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.
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.
4/18 – On Friday, May 2, join your friends for Jake’s Beer Festival at Royal Pacific Resort’s Jake’s American Bar and under the outdoor Wantilan Pavilion, 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. You can view additional details and order tickets online.
Reminder: you can always view all of Universal’s current and upcoming events on our Universal Snapshot 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
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.
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
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.
12/30 – New Year’s Eve reminders: For those visiting Universal on December 31, please note that park hours are changing from what they have been the past few days. USF goes back to opening at 9:00am instead of 8:00am, and for NYE it will be open until 12:30am — with a special year-end edition of Cinematic Spectacular running at midnight. IOA will continue to open at 8:00am for the general public through December 4. You can view park hours on our free 12-month crowd calendar, or learn about everything Universal has planned for New Year’s Eve.
12/30 – We’re now less than a month away from Universal’s ‘A Celebration of Harry Potter’ special event, which the resort is hosting January 24 – 26. Today we’ve received new in-depth information about the Harry Potter Expo that will be held as part of the event, as well as the panel discussions and cast member Q&A’s. You can see the new details and everything else you need to know on our A Celebration of Harry Potter page.
12/30 – Got some bad news for beer drinkers visiting Universal Orlando: Prices for a pour of your favorite cold beverage are now posted pre-tax, meaning that the total you pay is effectively about 10% higher as of this week. A regular Duff was $7.25, now it’s $7.99; a Bud Light was $6.00, now it’s $6.65. Too bad this price hike had to kick in right before New Year’s Eve!
12/30 – “Thank you for helping make our trip to Universal so great. Your tips and insight were very helpful. My only regret is not knowing about your site before booking the trip.” – Sandra Pierson. You’re welcome, Sandra, and you’ve found us now — so you’ll be fully informed for your next visit to Universal!
12/29 – Yesterday we took a special evening tour of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure to work on our nighttime photography. You are cordially invited to view the 99 images we captured, which have now been uploaded to our Flickr page (December 29 photoset). If you’ve never been to Universal at night, you won’t want to miss this collection!
12/28 – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter return ticket system has once again been implemented at Universal due to the large holiday crowds. Did you know that our site is the only place in the world where you can find a complete explanation (with photos and video) of the WWoHP return ticket system? Please avoid the chaos at the parks and take a few minutes to read our guide.
12/27 – If you submitted a review as part of our Simpsons Review & Win holiday giveaway, we want to let you know that the winners have been contacted via email. A special congratulations is due to Jennifer Herold, whose review of Fast Food Blvd earned her the top prize of a $50 Universal gift card. Our giveaway may now be over, but you can still access our 700+ guest reviews of Universal’s attractions or submit your own — just visit our Real guest reviews page to get started!
12/27 – Yesterday we visited Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure for our weekly tour of the parks. We have now uploaded our 160 new photos to our Flickr page (December 26 photoset). The new collection starts at Portofino Bay Hotel, then goes on to include many shots of the holiday crowds at the parks, construction work on Diagon Alley, a delicious Krusty Burger, and more!
12/26 – Now that Christmas is over, it’s time to start making your final plans for New Year’s Eve! If you’ll be at Universal Orlando for the big night, we have complete information about everything the resort will be doing, from the on-site hotel buffets to new details about the six unique party zones that will make up CityWalk’s reinvented EVE 12.31.13 celebration. Click here to learn more
12/24 – This week at Universal Orlando: On Thursday both Universal theme parks begin opening at 8:00am (6:30am for IOA Early Park Admission [yes, an hour and a half before the general public gets in]). On the same day, the Macy’s Holiday Parade at Universal Studios Florida is pushed to 8:00pm. You can learn more about the holidays at Universal, crowd levels, or see if now is the time to buy Express Passes. Merry Grinchmas!
12/23 – Universal touring plan checklist: Fully up-to-date with all the new Simpsons attractions? Check. Unique photo ops included? Check. Multiple dining recommendations included? Check. Totally free to view and print? Check. The holiday crowds are here, and our Universal touring plans are ready! View & print them for free, or easily access them by visiting OrlandoInformer.com on any mobile device.
12/22 – It’s a Simpsons Review & Win holiday! To celebrate the new pages added to the OI Universal Center (see the update posted below this one for more info), we are giving our readers an opportunity to review the venues that make up Springfield USA. We’ll pick our favorite reviews on later this week – and if you wrote one of them, you could win a $50 Universal gift card or a free Orlando Informer t-shirt! Get started writing your reviews
12/22 – We’ve finished reorganizing our Simpsons information inside the OI Universal Center, and as part of the project, we’re proud to offer our readers these new pages: Welcome to Springfield USA (an overview page for the area), as well as Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl, Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck, and Duff Brewery. Please note that these new pages were added in addition to our complete coverage of Simpsons Fast Food Blvd.
12/21 – Friendly reminders: For those in town this weekend, Saturday and Sunday are the final two performance nights for Mannheim Steamroller. For those visiting Universal next week, please remember that on Thursday both parks begin opening at 8:00am (7:00am for IOA early admission). On the same day, the Macy’s Holiday Parade is pushed to 8:00pm. You can learn more about the holidays at Universal, crowd levels, or view our free touring plans.
One more reminder: Today is the final day to take advantage of the advance price discount for CityWalk’s EVE 12.31.13 New Year’s Eve party.
12/19 – We’ve got two holiday updates for you. First, we’ve added extra details, photos, and a few more recommended parade viewing spots to our Macy’s Holiday Parade page. If you are planning on seeing the parade this year, don’t miss our new advice! Second, we’ve added another new page to our holiday coverage with more photos and videos: Holiday sights & sounds at Universal.
12/19 – More Potter news! Universal just announced the cast members attending their ‘A Celebration of Harry Potter’ event in January: Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), James Phelps (Fred Weasley) and Oliver Phelps (George Weasley). The event takes place January 24 through 26. To learn more, visit our Harry Potter Celebration event page.
12/17 – Harry Potter fans, mark your calendars – on January 23 Universal will host an exclusive webcast about Diagon Alley. We anticipate this will be the full reveal for the new area at Universal Studios Florida, including details on the shops, attractions, and a grand opening date. Read a complete explanation of today’s announcement, see the new video, and learn so much more on our Diagon Alley page.
12/17 – Are you thinking that Universal CityWalk’s reinvented New Year’s Eve party — EVE 12.31.13 — is sounding pretty good, with its six unique party zones, unlimited gourmet cuisine, Orlando’s biggest outdoor dance floor, admission to six unique nightclubs, and midnight Champagne toast? Then you’ll want to buy your tickets before this Saturday, December 21, when you can get a $20 advance-price discount ($99 vs. $119 after December 21). Learn more
12/16 – We just uploaded our largest single photoset ever to Flickr, covering yesterday evening’s visit to Universal Orlando. We’ve got dancing snowmen, Santa, minions, Rockettes, Megatron, Diagon Alley construction – and the best night shots I’ve taken at Universal. See all 207 photos right now on our Flickr page (December 15 photoset). Oh, and if you’re a Disney fan, we took Isla for her first visit on Saturday — those photos on on Flickr too!
12/13 – Calendar update: For guests visiting Universal during the first few days in January, we’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that Universal has now extended the hours at Islands of Adventure, opening the park an hour earlier (at 8:00am instead of the usual 9:00am). The bad news is that this is the surest sign they’re expecting huge crowds. If you’re going to Universal primarily to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, please read this page about how to plan your trip. Otherwise, to view our crowd calendar, click here.
12/12 – Today Universal announced the largest expansion in CityWalk history, which includes the addition of eight new venues. For full details and analysis, see this blog post. In addition to the CityWalk announcement, there is more excitement, as we caught a first look at the Grimmauld Place portion of the Diagon Alley facade without its scaffolding. To see the view, plus the 92 other photos we shot while touring Universal today, check out our Flickr page (December 12 photoset).
12/11 – 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 full coverage of Universal’s holiday activities, follow these links to the OI Blog: Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure. A HUGE thanks to Maureen for her help with trip reports this year — including Universal and Disney World, she wrote 33 trip reports for us in 2013!
12/11 – It’s not the sexiest subject, but it’s one that will play a vital role in the success of your trip: Universal’s rental & mandatory ride lockers. Whether it’s because you plan on getting soaked on Ripsaw Falls, or you plan on bringing layers for the evening Mannheim Steamroller concert, we have everything you need to know in our Complete guide to Universal’s lockers — including five new tips to make your experience even smoother!
12/10 – Chip Davis’s Mannheim Steamroller Christmas albums are a holiday staple now, but did you know the music industry told him they would never sell? Meet the man behind the music at the Orange County Regional History Center on December 14, 11:00am to 1:00pm, and learn how he sold over 28 million Christmas albums to become the #1 bestselling Christmas artist in history. Free for members, $15 for non-members, registration recommended — call 407-836-7010. Or you can learn more about the Mannheim Steamroller concerts at Universal.
12/9 – The holidays are in full swing at Universal, including Grinchmas, the Macy’s Holiday Parade, and Mannheim Steamroller. To plan your visit, check out our complete insider’s guide. To get you in the mood, we have 180 photos from opening day on our Flickr page (Holidays 2013 photoset), and we also have a short video of the Grinch meet-and-greet and video highlights of the Macy’s Holiday Parade on YouTube.
12/9 – Attraction closures this week: First, USF’s Terminator 2 3D will be closed for a one-day refurbishment on December 9. Second, Cinematic Spectacular will not run at December 11 & 12 (when USF closes at 6:00pm — but Macy’s Holiday Parade will still run). To see all scheduled ride closures, special events, construction projects, and a complete overview of everything happenings right now across the resort, visit our Universal Snapshot page.
12/7 – Today we were on-site at Universal for the opening of their 2013 holiday festivities. To see all of our live in-park photo updates, we invite you to check out our Twitter feed. Or, to view highlights, visit our Facebook page. We’ll be uploading all our photos to the site soon!
12/6 – The holidays at Universal Orlando start this weekend! Many of you have asked for the Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular showtimes, and we’re happy to now have those posted right here. And remember that the Macy’s Holiday Parade starts at 5:00pm, the Mannheim Steamroller concert starts at 6:00pm. Finally, you can find instructions for volunteering as a balloon handler right here.
For a complete overview of Universal’s holiday festivities and all our other insider tips, visit our Holidays 2013 page.
12/6 – Star Card Package update: If you’ve been a fan of our site for a while, you already know there is a page for Universal’s Photo Connect Star Card Package that let’s you pre-purchase it at a discount. Now that page differentiates between the Star Card Package for visitors and the package for Annual Passholders (still the same price). In addition, there is now a new option: the 1-day Star Card Package. If none of this makes any sense, visit our Photo Connect page for a full explanation. If it does make sense, you can view the new pre-purchase options.
12/6 – Yesterday we took our weekly tour of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, and you can now view all 174 of our new photos on our Flickr page (December 5 photoset). They include over 50 brilliant images of the construction progress at Diagon Alley!
12/4 – Attraction closures: Dudley Do-Rights Ripsaw Falls will be closed for seasonal maintenance through December 6 — take a peek. Terminator 2 will be closed for a one-day refurb on December 9. To see more scheduled attraction closures and everything else happening across the resort, visit our Universal Snapshot page.
12/3 – It’s the start of a new month, so November 2014 has been added to our free 12-month Universal Orlando crowd calendar. Friendly reminders: Please note that this year’s holiday celebrations run from December 7 through January 4, a slight change from previous years. Also, if you are planning a visit next summer or fall, heed our warnings about Diagon Alley. View our crowd calendar
12/3 – One more piece of news for the Macy’s Holiday Parade: We now have details on how guests can volunteer as balloon handlers this year. The details are posted on our Macy’s Holiday Parade page.
