My kids love Universal Studios Florida® and Universal’s Islands of Adventure®—especially the Wizarding World of Harry Potter™. Frankly, the old Universal rides are great but the Harry Potter lands (Hogsmeade™ and Diagon Alley™) are well worth the price of admission by themselves. Just one word of caution—the fast passes at Universal Studios can set you back huge coin (up to $149.99 per person per day). The best way to end run the ridiculous fast pass cost is to stay at one of the three Deluxe Universal Orlando hotels—The Portofino Bay Hotel, The Hard Rock Hotel® or The Royal Pacific Resort. All of them are great hotels with fabulous proximity to the parks. The Portofino Bay Hotel is my favorite because I love the wonderful attempt to recreate the charming Portofino, Italy, waterfront. In addition, you get to take a cool boat ride from the hotel to the parks.
The idea is to stay one night at a Deluxe Universal Orlando hotel, pay the extra freight (these hotels cost much more than similar hotels nearby) and get the FREE Unlimited Express Passes for the whole family. Let’s say you’re a typical family of four and you want to spend April 24-25, 2015, at Universal. The two-park Unlimited Express passes alone for the two day period will set you back around $200 per person (assuming you buy them for both days). Even if you bundle the two-park Unlimited Express passes with a two day, Park-to-Park ticket (and buy them from Universal online), the Unlimited Express pass portion alone will cost you about $80 per person per day. However, if you check in to the Loew’s Royal Pacific Resort for $289 a night Universal throws in the Unlimited Express passes for the whole clan for FREE. The key here is to hit the hotel FIRST…check in, get your rooms keys (even if your room isn’t available) and then head to the parks. You will still need to buy regular theme park admission but your room key will serve as your Unlimited Express pass. Granted, The Royal Pacific Resort might fetch $130 a night hotel anywhere else in Orlando but who cares—those fast passes will save you big money (up to $800 in the scenario described above). Keep in mind that the new Cabana Bay Hotel while very hip and charming (and cheap) will not get you free Express Unlimited passes although it will get you early entry in Harry Potter World (as does your stay at the other Universal hotels).
Bottom line is that a family of four staying at a $100 a night Holiday Inn or Marriott will pay much, much more for their outing at Universal Studios Florida (if they buy fast passes) than a family of four staying in the lap of luxury at The Loew’s Royal Pacific Resort for $289 a night. The example below assumes your visit takes place on April 24-25, 2015.
ONE DAY AT UNIVERSAL ORLANDO FOR A FAMILY OF FOUR WITH PARK-TO-PARK TICKETS AND UNLIMITED EXPRESS PASSES (Reduces fast pass cost almost 53% from $400 to $189)
Royal Pacific Resort $ 289 Non-Universal Hotel $100
4 Unlimited Express Pass $0 4 Unlimited Express Pass $400
Total $867 Total $1078
TWO DAYS AT UNIVERSAL ORLANDO FOR A FAMILY OF FOUR WITH PARK-TO-PARK TICKETS AND UNLIMITED EXPRESS PASSES (Reduces fast pass cost almost 77% from $800 to $189)
Royal Pacific Resort $289 Non-Universal Hotel $100
4 two-day Park-to-Park tkts $756 4 two-day Park-to-Park tkts $756
4 Unlimited Express Passes $0 4 Unlimited Express Passes $800
Total $1045 Total $1656
Here are a couple of notes on the examples above. First, I have removed the taxes and fees from the example for simplicity sake. Second, the cost of the Unlimited Express passes can range from $40 to $150 per person, per day (so your savings will vary dramatically depending on the date of your visit). Third, if you bundle your Unlimited Express passes with your two day Park-to-Park ticket (on the Universal Studios website) you can knock about $195 off the two-day total of $1656. Finally, there are numerous websites offering small discounts on Universal Studios tickets such as the Undercover Tourist, the AAA auto club and the Costco Wholesale warehouse.