The image that most likely comes to mind when you think about Disney World and Universal Orlando is crowded theme parks, gangs of strollers, families in matching t-shirts, all while standing in line for hours under the hot Orlando sun. It doesn’t exactly sound like a relaxing getaway, right? Despite the stereotypes I had always associated with the world’s most popular theme parks, in October I decided to visit Orlando for the first time in my life as adult. If you are planning an adults-only trip to Orlando, look no further than our adult’s guide to Disney World and Universal Orlando with suggestions for Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Harry Potter World, and Halloween Horror Nights!
Day 1: Hotel Check-In and Downtown Disney District
After a fairly short flight from Houston to Orlando, I arrived in the late afternoon just in time for hotel check-in. I checked into the Rosen Shingle Creek which was minutes away from both the airport and the theme parks. One of the concerns when booking this trip was where to stay. After all, while flights to Orlando were cheap (under $100) the hotel seemed like it would be the biggest expense. However, I was able to snag this centrally located 5* resort for $94/day using Priceline’s “Name Your Price” feature. If you aren’t familiar, this is a money-saving hack that Priceline offers with the condition that the hotel’s name won’t be revealed until you pay-in-full. This was super risky but I decided that the opportunity to save money would be worth it. Can you imagine my shock when I scored this beautiful resort? Score! In addition to being an amazing hotel away from budget and family-oriented hotels (i.e. Disney resorts) which meant I didn’t see any families (another score!) it had several bars, restaurants, and complimentary shuttle service to Universal. After a few hours of exploring the hotel (seriously, it was huge!) I met up with Orlando-based friends at the Downtown Disney District for dinner and drinks. Downtown Disney District, also known as Disney Springs, is a huge promenade lined with shops, restaurants, bars, cafes, and more. I suggest you make reservations in advance because wait times were almost an hour! Fortunately, we made reservations the day before and were able to enjoy a nice dinner before we walked around and explored the promenade.
We ended the night at the Coca-Cola Rooftop Bar which is located at the top of the Coca-Cola store. The store, which features several stories of Coke-themed souvenirs, also has a themed-bar (rum and coke, anyone?!) with amazing panoramic views of downtown Disney.
Day 2: Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Epcot
My friends and I decided to start with Disney World’s Magic Kingdom because it seemed only fitting to be introduced to Disney World with its most iconic park. As you can imagine, Magic Kingdom was extremely packed with families and children. Given that most of the attractions here are catered to children, we decided to get in line for a few rides before hopping over to Epcot. We did the the spinning teacups, the Buzz Lightyear attraction, the Haunted Mansion, and finally, Space Mountain. While the first two rides three rides were super tame, Space Mountain was definitely a high-thrill indoor rollercoaster with crazy lights, turns, and drops!
After the rides we grabbed some sweet treats and walked around the rest of Magic Kingdom to take pictures of the cute Halloween-themed decorations. I have to admit, they did a great job decorating the park. However, there wasn’t much else for us to do in Magic Kingdom so we rode the monorail and made our way over to Epcot.
We were super lucky that our trip happened to fall during the week of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. We were able to taste different flavors of the world, including wine, beer, and other cocktails. To be honest, the prices were steep but it was a fun way to load up on snacks before waiting in line for the Soarin’ and Test Track rides. Again, the lines took about an hour each, but each attraction was worth it. Soarin’ was a 4D simulated handglider ride where you soar over the world and take in the sights and smells of various parts of the world. On the other hand, Test Track was a high-thrill attraction that “tests” a car you and your group customize before launching you on a racetrack to test the speed! I highly recommend both rides, especially for adults.
After the rides, we made our way around the rest of the park which is themed by various countries. This was so much fun because the detail that went into the decorations was crazy realistic! We decided to stop in “Morocco” for dinner which was so well-themed that we stopped and took a million photos as if we were really in Morocco. After dinner we rushed to see the fireworks show and left mid-fireworks to escape the crowds leaving Epcot.
Between the two parks which are probably the more “family friendly” parks at Disney, I definitely preferred Epcot over Magic Kingdom because of the adult-friendly rides and restaurants that served something other than chicken fingers. It also didn’t hurt that Epcot had plenty of wine and less strollers to dodge!
Day 3: Disney World’s Animal Kingdom
The next day we decided to dedicate almost a whole day to Disney’s Animal Kingdom given how much there is to do in this park. As soon as we walked in it felt like we were transported to another world. Animal Kingdom is the most stunning of all the Disney parks, but also the busiest! There is a lot to do for both adults and children, so it makes sense that this park was overrun with families. The average wait time for each ride was anywhere between 2-4 hours so we knew this would be a long (and hot!) day ahead. Unfortunately we were unprepared and didn’t FastPass any of the attractions which only contributed to our time in the lines. Because of this, we were only able to get on a few rides before closing time.
We started our day in Animal Kingdom with the Na’vi River Journey ride. We knew we had to get started exploring the the World of Avatar because it opened only a few months ago and the lines for these attractions were hours long! We waited in line for *two hours* for the Na’vi River Journey ride, which takes you on a small raft through bioluminescent caves with Avatar Shaman music playing in the background. While it was a nice and easygoing ride, we expected a little more excitement after waiting in line for two hours. However, the real excitement would come later with the most anticipated ride at Animal Kingdom – Avatar’s Flight of Passage.
Let me start by saying Avatar’s Flight of Passage ride is hands down the most popular attraction at Animal Kingdom right now. This newly opened ride is also a 3D adventure, which includes a simulated ride on the back of banshee that caters to all age groups. We couldn’t wait to get on this ride, but people I’m telling you – this ride had an average wait of *four hours* throughout the day. We kept trying to pass the time with other attractions waiting for the line to diminish, but nope, it never did. We eventually decided to wait in line, naively thinking that perhaps it would not take that long. Boy were we wrong! I kid you not when I tell you that we somehow endured a four hour wait, including a mechanical breakdown which elongated the wait time even more. We were on the verge of delirium (seriously I am having PTSD flashbacks as I write this!) when it was finally our turn to get on the ride.
The ride itself was fantastic! In my opinion, it is hands down the best ride Disney has to offer so far. It was an exhilarating ride through the world of Pandora, complete with sights, smells, and even water and wind! My description does not do it justice, I highly recommend you experience it for yourself. Now you may be wondering, is it worth waiting 4 hours in line? Well, if you have a strong bladder and plenty of time, go for it. Or, you can be more prepared than we were and book this ride with your free FastPass as soon as you book your trip to Orlando. Trust me, you will thank yourself later when you see what I am talking about.
Day 4: Universal Orlando and Harry Potter World
We started our Universal Studios experience at the Islands of Adventure park which is conveniently next door (about a 5 minute walk) to the main park. This side of the park had multiple attractions based on various themes – comics, cartoons, tv shows, and movies. For my fellow Harry Potter nerds, If you’re looking for Hogwarts Castle and Hogsmeade Village, this is where to find it! The main park is where you will find Diagon Alley which is accessible from Hogsmeade by taking the Hogwarts Express. The rest of this post will mostly highlight on Harry Potter World because that’s where we spent most of our time, outside of a few 4D attractions.
As major Harry Potter nerds we were completely geeking out at the detail in Hogsmeade! The snowcapped shops, the perfectly decorated shops, even the trolleys of butter beer were incredible. As you can see from the photo above, it also gets extremely crowded even at the opening hour.
After strolling through Hogsmeade we were ready to take a ride on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. If you’re looking for a tour through Hogwarts Castle, this is the ride to get on! The line begins by taking you through the greenhouses before wrapping around the castle where you will see Dumbledore’s office, talking portraits, and the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. Surprisingly, the wait for this ride was only about 30 minutes tops the first time around and only 5 minutes the second time. For the second time around we learned that single riders would be able to get on instantly because oftentimes families would want to get on the ride together. This saved us so much time and allowed us to experience this 4D experience all over again!