12/2 – This week at Universal Orlando: We have three important reminders for anyone visiting Universal this week. First, Islands of Adventure closes at 6:00pm through Friday (an hour earlier than usual). Second, USF’s Cinematic Spectacular will not run on Wednesday (and USF closes at 6:00pm that evening too). Finally, Universal’s holiday festivities start on Saturday, December 7 (instead of December 1 as they have previous years). To see crowd level estimates and park hours, visit our crowd calendar. To learn about Grinchmas and more, see our Holidays 2013 guide.
12/2 – Two new details have been released for the Macy’s Holiday Parade starting December 7: The route is extended this year — instead of stepping off by Cafe La Bamba and exiting by Beetlejuice, it will continue past Beetlejuice and return to Cafe La Bamba. Here’s the map (we’ll get a better one soon!). Second, if you’re an Annual Passholder, our VIP viewing area is located in front of Mel’s Drive-In this year. More details, including our recommendation for the best viewing spot, can be found on our Macy’s Holiday Parade 2013 page.
12/2 – TNA IMPACT Wrestling returns to the soundstages at Universal Orlando December 3, 4 & 5. Each event starts at 7:00pm, the guest line opens at 6:00pm, and the event is free (no theme park admission required). To learn more about IMPACT Wrestling and its plans for Universal Orlando, check out this post on their official site, ImpactWrestling.com. For the most intense experience, a VIP Package can also be purchased.
11/29 – Wednesday evening we took our weekly tour of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, and you can now view all 94 of our new photos on Flickr (November 27 photoset). You can also view our new ‘Universal moment’ video on YouTube: Islands of Adventure lighthouse. By the way, if you like that ‘Universal moment’ video, see all 21 in our collection.
11/29 – Tonight, experience the exceptional Holiday Harbor Nights at Portofino Bay Hotel, a wine tasting and jazz event designed to capture the ambiance of the Mediterranean. Enjoy select wines and sparkling wines, gourmet food, complimentary hand-rolled cigars, and live music by The I-4 Band. Plus, don’t miss the grand illumination of Portofino’s Christmas tree under the twinkling lights of the majestic Harbor Piazza. You can view the menu (PDF file) or buy tickets online.
UPDATE: Now that the event is over, you can view 45 images of Holiday Harbor Nights 2013 on Portofino Bay Hotel’s Facebook page.
11/28 – Today I’m thankful for our OI contributors & OI Share participants who have written articles for us – so many articles in fact, that last week we published our 1,000th blog post! From trip reports and rumor round-ups, to our ‘Special Needs are Universal’ series, to one-of-a-kind stories submitted by fans, we are proud to offer unparalleled Universal coverage while highlighting many other destinations around Central Florida. So thanks to our writers, and of course thanks to our readers for making it all possible. Happy Thanksgiving! Visit our blog
11/27 – Congratulations to Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando for being featured on this short list of Orlando’s Most Amazing Pools published by Huffington Post. Once you’ve read the article, learn all about Hard Rock Hotel’s pool area in the OI Universal Center. Or, see this incredibly informative blog post for more ideas: Pool hopping at Universal Orlando.
11/26 – I’ve started using Google+ a little more, and I have to admit the service is growing on me. But one thing it’s dearly missing is theme park photos! So I started a community for ‘em. If you’re on Google+, join our new group to share and view amazing photos from around Orlando. And of course, if you haven’t already, be sure to add Orlando Informer to your circles.
11/25 – We have posted a brand new construction update for Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Universal Orlando’s fourth on-site hotel set to open on March 31, 2014. See the latest news, 28 new full-screen photos, and our new HD video of the construction site by clicking here. (By the way, did you know Cabana Bay is currently the largest hotel under construction in the world outside of China?)
11/25 – We are entering the busy week of Thanksgiving, which will raise crowds up to levels we haven’t seen since the summer. In addition, starting Monday and running through next Saturday, Universal extends its park hours to 9:00am – 8:00pm for USF and 9:00am – 9:00pm for IOA. See crowd level estimates and more on our free 12-month Universal crowd calendar.
Are you going to be on-site for Thanksgiving and want a place to feast? See everything being offered this year at Universal Orlando in our Thanksgiving 2013 guide.
Please be aware that now more than ever it’s important to be prepared when you visit the parks. So be sure to review everything on our Universal Snapshot page. And when you’re at the parks, use our free touring plans to maximize the enjoyment of your day (and to make sure you don’t miss a thing). Finally, if the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is an important part of your visit, you gotta read this page. Good luck!
11/22 – New details have been revealed about the Harry Potter celebration scheduled for January 24 – 26 at Universal Orlando. The resort still isn’t dropping any cast member names yet, but we now know, among other details, that there will be a one-of-a-kind Harry Potter expo with something called the “Sorting Hat experience”. Our Harry Potter Celebration page has been updated with all the new details.
It is worth noting too that, while we’re aware that some activities will be open to any park guest with regular admission that weekend on a first-come-first-served basis, we don’t know which specific events these will be, nor do we have any idea what the capacity will be. More info can be found on our Harry Potter Celebration page.
11/22 – I wanted to make a special note that we have now collected info and media for a full review of CityWalk’s Red Oven Pizza Bakery as well as a much-needed Cabana Bay construction update. Both will be posted within the next week. In the meantime, you can check out a photo of the pizza (yes, it is as good as it looks!), and we have a sneak peak video of the Cabana Bay construction site.
11/21 – TNA IMPACT Wrestling returns to Universal Orlando for three tapings on November 21, 22 & 23. Each event starts at 7:00pm; the guest line opens at 6:00pm. The tapings at Universal are free, no theme park admission required. VIP packages that includes priority access to the shows as well as an after-hours Welcome Back party also available. More details posted in the Events section of our Universal Snapshot page.
11/21 – The Winter 2013 edition of the Universal Orlando PASSPORT newsletter for Annual Passholders is now available. We’ve scanned the document closely, and unfortunately there are no big announcements to be found. But it is still a pretty thing to see, which you can do right now (it’s a PDF file). Oh, and if you want to research any of the events mentioned in the newsletter, you’ll find everything you need on our Snapshot page.
11/21 – This afternoon we visited Universal Orlando for our weekly tour of the parks (stops at Cabana Bay, CityWalk’s Red Oven, and Islands of Adventure). Check out our Twitter feed to see all of our photo updates broadcast live from the resort, or catch highlights on our Facebook page. We’ll be posting all our photos and a full construction update for Cabana Bay soon!
11/19 – Reminder: Today the United States Post Office released a 20-stamp souvenir booklet featuring stills from the Harry Potter film series. To celebrate the new stamps, there was a First Day of Issuance Ceremony held at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. To learn more about the stamp collection (or to order it online), visit this page at USPS.com.
UPDATE 1: I want to apologize for posting earlier that the ceremony was going to be private. That’s what Guest Services told me last Friday, and since Universal never officially announced this event or provided any details, I had no other way to verify what I was told by Guest Services.
UPDATE 2: I now also have to apologize for posting that the stamps would be available for purchase at Universal Orlando. Again, this was information given to me by Guest Services last week, but it is wrong. On a brighter note, you can purchase the stamps at most USPS stores and online.
UPDATE 3: You can view a few photos and videos of the event on Snitchseeker.com.
11/18 – If you tried to access our site this morning and experienced a delay, please know the issue has been identified and fixed. Thanks for your patience! (Of course, if you continue to experience problems, you can always contact us.)
11/18 – Attraction alerts: Revenge of the Mummy will be closed for a one-day refurb November 18 (today). Then on November 19, Universal Studios Florida closes at 6:00pm and Cinematic Spectacular will not run (it also won’t run December 4, 11 & 12). Finally, remember that Dragon Challenge’s Hungarian Horntail and the Seuss Trolly are closed basically until the end of this week. Further details and so much more can always be found on our Universal Snapshot page.
11/18 – So what’s happening at Universal CityWalk for New Years? We were expecting a big announcement last week, as that’s approximately when Universal has made the announcement in previous years. But nothing came, and instead these are the only details to emerge so far: “On December 31, guests can experience the epic sophistication of EVE 2013. This year’s all-new event features six unique entertainment zones.” So it appears that Universal may have dropped their tradition of hosting a big musical act (REO Speedwagon, Smash Mouth & Big Bad Voodoo Daddy recently) and is going in a different direction this year. We patiently await details.
If you’re interested, you can learn a little more by visiting our New Year’s Eve 2013 page in the OI Universal Center.
11/18 – For those of us who track Universal throughout the years, an interesting note can be made regarding their 2013 holiday marketing. In another change from previous years (the first being the shift in holiday event dates from Dec 1 – Jan 1 to Dec 7 – Jan 4), they have also dropped the slogan “the holiday cheer you can only find here” and replaced it with “Naughty & Nice: An untraditional Holiday tradition at Universal Orlando Resort”. To learn more about the actual festivities, visit our Guide to the Holidays.
11/16 – The quick-service section of Pastamore is now officially Red Oven Pizza Bakery. This is an original concept for Universal (verses a franchise like many of the other CityWalk restaurants), and it is open as of November 16. You can take a ‘first look’ at the restaurant, menu, and Alla Benno pizza (prosciutto, pineapple). Stay tuned — we’ll be providing much more coverage in the very near future!
By the way, for those keeping score at home, construction on Red Oven began the week of August 5. Also, please note that, for now, the full-service portion of Pastamore is still open for business.
11/15 – Universal snuck out one more detail for their holiday festivities today: Happy the Hippo, a recreation of a 1940s Macy’s Parade balloon, will make her debut in New York City this Thanksgiving before heading to Orlando to appear in the Macy’s Holiday Parade at Universal Studios Florida. To learn more about the parade at Universal, visit our Macy’s Holiday Parade page, or you can start on our Holidays 2013 overview page.
11/15 – We usually take our weekly tour of Universal Orlando on Thursday or Friday, but I’m afraid this week we’ll be skipping it and trying very hard to get caught up on site work! But don’t worry, there is plenty you can do: earlier this week we published full trip reports for Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. After that, you can view over 2,000 park photos we’ve already posted on our new Flickr page. Want more? Check out our Universal moments video collection on YouTube.
11/14 – Universal changed several of their operating hours for the month of December. Most notably, during the first week of December, Islands of Adventure is now closing at 6:00pm (previously it was 7:00pm). In addition, on December 4, 11 & 12, Universal Studios Florida is now closing at 6:00pm and will not likely run Cinematic Spectacular those evenings. Finally, Universal cut back on their New Year’s Eve hours: USF now closes at 12:30am (previously it was 1:00am), and IOA closes at 11:00pm (previously it was 1:00am also). To see everything, visit our free 12-month Universal crowd calendar.
11/14 – Next Tuesday, November 19, the United States Post Office will release a 20-stamp souvenir booklet featuring stills from the Harry Potter film series. To celebrate the new stamps, there will be a First Day of Issuance Ceremony held at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. In addition, starting on the 19th, you will be able to purchase these stamps at Universal Orlando. To learn more about the stamp collection (or to pre-order it), visit this page at USPS.com.
11/13 – Cabana Bay Beach Resort discount now available: For a limited time the new family suites can be booked at rates starting as low as $104 per night (for a 7-night stay) to $134 per night (for a 3-night stay). This introductory offer is available for booking now through January 31 for stays from March 31 to June 14. To check specific dates, call 888-273-1311 or visit the online reservations page. (By the way, we promise to have a Cabana Bay construction update posted in the next seven days!)
11/12 – Debuting October 1, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel — one of the three deluxe hotels on-site at Universal Orlando — now offers guests the opportunity to stay in the world’s only Despicable Me themed suites designed specifically for kids. While the rooms have been available for a while, Loews just published a fun time-lapse video showing the room renovation, complete with minion characters and bananas! To see the video and learn more, visit our Portofino Bay: Rooms page.
