If you want to make the most of Universal Orlando, you really must buy an admission ticket to both parks—Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure–located adjacent to each other at Universal’s City Walk. There are a few reasons for that, but the biggest is that the best attraction at Universal, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Diagon Alley, or more specifically the Hogwarts Express, requires passes to both parks in order to ride.
And, for reasons I’ll spell out below, you’re also going to want to buy admission for at least two days.
My family recently visited and only had about a day and a half to enjoy it all. We learned some valuable tips on how to cover all the territory—and how to save money while still feeling like a VIP.
For example, with minimal time, you’re going to want the Express Pass for everyone traveling with you. The rate for that pass is based on the day you go (it varies each day), but averages about $100 a person. That’s on top of your park admission (which also varies, based on if you’re buying park to park, one day, two day or more), but that extra expense is very worth the cost if you don’t have more than a couple of days in the park. It essentially lets you walk to the front of any line that the pass is accepted for in the park, so you’ll be able to enjoy other parts of Universal Orlando and Islands of Adventure without the wait.
But if you don’t want to pay that extra $100 per person (per day if you want the Express Pass more than one day), there is a way to get it for free for everyone in your party. You just have to stay on property at one of the ‘deluxe’ hotels, the Express Passes come with your stay. It’s important to note this does not include the ‘moderate value’ Cabana Bay hotel. However, all hotels will get you access to the parks one hour earlier than everyone else. With wait times that approach four hours for the Diagon Alley ride, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts Bank, that hour can make a huge difference in your day.
It’s also important to note that if you stay just one night at the deluxe hotel, you get Express Passes for free the day you check in and the day you check out, so if you have four people in your party, that could add up to $400 savings each day!
Of course, you have to figure in the price of that one night in the ‘deluxe’ resort. For Loews Portofino, that may be about $295. A night at Cabana Bay will most likely run about $125 each night. But there’s a way to pay less than that for the hotels—and still save on park admissions, food and souvenirs around the park. That’s with the Annual Pass.
Florida residents pay less, but everyone else can get an Annual Preferred Pass for about $260. With park admission at about $130 per person (for park to park, one day admission), it pays for itself within two visits. The savings on the resort and other discounts becomes icing on the cake.
The key to all of this, though, is doing it in the right order.
You’re going to want to get the annual pass first. You can purchase it online.
Then, you can book the resort at the reduced rate for annual pass holders.
Stay in the deluxe resort (expect to pay about $200 instead of $295 with your annual pass) for one night to get the two days of Express Passes, then reserve your next night at the Cabana Bay (which will run closer to $79 with your annual pass, compared to $129 a night). The resort will move your bags for you to the next resort if you request it before you leave for the park that morning.
When you check in at the deluxe resort, you’ll be able to print your Express Passes. Be sure each person in your party is with you because their photo is taken when the passes are printed.
You can purchase your park tickets in the hotel at that time, too.
It sounds confusing, but it’s not. Just do it in the right order.
What do you do when you get there?
Read this post for tips on how to maximize your time in the parks.
(Universal Orlando at sunset)