Universal Orlando

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Universal Orlando Park
FoundedJune 7, 1990; 31 years ago (1990-06-07)
HeadquartersOrlando, Florida, U.S.
Key people
Bill Davis[1]
ParentUniversal Parks & Resorts

Universal Orlando Resort, commonly known as Universal Orlando or simply "Universal," formerly Universal Studios Escape, is an American theme park and entertainment resort complex based in Orlando, Florida. The resort is operated by Universal Parks & Resorts, a division of Comcast's NBCUniversal. Universal Orlando is the second-largest resort in Greater Orlando, after the Walt Disney World Resort which is nearby, covering 541 acres of land.[2]

Universal Orlando consists of two theme parks (Universal Studios Florida, Universal's Islands of Adventure), and the Volcano Bay water theme park, a night-time entertainment complex (Universal CityWalk Orlando), eight Loews Hotels (Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, Universal's Aventura Hotel, Endless Summer Dockside Inn and Suites and Surfside Inn and Suites), and an upcoming theme park, Epic Universe.

All of the hotel resorts offer Early Park Admission into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Universal's Volcano Bay. Additionally, the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Royal Pacific Resort offer free unlimited Universal Express Pass for use at participating rides at Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure. There are similar products valid at Volcano Bay, Halloween Horror Nights, and Rock the Universe.

Universal Orlando is one of the most visited resorts in the world, with an annual attendance of 21 million in 2017.[3] Universal Orlando is the flagship resort of Universal Parks & Resorts, especially due to the competitive nature between the resort and Walt Disney World only 15 miles away.


Universal Orlando opened on June 7, 1990 as the theme park Universal Studios Florida. It was opened as a joint venture between Universal Entertainment and The Blackstone Group. The park was in direct competition with Disney-MGM Studios (now called Disney's Hollywood Studios).

In 1994, executives started planning the expansion of the resort into a multi-day vacation destination. In late 1995, construction began on a new park, Islands of Adventure. The Islands of Adventure Preview Center opened in May 1997 replacing the Screen Test Home Video Adventure. During this time, several new attractions were being built and opened at Universal Studios Florida, including Woody Woodpecker's KidZone, which opened in 1998, Men in Black: Alien Attack and Animal Actors On Location! (formerly Animal Planet Live).

On May 28, 1999, Universal's Islands of Adventure opened to the general public. It featured six themed "islands", including the Port of Entry, Seuss Landing, The Lost Continent, Jurassic Park, Toon Lagoon, and Marvel Super Hero Island. The park opened to mediocre attendance, and several attractions were closed shortly thereafter, including Island Skipper Tours, due to lack of attendance.

Along with the new theme park, the resort also opened a Florida version of Universal CityWalk from Universal Studios Hollywood. CityWalk Orlando, but with different venues and design. Universal also opened the resort's first onsite hotel in September 1999. Loews Portofino Bay Hotel (originally Portofino Bay Hotel, a Loews Hotel) was operated and partially owned by Loews Hotels but was also partially owned by Universal and The Blackstone Group. The two theme parks, CityWalk, and the hotel were branded as Universal Studios Escape, however the name was quickly changed to Universal Orlando Resort.

In December 2000, Hard Rock Hotel opened as Universal Orlando's second onsite hotel. Despite its name, the hotel is owned by Loews Hotels, like Loews Portofino Bay Hotel and is not affiliated with Hard Rock International. In 2001, Loews Royal Pacific Resort opened. In the midst of all these openings, two parking garages were constructed and the popular water park Wet 'n Wild Orlando was acquired. In 2003, rumors began swirling that a Harry Potter themed attraction would be coming to Universal or one of the Disney parks. On May 31, 2007, Universal, in partnership with Warner Bros., officially announced the Wizarding World of Harry Potter would be added to its Islands of Adventure park. Just over three years later, on June 18, 2010, the seventh "island" at Universal's Islands of Adventure, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, opened.

