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Definitive Guide to Universal Studios Florida (2023) – Endless Summer Florida

Definitive Guide to Universal Studios Florida (2023)

Universal Studios Florida is the flagship theme park which was originally opened to the public in June 1990 and was themed around movies produced by Universal Pictures.  This park hosted more than 10 million visitors in 2018 which made it the 11th most visited theme park in the world. 

Updated for 2023, in this definitive guide to Universal Studios Florida you will learn more about:

  • Universal’s rides and attractions
  • Parades and shows
  • Places to eat & drink
  • Gift shops and souvenirs
  • Special events
  • Ticket cost for Universal Studios Florida
  • Universal’s hours of operation
  • Universal Express (front of the line access)
  • Virtual Line Experience
  • Parking at the Universal Orlando Resort

Universal Studios Florida is very well planned and you will find it fairly easy to find its rides, attractions and experiences. You can purchase your tickets at a number of ticket windows immediately upon passing through the main arches.  This area also includes guest services as well as an office for the guests who have purchased the VIP experience.

You will enter the park through two gates behind the ticket buildings where a team member will scan your ticket or annual pass.  There is also a “super secret” on the side of Universal Studios which is adjacent to the former Blue Man Group building (please note that this entrance is typically not open on a regular basis).  If you already have a ticket or pass and there are long lines in the from of the park, make your way to this “super secret” entrance which hardly ever has a line.

Once inside the park you will find facilities for lockers and stroller rentals, bathrooms, a photography store and a huge gift shop where you can find just about all things Universal.

Click here to see our Photo Gallery for Universal Studios Florida

There are eight separate themed areas surrounding a central lagoon which hosts Universal’s Cinematic Celebration (evening show).  

  • Production Central
  • Hollywood
  • New York
  • San Francisco
  • Diagon Alley – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
  • Springfield
  • Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone
  • World Expo

Cinematic Celebration is a fairly new show that features a number of Universal movies (Jurassic World, E.T., Despicable Me, Fast & Furious and the Harry Potter series) set to water & lights, projection mapping. music and fireworks.  

The individual themed areas at Universal Studios Florida include:

Production Central

Production Central is right after the main entrance area of the park and one of the first sections that guests see.

  • Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride: (Endless Summer favorite) Go along for a wide ride with Gru, his girls and the Minions for an anniversary celebration of Gru’s adoption of the girls.  There are three individual phases of this ride with the first two watching the characters on video screens.  Due to the low capacity of this ride and the popularity of the Despicable Me movies, wait times are longer than most at this park and  could exceed one-hour during peak days.  So if you get to the park early, you may just want to ride this one first.

  • Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit:  One of the best roller coasters of all the Orlando area theme parks, you will climb straight up and drop straight down while riding up to 65 miles per hour behind the Music Plaza stage and the Streets of New York. There is even a non-inverting loop right after the big drop.  One of the great aspects of this ride is that you get to choose your own music.  Ride times vary and operation is weather dependent so we would recommend you get in line if you see a wait time of 30 minutes or less.

  • TRANSFORMERS: The Ride- 3D: (Endless Summer favorite) Ride along with EVAC as you fight off Megatron while helping Optimus Prime & Bumblebee get the All Spark out of NEST.  This is an indoor 3D ride with a themed queue.  Wait times can vary but are typically around 30 minutes on an average summer day.

  • Illumination’s Villain-Con Minion Blast:  COMING SUMMER 2023, riders put their shooting skills to the test on an interactive blasting type game that features state-of-the-art gaming technology.  Villain-Con Minion Blast replaced Shrek 4-D which closed last year.
  • Minions Cafe: Also opening in the summer 2023, guests will also dining at the Minions Cafe which replaces the popular Monsters Cafe.

Check out the great places to stay at the Universal Orlando Resort – click here to see all the hotel options.


Welcome to Hollywood!!!  Enjoy walking through old Hollywood and see all the sites and sounds from the golden age of film.  This is also a great spot for character meet and greets.  We’ve seen a number Universal favorites including the Simpsons, Betty Boop, Scoby Doo, Dora and more.

  • Universal Orlando’s Horror Make-up Show: This is an exciting and fun makeup show with a great sense of humor.  It is fun for pretty much all ages but just don’t get picked to go up on stage.  Show times do vary but typically start in the late morning and run several times a day.

