Often, when you don’t live in the theme park capital of the world and don’t have as much time to visit Orlando’s theme parks as you’d like during your visit (it’s only money, right?), it’s important to maximize your in-park hours in any way possible. During a recent visit to Universal Orlando Resort, I took full advantage of this logic, maximizing my in-park time by purchasing a ticket to the Orlando Informer meet-up, an after-hours event held at Universal Orlando.
Having seen very positive reviews of the event in the past, I wanted to ensure that it was part of my next Universal Orlando vacation, partly to see if the event lived up to the hype, but mostly to maximize my time at Universal, where I hadn’t visited as a normal daytime guest since January of 2017. After making sure that our vacation could coincide with the first Orlando Informer event in 2023, My brother and I purchased two-day, park-to-park tickets, and coupled those with the two-night Orlando Informer meet-up tickets. The event took place on a Friday and Saturday in early February, and if nothing else, ensured we would maximize our time at Universal Orlando during our two-day visit.
In 2019, I took a quick day and a half trip to Walt Disney World and, in an effort to maximize my time at the Happiest Place on Earth, purchased a ticket to the Magic Kingdom After Hours event in addition to our tickets to our daytime Park-Hopper tickets. While managed by a third-party rather than an upcharge ticket from the park itself, the Orlando Informer meet-up is a similar-style event. Ticket purchasers are promised shorter lines for marquee attractions, complimentary food, and an overall experience that rivals any “regular” park visit. The question is if the experience can live up to the billing. The answer? Well, you’ll just have to read on!
If you’re interested in experiencing the Orlando Informer meet-up, the first thing to consider is cost. During our visit in February, we opted for the two-night event, rather than choosing an individual night. For two, two-night tickets, the cost ran us about $775.00, or about $194, per person, per ticket, per night. This is approximately the cost of a full-day park-to-park ticket if you purchase just a single day’s admission (depending on the date.)
For this $194, you are granted park-to-park access beginning at 5:00pm, and you could remain in the park as late as 1:30am each night. When we visited in February, the park closed to daytime guests at 8:00pm on Friday, and 9:00pm on Saturday. Following park close, Orlando Informer park guests could access Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure attractions by flashing a wristband. While not a “full” park day from a time perspective, if you managed your time correctly, you could honestly get far more done during the Orlando Informer meet-up than a typical park day (especially on a Saturday, as we found out.)
That $194 ticket also includes one of the most unique perks I’ve ever experienced at a theme park event, all-you-can-eat-and-drink food and non-alcoholic beverages from a selection of in-park restaurants. Yes, you’re reading this correctly. While not every in-park restaurant was open or offering their full menu, from an hour after park close through the end of the night, snacks, entrees, desserts, soft drinks, and yes, multiple varieties of Butterbeer, were all up for grabs in quantities that were best described as “limitless.” While you were waiting for the AYCE dining to begin, Orlando Informer also provided a $10 food & beverage card per ticket, per night, that you could use during normal park hours and in most Citywalk dining establishments – save for Hard Rock Cafe and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
So, when you take a look at the cost and get a bit of sticker shock, it’s important to remember that not only does that cost include park-to-park admission, but unlimited mouth-to-stomach digestion opportunities.
Each day, Orlando Informer conducted event registration beginning several hours before the 5:00pm admission time outside of the former Nickelodeon Studios/Blue Man Group theater, in between Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. While guests are required to register each night of the event, the process was incredibly organized and well-run, and we didn’t feel like we were waiting very long at all. (A tip: If you have daytime park tickets, or just want to enjoy Citywalk for a few hours before entering the Orlando Informer meet-up, we found that lines got longer as the time approached 5:00pm, and felt that arriving earlier resulted in a shorter wait.)
Prior to your arrival, you’ll be emailed a QR code that serves as your registration ticket, and is an incredibly seamless and streamlined process. (As someone who works in the event industry, kudos to the Orlando Informer team for this. It made the arrival experience incredibly easy and quick.) As you register, you’re given a wristband, park map, and your park-to-park ticket for the night. The Orlando Informer staff and/or volunteers operating the sign-in process were all personable and friendly, eager and able to answer any questions that one might have about the meet-up. As first-timers, we didn’t have a ton of questions, but were moreso overwhelmed than anything. The OI team made us feel at ease.
