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How to Master Disney World/Universal in Orlando

Stephanie of the The Traveling Tee Events here to give you some inside scoop on how to make the most out of your theme park trips to Orlando (Disney World and Universal).

Before I get into it, I will say that on my last trip down (May 2024), we wanted to do EVERYTHING in a very short amount of time. I have done the four parks in one day, but in order to do more and have a tad bit of down time, I suggest breaking it up.

We stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel one night, and at my sister's home the other 3 nights we were down. Our trip was Thursday to Monday, but if you don't want to be exhausted and can afford to do a whole week do it! We also had a car to use/my sister picked us up from the airport.

Best time to go: early to mid May (after the school vacations are done) - the later in May you go, the hotter it will be. We went May 16-20, and it was 90s and mostly sun the whole time (we did get some rain but it didn't last long). September also a good time to go prior to hurricane season starting.

This post includes tips on what to do when visiting both theme parks with skip the line options.

Let's start with Universal:

I do NOT like waiting in lines (who does?!) so getting express passes was a non-negotiable for me. I realized that was going to cost upwards of $400 to have the unlimited express passes, but if you stay at Hard Rock, Portofino Bay, or Royal Pacific (Premier Resorts on Universal property) you get unlimited express passes included in your stay along with early access to Island of Adventures. Our room in May came to around $600/night, but parking was not included/additional $35/day.

WHAT WE DID: 1 night at Hard Rock Hotel, and 1 day at two parks (still paid for parking)

WHAT WE SHOULD HAVE DONE: Stayed at my sisters/or one place to rent near both Universal/Disney, paid for parking at Hard Rock Hotel (the parking lot off to the right before going up to the hotel) and did the 1 day/2 parks with the Universal Express (we only did each ride once besides Hagrid's which didn't offer an Express lane anyway

PRO TIP: when you pay for parking at HRH, park towards the pool, there is a small path through the parking lot there that leads straight to security to get into the parks. ALSO I do not recommend getting up early for Hagrids if you do stay on property because the line was actually longer and we were in line within 20 minutes of the park opening for early access only.

Foods we tried: Shepherd's pie and fish and chips at Three Broomsticks (shepherd's pie was delicious)

Free water in the park: Just like Disney, you can ask any Universal employee where to find tap water. If they cannot provide it, they will point you in the right direction on where to find it.


To make the most of a Disney trip, one must have a plan. If you fail to plan, you plan to not have a magical time unless you are not going to ride rides.

We did two parks on two different days. As of this trip, Disney does not make it easy for park hoppers to have genie plus/get virtual queues. Therefore, I made that work for me.

Genie Plus: allows you to book a few lightning lanes (doesn't work out well though if you have a virtual queue) - paid $27/day pp

Standby Skipper: booked lightning lanes that I wanted for that day on my behalf. We ended up getting 9 lightning lanes on both days which is unheard of - $25/day or $45/week for up to 12 people

Here is one of my Disney Days (Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom)

I still woke up to get virtual queues at 7 AM, and was able to secure both Guardians and Tron for the two separate Disney days.

The only reservations I booked were Oga's Cantina in Hollywood Studios and San Angel Inn Restaurante in Epcot (Mexico). Why these? If you have been to Oga's before, most don't need to go every time since all the drinks are pre-made but it is a fun bar experience for those going for the first time. PRO TIP: San Angel Inn has the same menu as the margarita bar outside AND the tequila bar everyone waits in line for. You can enjoy the same food and more on their menu while relaxing in AC for a well deserved break. If your table isn't ready yet, go ride the Gran Fiesta Tour Boat Ride (ride with waiting in line should only take 15 minutes tops)

PRO TIP FOR RIDES: Since you are not able to book certain lightning lanes due to the park you are in/park you have a virtual queue in, go visit either guest relations or a guest experience blue tent located throughout the parks. Let them know you are trying to find certain lightning lanes/purchase individual lighting lanes, but are unable to due to the virtual queues you currently have. These cast members have the ability to override the system to get you certain lightning lanes/change times. They may even be able to give you individual lighting lanes for free if you get lucky!


