Universal Orlando Daily Updates


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.

Would you rather have us deliver updates directly to your email inbox or favorite social network? If so, you can join our weekly email list or follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.

 

September 2014

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.

 

August 2014

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.

 

July 2014

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:

Second round of updated pages:

Third round – new pages!

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.

 

June 2014

6/30 – As we enter a new week, and the biggest question on the minds of Orlando vacationers is, “Will I be able to get into Diagon Alley?” You likely already know that certain Universal vacation package guests will get special access starting today, but will the rest of the general public get in? Also, will Escape from Gringotts be open to anyone? These are questions we’ll be tracking closely all week. For breaking news, follow us on Twitter. Or, to start back at the beginning, see our spoiler-free Guide to Diagon Alley.

6/30 – DVR Alert: tonight at 8:00pm Eastern, NBC News will air a one-hour primetime special called “Harry Potter: The Making of Diagon Alley.” Need a place to discuss its discoveries and illuminations before, during, and after the special? We have a whole community of Universal Orlando and Harry Potter fans from all over the world conversing in the OI Forums.

6/30 – The final winner in our month-long Universal Photo Connect giveaway: congratulations to OI Forums member Mdteachergirl! We’ll contact you shortly with instructions for claiming your prize. Thanks to everyone who participated in this round of giveaways – and stay tuned, we’ll be starting a round soon.

6/28 – We need your help! The purpose of our site is to make vacation planning nearly as much fun as the trip itself, and if you feel we’ve been able to accomplish that for your family, we would really appreciate it your vote in the 10Best Theme Park Blogger Awards. Click here and look for “Orlando Informer – Dan Hatfield” in the list. On behalf of everyone who contributes to our site, I really appreciate it! (By the way, if you really like our site, you can vote once per day – thanks again.)

6/27 – I’ve posted our final Diagon Alley soft opening prediction and my thoughts about the last three months in the OI Forums.

6/26 – Yesterday evening, Universal finally sent out its email to Harry Potter vacation package guests who were promised access to Diagon Alley starting June 29 (which falls before the official opening date of July 8). The message informs us that these guests will have access at some point during their trip, but they won’t know precisely when until they check in at their hotel, and access may only be offered one time for each party. You can view the email and pick up our ongoing discussion here in the OI Forums.

6/26 – We’re still trying to figure out how Universal will handle Early Park Admission once Diagon Alley opens. We feel confident that Diagon Alley EPA will not be offered to all on-site guests starting June 29, but rather, only to Harry Potter vacation package guests (although the exact schedule remains to be seen for vacation package guests). Then, starting July 9, Universal has confirmed Diagon Alley EPA for all on-site guests and all vacation package guests. The big questions are, how will access to Hogsmeade work, and will Universal add additional limitations (for example, Cabana Bay versus the deluxe hotels) once we get closer? Pick up the discussion here in the OI Forums.

6/26 – We’ve got two on-site hotel events coming up. The first is this evening, as Hard Rock Hotel hosts “Velvet Sessions” featuring Vertical Horizons – it’s Orlando’s hottest lobby party. Then, on July 18, Jake’s Beer Dinner is back at Royal Pacific Resort. Enjoy a four-course meal with craft beer selections paired throughout. To learn more about these events and everything else happening right now, visit our Universal Snapshot page.

6/23 – Starting today, Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure are both open until 10:00pm at least through the end of July. If you needed a clearer sign that the summer travel season has begun, I don’t think you’ll find one! To help you prep for the crowds, we encourage you to visit these pages in the OI Universal Center: Attraction wait times based on crowd levels, Complete guide to Universal Express Passes, and our free touring plans. And yes, we will be publishing new plans that include Diagon Alley soon!

6/23 – We’re all waiting for Diagon Alley softs to start, and we all have lots of questions about how the new Harry Potter vacation package will work, when travel begins June 29 but the official opening of Diagon Alley isn’t happening until July 8. Regarding softs, we’ve posted our latest update here in the OI Forums. To address questions about the Harry Potter vacation package and Early Park Admission, visit this section in the OI Forums. Finally, for general info and answers to other pressing questions, visit our Diagon Alley guide.

6/23 – The third winner in our month-long Universal Photo Connect giveaway: congratulations to OI Forums member Johde! We’ll contact you shortly with instructions for claiming your prize. If you’re not Johde, no problem – we’re still giving away one more Star Card Package this month. To learn what these are and how you can win, visit this OI Forums topic.

6/21 – It was an immensely satisfying week for Orlando Informer. We may not have been invited by Universal to the Diagon Alley Preview, but our fans pushed us to 110,000 pageviews in a single day, you posted over 4,000 times in the OI Forums, we gained almost a thousand new followers on Twitter, and we’re currently in the #1 spot on the 10Best Theme Park Bloggers list. Thank you so, so much!

6/20 – Now that we know the official opening date of Diagon Alley, our crowd calendar has been updated to reflect the news. A brief explanation: between now and July 8, we expect the typical busy summer crowds, as we have definitely entered the prime summer travel season. However, we don’t expect the resort to feel quite as “busy” as it usually does this time of year because we also expect a significant number of families to postpone their Universal visits until after July 8. Then, of course, starting July 8, it’ll be crazy busy for the rest of the summer. See the rest of our update and everything else on our free 12-month Universal Orlando crowd calendar.

6/20 – If you’re interested in ordering an Orlando Informer t-shirt with our new look, we have preliminary information posted in the OI Forums.

6/18 – It’s official: the grand opening date of Diagon Alley is July 8! For many of our fans that have been following these development all along, this is indeed a perplexing date, because you may remember that Universal is currently selling Diagon Alley vacation packages that seem to guarantee access starting June 29. We’ll be working day and night to bring you the best vacation planning information we can. For answers to your most pressing questions, view our Diagon Alley guide. To discuss the latest developments, join us in the OI Forums. Finally, for instant updates, follow us on Twitter.

6/17 – After an overnight at Universal, we’ve uploaded some great new media for you to check out. First, we have three new Flickr albums: Cabana Bay Standard Rooms, Cabana Bay South Courtyard & Lazy River, and a regular trip report album covering VIVO Italian Kitchen as well as more of Diagon Alley and the JLo performance (as part of the Tonight Show). To view our Flickr albums, click here. We’ve also uploaded several new videos to our YouTube channel, including a tour of the Cabana Bay Standard Room.

6/17 – We’ve updated our Universal Snapshot page to reflect the opening of CityWalk’s VIVO Italian Kitchen on June 16 and USF’s remodeled Starbucks as of the same date. Reminder: Hard Rock Hotel’s “Velvet Sessions” presents Vertical Horizon live in concert on June 26.

6/16 – Starting today, Universal has invited media from across the world to enjoy its resort. The focal point will be Diagon Alley, but the media will also be exploring Cabana Bay Beach Resort (which is fully open as of June 16, as well as the CityWalk expansion). It’s going to be one of the busiest weeks in Universal’s history in terms of news coverage and potential announcements, and you can stay on top of the very latest by following us on Twitter or discussing with friends in the OI Forums.

6/16 – The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon will be live on-site this week to tape its show. Monday (6/16), Jennifer Lopez and Keenen Ivory Wayans; Tuesday (6/17), Kevin Hart and Jimmy Buffett; Wednesday (6/18), Rosario Dawson, Jeff Musial, and FUN; Thursday (6/19), George Lopez and Pitbull. Tickets to be a member of the audience sold out almost immediately, but if you’re at Universal this week, you can catch the musical acts as part of general admission to Universal Studios Florida at 9:00pm each night. You can see the full announcement and learn about getting tickets in the OI Forums.

6/16 – As mentioned above, the second phase of Cabana Bay opens today for the first time to guests. This is the “tower” portion of the hotel, which includes its standard rooms (we haven’t seen these yet because the first phase only had family suites). This portion of the hotel also includes Universal’s first lazy river. We’ll be checking in later today, so join us on Twitter to see the new areas of the hotel live, or you can learn more about Cabana Bay.

6/16 – The second winner in our month-long Universal Photo Connect giveaway: congratulations to OI Forums member Vikyvibs! We’ll contact you shortly with instructions for claiming your prize. If you’re not Vikyvibs, no problem – we’re still giving away two more Star Card Packages this month. To learn what these are and how you can win, visit this OI Forums topic.

6/14 – Two crowd calendar updates today: First, Universal has published their park hours for September – no surprises in the mix. Second, as expected, Universal adjusted IOA’s park hours for July so it no longer opens at 8:00am. Instead, both parks have the same hours (9:00am to 10:00pm) for the entire month. In August, IOA is still listed as opening at 8:00am for the first part of the month, but we expect that to change too. See it all on our free 12-month Universal Orlando crowd calendar.

6/13 – Earlier today, for a period of about 10 minutes, Universal accidentally displayed an overlay ad on its homepage which cleared stated that Diagon Alley would open June 30. The ad was, of course, taken down once news spread, and later Universal issued a statement that the date was “incorrect.” One way or the other, it was a crazy afternoon for #PotterWatch folks. You can pick up the excitement and discussion starting with this post in the OI Forums.

6/12 – As we get closer and closer to the media preview of Diagon Alley (June 17 – 20), popular opinion has the next few days rolling out like this: there is little chance of a soft opening before the media preview (learn more); then the media preview begins, which wraps up with E! airing a “Live from the red carpet” event (learn more); then Diagon Alley opens on June 21 to the general public. This set up, mimicking a movie premier, allows Universal to avoid the chaos of the Hogsmeade grand opening (Learn more). Please keep in mind that this timeline has not been announced by Universal. Visit our Complete guide to Diagon Alley to learn more.

6/10 – The construction walls are down at Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade Station – you can see our two new collections on our Flickr page (June 9 & 10 photosets). We also published two new videos, one giving a walking tour of the new London waterfront and another showing a great place to sneak a peek at the Gringotts dragon – you can view these on our YouTube channel. When you’re done, join your fellow fans and discuss latest news in the OI Forums, or start back at the beginning in our Complete guide to Diagon Alley.

6/10 – The Harry Potter expansion continues to avoid following much of the “opening” precedent set by other attractions like Transformers and Despicable Me, making it very difficult for us to publish confident predictions more than 24 hours in advance. In addition, as we mentioned above, we’re still waiting for general Team Member previews. With this in mind, we’ve lowered our soft opening estimate for this week to 60%. For a full explanation, see this OI Forums post.

6/10 – Yesterday, without an official announcement, Universal released its all-new mobile app for iOS. The good news is that the initial reviews are great, as the new app includes many strong features such as in-park wait times. The bad news is that the app is only available in the U.S. iTunes store for now, so if you’re an international guest or use another mobile platform, you’ll have to wait for now. To learn more and discuss with friends, visit this OI Forums topic.

6/10 – It was so busy yesterday, we didn’t get a chance to announce our first Universal Photo Connect Star Card Package winner for our month-long giveaway. Well, here’s the winner: congratulations to OI Forums member WanderingWand! We’ll contact you shortly with instructions for claiming your prize. If you’re not WanderingWand, no problem – we’re still giving away three more Star Card Packages this month. To learn what these are and how you can win, visit this OI Forums topic.

