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Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure with Kids

We went to Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure with our children, ages 6 and 9, and had a great time.  Here are my tips for a successful trip with kids.

I was provided complimentary admission to Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure to facilitate this article.  All other expenses and opinions are my own.

Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure with Kids

As a long time theme park aficionado, I’ve learned a few things about visiting theme parks with kids.  We’ve been taking our children to the local theme parks since they were infants; our family photo albums reflect their growth in snapshots from our frequent trips.  Recently, we took our daughters, ages 6 and 9, with us on a one-day visit to both Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure.  That’s a lot to cover in one day, but we made it work!

It just takes a little extra planning.  Every minute invested in making plans is a minute well spent.  The more you plan, the better your day will go.

Sunset at Islands of Adventure

Be aware of differences in temperature due to the time of day

Before you start planning your day, take a look at the weather forecast.  Get a solid idea of the likely high and low temperatures.  What starts out as a cool, cloudy morning in the 70’s can quickly become a blazing day of sun with temperatures climbing into the 90’s.

A heavy itinerary works better in cool weather than hot weather, so if the weather is forecast to be hot, don’t try to fit too much into your day.  We love to visit Universal Orlando Resort during the cooler fall, winter, and spring months, but summer can work, too, if you can go back to your hotel during the hottest part of the day.

Have a realistic time management plan

Getting from attraction to attraction takes time, especially in larger crowds.  Your time in transit increases further when you factor in stops for water or the restroom.  If you need to arrive on time for a show or dining reservation, budget more time than you think you need.

It’s less tiring (and less stressful) for children to be able to move at their own pace rather than hurry, hurry, hurry.  If you get to your destination early, extra time can always be spent browsing in a climate-controlled shop or simply having a quick rest on a nearby bench.

A Day in the Park with Barney Statue

Pick showtimes and mealtimes first

Plan your day around showtimes first, then mealtimes, then everything else.  By selecting your preferred showtimes first, you’ll ensure that you don’t miss them.  Many shows, like “A Day in the Park with Barney” close earlier than the rest of the park.  Kid-friendly shows are an excellent option when you have children who are too young for rides (or who are reluctant to ride).

Dining reservations are not required at the table service restaurants like Mythos, Confisco Grille, and Finnegan’s, but can certainly shorten your wait, especially on a busy day when the park has a lot of visitors.  You won’t need reservations for quick service restaurants, but go ahead and plan your estimated mealtime anyway.

Plan to utilize Universal Express, the Single Rider queue, and/or Child Swap

We used Universal Express to skip the regular lines, and we also used the Child Swap program, which allows one member of your party to watch the kids while the rest of the party enjoys the attraction; after that, the person who waited with the kids swaps places and enjoys the attraction.

If you don’t have a Universal Express pass, it’s often faster to have adults use the Single Rider queue rather than wait the full amount of time as a group in the regular queue.  I recommended downloading the official Universal Orlando Resort app for updated wait times, park maps, and more.

Choose the order of attractions before arrival

By choosing which attractions you’ll visit and when you’ll visit them, you avoid backtracking.  It may not seem like a little backtracking adds a lot of extra walking, but trust me: those extra steps add up, especially for little feet.

Start with your showtimes and dining reservations, then add the attractions you want to visit in a logical progression between each location.  Use a park map or the Universal Orlando Resort app to help you visualize your route, and make a note of where you’ll be using Universal Express, Child Swap, or Single Rider.

Pack light and healthy snacks

We like to splurge on table service meals while keeping additional snacks and drinks on the lighter side.  So we pack little bags of Cheerios for the kids, or something similar that’s easy to carry in a purse or pocket, and we stop frequently to drink ice water.

Most of the quick service restaurants and outdoor carts with soda fountains can give you ice water for free.  I recommend a cup of water every hour or so, or more if the weather is very hot.  Monitor your children and make sure they’re staying hydrated.

Wear sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, and good shoes

The sun is stronger than you think.  Put sunscreen on yourself and your kids before heading out, and reapply as needed.  Hats and sunglasses are a must.

The whole family should wear comfortable, sturdy shoes that will stand up to all the walking you’ll be doing.  Don’t try to break in a new pair on your trip; wear something that’s already broken in.

Take a break at these play areas

One of the hidden secrets of the Universal Orlando Resort theme parks is that they have some really top-notch play areas.  Families with children will love these kid-friendly areas!

Universal’s Islands of Adventure

  • If I Ran the Zoo, an interactive playground in Seuss Landing (a family favorite).
  • Jurassic Park Discovery Center, an indoor interactive “museum” in Jurassic Park.
  • Me Ship, the Olive, an outdoor water play area in Toon Lagoon.

Universal Studios Florida

  • The indoor play area connected to A Day in the Park with Barney (another family favorite) in Woody Woodpecker’s Kid Zone.
  • Curious George Goes to Town, an outdoor water play area in Woody Woodpecker’s Kid Zone.
  • Fievel’s Playland and water slide, an outdoor play area with a water slide in Woody Woodpecker’s Kid Zone
  • The covered outdoor playground just outside of the Curious George Goes to Town area in Woody Woodpecker’s Kid Zone.

Consider a hotel stay at Universal Orlando Resort

Let’s face it: kids get tired, and so do adults.  If you’re visiting the parks with kids, it can be a lifesaver to have a hotel room that you can get back to in a short amount of time.  You can use it for a midday break for swimming or napping.  If you don’t make it back for a midday break, it’s certainly pleasant to be able to get back to your hotel quickly when you’re done with your theme park visit for the day.

We stayed at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort and loved how close it was to the parks.  Plus, hotels at the Universal Orlando Resort come with a variety of additional benefits, such as early park access and (at certain hotels) Universal Express access.

Got questions about visiting Universal Orlando Resort with kids?  I got answers.  Leave a comment below!