Universal Studios, which welcomed 10.9 million visitors in 2019, usually opens at 9am. In winter months, hours end around dinnertime; in summer, it’s open as late as 10pm. After you get your car parked ($26 and up in a mostly covered structure) and submit to security checks in the covered sidewalks from the lot, walk to CityWalk and head to the right. Pause now at the giant rotating globe for the requisite photo op, because the sun is in your favor for photographs in the morning, but not later.

At the entrance turnstiles, your fingerprint will be scanned and matched to your ticket, so the system can recognize if anybody else tries to use your ticket. The plaza after the turnstiles is where you take care of business. Strollers and wheelchairs are obtained to the left, and lockers are rented to the right. (You may bring your stroller to the other park within 2 hrs. of closing; if you’re taking the Hogwarts Express, there’s a place to drop it off before boarding and another kiosk for getting a new one at Islands of Adventure.) Make sure to grab a free park map here; if you forget, the stores also stock them.

Indoor adventures, edgy themes, and meticulously detailed sets are a signature of this popular theme park. Here, the hottest blockbuster films come to life, jumping off the screen and right into the theme park—and park-goers are immersed in all the action. In addition to its lineup of adrenaline-boosting rides, grown-up shows, and smattering of kid-friendly attractions, USF is also a working production studio, so on occasion (very rare occasions, mind you) you might get a chance to catch live filming as it's taking place.

Although there are technically themed areas within the park, few are strictly defined. They fall into two general zones. Everyone enters along the main avenue of the simulated backlot (including Production Central, Hollywood, and New York), which contains many of the behind-the-scenes attractions, while an elongated lagoon stretches off to the right, encircled by many of the thrill-based rides in San Francisco, Springfield, World Expo, and Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter—Diagon Alley is on the far side of the lagoon.

Some days (confirm times about a month ahead on the website or the app, or check times on the map you grab at the front gate), Universal sends out its Superstar Parade, packed with children’s characters such as SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora, Diego, Gru, and the Minions. It stops by Mel’s Drive-In and Battery Park so kids can meet them. After dark, if the park’s open then, the area around the water sometimes hosts the 18-minute Cinematic Celebration, a spectacle spotlighting popular franchises from the parks with water screens, 120 Bellagio-style power fountains, projection mapping, and a few pyrotechnics. The area opposite Mel’s Drive-In is the best vantage point for it.

Attractions & Rides

Coaster-junkies should head straight for Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit and Revenge of the Mummy. Tweens and teens (and even adults) with a taste for action and adventure can shoot it out with alien invaders on Men in Black Alien Attack, see live feats of derring-do at The Bourne Stuntacular, or experience the Harry Potter books at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter—Diagon Alley, which is widely called the best-themed section of any theme park in the United States.

Restaurants & Dining

For sit-down dining, Lombard's serves up a waterside view and a menu of seafood, pasta, and salads. Taste a slice of the Big Apple at Louie's Italian Restaurant. Fifties buffs should head to Mel's Diner, inspired by the likes of American Graffiti and complete with neon signage and a lot filled with classic cars; its burgers are among the best in the park.

Special Events

Past lineups of the Summer Concert Series have featured Third Eye Blind, Nelly, the Go-Go's, and Boys Like Girls. You're in for the scare of a lifetime during the frightfully haunting Halloween Horror Nights (the annual nightmarish event strictly geared towards older teens and adults). Ring in the holidays watching the Macy's Holiday Parade as it marches its way through the park, complete with several floats and gigantic balloons from the original Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. The frivolity continues in late winter for an extended Mardi Gras.