Orlando Informer divides event ticket-holders in half with 50% entering Universal Studios Florida first, and 50% headed the other direction to Islands of Adventure. However, beginning at 5:00pm, the event ticket functions as a park-to-park ticket, and you can “hop” between parks, either through the front gate, via the Hogwarts Express, or through a “backstage” pathway that takes you between Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit and Seuss Landing.
Another big win for the Orlando Informer meet-up is the number of attractions — up to 25! — across both parks that participants have access to during the event. A quick glance at their event guide notes that every currently operating “ride” in the two parks is available for guests — from the kid-friendly attractions in Seuss Landing to coasters like Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and the Jurassic World Velocicoaster. (And yes, the night rides on Hagrid’s, Velocicoaster, Hulk, and Hollywood Rip, Ride Rockit are all completely different experiences than their daytime counterparts.) Because this is a limited ticket event, the lines for many of these attractions are non-existent, especially later in the night.
There are a few exceptions, as coaster enthusiasts, we’re all familiar with the concept of ERT, and while the Orlando Informer Meet-Up is similar in concept, by buying a ticket, it doesn’t mean you’re going to get to marathon Hagrid without getting off like you might at another park during an enthusiast event. Given its family-friendly nature and accessibility for all ages, combined with the fact that it’s Harry Potter-themed, Hagrid’s can normally result in 120-minute queues during daily operation, multiple years after it opened. While it’s unlikely that you’ll experience a wait this long during the Orlando Informer meet-up, depending on when you ride it throughout the night, it will be a significantly shorter wait. (We’ll talk about our personal experience later in the article.)
It’s important to note that not every attraction is available during the Orlando Informer meet-up, specifically as it relates to more show-based entertainment. While multiple entertainment experiences including Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees, the Hogwarts Castle Lights, and Olivander’s Wand Shop are available in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, shows like the Universal Horror Make-Up Show and Bourne Stuntacular are not offered during the Orlando Informer Meet-Up. If you want to see these shows, we recommend utilizing your first few hours of park access from 5:00pm-park close to experience them.
Also, a number of roller coasters and other attractions close early during the Orlando Informer meet-up, due to local ordinances and staffing. For certain attractions including Velocicoaster and Hagrid’s, the queue had to be emptied by midnight approximately, meaning they’d cut the line early. It’s important to keep this in mind while coordinating your plan of attack to maximize your time and opportunities.
Compared to the similar after-hours event just a few minutes south on I-4, the Orlando Informer meet-up absolutely wins the battle of food availability. At Walt Disney World, guests have unlimited access to a limited selection of food and beverage options — bottled soda, popcorn, and ice cream bars — as part of their after hours event. However, at the Orlando Informer meet-up, the food options are seemingly limitless. Guests are given a list prior to arrival (and its also included on the park map received at registration) with open restaurants and their menu options.
These menu options range from full-sized entrees at a restaurants like the Simpsons Fast Food Boulevard or Wimpy’s, buffet service of Fish & Chips inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and smaller-versions of entrees like burger sliders at The Burger Digs or Pizza Tots at Circus McGuirkus Cafe Stoo-pendous. For those with a serious sweet tooth, Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor was unlimited, and snack carts throughout the park offered up as many pretzels, popcorn, and churros as your heart desired and stomach could handle. It’s essentially an open tab throughout the entire night. When taking theme park prices into account, it’s possible to get nearly all of your ticket price back just by eating and drinking.
If I had one minor critique on the food, it’s that I couldn’t get a Buzz Cola at Fast Food Boulevard, despite the fact that it’s a non-alcoholic beverage. It’s just cherry syrup in a Coke Zero, but they wouldn’t do it. (If this is my biggest complaint, this should tell you how highly I thought of this event.
As mentioned earlier, we purchased the Orlando Informer Meet-Up tickets in addition to our two-park, two-day ticket. Not knowing what to expect, we didn’t know how crowds would be during the day, and wanted to ensure that we could experience everything that we wanted to experience during our quick trip at Universal Orlando. In February, crowds were surprisingly light on Friday during the day, but Saturday, on top of being a Saturday, marked the first day of Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras celebration, so crowds were noticeably larger during the day, which meant longer lines for daytime visitors.
