Universal Orlando Resort is expensive. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no other way to describe it. Is it worth it? Absolutely! But, that still doesn’t take the sting off when it’s time to hand over your credit card. However, there are ways to get more VALUE out of your experience by spending less time waiting in line or by paying less for other things.
How can you do that? Lots and lots of different ways. I promise to list all of those tips and tricks in another future blog. However, what I want to do in this blog is focus on the best one! The one that if you didn’t do anything else, it wouldn’t matter because this tip is just so good!
Three of us (2 teenagers) went to Universal Studios Orlando in early August. We spent one night at Loews Royal Pacific Resort, a Universal hotel next to Universal Studios. We spent one day at Universal Studios Orlando and went on every ride in both parks (except a couple that are for little children), some of them multiple times. Notwithstanding the crowds, we did everything that we wanted and were completely satisfied with our time there. We spent a total of 12 hours in both parks.
Universal Studios Orlando
Before I divulge the tip, let me clear up any potential confusion. Universal Orlando Resort is actually made up of two amusement parks and one water park. The original amusement park is called Universal Studios Florida (opened in 1990) and the newer one is called Islands of Adventure (opened in 1999). They exist side by side, with an easy walk between the two entrances. Don’t be fooled by their opening dates. The rides in both parks have been regularly replaced with newer more exciting rides as needed over the years.
Most importantly for Harry Potter fans, both parks host the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. In Islands of Adventure, you can find Hogwart’s Castle and explore Hogsmead Village. At Universal Studios Florida, you can enter Diagon Alley. Both parks have different rides, stores and experiences that will thrill everyone.
The water park is called Volcano Bay. Although some of what I am going to write about is relevant for Volcano Bay, not all of it is. Further, the water park experience is very different from the amusement park experience. Not everyone who wants to go to an amusement park wants to go to a water park, and vice versa. Accordingly, I am only discussing the two amusement parts – Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. For ease of reference, I will refer to both amusement parks simply as “Universal Studios Orlando“.
The Best Tip To Save You Time And Money?
Everyone who goes to Universal Studios Orlando must purchase an entrance ticket. There are different prices for different access depending on the time of the year. For example, when we went in August, if we had only gone to Universal Studios Florida or to Islands of Adventure (not both), a one day adult ticket was $115.00. However, we wanted to go to both amusement parks on the same day. Accordingly, our one day ticket for access to both amusement parks was $170 USD. It didn’t matter where we stayed or what else we “added on”, this was the entrance fee that we had to pay.
An entrance ticket allows you to go on as many rides and see as many shows as you can fit in during your day in either one or both parks, depending on your ticket. How many rides will depend on the crowds. If it is in the middle of summer, you could spend an average of 1-2 hours (or more) waiting for each ride. There are a few tricks to reduce that time (which I will discuss at another time). However, that is basically the reality.
Universal Express Unlimited Pass
The Universal Express Unlimited Pass is a separate add-on that you can purchase in addition to the entrance ticket that allows you to skip the regular lines at most rides and attractions as many times as you want! How amazing is that??!! I can tell you from my own experience this summer that it was UNBELIEVABLE! Before noon, we had gone on 9 different rides at both amusement parks, some multiple times. Before we left for the day, we had gone on more than 20 different rides (again, some multiple times), watched a show, sat down and ate lunch and dinner, and went on the Hogswart’s Express (that connects the two parks) three times!
However, this pass is expensive. The cost of the pass varies from month to month. When we went in early August, the cost of a one day Express pass for both parks was $139 each. Remember, this was in addition to the $175 per person that I had to pay for a one day entrance ticket to both amusement parks. In other words, a one day ticket to both amusement parks at Universal Studios Orlando with an Universal Express Unlimited add-on would cost $314.00 plus tax. PER PERSON.
So at this point, I am guessing that you totally understand how acquiring an Universal Express Unlimited add-on saves you time at Universal Studios Orlando. However, I am also guessing you are totally confused as to how this tip will save you money.
Stay at One of the On-Site Universal Hotels
At the moment, there are three on-site Universal Studio Orlando hotels that offer FREE Universal Express Unlimited add-ons when you stay there. Those are Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, and the Hard Rock Hotel. And it isn’t just one free pass. When I booked a night’s stay at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort hotel this past August, we got three of them – one for each of us and all for free. I was told that you could get up to 5 free UniversalExpress Unlimited add-ons per standard room. FIVE!!!!!
What’s the catch? Well, the room prices are going to be more than what you would have to pay for a similar quality hotel within reasonable driving distance to Universal Studios Orlando. Case in point, we payed $375.00 USD for a one night’s stay at Loews. The next day, we checked out and stayed at the Hyatt Regency Orlando about 10 minutes drive away for 3 nights at $99 per night.
How Does This Save You Money?
When I break down the numbers, here is what this all means.
