Our 1-day Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure 2-park itinerary offers a step by step plan for an ideal visit to both Universal Orlando theme parks in a single day. This hopper strategy covers how to spend less time waiting in lines and avoiding crowds at headliner thrill rides & roller coasters. Plus, advice for restaurants, shows, entertainment, and more.
A few things before we get started. First, Central Florida theme parks are utilizing health safety protocol, and this itinerary has been created following the reopening of Universal Orlando to take into account those operational tweaks. With that said, Universal Orlando has not changed as much as Walt Disney World. There’s reduced capacity, physical distancing, and Universal’s face mask rules, but pretty much everything is pretty close to normal.
Second, this itinerary assumes that you do not have Express Pass, which is Universal’s skip-the-line option. If you’re staying in an on-site hotel that includes Express Pass Unlimited, that takes away a lot of pressure. Frankly, Express Pass is about the only way you’ll accomplish most headliners in both parks, so that’s definitely good to have.
Third, this itinerary also ignores Early Park Admission (click here for current schedule), which is usually available daily at Islands of Adventure and many days at Universal Studios Florida for on-site hotel guests and select others. Early Park Admission allows access one hour prior before scheduled park opening time to all of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions in both parks, as well as the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem.
Not only does this park-to-park itinerary ignore early entry, but it assumes you’re visiting on a day when Universal Studios Florida is not offering it. (Hence the touring plan beginning in USF.) If both parks are offering Early Park Admission and you’re not eligible for it, the deck is really stacked against you. Not only will you be entering after on-site guests, but you’ve visiting on a more crowded day.
Finally, please do not use this itinerary. Seriously. If you’re not eligible for Express Pass and Early Park Admission, you have absolutely no chance at accomplishing everything in both parks. On most days, you’ll be lucky to accomplish half of what Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure have to offer. We strongly recommend you do at least 2 days.
If you are eligible for Express Pass and/or Early Park Admission, that probably means you’re staying in an on-site Universal Orlando. Even if you’re only staying one night, you have access to these perks on arrival and checkout day. Take advantage of that and spread out your visit to 2 days.
If it’s a matter of money, there’s not much better use of your theme park dollars than doing a single-night stay at a qualifying on-site Universal hotel and getting Express Pass and Early Park Admission for “free” (included with your stay). If it’s a matter of time, our view is that Universal Orlando is well worth two days of your limited vacation. In either scenario, you’re better off following our 1-Day Universal Studios Florida Itineraryand 1-Day Islands of Adventure Itinerary.
With all of that said, we know many of you–in particular those staying on-site at Walt Disney World or concerned about the more intense nature of many Universal rides–may not want to allocate that much time to Universal. Can’t argue with that; this itinerary is for you. We simply don’t want to sugarcoat it–this itinerary requires compromises and skipping a lot. It is impossible to accomplish everything at Universal Orlando in a single day. Anyone who claims otherwise is selling you a bill of goods.
That’s enough with the caveats and long-winded preface, let’s get to the brass tacks of our 2-park, 1-day Universal Orlando itinerary…
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts — There are a total of 5 rides in the collective Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando. All are varying degrees of very popular. Obviously, it’s impossible to rope drop all of them, across two parks, and devote sufficient time to Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. That’s arguably the biggest downfall of doing both parks in a single day.
Setting all of that aside, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts is a great way to start your day of riding the movies at Universal Studios Florida. From exterior to bank queue to pre-show to the 3D track-based motion ride itself, this is an immersive and incredible experience.
Revenge of the Mummy — Spent a few minutes exploring Diagon Alley while it’s quiet and uncrowded, but not too long. Next up you’ll cross through San Francisco en route to New York and Revenge of the Mummy.
While it’s a fun themed roller coaster with great special effects and mild thrills there’s more to it than exhilaration and impressive technical effects. It’s clever, silly, and surprisingly story-driven. Don’t miss it.
Transformers: The Ride 3D — Only a couple of “blocks” away is Transformers: The Ride 3D. This attraction is top notch. Arguably, all Michael Bay creations should be frenetic theme park attractions instead of multi-hour movies.
