15 details & secrets that will help you experience Universal Orlando to the fullest

Universal Orlando Resort's two biggest theme parks offer more than anyone could experience in a single day. With dozens of rides to experience and more than 200 acres of land to explore, it's an ambitious enough goal just to see all the obvious sights: the shark from Jaws, Hogwarts Castle, the Simpsons' hometown of Springfield, and so on. In trying to fit everything in, it's easy to miss some of the park's finer details and more niche experiences. That's why we've put together this guide of things that shouldn't be missed, hidden sights to look for, and fun tidbits to know during your visit to Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure.

Universal Studios Florida

Universal Studios Florida was Universal's first Orlando theme park, opening in 1990. And while you've come to Orlando, your visit begins in Hollywood: The park is themed around movies, entertainment, and bringing the silver screen to life, from the lovable Minions of the Despicable Me films to the towering machines of Transformers, and everything in between.

Tune the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit to your taste

Near the park's entrance is the towering Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster. The name alludes to this attraction's headlining feature: speakers in each seat that play music selected by the rider from a menu cleverly integrated into the lap bar. With multiple choices in genres such as rock, hip-hop, rap, and even country, each rider can pick the perfect soundtrack for this moderately intense coaster ride. There are 30 songs to choose from, and each one is a different experience, so this is one ride that demands an encore, or two, or three. (Did we mention there's a secret list of hidden songs?)

Stroll through the history of The Tonight Show

Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon is a ride where you do exactly that. Beforehand, though, guests are led through an authentic recreation of NBC's headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza (the employees even wear authentic NBC page program uniforms). Guests can interact with Hashtag the Panda and see the Ragtime Gals quartet perform, but the centerpiece is an exhibit with artifacts from The Tonight Show's history, with a display case for each host. Admire Carnac the Magnificent's turban, see one of Jay Leno's Emmy Awards, and check out how the show's TV cameras evolved through the eras.  

Keep an eye out for creatures at 12 Grimmauld Place

Walk north from the New York City area and you'll find yourself transported to London, where elements of the wizarding world that would normally be invisible to muggles have been revealed. That includes the shape-shifting triple-decker Knight Bus, as well as the home of Sirius Black, 12 Grimmauld Place. The apartment is now a popular spot for muggles to take selfies, but many don't realize the building is looking back at them: Kreacher the house-elf occasionally pulls back the curtain to gaze disapprovingly on the crowds below.

Exchange your muggle money for real Gringotts money

Step through a brick wall and you'll magically enter Diagon Alley, London's premiere wizarding shopping district. To accommodate visiting muggles, the wizarding shops all accept muggle money. But if you want the real wizard shopping experience (and let's face it, you already have your wizarding robes and wand, so why stop now?) visit the local Gringotts Money Exchange to trade your greenbacks for genuine wizarding bank notes that can be spent at any of Diagon Alley's shops. There's no fee, and any Gringotts money you don't spend can be converted back to its boring U.S. dollar equivalent at the Guest Services office for free.

Look for deals from dark arts traders at Borgin and Burkes

Diagon Alley's notoriously seedy counterpart, Knockturn Alley, is tucked away near the Leaky Cauldron. Looking for cursed artifacts? Edgier wizard garb? Just want to live your truth as a Slytherin? Slip into the eerily lit Borgin and Burkes, purveyor of all things dark arts. Of particular note is the Vanishing Cabinet at the back of the shop—it's paired with the one at Hogwarts Castle that Draco Malfoy fixed to allow Death Eaters into the school. Guests can feel the fluttering of a bird inside, the one Malfoy transported to test whether he'd successfully fixed the cabinet.

Watch a Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon light up Diagon Alley

Hovering over the main section of Diagon Alley, the Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon perched atop Gringotts is hard to miss. Easier to miss is the fire that it breathes from time to time. A few pointers on getting the best view:

 

  • Ask a nearby wizard if the dragon is breathing fire today; in windy weather, it may not.
  • The dragon will grumble and growl before finally unleashing the flame.
  • Missed it? Don't fret, just set your watch; the dragon breathes fire about every 10 minutes.
  • If possible, see the flames at night, when they light up the entire area.

Universal's Islands of Adventure

Universal's Islands of Adventure opened in 1999 as part of an expansion that also brought Universal CityWalk and the destination's first on-site hotel, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, turning Universal Studios Florida into the broader Universal Orlando Resort. It's organized into eight islands, each themed around a particular story, such as Marvel Super Hero Island,  Seuss Landing, or Jurassic Park. Guests can enter the park at the front gate, or by taking the Hogwarts Express from Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida.

Send your friends a letter through the owl post

Diagon Alley is just the beginning of the Harry Potter experience. If you've already got a two-park ticket, just hop on the Hogwarts Express to head to Hogsmeade Village and Hogwarts Castle. (Don't have a two-park ticket? You can upgrade at the train station.) Hogsmeade features famous attractions like Ollivanders wand shop, but a lesser-known stop is the Owl Post. It sells all manner of Hogwarts-themed stationery, but what’s not immediately obvious is that it’s actually a functioning post office, complete with its own stamps. Mail a postcard to friends to let them know how your visit to Hogsmeade is going, or send out invitations for a special occasion with that extra Hogwarts touch.

