How to Add Universal Studios to Your Disney World Vacation

I'm a Disney girl at heart. But someone recently told me that around 80% of people who book a Disney World vacation will also book or consider booking a day or two at Universal Resort too.

There is a lot to consider when deciding if you should add time at Universal Studios. What do those parks have to offer? What are the best ages to take kids to Universal Studios? How do I get there if I'm staying at a Disney Resort? Here we'll discuss all of this and more.

(Or listen to my podcast episode where we discuss adding Universal to Disney)

What Does Universal Resort Have to Offer?

Universal Studios is made up of two different parks, Universal Studios and Island of Adventures. A water park called Volcano Bay, and also a shopping and restaurant area called City Walk.

It was also announced that a third theme park called Epic Universe is being built.

Universal Studios

Universal Studios Orlando

This is the original park where you'll find the E.T ride that we were all in awe of 20-something years ago. You'll also find the amazingly impressive Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Springfield, Home of the Simpsons, and the Despicable Me Minions.

Island of Adventures

Universal Island of Adventure

The second Universal park is home of Hogsmeade from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. You'll also find Marvel Superhero Island, Seuss Landing, Jurassic Park, and more.

Volcano Bay

Universal Volcano Bay

This water theme park offers several slide rides, lazy rivers, wave pools, and more. You'll find lots of seating and food and drink options. This water park is unique in how they handle a couple of things. Long lines and carrying cash around. So they offer an interactive bracelet called TapuTapu to help skip lines (more on that in a minute).

City Walk

Universal City Walk

If you're looking for shopping, dining, and entertainment without a park ticket this is your stop. This is Universal's version of Disney Springs. It is walking distance to the Universal Parks.

Universal Resorts

Universal offers 8 resorts:

  1. Universal's Surfside Inn and Suites
  2. Universal's Dockside Inn and Suites
  3. Universal's Aventura Hotel
  4. Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort
  5. Loews Sapphire Falls Resort
  6. Loews Royal Pacific Resort*
  7. Hard Rock Hotel*
  8. Loews Portofino Bay Hotel*

*These are premier resorts that give an EXTRA perk of Unlimited Express Pass.

Similar to staying at a Disney World resort, staying at one of these hotels can give you some perks when you are at the Universal Parks

  • Option of charging to your room
  • Free on-site transportation via bus and water taxi
  • Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
  • Priority seating at restaurants
  • Park purchases delivered to your room
  • Unlimited Express Pass (Only for premier resorts noted)

Extras Offered at Universal Parks

Express Pass

Universal Parks offer their own version of Lightning Lane that they call Express Pass. However there are major differences in how Universal handles this perk.

When you have Express Pass you don't need to make reservations or grab times on an app for rides. If you have this pass you can show up and skip the lines.

If you are staying at a participating Universal Resort this perk is included for free. If you aren't staying you can purchase this pass as an add on to your park ticket.

It is important to note that depending on how many people are in your party and the number of days you are visiting, sometimes staying at a Universal Resort is cheaper than buying these passes. It's a smart idea to have a travel agent who handles both Disney and Universal compare these prices for you to make sure you don't overpay (we can help you with that here).

Child Swap

Similar to Disney World's rider switch program, Universal Parks offer child swap if you are touring with a child who doesn't meet the height requirements of certain rides.

Here is how you take advantage of this perk:

  • Your entire group will get in the ride queue (even the child who wont be riding)
  • When you get close to the loading area of the ride a team member will show the adult and child to a waiting room, and the rest of the group can ride
  • After the first group rides, they meet up in the child swap waiting room and guests can then switch who rides

I actually find this system to be way better than what Disney World offers. My experience with Child Swap has been pleasant waiting rooms with cartoons or movies playing. There are seats and often changing tables as well.

This system is also better in how relaxed Universal is about Child Swap. At Disney if your child is scared to ride, but otherwise meets all height requirements, you cannot take advantage of rider switch. At Universal no such rule exists. They also don't limit how many people can ride in the second group. So if you have older children (or multiple adults) they will be able to ride every ride twice. As long as there is always one adult with the child, Universal is amazing about letting older kids ride twice.


If you head to Volcano Bay water park you'll be given a wrist band called TapuTapu. The lines at this water park are virtual. If you want to ride you tap your wrist, and you'll be notified when it's your turn to ride. So in the mean time you can enjoy the lazy river or a cold drink.

You can also use this wrist band to make purchases at the water park. So you wont have to carry your wallet around with you or worry about having wet cash.

Who Would Enjoy Universal AND Disney World?

Universal Parks are very different from Disney World Parks. At Universal you'll find larger thrill rides, and fewer rides for smaller children.

Universal can be enjoyed by anyone! But generally speaking, you'll get the most out of Universal if everyone in your group enjoys thrill rides, if the people in your group are tall enough where height requirements wont be a huge issue, if you are a huge Harry Potter fan, and if you love Marvel Superheroes.

Universal might not be for you if you are traveling with small children (toddlers or babies), you aren't a big Harry Potter fan, or you aren't a big fan of large roller coasters and thrill rides.

It's important to note that even the areas for children often have rides with height requirements. So you might want to check Universal's website before deciding.

We personally found our 4 year old was just the right age for Universal. She didn't mind waiting with us and hanging out in the Child Swap areas, there were enough characters she enjoyed, and she could ride everything at Seuss Landing. I suspect if she were any younger, she may not have gotten as much out of the experience.

How Do I Get There From Disney World?

If you know you want to add a day or two, you might be wondering how to get there from your Disney World resort.

You have several options.

  1. You can get a transportation voucher. This will get you from either your Disney Resort to Universal (and back), or the Orlando Airport to Universal (and back). These voucher are the best option financially, but can only be purchased through a travel agent. You can get your rate quote here.
  2. You can rent a car. Both Alamo and National have car rental locations at Disney World, which would make pick up and drop off easy. Just remember to consider any parking fees at the Universal Parks.
  3. You can use a Taxi, Lyft (use code doubleyourwdw to get a discount on your first ride) or Uber. If you are using a ride share service be sure to download the app before your trip. You can expect to pay $35-$45 each way.

Bottom Line

Adding Universal Parks to Disney World can be an amazing addition to your vacation. Especially if you love Harry Potter. With Max Pass you can easily enjoy these parks in one to two days, which makes it a realistic add on to your Disney vacation.

If you need help pricing out Disney and Universal resorts and tickets, and finding the best deal, let us help! Sorting out staying at Disney World or splitting your resort stay with Universal, versus purchasing Max Pass can be overwhelming.Get your free quote here and let us do that math for you.

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See you at the parks,

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