On a related note: “Despicable Me 2 has become one of the most successful animated movies ever [and] should ultimately bank over $900 million worldwide, which will make this Universal’s highest-grossing movie ever (during its initial run, at least).” BoxOfficeMojo.com
11/12 – Our friends at Universal have published their park operating hours for March & April 2014. The new hours line up very well with our Spring Break crowd predictions as well as our estimated dates for Mardi Gras. However, there is something peculiar about the new data that may be the best evidence yet we’ll see HOGWARTS EXPRESS technical rehearsals open to the public starting in March. To see the new numbers and an explanation of what looks odd to me, visit our free 12-month Universal crowd calendar. (Thanks to our fan Simon H. for helping us out with this one!)
11/12 – Fan feedback: “I would like to thank you for your incredible site. I have a weakness for needing to spend endless hours planning my vacations. I had searched high and low for a thorough source of information about Universal Orlando and your site is above and beyond anything out there, either in print or online. When I found Orlando Informer, it was like I found a best friend to give me all the details I could hope for. I visit your site every day to guide my planning.” – Matt W.
11/11 – Attraction alerts: First, Fear Factor Live, which has been closed for two months (the stage is used for HHN’s Bill & Ted’s show), is scheduled to return to regular operations this Wednesday. Second, Cinematic Spectacular will not be performed this Tuesday or next Tuesday (11/19). Third, Disaster! will be closed for a one-day refurb this Wednesday and Mummy will be closed for the same thing next Monday (11/18). All these details and more can always be found on our Universal Snapshot page.
11/11 – Universal’s Photo Connect Star Card Package, truly one of the best deals available in Orlando’s theme parks, lost a little bit of luster this past week. Instead of offering guests five consecutive days to collect park and ride photos, the package is now only good for three consecutive days. (Annual Passholders, we still can get the same deal for a full year). To understand exactly what this means, and to learn so much more, please visit our Universal Photo Connect page.
11/11 – Universal switched up their hours for the week of Thanksgiving, extending some of them earlier in the week and reducing some of them later in the week. In addition, Universal also switched tings up for the busy period at the end of December. If you are planning a visit during either of these times, be sure to see the new hours on our free 12-month crowd calendar.
Friendly reminder regarding park hours: Universal does not provide notifications when they change park hours after they are initially published, which can happen once, twice, or several times each month. While I do my best to catch changes as they happen, I just don’t have the time to review three months worth of park hours every morning. Because of this I partially rely on our readers to help catch some of these changes (and I’m most appreciative when you do!).
My very earnest recommendation is that, regardless of what my calendar or Universal’s website shows, please contact Guest Services directly a day or two before you travel to confirm park hours for your visit: 407-224-4233 or toll-free 1-877-801-9720.
Should you become aware of a discrepancy on our calendar, you know I’d love to have you contact me so I can investigate immediately. Thanks for your understanding and assistance.
11/10 – This weekend we passed 40,000 fans on our Facebook page (up from 7,000 at the beginning of the year), and we passed 12,000 followers on Twitter (up from 2,000 at the beginning of the year). I feel so honored to be able to share our passion for Universal Orlando — and our love for helping families plan amazing vacations — with so many friends, new and old. You can learn more about us and see other milestones you’ve helped us accomplish on our About page.
11/8 – It’s a Review & Win Weekend! We haven’t hosted one of these giveaways for a while, so we thought we’d make things a little more fun this weekend by giving our readers a chance to win a $50 Universal gift card by submitting attraction and restaurant reviews. Everything you need to know is on our Real guest reviews of Universal Orlando page. Have fun, and best of luck to everyone!
11/8 – On Friday we spent a beautiful afternoon at Universal Orlando for our weekly tour of the parks. You can see all of our live in-park photo updates on our Twitter feed. Or, if you prefer, you can view a few highlights on our Facebook page. We’ve also got two new YouTube videos: Red Oven private soft open (at Universal CityWalk) and Diagon Alley construction update.
UPDATE: All 146 of our photos from Friday can now be viewed on our Flickr page (November 8 photoset). Please note that the collection includes a lot of menu photos because we were researching Universal’s Dining Plans.
11/7 – We are very proud to announce that our guide to the Holidays at Universal is now completely updated with this year’s details covering the Macy’s Holiday Parade, Grinchmas, and more. In our guide you’ll find a full overview of all the holiday festivities planned for 2013 as well as insider tips and exclusive planning advice. An early “Merry Grinchmas” from Orlando Informer — now let’s get started planning your holiday visit!
11/6 – Our Thanksgiving 2013 page has now been updated with details, menus, and pricing for all the special activities and holiday buffets Universal will be hosting on November 28. And now that I’ve been working on this page for two hours, oh man am I hungry. (By the way, don’t forget that the exceptional Holiday Harbor Nights at Portofino Bay Hotel is on November 29 — tell me this doesn’t look like fun!)
11/6 – With a new job posting, this week Universal has essentially confirmed that the old Arctic Express walk-up counter, located in IOA’s Port of Entry, will become a full-service Starbucks. You can take a look at the location, or you can now apply to work there.
11/5 – Yesterday representatives from Universal Orlando held a press conference at the World Travel Market in London. As part of the meeting it was officially announced that the Leaky Cauldron will be part of Diagon Alley. While this isn’t breaking news, it’s still noteworthy, so we have included the announcement and a few more details as a News Update on our Diagon Alley page.
11/5 – It’s the start of a new month, so we have added October 2014 to our Universal Orlando 12-month crowd calendar (including all of our estimated HHN dates and HHN Peak Nights for next year). In addition, after a little more research we have tweaked our crowd estimates for Spring Break 2014 — if you’re traveling then, take another look at March and April. View our crowd calendar
Friendly calendar reminders: First, Universal’s holiday festivities have different dates this year. Instead of running December 1 through January 1 as they have previously, this year they run December 7 through January 4. Second, for anyone planning a visit to Universal next summer, please heed our warnings about the Diagon Alley opening date and crowds.
11/5 – Upcoming on-site hotel events: Universal’s hotels are offering guests three spirited opportunities to get out of the parks this month — the new Wine Rocks at Hard Rock Hotel, the popular Jake’s Beer Dinner at Royal Pacific Resort, and the exception Holiday Harbor Nights at Portofino Bay Hotel. You can find details, menus, and links to purchase tickets in the Events section of our Universal Snapshot page. (Thanksgiving info coming soon!)
11/5 – After taking their show on the road in March, TNA IMPACT Wrestling returns to the soundstages at Universal Orlando for three tapings on November 21, 22 & 23. Each event starts at 7:00pm; the guest line opens at 6:00pm. TNA is also launching a IMPACT365: Where the Action Never Stops campaign, which you can learn more about in this blog post. The tapings at Universal are free, no theme park admission required (although you’ll have to pay for parking if you drive). For guests wanting a more intense experience, TNA says they will be posting VIP packages on ShopTNA.com.
11/4 – More attraction refurbs: Fear Factor Live is currently scheduled to be closed through November 12. In addition, Disaster! will be closed for a one-day refurb on November 13, Revenge of the Mummy will be closed November 18, and Cinematic Spectacular will not run on November 12 & 19. Remember that these refurbs are in addition to the Seuss Landing and Dragon Challenge closures we posted last week. See everything on our Universal Snapshot page.
11/4 – Universal Orlando will celebrate Veterans Day with a parade through Universal Studios Florida on Friday, November 8, including a flag raising ceremony and band performance in Gramercy Park (across from Twister). The parade starts at 11:00am at the same place where the Superstar Parade begins (near Beetlejuice) and will feature the Universal Orlando Veterans Network Team Members as well as multi-branch color guards of Active Duty, Reserve Centers, and Local JROTC High School units, drill teams, a marching band, and more.
11/4 – Our “Universal Meal Deal” page is now our “Complete guide to Universal’s Dining Plans” page, featuring details and analysis of the Universal Dining Plan first offered this summer and the new Universal Dining Plan – Quick Service, which replaced the classic Meal Deal as of this past weekend. View our rebooted page
11/3 – There are now signs up for Red Oven Pizza Bakery, which is replacing the Pastamore Marketplace at Universal CityWalk — take a look. In addition, we now have a few details about the the venue: it will serve artisan pizza made to order and should be open by the end of November — see a little more.
11/2 – We once again set a new “busiest month ever” record in October with 561,847 pageviews by 208,940 unique visitors (an increase of 48% over October 2012). In addition, our Twitter followers passed the 10k mark, up to 11,317 as of today, and we’ve reached 38,000 Facebook fans. Thank you to everyone for your support! As a small token of our appreciation, we’re giving away a free OI t-shirt on our Facebook page (giveaway ends noon EST on Sunday). Thanks again!
11/1 – If you’re visiting Universal’s theme parks soon, here are a few friendly reminders: First, the classic Meal Deal ends November 2, to be replaced by a new Quick-Service Dining Plan. Second, the Chinese Fireball coaster on Dragon Challenge will be closed most of the month, as will the High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride. Visit our Universal Snapshot page for more details.
11/1 – Yesterday we took our weekly tour of Universal Orlando and got photos and video of a few exciting developments. First, we captured our first video of the Hogwarts Express on the tracks — view it. Next, we got a video of the new Jurassic Park midway games — view it. Now that you’ve seen the videos, you can view all 82 of our new photos on our Flickr (October 31 photoset). Enjoy!
10/31 – Happy Halloween! Today we are off to Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure for our weekly tour of the parks. Follow us on Twitter to see all of our photo updates broadcast live from Universal Orlando Resort, or catch highlights on our Facebook page. See ya at the parks!
10/30 – We’ve posted a sparkling new Hogsmeade Station construction update with addition details, more in-depth analysis, and 21 new full-screen photos! But a word of advice before we get to the update: even if you’ve visited our Hogsmeade Station page before, we recommend you read it from top to bottom because we’ve added new project details throughout the article. Check it out
10/30 – Our Halloween Horror Nights giveaway is over, and we have emailed the lucky winner of a $500 Universal Orlando gift card (randomly selected out of 7,532 entries). For privacy reasons we won’t disclose the name of the winner without consent, but we can tell you that the person is located in Jacksonville, Florida. If that’s where you live, check your email inbox! Thanks to everyone who participated in our giveaway. Stay tuned, we’ll surely have another one starting up soon.
10/30 – Speaking of Halloween Horror Nights, it’s the final week of the 2013 event. We usually say that the last week is very slow because a huge portion of its attendees are local, and most locals want a traditional experience on Halloween (trick-or-treating, costume parties, etc.). However, there has been an unexpected surge in HHN attendance as we moved into the second half of October, so now I’d suggest that you can still expect the last three dates to be fairly busy. Mind you, it should be noticeably slower than the previous two weekends, but a few wait times could get over 100 minutes in the middle of the night.
As a sign that this weekend will still be pretty busy, Universal has now extended the closing time to 1:00am on Thursday night. Depending on crowds, it’s quite possible the midnight closing time on Friday and Saturday could be extended too.
Last bit of news: As HHN has done in previous years, this Friday and Saturday have been added to the HHN Frequent Fear season pass (the pass usually doesn’t include weekend event dates).
10/29 – Do you enjoy our photo updates and ever wonder exactly where we get some of our best shots? In this week’s BIG 5 blog post, we share the top five places to photograph “scenic views” of Universal Orlando. If you’re interested, skip over to the OI blog to learn our secrets.
10/27 – OI contributor Dani posted this on Twitter earlier, and I had to mention it here: “Just had one of the coolest moments of my life. Some guests were outside of the Villas at USF. They mentioned my @OrlandoInformer post!” Dani is referring to the Garden of Allah Villas (near Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone) and her OI blog post examining the many details inside USF’s Hollywood backlot, which is a must-read!
