Everyone who visits Universal Studios or Universal Islands of Adventure is first funnelled through CityWalk. Gliding in on the moving sidewalk from Universal's massive parking garage, you'll see a plethora of neon signs for restaurants, shops, bars and shows like Blue Man Group and Wilco. Think Times Square Orlando-style. In this open-air setting with throngs of happy people and colorful neon lights, you can't help but feel the excitement. Just beyond the canal which run through Universal's on-site resorts are the two grand entrances to Universal's theme parks. Whether you're grabbing a cocktail or dinner after a day at the parks or making CityWalk your sole destination, Universal Orlando provides plenty of options and loads of energy to keep your party going late into the night.
Start With Dinner
Before a night of partying, getting a good base is important. Universal CityWalk offers about a dozen restaurants, serving everything from sushi and enchiladas to homemade Italian, Southern specialties and Chicago-style hotdogs. For something outdoor and casual, stop at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville. Avoid the line for a table inside and head instead to the outside bar for a spot right on the canal underneath a beached plane. It's the perfect atmosphere to set the mood. You can share the nachos or the quesadillas and order the Booze in the Blender, which comes in a 22-ounce souviner cup. For a special meal, Emeril's Orlando offers first-class service, a fantastic wine list and a menu designed by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse. You can split a few appetizers like the fried green tomatoes with Florida shrimp, the crawfish and andouille pizza or the angel hair pasta with wild mushrooms. You'll want to save room for the banana cream pie—it's big enough for your entire table to share. If you have a designated driver, Emeril's validates valet parking which is a great deal since the parking garage costs $17 and is a monster to navigate. (Florida residents can park free in the garage after 6 pm, but the valet is much more convenient.)
Get the Party Pass
After dinner, go to any venue's ticket window for a CityWalk Party Pass. For $12, you can enjoy unlimited club-to-club access to Rising Star, the groove, Red Coconut Club, Bob Marley's, Margaritaville and Pat O'Brien's. Without it, you'll end up paying a cover charge at each venue, so the Party Pass gives you the freedom to bar hop, which is key in a group. The passes are free when you purchase a multi-day theme park ticket, a plus if you'll be hanging out at Universal for a few days. Note: Most venues are 21+.
Walk on over to Bourbon Street-favorite Pat O'Brien's which brings a little New Orleans fun to your party. The courtyard outside next to the fiery fountain is a nice way to ease into the evening. Order a signature hurricane then grab a table in the lively piano bar inside, where the piano player takes requests and knows practically every song imaginable. If your group is ready to head out but you haven't finished your drink, no need to chug. You can simply walk around CityWalk with it and even take it with you to the next bar.
Raising the Bar on the Karaoke Bar
After some liquid courage, cross the alleyway to Rising Star. This is not the cheesy restaurant karaoke bar in your hometown, but karaoke on steroids. The venue looks more like a theater than a bar, and on stage is a full band with backup singers ready to accompany you. Watching the performers is tons of fun, even if some of them are like bad American Idol outtakes.
So Dance, Dance Like It's the Last, Last Night of Your Life
For dancing, the groove and Red Coconut Club are your best bets, complete with lively DJs, cool lighting and bottle service. If you're wondering what to wear, anything goes. Party-goers wear anything from their South Beach spandex to jeans and flip flops to Disney princess costumes. Yep—Mulan dancing with Cinderella and Elsa during a bachelorette party—we've seen it all.
For the ultimate girls night out, you can stay right on property. Universal Orlando offers several hotels on site, and they're in the process of building a Loews Sapphire Falls to add to the portfolio. Hard Rock Hotel is the easiest walk from CityWalk or you can board the water taxi for a ride to Loews Portofino Bay or Loews Royal Pacific Resort. A bus can also take you back to Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Universal's newest hotel with great rates and a fun, retro '50s theme. Just below CityWalk's moving walkways before the parking garage, you'll find a row of taxis lining up (407.422.2222) or you can call an Uber for a pickup at the same location. Uber is widely available in Orlando. Download the app on your smart phone and link your PayPal account. All drivers are screened by the company and then rated by riders. You can choose to split the fare several ways to share a ride with friends. The important thing is you get home safely after a fun night out with friends.