Universal is a blast and has super fun parks to visit while in Orlando (Universal, Islands of Adventure, Volcano Bay Water park). But let’s face it. Most people typically don’t go to Universal Studios for young children. They aren’t big enough for many of the roller coasters and they probably aren’t into Harry Potter just yet. However, perhaps you have older kids that do want to go ride the coasters or see the amazing new Harry Potter areas, or perhaps you are just an “older kid” yourself. If this is the case, you may find yourself at Universal Studios with a little kid in tow. And you can still have a lot of fun- just like at Disney! Here are some tips for visiting Universal Orlando and Islands of Adventure with your little kids (age 4 and under):
- Buy tickets before you get to the parks
Save yourself up to an hour of line waiting and buy (and print) your tickets ahead of time. At Disney you still have to go to “will call” to get a Disney card or buy/link your magic band; at Universal, you can take your printed tickets straight into the park. While Universal doesn’t use the “Fast Pass” system, you can buy an “Express Pass” to limit your wait times. Keep in mind that the waits aren’t nearly as bad at Universal as they are at Disney (it’s generally less crowded) and if you have younger kids you’re not likely to be in the longest lines of coasters. I would skip on this with little kids. I haven’t ever found it necessary.
- Remember you’re at a theme park
Just like at any other theme park, your kids (and you) will be doing a lot of walking, waiting, and baking (lol) in the sun. Prepare for a busy day, pack accordingly, and dress appropriately. Make sure everyone is in comfortable clothing and walking shoes. Pack ponchos and bring sunscreen. We always bring a water bottle and snacks. Unlike Disney, you can’t bring a cooler filled with food and drinks; however, you can slip in a couple water bottles and snacks under the radar. I would say the line is drawn at a full blown picnic. They want you to buy food and drinks there (obviously), but you can bring in small and necessary snacks for you and the kids.
- Plan ahead
Just like at Disney, Universal with kids requires planning (see What to Do at Disney World with Young Children). Scope out the parks and know the route you will take before you get there. There are a ton of areas just for little kids, so you should know where to head and a general time to be there to make the most of your day. For instance, if you want to see the Kidz parade that starts at 2pm, make sure you are over by the Mummy ride about that time. You also want to make sure you know where the “kid friendly” rides and character spots are located. Here are the rides you don’t want to miss:
- Woody Woodpecker KidZone (see #4 below)
- Shrek4-D and Shrek meet and greet (show, no minimum height)
- Terminator 2: 3D and character interaction (no height requirement)
- Men in Black Alien Attack (42+ inches, our 4-year-old makes it)
- Ollivander’s Wand Shop (if someone in your party is wand shopping it is very fun)
- Simpsons Ride (40+ inches)
- Kang & Kodos Twirl n’ Hurl (no minimum height- think the Dumbo Ride at Disney)
- Despicable Me Minion Mayehm (40+ inches)
- Transformers (40+ inches)
- Hogwarts Express (a fun way to get from park to park, no minimum height)
Islands of Adventure
- Me Ship, The Olive nautical themed playground (awesome play area for kids)
- Skull Island (36+ inches)
- The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman (40+ inches)
- Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barge (42+ inches)
- Race Through New Yrok Starring Jimmy Fallon (40+ inches)
- Jurassic Park River Adventure (42+ inches)
- Camp Jurassic play area (perfect for little ones)
- Pteranodon Flyers (ride just for kids between 36-54 inches… you HAVE to have a kid to ride)
- Flight of the Hippogriff (36+ inches)
- High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride (36+ inches)
- The Cat in the Hat (36+ inches)
***Tip: Measure your kids before you go. We know our 4-year-old is exactly 42 inches, so we can plan accordingly and not have a meltdown in front of rides she can’t get on.
- Do not miss the Woody Woodpecker KidZone (perfect for 4 and under)
There are several areas that are actually just for little kids in this part of Universal. The Woody Woodpecker KidZone has shows, attractions, and even bathrooms that are designed just for young children. You can go see the Animal Actor’s live show and then take pics with some of the trainers afterward (sit close if you’re with little ones). You can also go see A Day in the Park with Barney, a sing along show. Before and after the show you can meet and greet Barney and friends right outside the entrance. There is an indoor playground just through Barney’s show designated for toddler and preschool children (includes water and sand play). Check out the play set (for those 36 inches and smaller). Then head over to Curious George Goes to Town. This is a complete water area with tons of sprinklers. This play area has different sections and has a really cool design. If you have a 4 year old (36 inches), they can ride Woody Woodpeckers Nuthouse Coaster with an adult. This is a great “first” coaster. There is also Fievel’s Playland, with tunnels, bouncing cages, and climbing areas. This area has a raft slide where they can get a little wet. An adult and child can ride together on the raft (you would have to go with a child, it’s not really designed for adults). You can also check out the E.T. Adventure, an indoor ride for 34 inches and taller. Before you leave the area, make sure you’ve met some of the characters in the area (like Barney, SpongeBob, and Curious George). We could easily spend all afternoon in the Woody Woodpecker KidZone area alone.
