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    Getting To and From Universal Orlando

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Getting to Universal Orlando's Resorts and Theme Parks

Directions to Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando is located within the Orlando city limits, a short distance from Interstate 4 (I-4) and Florida's Turnpike. You can access the resort from eastbound I-4 by taking Exit 75A and turning left at the top of the ramp onto Universal Boulevard. If you’re traveling westbound on I-4, use Exit 74B and then turn right on Hollywood Way. There are also entrances off Kirkman Road (Exit 75B) to the east, Turkey Lake Road to the west, and Vineland Road to the north. Universal Boulevard connects the International Drive area to Universal via an overpass bridging I-4. Turkey Lake and Vineland Roads are particularly good alternatives when I-4 is gridlocked.

Signs for Universal's hotels and theme parks are easy to find and read as soon as you've left the highway. Once on Universal property, follow the signs to the parking garage or your hotel.

  • FROM THE ORLANDO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (MCO) Take FL 528/Beachline Expressway, a toll road, west for about 12 miles to the intersection with I-4. Bear right and go east 2 miles on I-4 to Exit 75A, marked “Universal/International Drive,” and make a left at the end of the exit ramp. There are tolls both ways, and we advise bringing quarters if your car doesn’t have a SunPass or E-Pass transponder for the automated toll lanes.

  • FROM WALT DISNEY WORLD Go east on I-4, take Exit 75A, marked “Universal/International Drive,” and make a left at the end of the exit ramp.

Driving Directions to Universal's Resorts and Theme Parks

Google Maps driving directions from Orlando International Airport to Universal's Hard Rock Hotel

Airport to Universal's Royal Pacific Resort

Airport to Universal's Portofino Bay Resort

Airport to Universal's theme park parking

GETTING TO Universal Orlando

Whether coming from an airport or Walt Disney World, you have a few different options:

  1. RIDE SHARE SERVICES: This option is represented in Orlando by the companies Uber and Lyft. We use Uber and Lyft far more than taxis in almost every city we visit; if you've used Uber or Lyft elsewhere and are comfortable with them, consider using them in Orlando. We've had nothing but positive experiences with them so far, but your mileage may vary. Rideshares are far-and-away the best combination of cost and convenience when getting to Universal.

  2. TAXI Mears Transportation Group (☎ 888-983-3346; has a near-monopoly on taxi service in central Florida, and operates multiple brands (Yellow Cab Company, Checker Cab Company, and City Cab Company) with identical rates. Taxis carry four to eight passengers (depending on vehicle type). Rates vary according to distance. If your hotel is on Universal property, or nearby on International Drive or Major Boulevard, your fare will be about $45–$50, plus tip from Orlando International Airport and about $10-$15 from Disney World. Download the Mears Taxi app for Apple or Android to estimate the cost of your trip, but it’s buggy so don’t rely on it to hail your ride.

  3. SHUTTLE SERVICE Mears Transportation Group (☎ 888-983-3346; also dominates shared shuttle service in Orlando. The shuttles collect passengers until they fill a van (or bus). They’re then dispatched. Mears charges per-person rates (children under age 3 ride free). A one-way adult fare is $20 ($15 for children); round-trip is $32 for adults ($24 for children). Mears' competitor SuperShuttle (☎ 800-258-3826; also offers shared vans from the airport to Universal for a flat $18 per person each way; book online to save a $2 fee. Note that neither company currently operates shuttle service between Walt Disney World to Universal Orlando.

  4. TOWN-CAR SERVICE Like a taxi, town-car service will transport you directly to your hotel. It's basically a rideshare or taxi in a much nicer car. Each town-car service we surveyed offers large, well-appointed late-model sedans, such as the Lincoln Town Car series, or limousines. These hold four persons; trunks easily hold golf bags. Some services also offer roomier luxury SUVs and vans for an extra fee. For our money, we still prefer going with an Uber Black if we want a nicer car.

  5. RENTAL CARS Short- and long-term rentals are available. Most companies allow drop-off at certain hotels or subsidiary locations in the Universal area if you don’t want the vehicle for your entire stay. Likewise, any time during your stay, you can pick up a car at those hotels and locations. Check for rental-car discount codes.