  • Cafe’ La Bamba:  Cafe’ La Bamba is home to the venue for the VIP Tour Experience.   Click here for more information on the VIP Tour options.
  • Mel’s Drive-In: What a great place to grab a burger and a shake while having a true 50’s diner experience. Immediately outside of Mel’s is the cars from the movie American Graffiti.  It’s a perfect spot for a photo op with the family.  Click here to see the menu at Mel’s Diner.
  • Schwab’s Pharmacy: You can get an ice cream cone and a Coke at this old fashioned pharmacy.
  • Hello Kitty / Betty Boop / Williams of Hollywood / Brown Derby Hat stores:  Find great souvenirs and memorabilia among these great shops.
  • Universal’s Annual Passholder (UOAP) Lounge: If you are a passholder, its free to enter and you can buy cold drinks & souvenirs as well cool off on a hot summer day while charging your phone using their charging stations. Don’t forget to pick up your button every month as well.  The lounge is open daily from 11:AM to 4:PM.  Endless Summer tip – try a frozen coke using the Arctic Coke Cooler which crystallizes 20-ounce bottles of select Coca-Cola products.
  • TODAY Cafe’: Themed after NBC’s today show, this is a great spot for a quick coffee and snack.  Click here to see the menu at the Today Cafe’.
  • The Bourne Stuntacular:  This new live-action stunt show is located in the former spot of the Terminator 3D.  This show is based on the Bourne film franchise and per Universal, “this cutting-edge, edge-of-your-seat live show will blur the lines between stage and cinema in a hybrid form of entertainment that has never been seen before”.

New York

Just like the Big Apple itself, you will find Central Park, the Guggenheim Museum and the New York Public Library.  There is also a faux Macy’s store right next to the faux Paradise Theater.  There is a ton of theming in this area that references a number of films including Genco Olive Oil from The Godfather movies.  Don’t forget to check out the Christmas store which open 365 days a year.

  • Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon: Try and beat Jimmy as your ride through the streets of New York and beyond.  Your experience begins as you enter the studios of The Tonight Show!  Check out a number of interactive experiences, meet Hashtag the Panda and listen to the Ragtime Gals hip-hop barbershop quartet.   There is a Virtual Line for this attraction so grab your pass which will tell you when to come back for the ride.  

  • The Blues Brothers Show: Not to be missed.  Watch Jake, Elwood and their friends rock the streets of New York with their rhythm and blues music.
  • Finnegan’s Bar & Grill:  Just like the Irish pubs you will find in New York City.  it’s a great place to grab a pint and shake off the Florida heat as well as get a bite to eat.  This is a very popular restaurant opens at 11:AM and can get crowded during peak days.  Click here to check out the menu for Finnegan’s.
  • Revenge of the Mummy roller coaster:  (Endless Summer favorite)  Themed after the Revenge of the Mummy movies, this is one of the the best indoor roller coasters in Orlando!  But beware, the curse is real and the you ride through warrior mummies, fire & locusts to prevent the Mummy Imhotep from taking your soul.  Wait times can vary but are typically around 30 to 40 minutes on an average summer day.  There is a special “tour” that you can request but is only offered during “slower” days.   The tour gives you all the details within the queue as well as takes you back stage and see the ride up close and personal.  Lockers are available as you will not be able to bring anything on this ride.

  • Louie’s Italian Restaurant:  The perfect spot for some Italian food including pizza, pasta, meatball subs and more.  Louie’s opens at 11:AM and is a quick service dining restaurant. There is also a gelato and Italian ice bar open seasonally.  Click here to check out the menu for Louie’s.

  • Auntie Anne’s Pretzels
  • Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream
  • Starbucks:  Where else would Universal put your favorite coffee house but along the streets of New York City.  This is great place to relax and take a break from all the hustle & bustle of the theme park crowds. 

The New York area plays host to a number of events including the spot for Universal’s Christmas tree (right in from of Macy’s) as well as shows including Marilyn Monroe.  The Universal Parade as well as their holiday parade runs through New York and makes a stop right in from of Macy’s as well.  Santa Claus lights the Christmas tree during the holiday season.

Check out the great places to stay at the Universal Orlando Resort – click here to see all the hotel options.

San Francisco

  • Fast & Furious – Supercharged ride: Based on the movie franchise, you will hop on a party bus for a fully immersive 3D ride with Dom, Letty, Hobbs and the rest of the gang while fighting off Shaw and avoiding the FBI.  This ride has a highly themed queue with a number of vehicles and references to the movies.  While this is a nice ride, it was a little bit of a disappointment based on all the hype but still take the time to check it out.  Just don’t wait for more than 20 minutes.

