Taking a kid under four to a theme park can seem like a daunting prospect. But when you get there and have a fun-filled day, it all feels worth it. The key to having a great time with toddlers at theme parks like Universal Orlando is planning. The day has to be focused on your little one. Knowing what to see and do can make it a great deal easier on parents. In this article, we’re going to tell you all the best things to do for kids under four at Universal Orlando.
Universal Orlando Resort consists of three parks – Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay. There are fun, exciting rides, attractions, and experiences for kids under four in the Universal parks. From wonderful themed play areas to rides that are perfect for toddlers and character meet and greets that will leave your little one smiling from ear to ear, you’ll be spoiled for choice.
Read our guide to have the best experience possible at Universal Orlando. There’s a bunch of fun things to do and you wouldn’t want to miss out on something that your toddler will absolutely love.
Play areas for kids under four at Universal Orlando
To kick things off, let’s talk about the play areas at Universal. There are a total of six themed play areas in the Universal parks – three each in Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. These play areas are a mix of indoor, outdoor, and water play, so they’re designed to let you and your little ones cool off on hot days and get cover during the occasional Florida thunderstorm.
At Universal Studios, the Woody Woodpecker KidZone is where all the action is for kids under four. There’s Curious George Goes to Town, Fievel’s Playland, and Barney’s Backyard Playground. Let’s tell you about these in a little more detail.
Curious George Goes to Town: Thisis a fun, interactive splash playground with a ton of water-based activities. It’s an open play area and there’s no queue or Express Pass required. The playground is based on the popular animated series about the beloved monkey Curious George. Kids under four love it here. What could be more fun than hoses, levers, pumps with unlimited gallons of water, and getting soaked from head to toe? There’s also a dry zone called The Man with the Yellow Hat’s Ball Factory that has hundreds of squishy foam balls to toss with different contraptions. Needless to say, if you’re going to Curious George at Universal, pack an extra pair of clothes or bathing trunks for your toddler. Note to parents: There’s a good chance you’re also going to get wet! So, bringing a bathing suit or change of clothes for yourself is highly recommended.
Fievel’s Playland: Based on the films an American Tail and Fievel Goes West from the 1980s and 90s, this playground features oversized props so kids under four can explore it from a mouse’s perspective. There are giant cowboy boots, enormous tin cans, rope net bridges, and a 30-foot spider web, providing hours of running, jumping, and climbing fun. The floor is padded, so you can rest easy and let your toddler run wild. There’s even a massive three-story water slide that splashes into a cowboy hat-shaped pool – kids under four can share a raft with a parent. Again, this is an open play area and there’s no queue. And again, there’s a good chance you’ll get soaked, so come prepared.
Barney’s Backyard Playground: Want to escape the Florida heat? Barney’s Backyard at Universal Studios offers some air-conditioned respite. There’s water, sand, and lots of fun activities to keep kids under four occupied. And for adults with tired feet, there are benches from where you can watch the youngsters at play. There are lots of imaginative exhibits, inviting your little tyke to make music on hop-on stones, explore a giant treehouse, or build a sandcastle, but the hands-down favorite is BJ’s Express Train. Every inch of this indoor space is packed with f-u-n.
The play areas for kids under four at Universal’s Islands of Adventure are spaced a fair distance apart, so if you’re planning to visit more than one, a stroller is highly recommended.
Jurassic Park Discovery Center: If your kid loves dinosaurs, don’t miss this wonderful interactive play center where the whole family can learn about DNA sequencing, dig for dinosaur bones, and even witness a baby velociraptor being born. It’s an air-conditioned walk-through attraction, so you can enjoy some respite from the heat here as well.
Me Ship, The Olive: This multi-level play area in Toon Lagoon has slides, steps, and lots of interactive features for curious kids under four. Again, there are water cannons, so packing a change of clothes for your toddler is a good idea. If your little one feels intimidated by the three floors of the playground, there’s Sweet Pea’s Playpen that’s designed for Universal’s youngest guests.
