A Guide for Your First Trip to Universal Orlando

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In September, I was able to cross another item off my bucket list. I was able to make a trip down to Universal Orlando. I’d dreamed about going for as long as I can remember.

I read the first Harry Potter book in first grade. And the next books in quick succession (with a short break before I was allowed to read six and seven–Mom thought that the deaths were too much for a 3rd grader). Naturally, Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter topped my vacation bucket list for years. But we were always a Disney family. We went to Orlando many times, but always for Disney. When I finally was making my own money, I decided I wanted to splurge on a trip to Universal. Here are some of the things that might be helpful to know if you’re going to be taking your first trip to Universal! These are just 4 key things that I personally wanted to know before going to Universal for the first time. If I was curious about these things, I assume I’m not the only one, so I figured I’d put this information out there.

1. Bring a water bottle!

I went in September when it was 95+ degrees, every single day. Each day I was there seemed hotter than the day before. I had read that Universal allowed you to bring a water bottle in, and that most places would provide you with water if you asked. This is actually true!

I brought a refillable water bottle, and had it filled numerous times at all sorts of different places around the parks. They’re really accommodating about it. They also will give you ice, if you ask. Then, your water stays cool for way longer. This saved us so much money. If we had needed to buy water every time we were thirsty, the trip would have become exponentially more expensive. You don’t even have to purchase an item to ask them to fill up your water, you can just approach any place they serve food or drinks and ask!

2. Along the same line of thinking, bring snacks!

Fun fact: You’re actually ALLOWED to bring food into the parks! That amazed me. Most places, even small places up by us, don’t let you bring anything into the parks because they want to charge you ridiculous prices and make you eat their food and spend more money in the parks.

Universal does have tons of food options, but they’re crazy pricey. The one day that I bought actual food, I paid like $10 for an order of chili-cheese fries. $10 for an order of fries was definitely not going to happen every day.

One day, I brought in a Tupperware of cookies. Another time, we brought in a thing of Pringles. You can bring in pretty much anything. We also brought granola bars. I think they don’t want you bringing whole meals in (they do have a list of what’s “acceptable” on their website, but snacks like we brought? Totally fine!

This is another great way to save some money.

3. About the lockers…

This is my one bone to pick with Universal Orlando. The locker situation can be a huge hassle. When I was doing my research before going into the park, I tried to find info about the lockers online. It’s kind of hard to find concrete information. I was really just trying to figure out if my bag would fit into the small lockers that are free, or if I needed to put money aside to pay for the larger lockers.

Basically, what happens is, on many rides, they won’t allow you to bring your belongings on the ride. They force you to stow it in lockers so that you don’t lose it on the rides, etc. I mean, I get it, but also, it’s a pain when all you want to do is get on the ride! Especially for rides with long lines.

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Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is located in the castle.

The first ride that we did that required lockers was Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This was an absolute nightmare. If you read my other post, you’ll know that the ride itself was already terrible for us. The locker situation was just the cherry on top of the cake.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, first of all, has terrible signage. I felt bad for the employee. Nobody at the entrance of that ride knew what the heck was going on! The lockers are down a different path from the entrance, and they’re confusing to find. And not only are they hard to find, the whole locker area is pandemonium.

They recommend sending only one person in to put stuff in the lockers, that way the space isn’t overcrowded. This is absolutely the way it should be done, otherwise, there are too many people in the small spaces and it becomes chaos.

Each ride offers large lockers (which cost money), and small lockers, which are free. Easy peasy, right? Wrong. The set-up for the lockers at Forbidden Journey is not ideal. The space is tiny, and it’s very dimly lit. Then, 400 parents plus their 600 screaming children and strollers are all also squeezed into the small, dark space. It’s 0% enjoyable. The lockers at Forbidden Journey are also different from the lockers for any other rides we did (Men in Black, Rockit, Hagrid, The Mummy…). These lockers actually use your FINGERPRINT to unlock/lock them. Every other ride we did, you used your park admission ticket.