Shortly after the massive success of the grand opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade, rumors began to swirl once again, this time of a second Potter-themed area in Universal Studios Florida. It was announced shortly thereafter that Universal would begin construction of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter -Diagon Alley, replacing Jaws: The Ride.[4] On July 8, 2014, Diagon Alley officially opened to the public.[5]

The Blackstone Group sold its stake in Universal Orlando in early 2011.[6]

Theme parks[edit]

The Pharos Lighthouse marks the entrance to Islands of Adventure.

Universal Studios Florida[edit]

The original theme park in the resort, Universal Studios Florida, opened on June 7, 1990, as a theme park that let visitors "Ride the Movies." The park is composed of themed areas and attractions based on the film industry. Visitors get themed dining and shopping, a variety of special events throughout the year, and may even catch an actual film crew at work on the backlot.

The themes of Universal Studios Florida are targeted at making guests feel like they are on a movie set with rides, shows, and attractions inspired by popular film, television, and music productions. The park consists of eight themed areas – Hollywood, Production Central, New York, San Francisco, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley, World Expo, Springfield, and Woody Woodpecker's Kidzone.

Universal's Islands of Adventure[edit]

The second park to open at the resort was Universal's Islands of Adventure, opened on May 28, 1999. It is composed of eight distinct "islands" that are themed to various forms of adventures. Visitors start off in the Port of Entry and make their way through the various islands – Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Skull Island, Jurassic Park, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade, the Lost Continent, and Seuss Landing. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, based on the popular Harry Potter franchise, as well as Skull Island, based on the King Kong 2005 film, are the only islands that were added after the park opened; Hogsmeade opened to the public on June 18, 2010, and Skull Island opened to the public on July 13, 2016.

Universal's Volcano Bay[edit]

Volcano Bay is a 27-acre themed water park that opened in 2017. It replaced Wet 'n Wild, owned by Universal, as the resort's water park. Wet 'n Wild was founded in 1977 by SeaWorld founder George Millay as one of the first major water parks. In 1998, Wet 'n Wild was acquired by Universal Parks & Resorts, adding it to Universal Orlando.[7] There were eighteen water slides and attractions at the water park. Popular attractions included the Storm, Bomb Bay, Disco H2O, Mach 5, and the Surge.

Wet 'n Wild was located at the intersection of International Drive and Universal Boulevard, about half a mile south of the Universal Orlando parking garage. Wet 'n Wild officially closed on December 31, 2016, due to the opening of Volcano Bay. It was announced on March 21, 2017, that the land once occupied by Wet 'n Wild would be transformed into Universal's seventh hotel.[8] It was later learned that Universal would split the property into two hotels, rather than one resort.[9]

Universal's Epic Universe[edit]

On August 1, 2019, NBCUniversal announced that it was building a third theme park called Universal's Epic Universe. It will be located a few miles south of the existing resort, within a larger 750-acre site.[10] There are rumored to be five lands including a central hub, and four other areas themed to How to Train Your Dragon, Wizarding Paris or New York from the Fantastic Beasts franchise, Universal Classic Monsters, and Super Nintendo World. It was stated that the project would create 14,000 jobs.[10] Brian Roberts, the CEO of Comcast, called Epic Universe "the largest investment we've ever made in a park".[10] The complex will also include separate resort hotels, dining and retail facilities.[10]

In April 2020, NBCUniversal announced the park would be delayed until 2024 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In July 2020, NBCUniversal and Jeff Shall announced that they would be pausing development on the new theme park "until the future becomes more certain". As of March 2021, work on Universal's Epic Universe has resumed.[11]

Panoramic view of Universal Studios Florida's lagoon, December 2005

Entertainment district[edit]

Entrance sign to CityWalk from the parking garage

Universal CityWalk Orlando is an entertainment and retail district which opened on May 28, 1999, over the former parking lot and entrance as part of the expansion that created the Universal Orlando Resort. Guests arriving at the resort park in one of two multi-story parking structures, then travel via covered moving sidewalks over Universal Boulevard into CityWalk. From there, guests can proceed into one of the theme parks.

