first timers guide to universal orlando resort

A First Timer’s Guide to Universal Orlando Resort

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The Universal Orlando Resort consists of theme and water parks and the City Walk. With so much to see and do, this is the ultimate vacation.

I wanted to visit the Universal Orlando Resort for years and finally got the opportunity. My mom and I headed to Orlando for our theme park visit and an on-property stay at Cabana Bay, which made transportation incredibly easy. We visited both Universal theme parks (Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure) and had an absolute blast! There was so much to see and do that the ladies of Wherever I May Roam Blog¬†didn’t know where to start! Here is the rundown of my trip and a first timer’s guide to Universal Orlando Resort.

first timers guide to universal orlando resort

Cabana Bay Beach Resort

My mom and I stayed at Cabana Bay, a retro-cool moderately priced Universal hotel, the day before and the night of our theme park visit. It was terrific and incredibly convenient! We loved the retro vibe of Cabana Bay and thought the colors went right along with the old Florida beach feel.

After we checked in at Cabana Bay, Melody and I opted to spend our evening at the Universal City Walk. We left our room, went to the bus stop, and took the shuttle across the street to the City Walk. It was so easy, and we did not have to fight traffic or parking.


Universal City Walk

I cannot believe that after all of my time in Orlando, I had never visited the Universal City Walk! Nicknamed the “epicenter of awesome,” this is the spot for great food and fun nightlife. I loved all of the neon signs and fun atmosphere.

My mom and I had dinner at Bread Box Handcrafted Sandwiches since most restaurants were on a wait. This cute eatery is located on the upper deck of the City Walk. We both enjoyed our sandwiches and the creative decorations inside of the restaurant, namely the lunch boxes hanging on the walls.

The sandwiches from Bread Box at Universal Citywalk are unbelievable!
Hot turkey sandwich with applewood bacon, tomato, aioli, and smoked Gouda.

Afterward, we walked around and took everything in. We wanted dessert from the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium, but the line was out of the door. We finished our lap of the Universal City Walk and headed back to Cabana Bay so that we could rest up for the next day.

The City Walk at the Universal Orlando Resort is the epicenter of awesome.
toothsome chocolate emporium

Islands of Adventure

On the day of our Universal parks visit, I sprung out of bed like a kid on Christmas morning. Your Wherever I May Roam writers got dressed, rode the bus to the City Walk, ate a fantastic lunch at CowFish, and began our day at Islands of Adventure.

All it took was me stepping inside of the gates to see why Islands of Adventure was ranked the #1 Theme Park in the World by Trip Advisor for years. The themes of each area are incredibly well executed; you truly feel immersed in the world represented.

Since I am obsessed with Dr. Seuss, we stopped in Seuss Landing first. I had my picture taken with The Grinch (tears of joy). We also rode the Cat in the Hat, which adorably told the story.

dr Seuss ride universel Orlando

Then, we walked through The Lost Continent and Jurassic Park areas. While passing through Skull Island, we rode Skull Island: Reign of Kong. This 3D bus ride was Melody’s favorite. She could not get over what a fresh concept this ride was.

We finished our loop of Islands of Adventure by checking out Toon Lagoon and Marvel Super Hero Island. We wanted to ride The Incredible Hulk Coaster, but you have to put your things in a locker, and the line to do so was quite long.

It was now time to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade!

Universal's Islands of Adventure was ranked the #1 theme park in the world in 2015 and 2016.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade

All I have to say is, wow! I felt like I had stepped out of Florida and into a Harry Potter movie. Hogwarts was constructed perfectly; I could have photographed it all day. My mom and I rode Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which took us inside of the castle and on a ride like I had never experienced. We also rode Flight of the Hippogriff before grabbing a Butterbeer and strolling around the town of Hogsmeade at the foot of the castle.

In order to get to Universal Studios, we rode the Hogwarts Express. How cool is that? The train was not operational when we arrived, but we stood in line for half an hour until it was. We sat back and relaxed in a cabin while watching a Harry Potter video on the train “window”.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure is Hogshead.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley

The Hogwarts Express took us to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley at King Cross Station in Universal Studios. Upon exiting the train station, you walk the streets of London. Apartments line the sidewalk and a double-decker bus, which Harry Potter fans know as the Knight Bus, sits across the street. Secret passageways transport you to Diagon Alley.