(Woke up both of the days at 6:55 AM to acquire virtual queues and tell SS which rides I wanted for Genie Plus Lightning Lanes) - Standby Skipper also started booking lightning lanes for us at the same time

Parking - my sister who is a passholder was with me one of the days (free parking) and we paid $30 for the second day which was good for any park we wanted to go to in the same day

Animal Kingdom and Epcot - 8 rides (VQ for Guardians)

Arrived at AK around 9:30 AM

Was unable to book Flight of Passage so I went to Guest Relations who gave us free individual LLs

Flight of Passage (LL)

Kilimanjaro Safaris (ended up getting LL after we had waited 20 minutes in the line so we just stayed)

Everest (LL)

Dinosaur (LL)

Headed to Epcot around 2 PM

Went to San Angel Inn Restaurante for our late lunch reservation

Gran Fiesta Tour while we waited for our table to be ready

Rode Guardians of the Galaxy (VQ)

Test Track (LL)

Frozen (LL)

Remy's Adventure (LL)

Tried Soarin' but we were "too late" for our LL - that cast member just wasn't having a magical day

Had LL for Spaceship Earth but the ride was closed

Headed to Hollywood Studios to see Fantasmic at 9 PM

Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom - 18 rides (VQ for Tron)

Arrived at HS around 9:30 AM, went to Guest Relations to have them help me buy Rise and Mine Train Individual LLs (she also gave us Tower of Terror LL)

Tower of Terror (LL)

Slinky Dog (LL) - did a mobile order for Totchos from Woody's Lunch Box

Millennium Falcon (single rider - ended up getting on together and getting pilot seats)

Rise of the Resistance (Individual LL)

Star Tours (10 min wait)

Reservations at Oga's Cantina (did a mobile order for Docking Bay 7 when finishing up)

Lunch at Docking Bay 7 in Star Wars Land

Grabbed some cocktails and headed back to Guest Relations before leaving to adjust/change a lighting lane I had got from Standby Skipper that I no longer wanted

Headed to Magic Kingdom

Space Mountain (25 min wait - got a LL from Standby Skipper later)

VQ for Tron (if you have missed your boarding group go to guest relations/experience to have them fix)

Pirates of the Carribean (LL)

Thunder Mountain (LL)

Haunted Mansion (LL)

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (Individual LL)

Tea Cups (5 min wait)

The Little Mermaid (LL)

Peter Pan (LL)

It's a Small World (10 min wait)

Mike's Laughing Floor (15 min wait)

Dinner: Mobile Ordered from Cosmic Rays

Grabbed a spot for the fireworks right near the Walt Disney statue around 8:45 (9:20 PM show)

Jungle Cruise (LL)

Aladdin's Magic Carpet Ride (LL) - could have done Thunder again but we only had 3 minutes until the park closed and that ride was right across from Jungle Cruise

Finished the night by walking to the Grand Floridian for a night cap cocktail at The Enchanted Rose (12 minute walk) since the line for the monorail is outrageous


Arrived at Island of Adventures at 8:15 AM for early access (line was insane - do not recommend)

Hagrid's (2 hour wait!)

Forbidden Journey (Express)

Train to Kings Cross (Express)

Had water and a Duff Beer before heading back to the hotel to eat our lunch and pack

Came back into the parks (Universal) around 1 PM

Rip Ride Rocket (Express) - listen to Sandstorm ;)

The Mummy (Express)

Transformers (Express)

Men in Black (Express)

Fast and the Furious (Express) - SKIP THIS RIDE, IT'S NOT GOOD

Gringotts (Express)

Explored Diagon Alley and took the train back to Hogsmeade (Express)

Explored Hogsmeade and did a mobile order at Three Broomsticks (the shepherd's pie is the best)

Velocicoaster (Express)

Hulk (Express)

Hagrid's (single rider- took an hour still) (I recommend doing Velocicoaster if you have express unlimited first again, then get in regular line for Hagrid's before the park closes)


Universal you could break up into two days, but I still recommend getting the two parks for at least the first day so you can ride the train, and think that you can enjoy both parks with just one day unless you want to explore Harry Potter worlds more // express is probably fine over unlimited

Disney is best done one park per day solely from the details in each park. Doing multiple parks in one day can feel like a marathon, and its nice to be able to come to the parks a tad later without feeling like you need to be there all day to get your money's worth.

Also highly recommend breaking up park days with pool/leisure days in between. If not, plan to stretch because you will be walking A LOT. We walked 27 miles in 3 days. As pretty active people, we were still pretty exhausted at the end of each day.


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