6/9 – Universal announced early Monday morning that The Walking Dead is coming back for a third year to Halloween Horror Nights. While there is no doubt HHN will continue to be a massively successful event, the news is a shock and disappointment to many in the HHN fan community. With the Diagon Alley news flying at us, it might be a few days before we update our HHN 2014 guide, but you can pick up the discussion in the OI Forums. (If you’d like, you can still see our HHN 2014 guide for preliminary vacation planning.

6/7 – Our 74 photos from last night’s Universal tour are now up on our Flickr page (June 6 photoset). The collection includes our first look at the Gringotts dragon with both its wings. We also examine the latest developments at Diagon Alley, enjoy Cinematic Spectacular, and much more. By the way, June 11 marks our one-year anniversary uploading to our Flickr page: 6,000 Universal photos and counting!

6/6 – Yesterday, Universal invited Harry Potter stars Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), James Phelps (Fred Weasley), and Oliver Phelps (George Weasley) to tour Diagon Alley. While it’s evident that the group had a wonderful day – and we got to see some new angles and peeks inside Universal’s Harry Potter expansion – we didn’t get what we’ve been waiting for lo these many months: a grand opening date. To continue reading this briefing, please visit our Complete guide to Diagon Alley. Then, as we wait and see if anything happens today, we invite you to follow us on Twitter for the latest news and discuss everything in the OI Forums!

6/5 – After going through a bit of a dark period in terms of major announcements regarding Diagon Alley, it looks like Universal is setting up to do something big inside the Harry Potter expansion today. The evidence is strong that Bonnie Wright and the Phelps brothers are on-site, including this message from one of our fans: “Saw weasely twins and jenny weasley at club level portofino tonight!” I have a feeling news is going to come flying at us later today. So, for the very latest, please follow us on Twitter. Then, to discuss everything with Universal and Harry Potter fans alike, join us in the OI Forums.

To start back at the beginning, visit our Complete guide to Diagon Alley.

6/3 – Diagon Alley briefing: Universal has revealed many of the food & beverage options it will be introducing with the opening of Diagon Alley. Among the most anticipated is butterbeer ice cream and two new wizarding ales – see more. The not-so-good news: the latest intel suggests that softs may not happen until this weekend or, more likely, next week. You can read our full briefing in our Complete guide to Diagon Alley, or you can stay on top of the very latest developments in the Diagon Alley and vacation planning sections of the OI Forums.

6/3 – On Monday, Universal confirmed that its newest CityWalk venues, VIVO Italian Kitchen and Hot Dog Hall of Fame, are set to open by the end of the month (no specific date given). They will join the just-opened Menchies and the previously opened Red Oven Pizza Bakery, Cold Stone Creamery, updated Starbucks, and Antojitos. Last up to bat: Bread Box and Cowfish Burger Sushi Bar, the later of which is the most anticipated development, which hopefully will open by the end of July. For a full recap of the 2014 CityWalk expansion, check out this blog post.

6/2 – It’s the start of a new month, so we have now added May 2015 to our free 12-month Universal crowd calendar. We’ve also updated our crowd predictions for this month to take into account the delay in soft openings for Diagon Alley, which were originally planned to start by the end of May, but now will not likely start until a little later in June. Don’t worry – we are still anticipating a Diagon Alley grand opening by the end of June. To learn more, check out our calendar.

6/2 – We’ve partnered with Universal Photo Connect to give away a Star Card Package every week in June to one of the members of our forums! The Star Card Package allows you to collect all your ride and in-park souvenir photos during your visit to Universal for unlimited viewing and downloading – forever. To learn how to enter, visit this post in the OI Forums. (And remember, registering to use our forums is completely free.)

6/1 – Our site growth continued last month with the posting of all-new records, including our busiest day ever on May 13 (72,256 pageviews) and our busiest month ever (total of 1.63 million pageviews, up 21% from April and a whopping 219% from May 2013). What’s more, we hit new milestones on social media and in our forums with 20,000 Twitter followers, 63,000 Facebook fans, and already 32,000 posts in the two-month-old OI Forums! Thank you to all our fans and readers for your support. If you’d like, you can learn more about us.

6/1 – You can now view our 84 photos from yesterday’s visit to Universal Orlando on our Flickr page (May 31 photoset). During this tour of Universal, we were testing our new telephoto lens, so I hope you enjoy a slightly new perspective on parks, including a look at the expanded entry way to Hogsmeade Village and of course many photos of Diagon Alley. (I’m afraid there are no new videos this time because we had to lug around that telephoto lens, but as always, you can still view lots of great stuff on our YouTube channel.)

 

May 2014

5/30 – It was only a few months ago that we were happy to inform you that Universal’s Coke Freestyle cups could also be used as classic souvenir cups, which allowed guests to refill them for 99 cents at locations without Coke Freestyle machines. Well, it seems Universal had a change of heart. Starting this week, the two programs are completely separate again; Coke Freestyle cups can no longer be used for 99-cent refills. To learn more, check out our updated Refillable cups, popcorn buckets & Coke Freestyle page.

5/30 – Diagon Alley briefing: This week has passed without any major developments for those waiting to plan their visits to the new Wizarding World. Most notably, we still don’t have an official opening date for the new area, which has created two camps of thought: either Universal is going to give very little notice of the grand opening in an effort to keep crowd levels down that day, or they still don’t know when that day will be. To learn more, continue this briefing in our Complete guide to Diagon Alley (see the May 30 news update). Then stay on top of the very latest developments in the Diagon Alley or vacation planning sections of the OI Forums.

5/29 – Following the March 4 pricing increase for general admission, on May 29 Universal raised the prices of its annual passes:

Power Pass – was $199.99, now $214.99
Preferred Pass – was $279.99, now $294.99
Premier Pass – was $419.99, now $434.99
*Prices above are for kids and adults, and they do not include tax.

As you see, the prices went up approximately $15 for each pass, which, admittedly, is a small increase considering how much Universal’s general admission 2-Day Park-to-Park ticket went up earlier this year ($146.99 to $175.99, a 20% increase). So the fact remains: a Universal annual pass continues to be one of the best values offered at Central Florida’s theme parks.

Learn more on our Universal Snapshot page or discuss in the OI Forums.

5/27 – Yesterday a new Diagon Alley sweepstakes kicked off, this time sponsored by The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Each day you have the opportunity to enter, and like the TODAY Show sweepstakes we just went through, your actual answer doesn’t affect your chances of winning (in other words, you don’t have to have the right answer). You can go to the sweepstakes page, you can talk about it with us in the OI Forums, or you can start from the beginning in our Complete guide to Diagon Alley.

By the way, we were contacted by one of the winners of a Diagon Alley grand opening sweepstakes. To see what she had to share with us, check out this post in the OI Forums.

5/27 – Portofino Bay is the only on-site hotel at Universal Orlando with rooms that feature balconies – however, these are few and far between. Rooms with balconies cannot be reserved in advance, but, starting recently, they may be offered as an upgrade at check-in: $15 extra per night for a “Juliet” balcony and $30 extra per night for a full balcony. You can see images and learn more in the OI Forums, or visit the OI Universal Center to learn all about Portofino Bay Hotel.

5/27 – Cat in the Hat inside Seuss Landing at Islands of Adventure now has a height restriction: 36 inches, and children between 36 and 48 inches must be accompanied by a supervising companion. This comes after a rumored guest incident earlier this year caused Universal to reduce the ride’s considerable spinning down to a sway. To learn more about this attraction and read real guest reviews, visit our Cat in the Hat page.

5/27 – Review & Win Weekend update: thanks to everyone who submitted reviews over the weekend – in all, we added nearly 400 new reviews to our pages, making the OI Universal Center that much stronger of a planning resource for all our readers. Wondering who won? We’ve announced the winners in this blog post! PS. Just because our contest is over doesn’t mean you can’t still share your opinions about Universal’s rides – learn more.

5/24 – It’s a Review & Win Weekend! We haven’t hosted one of these giveaways for a while, so we thought we’d have some fun this holiday weekend by giving our readers a chance to win a $100 Universal gift card by submitting attraction and restaurant reviews. Everything you need to know is on our Real guest reviews of Universal page. Have fun – we can’t wait to read the stories and insights you share!

5/24 – Diagon Alley news is coming in fast now, and we’re doing our best to stay on top of it every single day. Given all the latest buzz, we’d like to let you know that we’ve updated our soft opening projections. We had originally estimated that softs would start by the end of May, but now it’s seeming more and more likely that they won’t start until the first week of June. For a full explanation of our most recent update, head to this post in the OI Forums. To start back at the beginning, visit our Complete guide to Diagon Alley.

5/23 – You can now view our 93 photos from today’s visit to Universal Orlando on our Flickr page (May 23 photoset). The collection includes our ongoing scrutiny of the progress at Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade Station, as well as over a dozen photos from around Portofino Bay Hotel. We didn’t shoot any new videos this visit, but if you need some movement, there’s always plenty of fun stuff to watch on our YouTube channel.

5/22 – Universal has released information about it’s new “exclusive” Diagon Alley vacation package, which can be purchased now for travel starting June 29. The package includes breakfast at the Leaky Cauldron and Three Broomsticks, as well as other perks. There are still many unknowns here, so I strongly suggest you first learn more by clicking here, then follow the links in that section to our discussions in the OI Forums. (If you want to skip right to our forums, go to this new topic.)

5/22 – Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon update: tickets for the Universal Orlando shows sold out in 20 minutes on Wednesday, May 21, starting at 3:53pm EST. If you didn’t get yours, we’ll be giving away two tickets in the OI Forums at a later date. Otherwise, don’t forget that Jimmy is hosting his own giveaway starting May 26 for VIP access to Diagon Alley. Need to start back at the beginning with all this stuff? Visit our Complete guide to Diagon Alley.

5/20 – Just in case Universal wasn’t creating enough buzz for itself by inviting local, national, and international news media for a Diagon Alley preview in the middle of June, they’ve got one more treat for us: The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon will be live on-site June 16 – 19 to tape its show. You can see the full announcement and learn about getting tickets in the OI Forums.

UPDATE: Tickets for the Universal Orlando shows sold out in 20 minutes on Wednesday, May 21, starting at 3:53pm EST. If you didn’t get yours, we’ll be giving away two tickets in the OI Forums at a later date. Otherwise, don’t forget that Jimmy is hosting his own giveaway starting May 26 for VIP access to Diagon Alley.

5/19 – For the month of June, Universal Studios Florida has reduced its hours on a few nights. On June 4, the park is closing at 6pm (likely a private event is now scheduled for that evening), and on June 14 through 18, USF is now closing at 8pm instead of 9pm. Reminder: all of our crowd predictions have been fully updated in anticipation of the opening of Diagon Alley. See it all on our free 12-month Universal Orlando crowd calendar.

5/19 – Diagon Alley briefing: As we enter into a new week, biggest news of all is the continued trying of our patience as we wait for Universal Orlando to official announce the grand opening date of their Harry Potter expansion. Based on last week’s media preview invitations, we’re tempted to say the grand opening will be June 20, but we’re ready to report the date, not just keep guessing at it. Learn more in our Complete guide to Diagon Alley, or discuss the very latest developments with us in the OI Forums.

