Let’s be honest — we really are OBSESSIVE about UPDATING the Universal Orlando insider information found on this site. Because we have so many updates, we provide this page listing everything we’ve updated so you always know what’s new on our site and at the Universal Orlando parks.
We recommend that you bookmark this page. Many readers familiar with our site find this as a great place to visit again and again to learn the latest info.
1/2 – Today we announce the departure of Dan Hatfield from Orlando Informer family, and we introduce the site’s new owner: Taylor Strickland (also known as PWT in the forums!).
What you need to know right away: Over the month of January, Taylor will be reorganizing the site’s blog posts and vacation planning content onto a new platform. During this time, everything on the existing site will remain in an “as is” state. At the end of January, the site will be switched over to a new server, the old site will go away, and Taylor’s updated version of the site will go live.
Updates will be posted on our forums and social media during the transition, all of which will remain active.
12/27 – In this week’s Orlando Informer Minute: we recap the biggest stories of 2014, from I-Drive, SeaWorld, and Busch Gardens, to the roll-out of FastPass+ at Walt Disney World and the opening of Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida! You can view our latest video in the OI Forums, then be sure you don’t miss next week’s episode by subscribing to our YouTube channel.
12/21 – Now through January 3, both Universal parks open at 8:00am for general admission, 7:00am for Early Park Admission. The holiday crowds are here too, with all days between now and the end of the year marked as ‘busy’ or ‘very busy’. To ensure a successful holiday visit, we strongly encourage you to take advantage of all the free expert advice we have published in the OI Universal Center, our free touring plans, and our Insider’s guide to the Wizarding World. If you have questions, we have a community of Universal fans and vacation planners waiting to help!
Looking for on-site photo updates over the next week? Dan is traveling with his family out-of-state, so be sure to follow our good friend and OI Forums moderator Chuck on Twitter.
12/19 – On this week’s Orlando Informer Minute: Mike, our video producer, counts down the top five biggest surprises from his recent visit to Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando! You can view our latest video in the OI Forums, then make sure you don’t miss next week’s episode by subscribing to our YouTube channel.
12/18 – We’ve finally gotten word that starting this Saturday, December 20, both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure will offer Early Park Admission. Open to qualifying guests are all the attractions and experiences inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley (USF) and Hogsmeade (IOA), as well as the Hogwarts Express (for those with park-to-park admission). For more, see our Complete guide to Early Park Admission at the Wizarding World, or pick up the discussion in our forums.
12/17 – For our mid-month calendar update, we just had a few hours in January to update. If you’re visiting after the new year, be sure to check the new numbers on our FREE 12-month crowd calendar, because Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure are scheduled to close as early as 6:00pm on several dates – including, quite surprisingly, on January 30 & 31 during the Harry Potter Celebration weekend.
12/17 – SWEEPSTAKES ALERT: In celebration of the ‘Doctor Who’ Christmas Special, BBC America is giving away a 4-day, 3-night Universal Orlando vacation including airfare, accommodations at Cabana Bay Beach Resort, and Blue Man Group tickets. To learn more and enter, visit BBCAmerica.com by December 26. This one is open to U.S. residence only, and I couldn’t find a version of the sweepstakes for Canada or the UK (if you do, let us know).
12/15 – Friendly reminder that Universal has extended the Early Park Admission benefit (for Diagon Alley) to Annual Passholders through December 18. If you’re an Annual Passholder and you haven’t take this opportunity to experience Diagon Alley with minimal crowds, this is your last chance to do it this year! You can view other current promotions on our Universal Snapshot page.
12/14 – We visited Universal on Saturday for our weekly tour of the parks. You can now view our 119 new photos on our Flickr page (December 13 album), which includes another visit to Cabana Bay Beach Resort, continuing coverage of the rumored King Kong attraction, and lots of holiday fun at both parks. (For even more holiday cheer, be sure to check out our December 6 album on Flickr too.)
TIP: Twitter has redesigned their timeline page to make it much easier to view photos and their captions. So if you look through our Flickr album and wonder what the heck it is we’re taking shots of, view our Twitter timeline for guidance. Remember, you don’t have to sign up for Twitter to see everything we post over there.
12/12 – On this week’s Orlando Informer Minute: hot butterbeer warms up guests at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal CityWalk parties into the new year with the incredible EVE 12.31.14 event, Star Wars Weekends announced for 2015, and more. You can view our latest video and its transcript in the OI Forums, then be sure you don’t miss next week’s episode by subscribing to our YouTube channel.
12/9 – As we move through December, we continue to update our holiday and New Year’s Eve information for Universal’s theme parks, CityWalk, and the on-site hotels. This week we learned that Cabana Bay will be hosting two NYE celebrations – you can learn about them in the on-site hotel section of our NYE guide. In addition, we’ve got the details for Universal’s Christmas Day buffets, which you can view in the on-site hotel section of our holiday guide. Enjoy!
12/8 – Reminders: Cinematic Spectacular will not run on the evenings of December 6, 7, 13 & 14. It is scheduled to run on every other night in December, generally at park closing time (always double-check with your in-park guidemap). Also, on December 12 & 13, USF will be home to Nickelodeon’s Every Witch Way Weekend. For more details and other information about what’s happening right now at across the resort, visit our Universal Snapshot page.
12/7 – We visited Universal last Saturday for the opening of the resort’s holiday festivities. You can now view our 114 new photos on our Flickr page (December 6 album), which includes a quick stop at Islands of Adventure to check out the Whos of Grinchmas before we settle in at Universal Studios Florida for the Macy’s Holiday Parade. The evening ends with a performance by Mannheim Steamroller and dinner at The Cowfish.
12/5 – On this week’s Orlando Informer Minute: Mike, our video producer, is on vacation for one more week. So instead of our usual OI Minute news coverage, Mike presents the top five reasons he loves Walt Disney World! You can view our latest video in the OI Forums, then be sure you don’t miss next week’s episode by subscribing to our YouTube channel.
12/4 – This Saturday, the holidays come to life across Universal’s theme parks. From the majestic Macy’s Holiday Parade and concerts featuring Mannheim Steamroller (biggest selling Christmas artist of all time) to the charm of the Who-ville Whos and the pranks of the Grinch himself, celebrate the season as only Universal knows how! To start planning your visit, we present all the details you need in our Holidays 2014 pages.
PS. Want to know what’s happening for New Year’s Eve? We’ve got that covered too.
12/4 – Universal has extended its promotion for active and retired military personnel. Through June 7, 2015, qualifying guests may purchase up to six 3-day admission tickets for the price of a 1-day ticket. An extra discount has also available for vacation packages including accommodations at Cabana Bay Beach Resort. To learn more, visit this topic in the OI Forums. Or, for more of what’s happening right now across the resort, visit our Universal Snapshot page.
12/2 – The Incredible Hulk Coaster at Islands of Adventure will be closed for maintenance December 8 & 9. To view more attraction closures and see everything that’s happening across the resort, visit our Universal Snapshot page.
12/1 – As we start a new month, we have updated our FREE 12-month Universal Orlando crowd calendar to add November 2015. In addition, the parks now have their January and February 2015 hours published, so we have those online as well. Last but not least, we made a few minor adjustments to our Spring Break 2015 predictions. View it all on our free crowd calendar.
12/1 – It’s not the sexiest subject, but in the winter it’s one that will play a vital role in the success of your trip: Universal’s rental & mandatory ride lockers. Whether it’s because you plan on getting soaked on Ripsaw Falls, or you plan on bringing layers for the evening Mannheim Steamroller concerts, we have everything you need to know in our Complete guide to Universal’s lockers — including five new tips to make your experience even smoother!