On Friday, thanks in part to the limited crowds, we were able to experience nearly everything we wanted to experience during the day. We started in Islands of Adventure, rode Velocicoaster, Hagrid’s, Forbidden Journey, Kong, and Spider-Man. We skipped Hulk because it was raining, the water rides in Toon Lagoon because we didn’t feel like being wet all day, and Seuss Landing, save for Cat in the Hat, because we’re not the target demographic. We then took the Hogwarts Express over to Universal Studios Florida, and completed a good bit of the park, experiencing everything we wanted to the first day with the exception of E.T., the Simpsons Ride, and Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit, which was closed due to winds.
We exited Universal Studios Florida, and waited in a relatively short line to check-in to the Orlando Informer meet-up about 4:15pm. As mentioned earlier, the process was quick, easy, seamless, and the staff and volunteers working on behalf of Orlando Informer were all fantastic. (A special shoutout to the mother of Orlando Informer’s Senior Director of Technology and Business Development Matthew Miller, – pink coat, bottom center of the above photo – who was handing out park maps to guests in line and just was truly a delight to interact with.)
Popping back over to Universal Studios Florida to ride Fast & The Furious, Transformers, Mummy, and Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, as the park closed at 8:00pm, we headed to the Hogwarts Express to “hop” back to Islands of Adventure, where our first order of business was a night ride on Hagrid’s. For coaster enthusiasts, one of the selling points for the Orlando Informer should be night rides on Universal Orlando’s roller coasters, because they’re truly a fantastic experience.
While we clearly were not the only meet-up participants who had “kicking off the event with a Hagrid’s night ride” on the brain, resulting in a wait between 45-60 minutes to ride, that was still significantly shorter than any wait the coaster had had during Friday’s daytime operation. From Hagrid’s, we took a leisurely stroll through Hogsmeade, enjoyed some complimentary butterbeer — frozen, which is the best form of butterbeer, by the way — and watched the Hogwarts Castle Lights show. At about 10:30pm, we headed to Jurassic Park, and were able to effectively walk-on for back-to-back rides on Velocicoaster, definitely not something that could be accomplished during the day.
Following Velocicoaster, we were entering hour 14 at the parks that day, and decided we could have over done it on riding for one day, and it was time to eat. We stopped for a bite to eat at the Burger Digs, where the offerings included a “slider-sized” version of the restaurant’s “Casado Burger,” which featured sweet plantains, pork belly, fresh avocado, and a garlic mayo — one of the most flavorful theme park dishes I’ve ever tasted, made even better by the fact that it was included in the price of admission. Continuing the counter-clockwise journey, we stopped for more food at Wimpy’s, which was my first-time recalling the Toon Lagoon restaurant being open during a visit. While the burger and fries at Wimpy’s were full-sized, they were largely forgettable. We kept going, passing through Marvel Super Hero Island, where the Kingpin arcade was set to free play for the evening, and decided to end our night in Seuss Landing.
The High In The Sky Seuss Trolley Ride is an attraction that I would almost always skip during a typical visit to Universal Orlando, but with the glowing “Ride Now” wait time staring my brother and I right in the face, we knew that there was room for one more ride. We actually were the only two people in our train during the ride, which made for a memorable ride experience. We the ended our night at Circus McGurkus, where miniature servings of pizza tots, buffalo chicken tots, and caesar salad, because I needed to consume a green vegetable, concluded the evening. Shortly after midnight, we made our way to the water taxi headed towards Sapphire Falls, exhausted, full and ready to take on the second day.
Saturday’s daytime visit was much more easy-going, given the crowd level and general desire to not wait in line during the day, especially knowing that anything we wanted to ride would have minimal waiting later in the night. Focusing more on shows, taking photos, and riding attractions that we had missed the first day, Saturday’s visit to Universal Orlando made me realize that the Orlando Informer meet-up really was a phenomenal value. The same price as a 1-day, two-park ticket, but featured shorter lines and free food, and it was really a no-brainer. We left the park for lunch at Toothsome, and utilized our $10 food & beverage credit from the previous night to offset the cost of lunch.
