The best things to do in Universal Orlando revolve around the 2 flagship amusement parks: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. These 2 parks are simply world-class and not to be missed. Families and younger ones should go for the original park first, while older children and teens will love Islands of Adventure. Regardless of age, movie buffs will simply love the whole Universal complex and its unique ability to bring the movies to life before your eyes.

There are loads more attractions around Universal Orlando though, with water parks, live performances along CityWalk, and a host of things to do on International Drive. Enjoying everything this area has to offer might be easiest if you rental a car, but the great thing about staying in a hotel within the Universal area is the excellent shuttle service which will take you wherever you want to go.

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    Universal’s Islands of Adventure® – more commonly referred to as just ‘Islands of Adventure – is one of the most popular and highest-rated theme parks in the Florida area, and has received international awards for its range of roller coasters and attractions.

    The most popular rides and attractions include Marvel Super Hero Island® and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ - Hogsmeade™ which features a fun range of Harry Potter themed locations such as Hogwarts™ Castle and the Forbidden Forest.

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    Location: 6000 Universal Blvd, Orlando, FL 32819, USA

    Phone: +1 407-224-4233

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    Universal Studios Florida® - one-half of the wider Universal Orlando® Resort – is one of the most visited and best-known theme parks in the United States, drawing in the crowds with its long lineup of Hollywood-inspired rides and attractions.

    Some 7 million guests enter under through the park’s iconic archway every year, originally opened in 1990 as a standalone theme park. The most popular rides include Harry Potter and Escape from Gringotts, Hollywood Rip, Ride and Rokit, and Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem.

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    Location: 6000 Universal Blvd, Orlando, FL 32819, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 9 pm

    Phone: +1 407-363-8000

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    Universal’s Volcano Bay™ water park is one of Orlando’s most recognizable attraction thanks to the 200-foot conical mountain which roars periodically and emits lava-esque fluid at night. This is Universal Studios’ first water park, and they have a nice mix of relaxing rides like a lazy river and wave pool together with more cutting-edge, high-speed rides like aqua coaters, and 70-degree plunge slides. Plenty of lockers are available and you can prepay credit onto a wristband, so you have money for snacks and drinks throughout the day without needing to carry cash.

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    Location: 6000 Universal Blvd, Orlando, FL 32819, USA

    Phone: +1 407-363-8000

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    The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

    Come for the magic and enjoy the butterbeer

    The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
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    The Wizarding World of Harry Potter spans 2 parks at Universal Orlando Resort, each paying homage to the popular books and movies. Each offers a wonderfully immersive wizardly journey. The magic here is right at the end of your fingertips, or interactive wand if you purchase one, and all around you as you venture through the sights, sounds, thrills, and shrills.

    Begin your adventure in Diagon Alley just like Harry did. Get all your wizardry essentials and indulge in a generous helping of butterbeer-flavoured soft-serve ice cream. Next, catch a ride on the Hogwarts Express and head to Hogsmeade for more shenanigans and butterbeer. Be on the lookout for hidden references and spells scattered sporadically in both parks.

    Location: 6000 Universal Blvd, Orlando, FL 32819, USA

    Open: Monday–Tuesday from 8 am to 7 pm, Wednesday–Sunday from 8 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 407-363-8000

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    ICON Orlando is one of the city’s most famous landmarks, elevating passengers 400 feet (122 meters) into the sky for some awesome panoramic views over downtown Orlando and Central Florida beyond. Opened in April 2015, the circular structure replicates the design of many giant Ferris wheel attractions across the world (such as the London Eye and Singapore Flyer), and is officially classed as an ‘observation wheel’ because the motion is slow and steady – the only scary thing is the look down!

    As part of your ticket, you can also enjoy a ‘pre-flight 4D Movie theater Experience’, which basically points out all the places of interest around the Central Florida region that you’ll be seeing for real when you head up to the top.