The Universal Store offers merchandise from the three parks. CityWalk features shopping, nightclubs, dining venues, and a Cinemark Theater. There are many night clubs at CityWalk including Groove, CityWalks's Rising Star (a karaoke club with a live band), Red Coconut Club, and Bob Marley-A Tribute to Freedom (both a night club and restaurant). Some notable locations are the Cowfish, Hard Rock Cafe, Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company and Bigfire American Fare. Casual dining locations include: Moe's Southwest Grill, Burger King Whopper Bar, Panda Express, Red Oven Pizza Bakery, and Voodoo Doughnut.


The resort features eight official on-site hotels totaling up to 9,000 rooms. All eight hotels are located in close proximity to the Universal Orlando theme parks. The hotels offer guests free water taxi or shuttle bus service to the Universal Orlando theme parks. The hotels are sorted into four categories; premier hotels, a preferred hotel, prime value hotels, and value hotels.

Name Opening date Theme Number of rooms
Premier Hotels
Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando September 1999 Italian seaside village 750
Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando January 19, 2001 California mission design 650
Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando June 1, 2002 The enchanted isles of the South Seas 1,000
Preferred Hotel
Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando July 7, 2016 Leisurely estate in the heart of the tropics 1,000
Prime Value Hotels
Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort March 31, 2014 Classic Florida beach resorts of the 1950s and 60s 2,200
Universal's Aventura Hotel August 16, 2018 Modern aesthetic 600
Value Hotels
Universal's Endless Summer Resort - Surfside Inn and Suites June 27, 2019[12] Surfing lifestyle 750
Universal's Endless Summer Resort - Dockside Inn and Suites December 15, 2020 Coastal retreat 2,050


Halloween Horror Nights[edit]

On select nights in September through early November, Universal Studios Florida is transformed into the annual Halloween event, Halloween Horror Nights. Halloween Horror Nights, or HHN as it is more commonly known, is one of the largest Halloween events in the U.S. From 1991 to 2001, the event was held at Universal Studios Florida. Halloween Horror Nights was moved to Islands of Adventure in 2002, and the 2004 event featured sections of both parks, but the event was moved back to Universal Studios Florida in 2006. The event celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2010, and celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2015. The event sometimes features an "icon" that presides over the terror each evening along with ten haunted houses and numerous unavoidable scare zones. It is a separately ticketed event.

Rock the Universe[edit]

Rock the Universe is an annual Christian rock music festival that is located within Universal Studios Florida. It began in 1998, and has been running ever since. The event typically occurs in early September, and lasts for two days. In 2019, Rock the Universe will take place in early February for the first time ever. Many Christian rock artists play throughout the event both nights. The resort offers special tickets, packages, and church partnerships for that weekend. Select attractions are also opened throughout the evenings.[citation needed]

Grad Bash and Gradventure[edit]

Grad Bash and Gradventure are two separate events held in April and May at the parks. Grad Bash is an event for graduating high school senior classes who can gather for an exclusive, all-night party at Universal Orlando and Islands of Adventure. This event features live performances by some of the most popular artists, dance parties with DJs, and pre-parties at the Universal Music Plaza Stage in the Production Central section of Universal Studios Florida.[13] Gradventure is very similar but is designed for graduating middle school students.[14] Both events are sponsored by Coca-Cola.

Universal's Holiday Parade featuring Macy's[edit]

Macy's Holiday Parade brings some authentic balloons from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade to Orlando in a month-long event in December that highlights the Christmas celebrations within Universal Studios Florida.[15]

Mardi Gras[edit]

Generally in February through to April, a parade and concert series inspired by New Orleans' Fat Tuesday party is held within Universal Studios Florida. The event features merchandise especially for the celebration and is held usually on Friday and Saturday nights. Every event night guests will hear some of Louisiana's bands performing blues, and zydeco. It is included with park admission.[16]

Other services[edit]

Universal Express Pass[edit]

Revenge of the Mummy (previous entrance pictured) features a line for Universal Express Pass.

