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Tips for a Fun and Stress Free Day at Universal Islands of Adventure
I'll start off by saying that this article is more for a small group of friends rather than a whole family. While I was away at college, I lived not too far away from Universal Studios, so many of my friends and I decided to invest in an annual pass. It was one of the best investments I ever made. That pass paid for itself within the first month. I went to Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios at least once a week. Doing so, I learned many useful tips to keep the day as fun-filled as possible with maximum rideage and minimal stress and money.
1. Go during the off season
Does waiting for 2 hours in line per ride in the Florida summer heat sound like fun to you? Yeah, I didn't think so. Now, the definition of "off-season" varies wherever you look, but I've had minimal trouble with lines and large crowds from September to May. One of the best times I had was a random weekday in March. Almost all the lines were a 5 minute wait! That's another sub-tip: Definitely go on a weekday. Weekends can be very hit or miss. It'll be calm one week then packed the next.
2. Pack light
Simple rule: If it doesn't fit in my pocket, it doesn't come with me. A small purse or bag seems like minimal trouble, but it gives you trouble the second you enter the park. First security has to check it to make sure you aren't carrying anything dangerous. Then once you are inside the park, you discover that you can't bring your bag on a lot of the rides. Lockers are provided, but sometimes it's so busy that you have to wait in line just to get a locker! And trust me, lockers are more hassle than they're worth.
First of all, they're not free. Or at least it doesn't feel like it to me. True, the park does offer a free grace period on the lockers. Say the line wait is 30min. The ride's lockers will be free to you for about 40min. But the line's wait time can change without you even realizing it, or complications from the ride my arise. The free grace period on your locker will still be 40min despite the wait in line jumping from 30min to 45min. And even if you do make it off the ride with time to spare, the lockers can be difficult to open. The lockers open with fingerprint recognition. The roller coasters must be so fast that they change your fingerprints or something because I can never get those lockers open! I always have to find someone to help me open the locker, they make you try every one of your fingers, and then when they finally open it, you've gone over your time limit. Then you have to convince them that you made it to the locker in time, your fingerprints just changed on you. Really, just, avoid if you can. Please.
So, just find a comfy pair of pants with plenty of pockets, preferably with buttons on them for extra safety on those loops. Also, if you plan on going on any water ride, wrap all money and electronics in plastic bags. Speaking of water rides...
3. Wear a bathing suit
You'll notice that a lot of people at theme parks wear bathing suits under their clothes. Heck, some of them are just wearing the bathing suits! At Islands of Adventure, this is a must. There are multiple rides involving water and I am not kidding when I say that some of them will get you absolutely drenched. The two that come to mind are 'Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls' and 'Popeye and Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges'. I feel like I always end up in the spot that gets the most water. The person next to me ends up perfectly dry while I'm soaked to the bone. Hence why I like to wear sandals too. there's nothing worse than wet socks. Yuck!
4. Instead of fast passes, use the single rider line
During the off season, fast passes are more trouble (and money) then they're worth. I've seen plenty of times where the fast pass line was longer than the actual line. Instead of investing money into a fast pass, find out if the ride has a line for single riders. It's helpful to ask someone because sometimes the ride does have a single rider line, but it's just not open that day. At least you're prepared for your next visit. Also, sometimes there isn't even a sign advertising the single rider line. Example: 'Forbidden Journey' in 'The Wizarding World of Harry Potter'. When that place first opened up, the lines were ridiculous. I decided to take a chance and ask one of the employees if there was a single rider line. She pointed to a random opening through a wall with no lights or signs. It was awesome! It was like a secret hallway through Hogwarts and then I was on the ride right away. Since then, I'm pretty sure they've added a sign, but it's still not very prominent.
If you're worried about being separated from your friends, you can always meet up right outside the ride. Trust me, there will never be that big of a gap in time between the group. Plus, single rider doesn't always mean single rider. Sometimes they need two or even three extra people. If you still don't like the idea of being separated, let some people behind you go or try and negotiate with the people in the regular line. You'll find that people can be very understanding.
5. Share meals
Theme park food. So expensive, right? Well, yes they are. But, they also give you pretty large portions at times. Instead of everyone attempting to get a cheap slice of pizza (which really aren't that cheap), opt for a full meal and just split it. My friends and I love eating at 'The Three Broomsticks' in 'The Wizarding World of Harry Potter'. We can easily split a meal thee ways, only spending about $3-$5 per person. For the quality of the food and the enchanting atmosphere, you can't beat a price like that.
6. Take a survey
Whaaaat? Why would I want to spend my time at a theme park taking a boring survey? Ok, hear me out. Once, my friends and I went to Universal when it was very cold and we didn't have a lot of money. We were trying to figure out how all three of us could split a hot chocolate when we were approached about a survey. Of course, we weren't interested until she told us that in return for out time we would be rewarded with Universal dollars, currency that you can use anywhere in the park. It was freezing outside anyway, so we all followed her into the building and gave up less than half an hour of our time. In return, we had enough to get three cups of delicious hot chocolate. If you're ever in the park and approached about a survey, see if you can get anything out of it.
7. Check for events happening at the park
Remember, the off-season is not a solid block. You still have 'Halloween Horror Nights' in October, 'Grinchmas' in December, and other events that may make the park more crowded or close early to prepare for said events. Do your homework before going to the park. A few minutes of research can save you a world of headaches.
8. Have a friend with an annual pass?
Here's an easy way to save some money. Certain annual passes allow free parking. Know anyone with annual pass like that? Bring them along! They just have to flash their pass and you instantly save $15 right there at the gate.
9. Rush hour!
Since Islands of Adventure is located right off a major highway, traffic can be a problem. Since people in the city are leaving their 9-5 jobs at, well, 5pm, the roads can get pretty slooooow. My friends and I always show up at the park super early, normally right when it opens. We get worn out around 3pm and head back home without any trouble. Or, after classes are done, we head to the park around 2pm and don't leave until late after all the commuters are already home. Just watch out for traffic between 4pm-6pm in Orlando. Trust me.
10. Have fun
Come on. You're at Islands of Adventure with your friends. Don't sweat the small stuff. Plenty of days have been ruined by rigid planning that doesn't go right. These tips I have offered are only that, tips. Follow them if you want, or don't. They work well for my friends and I, but we're all different. The most important thing is that you appreciate your time together and make it a blast. Run around, laugh scream, take silly pictures. Have an adventure.