10/27 – Attraction closures for seasonal maintenance: The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride will be closed November 3rd through the 23rd; Dragon Challenge’s Chinese Fireball, formally known as Fire, will be closed November 4th through the 22nd (Hungarian Horntail will continue to operate as usual). Visit our Universal Snapshot page to learn more.
10/26 – In a change from previous years — and to the disappointment of any families with young kids visiting Universal on October 31 — the resort will not be hosting a family-friendly Halloween Party on Thursday. In years past one of the on-site hotels has thrown a get-together for kids, but not this year.
10/26 – By the way, if you’re not traveling with kids, remember that you have an option other than HHN for Thursday night: the Halloween edition of Hard Rock Hotel’s Velvet Sessions, featuring the Gin Blossoms and an adult costume party.
UPDATE: This event is over. You can see photo highlights on Hard Rock Hotel’s Facebook page.
10/25 – Just so we have an official record here on our Daily Updates page, yesterday afternoon Universal’s Hogwarts Express was raised from the ground and set on the elevated tracks that cross between Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. Now many folks are starting to question how the train will turn around — it won’t. When traveling from USF to IOA, it will face forwards; when traveling from IOA to USF, it will face backwards. We have an interesting discussion about this topic in the comments of this week’s RRU.
10/24 – This evening we took our weekly tour of Universal Orlando and spent a few hours at Halloween Horror Nights. You can now view the 67 photos from our visit on Flickr (October 24 photoset). When you’re done with the photos, we also uploaded two new videos “live” from Universal: View from Me Ship Olive and HHN walker target practice.
10/23 – We just posted our latest Diagon Alley update! Check out 29 new, full-screen photos of the construction, a new HD video, and read the latest news — including details on three developments that each point to a June 2014 grand opening date. You can view the update and our complete overview of the Harry Potter expansion project on our Diagon Alley page.
10/23 – Halloween Horror Nights starts again tonight and runs through Sunday. As usual, Wednesday and Sunday are the best days to go to avoid the crowds. If you decide to go Friday or Saturday, you’ll wish you had Express Passes! To see our readers’ reactions to last weekend’s crowds, visit this Facebook post. To plan your visit to the event and view our free touring advice, visit our HHN 2013 guide.
10/23 – Guests with disabilities, there has been a rather significant change to Universal’s Attraction Assistance program: Previously, when guests had a reservation time on their AAP, they couldn’t go on any other attractions using the accelerated entrance without forfeiting that reservation. Universal has reversed that policy, so now, even if guests have an AAP reservation, they may also enjoy any other attraction using the accelerated entrance that has a wait time of 30 minutes or less — without forfeiting their current reservation. Visit our Attraction Assistance page to learn more.
10/23 – Guests with disabilities will also be happy to learn that Universal has finally updated their Riders Guide with information covering Transformers and Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl. You may download the new map from our Attraction Assistance page or from our Universal maps page.
10/23 – On Friday, November 15, the popular Jake’s Beer Dinner at Royal Pacific Resort returns, featuring a four-course dinner by the hotel’s award-winning chefs paired with craft beers. For reservations and more information, call 407-503-3200. To learn about more events at Universal visit our Universal Snapshot page.
10/21 – New promotion: Remember last week when we speculated that the extended Mardi Gras 2014 schedule was one effort by Universal to keep guests coming in instead of waiting until Diagon Alley opens? Now a second effort has launched — Universal is offering a 3rd day free to all U.S. and Canadian residents who purchase a 2-day ticket. The promotion is scheduled to end May 9, 2014. Visit Universal’s online ticket store to learn more. (If you’re interested in buying a annual passes, a promotion for them has to be coming right around the corner!)
10/21 – As of November 2 the traditional “Universal Meal Deal” will be discontinued and replaced by what the resort is calling their new “Universal Dining Plan – Quick Service”. Not only is the name of the new program a mouthful, it will also swap unlimited quick-service meals for a point system. That’s the bad news. The good news is that guests will be able to use the new UDP-QS at almost all quick-service restaurants and food & beverage carts (versus the classic Meal Deal’s three restaurants per park). We don’t have any other details at the moment. You can learn about the Universal Meal Deal while it is still available by clicking here.
UPDATE: We now have a ‘first look’ at the UDP-QS details in the November 25 edition of our Rumor Round-Up.
An interesting note: The Universal Dining Plan, including full-service and quick-service meals, started this summer as a vacation package add-on. We’ve got mostly negative feedback about it, so it is certainly a surprise to see Universal aggressively expanding it. You can learn about the Universal Dining Plan vacation package add-on and read reviews in this blog post.
10/21 – Universal Orlando will celebrate Veterans Day with a parade through Universal Studios Florida on Friday, November 8, ending with a flag raising ceremony in the Music Plaza. Additional details will be available that Monday. Visit our Universal Snapshot page for information on all upcoming special events.
10/20 – Did you go to Halloween Horror Nights this past weekend? We’d really appreciate it if you took a moment to tell us how the crowds and lines were. The quickest way to do so (and to see what others have said about this weekend) is to visit this Facebook post. Once you’re done, you can also share your full HHN review on our site or read over 40 other real guest reviews right here. Thanks!
10/18 – This afternoon we took our weekly tour of Universal Orlando, and 126 of the photos we shot during our visit can now be viewed on our Flickr page (October 18 photoset). They include new images of the Cabana Bay construction and Potter construction, as well as lots of Universal autumn fun! Oh, and Chief Wiggum’s patrol car has finally returned to the streets of Springfield with a new look and sound — see the video.
10/17 – Can you hear the music already — and the chanting for beads? Yes sir, Universal has announced the first details of Mardi Gras 2014. These include two of the musical acts, Robin Thicke and The Wanted, as well as news that next year’s Mardi Gras festivities will run a full month longer than previous years. To view everything we know so far and our analysis of the dates, visit our Mardi Gras 2014 page.
10/17 – HHN reminders: If you are crazy enough to be going this Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, you’ll want Express Passes (despite the cost), and there’s a good chance they’ll sell out before the event starts. Also, remember that this Sunday is UCF night at HHN. So even though it’s a Sunday, it will be one of the event’s busiest nights because UCF students and alumni can purchase admission to USF & HHN after 2:00pm for only $40. Visit our HHN 2013 guide to learn more!
10/17 – For the record, the “HHN 23 Ultimate Dare Contest” that Universal launched on October 1st with this YouTube video turned out to be rather disappointing: the contestants were asked to shave their heads, which Universal documented in this YouTube video. Whether or not you agree that the dare was somewhat sexist — honestly, isn’t it much easier for the average guy to shave his head than the average girl? — I think we can all agree that it was rather unimaginative.
10/16 – 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, follow these links to the OI Blog: Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure. If you’d like to do more catching up, you can view all of our trip reports.
10/16 – Universal just published their park operating hours for January and February 2014, and our free 12-month Universal Orlando crowd calendar has been updated accordingly. No big surprises at all with the new data — and their February hours support our estimated Mardi Gras 2014 dates. You can see everything by visiting our crowd calendar page!
10/15 – “You guys seriously are my go to for all your amazing UOR info! I live right down the road from Uni and go multiple times a week, but I still find myself going to your site for up to date info!” Thanks Dana for the great feedback! Readers, if you’re not able to visit us each day, keep in mind that you can always view all the Universal news we post on our Daily Updates page.
10/15 – This week Halloween Horror Nights starts on Wednesday for the first time this season (and Wednesday is a great night to go to avoid the worst crowds). If you’re crazy enough to be going to HHN this Friday, Saturday, or Sunday — three of the event’s busiest dates — I hope Express Passes fit in your budget. And you’ll want to buy them in advance, because there is a good chance they’ll sell out. Visit our HHN 2013 guide to learn so much more and view our free HHN touring plan.
10/15 – On-site hotel events: Harbor Nights returns to Portofino Bay Hotel this Friday, featuring select wines and cocktails, gourmet food tastings, complimentary hand-rolled cigars, and live music filling the majestic Harbor Piazza. Then on Halloween, Velvet Sessions is back at Hard Rock Hotel with special guest Gin Blossoms live in concert and Universal’s only adult costume contest — top prize is a stay at the hotel’s Graceland Suite! Learn more and see everything happening across the resort on our Universal Snapshot page.
POST-EVENT UPDATE: You can view 48 photos from Portofino Bay’s Harbor Nights La Dolce Vita on their Facebook page.
10/15 – Did you know, if you purchase the Star Card Package for your Universal Orlando visit, and you are also planning to visit Wet ‘n Wild, you can purchase an add-on option for $20 that let’s you add unlimited photos from Wet ‘n Wild onto your account? This add-on option isn’t advertised, so you’ll need to ask for it when you arrive at Wet ‘n Wild. Visit our Universal Photo Connect page for more info. Thanks to our fan Jamie for writing in and telling us about it!
10/15 – Speaking of photos, the mobile app offered by the company that handles Universal’s souvenir photos had a iOS update yesterday which states: “Added the ability for users of the app to take pictures from the Amazing Pictures Mobile app with special art only available when the user is at a specially marked Amazing Pictures location.” Unfortunately the new feature hasn’t been added to the Android app. Thanks to our fan Audrea for the tip!
10/14 – In 15 days we will be giving away the largest prize ever in our site’s history: a $500 Universal Orlando gift card (use it for merchandise, tickets, or even an annual pass!). If you haven’t entered our giveaway yet, prepare to stand up against the biggest names in horror and click here to enter — this just might be the biggest thrill this Halloween season!
10/11 – Universal has released new artwork for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley. Yes, it will soon be a reality — and if rumors are true, the first sections may be opening in less than six months. You can see the artwork on our Facebook page. When you’re done, visit our Diagon Alley page to learn more, or check out this great Diagon Alley BIG 5 blog post.
UPDATE: This week’s Rumor Round-Up on the OI Blog has even more new artwork for Diagon Alley.
10/10 – Many of you have likely heard the news that several riders got stuck on Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit for a few hours yesterday evening. All made it off the ride safely, and Rockit is already back in operation today. (It’s worth mentioning that I consider this and all the attractions at Universal to be safe.) Learn more, read real guest reviews, or write your own review by visiting our Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit page.
10/9 – Halloween Horror Nights 2013 is back for another weekend of terror, running Thursday through Sunday (and if you’re going, let’s hope you picked Thursday or Sunday for the smallest crowds and shortest wait times!). Also remember, on HHN event dates Universal Studios Florida opens at 8:00am, an hour earlier than usual. Visit our HHN 2013 guide to learn so, so much more.
10/9 – The weather in Orlando is finally cooling down as we leave our (in)famous summer heat and humidity and relax in cooler temperatures and more comfortable breezes. To make sure you are properly prepared for your autumn visit to Orlando, be sure to check out our Weather page for details, stats, and tips on what to bring. And if you’re looking for even more assistance, you’ll love the checklists on our What to pack page.
10/7 – On Thursday, October 31, Velvet Sessions at Hard Rock Hotel — Orlando’s coolest lobby party — is back with special guest Gin Blossoms live in concert. This is the final Velvet Sessions of the year, as the monthly event takes a break in November and December. No word on whether Halloween will specifically be celebrated for this one, but knowing Hard Rock, I’m sure costumes will be very welcomed. Learn more about this and other events on our Universal Snapshot page.
10/6 – Sunday challenge – win a free OI t-shirt! Minion pumpkins are about the most adorable Halloween decoration we’ve ever seen, and they are a perfect tribute to the attraction at Universal Studios Florida. So we’re giving away a free OI t-shirt to the first fan who creates one and shares it with us. Details, including a tutorial and concept pic, are posted on our Facebook page. Have fun!
10/5 – Yesterday afternoon we took our weekly tour of Universal Orlando with a few hours at HHN, and the 97 photos we shot during our visit can now be viewed on our Flickr page (October 4 photoset). When you’re done with the photoset, we also were testing out a new video camera and uploaded a few fun videos to Facebook. You can see them here, here, and here.