    The preferred routes to Universal Orlando (as well as Walt Disney World, International Drive, and US 192) all involve toll roads. Some roads require exact change to enter or exit via automated gates, and manned toll booths will not accept any denomination bill higher than a $20 bill. So before you leave the airport, make sure you’re armed with at least a couple of dollars in quarters and some lower-denomination currency.

Walking to Universal Orlando

Unlike Disney World, Universal Orlando has a number of nearby off-site hotels that are within walking distance of the resort's attractions. The closest off-site hotels to Universal are along Major Boulevard near the intersection with Kirkman Road, at the eastern entrance to Universal property. The DoubleTree hotel on this corner isn't much further from Universal's parks than the on-site Portofino Bay. To reach the parks from this area, cross Kirkman at Major from the northeast corner, and follow the sidewalks to Universal Boulevard; cross Universal and turn left, then walk to the escalators leading up to CityWalk from the valet parking circle. You should be able to walk the half-mile from the DoubleTree to CityWalk in about 15 minutes.

Further away, but still within walking distance, are the hotels and motels on International Drive near Universal Boulevard, just south of the resort. This route requires walking north along Universal, over the I-4 overpass, and into the bus and taxi parking loop on the lower level of the parking hub. While there are sidewalks and pedestrian traffic signals the entire way, this is at least a ¾-mile walk alongside busy traffic, and isn't recommended for families with young children.

Getting Oriented

Parking at Universal Orlando

Universal is home to two massive multistory parking garages, holding a combined total of 20,000 cars. Signs route you from all four resort entrances to the parking structures.

The two rectangular garages lie along a north-n-south axis, with the pedestrian walkways leading to the theme parks running along the west, or long, side of each building. Sections are named for classic Universal movies and characters found in the parks – Jurassic Park, King Kong, Jaws in the north garage, and E.T., Spider-Man, and Cat in the Hat in the south structure. The first numeral of the number following the section name tells you what deck level you’re on, and the remaining numbers specify the row. So if a sign tells you that you’re on King Kong 410, you’re in the King Kong section on the fourth floor in Row 10. We strongly recommend that you take a photo of the name and number of your section, level, and row.

Guests driving to Universal Orlando's attractions have three parking options:

  • Self Parking Parking in the main garage costs $26 for cars and $32 for RVs, trailers, and other large rigs. Self parking is free after 6 p.m. (Not valid during Halloween Horror Nights and other event nights). Parking is free for Preferred and Premier annual passholders, half-price for Power Pass holders, and Florida residents with photo ID get free parking from 6 p.m. on. Self parking is valid all day long, so if you want to leave the resort and return in the evening, just show your paid receipt at the parking booths for free re-entry.
  • Prime Self Parking For $40 you will be parked on the garages' central level in the closest available section to the central hub. These are spots are supposed to be the second closest to the parks, after the handicapped parking section. However, we’ve scored spaces just as good or better using the regular parking, especially when we’ve arrived before 10:30 a.m. Because the garages are two-thirds as wide as they are long, the farther your parking place is from the west side, the worse it will be. This is why preferred parking is often not as close as regular parking – with the former, you’ll be closer to the covered walkways to the parks, but if your particular space is toward the east side of the garage, you’ll end up farther away than a guest who chose regular parking and was assigned a space closer to the west side of the structure. An advantage of preferred parking, however, is that you’ll park faster because the ratio of cars choosing preferred to regular is about 1 to 13. Preferred parking is free for Premier annual passholders, and Preferred passholders get a discounted rate.
  • Valet Parking In addition to the self-parking garages, valet parking is available at CityWalk for $26 for a visit of up to 2 hours, or $55 for longer than that ($40 after 6 p.m.). Premier passholders valet park for free (tip not included) while Preferred passholders can valet for $20. Passholder discounts aren't valid on New Year's Eve, July 4th, or Mardi Gras and Halloween event nights.

    Select CityWalk restaurants will validate for up to 2 hours of valet if you eat lunch between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekdays. Stay past two hours and you'll be charged full freight. And be warned that if you imbibe too much and have to leave your car at valet overnight, you'll have to pay a $50 fine in the morning.

Guest Drop-Off

If you aren't parking at the resort, but only dropping off passengers, find the Universal Boulevard entrance to the taxi and bus loop beneath the central parking hub, across the street from valet parking. This is also the best spot to pick up departing guests at the end of the day. Some guests try to use the valet parking circle for this purpose, but it is officially not permitted.