A note about this. If you’re going to lockers and you see that they do not require a fingerprint to lock/unlock them, then BRING YOUR PARK TICKET WITH YOU ON THE RIDE. We went from Forbidden Journey to Hagrid’s. Forbidden Journey required a fingerprint, Hagrid’s did not. I didn’t think twice about it.

I shoved our stuff into the lockers at Hagrid’s, and then got up to get on the ride. Then it hit me. If you don’t use your fingerprint to unlock the locker and get your stuff back, how do you do it? These rides use your park ticket’s bar code to lock/unlock them. So, you need to keep your ticket ON YOU, if you want to be able to get your stuff back out. Oops!

We figured it out and got an employee to open up the locker for us. But it was a big pain. So just pay attention to what you’re doing! I’m not sure what I preferred, the fingerprint situation, or the ticket lockers. With a fingerprint, it takes longer as you have to scan your finger (which takes forever) to lock and unlock the lockers. But as a girl, I liked the fingerprint situation because I didn’t have to hold onto my ticket for the duration of the ride. We waited in line for over two hours for Hagrid. I had to hold my ticket that whole time because I had no pockets. Then when I was on the rides, holding the ticket in my hand wasn’t really a feasible option. So I had to stick it either in my bra, or into the waistband of my leggings.

Then, all I could think is, “Oh I hope this ride is quick, it’ll get super sweaty and gross against my skin.” Then I’d get off the ride and hastily take it out of wherever I’d stowed it, and desperately try fanning it in the humid Florida air. I think functionality-wise, it still would scan fine if it got gross. But I also wanted to keep my ticket as a memento of the trip, so preserving it was important to me. If you’re a guy? It’s easy, guys have pockets galore! But not me.

Something else to note: The lockers will start charging you if you try and leave your stuff for free all day. I tried to research this, and the internet had told me, the lockers hold your stuff for the current wait time of the ride, and some change. Then, you’ll start being charged. I believed this to be true, but we rode Hagrid 3 times (and it took longer than the wait time advised), and the attendant assured us that we could just leave our stuff and not be charged. And we weren’t! But I’m not sure how that whole thing works. Just don’t leave your stuff in there for hours and hours and hours on end, or for the whole day, and you should be good.

The small lockers: a guide.

As I mentioned, the small lockers are free for the duration of the ride. Now, the question is: What size are the small lockers?

I brought this backpack with me to the parks. Inside the backpack, I had a small Tupperware of cookies, a plastic refillable water bottle, my wallet, my sunglasses, a phone charger, small cosmetic bag, and more. It was stuffed to the brim. On top of that, we brought a small drawstring bag which had another bottle of water, more snacks, a wallet, and other small items. I was able to fit BOTH of these bags into one locker.

It took some doing! After we did it once, we established how to do it the rest of the times. There’s plenty of space in the lockers, they’re plenty deep, they’re just very narrow. So I needed to remove items from my backpack to make it fit because it was too fat. Once the items were taken out, they all fit back in around the backpack in the locker. Easy. If you’ve got time and patience, you shouldn’t have to pay for lockers.

Also, each person can get a locker. So we could’ve gotten separate lockers and had more space without squishing our stuff as much, but it was easier for me to just run in and deal with it, that way we both weren’t trying to squeeze through the masses.

To sum up the lockers:

  1. The small lockers are free, the large lockers you have to pay for.
  2. Send ONE PERSON in to put the stuff in the lockers, don’t send everyone in, or it’ll be chaos.
  3. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey requires a fingerprint to lock/unlock lockers. The other rides, from what we saw, do not.
  4. If a locker requires fingerprints, you don’t have to bring anything on the ride with you. If it uses a ticket, KEEP YOUR TICKET WITH YOU. This is how you will unlock the locker when you’re done.
  5. The lockers will start to charge you if you leave your stuff for too long.

4. Virtual Rides and Motion Sickness/Migraines

When I found out that virtual rides were a thing, I panicked. I get motion sick very easily, and I also am prone to migraines. I tried to research virtual rides and migraines/motion sickness, and couldn’t find a lot.