12/1 – Universal’s Cyber Monday sale: Book your vacation between November 28 and December 1 and you can enjoy the classic retro-style and ultra-modern comforts of Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort starting from just $119 per adult per night! The offer includes a Free Family Suite upgrade, a $50 credit for dining at the resort, and 2-Day Park-to-Park tickets with a 3rd Day Free! To see if they sale is right for you (or to find out about other deals), contact our trusted travel partner Jennifer Green with Destinations in Florida.
11/28 – On this week’s Orlando Informer Minute: Mike, our video producer, is on vacation. So instead of our usual OI Minute news coverage, Mike presents the top five reasons he’s excited to visit Universal Orlando! You can view our latest video in the OI Forums, then make sure you don’t miss next week’s episode by subscribing to our YouTube channel.
11/26 – Details have been announced for Universal’s big CityWalk bash on New Year’s Eve. The event’s rebranding continues from last year with the moniker EVE 12.31.14, and it will again feature Orlando’s largest outdoor dance floor, all-inclusive access to the CityWalk nightclubs, complimentary gourmet cuisine, and midnight champagne and pyrotechnics. Advance and Annual Passholder discounts available until December 15. To learn more about EVE 12.31.14 and the other NYE events at Universal, visit our New Year’s Eve 2014 page.
11/25 – In a new development during the busier Thanksgiving holiday week, Early Park Admission has been extended to include Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure, but there’s a catch: Hogsmeade is only accessible via the Hogwarts Express from Universal Studios Florida; the IOA turnstiles aren’t actually opening until the regular scheduled time of 9:00am. To learn more about Early Park Admission, visit our complete guide, or you can pick up the conversation in our forums.
11/24 – In case you missed it, the Winter 2014 edition of Universal Orlando’s PASSPORT newsletter is now available. On its cover, a photo of Diagon Alley’s dragon is companion to “A Great Roaring Thanks To Our Annual Passholders,” and the newsletter includes a full rundown of the APH benefits available now and into the new year. To view the newsletter, click here (PDF file), or you can always find the latest edition at the bottom of our Universal Snapshot page.
11/24 – From Thanksgiving through the holidays and New Year’s Eve, if it’s happening this season at Universal Orlando, we have it covered in the OI Universal Center. Follow any one of these links to start planning your visit: Thanksgiving, Holidays, and New Year’s Eve.
11/22 – Hot butterbeer is back at Universal Orlando! Starting Friday, November 21, the warm beverage can be purchased along side its regular, frozen, and ice cream varieties throughout the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. To learn more, visit this post in the OI Forums. To learn how to make butterbeer at home, visit this article in the OI Blog archive.
11/21 – On this week’s Orlando Informer Minute: The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts opens in Orlando, Skyscraper at SKYPLEX incredible ride through, world’s tallest StarFlyer coming to I-Drive, and more. You can view our latest video and its transcript in the OI Forums, then make sure you don’t miss next week’s episode by subscribing to our YouTube channel!
11/20 – For our mid-month calendar update, we’ve accounted for the changes Universal has made to its December hours: the parks will be open an hour later during the weekend of December 6, the opening of the parks’ holiday festivities. Later in the month, two more changes: USF closes an hour earlier from December 20 to 25 and IOA will open an hour earlier during those same dates. To view full details of our latest update and see all our info, visit our FREE 12-month Universal crowd calendar.
11/20 – FYI: for those planning visits soon, please note that our pages covering Universal’s Thanksgiving and holiday festivities are updated. However, as of November 20, we’re still waiting for the resort to announce details for its big CityWalk New Year’s Eve bash. In the meantime, you can see what they did last year by clicking here.
11/17 – We visited Universal early Monday to check out the crowds at CityWalk, where One Direction performed live as part of a TODAY Show appearance. You can now view our 149 photos on our Flickr page (November 17 album), which also includes a full tour of the parks. Curious how the One Direction event went for fans who were on-site starting at 2:00am? Pick up the conversation in the OI Forums.
11/14 – On this week’s Orlando Informer Minute: Every Witch Way Weekend coming to Universal in December, holiday deals & details for Busch Gardens and LEGOLAND, EyeCapsules arrive at the Orlando Eye, and more. You can view our latest video and its transcript in the OI Forums, then make sure you don’t miss next week’s episode by subscribing to our YouTube channel.
11/12 – On November 17 & 18, global pop sensation One Direction will descend on Universal for a set of special performances: one as part of a live TODAY Show appearance Monday morning (free and open to the public on a first-come-first-served basis), and a second as part of a TV special taping Tuesday evening (paid admission required but now sold out). To learn more, view our ongoing discussion in the OI Forums. And we’ll be on-site later Monday morning – follow us on Twitter for live photo updates!
11/11 – The Garden Bridge & Walkway connecting Cabana Bay Beach Resort to Universal CityWalk (and the theme parks) is now open. For a full video and photo tour as well as a map and additional details about the walk, visit our Cabana Bay: Distance from the parks page!
11/10 – November 3 through December 18 (excluding blockout dates), Universal is granting Annual Passholders access to Diagon Alley for Early Park Admission on weekdays. In other words, Monday through Friday now until December 18, Passholders can get into Diagon Alley at the same time as other guests with the Early Park Admission benefit. This is good for all Annual Passholders (Power, Preferred, and Premier). Blockout dates apply: November 17 and November 24 – 28. To learn more, visit our Guide to Early Park Admission.
11/10 – If you’re familiar with the thrill rides at Universal, you likely know that loose articles are not permitted on them, but you were okay if you could fit something in your pocket. The parks have now taken this a step further for Rip Ride Rockit (USF) and Incredible Hulk (IOA). On these rides, no personal items are permitted, even if you can fit them into your pockets. This includes cell phones, wallets, keys, loose changes, and hats. Of course, free lockers are available for your convenience (learn more in our locker guide).
11/8 – We visited Universal on Friday evening, and you can now view the 131 photos from the trip on our Flickr page (November 7 album), including a full tour of the newly opened Garden Bridge & Walkway connecting Cabana Bay Beach Resort to Universal CityWalk. We also have a video of the new area uploaded to our YouTube channel.
11/8 – On this week’s Orlando Informer Minute: The Cowfish opens at Universal CityWalk, two new venues announced for I-Drive 360, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party kicks off, and more. You can view our latest video and its transcript in the OI Forums, then make sure you don’t miss next week’s episode by subscribing to our YouTube channel.
11/6 – Universal has announced its initial lineup for 2015’s “A Celebration of Harry Potter” event, taking place January 30 through February 1. Film talent includes Michael Gambon (Albus Dumbledoor), Robbie Coltrane (Rubeus Hagrid), Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), and James and Oliver Phelps (Fred and George Weasley). The resort has also promised autograph sessions, which were absent from the 2014 Harry Potter Celebration. For a full breakdown of all that has been announced, visit our new post in the OI Forums.
11/5 – From holiday buffets with live entertainment to a tree-lighting luau and Holiday Harbor Nights, see what Universal is cooking up this year for Thanksgiving by clicking here.
11/4 – UNIVERSAL’S EPIC SALES EVENT: For just $99 per night, you can stay at Cabana Bay Beach Resort with a FREE upgrade to a Family Suite and a FREE pair of Blue Man Group tickets! If you don’t already have admission to the parks, you can add that on and still keep the price as low as $119 per night. This sale is only good through Thursday, November 6. Restrictions apply. Contact Jenn, our trusted travel partner, right now via email, or you can learn more about her free services.