5/18 – You can now view the 118 photos from our Saturday evening tour of Universal Orlando on our Flickr page (May 17 photoset). The collection includes a closer look at Cabana Bay Beach Resort, including the Jack LaLanne Fitness Studio and Galaxy Bowl, as well as many Mardi Gras character photos and the Diagon Alley waterfront at night. We didn’t shoot much of the actual Mardi Gras parade this time because we covered that well in our March 1 photoset (or you can see our Mardi Gras video here).

5/17 – Diagon Alley briefing: Yesterday, USA Today Travel posted an article with video and images that have given us our best look yet inside Diagon Alley. Coupled with the invitations that Universal sent out for a media preview event in the middle of June, we definitely have a strong sense that the Harry Potter expansion is getting ready to open soon! See all the new stuff in our Complete guide to Diagon Alley.

When you’re done, it might be a good idea to consider this: “Should I cancel my family trip already planned for late June because of the Diagon Alley grand opening madness?” We’re discussing it right now in the OI Forums.

5/15 – You can now view our 109 photos from today’s tour of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure on our Flickr page (May 15 photoset). The collection includes a meticulous look at the most recent Harry Potter developments, including the new King’s Cross clock, Diagon Alley’s gateway pillars and lampposts with string lights, and the new signs at Hogsmeade Station. Along with our photos, we have two new videos – a look at the latest progress at Diagon Alley and Universal CityWalk – which you can see on our YouTube channel. Finally, for those who really liked our Dementors photos, you can download the full-res version right here.

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 photoset 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.

5/14 – On Wednesday, many media outlets received invitations from Universal for a Diagon Alley preview event scheduled June 17 – 20. This is our best indication yet of a grand opening date for the Harry Potter expansion, which we now believe will happen on June 20, the final day of the media event. Given this news and all the other current developments, we’ve updated our soft opening & grand opening schedule, which you can view on our Complete guide to Diagon Alley.

5/13 – SPOILER ALERT! Today Universal released major details of the signature attraction inside Diagon Alley, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Because our complete guide to Diagon Alley is already so packed with information, for now we’ve opted to tell you all the incredible details – with new videos and images – in these two blog posts: the top five Escape from Gringotts features Potter fans have been waiting for and the top five features non-Potter fans will love.

5/12 – We’ve got two crowd calendar updates today. First, Universal has published its park hours for August, and they confirm what we’ve been anticipating: the parks will stay busier through the end of the summer thanks to Diagon Alley. Second, IOA is not switching to an 8:00am opening time in June. Instead, beginning the week of June 23, both parks will be open from 9:00am to 10:00pm. This is a good sign for a Diagon Alley grand opening, as the parks haven’t had the exact same hours during past summers, but doing so now is necessary to have the Hogwarts Express running as much as possible. To learn more, visit our crowd calendar.

5/12 – Tuesday, May 13, the TODAY Show begins its Diagon Alley sweepstakes. Learn more on our Diagon Alley page, or discuss the very latest developments with us in the OI Forums.

5/10 – In case you missed it on our blog yesterday afternoon, we posted the first-ever complete telling of the Hogwarts Express ride experience. Warning: this one is packed with spoilers, so make sure you read it only if you want to know what happens before your first ride!

5/9 – With the news (or lack of news) about Team Member previews for Diagon Alley, we’ve adjusted our projections for soft openings to push them a little later into May. The good news is that we still feel the Harry Potter expansion project is on track for a grand opening sometime during the last two weeks of June. You can view more specifics about the adjustment or start back at the beginning by visiting our Complete guide to Diagon Alley.

5/9 – We anticipated that Universal would announce Team Member preview dates for Diagon Alley at Thursday night’s special Team-Member-only event held in Hogsmeade. These dates would be a sure sign of soft openings for the general public. Unfortunately, very little news came from the event (what little we did learn has been posted in the OI Forums).

Our next opportunity for news? May 13, when the TODAY Show begins its Diagon Alley sweepstakes. Learn more on our Diagon Alley page, or discuss the very latest developments with us in the OI Forums.

5/9 – Universal has finally launched their own official blog, and its supplied us with one new piece of concept art for Gringotts and a promise of more details to be revealed Tuesday, May 13.

5/8 – Did you see the story about Loews Hotels’ CEO mentioning the “mid-June” opening date of Diagon Alley? Maybe it’s news, maybe it isn’t. Here’s our quick analysis

5/8 – Prices continue to rise at Universal Orlando as the resort preps for the onslaught of Diagon Alley crowds. The latest increase will be one of its most profitable: butterbeer now costs almost a buck more: $3.99 plus tax for regular and $4.99 plus tax for frozen. (If you’d like that in a souvenir mug, that’ll be $9.00 more.) We’ve updated the information in our Refillable cups page to reflect these changes.

5/8 – You’ll forget all about those pesky price increases when you see the new video Universal just uploaded of the animatronic goblins inside Gringotts Bank. The 23-second video makes us incredibly excited because we’re so close to seeing all the creations we’ve been speculating about for over two years. You can jump right to the video and our stills in the OI Forums, and we’ve also uploaded the new media to our main Diagon Alley page.

5/8 – You can now view our 119 photos from Wednesday’s tour of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure on our Flickr page (May 7 photoset). This trip included our first look at the new Eros fountain in front of Diagon Alley. In all, we captured several dozen photos of the Harry Potter expansion at both parks. Along with our photos, we have three new videos – Diagon Alley progress, the Honeydukes expansion, and the honorary “first families” opening USF – which you can see on our YouTube channel.

5/7 – It’s official: the TODAY Show is hosting a Diagon Alley sweepstakes, giving away a three-night trip to be part of the grand opening celebration to 25 lucky winners. The sweepstakes begins next Tuesday, May 13. To view the official website and read the rules, click here (sorry international visitors, this one is just for U.S. residence).

5/6 – We keep trying to put the TODAY Show rumors behind us (see the update below), and they keep finding their way back to the top of the stack. The latest news: NBC sent out a press release with their schedule for next week (May 12 – 16), and for Tuesday through Friday of that week, we find the ambiguous Harry Potter Clue listed. As of right now, there is no official confirmation from Universal that this is tied to Diagon Alley, but given all that’s happened, we’re inclined to think it is.

5/5 – So when will we find out the grand opening date of Diagon Alley? That’s the biggest question right now in Orlando, and, for better or for worse, there are few rumors circulating about when an announcement will happen or why there might be a delay. The next event (and date) to watch for is the May 8th exclusive Team Member event Universal is hosting in Hogsmeade. There’s no promise of a Diagon Alley announcement during the Team-Member-only event, but we have to believe the topic will come up!

UPDATE: To our surprise, very little new information was provided at Thursday night’s Team-Member-only event. Most importantly, Team Member previews of Diagon Alley were not announced. What little we did learn has been posted in the OI Forums.

5/5 – Blue Man Group at Universal CityWalk is now offering a new ticket pricing structure and admission options, including “Meal and Show” deals, Poncho, and Premium seating. In the new pricing structure based on seasonality, tickets start as low as $60 (or $49 for Florida residents), but may go as high as $115 during peak dates and performance times. To learn more, visit Universal’s BMG page or contact the box office at 407-BLUEMAN. Note: major ticketing changes like these are always posted on our Universal Snapshot page, too.

5/5 – Speaking of CityWalk, we’re happy to let you know that Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food (the latest restaurant to open in CityWalk’s eight-venue expansion) will start lunch service on Monday, May 12. If you’d like to make a reservation for Antojitos or any of the other full-service restaurants across Universal Orlando Resort, visit our Dining reservations page in the OI Universal Center.

5/5 – OI Forums featured discussion: Have you ever been stuck on a ride at Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure? Whether we like it or not, it’s certainly part of the theme park experience. Share your thoughts and see what has happened to others by visiting this topic in the OI Forums.

5/2 – A new month means another update to our free crowd calendar! First, April 2015 has been added. Second, we want to bring to your attention that, if you’re traveling this month, Islands of Adventure is closing early on several nights – so please plan your days accordingly. Now for the biggest reminder of all: our crowd predictions for the months of June, July, and August have been updated to take into account the opening of Diagon Alley. See it all on our free 12-month Universal Orlando crowd calendar.

5/2 – Universal continues to bump up its prices in preparation for a busy summer. This week, its full-service dining plan got the lift, bringing the adult per-day price from $45.99 up to $51.99 (the child price stayed put at $17.99). In better news, the plan is now accepted at CityWalk’s Margaritaville, Red Oven, and Antojitos. But the real question is, should you buy the plan at all? We explain everything there is to know about the full-service and quick-service versions in our Complete guide to the Universal Dining Plans.

5/2 – Another week of TODAY Show broadcasts has passed, and no word about a Diagon Alley grand opening date. (If you’re just joining us, the TODAY Show was supposed to appear live at Universal last Friday, but the broadcast was canceled. Then came rumors that a pre-recorded segment would air this week, but that never happened.) It’s back to the drawing board as we wonder when an announcement will come, and, more importantly, if the announcement delay is a sign of construction delays. Learn more on our Diagon Alley page, or discuss it all with us in the OI Forums.

5/1 – Thanks to our amazing fans and the success of the OI Forums Grand Opening, we broke all our records again in April. For the month, our site recorded 1.3 million pageviews generated by over 300,000 visitors, up 30% from the previous month, and up a jaw-dropping 243% from April 2013. I can’t begin to explain how thankful I am for our incredible community of fans, readers, and members of the OI Forums. It means the world to me that I get to help all of you plan the best vacations ever to Universal Orlando! Learn more about us

5/1 – We’ve posted our final construction update covering Hogsmeade Station at Islands of Adventure. To view the latest progress at what will soon be the new entrance to Hogsmeade village, including a dozen photos and our latest video, click here. Why will this be our last construction update covering the Hogsmeade Station site? We answer that question too in our article.

5/1 – We typically visit Universal once a week to present our fans with an on-site photo tour, but there is just too much happening right now on our site to spend a day away from the computer. But don’t worry – we still have TONS of stuff you can see. There are over 6,000 photos on our Flickr page, hundreds of videos on our YouTube channel, an encyclopedia of Universal information in the OI Universal Center, and, did you see those new aerial shots of Diagon Alley?

 

April 2014

4/29 – Wednesday, April 30, is the final day that Florida residents can get up to three months free by purchasing a Universal annual pass as part of the resort’s Mardi Gras promotion. Remember, new passes must be purchased and used for the first time by April 30 to qualify for the free extra months. Starting May 1, we expect a price increase for all annual passes for follow shortly. If the AP increase is anything like the general admission increase in March, we could be looking at pricing going up as much as 20 percent! One more reminder: the current buy-two-days-get-the-third-day-free ticket promotion ends May 9. More details here

4/29 – Join your friends for Jake’s Beer Festival at Royal Pacific Resort’s Jake’s American Bar and this Friday, where you’ll enjoy samplings of more than 50 beers from Dogfish Head Brewery, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Anchor Brewing Company, Angry Orchard, Boston Beer Company, New Belgium Brewing, and more – as well as specially prepared culinary creations. To learn more, and to get a complete overview of everything else happening at the resort, visit our Universal Snapshot page.