So if anyone is like me and scouring the internet for information on this topic, here is my experience with the virtual rides at Universal Orlando.

I’ve been struggling with motion sickness for my entire life. When I was a kid, getting into a car for more than 20 minutes was hard. I’ve been known to be sick on a five minute drive to somewhere I’ve driven a thousand times. It was really bad. Amusement parks always make me nervous because I never know how I’ll do.

I started getting migraines in high school. I’m really good about knowing my triggers, but it’s hard when you go to somewhere that you don’t know anything about. It makes it a lot harder to try and prevent a migraine. You want to enjoy the rides and try new things, but you don’t know if the ride might cause a migraine. Everything becomes a risky endeavor when you’re dealing with migraines and motion sickness.

I told myself that I would try one virtual ride at Universal Orlando and see how it went. I was hoping against hope that it would be great and that I’d be able to do them. Unfortunately, I was very wrong.

The ride that I chose to try was Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. The entire ride was really rough. I could handle it if I had my eyes closed, but even that made my queasy because moving around without seeing what was happening made it really difficult. You’re strapped in, sitting up, and the sound actually comes through right by your ears. Then the chair tilts and whips around while screens in front of you are projecting the “ride” of you flying around Hogwarts with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I found it very dizzying, and to me, it was almost like trying to watch a 3D movie in theaters without the glasses. Unfortunately, this ride helped me to determine that virtual rides are not for me.

The nice thing is, if you’re like me, you can tell the attendants at the front of the line that you don’t want to ride it, and they’ll just allow you to walk through the lines. This is really nice, because you don’t feel as though you’re missing out on as much. You can still see the ride and all of the theming that Universal has set up, but then when you get to the point where it’s your turn to get on the ride, the attendants will just direct you towards the exit of the ride. Which is great! Then you also don’t have to deal with the lockers.

Even if you’re riding the rides, it’s kind of fun to ask to walk through and just check it out. That way, you don’t even really have to “wait” in line. And you get to enjoy some a/c!

Forbidden Journey was the only virtual ride that I tried. I didn’t want to risk ruining a good day with a migraine or nausea, so I opted not to ride any other virtual rides. And I think I made the right call for me and my body. I still enjoyed the parks and had a good time!

The only other ride that made me feel sick, nauseous, or dizzy, was the Men in Black Alien Adventure ride. I was apprehensive about doing this ride. It had warnings for dizziness and other things that made me nervous. But, we were assured that it was not a virtual ride, so we figured, why not?

If you suffer from migraines and/or motion sickness, Men in Black Alien Adventure may not be for you. Although, if you love Men in Black, definitely ask to walk through the line! It’s super cool.

The ride itself is pretty tame. It almost reminds me of the Dark Knight at Six Flags, or Ragin Cajun (which I only just found out is no longer there, thanks Google!). Okay, well, that determines how long it had been since I’d last been to a theme park prior to visiting Universal. 2013. Wow.

Men in Black reminds me of those because it’s very jerky with several small spins. It’s not bad until you get to the very end. You end up spinning quite a bit while strobe lights are going off. I just shut my eyes and got through it. For that reason, I don’t recommend it if you get motion sick as easily as I do, or if strobe lights give you migraines like they do me.

Those were the only two “virtual-ish” rides that we tried. I steered clear of all the other virtual rides after The Forbidden Journey, so I can’t speak as to how the other rides are if you suffer from migraines or motion sickness. You’ll just have to make a judgment call! Worst case scenario, you spend the entire ride with your eyes tightly shut, wishing you were anywhere else. It’s less than 5 minutes of your day and your life, so it’s manageable!

These are just some things that I think might be useful to know! Sure they’re kind of niche tips and advice, but there have to be other people out there who are curious about the locker situation, or are nervous about what a “virtual ride” is going to be like at Universal Orlando. Hopefully these little anecdotes and tips are helpful to anyone planning a trip down to Orlando!