As we waited among the throng of people to go through Universal Orlando security near the drop-off parking lot in Orlando, Florida, it was clear I needed strategies to maximize this one day visit.  Although, for my 20 year-old daughter, 11 year-old son, and myself, Universal’s Islands of Adventure’s thrill rides and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter were a perfect fit, without strategies we could not have the day we anticipated. Here are twelve. Happily, we’d already put two into play by the time we hit security.

"Toon Lagoon"

Near Toon Lagoon in Orlando, Florida

1. Acquire discount tickets: Because my daughter is in the military, her ticket was free. We went to Shades of Green, the military resort hotel on Walt Disney World’s property to get her ticket voucher the night before. My son and I were able to buy our tickets there for a $5.50 discount.  For those without a military perk, check your hotel for discount tickets. $88 dollars seemed to be the going rate for a one-day ticket.

2. Arrive early: We were in the park’s gate by 9:30 am which seemed plenty early, but given the crowd, earlier would have been better. The gate opened at 9.

Because we had tickets in hand, we sped through the turnstile to take in two attractions at Seuss Landing before 10.

As the day progressed, other strategies unfolded. Here’s what I learned that helped us see and do all we wanted to see and do and not spend a lot of money. Except for the ticket prices, I dropped less than $25 to keep us fed and hydrated.

You’re never too old for Dr. Seuss

3. Bring water bottles: We brought our water bottles with us. There are water fountains everywhere so refilling them isn’t a problem.

4. Only bring one backpack or large purse: I brought a large cloth purse big enough for my camera, our sweaters and sunscreen. Because some rides don’t allow carry-on items, only having one item to put in a locker helped us move quickly through the masses trying to figure out the locker system.

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5. Be aggressive when scoring a locker but help others too: When scouting out a locker in one of the locker areas near every ride that doesn’t allow belongings, shoulder your way to the keypad where lockers are assigned. Using a locker requires following prompts and pushing buttons. Press hard and keep trying. One prompt instructs you to scan a finger. Once your scan is accepted, a prompt gives the locker assignment. To get items back, you’ll return to the same keypad and follow the prompts to retrieve items.

Helping others who are having problems (I was one of those people who needed help and then offered tips later) makes the locker experience more pleasant and keeps people moving through the locker area.

6. Take advantage of the free locker option: We used three different lockers (each time for a different ride) and didn’t pay once. The locker times for the free option seem to be timed so that you can put your items in a locker right before you get in a line and retrieve them right after you get off of the ride.

Once you open a locker, you have to go back to the keypad to get another one. Paying would be a good option if you brought things with you that you don’t want to carry at all for several hours.

7. Immediately head to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter: We didn’t do this. We arrived at the entrance of this section of the park at about 10:15 where pleasant park attendants directed us to the waiting line that wound through Jurassic Park. While we were in the waiting line, we were given stand by passes to get into the Wizarding World. By 11 am we were able to turn in our passes landing us in Hogwarts.

Hogwarts means Butterbeer and Harry Potter-themed fun in Orlando, Florida

8. If a line has a 20 minute wait, go for it since this is a short line: At 11 am, the line for the Dragon Challenge, a roller coaster with upside down loops was 20 minutes long. Despite my son’s, “I think I want to wait, I’m not ready,” response to our first major ride, I forged ahead. Plus, his sister bribed him $5. As I explained, 20 minutes could stretch into longer later. He went and loved it.

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9. Buy food to eat while waiting in line or walking between rides: One soft pretzel, one turkey leg, one churrozo and two Butterbeer drinks were shared as we wound our way from ride to ride.  Sitting down to eat might have been great on another day, but we were on a roll to get in as much as possible. (Total food and drink cost-$21)

10. Keep an eye out for discarded ponchos: When my daughter announced she was not going on a water ride because she didn’t want to get wet, I planned to fork over money for ponchos–until I saw three ponchos someone had left on a trash can. Discarded ponchos are common. People toss them once they are off a water ride. This find saved $24 dollars.

11. Go in the single rider line: While we were in line for the Jurassic Park River Adventure with a 90 minute wait, a voice came on over the loud speaker. “The single rider line has a 5 minute wait.” We, along with others, made a dash for the single rider option. Within 20 minutes, we were on the ride. Although we didn’t sit together (we sat one in front of the other), we had a blast.  The single rider line is used to fill up empty seats.

We used the single rider line option to go on The Hulk roller coaster as well. My son ended up sitting next to me anyway. This ride was another one he wasn’t sure about, but the regular wait was 75 minutes. The single rider line was 15. He also loved this one.

12. Look for large signs that list the rides and current wait times: While we were walking towards Marvel Superhero Island from Toon Lagoon, I noticed one of these signs which helped us plan which ride we wanted to go on next.

Two tips for next time:

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1. Bring food with us. Although you can’t bring in a picnic lunch, we could have brought in sandwiches and snacks.

2. Stay later. We left at 8:15 pm, almost two hours before the park closed due to our schedule. After 7 pm, we noticed ride lines were considerably shorter.

Within our 11 hour visit, which frankly felt like plenty, we were able to take in every major ride and see every show. Our longest ride wait, almost two hours, was for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Although this was a long wait, the last 45 minutes of the line was part of the attraction.  Our shortest line was five minutes for Cat in the Hat. We went on that ride, a rollicking, clever trip through Dr. Seuss’s beloved book, first.

Later in the day, the wait for Cat in the Hat was over an hour so maybe our timing for a visit to Harry Potter was just right after all.

My son was happy with a souvenir penny that he made at a shop on the way out. Cost of souvenir penny: 51 cents.

What are your favorite things to do at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida?

Post and photos courtesy of Jamie Rhein, member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association

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