11/3 – After being closed for much of September and all of October (during the running of Halloween Horror Nights 2014), Cinematic Spectacular is again scheduled to run regularly at USF’s park closing time and should continue to run well into the new year. However, do keep in mind that the evening lagoon show only runs when USF closes at 7:00pm or later. So just as an example, since USF is closing at 6:00pm on November 4 and 5, Cinematic Spectacular will not run those evening. To see Universal’s park hours, visit our free 12-month crowd calendar. To learn more about the actual performance and read real guest reviews, visit our Cinematic Spectacular page.
11/3 – Veterans Day Parade: In honor of those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, Universal Orlando’s Veterans Network – comprised of more than 400 team members – will march in a special parade at Universal Studios Florida on Monday, November 10 at 11:00am starting in front of Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Revue. Joining the UO Veterans will be multi-branch color guards of Active Duty, Reserve Centers and Local JROTC High School units, drill teams, the Jones High School Marching Band, and more. For more information, visit our Universal Snapshot page.
11/3 – CityWalk updates: The “Steve Harvey” Show is taping at CityWalk Tuesday through Thursday this week (more details in the OI Forums); Universal has announced that its parking garages will open at 3:00am for the One Direction appearance on November 17 (more details in the OI forums); and The Cowfish, last of the eight new venues introduced at CityWalk as part of its 2014 expansion, soft opened for the first time to the general public – read our full review!
11/3 – On Friday, November 28, usher in the Christmas season at Portofino Bay Hotel’s Holiday Harbor Nights, a wine and music event designed to capture the ambiance of the Mediterranean. The evening will feature select wines and sparkling wines, gourmet food, live music, and the grand illumination of Portofino Bay Hotel’s majestic Christmas tree under the twinkling lights of the Harbor Piazza! For more special events, check out our Universal Snapshot page.
10/31 – On this week’s Orlando Informer Minute (packed with news because we missed last week!): The “Steve Harvey” show is coming to Universal Orlando, SeaWorld and LEGOLAND offer Veteran’s Day discounts through November, the sorcerer’s hat is leaving Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and so much more. You can view our latest video and its transcript in the OI Forums, then make sure you don’t miss next week’s episode by subscribing to our YouTube channel.
10/29 – This is a big one! Universal now sells “Universal Express Unlimited” tickets online and over the phone. Previously, unlimited Express Passes sold as a standalone ticket were only available for purchase on-site at Universal. All the information in our Complete insider’s guide to Universal Express has been updated to reflect this change, including how the pricing of this new option compares to bundling Express access with a Park-to-Park ticket.
10/28 – A new month starts this Saturday, so we’ve added a new month to our crowd calendar: you can now view October 2015. In addition, Universal has updated some of its hours for November of this year. Guests visiting the parks soon will want to note Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure close at 6:00pm on several upcoming dates. See it all by visiting our FREE 12-month Universal crowd calendar.
UPDATE: This Saturday, November 1, is the final event date of HHN 2014, and like all the previous event dates, Universal Studios Florida is now scheduled to open at 8:00am (with Early Park Admission scheduled for 7:00am). Then, starting Sunday, November 2, USF moves back to its normal 9:00am opening time (with EPA at 8:00am) all the way until the last week in December.
10/28 – VEVO (the music video folks) and Just Dance (the video game franchise) each have joined up with One Direction to launch more sweepstakes for the band’s November 17 appearance at Universal Orlando: grand prize is a vacation package for three guests that includes round-trip airfare, three nights at Cabana Bay Beach Resort, admission to the parks, and access to a taping of a special performance by One Direction. For more information, visit this post in the OI Forums.
10/28 – On Friday, November 7, join your friends at Royal Pacific Resort for Jake’s Beer Dinner: a uniquely local dining adventure! Enjoy a four-course dinner featuring Terrapin Beer Co. craft beers. Each course is specially created and paired with a selection from Terrapin by the resort’s award-winning chefs. You can view the menu (PDF file), or you can get pricing and reservation information by calling 407-503-3200. For more special events, check out our Universal Snapshot page.
10/27 – This week Halloween Horror Nights runs Wednesday through Saturday. Even though this marks the end of the season, we’re still expecting big crowds, so please read through our HHN early admission page, print out our free HHN 2014 touring plan, and see what real guests have thought of the event in our review section. You can access all of this in our Insider’s guide to HHN 2014. Have questions? We have answers in the OI Forums.
10/24 – Rosie and I took a vacation for a few days (our first couples’ vacation since Orlando Informer opened), so we won’t be posting updates daily for a bit. I’ll be back to work as usual on Tuesday, October 28. Thanks for your patience.
10/20 – For the first time in the show’s history, Chicago-based “Steve Harvey” will take the show on the road next month, broadcasting a week’s worth of episodes from Universal Orlando. The episodes will be taped in front of a live audience at Universal’s CityWalk Lagoon Stage on November 4, 5 and 6 and will air November 17 – 21, 2014. To learn more and see all the upcoming events on the books, visit our Universal Snapshot page.
10/20 – Did you know that fans just like you have submitted over 75 “real guest reviews” of Halloween Horror Nights 2014? See what they’re saying (or share your own review) by clicking here. Or to start back at the very beginning of your planning, visit the overview page in our Insider’s guide to HHN 2014.
10/20 – Are you thinking this right now: “I love your site, but all the new stuff at Universal has got me a little confused – like, what ticket do I need for the Hogwarts Express?” If you don’t have the time to plan every detail yourself, we can help! Orlando Informer honored to work with Jennifer Green of Destinations in Florida. She can assist you with your trips to Universal, Disney, and more. Best of all, her services are free to you. Seriously. To get in touch, simply complete this form, or you can learn more by visiting OrlandoInformer.com/DIF.
10/17 – On this week’s Orlando Informer Minute: Universal relaunches its “buy two days get the third day free” promotion, Disney’s BoardWalk introduces Trattoria al Forno, nation’s second-largest comic book shop to open in Orlando, and more. You can view our latest video and its transcript in the OI Forums, then make sure you don’t miss next week’s episode by subscribing to our YouTube channel.
10/17 – We visited Universal on Thursday, and you can now view our 150 photos(!) from the trip on our Flickr page (October 16 album), including the latest look at Cabana Bay’s Garden Walkway, “Kongstruction” at Islands of Adventure, and the brand-new Christmas store at Universal Studios Florida. King Kong fans, we also uploaded a short video, which you can view in our forums.
10/15 – How much should you budget for merchandise at Diagon Alley? What are some recommendations for off-site hotels? What did you think of the season opener of The Walking Dead? Our vacation planning community is discussing these topics and so much more right now in the OI Forums. Visit the index page to see everything we’re chatting about, or view our new content page to see the latest posts. We hope you’ll join in – remember, our goal is to make vacation planning nearly as much fun as the trip itself!
10/14 – Starting October 14, 2014 and running through June 7, 2015, U.S. and Canada residents can get a free day of admission when they purchase a 2-day park-to-park ticket for Universal Orlando. This equals about $10 in savings per tickets ($176 versus $186). For full details, check out this topic in the OI Forums. Or, to see more promotions, visit our Universal Snapshot page.
10/13 – Our main site will be down on Tuesday, October 14 from noon to 2:00pm Eastern while our server is upgraded. Please note that this will not affect our forums, which run on a separate server and will be up and running the whole time. We apologize for any inconvenience.
UPDATE: Server upgrade is complete. Thanks for your patience!
10/13 – In case you missed the news over the weekend, Universal has extended HHN hours for several dates in October. The opening time for all dates is still the same – 6:30pm – but the closing time has been moved to 1:00am or 2:00am. You can view the old and new calendar in the OI forums, or view the new calendar and so much more in our Insider’s guide to HHN 2014.
