Universal Orlando Discounts and Deals
LAST UPDATE: 10/5/15 If you’re looking for Universal Orlando discounts, this is the right place! Universal Orlando includes two amazing theme parks: Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. You can easily spend two or more days exploring them. Fortunately, there are many, many Universal discounts and special offers, which change constantly. On this page you’ll find Universal Orlando ticket discounts, special deals on Universal Orlando hotels, advice about saving money on meals and merchandise at Universal Orlando 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!
- Universal Ticket Discounts & Deals
- Universal On-Site Hotels: Tips, Discounts & Deals
- Nearby Hotels: Tips, Discounts & Deals
- Southwest Vacations Package Offers
- Booking A Universal Orlando Vacation With a Travel Agent
- Dining, Entertainment & Merchandise Discounts
- Getting to Universal from Walt Disney World
- Parking Deals
- Universal Express Passes
- Touring Plans for Universal
- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Annual Special Events
- Regular Gate Prices for Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure
- Discount Tickets from Undercover Tourist
- Three-Park 14-Day Unlimited Ticket
- Advance Purchase Tickets – Universal Website or Hotel Desk
- Power Annual Pass Deals
- Annual Passholder Ticket Discounts
- AAA/CAA Discounts at the Gate
- AAA/CAA Advance Purchase Discounts
- Warehouse Club Discounts
- Orlando FlexTicket
- Florida/Georgia Residents
- Military Discounts
- University of Central Florida Discounts
- Using Award Points for FREE Tickets
Regular ticket prices for Universal Orlando last went up on 2/26/15. Annual Pass prices last went up on 3/21/15.
PRICES BELOW INCLUDE TAX
|Ticket Type||Adults||Kids (3-9)|
|1-Day/1-Park (Base) Ticket||$108.63||$103.31|
|1-Day/2-Park (Park-to-Park) Ticket||$156.56||$151.23|
|2-Day/1-Park (Base) Ticket||$181.04||$170.39|
|2-Day/2-Park (Park-to-Park) Ticket||$228.96||$218.31|
|3-Day/1-Park (Base) Ticket||$191.69||$181.04|
|3-Day/2-Park (Park-to-Park) Ticket||$239.61||$228.96|
|4-Day/1-Park (Base) Ticket||$202.34||$191.69|
|4-Day/2-Park (Park-to-Park) Ticket||$250.26||$239.61|
|Power Annual Pass^||$255.59||$255.59|
|Preferred Annual Pass^^||$356.77||$356.77|
|Premier Annual Pass^^^||$511.19||$511.19|
^Power Annual Pass has blackout days (mainly summer weekends, Christmastime and Spring Break). Includes discounts at on-site resort hotels. 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.
More often than not, we find that the best overall discount on multi-day Universal Orlando tickets is from Undercover Tourist, a highly reliable ticket broker that sells substantially discounted Universal tickets (and other Florida attraction tickets). Undercover Tourist sells real tickets that you can take straight to the gate (not vouchers you have to trade in when you arrive) and its prices include tax and FREE shipping, so be sure to account for that when comparing prices. If you’d like to know more, take a look at why we recommend Undercover Tourist.
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. They also run special limited-time sales on a few tickets (often including Universal Orlando) in a Hot Deals newsletter once per month, so if you want to see those special sales you’ll want to subscribe to the Hot Deals alerts as well.
- 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.
One of the best deals going for Universal Orlando tickets for longer trips is the Three-Park Unlimited Ticket. It’s a 14-day park-to-park ticket that provides unlimited admission to Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and Wet ‘N’ Wild Orlando. You can visit any of the three parks as often as you want for 14 consecutive days. The list price for this is $260.91 (tax included) for adults, $250.26 for children, which is just a few dollars more than gate price for a 4-day park-to-park ticket (and sometimes you’ll find online vendors selling it for about the same price as a 4-day park-to-park). If you plan to visit Wet ‘N’ Wild (which is about $50 per person per day), or want to spend more than 4 days in the Universal area, this ticket is a very good deal. The Three-Park Unlimited Ticket is only sold in advance by travel agents, tour group organizers and authorized ticket resellers, including Undercover Tourist. Note that this ticket cannot be upgraded, for example to an annual pass.
We used this ticket on a 6-day trip to visit a variety of Orlando attractions, including Universal, and it was great to be able to pop into a Universal park any time to just ride a couple rides or see a show. One night we just went in for dinner and the Cinematic Spectacular, the big end-of-night fireworks show. While the Three-Park Unlimited Ticket is not labeled a “park-to-park” ticket it does allow you to hop back and forth between the two Universal Orlando parks and to ride the Hogwarts Express.
Save $21.30 (tax included) off the gate prices of multi-day tickets when you buy online at the Universal Orlando website or in person at a Universal Hotel ticket desk. When purchasing online 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.
This deeply discounted Annual Pass has blackout days (mainly summer weekends, Christmastime and Spring Break) and does not include parking or food/merchandise discounts.
- You can order it online at the Universal Studios website. Florida residents pay a lower price.
- The Orlando Auto Club South (AAA) office usually offers an extra discount or sometimes extra months on the pass.
Holders of any Universal Annual Pass, including the Power Annual Pass, get 10% off the gate price of multi-day tickets when purchasing at the front gate. For most tickets this is less than the regular advance-purchase discount for buying online, and usually much worse than the Undercover Tourist discount. There is no discount for 1-day tickets.
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.
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:
- Auto Club South offices in Florida, Georgia and western Tennessee allow AAA members from any region to purchase discounted Universal tickets on a walk-in basis (no phone orders). The nearest office is located at 7339 West Sand Lake Road, Suite 424 in Bay Hill/Orlando. Call (407) 351-5610 for hours and directions. (They also have a website, but only Auto Club South members can order online, and the prices are sometimes higher online.) Note that sometimes there is a delay of up to several days to get tickets, depending on the specific tickets you need, so definitely call ahead to make sure they have tickets in stock before showing up at their office.
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.
We have heard reports of good deals on tickets at Sam’s Club stores in the Eastern US. Members can also get discounts on multi-day tickets through Sam’s Club Travel. Note that non-members can get a FREE one-day pass to shop at Sam’s Club or the website, but pay a 10% non-member surcharge on everything they buy, whether in person or online. Thanks to Jason Y and Christine W for info.
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.
Universal often has special ticket promotions for local residents. Click here to see what’s currently being offered.
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.
Students, faculty and staff at University of Central Florida can purchase 1-Day/1-Park, 2-Day/2-Park and 1-Day Park-to-Park Universal Orlando tickets at a significantly reduced rate. There is a limit of 2 tickets per 30 days. Tickets can be purchased through the SGA Ticket Center located on the first floor of the Student Union in the Lighthouse Mall area. Be sure to buy in advance because they do sell out at times. For more details, visit their website. Thanks to Amanda for info.
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:
- If you have the type of American Express charge card that earns Membership Rewards points, you can sometimes redeem those points for Universal Orlando tickets (availability comes and goes on the Amex site). Thanks to Amy H for info.
- You can exchange Hilton HHonors points for select Universal Orlando tickets. Click here to read about this award (choose country, then Gift Cards & Certificates, then Universal Theme Parks). Click here to read more about HHonors.
- You can redeem Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards points to purchase adult or child 1-Day Park-to-Park Universal Orlando tickets on the Rapid Rewards site. Thanks to Donna I for info.
- You can redeem IHG Rewards Club points for Universal Orlando tickets. See the IHG Rewards Club site for details. Thanks to Lori B for info.
- The Chase Ultimate Rewards program has Universal Orlando tickets as an award option. Thanks to Drew H for info.
- Canadians can redeem Air Miles for select Universal Orlando tickets. See the Air Miles site for details. Thanks to Dawn N for info.
- Canadians can redeem Aeroplan Miles for select Universal Orlando tickets. See the Aeroplan site for details.
- Universal On-Site Hotels Overview
- Room-Only Versus Package
- CheapTickets and Orbitz Hotel Discounts
- Loews Hotels
- Book Directly with Universal Resort
- AAA Discount
- Florida, Georgia and Alabama Resident Discount
- Annual Passholders Discount
- Loews You First Member Benefits
- Hard Rock VIP Rewards Member Benefits
- Portofino Bay Hotel – Benefits for Platinum Card from American Express
The official Universal Orlando hotels are all operated by Loews Hotels. The three deluxe resorts are all AAA Four Diamond Award winners.
- Portofino Bay Hotel has an elegant coastal Italian theme and is the most luxurious of the hotels. It offers the most amenities, including a spa, and more restaurants. It is the furthest deluxe resort from the major parks, which means the longest walk or boat trip. That said, you can walk from the boat dock to the parks in 10-12 minutes of brisk walking, or it’s about a 6-7 minute boat ride. It has 750 rooms, including 45 suites.
- Hard Rock Hotel is designed to look like a classic California mission-style hotel from the outside. Inside are the usual rock star memorabilia and signed pictures associated with the Hard Rock Cafe brand. The music is loud and continuous, but the amenities and food are quite good. It is the closest walking distance from Universal Studios Florida (about 4-5 minutes walk). It has 650 rooms, including 29 suites.
- Royal Pacific Resort is a tropical paradise with a South Seas theme (primarily Balinese and Indonesian). It has lovely grounds, including a lagoon-style pool with a white sand beach. While this is usually the least-expensive of the Universal deluxe resorts, it is in our opinion the most attractive of the resorts, with one of our favorite restaurants (Emeril’s Tchoup Chop), and our favorite on-site lounge (Jake’s American Bar). It is also the closest walking distance to Universal Islands of Adventure (about 4-5 minutes walk). It has 1000 rooms, including 51 suites.
- Cabana Bay Beach Resort is a new value-oriented hotel, featuring a hip, vintage look, with 900 family suites and 900 standard guest rooms. The family suites are exceptionally nicely designed, with a three-way split bathroom (toilet in one room, sink/shower in another, and a separate sink outside). We were impressed by the nostalgic “Googie” decor (think space-age 1960’s/Jetsons). The resort has much more extensive amenities than Disney’s value resorts, including a lazy river, two main pools, a water slide, and a bowling alley.
See below for benefits of staying at the on-site Universal hotels.
Universal offers bundled Vacation Packages that combine a stay at one of their on-site hotels, park tickets, and an optional dining plan. A hotel stay by itself, without tickets or dining, is called a “room-only” reservation. Most of the time there is no real discount for buying everything together as a package, though typically if there are any current room discounts they’ll apply to packages as well, and sometimes Universal offers very good deals on package bookings. When Universal has a special package deal, it will be listed below.
When Universal is not offering a special package deal, you’ll usually save the most by putting your own package together from the best deals in each category: book a room-only (non-package) hotel reservation, buy your tickets from a discount vendor such as Undercover Tourist, and use our tips to save money on food. It does take some time and energy to put together the pieces yourself, so it’s really a judgment call for each person as to whether the savings are worth it.
Our recommendation for booking Universal vacation packages is always to book using a good full-service travel agent. You get significantly better service than Universal’s own sales people, and it doesn’t cost you a dime; the prices are exactly the same as booking directly with Universal.
Our recommendation for booking hotels & tickets separately (i.e. room-only) is to look for the best available discounts from online travel agencies for the room (or take advantage of one of the other discounts below), and buy tickets from a reliable discount vendor. And you may also want to consider looking at off-property hotels near Universal; the savings can be considerable.
Very often, either CheapTickets or Orbitz offers the best discount available for the on-site Universal hotels. The two sites are operated by same company, but they don’t always offer exactly the same deals. They typically have the same base rates as booking directly through Loews or Universal, including any seasonal discounts, but then frequently offer special discount codes that take an additional percentage or a flat dollar amount off. Sometimes one or the other has a higher discount; check below for current discount codes that can be used for the Universal on-site resorts.
CheapTickets and Orbitz only offer “room-only” reservations. When you check out, they will typically offer you park tickets as an upsell, but typically you can get better ticket prices from other vendors. Be sure to compare prices before you throw those tickets into the cart. If you want to book a Universal Vacation Package with tickets, hotel and optional dining plan, you’ll want to use a full-service travel agent.
Note that while CheapTickets often has a slightly better percentage discount, Orbitz has their Orbitz Rewards program that rebates 1%-5% of your booking cost back as “Orbucks” you can use for future travel. This can make the Orbitz deal come out ahead, if you can use the Orbucks before they expire.
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 list more than two guests, even if the additional guests are children under 18. Universal’s policy is that kids under 18 stay free, but there is a $25/night charge for each adult after the first two per room. Orbitz calculates the extra charge as though everyone in the room is an adult, which is incorrect.
To avoid incurring an extra charge, list just the adults on the booking, and add the children when you check into the hotel. We have personally done this and there was no problem at all. Just make sure you book a room that can handle the entire party and remember to tell them when you check in, so you will get Express Passes for every person staying in the room. You can call CheapTickets/Orbitz customer service and ask them to contact Loews to add the children to the booking, but it’s not essential. Thanks to Scott D. for info.
- New!Book through CheapTickets and get 18% off stays of 2-nights or longer at any of the Universal resort hotels for stays through 3/31/16. 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 with a maximum savings of $150 per booking. To find the Universal hotels, put “Universal Orlando” in the location box, and select 3-star or higher hotels. Type the code TRAVEL into the form under “I have a promotion code.” The expiration given is 10/11/15, but CheapTickets codes often continue working an extra day or two.
- Book through Orbitz and get 15% off stays of 2-nights or longer at any of the Universal resort hotels for stays through 3/31/16. 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 with a maximum savings of $150 per booking. To find the Universal hotels, put “Universal Orlando” in the location box, and select 3-star or higher hotels. Type the code REVIEW15 into the form under “I have a promotion code.” The expiration given is 12/31/15, but Orbitz codes often continue working an extra day or two.
- Book through Orbitz and get 10% off any of the Universal resort hotels for stays through 3/31/16. 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 with a maximum savings of $150 per booking. 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.” The expiration given is 12/31/15, but Orbitz codes often continue working an extra day or two.
- Book through CheapTickets and get 5% off any of the Universal resort hotels for stays through 3/31/16. 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 with a maximum savings of $150 per booking. To find the Universal hotels, put “Universal Orlando” in the location box, and select 3-star or higher hotels. Type the code CTXHOTEL5 into the form under “I have a promotion code.” The expiration given is 12/31/15, but CheapTickets codes often continue working an extra day or two.
- Orbitz Rewards: 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 using this link: Click here to sign up for Orbitz Rewards.
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. However, be sure to compare against Cheaptickets/Orbitz – often they have the same deals, plus their own codes which add an additional discount.
The online rates and specials you’ll see by checking Universal Orlando’s site are the same as the Loews Hotel site, so it’s generally not worth checking the Universal site if you’ve already checked Loews.
Sometimes it’s worth 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. There may be discounted rates available to the general public that aren’t listed online — you just have to ask! Thanks to Danielle for info.
The AAA discount is usually available, but the amount of the discount varies by season. In our experience, the Cheaptickets/Orbitz discounts are almost always better, but it’s worth checking.
Supposedly this rate is bookable online, but we never seem to get it to show up. We’ve had better luck asking for this rate over the phone from Universal at (888) 322-5541 or (800) 837-2273, or a travel agent can book this rate for you.
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:
- On the map, select only the “Universal Orlando” area.
- De-select all star ratings below 4. Portofino Bay is rated 5 stars and Royal Pacific is 4 stars.
- You’ll see some hotel selections. The listings displays star ratings, amenities and prices. The Universal Orlando hotels will have all four of the following amenities: Golf Nearby, Tennis Nearby, Children’s Activities, Business Center. There will be other icons (e.g., Restaurants) listed as well.
- Portofino Bay will list Spa Services in addition to the above.
- Royal Pacific Resort will list Resort in addition to the above.
- Universal Orlando hotels will NOT list “Kitchenette.”
- These hotels aren’t available through Hotwire for all dates! You may find just one or neither of them being offered for a particular set of dates.
Remember, this information is subject to change and there is never any absolute guarantee that you’ll get a specific hotel when using Hotwire!
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.
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 operates all the Universal hotels, but their You First benefits only apply at 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 Cabana Bay Beach Resort or Hard Rock Hotel – for the Hard Rock Hotel, see the Hard Rock VIP Rewards info.
Hard Rock VIP Rewards 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. Rewards members must provide VIP Rewards 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.
Membership in Hard Rock VIP Rewards can be purchased online for $24.95 plus shipping & handling. There is also a FREE Hard Rock Rewards program you can join. However the FREE Rewards program does not qualify you for room upgrades.
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:
- A room upgrade when available, upon check-in.
- Daily Continental breakfast at Trattoria del Porto for up to 2 adults, plus any kids 17 and under staying in the room with you.
- $100 food & beverage credit, good at Mama Della’s, Trattoria del Porto, Sal’s Market Deli, Splendido’s, Room Service, Bar American and/or Thirsty Fish.
- Guaranteed four o’clock pm late check-out.
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. MouseSavers.com founder Mary Waring 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.
Staying off-site at a hotel near Universal can be a great way to save money. Compared to the on-site hotels you can get a room that is just as good, and in some cases better, at a price that’s significantly easier on the wallet. All of these hotels offer FREE scheduled transportation to and from Universal Orlando.
Our top choice for offsite stays near Universal is the Embassy Suites International Drive South. It’s a lovely hotel with a great location for exploring Orlando. We’ve negotiated special offers for MouseSavers readers that make this hotel an exceptional value.
If the Embassy doesn’t meet your needs or is sold out, we can recommend another hotel that we feel offers good “bang for the buck:” the Doubletree by Hilton at the Entrance to Universal Orlando.
- Embassy Suites Orlando (International Drive South)
- Doubletree by Hilton Hotel at the Entrance to Universal Orlando
Embassy Suites Orlando (International Drive South) is conveniently located in the heart of International Drive, just a quick 7-9 minute drive to Universal Orlando. The hotel offers FREE scheduled shuttle service to Universal Orlando, SeaWorld (which also provides easy access to Discovery Cove and Aquatica) and Walt Disney World if you’d like to go without a rental car. The hotel is located on the I-Ride Trolley route, which gives you access to a wide variety of restaurants, shopping and other entertainment options. MouseSavers readers get special offers at this hotel.
Spacious two-room suites range from 452 – 493 square feet and feature a separate living room with a sofa bed and private bedroom with two double beds or one king bed. All the suites have two 32″ LCD flat-screen TVs, a wet bar with a refrigerator for your favorite snacks, a microwave and a coffee-maker. Guests receive an extensive FREE cooked-to-order hot and cold breakfast each morning, and there is a nightly reception in the atrium lobby where you will find complimentary beverages, including beer, wine, select liquors and sodas, and light snacks. Self-parking is free, and MouseSavers readers get free in-suite wifi and a 20% off coupon for the hotel’s Fisheye Grill restaurant. You can read more about what this hotel has to offer here.
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.
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.
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 two nights (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. 3-night minimum for hotel and ticket packages.) To book a stand-alone Universal Orlando vacation:
- Tips for Eating at Universal
- The Great Feast Platter at Three Broomsticks
- September is Orlando Magical Dining Month
- Refillable Drinks & Popcorn Buckets
- Universal Dining Plan
- AAA/CAA Discounts
- Annual Passholder Discounts
- Deals at The Palm in the Hard Rock Hotel
- FREE Birthday Drink at Pat O’Brien’s in CityWalk
- Costco Deals on Restaurant Gift Cards
- Deals for AMC Theatre in CityWalk
- Blue Man Group Ticket Discounts
- Mandara Spa Discounts
- American Express Lounge
MouseSavers.com reader Jen W offers these great tips on Universal food and drink, plus an edible souvenir idea:
- Buy your butterbeer in a $7 souvenir mug and use it to get soft drink refills for $0.99 at both parks (don’t forget to add $3.49 for regular/chilled butterbeer or $4.49 for frozen). Assuming you went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter first, that means $0.99 soft drinks during your entire visit.
- While in The Three Broomsticks, ask a server for a free soft drink refill before you leave. This may work at other restaurants, but we didn’t try it.
- Fresh whole fruit is the cheapest food in the park at $1.29 plus tax.
- Order the kids burger at Captain America Diner. For $7 it’s exactly the same as the adult burger, but you’ll have a side option of fries, grapes or apple sauce. Adult burgers have a choice of fries or side salad — but you have to ask for the salad.
- Head straight to a sit-down restaurant at non-peak meal times. We were approached by staff all three times we did sit-down restaurants and were amazed by their friendly and accommodating attitudes. If nothing else, it’s faster than quick service or a cart.
- Consider lunch or an early dinner at Mythos Restaurant. The theming is incredible and it’s a welcome respite from the crowds. Even if you don’t want to pay the reasonable prices, ask if you can walk through and take pictures of the amazing pizza oven and other details.
- Check the candy shop in Dr. Seuss land for affordable souvenirs without the long lines of Honeydukes. We spent $10 on 4-packs of rice krispy treats with “Thing 1” through “Thing 4”, or just $2.50 per kid.
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.”
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.
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:
- Many locations throughout both theme parks and CityWalk sell refillable soft drink mugs for $8.99 plus tax. Refills cost 99 cents plus tax. Although the signs suggest that the refills are good on the day of purchase only, in reality you can bring your mug back on future days and get the cheap refills.
- There is also a new kind of mug called the Coca-Cola freestyle souvenir cup. It costs $11.99 plus tax and you get free refills on the day of purchase. However, it works only at a handful of locations in each park where they have the freestyle machines. This mug uses RFID to make sure you don’t use it after that first day. You have the option to add an extra day for $5.99 plus tax. Thanks to Clement P for info.
- Many locations throughout both theme parks (but not CityWalk) sell refillable buckets of popcorn for $5.49 plus tax. Refills cost 99 cents plus tax. Although the signs suggest that the refills are good on the day of purchase only, in reality you can bring your bucket back on future days and get the cheap refills.
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.
- Adults: $51.99/day plus tax
- Children: $17.99/day plus tax
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 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 do save a few dollars per day. Normal prices for table-service entrees are $11-23, quick-service entrees are $7-14, 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 $32 – $56.
All that said, the dining plan is undeniably popular. We think the primary reason is that it removes worries about what your meals are costing. You can just eat what you want (at least for the entree) as long as you eat at restaurants that are on the plan. If you want the steak, get the steak. If you’re the kind of person who can never order the most expensive thing on the menu because it feels like you’re not being frugal, then the Dining Plan will free you to get what you want with no guilt. Think of it as “life hacking.” Feeling good on your vacation and being able to enjoy expensive dinners without stress is worth money.
There is also a Universal Dining Plan – Quick Service option, which removes the table service meal, giving you one quick service meal (1 entree and 1 beverage) plus a snack and another 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 usually 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. That said, you can buy the Quick Service plan at any time, at any quick service location in the park, so you can wait and buy it only if it saves you money. If you should happen to be buying an entree and beverage at a quick service restaurant with a total price that is within a few dollars of the Quick Service Dining Plan price, you can buy the plan and use it immediately, thus getting a snack and drink credit to use later. For example, if you get the rib platter at the Three Broomsticks or the Basket O’ Bait seafood platter at the Frying Dutchman for $13.99, plus a large drink for $2.99, the total is $16.98. If you buy the Quick Service plan for $19.99, you can use it for your platter and drink and end up with an extra drink and snack for a net $3.01 plus tax, which is a pretty decent deal. It’s an even better deal if you use it to get the fisherman’s pie at the Leaky Cauldron for $14.99 or the rib platter at the Classic Monsters Cafe for $15.99. Needless to say, there are very few entrees priced that high at locations that participate in the plan. Also, certain items are excluded from the plan; be sure to ask whether your entree will qualify before you buy the plan. As a rough approximation, if your entree is priced at $13 or more, you will probably come out ahead if you buy it via the Quick Service plan, assuming you actually will use a snack and drink at some point over the rest of the day.
Members of the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) save 10% at select dining and merchandise locations. Note that as of April 2015, we are hearing that Universal is requiring guests to show a special “Discounts & Rewards” voucher along with their membership card. You receive the voucher from participating AAA clubs when you buy tickets or a vacation package from AAA. It still may be worth asking for a AAA discount even if you don’t have the voucher, especially at independent restaurants like Margaritaville and Hard Rock Cafe.
- 10% off select locations in the two theme parks. (Offer excludes merchandise or food carts, tattoos, alcohol, tobacco, candy, film, collectibles and sundry items.) If you belong to AAA or CAA, be sure to ask at every theme park restaurant and shop whether there is a discount.
- 10% off Universal Orlando CityWalk restaurants and shops. (Offer excludes merchandise or food carts, tattoos, alcohol, tobacco, candy, film, collectibles or sundry items. Discount on food, non-alcoholic drinks and merchandise at all CityWalk restaurants and shops with the exception of Emeril’s, Bubba Gump, Fossil and Fresh Produce.) Valid up to six people per AAA membership card. Show your membership card to get the discount.
Holders of the Preferred Annual Pass (but not the Annual Power Pass) get a host of meal, merchandise and entertainment discounts.
Save money at some Universal-area restaurants by purchasing discounted 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).
- Click here for more details on Restaurant.com and possible discount codes that can save you even more!
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.
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.
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.
- As of late July 2013, many Costco stores have gift cards for McCormick & Schmick restaurants, priced at $79.99 for $100 worth of cards. McCormick & Schmick is part of the huge Landry’s chain, which also owns Bubba Gump in CityWalk. The McCormick & Schmick website states “You can use your McCormick & Schmick’s gift cards and egift cards at any of our 400 Landry’s restaurant’s… please see Our Locations for a complete list.” However, please note that many restaurants in the chain will NOT allow you to combine gift cards with any type of discount or promotion. Thanks to Don M for info.
There is an AMC 20-plex movie theater in CityWalk.
- Meal & Movie Deal – Includes dinner at a CityWalk restaurant (from a limited menu) plus a movie at AMC Universal Cineplex 20 for $21.95 per person. Buy your Meal & Movie Deal tickets online or at the CityWalk Guest Services Ticket Window.
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: Friday/Saturday performances adult $101.18 (with tax), child ages 3-9 $45.27 (with tax); Sunday – Thursday performances adult $90.53 (with tax), child ages 3-9 $39.94 (with tax). There is no “convenience fee” if you buy tickets directly from the box office, but advance purchase prices are often cheaper.
- Undercover Tourist sells Blue Man Group tickets at a discount and usually offers the best overall price: be sure to check this site first! Undercover Tourist is completely reliable, prices include tax, there is no convenience fee and shipping is FREE.
