Unlike its neighbors to the south (Walt Disney World and SeaWorld Orlando), the theme parks at the Universal Orlando Resort are better known for their “thrill” rides and attractions as well as its less family-friendly events like Halloween Horror Nights. So if you have children ages 12 and under, should you not consider Universal Orlando for your family vacation destination?
The answer is that you should definitely consider Universal as your families vacation destination. There is so much to do for younger children and families that it just might take a few days to accomplish it all.
One of the best thing about the Universal Orlando Resort is that its two parks, Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, are located right next to one another. You can “park hop” without having to get in your car or wait for another type of transportation – it’s a quick walk from one front entrance to the other. Therefore, all the “kid” rides and things to do are within one place.
Reasons why you should consider Universal for your next family vacation
- Family-friendly rides and attractions
- Numerous themed play areas
- Parades and Shows
- Amazing interactive experiences
- Character meet and greets
- Fireworks and nighttime spectaculars
There are individual kid centered areas at Universal, one of which is featured in each of the two parks. Universal Studios Orlando features Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone while there is Seuss Landing in Islands of Adventure (which is themed after the stories of Dr. Seuss)
Following is a summary of all the great family-friendly rides, attractions, shows, experiences and spectaculars you can expect from your visit to Universal. You will find that there is more than enough to do for families with young children.
Family-Friendly Rides and Attractions
The Universal theme parks have a wide range of family-friendly rides and attractions that are perfect for kids 12 and under. Following is a summary of each individual ride.
Cat in the Hat ride
As you enter Seuss Landing in Islands of Adventure you are greeted by an extra large red and white hat which is your first sign of the Cat in the Hat ride. Take a ride with the Cat and experience a fun filled adventure with Thing 1 and Thing 2.
Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
If you child loves the Despicable Me movies and the minions, then this ride is perfect for them. Ride along with Gru, the girls and the minions on a crazy adventures. This is a motion simulator which can get a little bouncy but there is also stationary seating in the first row.
This ride is located in Production Central within Universal Studios Florida and is one the first rides after the front gate.
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish is an aerial carousel-style ride where you can control when your fish goes up and down. Be careful not to get wet as you go round and round.
This ride is located in Seuss Landing within Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride
The Seuss Trolley Train ride is one of our favorites and gives the best view of the not only Seuss Landing but of almost the entire park. Your ride above Seuss Landing is based on the story of Dr. Seuss’ Sneetches.
This ride is located in Seuss Landing within Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
The Caro-Seussel is a good old fashioned style merry-go-round, just with a Dr. Seuss theme. All the “horses” as characters from the story lines. This ride is located in Seuss Landing within Islands of Adventure.
Poseidon’s Fury is a walk through adventure which is funny and surprising, although a little dark. Your guide Taylor takes you into the hear of the temple where you find Poseidon’s Trident and battle Lord Darkenon. It could be a little scary in some parts but with the humor, we find young kids enjoy this attraction.
Poseidon’s Fury is located in The Lost Continent island within Islands of Adventure.
Flight of the Hippogriff
The Flight of the Hippogriff is a Harry Potter themed family-friendly roller coaster. It’s a perfect coaster for first timers as it does not have any inversions and limited drops. Say hello to Buckbeak for us.
This ride is located in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade within Islands of Adventure.
Hogswarts Express at Hogsmeade Station / Kings Cross Station
Pass through Platform 9 3/4 and hop on the Hogwarts Express train ride from either Hogsmeade Station in Islands of Adventure or Kings Cross Station in Universal Studios Florida. You will join Harry, Hermoine and Ron as they make their journey as you travel from one park to the other.
Important note: This ride requires a park-to-park pass since you board at one park and disembark form another.
One of the best kid friendly rides in Islands of Adventure, you will fly high above Jurassic Park in this two person ride.
Important note: You will need a child with a height between 36 and 56 inches to. Two persons above 56 inches will not be allowed to ride.
Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges
You are going to get wet on this white water raft ride that is themed after the Popeye cartoon. This is the perfect ride to do on a hot summer day in central Florida – just make sure your belongings remain fully covered.
This ride is located in Toon Lagoon within Islands of Adventure.
Storm Force Accelatron
Storm Force Accelatron is a high speed version of a spinning tea cups type of ride; and also with X-Men theming. The riders can spin the ride car as fast or slow as they would like.
Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon
We would never though of the Race Through New York Starring Fallon as a good kid ride until we took a family member who is an eight year old boy. Needless to say, this is now his favorite attraction in the park. You will race Jimmy through the streets of New York in this hilarious and action packed attraction.
This attraction is located in the New York area within Universal Studios Florida.
Woody Woodpeckers Nuthouse Coaster
Woody Woodpecker’s is another family-friendly roller coaster that is perfect for the first time riders. This ride is located at the Woody Woodpecker’s Kid Zone within Universal Studios Florida.
The ET Adventure
The ET Adventure is a classic and one of the best rides at Universal. You will travel with ET through space to save his home planet.
This ride is located at the Woody Woodpecker’s Kid Zone within Universal Studios Florida.
Shrek is a fully immersive attraction where you go on an adventure with Shrek and Donkey to save Fiona from Lord Farquaad. This ride can get a little dark but is otherwise a fun experience.
Shrek 4D is located in Production Central within Universal Studios Florida and is one the first rides after the front gate.
Kang & Kodo’s Twirl ‘n’ Hurl
Kang & Kodo’s is another aerial carousel-style ride that is themed after The Simpsons television show. You control when your spaceship goes up and down on this fun ride which has a Simpsons twist.
This ride is located in the Springfield area within Universal Studios Florida.
If you have kids that are adventurous and love more thrilling rides, have them also try:
- Men in Black Alien Attack
- Transformers: The Ride 3-D
- Jurassic Park River Adventure
- Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls
- The Simpsons Ride
Learn about these rides and more by checking out our Definitive Guides to Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure.
Themed Play Areas
Both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure have a number of themed play areas for kids of all ages to run around and just have a good time.
If I Ran the Zoo
Located in Seuss Landing within Islands of Adventure, this interactive playground is themed after the story of Gerald McGrew from the Dr. Seuss books.
Curious George Goes to Town
Tucked way in the back of Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone within Universal Studios Florida, Curious George Goes to Town is a two-story themed water play area as well as a foam ball factory behind the facade. This play area will provide tons of fun for the little ones.
Jurassic Park Discovery Center
This two-story facility is part playground and part entertainment/education. Learn about fossils and our planets past as well as check out baby dinosaurs up close and personal. If you get there are the right time then your kids may even see a dinosaur hatch from an egg.
The Jurassic Park Discovery Center is located in the Jurassic Park section of Islands of Adventure.
One of the most fun play areas in Universal, Camp Jurassic features caves, themed slides, nets, suspension bridges and water cannons. It is fun for big kids (adults) as well as the younger ones. The water cannons make for a refreshing break on a hot summer day in central Florida.
Camp Jurassic is located in the Jurassic Park section of Islands of Adventure just adjacent to the entrance to the Pteranodon Flyers ride.
Me Ship, The Olive
Located just behind the Bilge-Rat Barges in Islands of Adventure, this playground is a multi-story themed ship with play areas, slides and water cannons to soak the riders below that are on the barges.
A fully indoor (and air-conditioned) playground themed after Barney himself. Located in Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone within Universal Studios Florida, this is a great place to take a break from the Florida heat.
Have you every seen a 30-foot spider web and a 1,000-gallon cowboy hat? If not, then head on over to Fievel’s Playland at the Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone within Universal Studios Florida. There is even a 200-foot water slide which you may (or may not) get wet.
Parades and Shows
Universal host’s some of the best parades and shows throughout all of the Orlando area theme parks. The main parade is very character focused and runs every single day at Universal Studios Florida.
Universal’s Superstar Parade
Universal’s Superstar Parade extends through about half of Universal Studios Florida and features several of the most popular Universal characters including SpongeBob and friends, Dora and Diego, the Secret Life of Pets and of course all your friends from Despicable Me including the minions!
The parade starts and finished in the Hollywood section of the park and we recommend viewing from in front of Mel’s Diner. Right before the end of the parade there is a dance party where the floats stop and the characters interact with the guests. This is a great place to take photos and say hello to your favorite Universal characters.
The times for the Univeral’s Superstar Parade vary be sure to check the guide on the day of your visit or the Universal app.
The Blues Brothers
You will see Jake and Elwood Blues of the Blues Brothers driving around Universal Studios Florida in a former police car. Their rhythm and blues show features some of their best hits.