Diagon Alley Harry Potter

Diagon Alley absolutely blew me away! I did not know what to do first. My mom and I looked around the shops, and I had a hard time not buying everything that I saw. From Quidditch gear to dolls of Dobby, Diagon Alley has it all.

Instead of waiting in line to ride something, we walked around taking pictures and watched kids casting spells. I really wanted to buy a wand from Ollivanders and join in on the fun, but I opted to wait until my next visit when my husband is there, too.

My favorite parts of Diagon Alley were the Gringotts Money Exchange and the fire breathing dragon. I truly felt like I was in an alternative world.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios is Diagon Alley.

Universal Studios

My mom and I finally pulled ourselves from Diagon Alley to see what else Universal Studios had to offer. I am not a fan of the Simpsons, but I thoroughly enjoyed the Springfield area of the park. It has carnival games and a cool themed food court.

We headed to the New York and San Francisco areas to find some lunch. After waiting at Finnegan’s Bar & Grill for twenty minutes and not having a server, we ended up at Louie’s Italian Restaurant. Our lunch was quick, tasted great, and the staff was very friendly. We were glad to sit down and rest our feet for a few minutes.

Yummy counter service food from Louie's Italian Restaurant, Universal Citywalk.
Spaghetti & Meatballs from Louie’s Italian Restaurant.

After recharging, we were ready to get back to it. We scored a Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon ticket, in testing at the time. We had gone to a Tonight Show taping in January during our NYC travels, and the inside of the building looked just like Rockefeller Plaza and NBC Studios. Your Wherever I May Roam writers were exhausted by this point, and after waiting forty-five minutes, we left without riding.

Universal Studios is one of two theme parks at the Universal Orlando Resort.

On our way to the exit of the park, we stopped in Production Central for the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem attraction. It was adorable and a great way to end our day at Universal Studios. We made our way back to the bus to relax at Cabana Bay for the rest of the evening.

Epic roller coaster with straight drop at Universal Studios.

Visit The Universal Orlando Resort

I had a blast visiting the Universal Orlando Resort. Although this was a trip that I was really looking forward to, the parks exceeded my expectations. I am already planning my next trip to the Universal Orlando Resort and cannot wait to bring my husband. What a fun day we had!

As you can see, this is an excellent first timer’s guide to Universal Orlando Resort. 

universal orlando resort rides


 Universal Orlando Resort Info

  • Five onsite Hotels (Loews Portofino Bay, Hard Rock, Loews Royal Pacific, Cabana Bay, Loews Sapphire Falls)
  • Stay on property and gain access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (one hour early)
  • IOA Areas of the park (Port of Entry, Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Skull Island: Reign of Kong, Jurassic Park, Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade, The Lost Continent, Seuss Landing)
  • US Areas of the park (Production Central, New York, San Fransisco, Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley, World Expo, Springfield: Home of the Simpsons, Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone, Hollywood)
  • IOA Rides (Dr. Doom’s Fearfall, Dudley Do-Right’s Topsaw Falls, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, Popeye and Bluto’s Blige-Rat Barges, Jurassic Park River Adventure, Poseidon’s Fury, Skull Island: Reign of Kong, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, The Cat in the Hat, The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride, The Incredible Hulk Coaster at 150 feet, 67 MPH,  and 7 loops)
  • US Rides (Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, ET Adventure, Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket (65 MPH), Kang & Kodos’ Twist’n’Hurl, Men In Black Alien Attack, Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, Revenge of the Mummy, Shrek 4-D, Terminator 2: 3-D, The Simpsons Ride, Transformers: The Ride-3D, Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster)
  • IOA Characters (Dr. Seuss Favorites including Grinch, Thing 1 and 2, and The Cat In The Hat, Marvel Characters including Captain America, Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Green Goblin)
  • US Characters (The Simpsons, SpongeBob SquarePants, Transformers, Shrek and Donkey, Cast of Scooby Doo, Curious George, Despicable Me)
  • IOA Restaurants (26 including American, Mediterranean, pizza, coffee, Mexican, Asian, Greek)
  • US Restaurants (33 including burgers, pizza, pastries, Italian, seafood, Irish, American, ice cream)


Thanks to Universal Studios and Cabana Bay for making this trip possible. As always, all reviews and opinions are unbiased and completely my own.

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