If you have a park hopper pass, which I definitely recommend to experience both parks, then you will be able to take the Hogwarts Express to Diagon Alley for free! This was a cool attraction that really simulates the same train ride that Harry and his friends take on their way to Hogwarts. If you plan on taking the Hogwarts Express, I suggest you ride it as early in the day as possible. While it was only a 10 minute wait for us, the lines were about an hour long later which is not worth it considering that Diagon Alley can be accessed by walking 5 minutes to the main park.
Ah, Diagon Alley! This was perhaps my favorite part of the entire Harry Potter experience. Again the park outdid itself with the level of detail inside and outside of the storefronts. Diagon Alley is even secretly hidden in the main park which adds to the level of realism as you sneak away from muggles and enter the magical world of Harry Potter!
While you are in Diagon Alley I highly recommend you visit each of the shops just to take in detail of each shop and see what each has to offer. We spent our time in Diagon Alley touring the shops and buying trinkets. We had lunch and butterbeer at the Leaky Cauldron and watched the dragon above Gringott’s breathe real fire as we ate our icecream from Florean Fortescue’s. Finally, don’t forget the Escape from Gringotts ride located right inside Gringotts! Again, the detail inside the bank is something to behold and the ride was one of the best attractions at the park.
Day 5: Universal Orlando and Halloween Horror Nights
On our final day we decided to take it easy and only revisit the rides that we absolutely loved. For us that was the Transformers ride and going back to Diagon Alley. We also managed a few other rides that had low wait times. We left the park early that day because the park was closing in anticipation of Halloween Horror Nights which we planned to attend later that night.
After resting up at our hotel, we returned for Halloween Horror Nights which is the premier spot for haunted houses and other scary attractions. If you happen to visit Universal in October, I definitely recommend you attend this event, especially since you will have the chance to explore the park at night and get on popular rides with less families and lower wait times. I’ll start by saying I was super worried about this event because I am not a fan of horror movies and knew that this event would have a lot of scares throughout the night. I also had never experienced a haunted house before and knew my friends would drag me through as many as possible! Overall, it was a fun experience with lots to do throughout the night. I was also not as scared as I previously thought, so I think this is something I would go to again in the future!
Key Tips & Takeaways
- Plan ahead! With your Disney passes you get up to three FastPasses per Disney park. Download the My Disney Experience app and schedule your must-do rides as soon as possible so that you can skip the lines.
- Use the My Disney Experience app to check real-time wait time updates, maps with walking directions, and a list of attractions with descriptions. We used this app constantly.
- If you’re in a group of adults at Universal, take advantage of the single rider lines. All this means is that you may not be seated next to your friends, but it doesn’t matter because you will be so focused on the experience that you won’t be talking to one another anyway! Trust me, this cuts down on your wait time significantly – especially if you don’t have an ExpressPass!
- For Universal, I recommend that you pay a little extra for the ExpressPass. Universal had the busiest wait times, even over Disney, and it was exhausting waiting hours in line. Sometimes the rides had mechanical issues which wasted our time, so do yourself a favor and splurge on the convenience of line skipping.
- Wear comfy walking shoes! I wore sandals throughout the trip and the flat bottoms provided no support for my feet after hours and hours of walking and standing in line. There were moments where my feet ached so much that I sat on the floor while waiting in line, so definitely make sure you are comfortable!
- Bring a small bag with water, snacks, and a portable battery + phone charger. Water and light snacks at the parks were extremely expensive and you can refill your water bottle throughout the day. Save your money for Disney’s nicer restaurants or CityWalk in Universal.
- If you stay in a hotel with a free shuttle or that is near the parks, there is no need to rent a car. We used Uber for the whole trip and avoided parking fees and the headache of parking/leaving busy parking lots.
If you are looking to take a trip to Disney World and Universal Orlando, I really hope that these tips help you plan for a magical and stress free experience! If you have any questions, comment below and I’ll be sure to answer!