Let’s get to the bottom of this once and for all…
What’s the best day of the week to visit Universal Orlando?
This might be the most popular question I’m asked by guests planning their vacations to Universal Orlando. On this page I will step you through all the factors to consider when deciding on the best day, and I will dispel some very common misconceptions that might make the difference between a fantastic vacation and one that you could end up regretting.
Here are, in order from most important to least important, the factors that will influence crowd levels and your ability to manage them at Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter…
The single biggest factor to ensuring that you have an enjoyable, positive experience at Universal Orlando Resort is to plan ahead. Surprising as it may be, somewhere around 90 percent of guests do not plan their theme park visits beyond a rough sketch. That percentage is even higher when you consider people who have decided to come to Universal Orlando, because — misconception number 1 — so many people still believe that Universal is “no Disney World”, so there’s no point in planning. Well, perhaps a few years ago this may have been true, but the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has changed EVERYTHING, and DIAGON ALLEY will change everything again!
Here is a quick example out of the thousands of tips on our site, and it shows how a tiny bit of planning can be a HUGE help.
On a typical moderate-to-busy day at Universal, this is what the line looks like at the ticket sales counter for Islands of Adventure:
That’s an hour wait. Just to buy tickets. Just to get inside the turnstiles.
Yet, it is so easy to skip that line. All you have to do is purchase your tickets in advance. But get this — if you purchase your tickets in advance directly from Universal, you save $20 per person off the gate price on any multi-day ticket. Since the typical family gets a 2-day base ticket, good for one day at each park, that means the typical family will save $80 buying their tickets in advance and they get to skip that crazy line pictured above!
Here’s a little more: Purchasing your tickets in advance doesn’t mean you have to buy them weeks ahead of time. You literally can be standing in the line pictured above, call Universal’s ticket line at 407-224-7840, and buy your tickets. This counts as an advance purchase, so you’ll save the $20 per person and you can get out of the regular ticket line and use the electronic Will Call Kiosks to quickly print your tickets.
That’s one tiny example of how you can save time and money, and have a better vacation, by doing your homework ahead of time. We’ve got so much more expert advice in the OI Universal Center, it’s a little insane — you can see the full OI Universal Center table of contents at the bottom of this page.
The season you are visiting
FACTOR: VERY BIG
The second biggest factor that will affect crowd levels and your ability to manage them is the season you are visiting. There is a reason why, on some days, Universal’s theme parks are only open until 6:00pm and Express Passes are only 30 bucks, while on other days the parks are open until midnight and Express Passes are 110 bucks: theme park attendance is seasonal. Maybe this goes without saying, but it never hurts to repeat it.
Interestingly, there’s a misconception that serves as a counter-point to this factor. Don’t automatically assume that coming at the slowest time of the year is the best plan. Ideally you want to come when the crowds are moderate. Doing so will ensure that there’s enough people around for there to be lots of “excitement in the air”, and Universal’s unique brand of excitement is one of its incredible features. In addition, more guests usually mean longer operating hours too.
All in all, the season you are planning to travel in will have a major influence on crowd levels and your ability to have a good time. You need to be aware of it and plan accordingly.
On January 24 – 26, 2014, Universal will host “A Celebration of Harry Potter”, where fans can enjoy three days of unforgettable experiences – including interactive Q&As with Harry Potter talent and more. Besides the actual activities, what is note-worthy about this event is its dates: right in the middle of what would otherwise be a slow period for Orlando’s theme parks.
The lesson here is that you need to account for special events. A family unaware of the Harry Potter celebration, who books their visit during the event, could be overwhelmed by two theme parks packed with muggles on-site to celebrate. Similarly, a family unaware of the event may schedule their vacation the weekend after, only to find out their their Harry Potter obsessed kids could have gone to the event if they scheduled their vacation the previous weekend.
Now, some events will be bigger than others, and some events may actually work to your benefit in terms of avoiding crowds. Whichever way it might end up working in your specific situation, what’s important is that you are aware of special events at the parks and how those events affect crowd flow.
See our Universal events section for more information.
Getting there early and/or staying late
It doesn’t matter whether it is the first day in July or the first day in February, theme parks are always busiest in the middle of the day. You can do your best to plan your visiting days as much as you want, but if arrive at the parks at 10:00am and have to leave by 3:00pm, you’re going to end up feeling like the parks were really busy. Even though it sounds a bit redundant, most people are at the parks when most people are at the parks. That is why it is always best, regardless of what other factors are involved, to get there early and/or stay late.
Luckily, for guests staying on-site at Universal Orlando, you are a hop, skip, and a jump away from your hotel. So it is absolutely no problem to tour the parks from 9:00am to noon, take a break in the middle of the day to swim or nap, and then come back from 4:00pm to close.
Visit our Universal’s on-site hotels section for so much resort information and over 700 full-screen photos of the properties.
Day of the week
We have finally reached the factor that many guests think is the “trick” to beating the crowds. I can’t tell you how many discussions I’ve read where first-time visitors to Universal ask, “What day of the week is the slowest?”, thinking this gold nugget of info is what they need to have a smooth day at Universal’s theme parks. While there are some theories out there about which day of the week is indeed the slowest at Universal, the truth is that — after taking into consideration the factors above — the day-of-the-week factor is almost moot.
One of the more prevalent theories is as follows: “Most” Orlando visitors vacation Sunday through Saturday — for a week. And, “most” Orlando visitors are going to Disney World. So conventional wisdom tells us that these visitors will be cramming the four Disney parks Sunday through Wednesday, only to bring their hoards over to Universal’s parks starting maybe on Wednesday and for sure on Thursday and Friday. The second part of the theory is that locals really like to come to Universal on Saturday. With that wisdom, the traveler can quickly deduce as follows: “If I want beat the crowds at Universal, all I have to do is come on Sunday or Monday. Perfect. That’s settled, now I’ll get back to planning my Disney days.”
Yes, of course I’m being a little facetious with my analysis. Yet I see this type of dialogue so much more than I wish I did.
The bottom line is, if you have taken into consideration every other factor — planning ahead, the season, special events, and getting there early and/or staying late — and if you’ve prepared well by studying our completely free Universal Orlando vacation planning guide, well then you are in a better position than 99.99 percent of the other guests. And that, my friend, is what will make the difference between the vacation of a lifetime and one you may regret, regardless of what day of the week you go.
See everything else you’ve been missing
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- The Script: TICKETS, PACKAGES & PLANNING
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- Universal Orlando touring plans
- Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure 1-day touring plan
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