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    Location: ICON Orlando 360, 8401 International Dr #100, Orlando, FL 32819, USA

    Open: Sunday–Thursday from 10 am to 10 pm, Friday–Saturday from 10 am to midnight

    Phone: +1 407-601-7907

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    Ripley's Believe It or Not! Orlando

    Ripley's Believe It or Not! Orlando
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    Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium in Orlando is the ultimate collection of all things weird and unusual for the whole family to enjoy. Prepare to be shocked and amazed at this one-of-a-kind museum in Orlando's entertainment district.

    Ripley's contains so many items, photographs and interactive exhibits that you won't believe are real, from shrunken human heads to bizarre animal oddities, such as a 2-headed calf.

    Location: 8201 International Dr, Orlando, FL 32819, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to midnight

    Phone: +1 407-345-0501

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    photo by Cliff (CC BY 2.0) modified

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    For an outrageous and sensory show from a worldwide group of talented performers, check out Blue Man Group in the heart of Universal Orlando Resort.

    The Blue Man Group is a comedy, theatre, rock concert, and dance party combined. The upbeat trio of multi-instrumentalists put on a spectacular show that goes through several episodes with audience participation. The show appeals to pretty much all ages, so it's great for the whole family.

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    Location: Universal Orlando Resort, 6000 Universal Blvd, Orlando, FL 32819, USA

    Phone: +1 407-258-3626

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    Madame Tussauds Wax Museum Orlando exhibits a cool collection of stunningly lifelike wax sculptures through 6 sections. There are famous celebrities, sports stars and historical figures for you to pose and photograph.

    You can get up close and personal with Albert Einstein, The President of the United States, Michael Jackson, Angelina Jolie, and even Shrek. There are true-life wax representations of pretty much all of the most popular and influential people in history, sports, music, television, and film!

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    Location: ICON Orlando 360, 8387 International Dr, Orlando, FL 32819, USA

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 10 pm (Friday–Saturday until 11 pm)

    Phone: +1 866-630-8315

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    Universal Orlando Resort's CityWalk is a pedestrianized street that's great for dining, drinking, shopping, and fun! It's filled with restaurants, live performance theatres and nightlife venues – you can be sure to find something captivating here.

    Some of CityWalk's highlights include the world's largest Hard Rock Cafe as well as famous celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse's restaurant, Emeril's Restaurant Orlando. What's more, access to the whole area is completely free, so it doesn't matter if you're visiting Orlando Universal Resort or not.

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    Location: Universal Orlando Resort, 6000 Universal Blvd, Orlando, FL 32819, USA

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 2.30 am

    Phone: +1 407-363-8000

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    Both the locals and the throngs of tourists visiting Orlando every year love a bit of outlet action, and this giant store on International Drive is one of the best. In fact, many will make entire road trips from nearby states just to grab a bargain at Orlando Premium Outlets, with discounts offered on a huge range of brands, including Adidas, Victoria's Secret, Hugo Boss, Diesel, Levi's, Nike, Quiksilver, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger – and about 100 more! With items plucked straight from the factory, expect discounts of up to 50%.

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    Location: 4951 International Dr, Orlando, FL 32819, USA

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 11 pm

    Phone: +1 407-352-9600

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    Mardi Gras Orlando

    Orlando Event at Universal Studios

    Mardi Gras Orlando
    • Families

    Every spring, Universal Studios Florida celebrates Mardi Gras, recreating the famous, family-friendly New Orleans street party with an exciting parade and many live music concerts. Known as “Florida's Biggest Party”, Mardi Gras Orlando features around 14 concerts, 1.7 million beads, and a breathtaking parade.

    The annual tradition sees big-name music acts performing from early February to mid-April, with a nightly parade. The wacky and colorful Mardi Gras parade takes place at around 8 pm. It sees millions of beads thrown into the air for spectators, with artists performing from the top of glamorous floats.

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    Location: Universal Orlando Resort, 6000 Universal Blvd, Orlando, FL 32819, USA

    Phone: +1 407-363-8000

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Paul Smith | Compulsive Traveler