  • Richter’s Burger Co.: Hold on to your burger during the earthquakes in this two-story dockside quick service dining restaurant.  And don’t forget to get a milkshake to go along with your burger.  There is both inside and outdoor seating at Richter’s.  Click here to see the menu for Richter’s.
  • Chez Alcatraz:  This is a fantastic outdoor bar to grab a cocktail or an appetizer and just relax.  There is also a massive great white shark (could it be Jaws?) hanging next door that is the perfect stop for a photo op. 
  • Lombard’s Seafood Grille: Enjoy waterfront dining at one of the best restaurants on this side of the park.  This sit down full service restaurant is the flagship in this park and offers an array of seafood, sandwiches, salads and burgers.  Definitely try the Lobster roll or the fish tacos- they are fresh and tasty.  Lombard’s opens at 11:30 am and serves until park closing.    Click here to see the lunch and dinner menu.

  • San Francisco Pastry Company:  Enjoy a delicious piece of cake or pie as well as sandwiches or fresh fruit along Fisherman’s Wharf.  Click here to see the full menu.
  • San Francisco Candy Factory: Get your sugar fix with fudge, candy, gourmet cookies, caramel apples and more.

Diagon Alley – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The Diagon Alley / London area of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was opened in May 2013 to huge crowds. The entire area is very carefully themed after London in the storyline of the Harry Potter series.  Once you walk through the brick walls Universal is transformed and you will be completely immersed into the world of magic.

Surrounding Diagon Alley is a mock up of London with its traditional row homes, shops and even Kings Cross Station.  There is even a 3-deck bus out front.  This area is one of the main reasons to visit Universal Studios Orlando is surely an area which you will want to spend some time.

  • Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts: (Endless Summer favorite) This is a must do ride when visiting Universal.  Enjoy enjoy walking through the queue at Gringotts Bank and see the four chandeliers that consist of 62,000 crystals as well as the lifelike goblins.  You will head down into the mysterious vault where you help Harry and his friends break out of the bank and escape from Lord Voldemort.  Watch out for the fire breathing dragon!  Since this is one of the featured rides, plan on a considerable wait.  During summer days wait times can easily exceed 60 minutes. Lockers are available as you will not be able to bring anything on this ride.

  • Ollivanders: Let the wand choose the wizard at this gift shop specializing in all things wands.  There is a “show” where a lucky person will work with a wand expert to find their perfect wand.
  • Gringotts Money Exchange: Great animatronics with a life like goblin behind the bank counter.  Don’t forget to ask the banker a question.
  • The Tales of Beedle the Bard / Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees stage show:  Two outstanding shows at the Wizarding World that will entertain both muggles and wizards/witches.

  • Leaky Cauldron restaurant: Like in the movies, this restaurant it themed after the “grubby-looking pub and inn”.  Enjoy bangers and mash, Toad in the Hole as well as other great British food at a fair theme park price.  Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Click here to see the lunch and dinner menu.
  • Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour: Some of the best ice cream in all of theme parks in Orlando is found there.
  • Hogwarts Express  – King’s Cross Station:  Hop on in King’s Cross Station in London with Harry and his friends and take a ride from to Hogsmeade Village and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  You will need a park-to-park or annual pass to get on board the Hogwarts Express.  Wait times will vary but can exceed 60 minutes during summer days.

  • Knight Bus: The triple-decker bus from the Harry Potter movies is parked right out front.  Hear the chatter from the shruken heads and have pose for a photo op with the bus conductor.
  • Fountain of Fair Fortune: Grab a brew or a Butterbeer at this established named for one of the fables in The Tales of Beedle the Bard.
  • The Hopping Pot:  Walk up to the counter and order one of the Delicious drinks or light snacks as you watch all the muggles walk about Carkitt Market.
  • Knockturn Alley:  Go find your favorite shops devoted to the Dark Arts including Borgin and Burkes.  You will see the Vanishing Cabinet as well as a number of other items from Potterworld lore.  

Make sure you get an interactive wand and cast the magic spells at all the locations within Diagon Alley.  And don’t forget to check out the fire breathing dragon on top of Gringotts Bank.

Endless Summer tip – find the phone booth and dial “MAGIC”.

Click here for our Complete Guide to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Springfield (The Simpsons show)

This highly themed area bring you right into the world of Bart, Homer and the rest of the Simpsons family.  There are a number of great places to eat, rides and attractions to try as well as a number of carnival type games to enjoy.