Many attractions in Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure allow guests to utilize an Express Pass. This pass admits guests to a separate line for the attraction, which is given priority status when boarding.

Express Pass is not a virtual queuing service. Instead, passholders may enter the "Universal Express" line whenever they wish. This pass is not included with park admission but can be bought for an additional fee. Guests can choose to purchase one of two options: Express Pass, which gives guests access to the express line once per day on each participating attraction, or Express Unlimited Pass, which allows guests to skip the regular lines an unlimited number of times per day at participating attractions.

Universal Meal Deal[edit]

The Universal Meal Deal was a ticketed meal plan for park visitors. It allowed visitors of either theme park to eat all day long from lunch through dinner at select restaurants. These included Mel's Drive-In and Louie's Italian Restaurant at Universal Studios Florida and Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous, Comic Strip Cafe, and the Burger Digs at Universal's Islands of Adventure.

The selection food is limited, and drinks are not included. Beverages can be purchased through a Universal Souvenir Cup. For additional costs, visitors may add park-to-park Meal Deal Access allowing them to eat meals in both parks.[citation needed]

Universal Meal Deal was replaced on November 3, 2013 with Universal Dining Plan - Quick Service.

Blue Man Group[edit]

Walkway entrance to the theater from CityWalk, shown prior to the construction of the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster

On November 9, 2006, Universal Orlando announced that the Blue Man Group would be coming to the resort in a new theater, which in May 2007 was named the Sharp Aquos Theatre.[17] Construction of the theater began shortly after the announcement. The theater is contained within Sound Stage 18, which was occupied by Nickelodeon Studios from 1990 to 2005.[citation needed] The sound stage was home to shows such as Slime Time Live, Legends of the Hidden Temple, Figure It Out, and Double Dare 2000. In 2005, the sound stage was used for Where Evil Hides, a haunted house for Universal's Halloween Horror Nights: Tales of Terror event.[18] The theater is located between the Hard Rock Cafe and the main entrance to Universal Studios Florida.[19]

The 1,000-seat theater features a 30-foot-tall (9.1 m) Blue Man facade, and is accessible both from the Universal CityWalk as well as the Universal Studios theme park.[20] In preparation for the rezoning of the building into CityWalk, a walkway was constructed between the Universal Studios theme park and the resort's Hard Rock Cafe allowing guests to enter the theater without paying admission to the theme park, while the former Nickelodeon Studios entrance at the theme park was turned into an attended exit from the theme park to the theater's entrance.

The theater's seating diagram is organized into five different "zones". The "Poncho" zone consists of the first four rows of the theater. It bears this name because of the ponchos that are in each seat of the zone as guests take their seats. This is due to the possibility of materials leaving the stage.[21] The other zones, Zones 1–4, are arranged to provide the best possible view of the show no matter where you sit.[22] The theater has 13 ADA seats throughout to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Assistance for the hearing and vision impaired is also available.[19]

As of October–November 2008, the pathway to Sharp Aquos Theatre has been moved for construction of Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, a roller coaster which opened in mid-2009. Construction on the coaster also resulted in the replacement of The Boneyard by The Universal Music Plaza Stage and the entrance of Rockit, and the reconfiguration of the queue of Twister...Ride it Out.

On February 1, 2021, it was announced that the Blue Man Group would be ending their residency at Universal Orlando.[23]

Character dining[edit]

Universal Orlando features a large group of characters varying from Woody Woodpecker to Spider-Man. Visitors have three ways of dining with characters. At Loews Royal Pacific Resort, guests can eat breakfast with Universal Characters on select days also. Throughout the day characters have meet and greets within the parks and make appearances during lunchtime at several theme park restaurants. During dinner, on select nights, guests can have dinner with Universal Characters at Trattoria del Porto, The Kitchen, and Islands Dining Room. The Marvel Super Heroes also appear in the Meet the Marvel Super Heroes attraction where the characters ride on motorcycles down the street of Marvel Super Hero Island.