10/13 – We visited Universal on Friday, and you can now view our 88 photos from the trip on our Flickr page (October 10 album), including the latest look at CityWalk’s newest venue, The Cowfish, rumored to be opening in early November, and “kongstruction” at Islands of Adventure – the King Kong ride is rumored to be opening in summer 2016.
10/11 – Just when we thought we’d had all our advice in place for this year’s HHN early admission and touring, Universal made some big changes as of this week that forced us to rewrite our guide. If you’ve been using our pages to plan your visit, you can read a full explanation of this update in the OI Forums. On the other hand, if you’ve just discovered us, then you needn’t worry about the changes – you can go right ahead to our up-to-date Insider’s guide to HHN 2014.
10/11 – On this week’s Orlando Informer Minute: Disney tests Toy Story Midway Mania by only allowing guests with FastPass+ reservations to ride, First look at the new Tomorrowland film, Puerto Rico could be the next pavilion at Epcot, and more. You can see our latest video and show notes, then make sure you don’t miss next week’s episode by subscribing to our YouTube channel.
10/8 – Are you looking for a free packing list for your upcoming Orlando vacation? We’ve got you covered, and our list includes some of our best kept secrets what to pack when driving or flying to Central Florida, what you’ll want for your hotel room, what you’ll need for a day at the parks – even our top recommendation for shoes – and some great tips for kids’ safety. To check out our list, click here.
10/6 – The start of a new month means that we’ve added a new month to our crowd calendar: you can now view September 2015. In addition, we want to bring to your attention that Universal has updated its December 2014 hours so both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure are scheduled to be open 8:00am to 11:00pm during the last week of the year. To see it all, visit our FREE 12-month Universal crowd calendar.
Note: if you’re curious about whether Islands of Adventure will offer Early Park Admission during Thanksgiving week or the last week of the year, all I can say is that Universal hasn’t announced that it will. So for now, just plan on EPA at Universal Studios Florida (for Diagon Alley). Of course, if Universal announces anything new, we’ll update our info!
10/6 – Upcoming on-site hotel events: on Friday, October 17, Portofino Bay Hotel invites you under the twinkling lights of the Harbor Piazza for Harbor Nights – La Dolce Vita, a wine and music event designed to capture the ambiance of the Mediterranean. Then on Thursday, October 30, Hard Rock Hotel continues Orlando’s only rock ‘n roll lobby party with its Halloween-themed “Velvet Sessions” event, including an adult costume contest! To learn about these events and more, visit our Universal Snapshot page.
UPDATE: To see 28 photos from Harbor Nights – La Dolce Vita at Portofino Bay Hotel, visit the hotel’s Facebook page by clicking here.
10/6 – Did you have an opportunity to experience Halloween Horror Nights this past weekend? If you did, we’d love to hear what you thought of the event. Visit our HHN 2014 real guest reviews page to share your thoughts and see what other fans are saying.
10/6 – We’ve uploaded a combo album to Flickr that encompasses two shorter visits to Universal on September 25 and October 3. During both visits, I spent most of my time at Halloween Horror Nights 24, but the best photo in the set was shot at Islands of Adventure. You can see it here, then visit our Flickr album page to view everything else.
10/3 – On this week’s Orlando Informer Minute: Disney Weddings’ amazing projection cakes, NASCAR Sports Grille closing at Universal CityWalk, Memento Mori gift shop opening at Magic Kingdom, and more. To watch our latest show, click here.
10/2 – As we enter the third weekend of HHN 2014, we’ve now solidified our touring advice for this year – and there’s a big change from previous years. We’ve always recommended staying at Finnegan’s for HHN early admission, but for 2014 we’re recommending that guests wait in the holding area at Lucy – A Tribute near the front of Universal Studios Florida. For a full explanation, view our completely updated HHN 2014 early admission guide.
Our free HHN 2014 touring plan has also been totally rewritten based on this new advice and our observations from HHN’s first two weekends.
10/2 – On Monday, October 6, Universal Photo Connect will finally complete its August price increase by raising its pre-sale prices. The current pre-sale price for the 3-Day Package is $49.95; it will go up to $59.95. More significantly, the current pre-sale price for the Annual Passholder Package is $49.95; it will go up to $89.95. Needless to say, if you’re interested in either package, now is the time to buy. To learn more, visit our Complete guide to Universal Photo Connect.
Tip: we’ve been told many times by Universal Photo Connect that pre-sale vouchers do not expire – so yes, you can purchase a voucher now even if you’re not traveling until next year (and you can purchase the AP Package even if you don’t have an annual pass yet).
Universal has increased the prices of its Photo Connect Packages. Most of them have only gone up $10 (so the in-park purchase price of the 3-day package is now $69.95), but the Annual Passholder package has nearly doubled: it’s now $99.95, up from $59.95. The good news is that, for a short period, you can still pre-purchase all packages at their older prices – which means Annual Passholders can save $50! To learn more, view this update in the OI Forums.
10/1 – Universal has officially announced that Cinematic Spectacular, USF’s nighttime lagoon show, will not run at all during the Halloween Horror Nights season (not even on non-HHN event dates). In other words, the show won’t run again until sometime after November 1. It’s worth noting that this is a change from previous years when Cinematic Spectacular did run on non-HHN event dates throughout September and October. No word yet on exactly when in November the show will start again. For a list of all attraction closures and much more, visit our Universal Snapshot page.
10/1 – As part of One Direction’s appearance live at Universal on November 17, they’ve launched a sweepstakes for three guests to receive round-trip airfare, on-site accommodations, and access to a taping of special performance by One Direction. To enter the sweepstakes, you’ll need to submit an original t-shirt design for the “One Direction in Orlando” appearance by October 6. As usual, this one is open to U.S. residents only. To enter, click here. To learn more about the One Direction event, check out our latest update in the OI Forums.
9/29 – Last Saturday evening, Universal posted an announcement on its Facebook Page that NASCAR Sports Grille is scheduled to close November 1. This is not entirely surprising, as it has been rumored for almost a year. What is surprising is that Universal then took down the Facebook post. Nevertheless, Universal’s spokesperson Tom Schroder has issued a statement, so the news can be considered official. Its replacement? A relatively quick overlay is expected to produce an NBC Sports-themed venue.
9/29 – Did you know that Annual Passholders can save up to 46% on hotel stays at Universal’s on-site properties, with the best offers usually coming in the off-season (read: right now)? For this reason, many families find that it is less expensive to buy an Annual Pass as part of their full vacation budget because it gives them access to AP hotel rates. We explain everything on our AP hotel discount page.
9/27 – On this week’s Orlando Informer Minute: Studio Backlot Tour at Disney’s Hollywood Studios closes, Universal unveils a new promotion for active and retired military personnel, Busch Gardens launches PhotoKey, and more. To watch our latest show, click here.
9/26 – The terror starts again as Halloween Horror Nights 2014 enters its second weekend (this time running 6:30pm to midnight on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday). To view our video coverage from Thursday night, check out our new HHN 2014 playlist on YouTube. Ready to start planning your trip? Know exactly what to expect and how to make the most of your visit by reading through our Insider’s guide to HHN 2014.
9/25 – Will you brave enough to visit Halloween Horror Nights during the event’s first two weekends? If so, take a moment to share your review with our readers and you could win a $100 Universal Orlando gift card! To learn more about the giveaway or read the HHN 2014 reviews already submitted by fans just like you, click here.