Loud, fast-paced, and mindless action translate to a theme park attraction better than they do a movie. Transformers: The Ride 3D distills the best parts of the franchise into a 5-minute ride that’s better than the films.
The Simpsons Ride — This “theme park within a theme park” takes you and the Simpsons to Krustyland in a fun motion simulator attraction. It can get long lines by midday, so hopefully you beat the crowd here and encounter a 45 minute or shorter posted wait time.
The Simpsons Ride is fun for everyone, but more so for longtime fans of the Simpsons who will appreciate the many characters, in-jokes, referential humor and gags, and just the general trappings of the Simpsons humor.
Ride the Wave Until Lunch – Even though it’s only 4 rides, knocking out those headliners with short waits is a big deal. At this point, continue riding the wave of short wait times to the extent possible. Skip anything with a longer wait than you’re willing to bear.
Realistically, you should be able to hit E.T. Adventure and Men in Black: Alien Attack with minimal waits. Despicable Me Minion Mayhem is another option, albeit a bit of a long shot. If its wait time is under 45 minutes, consider doing it prior to lunch.
The Simpsons’ Fast Food Blvd — There’s something for everyone here in this multi-stop eatery. This fun food court is an exercise in excess that leans into stereotypes about fast food pulled from the Simpsons. But it works and is delicious.
My view here is go big or go home. I genuinely enjoy the Clogger Burger, and the Chicken and Waffle Sandwich is another winner. You’ll also find a few healthy options, and other iconic dishes and drinks from the Simpsons. Plus details and design that are on point.
Slow Down with a Show – Both Bourne Stuntacular and Universal Orlando’s Horror Make-up Show are exceptional shows that are in the neighborhood. Trying to do both might be pushing it during the course of a single day (or not if you skip other stuff), but they’re both highly recommended. Other excellent entertainment includes the Blues Brothers Show and Marilyn & the Diamond Bellas.
Check out showtimes and see what you can easily slot into your schedule. It might even be most advantageous to do one, then lunch, then the other. Two of the important “rules” of an itinerary like this one are that you have to be flexible with scheduling and willing to backtrack. Shuffling things around and doing extra walking will save you time.
Upfront Options – Mid afternoon often has some of the shortest wait times for two headliner attractions at the front of Universal Studios Florida: Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem.
We aren’t huge fans of either. Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit is a short, fairly middling roller coaster that is inferior to the Incredible Hulk Coaster over at Islands of Adventure. Despicable Me Minion Mayhem is solid, but it can be a hassle. Whether to skip them is up to you; check wait times and decide accordingly.
Park Hopping Time – There are two options for this: the Hogwarts Express from King’s Cross Train Station at the back of the park or the front entrance. The latter will take you about 10 minutes park to park. The former will take about that much time, plus its posted wait time.
Which is the right option for you depends upon a mix of whether you’re a Potterhead and the length of the Hogwarts Express wait time. If it’s 30 minutes or less, no question, do that. Wait times of 45 minutes or longer present more of a dilemma. We think Hogwarts Express is a novel attraction and really clever way of park hopping while remaining immersed in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. However, it’s also not as revolutionary of an experience as some diehard Potterheads and theme park fans make it out to be.
Afternoon Entertainment – We’re going to assume you enter Islands of Adventure via the Hogwarts Express, but it really doesn’t matter. The priority now is entertainment, and that’s all over Islands of Adventure.
In particular, we’d recommend starting by checking out the Frog Choir in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade and the Mystic Fountain in Lost Continent before moving on to Seuss Landing. Or, you can simply start up there if entering through the front of the park.
High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride – This elevated peoplemover ride offers great aerial views above Seuss Landing. It’s often dismissed out of hand as a kiddie ride, but this is an underrated leisure-seeker’s delight—a great way to relax during a long day at Universal Orlando.
There are a lot of other things to do in Seuss Landing, especially for families with small children. Do those if your schedule and wait times allow. However, there’s nothing you’ll really regret skipping.