4/29 – The price increases continue at Universal. First is was admission tickets as noted above, then it was parking at the main garages and the on-site hotels, and now it’s popcorn’s turn. Although small, the refill price for Universal’s souvenir popcorn bucket is now $1.29, up from 99 cents previously. To learn everything there is to know about Universal’s refill program for souvenir popcorn buckets, souvenir soda cups, and Coke Freestyle, visit our complete guide in the OI Universal Center.

4/28 – Universal has been busy expanding the Starbucks options for guests. In February, they opened a brand-new location in Islands of Adventure (see the video), and then, in March, they moved and expanded the Starbucks location in CityWalk (see the video). Now another expansion is in the works: starting today, Starbucks at Universal Studios Florida closes to become a larger store for guests. To see a complete overview of all of the resort’s construction projects, visit our Universal Snapshot page.

4/27 – We want to thank all of our fans and new forum members for making the grand opening of the OI Forums a smashing success! In one month’s time, we’ve had 930 people join our new community, and we’re proud to call each of you our friend. What’s more, in just these four weeks, we’ve already exchanged over 18,000 tips, comments, and answers to each other’s questions. Thanks again for a tremendous start to the OI Forums!

4/26 – As you may likely know, predicting the soft opening schedule for Diagon Alley is our biggest priority at the moment. Today, we slightly updated those predictions to lean more toward the first soft openings – called “technical rehearsals” by the park – happening in the second half of May. For details about this specific update, see this post in the OI Forums. Otherwise, for a comprehensive look at the project, visit our Complete guide to Diagon Alley.

4/25 – First reported late Tuesday evening, the TODAY Show’s appearance Friday at Universal Orlando has been canceled. Many of us speculated that we would get a grand opening date for Diagon Alley during the special appearance – now we’re left to wonder what went wrong.

UPDATE: We’re into the second hour of Friday’s TODAY Show, and there has been no mention of Diagon Alley (plus, Al Roker is live in studio). The thinking now is that a segment was filmed yesterday at Universal and will possibly air next Friday to compete with Disney’s Seven Dwarfs Mine Train press event. The discussion continues in the OI Forums.

4/24 – You can now view our 155 photos from today’s tour of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure on our Flickr page (April 24 photoset). This trip was truly a grand adventure, with stops at Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Royal Pacific Resort, the theme parks, and our first taste of the Brain Freezin’ D’oh-nut Sundae in Springfield USA. We also uploaded a new video: Hogsmeade Station construction update.

4/23 – Universal’s deluxe on-site hotels have raised their parking prices. For overnight guests, it’s now $20.00 per night for self-parking, $27.00 for valet. The on-site hotels also charge day guests for parking, but those fees have not increased. Also, the parking fees introduced when Cabana Bay opened recently have not increased. To learn more, visit our Universal on-site hotels page.

Think Disney is way better because they don’t charge for parking at their on-site hotels? Think again

4/22 – SWEEPSTAKES ALERT: Universal is definitely in the mood to promote itself, as we’ve got another sweepstakes for you, this time presented by the Hallmark Channel. You can win a vacation for a whopping eight guests, including a airfare and three nights at Cabana Bay Beach Resort. Entry is available until April 30 by clicking here, and you may enter once each day. Sorry international visitors, legal U.S. residence only living in the 50 United States or the District of Columbia.

4/21 – As of last Thursday, CityWalk’s Margaritaville has debuted its newly expanded Porch of Indecision, the large(er) outdoor seating area facing Islands of Adventure. The expanded space can now hold 64 additional guests, which is perfect for Margaritaville’s second debut this past weekend: the Volcano Burger. See a sneak peek at the new porch – then imagine, for your next Universal meal, ordering this.

4/21 – Reminder: On Tuesday, April 22, Universal kicks off Earth Week with the “Earth Week Recharge Experience” at the Universal Music Plaza stage in Universal Studios Florida (from 1:00 – 6:00pm). Celebrate Earth Day and “recharge” at Universal Orlando. Enjoy kinetic playground equipment that will “power” the event, live entertainment, giveaways, and a solar recharging lounge area. For more information about special events, visit our Universal Snapshot page.

4/18 – Universal has announced to its Team Members that the TODAY Show will be on-site Friday, April 25. This immediately drew speculation that Universal is set to announce the grand opening date of Diagon Alley. We can’t verify this, but it does seem like the right time to do it. There’s no doubt the TODAY Show will be highlighting the fact that Diagon Alley is coming, and it just seems strange that Universal would go to this length if they weren’t ready to announce the opening date. Our Diagon Alley page has been updated, and you are cordially invited to discuss this in the OI Forums!

4/18 – While Universal’s theme parks do not have any special activities just for Easter Sunday, if you’re hungry, you can enjoy a traditional Easter buffet at any one of Universal’s three deluxe hotels. For full details, see this OI Forums post.

4/18 – On Friday, April 25, celebrate spring Portofino-style at Harbor Nights Primavera, a wine, food and music event designed to capture the ambiance of the Mediterranean. Featuring 16 select wines and sparkling wines, gourmet foods, and live music by Johnny Cool and the Mobster Swing Band, Harbor Nights takes place under the twinkling lights of the majestic Harbor Piazza. You can view the menu (PDF file) or you can purchase tickets online.

UPDATE: See photos from the event on Portofino Bay’s Facebook page.

4/18 – SWEEPSTAKES ALERT: Wicked The Musical, as part of its “Changed for Good” campaign, is giving away a 3-night, 4-day vacation to Universal Orlando including airfare and accommodations at Cabana Bay Beach Resort. Hurry up – entry must be completed by April 21 via the Wicked Facebook page. Sorry international visitors, U.S. residence only living in the continental United States.

4/17 – We’re celebrating the Grand Opening of the new OI Forums! Although it has only officially been open for about two weeks, we already have more than 800 members who have exchanged over 12,500 tips, comments, and advice about Orlando. We invite you to join in, and if you do, you’ll have a chance to win a $100 Universal gift card this Sunday. You can view our forum homepage or learn more about our Grand Opening giveaways.

4/17 – Today we slightly modified our Diagon Alley soft opening schedule expectations. You can see the new percentages and our notes posted in the OI Forums.

4/16 – To go along with our crowd calendar updates we posted yesterday (see the paragraph below), we have now also updated our Universal Orlando attraction wait times based on crowd levels page to include the major rides and experiences in Diagon Alley. Please note that, because the Diagon Alley attractions are not actually open yet, what we’ve provided is our best guess for now – we will be updating our numbers frequently once Diagon Alley officially opens to the general public.

4/15 – Crowd calendar updates: First, Universal has shortened its hours for several dates in May. Second, the parks have published their hours for July. Third, and perhaps most importantly, we have now updated our crowd predictions for the months of May, June, July, and August to take into account the opening of Diagon Alley. See the complete details of today’s update and everything else on our free 12-month Universal Orlando crowd calendar.

4/15 – You can now view our 135 photos from yesterday’s tour of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure on our Flickr page (April 14 photoset). The collection includes lots of Spring Break crowd shots and the latest look at construction for Hogsmeade Station and Diagon Alley. Also, we uploaded three videos while we were touring: a walkthough of the Hogsmeade Station construction site, a quick tour of Jurassic Park, and our first look at the Knight Bus parked in front of Diagon Alley – to see ‘em all, view our YouTube channel.

4/14 – Today 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, or catch a few highlights on our Facebook page. PS. This should be an exciting visit because Monday is the first day of Orlando’s peak Spring Break 2014 week! (See our Spring Break Survival Guide.)

4/11 – Orlando Informer is officially kicking off our watch for Diagon Alley soft openings – we’ve heard from our sources and our friends, and we are now ready to establish an expected timeline for these events, which we’ve pasted in the opening section of our Diagon Alley page. (If you’re interested in reading about more Universal’s future developments, you gotta see this week’s Rumor Round-Up.)

4/11 – We’re celebrating the Grand Opening of the new OI Forums! Although it’s only officially been opened for a week now, we already have more than 750 members who have exchanged over 9,300 tips, comments, and advice about Orlando. We invite you to join in, and if you do, you’ll have a chance to win a $100 Universal gift card this Sunday. You can view our forum homepage or learn more about our Grand Opening giveaways.

4/10 – With visits to Cabana Bay and the Grand Opening of the OI Forums, it has been a couple of weeks since we reported live from Universal Orlando. Don’t worry though, we want to get back as badly as you do! Our next on-site visit is scheduled for Monday, April 14 – the first day of the busiest Spring Break week of the year. In the meantime, you can check out over 5,000 images from our previous visits on our Flickr page.

4/10 – The lineup has been released for this year’s Rock The Universe event at Universal Orlando, Florida’s largest Christian music festival, set to take over Universal Studios Florida on the evenings of September 5th and 6th, 2014. To see all 15 of the bands and artists ready to play, visit our Rock The Universe 2014 page. Please note that tickets aren’t on sale yet – we’ll post another update when that happens.

4/10 – On Tuesday, April 22, Universal kicks off Earth Week with the “Earth Week Recharge Experience” at the Universal Music Plaza stage in Universal Studios Florida (from 1:00 – 6:00pm). Celebrate Earth Day and “recharge” at Universal Orlando. Enjoy kinetic playground equipment that will “power” the event, live entertainment, giveaways, and a solar recharging lounge area. For more information about special events, visit our Universal Snapshot page.

4/10 – Universal has launched a new online campaign asking guests to share their favorite Universal Orlando moments and potentially be featured in a future Universal ad campaign. Guests can participate by sharing their favorite moments through photos and videos on Twitter, Vine, and Instagram using #UniversalMoments. In addition, guests can also upload their favorite photos and videos directly to moments.universalorlando.com or browse the site to see favorite moments of other fans.

4/10 – Thanks to OI contributor Maureen, we have this month’s Universal Orlando trip reports live on our site. To see what’s new and exciting at the parks, including Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade Station, and the CityWalk expansion, follow these links to the OI Blog: Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure.

4/8 – Four days – this may be the longest I’ve gone without posting a new “Universal daily update” here. But there’s a good reason for it: the new OI Forums are exploding! After just a few days of being officially opened, we’ve already got over 600 members who have posted more than 6,000 questions, comments, and tips. It’s an awesome thing to experience, and we invite you to join in. And the news gets better for you, because our Grand Opening celebration goes all month long with three chances to win a $100 Universal gift card.

I’ll get back to posting our regular daily updates very soon!

4/4 – Today is the grand opening of the brand-new Orlando Informer Community Forums! We’ve put countless hours into getting the discussion boards ready so we can provide our readers with even more vacation planning expertise and Universal insider information. Now the big day is here, and we’re celebrating by giving away a free Photo Connect Star Card package and three $100 Universal gift cards. The party has started

4/4 – This week Universal hosts its first of several Grad Bash events, an after-hours, two-park celebration for graduating seniors. It is important to know that, on Grad Bash event dates, the general public is asked to leave both theme parks at 6:00pm, unusually early even for Universal (especially during Spring Break!). It’s also worth noting that, on some Grad Bash dates, the parks open at 8:00am instead of 9:00am. To see the event dates, which include this Friday, visit our free 12-month Universal crowd calendar.