10/4 – Two HHN updates today: First, Universal is still selling Rush of Fear passes for the “advance price” of $72.99. Even though Rush of Fear passes expire after this Sunday, for that price you can still get multiple nights of admission for less than the one-night general admission price of $91.99. Second, HHN Express Passes for October 12, 19 & 26 were originally $99.99; they are now $109.99. Visit our HHN 2013 admission page to learn more.
10/3 – Halloween Horror Nights 2013 is back for another weekend of terror, running Thursday through Sunday (and if you’re going, let’s hope you picked Thursday or Sunday for the smallest crowds and shortest wait times!). Also remember, on HHN event dates Universal Studios Florida opens at 8:00am, an hour earlier than usual. Visit our HHN 2013 guide to learn more.
Fun fact: Our insider’s guide to HHN 2013 just passed 225,000 views — we’re very proud to help so many guests plan the perfect visit to the ultimate Halloween event!
10/3 – Quick HHN update: It’s official, on October 20 HHN will host Halloween Horror (K)nights for University of Central Florida students, who are able to purchase admission to USF & HHN starting at 2:00pm for the discount price of $40. UCF is a huge school, and that’s a great price, so even though October 20 is a Sunday, we call it a HHN peak night for sure! By the way, if you’re a UCF student, tickets must be purchased in advance — you can learn more here.
10/2 – We’ve got another fun giveaway to bring to your attention. This time it isn’t hosted by us — it’s brought to you by your friends at Margaritaville Orlando. They’re giving away a free dinner for four at their Universal CityWalk restaurant each week in October. (If you win, you can redeem the free dinner anytime until the end of this year.) To enter, visit Margaritaville Orlando on Facebook.
10/1 – Since it’s the beginning of a new month, we have now added September 2014 to our free 12-month Universal Orlando crowd calendar. As we’ve previously mentioned, any family planning a vacation to Universal in the second half of 2014 needs to be aware of Diagon Alley and how the Potter expansion project will affect crowd levels. Visit our crowd calendar to learn more.
10/1 – Friendly scheduling reminders: First, in October Universal Studios Florida is scheduled to open early (8:00am) and close early (5:00pm) for regular daytime guests many times, as the park hosts Halloween Horror Nights. Please note that when USF closes early, the Cinematic Spectacular nighttime lagoon show does not run. Second, Universal’s holiday festivities have different dates this year. Instead of running December 1 through January 1, this year they run December 7 through January 4. Visit our crowd calendar to learn more.
10/1 – Congratulations to Bradley – your review of Halloween Horror Nights 2013 was randomly selected from all the submissions we’ve received so far, and you won a $50 Universal gift card. If you’re Bradley, check your email inbox. If you’re not Bradley, we wish you better luck in our $500 Universal gift card giveaway.
9/30 – I’ve been watching wait times for Despicable Me and Transformers closely since the later opened this summer at Universal Studios Florida. What I’ve found is that, despite being the older of the two attractions, Despicable Me virtually always has a higher wait time than Transformers — which really isn’t that much of a surprise given its low ride capacity. As a result, I’ve now adjusted our free Universal touring plans and recommend guests visit Despicable Me first and then Transformers.
You can view all of our plans, and remember, we have one for Halloween Horror Nights too!
9/30 – Jake’s Beer Festival is this Friday at Royal Pacific Resort, and we’ve got two free tickets to giveaway: that’s 90 beers to sample and a $90 value! We’re hosting this one on Facebook — click here to enter — and hurry up because the winner will be selected Wednesday at Noon EST. To learn more about the event, see the full menu, or just purchase your own tickets, visit loewshotels.tix.com.
POST-EVENT UPDATE: You can view 50 photos from Jake’s Beer Festival on Royal Pacific Resort’s Facebook page.
9/29 – Have you already attended Halloween Horror Nights 2013? Share your review on our site and you could win a $50 Universal gift card tomorrow! To learn more, write your review, or read the more than 20 reviews already submitted by our fans, visit our HHN 2013 real guest reviews page.
9/28 – We have some great news to report. Universal is officially in the process of rolling out free public wifi across Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure! The new feature is still in testing, so right now there are no guarantees you’ll get a connection at USF or IOA, but I was told by Guest Services they want free wifi available for guests “as quickly as possible.” If you are able to get a connection, it is mighty fast.
9/26 – Our latest (and truly massive) HHN update is now complete. There is no doubt our insider’s guide is your best weapon in planning the perfect night of terror at Halloween Horror Nights 2013. We’ve got complete event details, real guest reviews, the very best expert advice, full explanations of your admission options, over 200 images from the event, and full walkthrough videos of every house and every scare zone.
Best of all, our free HHN 2013 touring plan is now online and ready to be used.
Visit our Insider’s guide to HHN 2013 and let the fun begin!
9/25 – Events & reminders: (1) Tomorrow is “Pinktober” Velvet Sessions at HRH with special guest Bret Michaels performing live. (2) Jake’s Inaugural Beer Festival at RPR is next Friday. (3) The following Friday, Oct 18, is the fall edition of Harbor Nights at PBH. (4) Finally, Orlando’s Magical Dining Month ends Sept 30 — if you’re in town now, you don’t want to miss these specials! View all the details and links on our Universal Snapshot page.
9/25 – One more reminder: Halloween Horror Nights 2013 starts up again tomorrow, and this weekend it runs Thursdays through Sunday (and let’s hope, if you’re going, you’ve picked Thursday or Sunday!). Also remember that on HHN event dates Universal Studios Florida opens at 8:00am, an hour earlier than usual. Visit our HHN 2013 guide to learn more.
9/24 – If you’re not already excited enough for your upcoming Universal Orlando vacation, we’ve got something that will help! Our good friend Audrea shared an awesome collection of Universal souvenir & ride photos with us, including more shots of the new Simpsons couch gag – view the gallery. When you’re ready to learn more about photos at Universal, check out our Photo Connect page.
9/24 – In the latest edition of Universal Orlando’s team member newsletter offered us a glimpse at some new Diagon Alley artwork — and the resort is now accepting internal applications for those who might want to work in the new area. View the newsletter clip, or see my attempt to isolate the new artwork. When you’re done with all that, you can learn more about the Harry Potter expansion on our Diagon Alley page.
9/24 – Sharing more love on TripAdvisor: “We got most of our information and itineraries from www.orlandoinformer.com. This website was instrumental in making our trip a huge success.” – Thanks Laurie! See her full review
9/23 – Good news, Simpsons fans! The “couch gag” photo op is now open right across from The Simpsons Ride. Thanks to our fan Daniel Z, see what one version looks like by clicking here. Then, to learn more about souvenir photos and photo packages at Universal, visit our Photo Connect page.
9/22 – We have a ton of stuff to post after the opening weekend of Halloween Horror Nights 2013. We’ll get it all on our site as quickly as possible. For a preview of what’s to come: Visit our Facebook timeline for two nights of “highlights” and my initial review of HHN 2013. Once you’ve seen what we posted on Facebook, we have two photosets on our new Flickr page with a total of over 200 images.
Check back often with us this week, as we have so much we’ll be posting on our site — including the feature many of you are waiting for, our HHN 2013 touring plan (that will be up by Wednesday). In the meantime, once you’ve looked through the options listed above, be sure to visit our HHN 2013 pages for an overview of the event and our best expert advice for planning your night of horror.
9/22 – Did you attend Rock the Universe at Universal Studios Florida earlier this month? If so, we’re looking for someone to provide us with a review of the event. If you can help, we’ll provide you with a free OI t-shirt. Please visit our Contact page to drop us a line.
9/20 – Halloween Horror Nights — the nation’s premier Halloween event — begins at Universal Studios Florida. Plan your visit using the world’s most popular insider’s guide to HHN 2013, and learn everything you need to know to have fun, save money, and avoid the three hour lines for the haunted houses. Visit our guide right now
9/20 – Yes, we will be at Halloween Horror Nights this weekend, and we invite you to join us for our world famous in-park photo updates! Follow Orlando Informer on Twitter to see every single one of our photo updates broadcast live from Universal Orlando Resort, or catch highlights on our Facebook page.
9/18 – Universal’s December 2013 hours are now available on our crowd calendar. No big surprises here. However, it’s interesting to note that during the busy week between Christmas and New Year’s, both parks will open at 8:00am (7:00am for IOA Early Park Admission). Another fun note is that this year both parks are scheduled to be open until 1:00am on New Year’s Eve, whereas last year IOA closed at 11:00pm.
9/17 – Thanks to OI contributor Maureen we have this month’s Universal Orlando trip reports live on the site. To see what’s new and exciting at the parks, follow these links to the OI Blog: Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure (both reports include AMAZING photos of the Wizarding World construction and Universal’s Hogwarts Express). If you’d like to do more catching up, you can view all of our trip reports.
9/16 – Let it be known to all who are planning Universal visits in the next six weeks: On dates when Halloween Horror Nights happens at Universal Studios Florida, the park opens at 8:00am and closes at 5:00pm for daytime guests, and Cinematic Spectacular does not run. (On non-event dates, USF opens at 9:00am and closes at 8:00pm, Cine Spec runs at park closing.) See our free 12-month Universal crowd calendar for more.
9/16 – Two more scheduling notes: On HHN event dates USF’s Superstar Parade is scheduled at 2:00pm, while on non-event dates the parade is scheduled at 5:00pm. Also please be aware that this Wednesday, September 18, is the team member preview of HHN, so USF will be closing at 6:00pm and Cinematic Spectacular will not run.
9/16 – Sindbad and his cohorts will not be performing their stunt show at Islands of Adventure September 23 through 27, as the attraction is closed for seasonal maintenance. Please also note that Fear Factor Live over at Universal Studios Florida is also closed at least through the end of Halloween Horror Nights. Visit our Universal Snapshot page to see all of the parks’ ride closures and other important information.
9/16 – Can you believe Halloween Horror Nights 2013 opens this Friday? Now that we’re so close to the event, the streets of Universal Studios Florida are filling up with this year’s HHN props. Check ‘em out on our Scenes from HHN 2013 page, part of our complete insider’s guide to HHN 2013. By the way, if this is your first time visiting our site, we’re not kidding when we say every page in our HHN 2013 guide is a must read!
9/13 – Jake’s Beer Festival at Royal Pacific Resort is set for October 4. While we’ve mentioned the event before, today’s news is that we now have the complete list of the 90 beers that will be featured. Take a moment to view the list and event menu (PDF file). Or, to learn more about this and other events on-site at Universal Orlando Resort, visit our Universal Snapshot page.
9/12 – Today we took our weekly tour of Universal Orlando, and now the 70 photos shot during our visit can be viewed on our new Flickr page (September 12 photoset). They include several full resolution images of Universal’s tank and other HHN 2013 props around Universal Studios Florida, and a pretty sweet collection of Incredible Hulk images.
9/11 – If you’re a Disney World fan and you think Universal Orlando has little to offer, think again! Over on the OI Blog, yours truly takes a fun and informative look at the top five reasons why Disney World fans should love Universal Orlando Resort. View the post
9/10 – Ready for what might be the biggest thrill this Halloween season? To celebrate the start of Halloween Horror Nights, we’re giving away a $500 Universal gift card! Learn more and enter
9/10 – Several HHN updates so far this week: First, we got our first copy of the HHN 2013 event map, and now all our pages have been updated with the new information. Second, Kang & Kodos Twirl ‘n’ Hurl has replaced Shrek 4-D as one of the seven “daytime” attractions that will be open during HHN this year. Third, we’ve updated all of our individual haunted house pages with over 40 images. Last but not least, Universal has released the first commercial spot for this year’s event. See it all on our HHN pages
9/9 – Fair warning for guests visiting Universal Studios Florida this week: USF is scheduled to close early at 6:00pm on Wednesday and Thursday, and again next Wednesday. Remember that when USF is closes early, Cinematic Spectacular does not run. You can view Universal’s park hours on our crowd calendar, or you can see more important notifications like these on our Universal Snapshot page.
