed at cabana bay several years ago and loved it. The theming is great, the pool was fun. You can walk to the park if you want, though it’s a bit of a trek. We never had to wait for the bus though. Volcano Bay wasn’t yet a thing when we went, but I’ve heard it’s a very short walk from Cabana. The ONLY reason we haven’t stayed there again is the lack of Express Passes.


So happy for you! You can finally plan a family vacation.

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I am not an Excel type. I’m all about notebooks and pencils and calculators.

I know you have a lot going on with your pup, but when you have some time I could use a little help sifting through some of my options.

It will be a welcome relief. First, though, pick out your offsite rental so we can have accurate numbers for that part of it. I assume when you said, “Spread out” you were thinking of AirBnb or VRBO?

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I’m so overwhelmed @bebe80

Are you bebe80 b/c you were born in 1980?

The ticket options and/or hotel options are stressing me a bit.
Did you stay off property? Did you do express pass?
We are a party of 8 or 9. Or maybe just 7. I would likely get two Family Suite rooms.
I think if we didn’t do Cabana Bay, I might not even bother with staying onsite. It would solely be because the theming would trill DS19 and DH.

@JJT are there ever any Universal options?


That is a big party. That makes the plan where you stay off-site all the time and the preferred passes look better. ETA: You could stroll through and eat a meal there.

If you do just eat a meal there could do it after spending time at Volcano Bay. The only ways to get to Volcano Bay are:

  1. walk from Cabana Bay
  2. Bus from other Universal Hotels
  3. Bus from the parking lot.

So, your car will be in the parking lot.

As you leave Volcano Bay, you could walk to Cabana Bay, eat there. Explore the theming. Then walk to the next hotel up the path towards the dry parks and take the boat back to Shitty Walk.

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Yes - actually - I use another site most often and/or search for the owners and deal privately.

Florida Vacation Rentals - Beach Houses, Condos & More (floridarentals.com)

I’m trying to decide how many days I should target. Is three plus a day at VB actually enough?
I’m always very cheap… but I think I have a little more budget this time around bc WE’VE BEEN STUCK FOR ALMOST TWO YEARS NOW!

I’m not looking to scam any systems. I just want to make sure I am making the most out of planning.


Yes - I can probably save so much money staying off site that I can go bigger on passes. BUT - I don’t want to overbuy passes if I don’t need them… Because I could also spend time/money at Discovery Cove or something

(oh see how this vacation planning takes over? LOL)


I think 3 days is enough for IOA and USF. Carly and I did Sunday evening (Easter) and Monday/Tuesday all day. It was a really busy week but we did everything and still had time to wander and enjoy.