4/3 – As of today, Universal’s general parking fee has increased one dollar to $17. This matches Disney’s increase from over the past weekend. Preferred and valet parking at Universal has not increased as of this time (still $22 and $30 respectively). If you’d like to learn more, visit our Parking & Universal’s transportation hub page. Please note that parking fees at Universal’s on-site hotels is a whole separate discussion.

4/2 – The start of a new month means that we’ve updated our crowd calendar with a new month: you can now view March 2015. A few friendly calendar reminders too: please be aware of the Grad Bash dates coming up, when the parks close usually early to the general public – and also be aware that we’re still waiting for a Diagon Alley grand opening date announcement. To learn more and see what’s new, check out our free 12-month Universal crowd calendar.

4/2 – We’re back home from our stay at Universal’s new Cabana Bay Beach Resort, and what an experience it was! Overall, we were extremely impressed with the new property. From its colorful, beach-inspired, retro theme to the shear magnitude of its size and amenities, there’s much to love. It will take us a few days to get all our coverage published here on the main site – to see the latest right now, visit our forums for Cabana Bay FAQs, photos & videos.

4/1 – Last Sunday we broke our “busiest day ever” record with almost 50,000 pageviews. What’s more, we’re on track to record a total of 1 million pageviews in March, setting a new “busiest month ever” record for our site as well as reaching a personal goal I’ve had since the site opened at the beginning of 2011. None of this would be possible without the incredible support of our growing community – thank you so much! UPDATE: Our official pageview total for March was 1,016,858. Read more in the OI Forums

 

March 2014

3/30 – Phase one of Universal’s new Cabana Bay Beach Resort (North Courtyard) is opening to guests for the very first time on March 31, 2014, and Orlando Informer will be there to share our first impressions and live photo updates from the resort. We welcome you to join us on Twitter to experience Cabana Bay with us – we will be posting dozens of photos and HD videos. If you’d like to learn more right now, visit our Cabana Bay pages in the OI Universal Center.

3/28 – This week we’ve put a lot of time and effort into getting our new community forums up and running. The framework and main functionality are now in place, so other than some cosmetic changes, we’re almost completely ready to launch. That’s why, this weekend, we’re kicking our testing into high gear, and here’s what’s in it for you: join our forums, post anywhere and everywhere you’d like, and on Monday we’ll randomly select three posters to win a free Orlando Informer t-shirt. Visit this forum post to read the details and get started. Thanks for your help!

3/28 – Universal Studios Florida is closing early for private events and Diagon Alley preparation basically March 30 through April 12. This means, during this period, Cinematic Spectacular will not run. The nighttime lagoon show’s next performance is scheduled for April 13. While this is unfortunate news for anyone traveling in early April, the goods news is that these cancellations show how Universal is throwing more resources at Diagon Alley to get it opened in June. See more attraction closures on our Universal Snapshot page or learn more about Diagon Alley.

3/28 – It’s the most spectacular celebration of the Big Easy spirit outside of New Orleans itself – Mardi Gras at Universal Studios Florida! Enjoy a dazzling parade, authentic Cajun food, and this weekend’s double-header: Kelly Rowland on Friday and Weezer on Saturday. To plan your visit, find the best spot to watch the parade, view our “best of” event video, and so much more, check out our Complete guide to Mardi Gras.

3/28 – Universal Orlando has announced that it will continue through 2014 to offer a one-of-a-kind vacation package allowing guests to spend cherished family time in its theme parks and then to create unforgettable memories for children at Give Kids The World Village, a nonprofit “storybook” resort for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. You can learn more about this and other options in our Insider’s guide to Universal vacation packages.

3/24 – Today we received our very first tidbits of official Halloween Horror Nights 2014 information: the grand opening night is September 19, and the event will run on 28 select nights through November 1. The early marketing material also confirms the event will be at Universal Studios Florida only (not both parks as some were hoping), and it will have eight haunted houses. Although no other details are official, we’ve provided plenty of information to help you start your preliminary planning on our HHN 2014 page.

3/24 – Universal has tightened many of its operating hours for April and May, signaling what we’ve anticipated for quite some time – many potential guests are now postponing their vacations until the opening of Diagon Alley. Because hours have been cut, and, in some cases, Express Pass prices have been reduced, we’ve also responded by lowering our crowd predictions for several dates this spring. To see what it all looks like during your travel dates, visit our free 12-month Universal Orlando crowd calendar.

It’s worth noting that the severe cut in hours at Universal Studios Florida, particularly during the week of April 7, may also signal that Universal is ramping up its construction efforts for Diagon Alley in an attempt to offset some of the delays we’ve been hearing about.

3/22 – We’re happy to announce that our Weekly Dispatch blog post and email newsletter are starting up again after a two-month hiatus. Each provides a summary of the Universal Orlando updates we published during the last week as well as list of our new blog posts. The Weekly Dispatch email is particularly useful for our readers who want to stay updated on everything we’ve been publishing – and everything that’s happening at Universal – but who don’t necessarily get a chance to visit our site daily. If you haven’t joined our email list, you can do so by clicking here.

3/21 – It’s the most spectacular celebration of the Big Easy spirit outside of New Orleans itself – Mardi Gras at Universal Studios Florida! Enjoy a dazzling parade, authentic Cajun food, and this weekend’s double-header: A Great Big World on Friday and Gavin DeGraw on Saturday. To plan your visit, find the best spot to watch the parade, view our “best of” event video, and so much more, check out our Complete guide to Mardi Gras.

3/20 – You can now view our 170 photos from today’s tour of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure on our Flickr page (March 20 photoset). The collection includes a full tour of the new Starbucks location at CityWalk, many new shots of the Diagon Alley construction, as well as some great Blues Brothers and Twister photos! Also, we’ve uploaded a quick walkthough video tour of Starbucks.

3/18 – We just finished posting what will likely be our last construction update for Diagon Alley. In addition, for the very first time in the two years we’ve been covering the Harry Potter expansion, we are now recalibrating our estimate of its grand opening date. To view our final construction update – understand why it is so – and see our new speculation about opening of the Harry Potter expansion, visit our Diagon Alley page.

3/18 – On Tuesday we took a significant step forward in finalizing the launch of our new forums section – where the greatest community of Universal Orlando fans and vacation planners will gather to discuss the greatest entertainment destination on Earth. We can now announce that the official opening date of our forums is Friday, April 4. Stay tuned for updates and technical rehearsals!

3/18 – Universal Studios Florida continues closing early on several dates in March. For vacation planners, it’s important to know these dates because USF’s must-see nighttime lagoon show, Cinematic Spectacular, does not run when the park closes early. The upcoming early closure dates are March 18, 30 & 31, and a friendly reminder that Cinematic Spectacular also doesn’t run on Mardi Gras event dates, including March 21, 22, 28 & 29. To learn more, visit our Universal Snapshot page.

3/17 – This morning Universal Orlando published two new 30-second commercial spots for Diagon Alley on their YouTube Channel: “Who Says Lightning Never Strikes Twice” and “There’s Something Brewing.” While neither spot includes any new information, they are both entrancing to watch, and you can do that by visiting our Complete guide to Diagon Alley.

3/14 – Meticulous design, true-to-life physical effects, groundbreaking technology, and a real train ride from London to Hogsmeade combine to make Hogwarts Express the world’s most authentic theme park experience. Universal has released exquisite details about the new attraction it’s building between Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, and we present all the new information, rumors, photos, video, and our analysis in this week’s Rumor SPOTLIGHT.

3/14 – The new downstairs Starbucks location at Universal CityWalk is officially open as of this morning (and offering free wifi!). We’ll get photos and a video during our visit next week, but when we were on-site yesterday, we did get to take a peek at the space – it’s made a very good first impression. The upstairs Starbucks location is now closed, and it will be rebuilt as The Cowfish. See this blog post to learn more.

3/14 – It’s the most spectacular celebration of the Big Easy spirit outside of New Orleans itself – Mardi Gras at Universal Studios Florida! Enjoy a dazzling parade, authentic Cajun food, and this weekend’s double-header: Cody Simpson on Friday and Foreigner on Saturday. To plan your visit, find the best spot to watch the parade, view our new “best of” video, and more, check out our Complete guide to Mardi Gras.

3/13 – You can now view our 149 photos from today’s tour of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure on our Flickr page (March 13 photoset). The collection includes 33 new shots of the Diagon Alley construction, a photo tour through CityWalk’s new Cold Stone Creamery, and much more. While we were on-site, we also uploaded a live video walkthrough of Port of Entry. Enjoy!

3/12 – One of the most popular pages on our site just got better! Our Complete insider’s guide to Universal Express Passes has been updated to reflect what we know about Diagon Alley and Cabana Bay Beach Resort. Covering all aspects of Express Pass access, answering dozens of questions, and packed end to end with expert advice, this is one page every Universal vacation planner needs to read. Get started

3/12 – You may remember that Robin Thicke canceled his February 22 Mardi Gras performance, supposedly due to laryngitis. While the original cancellation seemed dubious because he was spotted at Disneyland the next day, he did stick to his pledge to reschedule his Universal performance: Mardi Gras is now a week longer, and Robin Thicke will perform on June 7. We’ve updated our Mardi Gras 2014 page and our crowd calendar.

3/11 – As of this morning, Zonko’s Joke Shop has permanently closed. In case you didn’t hear, Universal announced during its January webcast that the shop would close – and Honeydukes will expand – because the new Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes in Diagon Alley will sell the same type of products. For now, much of Zonko’s merchandise has been transferred to the main gift shops at the entrance to Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure.

3/11 – Universal’s year-long CityWalk expansion project continues to bear fruit, and the newest achievement is the opening of Cold Stone Creamery, located very near to CityWalk’s entrance (right by the escalator and Red Oven Pizza Bakery). The new quick-service ice cream shop officially opened on Monday, March 10. You can view a photo tour at the bottom of our March 13 photoset on Flickr, or you can see a quick video walkthough on our YouTube Channel.

3/10 – The operating hours for June 2014 have been published, and our crowd calendar has been updated accordingly. While June’s hours don’t necessarily present a dead giveaway for the grand opening date of Diagon Alley (which Universal still hasn’t officially announced), they do mirror the park hours for June 2013 almost identically. Perhaps from this we can speculate that Diagon Alley will open near to the same time Transformers opened at Universal Studios last year: June 20. Learn more by visiting our crowd calendar or our Diagon Alley page.

3/10 – Universal has published a brand-new teaser video for Diagon Alley, this time highlighting the Hogwarts Express and promising an official announcement of more details this Friday! While we’re all happy to hear more information about the rides, and Platform 9 3/4, the big news everyone really wants is the official grand opening date for the Harry Potter expansion. See the video and learn more on our Diagon Alley page.

3/10 – On Monday, March 17, it’s your day to be Irish at CityWalk’s Pat O’Brien’s, home of the world-famous “Hurricane” specialty drink – enjoy a St. Patty’s Day celebration from 3:00pm to 2:00am! Then on Friday, March 14, take your place at the signature food and beer pairing event at Royal Pacific Resort – Jake’s Beer Dinner – where you’ll feast on a four-course dinner fastidiously paired with quality craft beers from Bell’s Brewery. Learn about these events and more on our Universal Snapshot page.