9/9 – New event on the books: Celebrate Harbor Nights on Friday, October 18. Designed to capture the ambiance of the Mediterranean and featuring select wines and sparkling wines, gourmet food tastings, complimentary hand-rolled cigars and live music, Harbor Nights takes place outdoors on the majestic Harbor Piazza at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. Tickets available online, and you can also view the menu (PDF file)
9/9 – The Fall 2013 PASSPORT mailer for Universal Orlando Annual Passholders is out. If you missed your copy, you can view the PDF file.
9/7 – Yesterday we took our weekly tour of Universal Orlando, and now our 72 photos taken during the visit can be viewed on our new Flickr page (September 6 photoset), including several full resolution images of the HHN props showing up in the streets. Keep in mind a major storm rolled in Friday afternoon, so we only made it to Universal Studios Florida on this last trip.
9/6 – Rock The Universe, Central Florida’s largest Christian rock festival, lights up the nights at Universal Studios Florida Friday and Saturday. If you’re interested in going, visit our RTU 2013 page to learn more. If you’re going to the parks but not the event, keep in mind USF closes at 6:00pm for daytime guests and Cinematic Spectacular will not run. More important info on our Universal Snapshot page.
9/5 – Two quick HHN updates: Universal confirmed this year’s Passholder dog tag — see it here — available for purchase during event nights at the main gift shop inside USF, limited supply, $6.95. In other HHN news, BestofOrlando.com is giving away four HHN tickets and a 2-night stay at a Universal on-site hotel. To enter you just need to share your best Halloween costume picture. Enter now, or learn more about HHN 2013.
9/5 – And a third HHN update that’s only for true believers: Looking to hone your survival skills for a real zombie apocalypse? “UC Irvine have opened registration for ‘Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s The Walking Dead,’ a free eight-week course that uses episodes of the show as jumping-off points for lectures, tests, and discussions on everything from ballistics to stress management. ‘Nutrition in a post-apocalyptic world — are squirrels really good for you?’ reads one topic.” Only for true believers, indeed. Read more on TheVerge.com
9/4 – Today we’re revisiting what is likely the most common question I receive from guests just starting their vacation planning: What is the best day of the week to visit Universal Orlando? Because this is such a common question, and one that can lead unsuspecting vacation planners down a dangerous road, we provide an entire page exploring the topic and detailing everything you need to know.
9/3 – We’ve published a second in-depth review of the new Universal Dining Plan. While our second reviewer didn’t have as many issues during her experience, she still ends by not recommending the plan. The biggest issue seems to be the lack of table service choices: there are only four options in the parks, three at CityWalk, and none at the on-site hotels. Read our Universal Dining Plan blog post to see the reviews.
9/3 – Another dining update: The new character breakfast at Royal Pacific Resort, started on Sundays this past summer, must have been a success because the resort has extended the event through the end of the year. You can see the menu here (PDF file), but you do need to call 407-503-DINE for reservations. The breakfast is $26.99 for adults, $14.99 for kids 3 to 9 — and that price includes complimentary self-parking.
9/3 – And one more dining update: As part of Orlando’s Magical Dining Month, throughout September Universal guests can enjoy a $33 prix fixe menu at a variety of restaurants located at Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, and Royal Pacific Resort. View the menus and make reservations by clicking here. Keep in mind you definitely do not have to be staying at these hotels to visit them and enjoy their restaurants. If you’re swinging through CityWalk instead, Emeril’s Orlando is also participating.
9/3 – Universal has confirmed the HHN 2013 haunted houses open early for Passholder Nights: The Walking Dead, La Llorona, and After Life: Death’s Vengeance 3D. Annual Passholders, remember that an RSVP is required for you and your guest if you want to participate in early entry on these nights. Learn more on our HHN 2013 pages.
9/3 – While we already knew this, Universal has now officially confirmed at Cinematic Spectacular will not run on the evenings of Rock The Universe, September 6 & 7, nor will it run on the evenings of September 11, 12 & 18, when USF closes early at 6:00pm for unknown reasons. Finally, also be aware that the lagoon show doesn’t run on HHN event nights starting September 20 (at least not for daytime guests). Visit our Universal Snapshot page to learn more.
9/2 – Thanks to our growing community, OrlandoInformer.com has had an incredible summer. In fact, our site pageviews are up 145% this year over last (from June 1 through September 2, 2012, we had 488,066 pageviews; in that same period this year we had 1,680,726 pageviews). We thank everyone for helping make our site an essential planning tool for guests visiting Universal Orlando!
8/31 – It really is the end of the theme park summer season: Sunday is the final Character Breakfast at Royal Pacific Resort; Monday is the final day of Early Park Admission at Universal Studios Florida for all guests; and Monday is also the final day of the extra Annual Passholder benefit of Early Park Admission to Islands of Adventure. Keep in mind we always have important dates like these posted on our Universal Snapshot page. PS. The Superstar Breakfast continues on select mornings at USF, and Early Park Admission at IOA continues for on-site and vacation package guests.
8/31 – Celebrate Labor Day weekend at Universal CityWalk on Sunday, September 1. The exclusive party will feature DJ ET, DJ M-Squared & DJ Baby Anne performing live until 2:00am! Tickets are $10 per person, 21+ only, VIP bottle service and private cabanas available. Buy your tickets at CityWalk Guest Services or by calling 407-224-2691. To see what else is happening on-site, check out our Universal Snapshot page.
8/30 – Now that all eight houses have been revealed for Halloween Horror Nights 2013, Universal is basically pushing out the rest of the details for the event. We’ve got confirmation of the live shows and rides, descriptions of the five “Walking Dead” scare zones, the Passholder Nights RSVP signup site is live, and perhaps most importantly all RIP & Behind the Scream Tours are now on sale. To learn about the houses, rides, shows, scare zones, and all the background information about HHN 2013, visit our HHN overview page. If you’d like to learn about HHN tickets, Express Passes, season passes, and tours, visit our HHN admission guide.
8/30 – With all this talk about Halloween Horror Nights, let’s not forget that Universal has an annual event before HHN starts: Rock The Universe, Central Florida’s largest Christian rock festival, comes to Universal Studios Florida next weekend — and the band schedule & event map is now available. VERY IMPORTANT: Today, August 30, is the last day you can buy what we consider to be the best valued ticket Universal sells all year: the 3-day Rock Your Weekend pass for $113.99! Learn more
8/30 – We have yet another photo leaked of the Hogwarts Express, and this time it’s the fabled locomotives. Unfortunately they’re well wrapped in white, but they still look beautiful! Visit our Diagon Alley page to see the new photo as well as the other Hogwarts Express leaked photos we published earlier this week.
8/30 – Yesterday we took our weekly tour of Universal’s theme parks, and now our 107 photos taken during the visit can be viewed on our new Flickr page (August 29 photoset), including 20 full res images of HHN’s Walking Dead campsite — those are toward the end of the set.
8/28 – We’ve brought all of our pages up-to-date with the latest Halloween Horror Nights information. Since our last major update Universal has revealed all the haunted houses, which we now have covered. In addition, all
VIP RIP and Behind the Screams Tours are now available for purchase, and our site has complete details for each. You can head to our HHN introduction page, or if you’d like to learn about the tours, you can go straight to our HHN admission guide.
8/27 – Universal debuted their new Dining Plan on July 1. Similar to Disney’s dining plan, it allows vacation package guests to pre-purchase meal credits for use throughout Universal’s theme parks. In our updated post on the OI Blog, we present an in-depth review of the new Universal Dining Plan from a real guest and note a few changes since the plan was introduced — See it all here.
8/27 – UPDATE: Rockit is open again as of 1:00pm today. ORIGINAL POST: On August 25 a fan wrote to us, “Upon our arrival trains were stuck on multiple brake runs throughout the Rockit layout. They were all eventually returned to the station, however the ride did not reopen for the remainder of the evening.” Turns out the ride hasn’t opened since then, and a call to Guest Services got us no additional information about when Rockit will be operational again. This comes on the heels of a two-day closure on August 1, when one ride vehicle accidentally bumped into the back of another ride vehicle. To put your mind slightly at ease, no serious injuries have ever been reported on this ride in its four-year history — just a lot of downtime. See more ride closure info on our Universal Snapshot page.
8/27 – Sweepstakes alert: Frigo Cheese Heads String Cheese, which claims to be America’s favorite string cheese, is giving away a Universal Orlando vacation for eight guests, including airfare, tickets, and on-site accommodations. As usual, this one is only open to U.S. residence. The entry period ends October 15, and you can enter once per day until then. Enter here
8/27 – The eighth HHN 2013 haunted house will be announced August 29 at midnight, and it is largely expected to be Resident Evil… especially after Universal posted this on their HHN Facebook page: “The city has been quarantined as the virus has spread.” Visit our HHN 2013 pages to learn more.
8/26 – With several accounts from various sources now published, it seems certain that Universal Orlando’s “real” Hogwarts Express is indeed on-site — or at least most of it. In addition, this comment was recently left on our site: “If you ride Rip Ride Rockit and look over in the back lot direct behind Blue Man, you can actually see the engine and multiple cars!” See our photo mashup, then visit our Diagon Alley page to learn more!
8/26 – Upcoming events: (1) August’s Velvet Sessions at Hard Rock Hotel, featuring Modern English performing live, is this Thursday. (2) CityWalk Labor Day Celebration with live DJs set for September 1. (3) Tickets now on sale for Royal Pacific Resort’s inaugural Beer Festival on October 4. Learn more about these events and everything else happening right now across the resort on our Universal Snapshot page.
8/26 – The Informer family took a trip to Universal Orlando yesterday. As expected in the later half of August, summer crowds are finally going down — the midday wait times for Despicable Me and Transformers were 50 minutes, less than half of what they were about a week ago. We expect a slight bump up in crowds over Labor Day weekend, but the next really busy period won’t come until Thanksgiving (for daytime operations at least, HHN is a different story). More info on our free crowd calendar.
8/25 – “We have had two amazing trips over the past two years thanks to your exceptional advice and info. Just wanted to say a huge thank you! Can’t wait to start planning our next visit! Congrats on the safe arrival of your second little girl, having two daughters is the best!” – Ruth Foster, Leicestershire UK. See Ruth’s cool vacation photo, or you can start planning your Universal vacation right now.
8/23 – Here’s some good travel industry news for Orlando: “Cvent set out to find the most popular destinations for meeting planners in 2013. We evaluated over 5,700 cities, ranking them based on meeting and event booking activity as well as the number of meting venues in the area.” Orlando was number one in 2012 and remains at number one for 2013 — see the full list. There’s no doubt Universal Orlando is a big factor in attracting travelers to our town. In fact, the resort even had Penny Pritzker, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, on-site recently.
8/23 – Universal has launched a new mini website for vacation planning. It barely scratches the surface of what we have in our encyclopedia of Universal Orlando vacation planning information, but a slick interface, colorful graphics, and the ability to share your plans make it worth checking out: planner.universalorlando.com. When you’re ready to do real vacation planning, the OI Universal Center is ready and waiting!
8/22 – For those who like to work with visuals, I’m happy to say that Universal has updated their printable PDF map of Universal Studios Florida with Transformers and The Simpsons Fast Food Blvd. Unfortunately Transformers is still not listed on their Riders Guide for guests with disabilities. Visit our Universal Orlando maps page for more.