9/24 – A new promotion for active and retired military personnel has been announced by Universal. Today through December 14, qualifying guests may purchase up to six 3-day admission tickets for the price of a 1-day ticket, saving roughly $50 per ticket. An extra discount has also been extended for vacation packages including accommodations at Cabana Bay Beach Resort. To learn more, visit this topic in the OI Forums.
9/22 – Universal has now moved up USF’s opening time to 8:00am throughout October (7:00am for Early Park Admission). Readers who have been following these developments will remember that Universal initially did this for USF’s opening time in the second half of September, and now they’ve carried it through to the end of Halloween Horror Nights season. Universal has also changed IOA’s closing time for most dates in October. To learn more, visit our FREE 12-month Universal Orlando crowd calendar.
9/21 – The opening weekend of Halloween Horror Nights is over, and we were there for the very rainy first night and much better second night. To view over 200 images from the event, visit our Flickr page. To discuss all aspects of HHN 2014, join us in the OI Forums. Or, to start back at the beginning, visit our insider’s guide to the event.
9/19 – On this week’s Orlando Informer Minute: Busch Gardens Tampa announces its first-ever Food & Wine Festival, a look at the upcoming holiday celebrations at LEGOLAND Florida and Universal Orlando, HHN launches The Compound, and more. To watch our latest show, click here.
9/19 – This weekend Halloween Horror Nights begins, and we’re going to be providing a ton of coverage on our site. Throughout Friday and Saturday evening, be sure to follow us on Twitter for live in-park photo updates from the event. Not sure what you’re in for this year? View our Insider’s guide to HHN 2014, or check out our newly published spoiler-free, sneak peek blog post reviewing Wednesday’s HHN Team Member preview.
9/18 – We are proud to present our Halloween Horror Nights 2014 touring plan, filled with the very best tips and strategies for the shortest amount of waiting during your night of terror. Our HHN touring plan is free, just like all of our handcrafted Universal touring plans, and you definitely want to use it – remember, during the busiest nights, wait times for HHN haunted houses can be as long as three hours!
9/17 – You’re likely aware already that USF’s Cinematic Spectacular nighttime lagoon show doesn’t run on HHN event nights. We’ve now heard in our forums that the show will actually not run on any dates in October. A call to Guest Services didn’t get us confirmation, but Guest Services also didn’t assure that it would be running on non-HHN dates – they only said that we’ll have to check with the park the day of. The takeaway for vacation planners is, until future notice, don’t expect Cinematic Spectacular in October. To learn more about attractions closures, visit our Universal Snapshot page.
9/17 – In case you missed it, the Fall 2014 edition of Universal Orlando’s PASSPORT newsletter for Annual Passholders is now available. “Come Face to Face with Evil” declares the title page, and the contents include a full rundown of AP benefits for this year’s Halloween Horror Nights. To view the newsletter, click here (PDF file), or you can always find the latest edition at the bottom of our Universal Snapshot page.
9/16 – Starting Tuesday, September 16, Universal Studios Florida moves up its opening time to 8:00am for the rest of the month, which means Early Park Admission moves up to 7:00am. To see all of Universal’s park hours, visit our free 12-month Universal crowd calendar.
9/16 – We want to remind Annual Passholders, if you’re interested in participating in this year’s AP Nights for early access to a three HHN 2014 haunted houses, you need to RSVP. To learn more, click here.
9/15 – New event on the books: on Friday, October 17, Harbor Nights “La Dolce Vita” at Portofino Bay Hotel invites you under the twinkling lights of the Harbor Piazza for a wine and music event designed to capture the ambiance of the Mediterranean. The event will feature select wines, sparkling wines, and gourmet cuisine from the hotel’s restaurants. To learn more and see everything that’s happening right now across the resort, visit our Universal Snapshot page.
9/13 – On this week’s Orlando Informer Minute: Universal announces Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, SeaWorld’s Spooktacular brings Halloween fun for kids, Frozen replacing Maelstrom at Epcot, and more. To watch our new show and discuss, click here.
9/12 – We visited Universal on Friday, and you can now view our 203 photos from the trip on our Flickr page (September 12 album), including an entire walkthrough of the Escape from Gringotts queue, new props in the streets for Halloween Horror Nights, and a stop at CityWalk’s new Bread Box sandwich shop.
TIP: Twitter has redesigned their timeline page to make it much easier to view photos and their captions. So if you look through our Flickr album and wonder what the heck it is we’re taking shots of, view our Twitter timeline for guidance. Remember, you don’t have to sign up for Twitter to see everything we post over there.
9/12 – Global pop sensation One Direction will celebrate the release of their new album “FOUR” on NBC’s TODAY Show Monday, November 17 with a special performance live from Universal Orlando. Designated viewing will be available throughout CityWalk on a first-come basis and no admission is required (aside from paid parking). To learn more and discuss, visit the this topic in the OI Forums.
9/12 – We’re off to Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure for our weekly tour of the parks. Follow us on Twitter to see every single one of our photo updates broadcast live from Universal Orlando Resort (and you can send questions and photo requests to us via Twitter too), or catch a few highlights on our Facebook page. See ya at the parks!
9/9 – Universal has announced its fifth on-site hotel: Loews Sapphire Falls Resort! The new property, featuring a Caribbean theme, 1,000 guest rooms, and substantial convention space, is scheduled to open summer 2016. It is located between Royal Pacific Resort and Cabana Bay Beach Resort. This is a developing story – to learn more and see the initial concept artwork, visit our new section in the OI Forums.
9/8 – We now have the official HHN 2014 map, and our HHN insider’s guide has been updated with its details. We’ve also learned that Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n Hurl has been removed from this year’s lineup of rides open during Halloween Horror Nights (it’ll still be open during the day, however). Check out the new map and learn everything else you need to know in our Insider’s guide to HHN 2014.
UPDATE: Universal has now published the three houses that will be available during Annual Passholder Nights, and they gave us a peek at this year’s exclusive AP pin. To skip right to this info, click here.
9/8 – Did you know that we monitor Universal’s ride wait times daily, and we use our knowledge to update our Universal wait times based on crowd levels page? Well, we’ve updated our numbers again today because, over the last two weeks, the line for Escape from Gringotts has disappeared. It’s tough to believe after seeing five- to seven-hour lines this summer. Yet, at 1:00pm on Monday, the wait time was 15 minutes. Crazy.
9/8 – Speaking of Escape from Gringotts, thanks to one of our readers, we’ve been able to clarify a few details about the attraction’s photo op. If you’ve purchased the Star Card Package, unfortunately you cannot redeem your free prints at Escape from Gringotts. However, you can purchase the security badge separately (instead of having to bundle it with the family photo). If none of this make sense, check out our Complete guide to Universal Photo Connect.
9/8 – On Thursday, September 25, Hard Rock Hotel continues Orlando’s hottest lobby party with its “Velvet Sessions” series featuring Bret Michaels. Purchase includes admission at 6:30pm with free specialty drinks, finger foods, warm-up tunes until the show starts, and complimentary valet parking. To learn more and see everything that’s happening right now across the resort, visit our Universal Snapshot page.
9/5 – On this week’s Orlando Informer Minute: Falcon’s Fury officially opens, Six Flags announces new rides based on DC Comics, and more. To watch our new show and discuss, click here.
9/4 – We’ve just posted our largest Universal crowd calendar update on record, refreshing or adding new information to virtually all 12 months. Highlights of the update include downgraded crowd estimates for September and October, newly published park hours for December, and a refresh of our predictions for Spring Break 2015. You can view and discuss the update in the OI Forums, or skip directly to our free 12-month Universal crowd calendar by clicking here.