3/10 – This week at Universal Orlando: Our free 12-month crowd calendar tells us that this week will be our first taste of Spring Break 2014. We also welcome back Jurassic Park River Adventure, which has been closed for three weeks for scheduled maintenance. Planners, also note that Cinematic Spectacular will not run this Thursday, Friday, or Saturday (the last two dates are a Mardi Gras double-header too).

3/7 – It’s the most spectacular celebration of the Big Easy spirit outside of New Orleans itself – Mardi Gras at Universal Studios Florida! Enjoy a dazzling parade, authentic Cajun food, and this Saturday’s concert featuring Prince Royce. To plan your visit, find out the best spot to watch the parade, view our new “best of” video, and more, check out our Complete guide to Mardi Gras.

3/6 – Saving money on soda refills inside Universal Orlando’s theme parks just became a little easier. That’s because Universal’s Coke Freestyle cups now qualify as classic souvenir cups. In a nutshell, this means you can use the Coke Freestyle cups for unlimited free refills at the Coke Freestyle stations and for 99-cent refills at almost every other location that serves fountain drinks. Visit our updated Refillable cups, popcorn buckets & Coke Freestyle page for a full explanation.

3/6 – One of the most popular questions we receive is, “Does Universal have free wifi?” We’re happy to report some good news regarding this topic: as of last month, all of Universal’s on-site hotels – including the upcoming Cabana Bay Beach Resort – offer free in-room wifi to their guests. In addition, as we’ve previously mentioned, the new Starbucks at Islands of Adventure offers free wifi. Learn more in our completely updated guide to Free internet access at Universal Orlando.

3/5 – SWEEPSTAKES ALERT: The popular sitcom Modern Family is now on USA Network, and, to celebrate, the network is giving away a 3-night, 4-day vacation to Universal Orlando including airfare and accommodations at Cabana Bay. You can enter one time each day between now and April 4 by clicking here. Sorry international visitors, U.S. residence only living in the continental United States.

3/4 – Every spring prices go up at Orlando’s theme parks, and this year was no exception – although it did happen a bit earlier than usual. As of March 4, 2014, all Universal general admission tickets have increased. Here the the new online prices:

1-Day Single-Park – was $92.00, now $96.00
2-Day Single-Park – was $125.99, now $135.99
3-Day Single-Park – was $140.99, now $145.99
4-Day Single-Park – was $150.99, now $155.99
1-Day Park-to-Park – was $128.00, now $136.00
2-Day Park-to-Park – was $146.99, now $175.99
3-Day Park-to-Park – was $159.99, now $185.99
4-Day Park-to-Park – was $167.99, now $195.99
*Prices above are for adults and do not include tax.
*Gate prices are the same for 1-day tickets, $20.00 more for multi-day tickets (and gate prices actually increased on February 27).

Most notably, a 2-day Park-to-Park online ticket, likely the most popular option for first-time Diagon Alley visitors, saw a 20% increase. Remember that a Park-to-Park ticket will be required to ride the Hogwarts Express from USF’s Diagon Alley to IOA’s Hogsmeade.

As of today, annual pass pricing has not increased this year, but that is expected to happen any day now. Curious about the FlexTicket? That option had an increase earlier this year, and it is not expected to go up again soon – although anything is possible.

3/3 – This week at Universal Orlando: We’ve got just a few more slow days left until Spring Break 2014 begins – if you’re able to, this week is a great time to visit! Just be aware that Cinematic Spectacular isn’t running on the 4th or the 8th. Also, Jurassic Park River Adventure continues its refurb until March 12. To end on a better note, March 4 is Fat Tuesday, and you can celebrate in style at CityWalk’s Pat O’Brien’s (a replica of the original in New Orleans). Learn more on our Universal Snapshot page.

3/3 – It’s the start of a new month, and that means February 2015 has been added to our free 12-month Universal Orlando crowd calendar! We also took another look at March and April of this year, and our predictions for Spring Break 2014 continue to be accurate based on park hours, Express Pass pricing, etc. Finally, as for now, park hours for June 2014 (and later) remain unpublished. It seems as though Universal may be having a bit of difficulty settling on a grand opening date for Diagon Alley.

3/2 – You can now view our 88 photos from Saturday’s tour of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure on our Flickr page (March 1 photoset). The collection includes photos of Royal Pacific Resort, Islands of Adventure, and then another look at Mardi Gras 2014. Note that this set doesn’t include quite as many actual Mardi Gras photos because our main purpose during this visit was video, which we’ll be uploading soon! (You can take a sneak peek at part of the upcoming video here.)

3/1 – It’s the most spectacular celebration of the Big Easy spirit outside of New Orleans itself – Mardi Gras at Universal Studios Florida. Enjoy a dazzling parade, authentic Cajun food, and this Saturday’s concert featuring Collective Soul. To plan your visit, check out our Complete guide to Mardi Gras. To see what the party’s like firsthand, join us on-site at Universal Orlando by following our live photo updates on Twitter or Facebook.

3/1 – We expected Zonko’s Joke Shop to close at the end of February, which we were told by Team Members in-store on three separate occasions. Now it appears as though plans have been delayed, and Zonko’s will likely be open a couple more weeks. As we noted, this isn’t too much of a surprise, because it feels like the whole construction area at the entrance to the original Wizarding World is behind schedule. To learn more about the Harry Potter expansion, click here.

 

February 2014

2/28 – Jurassic Park River Adventure was originally scheduled reopen today after a week-long refurb, but the refurb has been extended until March 11 – the attraction is now scheduled to reopen Wednesday, March 12. For more ride closures and to see a complete overview of everything that is happening right now at Universal Orlando Resort, visit our Universal Snapshot page.

2/28 – Happy birthday to Orlando Informer – we turned 3 on Friday! From a small blog with a handful of readers to the world’s leading resource for Universal Orlando vacation planning with nearly a million pageviews per month, we’re achieving great things thanks to your help! Get a detailed look at what we do and how we’ve grown by visiting our About page.

2/26 – If what we’ve been told during our last few visits holds true, Friday will be the last day of business for Zonko’s Joke Shop. In case you didn’t hear, Universal announced during their January webcast that the shop will be closing – and Honeydukes will be expanding – because the new Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes will sell the same type of products. Check out everything else we know in our Complete guide to Diagon Alley.

2/26 – CONFIRMED: Universal Orlando has raised gate ticket prices today – $92 to $96 for 1-day single-park, $128 to $136 for 1-day park-to-park. Multi-day ticket prices at the gate also increased, with a 2-day park-to-park ticket increasing a whopping 17% to $195. The prices for Universal’s tickets online haven’t increased yet, but that should happen soon. We’ve listed everything you need to know in this new blog post.

2/26 – Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Revue launched a new show earlier this month. Whereas the old show featured a storyline of sorts and a fair amount of interaction between the characters and the audience, the new “Graveyard Mash-Up” is an almost constant stream of classic pop & rock songs – like a 25-minute megamix. You can view photos and video highlights of the new show on our Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Revue page.

2/24 – Our latest crowd calendar update brings a host of closing time changes for Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure in March. The changes mostly shorten the parks’ operating hours, but they’re pretty scattered among the four weeks – so if you’re traveling in March, it would be best just to visit our free 12-month crowd calendar and see how the new hours look for you.

2/24 – IMPACT WRESTLING returns to the Universal soundstages on select dates in March, April, and May. Considered one of the world’s most innovative experiences in professional wrestling, these events air in over 125 countries worldwide and feature favorite stars such as Jeff Hardy, Kurt Angle, and Velvet Sky. Park admission is not required to attend IMPACT WRESTLING, and seating is first-come, first-served. To learn more, visit our Universal Snapshot page.

2/24 – New CityWalk event on the books: Celebrate “Good Times!” at Orlando’s biggest Fat Tuesday party! For only $10 (plus tax) per person. Guests can enjoy a live party band – with Dueling Pianos – and authentic food & drink specials all night. Get there early if you can, because admission is free until 7:00pm. (Must be 21+ after 7:00pm.) To learn more and see all the upcoming events at the parks, visit our Universal Snapshot page.

2/23 – As of today Disney has raised its 1-day ticket prices for its parks (from $95 to $99 for Magic Kingdom, from $90 to $94 for the other three parks). Expect Universal Orlando to follow along soon. Currently a 1-day single-park ticket for either USF or IOA is $92. It’s likely that the price will increase to $98. A 1-day park-to-park ticket will likely go from $128 to $134. While it’s difficult to understand why guests should pay more this year for Disney than last year, it’s obvious why Universal guests will pay more: Diagon Alley.

Note: The shock of a 1-day ticket price is really meant to be just that, because, in comparison, the per-day price of a 3- or 4-day ticket looks much better – and that’s supposed to entice you to stay at either Disney or Universal for your whole trip. For example, if you buy a 4-day single-park ticket to Universal right now, it’s only $38 per day.

One more note: The prices of single- and multi-day park tickets for Universal really make their annual pass options look like an absurdly good value. Non-Florida residents can currently get a Power Pass, which is good for a year of park-to-park admission (minus a few blockout dates), for $199 – that’s only about 30 bucks more than a 4-day park-to-park ticket. Learn more

2/22 – You can now view our 102 photos from Friday’s tour of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure on our Flickr page (February 21 photoset). The collection includes some fun HDR shots, like this one and this one. The collection also has about a dozen shots of the new Beetlejuice show (video coming soon). Enjoy!

2/21 – Important Mardi Gras update: Robin Thicke has canceled his concert at Universal Orlando for Saturday’s Mardi Gras event date. Everything else with the event will continue as usual, including the parade at 7:15pm. The weather should be decent, so even without the Robin Thicke concert, there is still plenty of fun to be had. Learn everything you need to know by visiting our complete guide to Mardi Gras 2014.

2/20 – In an effort to always provide you with the most up-to-date information, we’ve published another big update to our Universal Photo Connect page. This time around we’ve clarified that the new 1-day & 14-day Star Card Packages are only available for purchase online, free photo prints are still included in all packages, but the free Photo CD and free personalized Star Cards are not. As always, a full explanation can be found on our freshly updated Universal Photo Connect page.

Speaking of Universal Photo Connect, for a very limited time you can use the code “THANKYOU20″ to instantly save $20 on purchases from the service’s website. Unfortunately the $20 savings cannot be applied to Star Card Package pre-orders, only to the purchase of souvenirs, prints, etc., for those who already have an account and photos online.

2/19 – Today we completed the largest update in the two-year history of our guide to Diagon Alley. The article has now been fully overhauled and restructured to present everything we know about the incredible Harry Potter expansion project at Universal Orlando, including all the latest news, details, and vacation planning advice. Visit our Complete guide to Diagon Alley and let the magic begin!

2/18 – It’s official: This year Universal has canceled Cinematic Spectacular on Mardi Gras dates. That means, for the 20 event dates when Mardi Gras runs, Cinematic Spectacular will not run at the end of the evening. Please note that USF’s nighttime lagoon show is scheduled to run nightly on non-event dates, except when it’s canceled periodically for other one-time special events. You can see all the Mardi Gras event dates on our Mardi Gras guide or on our free crowd calendar.