8/22 – This is a friendly reminder that vacation packages for Universal’s ‘A Celebration of Harry Potter’ event go on sale at noon EST today. A package isn’t required to experience *some* of the planned activities, but it is required to get into *all* the activities. To see the details and read our advice for Annual Passholders & locals, click here.
UPDATE: Vacation packages for ‘A Celebration of Harry Potter’ are sold out, but we do know a way you can try to win one of the packages. Visit our Celebration of Harry Potter page to learn more.
8/22 – Did you know the Garden of Allah Villas at Universal Studios Florida are based on a true Hollywood landmark demolished in 1959? The event is rumored to be the inspiration for Joni Mitchell’s song Big Yellow Taxi. Learn so much more as OI contributor Dani takes us on a fascinating exploration of USF’s Hollywood backlot on her new OI blog post (this is one post every Universal fan will love!).
8/21 – Universal crowd calendar update: (1) August at Universal is proving to be busier than expected, driven by the mid-summer opening of Transformers, the late summer completion of The Simpsons Springfield USA expansion project, and the somewhat recent release of Despicable Me 2. As such, we’ve updated our August crowd predictions. (2) In September Universal has adjusted their operating hours for Universal Studios Florida on the 11th, 12th, and 18th. On those dates USF is now scheduled to close at 6pm. (3) We’ve bumped up anticipated crowd levels during the week leading into Thanksgiving from slow to moderate. (4) Universal has published the official dates for their 2013 holiday celebrations, and our December calendar has been updated accordingly. View our crowd calendar
8/21 – Thanks to OI contributor Maureen we have this month’s Universal Orlando trip reports live on the site. To see what’s new and exciting at the parks, follow these links to the OI Blog: Universal Studios Florida (first photos of the real Hogwarts Express??) or Islands of Adventure (construction updates). If you’d like to do more catching up, you can view all of our trip reports.
8/20 – Yesterday Rip Ride Rockit celebrated its 4-year anniversary, and I couldn’t help but take the occasion to share one of my favorite photos. Rockit is also one of the best reviewed Universal attractions on our site. Read real guest reviews or share your own by clicking here. And remember, we return to our regular site updates tomorrow (new baby Isla and family are still doing great!).
8/18 – Most of our fans know that the daily updating and maintenance of our site is done by just one person, your humble host Dan Hatfield. That’s why, when something big happens in my life, it can sometimes affect the site. Well, this week a lot of stuff has happened — it’s been like my family’s very own version of a theme park ride — so work on the site has had to wait.
First, starting on Monday, August 12, I was caught completely off guard by a terrible sinus infection. It turned out to be the worst illness I’ve had in two decades, taking me out of commission all week (I rarely get sick, and never for more than a day or two). The issue was compounded by the fact that my wife, Rosie, was due with our second daughter on Wednesday, August 14. As you might imagine, it was imperative that I return to health quickly so as to be ready for the birth of Isla.
On Saturday, August 17, I finally felt strong enough to return to some of my regular duties. But since I had been sick for a week, the first of those duties was to complete the last few tasks in preparation for Isla’s arrival — setting up her bassinet, sorting clothes and diapers, etc.
That brings us to Sunday, August 18. The plan for Sunday was to spend about 12 hours bringing our site up-to-date after my week absence. But Isla had different plans. Contractions started in the early morning, and at 10:04am we met our newborn daughter Isla Bleu Hatfield (Isla is pronounced eye-la).
Having updated our site on a daily basis for well over two years — working at least an hour or two every day of the year — this past week has been surreal. I now ask for just a little more patience from our fans, as I won’t likely have a chance to get back to work until Wednesday, August 21. I truly appreciate your support!
8/12 – Welcome home to Springfield USA at Universal Studios Florida. As of Sunday, August 11, the entire Simpsons expansion project is now open to guests, including the final addition: Kang & Kodos Twirl ‘n’ Hurl spinner ride. We’ve got hundreds of photos and new video to show you. Visit our Springfield USA page to get started!
8/10 – Share your experiences at Universal Orlando and you could win a $50 Universal gift card. Guest reviews help our site become an even stronger resource for everyone – and they let you show off how much you know about Universal! UPDATE: The entry period for this contest is now over, but you can still read over 500 guest reviews or write your own by clicking here.
8/9 – Reader feedback: “We just got back from a 3 day trip to Universal and thanks to OrlandoInformer we had the BEST trip! I read pretty much the entire website and used the touring plan. We had planned for 3 days but because of good planning we only needed 2 days to complete everything on our list!! We cannot say “thanks” enough, we really had a great and relaxing trip, even at the end of July in the heat and a pretty packed park.” – Miriam G. Thank you so much, Miriam! Start planning YOUR ultimate vacation
8/9 – We’ve wrapped up our weekly tour of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. Our 111 photos from the parks can now be viewed on our new Flickr page (August 9 photoset), including several shots of the CityWalk construction and so much more. PS. A lot of our fans really liked this photo edit of Islands of Adventure.
8/9 – As we enter the slow season of August and September, the discounts start to roll out across Orlando. For Universal vacation planners, perhaps the most important of these is the Annual Passholder discount offered by Universal’s on-site hotels, which can be up to 46% off their standard rates. This leads us to the question, is it worth it to buy an annual pass just for the on-site hotel discount? We provide a complete answer with tons of support information right here!
8/8 – Universal has announced a new special event: A Celebration of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando. We have now created a new page in the Events section of the OI Universal Center covering the announcement and providing details — see it here. We’ve also added the event to our free 12-month crowd calendar.
8/7 – We’ve just completed an overhaul of our Orlando weather page. I know this isn’t the most exciting topic in the world, but we all know how much weather can impact a theme park vacation. You can view our updated Weather in Orlando page right now, and when you’re done with it we highly recommend that you check out our recently published What to pack for your vacation page too!
8/7 – A bit of HHN news for Annual Passholders: In August’s ePASSPORT newsletter Universal confirmed the dates for the HHN 2013 Passholder Nights: September 20, 21, 27 & 28 (first two event weekends, as expected). They also confirmed that The Walking Dead will be one of the three haunted houses to which Annual Passholders will have early access. More details will be announced later. Visit our HHN 2013 pages to learn more about the event.
8/6 – Our special evening trip to Universal Monday night was a success despite the rain, and I’m happy to say all of our 155 photos have been uploaded to our new Flickr page (August 5 photoset), including shots of the CityWalk construction, 7:00pm Superstar Parade, Springfield USA at night, and Cinematic Spectacular!
8/6 – Speaking of CityWalk construction, we previously reported that Latin Quarter is now closed for refurbishment. Joining Latin Quarter is the quick-service Pastamore Marketplace, perhaps best known for serving breakfast to early arriving guests. So far Universal hasn’t announced what the refurbishments entail or when they’re scheduled to be completed. Learn about these projects and more on our Universal Snapshot page.
8/5 – Two scheduling updates: First, Fear Factor Live will be closed for seasonal maintenance August 10 through 17. Second, Universal’s Superstar Parade has moved to 7:00pm. This is the latest the parade has ever run, and it might have been moved to avoid Orlando’s persistent afternoon rain (which caused many cancellations) and to show of the lights on the floats. You can review all of Universal’s attraction changes on our Snapshot page.
8/5 – Are you a blogger? Momitforward.com, a social media community and worldwide network dedicated to enhancing the lives of women, has launched a contest for new blog posts about family vacations — and the winners receive a paid vacation to Universal Orlando including airfare, tickets, and on-site accommodations. Gotta move fast though, the entry period ends August 7. Learn more and enter
8/4 – Park operating hours reminder: Throughout the summer Universal’s theme parks have kept the same operating hours, making planning very easy (9:00am – 10:00pm for Universal Studios Florida, 8:00am – 9:00pm for Islands of Adventure). As of today that changes, with IOA returning to its regular opening time of 9:00am and the parks now varying their closing times depending on the day of the week, etc. Also, we should start to see the biggest of the summer crowds heading home to get ready for school. Visit our crowd calendar to learn more.
8/3 – The Simpsons waterfront — home to Lard Lad Donuts, Duff Gardens, and more — opened Friday, August 2. We’ll need a few days to create new pages for the venues and experiences, so please bare with us. But don’t think we don’t have anything to show you! We’re pleased to present over 100 full resolution images of The Simpsons waterfront area on our new Flickr page (daytime shots in the August 2 photoset, nighttime shots in the August 5 photoset). Once you’ve seen the images, learn more about the whole project on our Springfield page.
8/2 – Universal CityWalk’s Latin Quarter, which featured entrees from Latin American nations and a Churrascaria Brazilian steakhouse, has closed as of August 1. Universal hasn’t officially announced its replacement, but we have heard some rumors. Check out this rumor round-up blog post for details.
8/1 – It’s the start of a new month, so July 2014 has been added to our Universal crowd calendar. Friendly reminders: In September USF will close early for daytime guests many evenings, as the park hosts Rock The Universe and Halloween Horror Nights. Also, if you’re already looking ahead to next summer, take heed of our stern warning about the Diagon Alley grand opening included with the June & July 2014 calendars.
8/1 – I’m happy to say the 132 photos from yesterday’s special trip to Walt Disney World have now been uploaded to our new Flickr page (July 31 photoset), including over a dozen of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train construction in New Fantasyland.
7/30 – This is it! Our final Simpsons Springfield construction update has been published. View the latest news and 39 full-screen images of the waterfront area, rumored to open this Friday. Since this is our final construction update, we’ve also included a dozen “before and after” photos. We couldn’t be more pleased with this results of this project — learn more and see it all.
7/30 – We haven’t had any major announcements about HHN 2013 yet this week, but there is one item of note: the official HHN Twitter handle has changed from @UORHHN to @HorrorNightsORL. In addition, the HHN 2013 Creative Director Mike Aiello has taken over the account. Visit our HHN 2013 pages to learn more.
7/29 – New special events and concerts scheduled: On August 9, Velvet Unplugged at Hard Rock Hotel gets you up close and personal with featured artist Teddy Geiger. On August 10, celebrate Jamaican Independence Day with a special reggae festival at Bob Marley’s: A Tribute to Freedom. On August 29, Velvet Sessions is back with special guest Modern English performing live. And don’t forget, Central Florida’s largest Christian music festival — Rock The Universe — hits Universal Studios Florida the weekend of September 6 & 7. All the details & links.
7/27 – We recently started using Flickr as a place to share our photos from our weekly Universal visits that don’t necessarily get uploaded here on the main site. I’m happy to say the 112 photos from today’s trip have now been uploaded, including two dozen of The Simpsons waterfront, the new Jebediah Springfield statue, Diagon Alley, and so much more Universal fun — Check ‘em out! (PS. It’s still a good idea to scan through our Twitter feed, only because the Flickr photos don’t have captions.)
7/25 – It’s official: AMC’s The Walking Dead returns to Halloween Horror Nights. This year’s house will bring guests into the prison and the town of Woodbury. Also revealed – and really the bigger of the two announcements – “For the first time ever we’re dedicating the entire HHN street experience to AMC’s The Walking Dead.” Visit our HHN 2013 guide for complete information and expert advice. Or skip right to our analysis of The Walking Dead street experience by clicking here.
7/25 – Save the date: On October 4, join your friends at Royal Pacific Resort for Jake’s Inaugural Beer Festival! Celebrate the spirit of Oktoberfest with a variety of beer, food, and entertainment in Royal Pacific’s outdoor pavilion — more details to come. And if you’re free tonight, Toad the Wet Sprocket will be playing live at Hard Rock Hotel’s Velvet Sessions. Visit our Universal Snapshot page for more information.
7/24 – We are proud to announce the newest page in the OI Universal Center: What to pack for your Universal Orlando vacation. In an effort to make our information even more comprehensive, we offer this new page with a free checklist, expert advice, and novel ideas to make sure your family has everything they need while traveling. It’s a good one — check it out!