Transport in Universal Orlando Resort
Universal Orlando#Transportation Universal Orlando#Transportation Portofino Bay Hotel
Hogwarts Express (Universal Orlando Resort) Universal Studios (Wizarding World–Diagon Alley)
Employment Center
Lynx (Orlando) 21, 40
Universal Orlando#Transportation Universal Orlando#Transportation Hard Rock Hotel
Universal Studios (main entrance)
North parking garage
Universal Orlando#Transportation Universal Orlando#Transportation Universal CityWalk
Lynx (Orlando) 21, 37, 40
South parking garage
Hogwarts Express (Universal Orlando Resort) Islands of Adventure (Wizarding World–Hogsmeade)
Islands of Adventure (main entrance)
Universal Orlando#Transportation Universal Orlando#Transportation Royal Pacific Resort
Universal Orlando#Transportation Universal Orlando#Transportation Sapphire Falls Resort
Universal Orlando#Transportation Cabana Bay Beach Resort
Universal Orlando#Transportation Aventura Hotel
Universal Orlando#Transportation Volcano Bay
Universal Orlando#Transportation Endless Summer Resort
to Airport enlarge…, SeaWorld enlarge…, and Walt Disney World enlarge…
Epic Universe (planned)

Universal Orlando#Transportation Universal Orlando Resort bus service
Universal Orlando#Transportation Water taxi service
Hogwarts Express (Universal Orlando Resort) Hogwarts Express (tickets to both parks required)
Lynx (Orlando) Lynx bus to Central Station (21, 40) or The Florida Mall (37)

Throughout Universal Orlando and its vicinity there is an organized transportation system which transports guests between the onsite hotels, Universal Partner Hotels, the theme parks, and other area attractions. Mears Transportation runs the system.

Orlando's LYNX bus system connects the resort to other places in the city.

Transportation at Universal Orlando[edit]

The transit system at Universal Orlando Resort consists of water taxis, buses, escalators, elevators, moving walkways, and pathways which transport guests between the parking structure, hotels, CityWalk, and the theme parks.

Onsite hotel guests can get to the theme parks and CityWalk by either boarding a water taxi which will take them directly to CityWalk or may use walkways. The dock at CityWalk is located at the center of CityWalk and can be accessed by theme park visitors via the bridges connecting CityWalk to the theme parks. Along the pathways, bicycles also transport guests for an additional cost.

For guests who prefer not to use a water taxi or walk, they will find shuttle transportation also available at the onsite hotels. These stop at five locations: Loews Portofino Bay Hotel & Spa, Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Sapphire Falls Resort and Universal Orlando theme parks. Cabana Bay Beach Resort has dedicated shuttles to the parks. The resort also features two large parking structures, for day and night guests who need to park, connected by bridge to CityWalk and the theme parks.

Universal's Super Star Shuttle[edit]

