ORLANDO, USA - SEPTEMBER 02, 2015: Gringotts Bank Dragon breathing fire The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando. Universal Studios Orlando is a theme park in Orlando, Florida.

©Craig Russell/Shutterstock

Universal Studios

Top choice in Greater Orlando

Why you should go

Divided geographically by region-specific architecture and ambience and fabulously themed as a Hollywood backlot, Universal Studios' simulation-heavy rides and shows are dedicated to silver screen and TV icons. Drink Duff beer, a Homer favorite, in Springville; ride the Hogwarts Express into Diagon Alley; and sidle up to Lucille Ball on Hollywood Blvd. And if you're looking for thrills, you'll find two of Orlando's best roller coasters: Revenge of the Mummy and Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit.

Tickets and other practicalities

Tickets start at around $109 for one park ($104 for children 3-9 years old). Florida residents are sometimes eligible for discounts.

Tickets are good anytime within 14 consecutive days, and multiple-day tickets include admission to paid venues in CityWalk. Universal Orlando Resort participates in the Orlando Flex Ticket available online or in person at the Orlando Official Visitor Center.

Avoid lines at designated rides by flashing your Express Pass at the separate Express Pass line. The standard one-day pass (for Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios from $70; for Volcano Bay from $20) allows one-time Express Pass access to each attraction; the unlimited version allows you unlimited access to rides (from $90; Volcano Bay from $40). If you are staying at one of Universal Orlando's deluxe resort hotels – Universal Orlando's Loews Portofino Bay, Hard Rock or Loews Royal Pacific Resort – up to five guests in each room automatically receive an Unlimited Express Pass. A limited number of passes per day are available online or at the park gates. Check www.universalorlando.com for a calendar of prices and black-out dates. Note that Unlimited Express Passes are sold bundled to park admission online, but, if they're available, you can add them to an existing ticket at the park.

Nearby hotels/restaurants

Universal Orlando Resort has eight excellent resort hotels divided into four pricing categories: value, prime value, preferred and premier. The bulk of its hotels are themed to evoke a summery vibe of yesteryear, and for the most part they work. Staying at a resort eliminates many logistical hassles: it's a pleasant gardened walk or a quiet boat ride to the parks; most offer Unlimited Express Pass access to park attractions and priority dining; several popular rides, such as the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, open one hour early for all guests; and the Loews Loves Pets program welcomes Fido as a VIP.

The only restaurants in Universal Studios that take advance reservations are Finnegan's Bar & Grill and Lombard's Seafood Grille.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Greater Orlando attractions

1. Hollywood

0.08 MILES

With glorious 3D film footage, live action stunts and 4D special effects, Terminator 2: 3-D (Express Pass) is complete sensory overload – delicious fun…

2. CityWalk

0.13 MILES

Across the canal from the theme parks, and open to the public (for free), Universal's pedestrian mall entertainment district has themed restaurants, bars,…

3. Islands of Adventure

0.15 MILES

Good ol' scream-it-from-the-rooftops, no-holds-barred, laugh-out-loud fun, packed with adrenaline rides and marvelous theming. Superheroes zoom by on…

4. Universal Orlando Resort

0.19 MILES

Pedestrian-friendly Universal Orlando Resort has got spunk, spirit and attitude. With fantastic rides, excellent children's attractions and entertaining…

5. New York

0.23 MILES

Revenge of the Mummy (Express Pass) combines roller-coaster speed and twists with in-your-face special effects. Head deep into ancient Egyptian catacombs…

6. Production Central

0.25 MILES

Home to two of Universal's most talked-about rides, the incredible 3D simulation Transformers: The Ride 3-D (Express Pass) and the high-thrill coaster…

7. Woody Woodpecker's KidZone

0.26 MILES

Kid-friendly shows and rides, a fantastic water-play area and supercool foam-ball cannons – it rivals Islands of Adventure's Seuss Landing as a Universal…

8. Lost Continent

0.31 MILES

Magic and myth from across the seas and the pages of fantasy books inspire this mystical corner of the park. Here you'll find dragons and unicorns,…