2/18 – Last October Portofino Bay Hotel introduced the world first Despicable Me themed Kids Suites. While the rooms look incredible, they are not exactly budget-friendly, starting at $600 per night! The good news is that Loews Hotels is now running a sweepstakes in which you can win a two-night stay. Click here to enter, or, if you’d like to learn more about the rooms, visit this page in the OI Universal Center. (Sorry, U.S. residents only for the sweepstakes.)

2/18 – In case you missed it, the Spring 2014 edition of Universal Orlando’s PASSPORT newsletter for Annual Passholders is now available. It declares that 2014 will be the resort’s biggest year ever, and that is easy to believe with the spring opening of Cabana Bay Beach Resort and the summer opening of Diagon Alley. To view the newsletter, click here (PDF file), or you can always find the latest version at the bottom of our Universal Snapshot page.

2/18 – You can now view our 119 photos from Monday’s tour of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure on our Flickr page (February 17 photoset). The collection includes a look at the now demolished Lost Continent carnival games, an area that has been claimed by the expanding construction at the main entrance to Hogsmeade. We also uploaded a new video of the construction.

2/13 – Our fans have done such a great job helping to spread the word about our site that I’m pleased to announce we’ve reached a new milestone this week: 50,000 “likes” on Facebook. (We’ve also passed 14,500 followers on Twitter!). Thank you, fans, for your support.

2/12 – Thanks to OI contributor Maureen, we have this month’s Universal Orlando trip reports live on our site. To see what’s new and exciting at the parks, including Universal Mardi Gras and CityWalk construction, follow these links to the OI Blog: Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure.

2/12 – Mardi Gras update: Kelly Rowland will fill the March 28 concert slot, and The Roots will fill the May 17 slot, thus completing the Universal Studios’ Mardi Gras lineup for this year. What’s more, because it’s Presidents Day weekend, we have two nights of Mardi Gras coming up, with Barenaked Ladies Saturday and Thomas Rhett Sunday. To see all the concerts scheduled and plan your visit, check out our complete guide to Mardi Gras 2014.

2/12 – Over the past few months Universal has adjusted their popular but still under-appreciated Photo Connect Star Card Package. The newest change now presents guests with three length-of-use options: $49.95 plus tax for one day, $59.95 plus tax for three consecutive days, or $99.99 plus tax for 14 consecutive days. And remember, you can save $10 buy pre-ordering online. For everything you need to know about this service, visit our Universal Photo Connect & ride photos page.

2/10 – Crowd calendar update: Universal has finally published their summer May operating hours. This is the first time I can remember the resort only publishing one month’s worth of park hours at a time – usually they publish two or three months at a time. This is yet more evidence that Diagon Alley will be opening in June, as there is no other reason why Universal wouldn’t publish June hours now except if they are trying to conceal the grand opening date of the new Wizarding World. To learn more, visit our free 12-month Universal Orlando crowd calendar!

2/10 – This week at Universal Orlando: Saturday is round 2 of Mardi Gras featuring the Barenaked Ladies (and it looks like the weather will be much better!). In other news, Cinematic Spectacular, USF’s nighttime lagoon show, will not run on February 10, 14 & 15 (note that the 15th is Mardi Gras). After nearly a month of retooling, USF’s new Beetlejuice show has premiered. Finally, CityWalk’s Antojitos is now open every day at 5:00pm for dinner service. Details about these events and so much more can always be found on our Universal Snapshot page.

2/10 – You can now view our 140 photos from the first night of Mardi Gras 2014 on our Flickr page. Despite the crummy weather, we had lots of fun, including our first look at CityWalk’s Antojitos, another look at Diagon Alley, and, of course, dozens and dozens of photos of the Mardi Gras parade and Daughtry concert. See it all on our Flickr page. (PS. We’ll be back at Mardi Gras this weekend for more photos and video!)

2/10 – An important note about Antojitos at CityWalk: As you may have heard, Antojitos features an upstairs and downstairs area, and each is themed differently. Downstairs has more of an urban feel and a more accessible menu. Upstairs has a more intimate feel and features a slightly more upscale menu. The important note is that, when you are making your reservations online, be sure to include a comment as to whether you want to sit upstairs or downstairs. You can view the menus and get the link for booking your table on our Dining reservations page.

2/10 – New event on the books: Thursday, February 27, Hard Rock Hotel continues Orlando’s hottest lobby party with its “Velvet Sessions” series – this month featuring Edwin McCain. 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 other Universal Orlando happenings, visit our Univesal Snapshot page.

2/8 – Tonight is the very first night of the 2014 Universal Studios’ Mardi Gras Grand Celebration! Sure, the weather could be better, but we’ll still have fun. Follow us on Twitter to see every single one of our photo updates broadcast live from Universal Orlando this evening, or catch a few highlights on our Facebook page. To learn about Mardi Gras, visit our complete guide to the event.

2/6 – Site changes coming to Orlando Informer as we prepare for Diagon Alley opening this summer. Read the new letter from Dan Hatfield

2/5 – Scheduling reminders: Antojitos’ grand opening is February 5 (tonight); Cinematic Spectacular, USF’s nighttime lagoon show, will not run on February 5, 6, 8, 10, 14 & 15 (note that 8 & 15 are Mardi Gras event dates); On February 7, Portofino Bay Hotel will host Harbor Nights Romantico; then on February 8, celebrate Bob Marley’s birthday at CityWalk and enjoy the first night of Universal Studios’ Mardi Gras. Details about these events and so much more can always be found on our Universal Snapshot page.

2/4 – When it comes to the Harry Potter expansion, we spend most of our time talking about Diagon Alley. But there is a big project underway inside Islands of Adventure too. So join us as we walk over to IOA – I know, for NOW we still have to walk – and let’s take a look at the progress of the construction site on our Hogsmeade Station page.

2/4 – Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food, the newest venue at Universal CityWalk, will celebrate its grand opening tomorrow evening with live music, stilt walkers, face painters, and general merriment fueled by the nearly 200 different types of tequila offered at the restaurant. For planners, we’re happy to let you know that the full Antojitos menu is now available as a PDF file, and better yet, you can now reserve a table online. For all the links, visit the Universal CityWalk section of our Reservations page.

2/4 – Big Mardi Gras update: Universal Studios’ spring event starts this Saturday, featuring a dazzling parade and Daughtry live in concert. We finally know the event times – 7:15pm for the parade and 8:00pm for the concert. In other news, Cher Lloyd has taken the May 24 slot in the concert lineup. Last but not least, the parade route has been extended this year, so it now starts and ends near the Horror Make-Up Show theater. Get all the details and learn so much more on our Mardi Gras 2014 page.

2/4 – We visited Universal Orlando on Monday, and we got another great collection of photos and videos for you. First, in our photo collection, we have coverage of the construction at CityWalk, the new Starbucks at Islands of Adventure, and the new signs on the Diagon Alley waterfront — see our Flickr page (February 3 photoset). Then, for new videos, check out our Starbucks walkthrough and our 5-minute Diagon Alley update.

2/3 – It’s the start of a new month, and you know what that means: time for a crowd calendar update! This one was big, as Universal has made several significant changes to their park operating hours in February, March, and April (mostly by shortening them on many days). We can’t get into all the details here, but we explain everything at the top of our free 12-month Universal Orlando crowd calendar. Oh, and we’ve also added January 2015.

2/3 – If you participated in our Super Bowl t-shirt giveaway, the winners have been announced. Thanks to everyone who played along!

2/1 – Thanks for helping us make history in January. During the past 31 days, our site growth exploded as we helped over 275,000 unique visitors learn more about Universal Orlando and Diagon Alley. In total, our guests registered nearly 1 million site pageviews, a staggering 202% increase in monthly activity compared to January 2013. We appreciate your support and for letting us assist with your family’s vacation planning! Learn more about us

 

January 2014

1/31 – Mardi Gras 2014 starts in just one week, and we have new information to share for those interested in riding the floats. The opportunity is open to Annual Passholders and American Express cardholders. Full details and a link to the sign up page can be found on our Complete guide to Mardi Gras 2014. Hint: Annual Passholders, if you want to ride in the February 8 parade, you need to sign up by noon today!

1/29 – Antojitos is now open for business. The full-service “Authentic Mexican food” restaurant replaces Latin Quarter in the back section of Universal CityWalk. Reservations can only be made over the phone by calling 407-224-2804 after 5:00pm. Although Antojitos is open as of January 29 for dinner, it will celebrate its official grand opening on February 5. For more help with booking your dining plans, visit our Reservations page.

For those keeping track at home, construction work on Antojitos started the week of August 1, 2013.

1/29 – In other restaurant news, the new Starbucks at Islands of Adventure is now open. It’s located in Port of Entry, right next to Cinnabon, and it replaced the Arctic Express quick-service counter that sold funnel cakes and ice cream. The best news of all is that, unlike its counterparts at CityWalk and USF, this Starbucks also offers complimentary wifi access (which is not available throughout the rest of IOA).

For those keeping track at home, construction work on Starbucks started the week of August 29, 2013.

1/28 – Three more acts have been added to the 2014 Mardi Gras lineup: A Great Big World on March 21, Weezer on March 29, and Huey Lewis & The News on May 31. In addition, Universal has confirmed that it’s “After 5pm” discount ticket for Florida residents is $69.99 this year, $10 more than last year. See all the event dates, the rest of the concert lineup, and learn more on the world’s most complete guide to Universal Mardi Gras.

1/28 – Don’t miss the latest installment of our Countdown to Diagon Alley blog post series: After the webcast: Six incredible Diagon Alley secrets revealed that weren’t mentioned in the webcast. (Thank you, fans, for showing so much support of our Diagon Alley coverage: to date, the posts in our blog series have earned over 6,000 Facebook likes, and our main Diagon Alley page has earned over 10,000 likes!)

1/28 – The Coke Freestyle program at Universal Orlando has recently undergone some changes. First, it’s had a price increase of a dollar: the cup and one day’s use are now $11.99, additional days are now $9.99. The better news is that Universal has added many new Coke Freestyle stations to the parks. We explain everything on our updated Refillable cups, popcorn buckets & Coke Freestyle page.

1/27 – Ride refurb update: USF’s Twister attraction and Beetlejuice show will remain closed for the rest of January, as will IOA’s Ripsaw Falls. All three of these attractions are scheduled to reopen in early February, and IOA’s Blige-Rat Barges will close for seasonal maintenance February 2 through 15. In other news, IOA’s new Starbucks location is expected to open any day now. For more details, visit our Universal Snapshot page.

1/27 – New CityWalk event on the books: Celebrate the father of reggae at Bob Marley – A Tribute to Freedom on Saturday, February 8! Bob Marley’s Birthday Jam offers live reggae music, authentic Jamaican food & drink specials, and a birthday cake & candlelighting ceremony. Admission is only $15.00 plus tax per person. Learn more in the Events section of our Universal Snapshot page.

1/26 – Friday & we visited Universal Orlando as part of our weekly tours. You can now view our 171 new photos on our Flickr page (January 24 & 25 photoset). The collection includes Harry Potter Celebration coverage, a look at the new “peep hole” into Diagon Alley, and so much more. We’ve also uploaded five new videos to our YouTube Channel, including the emotional opening to the Harry Potter Celebration.