The vicinity of Universal Orlando consists of several hotels and a major airport all located within 20 minutes of the resort. Universal's Super Star Shuttle service is broken into two main routes. One provides transportation to all thirty Universal Partner hotels while the newest route began service to Orlando International Airport in 2016.[24] Universal's Super Star Shuttle provides free transportation between Universal Orlando, SeaWorld and Aquatica.[25] Airport service is available for a fee to onsite hotel guests booking through Universal Parks & Resorts Vacations. The new airport route is expected to initially only be offered for onsite hotel guests. The airport shuttle is run through Super Shuttle Transportation. The Seaworld/Aquatica shuttle is run by ESCOT.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Bill Davis, President & COO, Universal Orlando" (Press release). Universal Orlando. Archived from the original on February 8, 2013. Retrieved December 6, 2012.
  2. ^ Storey, Ken. "Universal gets its way and acquires more land near I-Drive for future theme parks". Orlando Weekly. Retrieved May 30, 2018.
  3. ^ "Theme Index". Themed Entertainment Association. Retrieved May 30, 2018.
  4. ^ Hill, Jim (May 8, 2013). "Exclusive: A Detailed Look at Diagon Alley, the Highly Anticipated Expansion of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort". Huffington Post. Retrieved February 27, 2018.
  5. ^ Goldman, Eric (July 8, 2014). "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley Officially Opens". IGN. Retrieved February 27, 2018.
  6. ^ "Comcast to buy remaining half of Universal Orlando for $1 billion". OrlandoSentinel.com. June 6, 2011. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
  7. ^ Powers, Scott (February 8, 2006). "Theme-park pioneer started SeaWorld and Wet 'n Wild". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved September 28, 2012.
  8. ^ "Seventh Universal Orlando hotel slated to replace former Wet 'n' Wild water park | Inside the Magic". Inside the Magic. March 21, 2017. Retrieved February 27, 2018.
  9. ^ "Universal reveals details for 2,800-room hotel complex on former Wet 'n Wild land". www.bizjournals.com. Retrieved February 27, 2018.
  10. ^ a b c d Gabrielle Russon and Dewayne Bevil (August 1, 2019). "Universal's Epic Universe theme park is coming to Orlando, ramping up war with Disney". orlandosentinel.com. Tribune Newspapers. Retrieved August 1, 2019.
  11. ^ Russon, Gabrielle (March 3, 2021). "Universal Orlando: Epic Universe starts construction again, promising 'thousands' of jobs". Orlando Sentinel.
  12. ^ Bevil, Dewayne (June 27, 2019). "Universal Orlando: Surfside Inn hotel, Bigfire restaurant now open for business". orlandosentinel.com. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
  13. ^ Universal Orlando Resort. "Gradbash at Universal Orlando Florida". Universal Orlando Resort. Retrieved September 25, 2012.
  14. ^ "Gradventure". Universal Orlando Resort. Archived from the original on June 10, 2012. Retrieved September 25, 2012.
  15. ^ "Holidays". Universal Orlando Resort. Archived from the original on August 28, 2010. Retrieved August 13, 2010.
  16. ^ "Mardi Gras". Universal Orlando Resort. Archived from the original on July 28, 2010. Retrieved August 13, 2010.
  17. ^ "News Releases". Universal Orlando Resort Media Site. Archived from the original on July 17, 2011. Retrieved July 7, 2008.
  18. ^ HHN Vault.com. "Halloween Horror Nights Haunted House Locations". HHN Vault.com. Archived from the original on October 12, 2007.
  19. ^ a b "Blue Man Group at Universal Orlando: FAQs". Archived from the original on November 12, 2006. Retrieved July 7, 2008.
  20. ^ "Orlando Events, Central Florida Events, Festivals, Concerts, Movies, Arts, Entertainment". WFTV.com. Archived from the original on May 10, 2008. Retrieved July 7, 2008.
  21. ^ "Aquos Theater". Central Florida News 13. Archived from the original on October 15, 2007. Retrieved July 7, 2008.
  22. ^ "Florida Attraction Tickets: Blue Man Group at Universal". Archived from the original on November 12, 2006. Retrieved July 7, 2008.
  23. ^ "After 14 Years, Blue Man Group Leaves Universal Orlando". News 13. February 1, 2021. Retrieved February 1, 2021.
  24. ^ Pedicini, Sandra. "New Universal Orlando airport shuttle service is starting". OrlandoSentinel.com. Retrieved January 26, 2016.
  25. ^ "Orlando Shuttle Bus Service | ESCOT Bus Lines". ESCOT Bus Lines. Retrieved April 17, 2018.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 28°28′25″N 81°28′00″W / 28.47361°N 81.46667°W / 28.47361; -81.46667