If I Ran the Zoo: Located in Suess Landing near the Green Eggs and Ham Café, this is a whimsical outdoor play area in the Islands of Adventure, based on the Dr. Seuss book of the same name. Kids under four are introduced to a variety of strange, exotic animals from around the world. They get to explore Gerald McGrew’s world by stepping on pedals, spinning wheels, and spying through peepholes. There’s a wet area for splashing, tunnels to whiz down in the Zomba-ma-tant, and a small maze for your little one to navigate. Plenty of benches for parents to sit while kids under four explore.
Rides for kids under four at Universal Orlando
Unlike Disney’s Magic Kingdom that has more than a dozen rides and attractions suitable for kids under four, the range at Universal is more limited. However, there’s a handful of rides that toddlers will love. Keep in mind that these rides may not be suitable for very young kids. Most require the child to sit up on their own with good head and body control.
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish: This is a lovely carousel ride at Suess Landing in Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Your little tyke will love going up and down and spinning in circles. And just when she’s not paying attention, there will be a few surprises (of the wet kind). Listen carefully to the lyrics of the song and move your fish accordingly if you want to stay dry! It’s the only ride that allows riders to control how soaked they get. Parents of kids under four should note that riders under 48 inches need a supervision companion.
Caro-Seuss-el: On this merry-go-round at the Islands of Adventure, the traditional horses are replaced by an array of whimsical Dr. Seuss characters like cowfish and elephant birds. The vibrant colors and fun music make it a great ride for parents and kids under four to enjoy together. Don’t forget to animate your ride by pulling on the levers or reins on the character’s neck to make the ears wiggle, head turn, or eyes blink.
Storm Force Accelatron: Located in Marvel Super Hero Island in the Islands of Adventure, this is an egg-beater carnival ride that’s a classic. You can control how fast you spin, so it’s ideal for kids under four who can handle a little acceleration (if your kid did okay at the Mad Tea Party over at Magic Kingdom, they should be fine on this one too). A good choice if you want to introduce your toddler to a fast-ish ride.
Faster rides for kids under four at Universal Orlando
The following rides are suitable for kids under four as long as they’re at least 36 inches tall (that’s the minimum height requirement), so we’re essentially talking 3 year olds here:
Islands of Adventure
- Cat in the Hat: A dark ride that takes you through quirky scenes from the famous book.
- Flight of the Hippogriff: A rambunctious outdoor kiddie roller coaster with fabulous views of Hogwarts Castle.
- Skull Island: Reign of Kong: A combination of digital and physical effects make this immersive ride on expedition vehicles a hit with young ones (the loud chanting and skeletons in the dark may be too much for kids under four, but if your toddler is a fearless little tyke, then go for it).
- The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride: Riders board a trolley for a leisurely spin around Seuss Landing with lots of fun sound effects. A great way to get a bird’s eye view of the park!
- E.T. Adventure: This gondola-type dark ride is very similar to Peter Pan’s Flight over at Magic Kingdom, albeit with an intergalactic spin.
- Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster: A perfect starter coaster for little thrill-seekers who get to swoop and wind around a nut factory (don’t worry, the motion and speed are relatively tame).
- Kang and Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl: Board a flying saucer on this spinner ride that circles around like a carousel and lets riders decide how high they want to fly.
Meeting characters at Universal Orlando
One of the things that is extremely popular with kids under four is meeting their favorite characters. They’re at an age when they may not quite understand that it’s a regular human who’s gotten dressed up. So, meeting a character can literally be the stuff of dreams for toddlers. It’s a great experience to tick off your bucket list and capture on camera.
