January 2012: Many people opt for a two-park pass, meaning they can tour Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure on the same day. (Note: The two-park/one-day pass is substantially more expensive than a one-park/one-day pass.) Since Islands of Adventure has a lot of water rides, guests once toured Universal Studios in the morning during warm months because they can stay dry longer. However, Harry-Potter-hungry visitors have changed that equation since they can’t wait to get to Hogwarts and Hogsmeade, so any advantage visiting one park first has pretty much evaporated.
Consider the following tips to save time or money:
• Be rich. Universal does not have a Fast Pass system that works the same way it does at Walt Disney World. Universal offers a VIP Express Pass with the “red carpet treatment” for about $160 per adult – less on slower days. That covers two parks/one-day and Fast Pass ride admission on practically everything. A scaled down version costs $50 or less in addition to regular park admission, which can add up to $125 altogether, though the additional cost varies by season.
• Stay at a Universal hotel. Hotel guests get the scaled down Express Pass for quick admission onto most rides with some limitations. Staying onsite also saves the daily parking fee.
• Arrive early. At park opening, most guests hop on the first thing they see or make a beeline for The Mummy or Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit. The back of the park has a number of E-ticket attractions, however; a walk to the far reaches of the park could get you on Simpsons, and Men In Black fairly quickly.
• Stay late. As guests leave Universal to get wet at Islands of Adventure, the lines can thin. Currently, Universal Studios does not have an end-of-the-night show (with seasonal exceptions), so there is nothing to keep guests in the park if they feel they’ve done it all.
• Wear good shoes. In hindsight, Universal realized it should have bought more land. To expand, the company built the world’s largest parking garage and placed it a long way from the parks. Then the marketing people decided everyone would have to walk through their entertainment district, CityWalk, first. Even using the moving sidewalks they provide, it’s a hike. (And at least one moving sidewalk is broken at any given time.) While not too bad in the morning when you’re excited, an end-of-the-day trek to the car takes forever.
• Don’t take a backpack. Universal won’t allow any carry-ons on most major rides, like the coasters, and guests must store them in lockers located near the ride’s entrance. While the park doesn’t charge for short-term storage, the check-stuff/ride/uncheck-stuff routine gets old fast.
• Pick up a schedule of events. Check the show times and, if necessary, adjust your pace to avoid cross-park walks to catch the last show of the day.
• Rides with long lines. Despicable Me, Shrek 4-D, Revenge of the Mummy, Men in Black, The Simpsons, and Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit.
• Rides with medium lines (assuming the park isn’t super busy). Disaster, Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Review, Fear Factor Live, Terminator 2: 3-D.
• Rides with short lines. The Blues Brothers, Animal Actors on Location, E.T. Adventure, Fievel’s Playland, Woody Woodpecker’s Coaster, A Day in the Park with Barney, Curious George, Universal Horror Makeup Show, and Lucy – A Tribute.
• Take a change of clothes for kids. The Curious George play area encourages children to get soaked — drenched down to the undies. Plan accordingly.