  • The Simpsons Ride:  Take a ride with the Simpsons through their favorite theme park called Krustyland in a virtual reality roller coaster ride (motion simulator).  Be on the lookout out for a giant Lisa that near the end of the ride.  Wait times will vary but can exceed 30 to 45 minutes during summer days.
  • Kang & Kodo’s Twirl ‘n’ Hurl:  A great family-friendly ride with a Simpsons twist.  You will be the pilot of your own space craft swooping up and down around Kang and Kokos.  Wait times are generally less than 20 minutes on the typical summer day.
  • Duff Brewery: Grab an ice cold Duff beer in this open-air bar.  There is even statute of Duff himself.  In addition to Duff beer, they offer a number of snacks and beverages.
  • Fast Food Boulevard and Flaming Moe’s Tavern:  There are a number of different eats and drinks here but you will definitely need to try a Flaming Moe.  Click here to check out the drink menu at Flaming Moe’s.

Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone (Currently under transformation)

According to Universal, Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone officially closed in January 2023 and most of the rides and attractions ceased operations.  At this time, the ET Adventure, Animal Actors on Location!, Spongebob Storepants and the KidZone Pizza Company remain open.

The company announced on social media, “Stay tuned – more details about the new experiences coming to Universal Studios Florida will be revealed in the months ahead”.

  • Animal Actors on Location!: A fantastic animal show that shows how animals interact on set.  You can see how the animal actors perform via a variety of live skits and interactions.  From dogs and cats to birds and more, this show is well done and a great stop from all the walking that we do around a theme park.
  • The E.T. Adventure:  (Endless Summer favorite)  You and your group will take a interplanetary ride on bicycles with ET to bring his magical healing powers home and save his planet.  The E.T. Adventure is one of the few remaining original attractions from when Universal first opened.  This attraction is entirely indoors and has an enjoyable queue with a number of references from the movie.

  • KidZone Pizza Company: This is a great place to grab a slice of pizza and a cold drink.
  • SpongeBob Storepants: Meet SpongeBob and his friends as well as get a photo!

The World Expo

Although one of the smaller sections of Universal Studios Florida and located at the end of the park, the World Expo hosts two of the more popular attractions in all of the Universal Orlando resort. 

  • MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack:  (Endless Summer favorite) Themed after the movie series, get trained with Agent J and Zed to shoot aliens and score points. This is one of our favorite rides at Universal and if you shoot the aliens that are up high, you will score more points that those at ground level.  And at the end of the ride, make sure you push the red button to get 100,000 in bonus points.  And if time allows, ask one of the Agents for the “Secret Immigration Tour” where you will go downstairs into the “Immigration Room”.  There are lockers immediately adjacent to the ride entrance as there you can’t bring personal belongings with you.  Wait times can easily exceed 30 minutes on a typical summer day but if your group allows for it, try the single rider line.

Special Events at Universal Studios Florida

In addition to all the rides and attractions, Universal Studios Orlando hosts a number of special events throughout the course of the the year. Three of our favorites are Halloween Horror Nights, Mardi Gras at Universal Studios and the Holidays at Universal Orlando Resort.

Halloween Horror Nights

Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) is probably Universal’s most popular annual event and has been running for the past 29 years.  On select nights from early September to early November the park entire transforms into a huge scare fest.   

Typically Universal has a number of haunted houses and scare zones as well live entertainment.  If you are planning on visiting Universal, get their early as the first weekend these houses opened to the public the park reached capacity and guests were unfortunately turned away. 

Universal will also keep several rides open during Halloween Horror Nights. These rides typically are:  Transformers The Ride – 3D, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, Revenge of the Mummy, Men in Black Alien Attack, The Simpsons Ride, Escape from Gringotts at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Click here to learn more about about Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida.

Mardi Gras at Universal Studios Florida

Mardi Gras at Universal is one of Florida biggest parties.  This event is hosted every year and typically runs from early February to early April and is very family friendly.  Sections of the park transform into the big easy and there are weekend concerts, Cajun and creole food and one of the biggest Mardi Gras parades outside of New Orleans.  And yes, those on the float throw out beads.  Check out our video of the parade.

The 2022 concert line up as yet to be announced so check back for more information on the upcoming Mardi Gras celebration.

Click here to learn more about about the annual Mardi Gras celebration at Universal Studios Florida.

Holidays at Universal Orlando Resort

Although this is a completely resort wide event, we are going to focus on the what is offered exclusively at Universal Studios Florida. 

Christmas in The Wizarding  World of Harry Potter

You will see both London and Diagon Alley be transformed with holiday decor and special entertainment.  Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees will have a special show prepared for the holidays and is should not be missed.

Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s

Just like the one held in New York (but on a smaller scale), you will find a number of floats including the Minious, Shrek and others in this amazing parade.  And don’t forget that Santa Claus is part of the fun as well.  Get a spot by Macy’s in New York and watch Santa light the tree.

The parade typically starts at 5:15 PM or 5:30 PM depending on the date but also runs at 8:00 PM from December 25 to December 30th.

Holiday Concerts with Mannheim Steamroller

Enjoy outstanding live performance by Mannheim Steamroller free with the price of admission on select Saturdays and Sundays during the holiday season.  Make sure you get to Music Plaza early as most shows are standing room only.

Click here to learn more about about the Holiday’s at the Universal Orlando Resort

What does is cost to go to Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure?  (Updated December 2022)

As of December 2022 per the Universal Orlando web site, prices at their theme parks range from $109.00 to $159.00  for a single-park one-day ticket for adults and $104 to $154.00 for children (3 – 9). 

A two-park one-day ticket which includes both Universal Studios Florida and Island of Adventure ranges from $164.00 to $214.00 for an adult and $159.00 to $209 for a child (3-9.)

There are discounts for Florida residents and select club members (AAA, Costco, etc).  Universal is always running promotions with free days so be on the lookout for what they have to offer.  There are a number of other sources which at times offer discounted ticket prices and promotions (we have found that Groupon is one of the best). 

Where ever you decide to go to purchase your tickets, please make sure they are from a reputable source as there has been ticket fraud reports over the last several years.

Hours of Operation

Universal’s hours of operation vary throughout the course of the year but the parks typically open at 9:00 AM and close at 9:00 PM during the summer months. However, hours do vary during the year.

Universal Express

Universal Express is the absolute best way to navigate the lines at the Universal theme parks.  You will feel like a complete VIP as you just walk by hundreds of other guests who are waiting on the regular stand-by lines for participating rides and attractions. 

Guests with a Universal Express pass enjoy the use of a separate line that is typically MUCH shorter than the regular lines (although you may not go through the main queue, missing some of the theming).  Even on some of the busiest days, wait time a fairly short and traditionally less than 20 minutes even for the most popular rides like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, the Incredible Hulk and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. 

Universal Express is one of the best ways to navigate a theme park.  Just show up at the park, choose the attraction and enjoy the ride. There is no need for advance reservations or to check you mobile device – it’s the way a theme park vacation is supposed to be.

Click here to learn more about about the Universal Express Pass

Universal’s Virtual Line Experience

Since the reopening from the COVID-19 in June 2020, Universal Orlando has implemented its new Virtual Line Experience for certain theme park rides and attractions.  This new feature will allow guests to select return times and ride that particular day.  Guests can add additional attractions after the initial return time as passed.

To use the Virtual Line Experience guests will need to download the Universal Orlando mobile app (and create an account) or visit the Kiosks in from the featured attractions. 

Parking at Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando has two massive parking garages located at 6000 Universal Boulevard, directly across the street from the theme parks and CityWalk. 

As of  December 2022, parking fees at Universal are as follows:

  • Regular Parking:  $27.00 per day
  • RV / Bus Parking: $32.00 per day
  • Prime Parking: $40.00 to $60.00 per day (seasonal)
  • Prime Upgrade: $13.00 to $33.00 per day (seasonal)
  • Valet before 6:PM:  $27.00 for 2 hours and $65.00 to $75.00 for over 2 hours
  • Valet after 6:PM: $27.00 for 2 hours and $40.00 to $75.00 for over 2 hours
  • For Preferred Annual Passholders: 50% off standard valet price

Valet parking and prime parking is free to Premier Annual Passholders while Preferred Annual Passholders get free regular self-parking and discounts on valet and Prime self-parking.  

After 6:PM guests do not have to pay for regular self-parking (not valid during Halloween Horror Nights).  Additionally, there is free regular parking with the purchase of two matinee movie tickets (11:AM to 6:PM).  Parking fees will need to be paid in advance and then reimbursed upon presentation of a parking receipt.

The parking garages are patrolled regularly by Universal security personnel and there are call boxes located throughout.   

Rideshare services as well as taxi and bus transportation is also located just outside the parking garages.

Check out the great places to stay at the Universal Orlando Resort – click here to see all the hotel options.

Endless Summer

Members of the Endless Summer family have lived in Florida since the 1970's & 80's so from world class theme parks to white sandy beaches, we are "in the know" on all the great things to see & do in our state.

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