7/23 – Today we have updated some of our annual event information, but it wasn’t for Halloween Horror Nights. Nope, we’ve archived our Summer Concert Series 2013 page and published our preliminary guide to SCS 2014. To learn about any Universal Orlando annual event, including Rock The Universe — Central Florida’s largest Christian music festival scheduled for September 6 & 7 — click here.
7/23 – Speaking of events at Universal, while we are several months out from the resort announcing plans for the big CityWalk New Year’s Eve bash, we can report that Dierks Bentley is scheduled to perform at Hard Rock Live on the evening of December 31 — tickets go on sale Friday. Visit our New Year’s Eve 2013 page to learn about the Bentley concert and when we can expect more NYE 2013 details.
7/23 – Fan feedback: “I live in Philadelphia & just spent 4 days in Orlando. I just wanted to thank you for all of the information that you provide people with. It was extremely useful. We stayed at the Royal Pacific & also bought annual passes. The Express Pass benefit pays for itself. Thanks!!!” You’re welcome, Ron. Want to make sure your visit to Universal is a success? Learn how to use our FREE online guide
7/22 – On Thursday July 25 at 6:30pm, Hard Rock Hotel’s Velvet Session rocks once more. Check out Orlando’s coolest lobby party — including complimentary cocktails and h’orderves — with special guest Toad the Wet Sprocket live in concert. Learn more about this event and find out everything that that is happening RIGHT NOW at Universal Orlando Resort on our Universal Snapshot page.
7/22 – Have you ever wondered whether it’s worth it to book a Universal Orlando vacation package? Have you heard about this year’s HHN Gory Getaway deal? Universal’s vacation packages can look somewhat inciting, but trust us, in most cases you can find a better deal booking the package components separately. Learn all the insider secrets about Universal vacation packages right here.
7/19 – Halloween Horror Nights 2013 updates: Earlier this week Universal revealed the second haunted house, Evil Dead. Then yesterday they confirmed the revival of Rocky Horror Picture Show for HHN. In addition, as of July 19 all HHN 2013 admission tickets, Express Passes, and season passes are now on sale. Finally, we have just published our guide to HHN early admission — an absolute MUST READ. See all the details!
7/19 – Thanks to OI contributor Maureen we have this month’s Universal Orlando trip reports live on the site. To see what’s new and exciting at the parks, follow these links to the OI Blog: Universal Studios Florida (Bumblebee Man’s Tacos) or Islands of Adventure (Jurassic Park midway games). If you’d like to do more catching up, you can view all of our trip reports.
7/18 – We recently started using Flickr as a place to share our photos from our weekly Universal visits that don’t necessarily get uploaded here on the main site. I’m happy to say all 96 of our photos from today’s trip have now been uploaded, including two dozen of The Simpsons expansion area, the new Bumblebee Man’s Taco truck, and construction for the Jurassic Park Midway. Check ‘em out.
7/17 – One of the best kept secrets of staying at a Universal on-site hotel is the ability of guests “pool hop” between Royal Pacific Resort, Hard Rock Hotel & Portofino Bay Hotel. In our latest OI Share post, join Kerri as her family enjoys the pool hopping experience at Universal Orlando! View the blog post
7/17 – With all the excitement building for Halloween Horror Nights 2013, many fans are starting to figure out their plans for visiting. We’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that DoubleTree across from the entrance to Universal — our choice for the best park hotel off-site — offers OI readers a special discount. Learn all about the hotel and get the discount by clicking here.
7/16 – “Once you unleash evil, it will consume you… This year’s hit horror film Evil Dead will come to life as a haunted house.” Yes, my friends, the second HHN 2013 house was revealed last night. While many fans are excited, some are starting to get concerned we may not see any original houses this year. Don’t worry — Universal usually reveals those last. Learn everything there is to know in our unofficial guide to HHN 2013.
7/16 – This Friday the popular Jake’s Beer Dinner at Royal Pacific Resort returns, featuring a four-course dinner by the hotel’s award-winning chefs. Each course will be paired with select Cigar City Brewing craft beers. For reservations and more information, call 407-503-3200. To learn about more events at Universal, and to see a complete overview of everything that is happening right now, visit our Universal Snapshot page.
7/15 – We’ve updated our calendar today with two changes for August. When first published, Universal Studios Florida was scheduled to stay open until 10:00pm all summer through August 10. Now that ends on August 3, and starting August 4 the park closes at 9pm. Similarly, Islands of Adventure was scheduled to open at 8:00am through August 10, but now that will end on August 3 and starting August 4 the park opens at 9:00am (as it usually does for more of the year). See the updated times on our free 12-month crowd calendar.
7/15 – Out of over 50 properties worldwide, Universal’s own Portofino Bay Hotel was recently recognized as the “World’s Best Them Park Hotel” by Theme Park Insider, who presents the honor to the property that receives the highest ratings on its site over a 12-month period. Since I chose that location to propose to my wife, I can hardly disagree! To see complete information about all FOUR of Universal’s on-site hotels, including hundreds of full-screen photos, click here.
7/14 – Express Passes for Halloween Horror Nights are now on sale, joining a slew of ticketing options that can now be purchased for the nation’s premier Halloween event. However, HHN season passes with Express are still not available for purchase, and Universal hasn’t announced this year’s VIP tour options yet. Read through our HHN 2013 admission guide to learn so much more.
7/12 – Our construction update for The Simpsons Springfield expansion at Universal Studios Florida is now online. The update includes opening date info for Duff Gardens and Kang & Kodos Twirl ‘n’ Hurl, the latest news covering the project, 28 brand new full-screen photos, and two new HD videos. To see it all, visit our Simpsons Springfield expansion page.
7/12 – We’ve also posted a brand new construction update for Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley. Admittedly there isn’t much news in this update. But we do have 20 brand new full-screen photos and a cool ‘time lapse’ photo series. If you’ve never visited our Diagon Alley page before, we strongly recommend that you read it from top to bottom. Visit Diagon Alley
7/11 – Earlier today we took our weekly tour of Universal Orlando, visiting Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. All 122 of our photos from the day have now been uploaded to our new Flickr page. (We recently started using Flickr so we have a place to share all our new photos that don’t necessarily get uploaded here on the main site.)
7/10 – For vacation planners it is already Halloween Horror Nights season. In fact, with only one haunted house revealed, our HHN 2013 page has already been viewed over 67,000 times so far! This week we’ve taken a huge step forward in providing the largest unofficial guide to the award-winning event by publishing a complete overhaul of our main HHN 2013 page — we have also published our admission guide and our 13 best HHN tips, tricks & secrets. See it all
7/9 – Two of the most popular and helpful pages in the OI Universal Center have been updated! The first page, our Complete guide to Universal Express Passes, really is the definitive guide to one of the resort’s best, yet often misunderstood, features. The second page, Secret to getting UNLIMITED Express Pass access, is one that all Universal vacation planners must read before finalizing their plans.
7/7 – Here’s a quick checklist for you: Do the Universal Orlando touring plans you’re using include advice for Early Park Admission with the actual rides open during EPA listed at the top? Do your touring plans include photo ops? Do your plans have suggestions for dining? Most importantly, are your plans free to view & print? If you answered “yes” to all of these, you must be using our expertly crafted touring plans!
7/6 – The sixth and final installment of Universal’s Summer Concert Series is tonight, featuring Kip Moore performing live at Universal Studios Florida. Reminder: We’ve been getting strong thunderstorms pretty much every afternoon (typical summer activity), and tomorrow shouldn’t be any exception — so go to the parks prepared for rain! Visit our Summer Concert Series page to learn more.
7/5 – We just pushed through a massive update to our free 12-month Universal Orlando crowd calendar. New information includes Universal’s just published hours for October and November. New estimates include “peak nights” for HHN 2013 and significantly revised Spring Break crowd levels. Finally, June 2014 has been added with a stern warning about the grand opening of Diagon Alley. View our free calendar right now
7/4 – Yesterday we took our weekly tour of Universal Orlando, visiting Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, Universal Studios Florida, and Islands of Adventure. All 77 of our photos from the day are now on our new Flickr page. (We just started using Flickr so we have a place to share our photos that don’t necessarily get uploaded here on the main site.) Oh, and we have a new YouTube video of Kang & Kodos in action too.
7/4 – We’re sorry to say at Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and CityWalk just don’t do much of anything to specifically celebrate the 4th of July. This isn’t to say there’s not a ton to do on-site — from the two incredible theme parks, the brand new Transformers ride, and all the excitement of a summer night at CityWalk — the resort just doesn’t have any big activities planned specifically for the 4th of July. If you are looking for a celebration with a little more American spirit, check out this blog post for ideas.
7/3 – On-site hotel events: Just announced for Thursday, July 25 at 6:30pm, Hard Rock Hotel’s Velvet Sessions rocks once more. Check out Orlando’s coolest lobby party — including complimentary cocktails and h’orderves – with special guest Toad the Wet Sprocket live in concert. You can buy tickets here. Then on Friday, July 19 at 7:00pm, Jake’s Beer Dinner at Royal Pacific Resort returns, featuring a four-course dinner by the hotel’s award-winning chefs. For reservations and more information, call 407-503-3200. Remember, you can always find up-to-date event information on our Universal Snapshot page!
7/2 – You know how last week we told you that the Photo Connect Star Card Package was no longer available for a discount price if you per-purchased it online? Well it turns out that the online change was indeed part of a system-wide price increase. So the bad news is that the in-park Photo Connect Star Card Package price is now $59.95 (was $49.95), but the good news is that you again will save $10 if you pre-purchase it online for $49.95 (was $39.95). Learn so much more
7/2 – Universal operates a shuttle for on-site hotel guests that runs continuously between the three on-site hotels and the parks. Previously guests using the shuttle were dropped off at Celebrity Circle, just steps away from Universal Studios Florida. But that has changed, and as of this week guests are now dropped off near the Universal parking garages as seen on our interactive map. To learn more about Universal Orlando’s on-site hotels, click here.
7/1 – Starting this morning and running through September 2, Universal on-site hotel guests and vacation package guests can enjoy Early Park Admission at Universal Studios Florida, where Transformers and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem will be open early. As such, we have updated all of our free, handcrafted touring plans to help you make the most out of this benefit (although the plans also work great if you don’t have EPA). You can view our free touring plans or you can learn more about Early Park Admission.
7/1 – The High in the sky Seuss Trolley Ride! at Universal’s Islands of Adventure has increased its height requirement from 36 inches to 40 inches effective today. No word on why the height requirement was raised. Learn more about the ride
7/1 – The Universal Dining Plan, a new feature available for guests booking Universal vacation packages, starts today. Because the program is brand new, we don’t yet have complete coverage of it on our site. However, you can check out this ‘first look’ blog post to see the basics. Keep in mind that the Universal Dining Plan is a separate program from the Universal Meal Deal, which is available to all guests, and for which we’ve already published a complete guide.
7/1 – This is the final reminder that our old forum, which required a paid subscription to use, has closed as of today (although its contents will be available for a few more days). This has been done to pave the way for a more robust and completely free forum that will be launched in the very near future. If you have any questions about this change, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
7/1 – June capped off an incredible six months of activity for our site, as we have experienced tremendous growth beyond what even we could have hoped for. Last December we recorded just under 200,000 pageviews for the month. In June of this year we set our fourth “busiest month ever” record in a row with 560,515 pageviews by 180,000 unique visitors. Likewise our social networks keep expanding: Last December we passed 7,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook, overnight we just passed 20,000; On Twitter we’ve more than doubled our December 2012 number of 2,900 followers to 7,460 as of today.
Thank you to everyone for helping make Orlando Informer an essential planning tool for guests visiting Universal Orlando! The parks are doing some incredible stuff right now, and getting to share the excitement with our fans is a gift we truly appreciate every day. Learn more about us
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: