Universal Orlando Discounts and Deals

LAST UPDATE: 4/23/14 Universal Orlando includes two amazing theme parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. You can easily spend two or more days exploring them. Fortunately, there are many, many Universal Orlando discounts and special offers, which change constantly. On this page you’ll find how to get a discount on your tickets, hotel, meals, merchandise and lots more!

All offers are subject to change without notice. Always call ahead and confirm before driving out of your way to take advantage of a particular offer!

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Universal Orlando Discounts & Deals

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Regular Gate Prices for Universal/IOA

PRICES BELOW INCLUDE TAX

Prices up to date as of 2/27/14. The Annual Pass prices did not change on 2/27/14.

Ticket   Type Adults Kids (3-9)
1-Day/1-Park (Base) Ticket $102.24 $95.85
1-Day/2-Park (Park-to-Park) Ticket $144.84 $138.45
2-Day/1-Park (Base) Ticket $166.13 $155.48
2-Day/2-Park (Park-to-Park) Ticket $208.73 $198.08
3-Day/1-Park (Base) Ticket $176.78 $165.06
3-Day/2-Park (Park-to-Park) Ticket $219.38 $207.66
4-Day/1-Park (Base) Ticket $187.43 $174.65
4-Day/2-Park (Park-to-Park) Ticket $230.03 $217.25
Power Annual Pass^ $212.99 $212.99
Preferred Annual Pass^^ $298.19 $298.19
Premier Annual Pass^^^ $447.29 $447.29

^Power Annual Pass has blackout days (mainly summer weekends, Christmastime and Spring Break). Not valid for separately ticketed special events. Does not include parking or food/merchandise discounts. There are frequently deals on this pass.

^^Preferred Annual Pass gives admission every day to both parks for 365 days. Not valid for separately ticketed special events. Includes free self-parking, half-price valet parking, food and merchandise discounts, discounts at on-site resort hotels and more. Florida Resident price may be lower.

^^^Premier Annual Pass gives admission every day to both parks for 365 days, plus Unlimited Universal Express Plus after 4:00 pm. Not valid for separately ticketed special events. Includes free valet parking or preferred self-parking, free bottled water (up to 8 bottles per year), one ticket to Halloween Horror Nights, food and merchandise discounts, discounts and upgrades at on-site resort hotels and more.

Undercover Tourist

Undercover Tourist is a highly reliable ticket broker that sells substantially discounted Universal tickets. Undercover Tourist sells real tickets that you can take through the gate (not vouchers) and its prices include tax and FREE shipping, so be sure to account for that when comparing prices.

Have some time before you need your tickets? Undercover Tourist offers its best deals on tickets exclusively for MouseSavers Newsletter subscribers. These special prices are not available to the general public and are not published here on MouseSavers.com. They are provided ONLY through a “secret” link in the monthly newsletter. Click here to subscribe to the FREE MouseSavers Newsletter. The newsletter comes out on the 15th of each month and we do not send out the “secret” link separately from the newsletter, so please plan ahead.

Advance Purchase Tickets – Universal Website

Save $20 off the gate prices of multi-day tickets when you order online at the Universal Orlando website. You can print them yourself or use electronic pickup (go to the park and get them out of a machine) and avoid shipping charges. Prices displayed on Universal’s site do not include 6.5% tax, which is added further along in the transaction. Once you get to the final price, it’s usually a better deal to buy tickets from Undercover Tourist, which displays its real prices up front, with all taxes and shipping included.

Power Annual Pass Deals

This deeply discounted Annual Pass has blackout days (mainly summer weekends, Christmastime and Spring Break) and does not include parking or food/merchandise discounts.

AAA/CAA Discounts at the Gate

All AAA (American Automobile Association) and CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) members can save $4 on a 2-Day/2-Park ticket and $5 off a 3-Day/2-Park ticket when purchasing tickets at the gate. Valid for up to six people per membership card.

AAA/CAA Advance Purchase Discounts

Each AAA (American Automobile Association) and CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) region has different Universal offers. Some have great deals that are available to all US and/or Canadian members; some have deals available only to local members; a few (particularly in the West) don’t offer any Universal Orlando deals at all. The prices vary tremendously from region to region and change all the time, so contact your local AAA office to check.Other AAA/CAA advance purchase options:

Costco Discounts

The membership warehouse store Costco sometimes has great deals on Universal tickets, so it’s always worth checking at your local store, particularly if you live in the Midwest and Eastern US. At times Costco offers discounted tickets on its website and you don’t even have to be a Costco member to buy through the site. (Non-members pay a 5% surcharge, however.) There is a shipping charge, which varies.

Orlando FlexTicket

Planning a “grand tour” of Orlando? Be sure to consider the Orlando FlexTicket, which includes 14 days of unlimited admission to both Universal theme parks and CityWalk, plus several other attractions.

Florida/Georgia Residents

Universal often has special ticket promotions for local residents. Click here to see what’s currently being offered.

Military Discounts

Active duty and retired military personnel should check with their local MWR/ITT office or with Shades of Green at Walt Disney World for discounted ticket prices. For more info on Universal tickets for military, click here.

MouseSavers.com reader Jen W points out, “Military tickets (purchased through MWR) get early park entry even if you’re not staying on property. Just check operating hours to see which park is opening early.”

Using Award Points for FREE Tickets

Many different credit card rewards, hotel points and other awards programs allow you to redeem an award in the form of Universal Orlando tickets. Below are the ones that have been reported to us:

On-Site Hotel Discounts & Deals

The official Universal Orlando hotels are all operated by Loews Hotels. The three deluxe resorts are all AAA Four Diamond Award winners.

See below for benefits of staying at the on-site Universal hotels.

Any prices quoted below do not include resort tax of 12.5% and are for “room only” reservations.

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CheapTickets and Orbitz

CheapTickets and Orbitz are really the same company, but they don’t always offer exactly the same deals. They frequently offer special discount codes that take a percentage or a flat dollar amount off your reservation.

For both sites, to find the Universal hotels, put “Universal Orlando” in the location box, and select 3-star or higher hotels. Usually the three deluxe hotels will be first in the list, but you may need to scroll down to find Cabana Bay.

CheapTickets/Orbitz has a glitch in their programming that overcharges if you have more than two guests, even if the additional guests are children under 18. Universal’s policy is that kids under 18 stay free. To avoid incurring the extra charge, book the room online with two guests. You can call CheapTickets/Orbitz customer service to get them to contact Loews to add the children to the booking, but it’s not essential. As long as you don’t exceed the room occupancy the hotel will be happy to add the children to the booking at check-in. You will get Express Passes for every person staying in the room. Just be sure you book a room that can handle the entire party. Thanks to Scott D. for info.

  • Book through CheapTickets and get 20% off at any of the Universal resort hotels for stays through 9/30/14. CheapTickets’s base room rates are generally the same as Universal’s discounted rates, and those rates can be further discounted with this special code. To find the Universal hotels, put “Universal Orlando” in the location box, and select 3-star or higher hotels. Type the code CHEAPTRIP into the form under “I have a promotion code.” You must book by 4/27/14.
  • Book through Orbitz and get 10% off at any of the Universal resort hotels for stays through 9/30/14. Orbitz’s base room rates are generally the same as Universal’s discounted rates, and those rates can be further discounted with this special code. To find the Universal hotels, put “Universal Orlando” in the location box, and select 3-star or higher hotels. Type the code HOTEL10 into the form under “I have a promotion code.” You must book by 6/30/14.
  • Orbitz has a rewards program that rebates back 1%-5% of your booking amount in the form of “Orbucks” that can be used for future bookings. If you’re not already a member of the Orbitz Rewards program, you get a $25 promo code when you join. Click here to sign up.

Loews Hotels

The four Universal Orlando resorts are operated by Loews Hotels, so always check the Loews website. Often you’ll find special deals on the Universal Orlando resorts.

Book Directly with Universal Resort

Be sure to try calling the Universal Resort directly at (888) 322-5541 or (800) 837-2273 (or have your travel agent do so) and ask if there are any “promo” rates for the time of your stay. Often there are discounted rates available to the general public — you just have to ask! Thanks to Danielle for info.

AAA Discount

The AAA discount is usually available, but the amount of the discount varies by season. Call Universal Resort directly to book, or a travel agent can book this rate for you.

Hotwire

Two of the official Universal Orlando hotels (Portofino Bay Hotel and Royal Pacific Resort) sometimes show up on Hotwire at bargain rates (this is more likely in the extreme off-season, such as January or September).

The Hotwire Hot Rates option (which will pop up once you enter Orlando and your dates on the front page and start your search) allows you to get some amazing deals on hotel rooms, but you aren’t told the hotel’s name up front. You select the general location and then Hotwire gives you a list of prices for unnamed hotels in various star categories (i.e. a 5-star hotel will be a luxury resort, while a 1-star will be a low-end motel) and with specific amenities. At that point you can choose to accept or reject the offered price for a hotel that has a rating and amenities you want. Once you have accepted the price, you are charged in full. It is only at that point that you’re told the hotel name. There are no refunds or exchanges.

Although the names of the hotels aren’t listed, it’s fairly easy to tell if it’s a Universal Orlando hotel being offered in the Hotwire listing. This information is subject to change and there is never any absolute guarantee that you’ll get a specific hotel, but here are some hints that have worked for many people:

Remember, this information is subject to change and there is never any absolute guarantee that you’ll get a specific hotel when using Hotwire!

Florida, Georgia and Alabama Resident Discount

A discount for local residents is not always available, and varies by season. At times this may be the deepest discount available. Call Universal Resort directly to book, or a travel agent can book this rate for you.

Florida residents should ask for discount code FLO — you won’t necessarily get the best discounts just by going to the Florida Resident section of the Universal site or calling without the code.

Annual Passholders Discount

Discounts for Annual Passholders are not always available, and vary by season, but sometimes these are excellent deals.

Call Universal Resort directly to book Annual Passholder rates, or a travel agent can book these rates for you. Or go to the Loews website, fill in your reservation details and type APH in the promo code box. You must show your annual pass at check-in.

Loews You First Member Benefits

Loews operates the Royal Pacific and Portofino Bay hotels. If you will be booking a standard room rate at one of those two hotels, consider signing up for free Loews You First membership. A few deeply discounted rates may not apply for Loews You First benefits: see the site for specifics.

The Loews You First program is a frequent stay program. Your first two stays only provide bonus American Express Membership Rewards points, so if you don’t have an American Express card or don’t plan to stay at a Loews Hotel again soon, don’t bother signing up.

The benefits really kick in after two stays in a Loews hotel: free Internet access, free fitness center access, room upgrades and late check-out.

The You First Program does not apply at Hard Rock Hotel – for that hotel, see the All Access Club info.

Hard Rock All Access Club

Hard Rock All Access Club members may qualify for hotel room upgrades (and reportedly, free wi-fi) at the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando. Other benefits of membership apply primarily to the Hard Rock Cafes.

Hotel upgrades are subject to availability, blackout periods and not available in conjunction with other discounts and promotions. All Access members must provide All Access membership information and request an upgrade when making the room reservation. Where applicable, upgrades are limited to the next category of room booked. Upgrades are not available on Club Level rooms and suites at the Hard Rock Hotel Orlando. Other limitations may apply. Contact the hotel for details.

There are at least three ways to get an All Access Club card:

  1. If you want a card in advance of your visit, membership in the All Access Club can be purchased online for $24.95 plus shipping & handling. You’ll receive a $20 bonus for joining, plus a backpack and limited edition pin.
  2. The card can be purchased in the gift shop at the Hard Rock Hotel Orlando and at Hard Rock Cafes for $24.95.
  3. MouseSavers.com reader Jatinder reports that as of June 2012, “All Access cards are given for free (if you request) at check-in. You have to register this card online. [Once we had one from a previous stay] it did get us free wi-fi and room upgrade. The clerk told me she was not positive, but thought the only difference between this card and the one you purchase in the gift shop was that the amount you pay on the gift shop card was credited to an account you could use later to purchase at the resort or any Hard Rock restaurant.”

Portofino Bay Hotel – Benefits for Platinum Card from American Express

If you have the Platinum Card® from American Express*, you can book Loew’s Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando through the Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR) program*. By booking through this program, you get:

Note that the FHR rates are sometimes higher than rates you might find elsewhere, so you’ll have to weigh that against the value of the extra benefits. Mary used FHR to stay at this hotel and for the date she selected in early October 2010, it was a great value. She got a $259 rate for a Bay View room, with all those extras.

*The FHR program is only available to those who have the Platinum Card® from American Express. This is a charge card that requires a substantial annual fee and is NOT the same as an American Express Platinum credit card, such as the Optima, Costco or SkyMiles Platinum cards, which do not qualify for FHR.

Off-Site Hotels Near Universal Orlando

If you don’t want to shell out for an official on-site Universal hotel, there are less expensive options nearby. These hotels do not include the special privileges associated with Universal’s official on-site hotels, but they provide good value for money.

Both of the recommended hotels below are part of the “Official Universal Orlando Partner Hotel” program, which provides a few minimal benefits: discounts on merchandise at select theme park locations, discounts on food and non-alcoholic beverages at select CityWalk locations, and scheduled transportation to Universal Orlando theme parks.

Many of the official “Partner Hotels” are not at all close to Universal: some are 8 miles or more away! However, the two we have listed below are very close to Universal and provide the best “bang for the buck.”

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DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel at the Entrance to Universal Orlando

DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel at the Entrance to Universal Orlando is the closest of the hotels located off Universal property. It’s an easy walk of about a half-mile to the entrance of Universal Studios. There is FREE scheduled shuttle service to Universal, SeaWorld (which also provides easy access to Discovery Cove and Aquatica) and Wet ‘n Wild. The hotel is located on the I-Ride Trolley route, which gives you access to a wide variety of restaurants.

Standard rooms are good-sized (about 350 sq ft) and equipped with Sweet Dreams plush-top beds (either one King or two Queen beds), 32″ flat screen television, mini refrigerator, voicemail, in-room safe, iron and ironing board. The guest rooms have floor to ceiling windows, some with views of Universal. The DoubleTree offers Starbucks Coffee in the lobby, warm chocolate chip cookies upon check-in and a junior Olympic-sized heated pool. There is a lobby bar, a restaurant and a deli.

Four Points by Sheraton Orlando Studio City

Four Points by Sheraton Orlando Studio City is very close to Universal Orlando, but across a busy Interstate highway. You can technically walk to the parks, but it’s about a mile (allow 15-20 minutes to get to the moving walkways of the Universal parking structure) and you’ll have to cross major streets. However, there is free shuttle service to and from Universal multiple times during the day. There is also a FREE shuttle to the SeaWorld (which also provides easy access to Discovery Cove and Aquatica), and to Walt Disney World. (To use the shuttles, be sure to collect a ticket from the front desk.) Wet ‘n’ Wild water park is right across the street and you can easily walk to many restaurants.

The Four Points offers some fun Art Deco movie studio theming that will put you in that “Universal Studios” mood. Some rooms have views of Universal. Standard rooms are spacious (about 460 sq ft) and offer two Queen-sized Sweet Sleeper beds. The hotel offers an outdoor heated pool, and has a casual restaurant, lobby bar and pool bar (open seasonally).

Southwest Vacations Package Offers

If you live in or near a city served by Southwest Airlines, you may be interested in checking Southwest Vacations for Universal packages that include airfare on Southwest. (Note that Southwest Vacations is not actually operated by the airline itself, but rather by a third party licensed by the airline.)

Southwest Vacations sometimes offers discounted Universal packages. They will always include airfare. Sometimes the deals are quite good, but be sure to check the cost of the airfare and/or tickets included with the package: sometimes either or both may be inflated. Do the math and don’t rely on marketing statements such as “3 days free” without checking the bottom line price. If you do your homework, you may find it’s cheaper to book discounted airfare directly with the airline and get your room and tickets elsewhere.

Booking A Universal Orlando Vacation With a Travel Agent

If all this information about Universal is making your head swim, consider consulting a travel agent who knows Universal and can book your vacation without any extra cost to you. Whether you want to book a trip to both Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World, or a stand-alone Universal Vacation Package, our recommended travel agency, Small World Vacations, can help you.

Small World Vacations agents are required to experience the destinations they sell. They are extremely knowledgeable about Universal Orlando and oriented toward saving you money. They understand the various discounts that are available, and they know the best tricks for maximizing your time and money when planning a Universal vacation.

If you want to book a combination Universal Orlando & Walt Disney World vacation, Small World Vacations has agents who are experts on both destinations and can handle everything, including transferring you and your luggage between the two resort areas. To book a Universal Orlando add-on of as little as one night (on-site Universal hotels only) to a Walt Disney World vacation:

  • Click here to visit the Small World Vacations website. Fill out a quote form for the Walt Disney World portion of your trip. On the final page in the “Special Requests” section, add a note saying that you’d like to add days at Universal Orlando and which on-site hotel you are interested in.

Small World Vacations can also book a stand-alone Universal Orlando vacation package, including the popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter Vacation Package or a custom package with the exact tickets and hotel options that work best for you. (On-site hotels only. 2-night minimum for hotel and ticket packages.) To book a stand-alone Universal Orlando vacation:

Dining, Entertainment & Merchandise Discounts

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Tips for Eating at Universal

MouseSavers.com reader Jen W offers these great tips on Universal food and drink, plus an edible souvenir idea:

The Great Feast Platter at Three Broomsticks

MouseSavers.com reader Jatinder reports: “the family dinner at Three Broomsticks in Harry Potter was a great bargain and decent food for an amusement park. For $50 (10% off with AAA) you get a large salad with Italian dressing, 4 pieces of chicken (2 each breast/wing and leg/thigh), 4 ribs, sautéed vegetables and roasted potatoes. Nothing fried and all quite tasty, both rare in an amusement park.”

MouseSavers.com reader Jen W agrees: “The Great Feast at The Three Broomsticks was such good food (and such a good deal w/AAA discount) that we had it twice during our 3-day visit.”

September is Orlando Magical Dining Month

Annually for the entire month of September, participating high-end Orlando restaurants feature three-course, prix fixe dinners at an exceptional value. Typically some of the top restaurants at Universal Orlando participate.

Visit OrlandoMagicalDining.com for details.

Refillable Drinks & Popcorn Buckets

For cheap snacks, you can’t beat the refillable soft drink mugs and popcorn buckets available at Universal Orlando. Prices below are subject to change at any time:

Universal Dining Plan

Universal Orlando offers the Universal Dining Plan, which allows you to pre-purchase two meals per day and a snack for a flat price. It is only available when purchasing a vacation package direct from Universal or from a travel agent.

Prices:

Each guest receives one table-service meal, one quick-service meal, one snack, and one additional non-alcoholic beverage. A table-service meal consists of an entrée, a non-alcoholic beverage, and a pre-selected Dining Plan dessert. A quick-service meal consists of an entrée platter and a non-alcoholic drink. A snack is an ice-cream, popcorn, fruit, churro, frozen beverage, or a few other options. Gratuities are not included. Children must order one of the available designated children’s entrées.

All restaurants and snack locations inside both parks participate in the program, as well as two CityWalk restaurants: Bob Marley – A Tribute To Freedom and Pat O’Brien’s. No resort restaurants participate.

If you do the math, the Universal Dining Plan is not really much of a bargain. If you eat the most expensive item on every menu and eat all your meals at the most expensive restaurants on the list, you save a few dollars. Normal prices for table-service entrees are $10-22, quick-service entrees are $6-13, desserts are $3-5, snacks are $2-4, and a beverage is $3. Add everything up and all of the entitlements for one adult are worth $30 – $53.

There is also a Universal Dining Plan – Quick Service option, which removes the table service meal, giving you one quick service meal and a snack and beverage. The Quick Service option costs $19.99/day for adults and $12.99/day for children. The Quick Service Option is available to anyone, whether they book a package or not, but it’s clearly not a bargain of any kind, again unless you go out of your way to find the absolute most expensive items for every meal and snack.

AAA/CAA Discounts

Members of the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) save 10% at select dining and merchandise locations:

Annual Passholder Discounts

Holders of the Preferred Annual Pass (but not the Annual Power Pass) get a host of meal, merchandise and entertainment discounts.

Restaurant.com

Save money at some Universal-area restaurants by purchasing discounted gift certificates from Restaurant.com. Most certificates are for a specific amount (usually $25) and you get them at a discounted price (usually $10 or less).

The Universal Orlando area restaurants offered through Restaurant.com change frequently (search for restaurants near zip code 32819).

Hard Rock All Access Club

Hard Rock All Access Club members get a $20 credit for each $200 they spend at the Orlando Hard Rock Cafe in CityWalk and at the Hard Rock Hotel restaurants, as well as the same benefit (or 10% off) at many other Hard Rock Cafes. They also get first available/preferred seating at most Hard Rock Cafes.

Click here to learn more about membership.

Deals at The Palm in the Hard Rock Hotel

Check the Specials page on the website for The Palm to see current offers.

If you plan to be a repeat customer (at any of the locations of The Palm), consider joining the 837 Club for $25 and receive a $25 gift card towards your next meal or happy hour bar visit. Once you become a member, you’ll receive Club Points every time you visit The Palm that can be redeemed for special rewards ranging from a complimentary dessert to a weekend getaway for two.

FREE Birthday Drink at Pat O’Brien’s in CityWalk

Join the Pat O’Brien’s Birthday List and E-Club and you’ll receive an email voucher for any drink of your choice and a souvenir glass, about a week before your birthday.

FREE Smoothie at Bubba Gump in CityWalk

Get a coupon for a FREE smoothie (with purchase of an entree) at Bubba Gump in CityWalk for answering a short survey. Cannot be used in conjunction with any other special offer or coupon. One coupon per table. Coupon usually has about a 3-month expiration date, so wait until shortly before your trip to do this. Click here to complete the survey. (Printable coupon appears on next page after you answer survey.)

Costco Deals on Restaurant Gift Cards

If you are a Costco member and you plan to eat at one or more restaurants that are part of a chain, it’s always worthwhile to check out the restaurant gift cards available through your local warehouse, which are typically discounted by 20%. Keep in mind that a gift card for a particular restaurant brand in the chain might also be accepted at other restaurant brands owned by the same chain.

Deals for AMC Theatre in CityWalk

There is an AMC 20-plex movie theater in CityWalk.

Blue Man Group Ticket Discounts

Experience the new face of today’s entertainment at Universal Orlando Resort with Blue Man Group. Their unique form of entertainment that combines music, comedy and multimedia theatrics to create a blissful party atmosphere that people of all ages agree is a totally outrageous experience.

Regular ticket prices at the box office are: adult Zone 1 $94 ($100.11 with tax); adult Zone 2 $84 ($89.46 with tax); child ages 3-9 any zone $29 ($30.89 with tax). There is no “convenience fee” if you buy tickets directly from the box office, but advance purchase prices are often cheaper.

Mandara Spa Discounts

Mandara Spa at Portofino Bay Hotel offers the usual massages, facials, and pedicures, as well as exotic therapies such as the Elemis Stone Therapy (small stones placed on key energy points during your massage) and Elemis Aroma Spa Ocean Wrap with Massage (using seaweed, sage, and essential oils to wrap your body, followed by a body massage). For reservations call (407) 503-1244.

American Express Lounge

Buy your multi-day ticket or Annual Pass with your American Express card through the Universal website or in person at the Universal box office and get access to the American Express Lounge in Universal Studios, with free snacks and drinks, open noon to 5:00 pm daily. Present your confirmation page or original receipt plus your American Express Card to gain entrance. Click here for details.

Getting to Universal from Walt Disney World

If you plan to book a Universal vacation package (such as the Harry Potter Vacation Package), your travel agent can add transfers from any Disney resort to any Universal resort and between any Universal resort and the Orlando International Airport.

If you’re not booking a vacation package and only want to visit Universal for one day, the cheapest way is usually to rent a car. Click on the link to learn more about how to do this. Often you can get a one-day rental for as little as $30 plus tax, which is much cheaper than the other options and gives you tons more flexibility. You will have to pay the current parking charge when you get to Universal, but even with that figured in this is usually the best value. Driving to Universal is very easy – take I-4 East and three or four exits away there will be signs telling you to exit for Universal. Follow the signs and they will lead you directly to the parking garage. Your hotel can give you specific instructions for how to get to I-4, or there are road signs on all the major Walt Disney World routes that will direct you.

If you don’t want to rent a car, other options are a taxi (about $30-$45 each way plus tip, depending on traffic and where you leave from) or a chartered limo, sedan, or van. Usually a chartered sedan will be fairly competitive in price with a taxi, and you know the price up front, unlike a taxi where the price varies with traffic and depending on the specific route the driver chooses.

Another option is the Mears Shuttle, which offers scheduled, shared shuttle service between Disney World and Universal that operates a few times each day for $20 per person (plus tip) round trip. Mears is a reliable company which runs Disney’s Magical Express and the taxi services that service Walt Disney World. For groups of 3 people or fewer this option is typically cheaper than a taxi or limo, but it can be inconvenient due to the time schedule, which is not flexible. The shuttle will make multiple stops around Walt Disney World before heading to Universal. You cannot book the shuttle one-way and they will not carry any luggage larger than a daypack or purse. To book the Mears Universal Orlando shuttle you must call Mears directly at (407) 423-5566; unfortunately, they do not offer any kind of online booking for this service.

Technically, you could take the city bus. This is really cheap, but not recommended. It takes about 1.5 hours each way from Disney’s Transportation & Ticket Center to Universal and requires you to change buses at the Orlando Central Bus Station, which feels more than a little sketchy.

Parking Deals

Regular Parking Prices

Click here for current parking rates.

Discounts/Deals on Parking

If you leave and return on the same day, present your parking receipt and you won’t have to pay again.

Self-parking is substantially cheaper after 6:00 pm (except on special event nights) and FREE for Florida residents after 6:00. This is primarily intended for those planning to eat/shop/go to a movie in CityWalk, but you can of course go into the theme parks if they are still open.

Preferred Annual Passholders get FREE self-parking and reduced-price valet parking at the theme parks every day.

Premier Annual Passholders get FREE preferred self-parking and FREE valet parking (except on holidays & special events) at the theme parks every day.

Universal Express Ride Access and Universal Express Plus

Universal Express Ride Access and Early Entry - For Universal’s Hotel Guests Only

Guests staying at Universal’s hotels receive special theme park privileges. Guests of all four hotels, including the new Cabana Bay, get early entry to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Guests of the deluxe hotels (Royal Pacific Resort, Hard Rock Hotel and Portofino Bay Hotel) receive Universal Express Ride Access at both Universal Orlando theme parks, which is a fantastic benefit allows you to show your room key at the most popular attractions and use the Express entrance, which allows you to wait in special, shorter ride lines. In our opinion, the Universal Express Ride Access feature alone is worth the extra cost of staying in one of the deluxe Universal hotels, because it allows you to get a lot more access to the attractions in a lot less time.

Note that the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction is excluded from the Express Ride Access benefit at this time, but the exclusive early entry to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter allows guests to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and the other Wizarding World attractions when there are fewer guests in the park.

Guests at all Universal resorts get free transportation by boat, tram, and/or bus to and from the theme parks and CityWalk. package delivery to their hotel room and use of their hotel room key card to charge purchases. Guests at deluxe Universal resorts also get priority seating at select Universal Orlando restaurants.

Something useful to know: if you stay ONE night at a deluxe Universal hotel, you can actually get TWO days of Express Ride Access. That’s because you can check into your hotel as early as 7:00 am on the first day and collect your room key, which you can take into the park and begin using right away. (Your room almost certainly won’t be ready that early, but the front desk will store your luggage and you can call or come back in the afternoon and get your room number.) The room key remains valid for Express Ride Access even after check-out on the second day: you can use it until the parks close that night.

There are many different hotel discounts at Universal — be sure to check them out.

Universal Express Plus Pass

With the purchase of a regular-priced ticket or pass, you can pay an extra fee (which varies by season, usually $15-$45 per person) to get the Express Plus Pass. It gives you one entry through the Express entrance for each attraction that participates, with no pre-determined ride time and no need to pick up a pass for each attraction. We think this would be worth the extra money only at very peak times in the parks.

Touring Plans for Universal

Would you like some very specific help with picking the best dates for your Universal vacation and then avoiding lines once you arrive? When you buy a very inexpensive annual subscription to TouringPlans.com for Universal Orlando, you’ll receive:

TouringPlans.com is the website of the best-selling Beyond Disney: The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando, SeaWorld & the Best of Central Florida guidebook. Since 1985, they have helped more than 3 million families plan their vacations. TouringPlans.com’s research has been featured in USAToday, the New York Times and dozens of national newspapers and magazines.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade officially opened to the public on June 18, 2010. This area of Islands of Adventure features immersive rides and interactive attractions, as well as experiential shops and restaurants that enable guests to sample fare from the wizarding world’s best known establishments. The big attraction is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a state-of-the-art thrill ride that brings the magic, characters and stories of Harry Potter to life in an exciting way.

Inspired by J.K. Rowling’s compelling stories and characters – and faithful to the visual landscapes of the films – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter provides a one-of-a-kind opportunity to experience the magical world of Harry and his friends. The fully immersive, themed land enables guests to visit some of the most iconic locations found in the books and the films, including the village of Hogsmeade, the mysterious Forbidden Forest, and even Hogwarts Castle itself. You can drink butterbeer and pumpkin juice, shop for wizard merchandise, and even experience a wand selection!

Mary and Mike visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade in early October 2010 and found the theming absolutely fantastic. The village is adorable: it’s like walking right into the books. The effects in Hogwarts Castle are amazing. If you are a Harry Potter fan, it is definitely worth a half-day of your time. They did and saw everything in about 3 hours, though that was on a weekday in the off-season, so the lines were not huge.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley is scheduled to open Summer 2014 in Universal Studios Florida. The addition of Diagon Alley will double the size of the area already dedicated to Harry Potter’s adventures, expanding it across both Universal theme parks. And, just like Harry, Ron and Hermione, you will be able to travel between the two areas aboard the iconic Hogwarts Express.

Diagon Alley, a bustling, wizarding hub within the Muggle city of London, will have shops, dining experiences, and a new ride called Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts – a multi-sensory, multi-dimensional journey. You will be able to visit Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, for all your magical joke needs; Borgin and Burkes, a shop specializing in a wide variety of Dark objects; and stop in for a meal at the Leaky Cauldron.

Admission to either Wizarding World of Harry Potter is included with your Universal Orlando theme park admission or Annual Pass. To visit both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley on the same day and to ride the Hogwarts Express, you need a Park-to-Park Ticket or Annual Pass.

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Tips and Tricks for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade

Tips and Tricks for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

Fun idea shared with us by a reader: announce your visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter by sending your kids a Hogwarts Acceptance Letter!

You can buy a wide variety of Harry Potter merchandise, including Noble Collection wands (same ones sold in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter) at WBshop.com, the official online store of Warner Bros Studios.

If you’re looking for Harry Potter t-shirts for your family to wear when you visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Zazzle.com has a huge variety.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Vacation Package

This EXCLUSIVE vacation package includes:

Note that this package offers the ONLY way to reserve breakfast at the Three Broomsticks, minimizing time in line. (Three Broomsticks is a counter-service restaurant at lunch and dinner, and lines can be long!)

Minimum stay required for travel on certain dates.

*If you stay at one of the official on-site Universal hotels, you’ll get front-of-the-line access to many rides (not including Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey).

^The 2-Day Base with 3rd Day Free Ticket entitles one guest admission to ONE Universal Orlando Resort theme park per day. Ticket is valid for any three calendar days during a fourteen consecutive calendar day period which includes the first day any portion of the ticket is used during normal operating hours. First use of this ticket must be on or before 5/9/14, to receive full benefit of the ticket entitlements. All ticket usage must be completed on or before 5/22/14 when the ticket will expire in full. Unused days will be forfeited. Ticket excludes parking, discounts on food and merchandise, and separately ticketed events. Additional restrictions may apply which are subject to change without notice.

**Early Park Admission begins one hour prior to regular scheduled park opening for Universal Parks & Resorts Vacations guests who purchase a vacation package including hotel and theme park tickets. Early Park Admission begins one hour prior to Universal’s Islands of Adventure regular scheduled park opening and is valid 7 days a week through 12/31/14 only at Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Flight of the Hippogriff, Dragon Challenge and Caro-Seuss-el.

Small World Vacations has travel agents who specialize in booking Universal Orlando packages. They can help you with your Harry Potter Vacation Package (2-night minimum, on-site hotels only).

  • To start your booking with Small World Vacations, send an email to vacationinfo@smallworldvacations.com with the subject line “Harry Potter Package,” and be sure to list the dates you’re interested in.

Please contact them at least 21 days in advance of your trip (45 days for international visitors). The Harry Potter package can also be booked as an add-on to a Walt Disney World package. Click here for more information.

Annual Special Events

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Check out the full calendar of current and upcoming special events at Universal Orlando.

Mardi Gras

For 2014, Mardi Gras at Universal Studios is offered on select nights between February 8 – May 31.

The main attraction is a parade with authentic floats, which usually starts about 8:00 pm. Beads are thrown to the crowd at this family-friendly event.

After the parade there is a concert. Click here to check for the latest list of performers.

Cajun food is available for purchase on Mardi Gras nights.

During the Mardi Gras parade, most or all of the attractions are closed. Mardi Gras festivities are included in the regular price of admission to the park.

Summer Concert Series

The Summer Concert Series is held at Universal Studios on Saturday nights in peak summer.

2013 concerts were June 1 – July 6.

Halloween Horror Nights

Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) is an after-hours event at Universal Orlando that is held on selected nights in October — usually Friday, Saturday and most Sunday nights, plus Halloween night and sometimes a few weeknights.

For 2013 the Halloween Horror Nights were September 20, 21, 26, 27, 28, 29; October 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 31; and November 1, 2.

This is a scary event that is NOT appropriate for young children — we would not recommend taking a child under 12. It includes gruesome displays, actors with chainsaws and other twisted stuff, in addition to haunted houses and a creepy parade. Park guests are not allowed to wear costumes.

Halloween Horror Nights requires separate admission. Advance purchase is advisable because this event frequently sells out.

2013 Ticket Prices & Discounts

Holidays at Universal

Holiday events at Universal Orlando run from early December through early January each year.

The 2013 holiday season was December 7 though January 4.

Universal Orlando offers the music and festivities of “Grinchmas” as Seuss Landing in Universal’s Islands of Adventure is transformed into a wintry wonderland. Enjoy a live show, “How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” the Wonky Tree Lot, strolling Whos, and a chance to get your picture taken with the mean green one himself.

Next door, the Macy’s Holiday Parade takes to the streets of Universal Studios with colorful balloons and floats direct from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, marching bands, clowns, and an appearance by Santa Claus. You can explore the Holiday Village bustling with unique gifts, delicious treats, and crafts for the kids. Mannheim Steamroller, the biggest selling Christmas artist of all time, performs live onstage select Saturday and Sunday nights in December.

In-park holiday events are included with your regular Universal admission.

If you stay at one of the three official Universal Orlando resort hotels, you will be immersed in the spirit of the season including Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, visits from Santa and Hanukkah candle lightings.