Adding time at Universal to a Disney World trip – PREP026

People visiting Orlando for a Disney World trip might want to also spend some time at Universal.

Today, I have some information on Universal and my tips on adding it to your Disney World trip.

I also have a quick tip about how to easily rent a car to use for the day when staying at an on-site Disney resort.

These are notes from this episode. There's much more info included in the audio so be sure to listen to the episode for a better explanation.

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Link to recent post mentioned in this episode

Disney World park ticket comparison chart

About Universal

Universal is made up of 2 parks (Islands of Adventure and Universal), a shopping area (CityWalk) and 3 on-site resorts (soon to be 4).

People who stay in 1 of the 3 on-site resorts get special perks:

  • Unlimited Express Passes
  • On-site transportation
  • Early admission to Wizarding World of Harry Potter (located at Islands of Adventure)
  • Priority seating at restaurants
  • Room charge and package delivery privileges

Express Passes work kind of like FastPasses in that they allow you to enter a separate line. However, you get to enter the line immediately (as opposed to coming back during a 1 hour time frame) and there's no limit to how many you can have in 1 day. Off-site guests can pay to purchase the Express Passes. (Note: although most attractions offer Express Passes, Wizarding World of Harry Potter doesn't.)

To add Universal to a Disney World trip, I suggest spending 2 days there before your time at Disney World. We got through each park in just 1/2 day so ambitious people might be able to do both in the same day.

I don't suggest people with little kids or issues with motion sickness visit Universal because there aren't enough attractions for each to enjoy.

You can purchase tickets that include transportation from Disney World if you'd like.

You can review my post about Universal for more info, including touring plans to use in each park.

Quick tip of the day

You can rent a car when staying at an on-site Disney World resort which can be helpful when spending some time at places outside of Disney World (like Universal, the beach, etc.).

Alamo and National have offices at the on-site Disney World Car Care Center. They will send a shuttle to your Disney World resort to take you to get your car. The number for the Car Care Center is 407-824-3470.

Be sure to check out the rental car info on for more info on renting a car, including ways to find the best deals.

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Will you be adding Universal to your trip? Or do you have questions?

Please feel free to share them in the comments.

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Great Disney tips! My family and I are looking to vacation at Disney World, but hear it’s a little difficult to navigate through their commuter system. Thanks for help making the whole travel process a little easier!


We are trying to decide if we should stay on site with the benefits at Universal or just stay at Disney and rent a car. Can you give me any insight on this. We are going to be at Universal the last weekend in September. At that time of year do we need the extra hour at Harry Potter and the Express Pass? Also, should we attend the Halloween Party? and is it worth the extra money? Thanks for your help. So enjoy your website.


I am so excited to see that Dreams Unlimited offers a combo ticket/transportation to Universal from Disney area hotels. I’m wondering if anyone has tried this? In the past we’ve hired a town car which took us straight to Universal. I’m worried that the transportation that comes with the ticket might be a shuttle that makes a lot of stops or takes a lot of time. Any information on this would be very appreciated. We are going to Disney at the end of January and making a one day trip to Universal!


One thing to be very aware of at Universal is the closing time. We did WDW in April of 2013, and took a day to do IOA at Universal. We got there a little late, just before lunch. Since the major thing we wanted to do was all the Harry Potter stuff, we headed directly there. So, we spent several hours, did all the rides then available, most twice, saw the shops, etc. Then we decided we were hungry and went to get dinner, only to be told that the restaurant was closed, and it was only 5:30. What we… Read more »


The site doesn’t specify where the transportation is from the Disney hotels to Universal, do you know? Or have more information on that?

That’s what I’ve witnessed. Do US at the end of your trip, especially with older kids. While the (overall) Disney experience is great, if you do US first, your older kids will love the rides based off the movies they have been watching and the thrill. Then they go to Disney and get on It’s a Small World and might be underwhelmed. YMMV though depending on the Family. We still love Disney and it’s always our Anchor on any trip to FL. We bought Express when we were there in at Off-Peak and it was not worth it at all.… Read more »


We just returned from a trip in which we spent 5 days at WDW and one day at Islands of Adventure. We all really enjoyed the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (the main reason why we went to IOA). It was definitely worth the day spent there. The kids also enjoyed the giant roller coasters in the marvel area. We didn’t have long waits for anything at this time of year on a weekday, so the express pass wasn’t needed.

We’ve stayed on-site at Universal 3 times now, pretty much only for the express pass, but I don’t think we will again. You know all the extras included on-site at Disney World for free? You don’t get them at the Universal hotels. At Universal hotels, you spend $18 a day for parking, you have to pay for WiFi, and your in-room fridge is actually a mini-bar (and, when I’ve asked if I can remove a couple items from it so I can put in my own water, I’ve been told “those items might spoil so you’ll be charged for them… Read more »


Great podcast! Just one note: Cabana Bay WILL have early entry to WWoHP. A handful of offsite hotels have early entry as well, although there’s speculation that that will be done away with when Cabana Bay opens. And I agree with a previous commentator– Disney first, then Universal! To go from waiting in virtually no lines to waiting in a bunch can be tough!


I went to Universal in the early 90’s…seems like the rides have changed a lot! Thanks for the post. I was wondering if it is somewhere I should take my 7 yo. Seems like we can wait a few more years to take her! More time at WDW then!!!

Hi Amy, There aren’t a ton of rides for someone that young, and I think it would be heart-breaking to your child if they turned out to be too small for the Harry Potter rides – I saw a kid get through most of the castle before being told he was too small for the ride, and he was in tears – broke the heart of pretty much everyone in line. All of their roller-coasters are intense, except for Flight of the Hippogriff and the Woody Woodpecker coaster (think Barnstormer). Spiderman and Transformers are similar, and little ones might get… Read more »


Thanks for the suggestions, Julius. She was not a huge fan of Mt. Everest or Tower of Terror, so I know she is not ready for other coasters yet. I think we will wait a few more years.


I really struggled with WHERE to put US/IOA during my trip to WDW this summer. I have done the US/IOA both before and after a WDW trip. I prefer the after segment for US/IOA b/c I think having been so scheduled with FP plus times etc. it will be nice to have front of the line at the end of the trip and honestly I get so sad when my Disney vacation is over, it will be nice to have US IOA to head over to!


Great podcast, Shannon!

A note to first-timers: while you need to pay for Express Passes, there are a ton of rides (including the Harry Potter ride) that have single rider lines, which can significantly reduce your wait time. You often end up riding with your companions anyways, so you do not always end up riding alone.

And of course, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey doesn’t have an Express Pass line at all; neither does Olivander’s. I’m not sure if the new HP rides at Universal will use Express Pass or not.


Hi Shannon, This podcast was quite timely as just yesterday I was sitting at my dining room table surrounded by your notes, my Disney binder, and my laptop planning the week that my family will be at Disney World. We are first timers and will be on site for a full 7 days and were hoping to include a day at Universal for the Harry Potter fans in my family (myself, hubby, 11 and 14 y.olds) . I’m now questioning if this is truly doable as it is our first time at Disney and we want to get as much… Read more »

My wife and I did 2 days at Universal in September after a week at WDW, and it was dead. We did multiple turns at Rip Ride Rockit, The Simpsons, Despicable Me, Transformers, Dragon Challenge, HP and the FJ, Spiderman, and others while still squeezing in a meal at the Hog’s Head.

If you go at an off-time, it’s less busy, but with the new HP land opening, it might be busier for a bit.

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