Experience the ambience of an old European public house

Down the street from the Owl Post is the Three Broomsticks tavern, where muggle guests can find traditional British fare, including such favorites as bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, and fish and chips. Dine in and you'll enjoy more than the nosh, for the Three Broomsticks is a treat in itself. It's built to resemble real centuries-old inns in Europe, from the way the walls have settled unevenly on the foundation, to the worn wooden roof, to how water appears to have seeped through and stained the stones over time. Take a moment to sit back and look around, and you’ll feel you’ve been transported across the Atlantic.

Find your way through an authentically Jurassic forest

Take a short walk from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and you'll be transported to a very different island: Isla Nublar, home of Jurassic Park. The transition is stark, as the pine forests of Scotland become the fern jungles of the Mesozoic. In fact, the jungle is so authentically prehistoric that only plant families known to exist during the Jurassic are planted there. That means you won't see a single blade of grass, because the fossil record suggests grass didn't evolve until the Cretaceous. In between looking at (and perhaps running from) the park's sharp-toothed main attractions, be sure to appreciate the foliage, too.

Explore Jurassic Park's Discovery Center

Sadly, in the original Jurassic Park film, the park's beautiful Visitor Center is trashed by dinosaurs before the public can enjoy it. The Jurassic Park Discovery Center at Islands of Adventure offers guests the chance to see what might've been. They can X-ray dinosaur eggs to see what species are inside, test their DNA to see what kind of dinosaur they would be, and even maybe see a baby Velociraptor hatch. Fans of the movie will recognize the T. rex and Alamosaurus fossils in the main foyer, and for good reason: They're the exact same props used in the blockbuster 1993 movie.  

Get the full story on Skull Island: Reign of Kong

Jurassic Park isn't the only island concealing vicious creatures. Right next door, guests can embark on an expedition to Skull Island, the South Pacific isle where King Kong makes his home. Similar to the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, this attraction is fun to ride more than once because each expedition vehicle is driven by a different character with a unique backstory and motivation for trekking into the unknown. Already made the journey once with Becky, the Texas cowgirl? Visit again and see the island through different eyes with one of the other four guides, such as Kalana the native islander or Charles the paleontologist. 

Read between the lines in a comic book city come to life

One of the main attractions on Marvel Super Hero Island is The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, which takes riders through a villainous attempt to steal the Statue of Liberty. (Insider info: Keep an eye out for four separate cameos by Marvel comics legend Stan Lee.) There's lots to see on the street, too. For example, all the larger-than-life Marvel characters have the name "Adam" hidden somewhere in them, a calling card from comics artist Adam Kubert, who illustrated them. Also of note is the chrome illusion paint used on many of the buildings, which changes color depending on the angle it's viewed from. 

Fall head over heels on an emotional roller coaster

The Incredible Hulk Coaster, one of Marvel Super Hero Island's other big attractions, is impossible to miss. It towers 110 feet over the city, features seven upside-down portions, and begins by accelerating riders to 40 mph in just 2 seconds, pressing them back into their seats with the same amount of force as the Earth's gravity, to simulate the emotions of "Hulking out." Despite all the inversions and a top speed of 67 mph, the ride is silky smooth. That's thanks to a renovation in 2015 and 2016 that saw the coaster rebuilt from scratch, so you can feel what it's like to be a super-powered bruiser without ending up with actual bruises.

Visit a living tribute to the ethos of Dr. Seuss' Lorax

Cross a bridge into Seuss Landing and you'll find yourself on an island that embodies the values of Dr. Seuss in ways obvious and subtle. The music speakers on the island are aimed at child-height, for example, to make sure little ones are included, and the recycling bins bear the image of the Lorax and his famous environmental rallying cry, "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." Seuss Landing lives out that ideal in its landscaping: The whimsically bent palm trees weren't made that way for the park, but rather damaged by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Universal Orlando provided a home for them, just as the Lorax once protected the Truffula trees.

Take a break for some snacks by the two stubborn Zax

Seuss Landing's main drag features treats you may remember from the books: the Moose Juice, Goose Juice stand, for example, offers the drinks from Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book. Around the corner, visitors will find another landmark: the two Zax, first seen in The Sneetches and Other Stories. The southbound Zax and northbound Zax stand at an impasse, neither willing to let the other pass, and their tracks can be seen stretching into the distance, under buildings and into other parts of Seuss Landing. Just as the Zax in the book had a freeway built around them, these Zax were placed at Islands of Adventure when construction began, and the park was built around them as a tribute to Dr. Seuss.

Book a travel package through AAA & enjoy exclusive benefits

AAA members receive exclusive pricing and special benefits when they book a Universal Orlando Resort vacation package through AAA, including activity credits, priority seating, in-park discounts on food and merchandise, and more. Packages can be booked online or at a AAA branch

See which of Universal Orlando's resorts is right for you

Universal Orlando is more than just theme parks: It also features five beautifully themed, AAA Diamond-rated hotels. Read our guide to which hotel is the right fit for you and your family.