9/3 – Universal has completed its rollout of free wifi covering its theme parks and Universal CityWalk, and in addition, earlier this year Loews introduced free in-room wifi for all registered guests. We have now fully updated our Guide to internet access at Universal with all the details, and on the same page, we also present a full introduction to Universal’s new mobile app for Android and iOS.
9/2 – This weekend is Rock the Universe 2014 at Universal Studios Florida. The full event guidemap is now available as a download, and we want to let our readers now that the Rock Your Weekend ticket – one of the best values offered at Universal all year long, is still available for purchase. Visit our RTU 2014 guide to learn more, or discuss all of Universal’s annual events in the OI Forums.
9/2 – Speaking of special events, we have another one on the books: the autumn edition of Jake’s Beer Festival will be held on October 3. Join your friends at Royal Pacific Resort to enjoy samplings from over 50 craft beers, specially prepared culinary creations, and live music. To find out more and discover everything else happening right now at the resort, visit our Universal Snapshot page.
9/1 – Reminder: weekdays in September, Universal Annual Passholders have access to Early Park Admission at Universal Studios Florida for Diagon Alley! Passholders, please note that this is only Monday through Friday, and it’s only for Diagon Alley (Hogsmeade and the Hogwarts Express may be open for guests with full EPA benefits). To learn more about Passholder Appreciation Month, check out all the extra benefits being offered in September.
8/31 – We headed off to Universal Orlando Saturday afternoon, and you can now view our 164 photos from the visit on our Flickr page (August 30 album), including Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Universal Studios Florida, Leaky Cauldron, and, unfortunately, our attempt to ride Escape from Gringotts.
8/28 – Last night, Universal officially revealed the final house for HHN 2014: Michael Myers’ Halloween. The timing is perfect, because we’ve just pulled the covers off our Complete insider’s guide to HHN 2014, including all event details, our famous admission guide, and so much more. We can’t wait to help our readers plan the perfect HHN experience – and yes, you need to plan for HHN! To get started right now, click here.
8/26 – Exclusive vacation packages for Universal Orlando’s 2015 “A Celebration of Harry Potter” event are on sale, and there is still availability at all four on-site hotels. To help you decide whether purchasing an HP Celebration package is right for you, we’ve published everything you need to know in the OI Forums.
8/25 – We finally have a definite statement regarding what’s happening with Early Park Admission in September. As we originally reported a few weeks ago, starting September 2, only Diagon Alley (USF) will be open for Early Park Admission. Fans following these developments know that, throughout this summer, both Diagon Alley (USF) and Hogsmeade (IOA) have been open. But starting September 2, only Diagon Alley (USF) will be. View the full update in the OI Forums, or start at the beginning with our Complete guide to Early Park Admission.
8/25 – During Halloween season, the Fear Factor Live amphitheater is used for HHN’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure. Because of this, Fear Factor Live is “closed for seasonal maintenance” throughout August, September, and October, and could remain closed for much of November and December. To learn more and see a complete overview of everything happening right now at the resort, visit our Universal Snapshot page, or you can visit the OI Forums to discuss Bill & Ted’s.
8/22 – Our foray into covering theme park news on video continues. Watch the August 22, 2014 edition of the Orlando Informer Minute and share your feedback by clicking here.
8/22 – It’s official: weekdays in September, Universal Annual Passholders have access to Early Park Admission at Universal Studios Florida for Diagon Alley! Passholders, please note that this is only Monday through Friday, and it’s only for Diagon Alley (Hogsmeade and the Hogwarts Express may be open for guests with full EPA benefits). To learn more, visit our Complete guide to Early Park Admission. Passholders can also check out the other extra benefits being offered in September.
8/21 – Universal has increased the prices of its Photo Connect Packages. Most of them have only gone up $10 (so the in-park purchase price of the 3-day package is now $69.95), but the Annual Passholder package has nearly doubled: it’s now $99.95, up from $59.95. The good news is that, for a short period, you can still pre-purchase all packages at their older prices – which means Annual Passholders can save $50! To learn more, view this update in the OI Forums.
More photo news: we’ve also updated our Complete guide to Universal Photo connect & ride photos with details about Escape from Gringotts.
8/21 – At noon Eastern today, exclusive vacation packages for Universal Orlando’s 2015 “A Celebration of Harry Potter” event go on sale – and they’ll likely sell out very soon (last year’s packages were gone in two days). To help you decide whether purchasing a package is right for you, we’ve published everything you need to know in the OI Forums.
8/19 – SWEEPSTAKES ALERT: Hop Topic is giving away a 4-day, 3-night Universal Orlando vacation for two guests including airfare, accommodations at Cabana Bay Beach Resort, and Blue Man Group tickets. To enter, you either need to get social with Hot Topic as described here, or view their official rules for an alternative method of entry. Looks like you can enter once per day through September 1, and this one is open to U.S. and Canada residence.
8/18 – We headed off to Universal Orlando bright and early on Monday morning, and you can now view our 164 photos from the visit on our Flickr page (August 18 album), including Diagon Alley, the Hogwarts Express, The Tale of the Three Bothers, and more from Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure!
8/17 – We’ve had an incredible summer. Over 2,000 of you have joined us in the new OI Forums, generating over 60,000 comments to date! What’s more, our site continues record-breaking growth with over 6 million pageviews since May, up 248% over last summer. To say thanks for your tremendous support, we’re giving away a $100 Universal gift card. To enter, follow the instructions on this Facebook post by 4:00pm Eastern on Monday. Thanks again for an amazing summer!
UPDATE: Congratulations, Maddison Brooks, your comment was randomly selected and you’ve won a $100 Universal gift card. To claim your prize, please contact us via the private message function on our Facebook page in the next seven days. Thanks to everyone who participated!
8/15 – Today we’re launching an experiment – our very first venture into covering theme park news on video. You can watch our first edition by clicking here, then please share any feedback you have. Enjoy!
8/14 – Mid-month crowd calendar update: Universal has changed its parks hours for almost every day in September. What’s more, USF is now scheduled to open at 8:00am throughout the second half of September, a first for the park. In addition, Universal has published its park hours for November. This is a big update – see a full explanation of all the changes and additions on our free 12-month Universal Orlando crowd calendar. Want to price out an off-season visit to Universal? We’ll also do that for free.
8/14 – In special event news, Universal has confirmed that the 3-day “A Celebration of Harry Potter” event will return next January. What’s more, they’re now referring to it as an annual event – learn more in the OI Forums. On page 2, HHN has officially announced its original content for this year, including three houses (Dollhouse of the Damned, Giggles & Gore Inc, and Roanoke – Cannibal Colony) and two scarezones (MASKerade; Unstitched and Bayou of Blood) – learn more.
8/13 – Florida residents: save up to $40 on Blue Man Group tickets for performance dates through September and October. Purchase tickets and more
8/12 – The summer 2014 travel season is almost at an end. Starting August 18, Orange County schools are back in session, which is one of the stronger indications that crowds and lines will go down. We also want to remind you that, starting August 17, Islands of Adventure returns to its regular opening time, so both Universal parks will open at 9:00am (8:00am for Early Park Admission). To learn more, view our free 12-month Universal Orlando crowd calendar.
8/12 – Speaking of shifting times, Universal has thrown one more change at us before both parks return to the same opening time. On August 1, when Universal’s offset park hours began, they initially had the Hogwarts Express starting one-way operations from IOA to USF at 7:20am. We’ve now got multiple confirmations that this is no longer the case, and the Hogwarts Express isn’t starting operations until 8:00am. The takeaway is, if you want to go to USF for EPA, go directly there (and you should be there by 7:00am). For a complete explanation, visit our Early Park Admission page.
8/12 – Helping families with special needs is one of the goals of Orlando Informer. Along with our monthly column in our blog – Special needs are Universal – we also have a dedicated page in the OI Universal Center covering the resort’s Attraction Assistance & Express Guest Assistance Passes, which we’ve now fully updated with new tips and Diagon Alley details.
8/12 – Merry Grinchmas! Just today, Universal confirmed the initial dates and details of its 2014 holiday celebrations, including the return of Mannheim Steamroller for six nights in December. You can view the press release in the OI Forums.
8/8 – After taking a few weeks off to update over 25 pages in the OI Universal Center with Diagon Alley vacation planning details, we’re back to our regular routine of weekly visits to Universal! You can now view our 156 photos from Thursday evening’s visit on our Flickr page (August 7 album), including the Two Foot Dog from Hot Dog Hall of Fame, a look at IOA’s Kongstruction and Hogsmeade Station, and more exploration of USF’s Diagon Alley.
8/8 – We got an unofficial announcement that, starting September 2, Early Park Admission will only be offered at Universal Studios Florida for Diagon Alley. For those just joining us, now through September 2 guests with Early Park Admission can get into both USF and IOA. This change was expected, as the off-season crowds just aren’t big enough to justify opening both parks early. We updated our Early Park Admission guide with this news, and you can discuss it all in the OI Forums.
UPDATE: I just wanted to clarify that, since the beginning of this summer, Universal has only ever “guaranteed” that one park would be open during Early Park Admission. Here’s the language: Requires theme park admission. Early Park Admission begins one (1) hour prior to regular scheduled park opening to one (1) Universal Orlando theme park as determined by Universal Orlando. Valid at select attractions at each park. Universal Orlando Resort reserves the right to open alternative attractions in the event that a technical problem arises or an attraction opening is delayed.
To see this yourself, visit this page on UniversalOrlandoVacations.com and click the small, blue Disclaimer link toward the bottom. Keep in mind, everything is subject to change, and this is still unofficial info.
8/7 – Universal has announced the third and fourth official haunted houses of Halloween Horror Nights 2014: Alien vs. Predator and Dracula Untold. You can read all the details in the OI Forums. Are you wondering about our main HHN 2014 guide? We’ll get that updated very soon, but right now we’re focusing on getting all of our Diagon Alley vacation planning material posted. Thanks for your patience!
8/6 – Speaking of updates, we’ve completed the initial work of bringing all of our free touring plans up-to-date with Diagon Alley details and all-new routing to avoid crowds. This includes a comprehensive update to our 3-day touring plan for on-site guests and our full-day, Potter-only Wizarding World touring plan. You can view all of them on our Universal Orlando touring plans page. Please note that we will continue to refine our recommendations as always, and you can help us by providing feedback in the OI Forums.
8/6 – The start of a new month means we’ve added a new month to our crowd calendar: you can now view July 2015. In other calendar news, we’ve also added our estimated dates for next year’s Summer Concert Series, although we’re still waiting for confirmation that it will return. For more, you can read our full update and see everything else on our free 12-month Universal Orlando crowd calendar.
8/4 – Have you ever asked (or been asked) whether there’s anything for kids to do at Universal Orlando? My friends, there is so much for youngsters at the parks! To help you and your family plan, we’ve updated our “Visiting with kids” guides for Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure with new Wizarding World details.
7/31 – Starting Friday, August 1, Universal’s parks hours become offset for about two week: Islands of Adventure will continue to open at 8:00am while Universal Studios Florida will move back to the opening time of 9:00am. This will impact Early Park Admission and Hogwarts Express access for anyone traveling soon. A full explanation is provided on our Early Park Admission page, and if you have questions, we encourage you to post them after the update in the OI Forums.
7/31 – Good news for guests with Power Passes! This summer’s blockout dates for Universal Studios Florida were supposed to go through August 14. However, Universal has lifted the blockout starting tomorrow, August 1 – which means you will be able to experience Diagon Alley and the Hogwarts Express 14 days earlier than planned. Learn more and discuss
7/30 – At the end of last week, we let you know that our Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure 1-day touring plan was fully updated to include Diagon Alley. Today, I’m happy to announce that we’ve done the same with our two separate “ultimate 1-day plans” for Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. Next up, we begin work on our 3-day touring plan for on-site guests – look for that one and a new plan just for the Wizarding World by early next week!
7/30 – With so many souvenir choices available at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it can be tough to know where to start. In an effort to help you kick off your spending, we’ve compiled a short list of what we feel are the best items in terms of their novelty, collectability, and value for first-time visitors. These lists can now be found toward the bottom of our updated merchandise guides for Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.
7/28 – We’ve been working diligently to bring you the best, most complete vacation planning coverage of Diagon Alley and the new chapter of Universal Orlando after the opening of the remarkable land. As part of this work, we have either updated or freshly published 16 critical pages in the OI Universal Center. Scroll down to our July 25 update to see the full list.
We do want to bring your attention to one new page in particular, just published Monday. From Toads in the Hole to Harry Palmers, we present our Ultimate guide to Diagon Alley’s food and drinks.
7/28 – Speaking of updates to our site, we have now moved on to the project many have been highly anticipating: the overhaul of our free touring plans. I am pleased to let you know that our first plan – Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure 1-day plan – is now fully updated. As we move through this week, we’ll get all our other plans updated, and we’ll be publishing a brand-new plan as well, taking you meticulously into the Wizarding Worlds.
7/28 – Are you wondering what happens on Friday, August 1, when Universal Studios Florida changes its opening time back to 9:00am but Islands of Adventure keeps its opening time at 8:00am? How will this affect Early Park Admission and the Hogwarts Express? We’ve posted the latest update in the OI Forums. To see all of Universal’s park hours, visit our free 12-month Universal crowd calendar.
7/28 – On Thursday, July 31, Hard Rock Hotel continues Orlando’s hottest lobby party with its “Velvet Sessions” series featuring Lou Gramm, former lead vocalist of Foreigner. Purchase includes admission at 6:30pm with free specialty drinks, finger foods, warm-up tunes until the show starts, and complimentary valet parking. The featured entertainment takes the stage at 8:00pm. To learn more about this event and everything else happening on-site, visit our Universal Snapshot page.
7/25 – We are in the process of overhauling many pages in the OI Universal Center now that Diagon Alley is open and we know more about how Universal is handling crowds and other related factors. In the first round, we’ve now fully updated these important pages:
- Universal vacation packages – an insider’s guide
- Ride wait times based on crowd levels
- Express Passes – complete insider’s guide
- Only guaranteed ways to beat the crowds at the Wizarding World
- How to ensure your trip to the Wizarding World is a success
Second round of updated pages:
- Title page to our “Insider’s guide to the Wizarding World”
- Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World (this is a must-read!)
- Return tickets & standby line to enter the Wizarding World
- Rental & ride lockers at Universal
- Refillable cups, popcorn buckets & Coke Freestyle
- Shopping & merchandise at Universal Orlando
- Universal Dining Plans – complete guide
Third round – new pages!
- Interactive wands & spell-casting in the Wizarding World
- Shopping & merchandise in Diagon Alley
- Leaky Cauldron: The grandest feast a wizard can have
- Ultimate guide to Diagon Alley’s food and drinks
We’ll continue plugging away at getting all our pages updated and new information published, and yes, we know we need to get our free touring plans updated too – stay tuned!