The Incredible Hulk Coaster – In our single day Islands of Adventure touring plan, this is the first stop. That’s objectively better advice; beating the crowds to this roller coaster will save you a lot of time. Unfortunately, you cannot “beat the crowds” to everything in both parks, so it becomes a matter of waiting them out. (Hence slowing down mid-afternoon with shows and entertainment.)
Due to Marvel Super Hero Island’s location at the front of the park, it can work well to hit the Incredible Hulk Coaster in late afternoon as few guests are entering the park. You’ll still likely encounter a long wait, just not as bad as mid-morning or early afternoon.
The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man – It’s a similar story here. You very well might encounter a wait time of an hour or more at the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.
Unfortunately, long wait times for some attractions is the cost of doing both Universal Orlando parks in a single day and why we recommended two days instead of one. With that said, whatever the wait time for the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, it’s worth it for one of the best theme park attractions in the world.
Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges – Wait times for water rides vary wildly based upon season and crowd levels. Assuming the weather and waits are conducive, we recommend heading to Toon Lagoon next for the underrated Bilge-Rat Barges. If time allows, also do nearby Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls. It’s like a cut-rate Splash Mountain, right down to the IP most guests won’t recognize.
Welcome… to Jurassic Park – Since you’re already wet, bypass the King Kong area for now and head to Jurassic Park for its water ride. Beyond Jurassic Park River Adventure, there’s actually a lot to see and do in this land. That’ll be doubly true when VelociCoaster debuts. Check out Pteranodon Flyers if you have kids and Raptor Encounter if you have time.
Skull Island: Reign of Kong – This itinerary requires a lot of compromising and backtracking, but this is actually our ideal time to do Skull Island: Reign of Kong. Its wait times typically drop by late afternoon; plus the long and dark queue is a nice reprieve from the afternoon heat.
Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure – On busier days, this roller coaster uses the Virtual Line Pass, which is in high demand. It is thus imperative that you download the official Universal Orlando app before your visit and check for Virtual Line availability for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure starting just prior to park opening.
If you’re unable to score a spot right away, diligently refresh the app throughout the day—slots often are released later. Regardless of whether the Virtual Line or physical standby queue is in use, we’d recommend not waiting until the very end of the evening to do Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. While the ride is now more reliable than when it debuted, breakdowns still happen, and you don’t want to put all your eggs in the ‘end of night’ basket on this exceptional attraction.
Dinner at the Three Broomsticks – After knocking out Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, head across the walkway in Hogsmeade to Three Broomsticks. This rustic tavern serving British pub fare is far and away the best counter service food in Islands of Adventure.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey – Shortly before park closing is the best time to do the OG Harry Potter ride. You might also consider Flight of the Hippogriff if you skipped it earlier or the line is short. Another ride on Hagrid’s might be a long-shot option, as well.
After you get exit Hogwarts Castle, you should have the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade largely to yourself. This is a great time to savor the atmosphere and details, while grabbing some night photos of this beautifully designed land as the park closes. In a perfect world, we’d prefer to have this time to explore the Diagon Alley side of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, so if you’re somehow in a position to take the Hogwarts Express back to Universal Studios Florida to end the night, we’d recommend doing that.
Ultimately, that should make for an exhilarating and exhausting day at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. Lots of thrills and excitement, but also lots of steps. While this certainly would not be our ideal way to experience Universal Orlando, if you only have one day and want to do the highlights, this is the best approach. All told, over 20 very good things in a day is entirely realistic and feasible if you follow this itinerary!
What would you include in your perfect day at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure? Do you prefer spreading out your visit to Universal Orlando over multiple days, or packing as much into a single day as possible? Any favorite rides, shows, restaurants, or snacks you recommend? Anything we skipped that you view as a must-do? Do you agree or disagree with our strategy? If you haven’t visited Universal Orlando, what do you plan on doing? Any other highlights for you? Thoughts on anything else covered here? Will you be attempting to visit Central Florida this year, or are you waiting until 2022 or beyond? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!