Universal makes it easy for parents of young kids by printing a schedule of character meet and greets at locations throughout the two parks. The schedule changes with the season, so be sure to check when you’re planning your day. The great thing about Universal is that you rarely have to wait more than 10-15 minutes to meet characters (if you’ve ever waited 60 minutes or more for Cinderella at Magic Kingdom with a toddler in tow, you know this is a blessing). Some of the favorite characters for under-fours include:
Characters at Universal Studios Orlando
- Barney and Friends
- Hello Kitty
- SpongeBob SquarePants
- Shrek, Fiona, and Donkey
Characters at Islands of Adventure
- Multiple characters from the Dr. Seuss books
- Spider Man
- Captain America
- Green Goblin
- Blue the Velociraptor from Jurassic Park
In addition to the scheduled character appearances, you can see many others randomly during the day at Universal, including Dora and Diego, Curious George, Shaggy and Scooby-Doo, and The Minions at Universal Studios. Look out for Popeye and Olive and Woody the Woodpecker at the Islands of Adventure. The best place to find them? We’re placing our bets on Toon Lagoon in Islands of Adventure and the turnstiles at Universal Studios.
Character dining at Universal Orlando
A character breakfast or lunch is a lovely surprise and treat for your little one. Kids under four are excited to eat a fun-packed meal and have their favorite superhero or animated character stop by the table for photos. All character dining at Universal includes an all-you-can-eat buffet. The character photo ops are great and you get one free digital photo download. Do check for seasonal features, such as The Grinch & Friends Character Breakfast where The Green One will come around to your table, pose for photos, and share some snarky small talk.
Tips for parents of kids under four at Universal Orlando
Now that you have a good idea about what are the best things to do for kids under four at Universal, we’re going to give you some useful tips to make your visit easy breezy.
Strollers: We cannot stress enough the importance of taking a stroller to Universal if you’re going with kids under four. The parks are huge and there’s a fair bit of walking involved. A stroller makes going from one attraction to another easier for your tot and you. There are stroller parking areas located throughout the parks and at the entrance of each ride. Universal employees are trained to keep an eye on these areas so you can rest easy that strangers won’t go through your things. You can take the stroller with you into queues, so it’s great if your little one wants to take a quick nap. If you forget to bring your own, there are strollers for hire at Universal, but remember, these are the hard plastic type and not very comfortable. Lastly, don’t forget the rain cover for your kid’s stroller.
Child Swap: No, we’re not asking you to swap your kid with a stranger, ha! Child swap is a system that allows parents of toddlers to go on some of the faster, scarier rides by taking turns to wait and ride. One parent waits with the little ones while the other rides. Then the parents swap without waiting in queue again.
Rental Lockers: Parents of toddlers will agree that kids under four need an entire department store’s worth of goods to go when they travel. If you don’t want to carry some items around the parks all day, make use of the rental lockers at Universal to store items that you’ll need at some point in the day. At $8-$12, it’s money well spent.
On-Site Hotels: When you’re going to Universal Orlando Resort with kids under four it makes a lot of sense to stay on-site. If you forget something like your kid’s bottle in your hotel room, you can nip back to get it. Staying off-site, on the other hand, could mean an hour-long journey back to your hotel. What’s more, the hotels at Universal are themed around popular kids’ characters and shows, so it’s exciting for kids under four to stay there. There are various on-site resorts to choose from, everything from the high-end Portofino Bay Hotel to the pocket-friendly Cabana Bay Beach Resort. What makes staying on-site even more worth it is that you get a free Universal Express Unlimited Pass for priority boarding on popular rides and attractions.
What to take and what not to take with kids under four
The worst thing is arriving at Universal Orlando and realizing you’ve left an essential item at home. Or arriving at the security checkpoint and being told you cannot take something inside the Universal theme park. We suggest you pack with a checklist to ensure you don’t leave anything important at home. And if you’re going to Universal with kids under four, we have two suggestions. The first, a backpack. It leaves your hands free and is a great way to pack all the essentials like snacks, water bottles, and diapers. Second, comfortable shoes. Your kids under four may be riding in their stroller, but parents, you could be walking 10 miles or more a day. Needless to say, leave the heels at home.
Now, here are some of the things you should NOT take to Universal Orlando because they’re not permitted: Alcoholic drinks, glass containers, large or hard-sided coolers, folding chairs, and suitcases with wheels.
Going to Universal with kids under four can be a fun experience for the whole family, provided you plan well. We hope this guide will help make your and your toddler’s day at Universal as enjoyable as possible.