7/22 – In Halloween Horror Night news, yesterday evening Universal announced its first official scarezone for this year’s event: The Purge. Turning to page 2 news, Universal has implemented a new 2-night minimum requirement for on-site stays in October. Since this is the first HHN to run with Cabana Bay’s 1,800 rooms available, this is a bold move indeed. Discuss it all in the OI Forums
7/18 – As we continue to work on updating and refining the Diagon Alley vacation planning information in the OI Universal Center, we’re posting day-to-day updates in the OI Forums. Earlier this week, we posted one of our most significant updates concerning Early Park Admission, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, and the overall crowds inside Universal’s new land. To read the update, click here. Then, today, we added a small update and posted some of your biggest questions with our answers. These are in the same topic as the previous update, so you can scroll down after clicking the link above or, to jump straight to today’s update, click here.
7/17 – Technology updates: First, my computer is fixed! If you don’t get what this is about, you can read the backstory here. Second, we’ve moved the OI Forums to a new server to address some connectivity issues our members were having. If you experience any issues using the forums, let us know by leaving a reply in this topic.
7/16 – Today it was announced that “Orlando Informer – Dan Hatfield” won first place in the USA TODAY 10Best reader poll for Best Theme Park Blogger. On behalf of everyone who contributes to our site and our vacation planning community, thank you for your votes and for this honor! If you’d like to see the top 10 winners, click here.
7/15 – We’ve got a big crowd calendar update today: For starters, now that Diagon Alley is no longer speculation but is actually open, we’ve been watching the crowds and the queues, and luckily, they’re not as crazy as we were fearing (many possible reasons). So we’ve adjusted this summer’s crowd predictions to reflect what’s happening on the ground. In addition, Universal has adjusted its hours in August and published new hours for October. See it all, including a full explanation of this most recent update, on our free 12-month Universal crowd calendar.
7/15 – As often as we can, we like to provide the stories and explanations that take you beyond the decorations at Universal’s venues and into the inspiration for their theming. One of the lesser known stories is that of Captain Jake McNally, who is the namesake of Jake’s American Bar at Royal Pacific Resort. To learn how his travels inspired one of Universal’s on-site hotels, a favorite of many guests, click here to visit our forums.
7/15 – SWEEPSTAKES ALERT: Margaritaville is giving away a 4-day, 3-night Universal Orlando vacation including airfare and accommodations at Cabana Bay Beach Resort. To enter, all you have to do is like their Facebook page and fill out the form – click here. You may enter once per day through July 21. (Sorry international visitors, U.S. residence only.) If you’d like to learn about other sweepstakes for Universal vacations, check out this topic in the OI Forums.
7/14 – Universal has announced the second official haunted house of Halloween Horror Nights 2014: ‘From Dusk Till Dawn.’ You can read the full press release in the OI Forums. Are you wondering about our main HHN 2014 guide? We’ll get that updated soon, but right now we’re focusing on getting all of our Diagon Alley vacation planning material posted. Thanks for your patience!
7/12 – The first batch of the new Orlando Informer t-shirts ship next week – get yours for as low as $12.00 including shipping. Learn more
7/9 – We have uploaded all of our media from our stay overnight Monday and Tuesday at Cabana Bay, and our morning and evening visits to Diagon Alley on July 8, its grand opening day. To see our nearly 300 images, check out our Flickr page (there are three albums: July 7 touring and one album each for the morning and evening of July 8). We also have three new videos on our YouTube channel, including a walk-through of Diagon Alley and the dragon fire on grand opening day.
7/9 – Keeping its pledge to open CityWalk’s newest quick-service venues by the end of June, guests visiting Universal can now dine at Bread Box and Hot Dog Hall of Fame – and we now have our reviews posted on our blog. Of the eight venues proposed in the 2014 CityWalk expansion, only one has yet to open: The Cowfish. This full-service restaurant is expected to open by the end of August.
7/8 – Just to have the day marked on our Universal Orlando Daily Updates page, today the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley celebrated its grand opening. There wasn’t much of a ceremony this morning, as the “real” grand opening ceremony happened during the media preview three weeks ago, but there was some confetti and fireworks – and happy guests. Universal’s own video wraps it up best, which you can view here.
7/8 – SWEEPSTAKES ALERT: The folks at Stayful.com are giving away a 3-night, 2-day vacation to Universal Orlando, including car rental, two Potter-themed outfits, a make-up artist, a personal photographer, and more. To enter, click here. (Sorry international visitors, this one is for U.S. residence only.)
7/7 – We have now published dedicated pages in the OI Universal Center for all the experiences inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, including the attractions, shopping areas, and restaurants. What’s more, guests lucky enough to have visited Diagon Alley can now share their reviews of the new land’s attractions and restaurants. To take a look at all our new material, visit our Diagon Alley title page. If you’d like to start sharing reviews, you can start on the title page or visit our main Real guest reviews page.
7/7 – Covering Diagon Alley’s soft opening on Monday, the grand opening on Tuesday, and Early Park Admission starting Wednesday, we tell you everything you need to know and answer all your questions in our new blog post. For the very latest updates, follow us on Twitter, or discuss everything related to Diagon Alley in the OI Forums: the new land or vacation planning.
If you prefer to start back at the beginning, visit our spoiler-free guide to Diagon Alley.
7/5 – Are you considering a visit to Universal on Tuesday, July 8, for the official opening of Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida? We’ve posted everything you need to know, including our recommendations and advice, here in the OI Forums.
7/5 – The start of a new month means we’ve added a new month to our crowd calendar: you can now view June 2015. In other news, we’re still waiting for October and November hours, which will likely be published soon. Finally, in August of this year, USF is still listed as opening at 9:00am at the beginning of the month. We expect this to change to 8:00am whenever Universal decides to update August’s hours. See it all on our free 12-month Universal Orlando crowd calendar.
7/4 – With less than a week before the official opening of Diagon Alley, regular guests on-site (who hadn’t purchased the special preview vacation package) finally got their first experience in the new land as the Hogwarts Express opened for technical rehearsals around 3:00pm Tuesday and Diagon Alley itself opened around 3:30pm Thursday. Universal has confirmed that, excluding Escape from Gringotts, all of Diagon Alley will continue to open periodically between now and July 8. For breaking news, follow us on Twitter; for friendly discussion, join us in the OI Forums; or start back at the beginning with our spoiler-free Guide to Diagon Alley.
7/3 – Tonight we made it to the Diagon Alley preview, and you can now view the 85 photos from our visit on our Flickr page (Diagon Alley preview album). Curious about what our first impressions were? Check out this post in the OI Forums.
7/3 – Guest services is confirming that, starting July 9, both parks (and their turnstiles) will be open for Early Park Admission at 7:00am. This will include Hogsmeade, Diagon Alley, the Hogwarts Express, and possibly one or two additional attractions like Cat in the Hat and Despicable Me. To the best of our knowledge, all guests with Early Park Admission will have equal access to both parks. No distinction will be made between guests staying at a particular on-site hotel or guests staying off-site as part of a Universal vacation package. Continue reading in the OI Forums.
7/1 – Our 81 photos from yesterday evening’s Universal tour are now up on our Flickr page (June 30 photo album). The collection includes a look at CityWalk’s about-to-open Hot Dog Hall of Fame and Bread Box, a tour of both parks, and coverage of the #PotterWatch excitement outside of Daigon Alley during the first evening of vacation package access. Remember, if you enjoy our work, we’d sure appreciate your vote here.
7/1 – Are you thinking this right now: “I love your site, but this Diagon Alley opening stuff is so confusing, and I just don’t have the time to plan every detail myself. Can you help?” Yes we can. We’re honored to work with Jennifer Green of Destinations in Florida. She is the only travel professional endorsed by Orlando Informer, and she can help you plan your trips to Universal, Disney, and more. Best of all, her services are free to you. Seriously. To get in touch, simply complete this form, or you can learn more in the OI Forums.
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