Located in the New York section, showtimes vary to make sure you check the schedule for the day.
Sing It! is an a capella group that tried to out do one another in singing all types of songs. It’s a cute and fun show that is also located in New York section of Universal Studios Orlando.
Frog Choir and the Tri-wizard Spirit Rally
You will find shows daily just outside Hogwarts Castle in Islands of Adventure of both the Frog Choir and the Tri-wizard Spirit Rally. If you find yourself there for the holiday season, the choir puts on a special show for Christmas.
A Day in the Park with Barney
Sing-along with the purple dinosaur and his friends and enjoy a fun filled performance. A Day in the Park with Barney is located in Woody Woodpecker’s Kid Zone within Universal Studios Florida.
Check showtimes on the day of your visit.
Animal Actors on Location!
A live show featuring a number of amazing animals that show you how they work in movies and television shows. There are dogs, cats, birds and more. The the daily schedule for showtimes on the great show.
Animal Actors on Location!is located in Woody Woodpecker’s Kid Zone within Universal Studios Florida.
Universal Orlando’s Horror Make-up Show
This is a fun and humorous show that has just a slight bit of gore, but is suitable for all ages. Showtimes vary so check park guide on the day of your visit.
Universal’s Horror Make-up Show is located in its own theater in the Hollywood section within Universal Studios Florida.
The Tales of Beedle the Bard
Located in Diagon Alley within Universal Studios Florida, the Tales of Beedle the Bard is a puppet show based on The Wizarding World of Harry Potter lore.
Amazing Interactive Experiences
Ollivanders “Magic” Show
If you have never seen this show before and a Harry Potter fan, this is not to missed. Mr. Ollivander will pick someone from the audience where he guides a number of different magic wands to chooses the wizard.
Located in both Hogsmeade Village and in Diagon Alley, there is a “show” in each of the two theme parks.
Spell casting at Hogsmeade and in Diagon Alley
After you get your wand from Mr. Ollivanders wand shop, your kids will enjoy casting spells at the many different spell “locations” in both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. Each wand includes a map of all the places where you can cast spells.
Don’t forget to go into Knockturn Alley to check out some of the spells in an area that caters to the “Dark Arts”. Knockturn Alley is located off Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida.
The Mystic Fountain
Spend a few minutes at the Mystic Fountain, it is time well spent. You kids can talk to the fountain who is quite a funny character. This experience in located in The Lost Continent within Islands of Adventure.
Gringotts Money Exchange
You can ask the goblin behind the counter a question and Gringotts Money Exchange which is located in Diagon Alley within Universal Studios Florida.
Character Meet & Greets
While there are a few fixed locations for character meet & greets, you will find that Universal sends out its characters at varying times during the day. You will need to check the daily scheduled for when the characters will be available.
Universal Studios Florida Character Meet & Greets
- SpongeBob and Friends have a fixed location within the Woody Woodpecker’s Kid Zone.
- There are tons of characters that show up in Hollywood for a Character Party”. Check the daily guide for characters and times but some of these include characters from The Secret Life of Pets, SpongeBob & Friends, Despicable Me and more.
- Also in Hollywood will find Hello Kitty, Betty Boop, Marylin Monroe, Scooby Doo and Friends, Dora & Diego, Doc Brown, the Simpsons and more.
- Over near production center there are fixed locations for characters from the Transformers (typically Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and Megatron) as well as Shrek, Fiona and Donkey.
- You can also meet and take a photos with a Minion after the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride is over (it is located in the rear of the gift show). Endless Summer Florida tip: Bring a banana with you, the minions go crazy for it.
Islands of Adventure Character Meet & Greets
- Spiderman-Man is located in a fixed location at The Marvel Alterniverse Store
- Marvel Superheros including Spiderman, Captain America, Wolverine, Storm, Rouge and more make several appearances daily within Marvel Super Hero Island.
- Classic Comic Strip characters make several appearances daily within Toon Lagoon.
- Your Dr. Seuss favorites including The Cat, Thing 1 and Thing 2, The Grinch and more will make daily appearances in Seuss Landing.
In addition to character meet & greets there area a number of other character offerings including character dining so your kids can interact with their favorite Universal personalities.