1/25 – As a special bonus for the Harry Potter Celebration this weekend, Universal is serving warm butterbeer for the first time ever. It will only be available at Three Broomsticks and Hogs Head Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning — for now. We were lucky enough to try it, and it’s absolutely delicious (yes, we were hesitant about the idea too, even though butterbeer is described in the books as warm). Because it’s so good, we’re fairly certain warm butterbeer will be added to the regular menu soon.

1/24 – Collectors, be warned: In Thursday’s Diagon Alley webcast, Universal officially announced that Zonko’s Joke Shop inside the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter will be closing (its merchandise will move to Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes once it opens). Zonko’s could close down in less than a week, so now is the time to get items from its original collection — or just take photos of the soon-to-be-gone shop. To learn more, check out our After the webcast special post or, to start at the very beginning, visit our Diagon Alley page.

1/24 – Yes, Universal’s “A Celebration of Harry Potter” special event starts Friday with the opening of its Expo at 4:00pm, followed by the official Kick Off celebration at the Universal Music Plaza at 7:30pm. Bundle up and join your fellow Potter fans! To view the full event schedule, see which cast members will be there, and read through our FAQs, visit our A Celebration of Harry Potter page.

1/23 – Today we had the privilege of sharing our Diagon Alley coverage with over 21,000 visitors to our site, smashing any previous single-day records for Orlando Informer. Thank you so much for joining us during such an exciting day, and we look forward to helping you plan your 2014 visit to Universal Orlando Resort! Learn more about our site

1/22 – This Thursday, Universal will broadcast a special Diagon Alley webcast, officially revealing many aspects of the project — including, possibly, the grand opening date. Then, Friday through Sunday, the resort hosts their “A Celebration of Harry Potter” event, which includes an Expo as well as Q&A sessions with select cast members.

If you would like to learn more about the special webcast, visit our Diagon Alley page. We’ve posted the link to the webcast page and answered several questions we’ve received about it. (Our Diagon Alley page is the world’s most complete guide to this project, so there is a lot of other information on it too!)

If you’d like to learn all the details about the Harry Potter Celebration, visit our A Celebration of Harry Potter page. We’ve got the full schedule of activities, and we’ve provided answers to the most frequently asked questions about the event.

1/21 – In addition to the Harry Potter Celebration, Universal has several other special events coming up very shortly, including Velvet Sessions, a rock ‘n roll cocktail party at Hard Rock Hotel; Harbor Nights Romantico, the perfect blend wine, food, and music at Portofino Bay Hotel; and Mardi Gras, which kicks off February 8 with Daughty live in concert. Visit our Universal Snapshot page to learn more!

1/20 – Universal just announced that Mark Williams (Arthur Wesley) and Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom) will also be attending this weekend’s event. Our event page has been updated!

1/20 – It’s only January, but one of the questions I’m getting almost daily is, “Will Diagon Alley be open during Halloween Horror Nights?” That’s a great question — one I’ve wondered about too. In an effort to provide you with an answer, we’ve included what information we know on our HHN 2014 page.

1/20 – Thanks to our incredibly popular Countdown to Diagon Alley blog post series and the support of our amazing fans, on Sunday our site broke yet another “busiest day ever” record (that’s three times in the past seven days!). We work tirelessly to continue making our site the world’s best Universal Orlando vacation planning resource, and it feels great when our accomplishments are affirmed by user feedback and by setting new site records.

1/18 – Starting next Friday, January 24, Universal will host their three-day “A Celebration of Harry Potter” special event featuring a Harry Potter Expo, Q&A sessions with select cast members, and more. Most activities are open to anyone with admission to the parks. You can learn more about the event by clicking here. We also want to let you know that, if you can’t make it, we’ll be providing full coverage in a special trip report.

1/17 – You can now view our 200+ photos from Thursday and Friday’s tours of Universal Orlando on our Flickr page. The collection includes a vast number of Diagon Alley shots, as all of the scaffolding has been removed. By the way, if you’d like to see next week’s photo updates from Universal Orlando in real time, join us on Twitter!

1/15 – This is it — 14 of the 20 acts for Mardi Gras 2014 at Universal Studios Florida have been announced! Find out who is playing (including a listing of each band’s official website, popular music video, and Twitter account) as well as every other detail you need to know to plan the perfect trip on our Mardi Gras 2014 page.

1/15 – Speaking of concerts at Universal, We have one more music update: The 2014 Summer Concert Series has been canceled. Well, perhaps “canceled” isn’t the right word for it. Rather, the annual event hasn’t been scheduled for 2014. This is not too much of a surprise because, once Diagon Alley opens this summer, we are expecting the resort to break attendance records day after day.

1/14 – We are proud to present our latest Diagon Alley update! View our new construction photos, a breakdown of King’s Cross Station, more proof of the opening date, and a look back at the project’s history in our special TWO-YEAR ANNIVERSARY retrospective — it’s all on our Diagon Alley page. (One more update: We’ve also added the new Diagon Alley teaser video to our page, which Universal published on January 16.)

1/13 – Good news for Florida residents: the parks have started their Mardi Gras promotion for annual passes, and you can now get three months free if you buy a new one starting this week. The promotion says you need a special Coke UPC code, but we weren’t promoted for it when we tried placing an order online.

1/13 – On February 7, experience a luscious pre-Valentine’s party at Portofino Bay Hotel’s Harbor Nights Romantico, a wine, food and music event designed to capture the romantic ambiance of the Mediterranean. Featuring 15 select wines and sparkling wines, gourmet foods, and live music by The Buzzcatz, Harbor Nights takes place under the twinkling lights of the majestic Harbor Piazza. You can view the menu (PDF file) or you can purchase tickets online.

1/13 – Fair warning: Today and tomorrow, January 13 & 14, Universal Studios Florida will be closing an hour earlier than usual at 6:00pm — and Cinematic Spectacular will not run at the end of the evening. In addition, Islands of Adventure also closes at 6:00pm today, January 13. To see more park hours, visit our free 12-month crowd calendar, or you can see all scheduled attraction closures on our Universal Snapshot page.

1/12 – On the back of our Gringotts Bank walk-through and our completely updated guide to Universal’s Dining Plans, on Saturday our website set a new “busiest day ever” record — then on Sunday, we did it again! Thank you, fans & readers, for making us an indispensable part of your Universal Orlando vacation planning. (If you’re new to our site, you can learn more about us.)

1/10 – You can now view the 137 photos from Friday’s tour of Universal Orlando on our Flickr page (January 10 photoset). The collection includes dozens of photos of the construction at CityWalk and Diagon Alley as well as many character photos. By the way, if you’d like to see next week’s on-site tour of Universal in real time, follow us on Twitter.

1/8 – You’ve been asking for it – and now it’s here! In November, Universal discontinued the popular Meal Deal program and introduced their new “Universal Dining Plan – Quick Service” program. On our completely overhauled and updated Universal Dining Plans page, we explain every detail and show you exactly how to save (or lose) money.

1/8 – To aid in your 2014 vacation planning, we have posted Universal’s on-site hotel seasonal rates covering the whole year on our On-site hotels page. (If you’re curious, you can see the rates right now by clicking here.) Compare these numbers with our crowd level estimates and when your family can travel, and you should have a very good idea of when it’s best for you to visit!

1/6 – Our latest calendar update finds that Universal has shortened its park hours several nights in January. USF will be closing at 6:00pm (instead of the regular 7:00pm) on the 6th, 13th, and 14th. Please note that, when USF closes early, Cinematic Spectacular does not run at the end of the evening. In addition, IOA will be closing at 6:00pm on the 23rd, 25th, and 28th. For more park hours, check out our free 12-month crowd calendar

1/6 – A new year of events at Universal’s on-site hotels kick off Friday, January 17, with Jake’s Beer Dinner at Royal Pacific Resort. Then on Thursday, January 30, Hard Rock Hotel hosts the year’s first Velvet Sessions rock ‘n roll cocktail party featuring Lou Gramm, the voice of Foreigner. You can learn much more in the Events section of our Universal Snapshot page.

1/6 – Thanks to one of our readers, we see that Loews now has an official website for Cabana Bay Beach Resort, and from it we were able to glean a few more interesting tidbits: Cabana Bay’s food court will be called Bayliner Diner; the fitness room will be complimentary (you have to pay extra at the other on-site hotels); and the best news, guests staying at Cabana Bay will indeed have access to the pools at Portofino Bay, Hard Rock, and Royal Pacific (and we assume vice versa). Learn more

1/4 – Help us improve by voting in this week’s reader poll: What additions would you like to see to the Orlando Informer website in 2014?. Once you’ve voted in this week’s poll, you can see everything you helped us accomplish in our 2013 year in review blog post.

1/4 – It’s officially the final day of the holidays at Universal Orlando. If you’re in town, you have one last chance to catch the Grinch and the Macy’s Holiday Parade. It’s also worth nothing that, starting today, IOA returns to its usual opening time of 9:00am. Finally, several attractions are closing for refurbs this month — all the details are on our Universal Snapshot page.

1/3 – Today’s cold weather reminds me of two pages you may not know we have in the OI Universal Center. The first, our Weather in Orlando page, offers details and planning tips for every month of the year. The second page, What to pack for your Universal Orlando vacation, is filled with practical knowledge and advice to get your suitcases ready with the right stuff. And like all the pages in the OI Universal Center, these are completely free to view and print.

1/3 – We have published our 160 new photos from yesterday’s tour of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of adventure. It was crowded and wet — if you’ve wondered what the parks look like during a rainy day, you can see everything on our Flickr page (January 2 photoset). By the way, you’ll see we’ve included a lot of menu photos from USF — that’s because we’re working on a new dining page!

1/2 – The start of a new month means that our free Universal crowd calendar has been updated to include December 2014. Please note that, because of Diagon Alley opening this summer, we have included several more “Very Busy” days during 2014′s holiday season than we experienced this year — not that we didn’t have a few very busy days this year.

Friendly reminders: If you’re planning a visit during Spring Break this year, please be aware of the crowd schedule as well as the schedule for Universal’s Grad Bash events — when the parks close exceptionally early for the general public. Also, if you are planning a visit this summer or fall, heed our warnings about Diagon Alley. You can find all the details on our free 12-month Universal crowd calendar.

1/1 – Once the holiday crowds leave, the refurbs begin! At USF, Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Revue will be closed for a complete show overhaul 1/5 – 1/31 (possibly longer), Disaster! is scheduled for refurb 1/13 – 1/19, and TWISTER will be closed 1/20 – 2/1. Over at IOA, Ripsaw Falls will be closed 1/6 – 2/1. Remember, you can always see the latest refurb schedules, upcoming special events, and so much more on our Universal Snapshot page.

1/1 – It may be the new year, but that doesn’t mean the holidays have ended at Universal Orlando. You still have up to and including January 4 to enjoy Grinchmas at Islands of Adventure and the Macy’s Holiday Parade at Universal Studios Florida. To learn more, visit our Holidays at Universal guide — or see what it’s like to be a Macy’s Holiday Parade balloon handler in this blog post.

 

 

To ensure that this page can load as fast as possible, we have archived updates posted before July 2013. You can use this link to view our previous updates:

UOR Daily Updates: July – December 2013

UOR Daily Updates: January – June 2013

UOR Daily Updates: Calendar year 2012

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