We got our day two registration materials earlier on Saturday, but skipped the Mardi Gras parade, concert and festivities in favor of heading back out to Citywalk to watch a basketball game at NBC Sports Grill & Brew. Our plan for the second night was similar to the first, though we started in Islands of Adventure to further avoid the Mardi Gras crowds. After another hour’s wait to ride Hagrid – because the night rides truly are spectacular – we closed out Islands of Adventure with a front-row Velocicoaster ride, where a majority of the time spent waiting was the several train wait for the front row.
Boarding the Hogwarts Express, we spent the remainder of the night at Universal Studios Florida, taking a final ride on Men In Black, but also dining around, sampling Fish & Chips and more Butterbeer in Diagon Alley along with Chicken and Waffles at Fast Food Boulevard. Looking at the “times” board and the Universal Orlando app, many rides by this time were “Ride Now,” meaning you’d have a short wait, but after 32 of the previous 40 hours were spent on our feet at a theme park, we finally called it a night at 12:30am, not making it to the event’s 1:30am closing time for the second evening in a row.
Our Closing Thoughts
If you’ve scrolled through all of the text and the photos to get to this point, looking for a short summary, here’s where we landed, and we’re going to answer the three main questions we had for ourselves before booking the trip.
Is the Orlando Informer Meet-Up worth the ticket price?
In our mind, absolutely. The park-to-park access, unlimited food & beverage, and relative lack of lines make the Orlando Informer meet-up an ideal way to experience Universal Orlando’s two theme parks, especially if you’re on a time-crunch or really want to explore everything the parks offer from a culinary perspective.
Do you need to combine the Orlando Informer meet-up with daytime tickets to maximize your experience?
Here’s where the jury is still out for us. Traveling from out of state, with multiple years in between Universal Orlando visits, we wanted to maximize our time and ride and experience as much as possible during our short two-day trip. Going in, I felt that the two-day, two-park daytime ticket, was the best possible way to do this. Did it make for an enjoyable experience? Yes. Was it absolutely necessary to do it this way? Probably not.
If I were to visit Universal Orlando coinciding with an Orlando Informer meet-up again, I would consider either two days’ worth of one-park tickets, or a one-day park-to-park ticket on Friday, combined with the two-day Orlando Informer meet-up. Even with a potential combined 17 hours in the park during the two nights of the meet-up, there is still far too much to see and do to cram it all into two nights, especially if you’re eager to ride everything at least once and often multiple times. Plus, with any Universal Orlando vacation, the Horror Make-Up show is a must-do for me, and unless you time it perfectly, there’s no guarantee you’re going to see it if you solely visit during a meet-up.
If you’re limited to one night, I don’t know if there’s a better option between Friday and Saturday night — the parks cleared out quicker on Friday by the nature of the park closing an hour earlier, but your results may definitely vary on this one.
Who is the target market for this event? Is it crowded?
If you were an Orlando local and/or Universal Orlando Annual passholder, the price might be a tad steep for an experience you could essentially get any other day of the year. However, for me, as someone who doesn’t get to visit the park for years at a time, it was a great way to ensure that we could maximize our time in the park. But I do think this event is for everyone — there were locals, there were passholders, and there were vacationers from all over — a great cross-section of theme park and Universal Orlando fans!
I was honestly pleasantly surprised by the crowd levels. Orlando Informer doesn’t release ticket sales numbers or event capacity, but compared to a typical Saturday daytime crowd, the numbers were far less. It may be because everyone was wandering around Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade, but after a certain point in the night, the parks felt empty, and even the Harry Potter areas weren’t as crowded as they typically are.
And finally, maybe the most important question.
Would you participate in the Orlando Informer Meet-Up again?
Assuming the stars aligned and my vacation was happening at the same time, I would definitely do it. The value for the price was perfect for the experience we had, and while I think I would go in with a better plan of attack to pace myself a little better throughout the day in order to fully maximize my time during the meet-up, I honestly couldn’t think higher of the Orlando Informer meet-up as an event and overall experience. 10/10 would do it again.
The next Orlando Informer meet-up takes place in June. For more information about the Orlando Informer Meet-Up, visit their website, and follow Orlando Informer on social media. Facebook | Twitter | Instagram