- Marvel Character Dinner: Located within Cafe 4 in Islands of Adventure on select nights, your kids will meet their favorite Marvel super heroes including Captain America, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Storm and Rogue. Theme park admission is required and the cost for the Marvel Character Dinner is $49.99 per adult (ages 10 and up) and $24.99 per child (ages 3 to 9).
- Despicable Me Character Breakfast: You kids will meet Gru, Margo, Edith, Agnes and the Minions in the Tahitian Room at the Royal Pacific Resort every Saturday morning. This experience is open to everyone even if you are not staying at the hotel or visiting the Universal Orlando theme parks. There are three individual breakfast seatings which are at 8:00 AM, 9:30 AM and 11:00 AM.
- The Grinch and Friends Character Breakfast: Offered only during the holiday season, your kids will enjoy a buffet breakfast including pancakes and eggs with The Grinch from your favorite holiday story by Dr. Seuss. Theme park admission is required and reservations are required.
- Halloween Horror Nights Scareactor Dining Experience: Also offered seasonally during Halloween Horror Nights events, you will dine at Universal’s Monsters Cafe. Universal does not recommend this dining experience for children under the age of 13.
Fireworks and Nighttime Spectaculars
After the sun goes down Universal hosts a number of fireworks and nighttime spectaculars which are very family-friendly.
This amazing projection show featuring water, fireworks, fountains and lights highlights some of the best Universal movies including Trolls, Harry Potter, Despicable Me and many other. Make sure you get a good spot facing the lagoon (preferably in Central Park) within Universal Studios Florida.
Cinematic Celebration typically runs every night just prior to park closing.
Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle
During most nights Hogwarts Castle at Island of Adventure hosts the Nightime Lights at Hogwarts Castle. This family-friendly projection show is Harry Potter themed and takes place directly on the front of the castle itself. This show typically is held several times a night and is truly a site to see.
On-site Universal Hotels when Traveling with Kids
Universal has a number of resort hotels that are perfect for families traveling with young children. These hotels are range from the luxury resorts to those suited for more budget conscious travelers.
- Despicable Me Kids’ Suites: You kids will spending the night with their favorite minions around custom designed decor themed after the popular Universal movie. Located in the Lowes Portofino Bay Hotel, there is a separate master bedroom with a king bed for mom & dad as well as one single room entrance.
- Jurassic World Kids’ Suites: Themed after the movies, your kids will sleep in a room filled with dinosaur decor right down to the footprints in the carpet. Located in Lowes Royal Pacific Resort, there is a separate master bedroom with a king bed for mom & dad as well as one single room entrance.
- Cabana Bay Beach Resort Family Suite: Universal offers a 430 square foot family suite at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort that sleeps up to six people and has a bathroom that allows three people to get ready at once. The suite includes a kitchenette with mini-ridge, sink and microwave oven.
- Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn and Suites 2-Bedroom Suite: One of Universal’s newest hotels has the perfect room for families with children. Their two-bedroom suite sleeps up to six in a 440 square foot suite with a room with two-queen beds and a separate room with another queen bed. The bathroom is designed to allow three people to get ready at once and the room features a kitchenette with picnic table.
- Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn and Suites 2-Bedroom Suite (Opening Soon): This brand new hotel also offers a two-bedroom suite similar to that in the Surfside Inn and Suites.
Other Fun Things for Kids
In addition to all the amazing things we listed above, the parks at Universal have a number of places with carnival games and arcades where your kids can win prizes and bring how a souvenir.
You can also check out the seasonal offerings which have a number of family-friendly offerings. These are highlighted by Holidays at the Wizarding World and Universal’s Mardi Gras (which is very family friendly). If you want more information about these special events, please check out our definitive guides.
Check out our two-part video series on the Universal Orlando theme parks being a good place for families with children.
Hate waiting for rides with young children? Try Universal Express and skip the lines.
Universal Express is truly a revolutionary way to navigate the theme park crowds. It allows you skip the regular lines for a much shorter wait on the most popular rides and attractions.
You can get Universal Express free when staying at a Premier category Universal hotel (click here for more details) or you can purchase one at the time of your visit. If you are a Premier Annual Passholder, you get to skip the lines one time per participating ride after 4:PM.
Once you get used to Universal Express, it is very difficult to go back to a theme park without it!