- Check out the Parades and Kids Shows
There is a parade just for kids in mind featuring characters like Dora and Diego, Minions, and SpongeBob near the Mummy Ride. The Blues Brothers Show features Jake and Elwood and can be fun for everyone in the family. You can also check out the Cinematic Spectacular lagoon show at night that is fun with little ones (if they’re okay with fireworks). Review the show times and schedule accordingly.
- Don’t miss the Dr. Seuss area in Islands of Adventure
We love Dr. Seuss, so the Seuss Landing is pretty awesome. It’s full of whimsical creations, from the Carol-Seuss-El (Dr. Seuss carousel), the spinning themed ride (One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish), and Sky Seuss Trolley, this area is super fun for little ones. Check out the interactive play area with slides, climbing nets, and caves. Again, we could spend the afternoon in this part alone.
- Prepare your young children for a little bit of a scare on certain rides
Generally, Universal parks can be a little scarier and a little more intense than Disney rides and attractions. The rides are just slightly more “jerky” and slightly more “loud”. Keep this in mind for your 3-5 year olds that are tall enough to ride some of the attractions. Our daughter has no issue with this, but I can absolutely see where some kids (and their parents) may. Factor this in during your planning.
- Bring a swimsuit/change of clothes
With the water areas and water attractions that little kids can participate in, I recommend throwing in a swim suit and/or change of clothes and water shoes. There is nothing like having a wet, miserable 3-year-old the entire day. Plus, their clothes are small and you can easily throw an extra pair in your crossover bag.
- There are family service areas if you need them
Like Disney and their Baby Centers, Universal also has Family Service facilities near first aid stations in both Universal and Islands of Adventure. You can go here for changing stations, breastfeeding, warming bottles, and purchasing items you may have forgotten. They have nice rocking chairs and a/c for necessary breaks as well.
- They have a “rider swap” program
Universal actually does this a little better than Disney, in my opinion. If there is a ride your child is not big enough to ride or doesn’t care to ride, you can stand in line together as a family. There is a waiting area at the end of the line where you can wait for the rest of your party. You can also “switch off” if everyone wants to ride, so that someone in your family or group is always with the littles. If you have older kids, they can ride twice! This system is very convenient (especially because wait times aren’t nearly as long as they are at Disney) and doesn’t require you to separate from your group.
- Hit up the Universal character meet and greets
Although Universal does not have as many character meet and greets as Disney, you can still find characters to meet throughout the parks. You can meet characters like Hello Kitty, Barney and Friends, Transformers, Scooby Doo (and friends), the Simpsons, Marilyn Monroe, Betty Boop, The Grinch, Spiderman, Curious George and the Man in the Yellow Hat, Despicable Me Minions, Shrek, and more. These characters are stationed throughout the parks in specific areas. They don’t typically have character “experiences” like some of them do at Disney, but you can still meet and snap a pic with your child. Check out this blog on Disney characters: Everything to Know about Character Meet and Greets at Disney World.
- Don’t take little kids to “Halloween Horror Nights”
Halloween Horror Nights at Universal are known for the haunted houses, scare zones, live shows, monsters, maniacs, and more. While this is super fun for older children (and us adults), it can be very scary for little kids. In fact, a lot of adults dress up and add to the scare factor. Plus, it can be super crowded during this time. If you have little kids, don’t go to Halloween Horror Nights (but if you have to, leave before it gets dark). Save the Halloween “theme park” experience for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party at the Magic Kingdom.
- Like Disney, you can rent a stroller
Stroller rentals are available as you enter the parks. You can get a “single” or a “double” for 15-25 bucks (plus a $50 dollar deposit, refunded upon return). These strollers are very similar to the ones at Disney, but remember they aren’t built for babies and very young toddlers. The good news is I’ve actually seen them scrub and sanitize each stroller after use, so I know they are cleaned.
Okay… I think that’s everything you need to know for you and your little ones to have a great time!