(For the purposes of this discussion, I have excluded the cost of the entrance ticket fee of $175 per person for the one day 2 park ticket. As I said earlier, everyone has to purchase that ticket regardless of where you stay or whether you want to purchase the Universal Express Unlimited add-on).
Instead of staying at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort hotel, we could have stayed all nights at the Hyatt Regency and paid $99 per night. Then, I would have had to purchase 3 Unlimited Express add-ons at $135 each or $405.00 (3 x $135) to get this privilege. The total would have been $504 ($99 + $405) for one night’s stay and 3 Universal Express Unlimited add-ons.
I paid $375 for a night at Loews Royal Pacific Hotel which included for free the 3 Universal Express Unlimited add-ons instead. Accordingly, I saved $129 ($504-$375) by staying at Loews. If we were a family of 5, we would have saved well over $300.
I paid $375.00 for one night at Loews Pacific Royal Pacific Resort. If I reduce it by $99, the cost of one night at the Hyatt Regency, we are left with the on-site hotel room being $276 more per night than the cost of the Hyatt Regency.
However, we received 3 Unlimited Express add-ons with the cost of the room. If I had bought them on my own, they would have cost $405 (3 x $135). Instead, they cost $276 (the difference in cost between the two hotel rooms) or $92 each ($276 divided by 3). If we had been a family of 5, the cost of these add-ons would still be $276 but would have cost only $55.20 each ($276 divided by 5).
You can go on every ride and do everything in ONE DAY!
For those of you not yet lulled to sleep by all of this, there is still another key reason to stay at one of these on-site Universal hotels and get free Universal Express Unlimited add-ons. That reason is that you can go on every ride in both parks, some more than once, and see a lot of shows, all in one day! That means that we only had to spend $175 for our one day two park entrance ticket.
In high season (the summer, for example), this would not be possible with only a regular park ticket for both amusement parks. You would have to go 2 if not 3 days because the crowds and line-ups would just be too much.
Sorry, More Numbers!
Think about this.
Let’s say you need two days to do all the rides at both parks at Universal Studios Orlando. That means buying a two day – two park ticket. The cost of the entrance tickets to Universal Studios Orlando decreases per day the more days that you buy. Today (and I believe back in August), a 2 day 2 park ticket would cost $133 per day or $266 for two days, per person.
Now, you need to add in the cost of two nights at a hotel. Let’s still use the Hyatt Regency rate of $99 per night.
So, now for a family of three (like we were), you would pay an additional $91 per person for a two day – two park ticket ($266 – $175) or $273 ($91 x 3) and an additional $99 for a second night at a hotel for a grand total of $372 more for a 2 day – 2 park ticket WITHOUT a Universal Express Unlimited add-on!
Or you can just pay $375 (assuming the hotel room would cost the same as we paid) for one night at Loews, get a Universal Express Unlimited add, and do everything in one day!
Of course, there are even more costs staying an extra night at a hotel, or doing a second day at the two amusement parks. Those include paying for another day of parking, food and drinks. Unfortunately, those are pretty significant costs and something to keep in mind.
Check-in Early for A Two-Day Universal Express Unlimited Add-on!
Believe it or not, you can check in early for your one night stay at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort and receive free Universal Express Unlimited add-ons for that day AND the next!
When I was there in August, I was checking out of our hotel room at 7:00 am and leaving for our day at Universal Studios Orlando. We left our luggage at the hotel (in the secure checked luggage room) for free, ready for us to pick up at the end of the day. Next to me, was a woman checking in! At 7:00 am in the morning! I watched as she was handed her free Universal Express Unlimited add-ons for that day. In other words, a one night stay at Loews Royal Pacific Resort could give you free Universal Unlimited Express add-ons for two days.
Don’t worry… I’m not about to start more calculations about what this all means from a financial perspective. However, suffice it to say that getting the Universal Express Unlimited add-on for free for two days would have equalled $270 ($135 x 2) savings per person all for the cost of a one night stay with a $375 hotel room, walking distance to Universal Studios Orlando!
You Get Into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida An Hour Early
Beyond the discussion about cost or time savings, if you stay at an on-site Universal hotel, you can also be admitted into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida one hour before general admission opens. The list of on-site Universal Hotels that gives you this privilege is listed here. It is important to note that this list includes other hotels other than those that offer the free Universal Express Unlimited add-on.
Going to Universal Studios Orlando is an expensive day out. There is very little that you can do about the cost of admission. However, if you stay at one of the on-site Universal hotels that offer free Universal Unlimited Express add-ons, you can save a lot of time and money. Fundamentally, you are adding VALUE to your day. You are bypassing most line ups, spending more time on rides, and enjoying everything that the two amusement parks have to offer. If you are going during a busy time, I would highly recommend considering staying at one of these hotels that gives you this privilege!
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