Another option is to drop off at the lobby of the Hard Rock Hotel, which is a short walk from USF's front gates if you cut through the pool; however, you can't backtrack through the pool at the end of the day without a resort keycard.

Speaking of the hotels, don't attempt to save money by parking at one of the resorts. Unless you are eating at a hotel restaurant that validates for valet, off-site guests are charged a hefty fee for parking at the hotels.

Security Screenings at Universal Orlando

Ever since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, Central Florida’s theme parks have used uniformed and undercover security to screen and monitor guests entering their parks. But in the aftermath of the massacre at Pulse Nightclub in 2016, Universal Orlando greatly enhanced their inspection procedures. Unlike the random selections employed at Walt Disney World’s security checkpoints, every single guest arriving at Universal Orlando must either pass through a full-body scanner or be screened with a hand-held detection wand, and also submit any bags for inspection, before continuing on to CityWalk and the theme parks.

On a busy day, the crowd queuing for inspection in the parking garage rotunda may appear mind-boggling at first glance, but fortunately there are a phalanx of scanning machines, and Universal’s security team could teach the TSA a thing or two about courtesy and efficiency. If you really hate to start your day with waiting, arrive extra early, or opt for valet parking, which has its own dedicated screening checkpoint. Guests staying at the resort hotels will be inspected before boarding the water taxis, and additional security screens pedestrians on the pathways near Margaritaville and Hard Rock Hotel.

Finding your way around

Unlike at Disney parks, there are no parking trams, so depending on where in the garage your car is parked, you’ll have an 8- to 20-minute hike to the theme park entrances. From the garages, (sometimes) moving sidewalks deliver you first to the central hub between the two garages. In this area, you'll find wheelchair rentals, a snack and souvenir stand, and escalators leading down to bus and taxi parking. To proceed to CityWalk and the parks, you’ll need to pass through the aforementioned security screening checkpoint; look for the "no bags" sign if you aren't carrying any purses or parcels that need inspection. To reach the Volcano Bay water park (opening 2017), descend from the main rotunda to the bus pickup area below, where shuttles will transport you to and from the park.

Upon exiting the parking structure, you'll pass the AMC Cineplex on your right, and Starbucks (always open early for that essential morning caffeine jolt) on your left, before reaching CityWalk's central plaza. From here, you walk straight towards the lighthouse to reach the main entrances of Islands of Adventure, or bear right at the Fossil store towards the big globe for Universal Studios Florida's front gate.

Tip: You can cut through the Quiet Flight Surf Shop (which exits into the Island Clothing Company) as a shortcut to USF.

Transportation Between Universal Resorts and Theme Parks

Universal offers water taxi service between Portofino Bay, Hard Rock, Royal Pacific, Sapphire Falls and the two theme parks. The boat service uses a dock in CityWalk near the bridge to USF as a hub, which is great if you're going from one of the hotels to a theme park. If you're traveling between hotels for a meal, however, you'll need to switch boats. Boats depart about every 15 minutes, from one hour before Early Park Entry begins until after CityWalk shuts down at 2 a.m.; allow 20 to 25 minutes for each leg of your journey by boat.

Additionally, walking from most resort hotels to either theme park takes a maximum of about 20 minutes using the resort's beautifully landscaped (though frustratingly winding) garden pathways. Hard Rock Hotel is the closest to the parks, being only steps away from Universal Studios Florida's front gates, while Portofino and Cabana Bay are the furthest. To walk between the two hotels farthest apart, Portofino and Cabana Bay, takes 25 to 35 minutes. There is no walking path from Surfside and Dockside Inns.

You'll find more about Universal Orlando resort transportation in the Hotels section.

Leaving Universal Orlando

At the end of your visit, retrace your steps to your vehicle and follow directional signage to depart the resort. From the south garage, you have little option but to follow the arrows to I-4 or International Drive. If you exit the north garaage onto Universal Boulevard, you can reach I-4 westbound by turning right onto Major Boulevard, then right on Kirkman Road; reach I-4 eastbound by making a U-turn onto Universal Boulevard southbound at Major Boulevard, then turn left onto the interstate after passing the garage.

Last updated on May 22, 2023