- Universal’s Blue Man Group tickets website sometimes offers general public ticket discounts. This site does not sell child tickets alone, without an adult ticket purchase. Thanks to Clement P for info.
- If you are staying at one of the three official Universal hotels, ask at the box office whether you qualify for a discount. Thanks to Clay P for the tip.
- There is always a 10% discount for Universal Orlando Annual Passholders when even better deals aren’t being offered. The discount can be obtained through the Blue Man Group box office at Universal or by calling 407-BLUEMAN. It is not available online. Thanks to Jackie for info.
- $34 college student rush tickets are available on the day of show at the Blue Man box office only. College students must show a valid photo college ID or ISIC card and may purchase up to 2 tickets per ID. This offer is is based on availability on the day of show, but can be purchased as soon as the box office opens at 10:00 am each day. Thanks to Jackie for info.
- Military personnel may qualify for discounts. You must purchase through your local ITT/ITR office. Click here for more information.
- Canadians can redeem Air Miles for Blue Man Group tickets. See the Air Miles site for details. Thanks to Dawn N for info.
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.
- Check the Mandara Spa website for specials (select the Special Offers tab).
- D23 members save 10% on spa services Friday – Sunday and 20% on spa services Monday – Thursday at any Mandara Spa.
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.
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. With chartered cars you know the price up front, while the price of a ride in a taxi varies depending on traffic and the specific route the driver chooses. On the other hand, there are always taxis available immediately at both parks, whereas with a chartered sedan you need to schedule a time to be picked up. Most limo services will pick you up earlier or later if you find that you get tired or need more time to see everything, but it depends on them having a car and driver available.
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 1.5-2 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.
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 pm. 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.
Guests staying at Universal’s hotels receive special theme park privileges. Guests of all four hotels, including the new Cabana Bay Beach Resort, get early entry to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (though in the off-season sometimes only one park is opened early each day). Guests of the Deluxe hotels (Royal Pacific Resort, Hard Rock Hotel and Portofino Bay Hotel) receive a Universal Express Pass for both Universal Orlando theme parks, which is a fantastic benefit. It allows you to use the Express entrance as many times as you want (for attractions that offer it). In our opinion, the Universal Express Pass feature alone is worth the extra cost of staying in one of the deluxe Universal hotels, because you to get a lot more access to the attractions in a lot less time.
While it used to be that Universal reserved the Unlimited Express Passes for the Deluxe hotel guests, now they are selling Unlimited Express Passes in limited quantities each day, allowing guests to stay anywhere they want and just pay for the Unlimited Express Pass separately (if they’re not sold out or blacked out on that day). Usually if you price it all out, it’s still cheaper for a family to stay in a Deluxe Universal resort, especially since you get one more day of Express pass than the number of nights you’re staying at the hotel (see below for more). But if it’s more convenient to stay somewhere else and you want the unlimited Express pass, check and see if they have any available for the day(s) you’ll be there.
Note that the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, Ollivanders, and the Hogwarts Express attractions are 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 the signature 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 actually get two days of Unlimited Express Passes. That’s because you can check into your hotel early on the first day and collect your room key and Express Pass, 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. This works for longer stays as well: if you stay two nights, you get three days of Express Ride Access.
There are many different hotel discounts at Universal — be sure to check them out.
The Express Pass gives you access to the Express entrance for each attraction that participates, though only one time per attraction. There is no need to pick up a separate pass or make a reservation for each attraction. You just show up, show the pass, and they send you through the Express line. Depending on the attraction, there still may be a wait, but it’s always substantially less than the regular line (except at off-peak times when neither line is very long). It does not include admission; you will still need a valid ticket to get into the park.. The Express Pass costs an addtional $37.26-$117.14 (tax included) per person, depending on the time of year, when purchased in advance. It can also be purchased at the park. Thus if you’re not sure if you’re going to need it, you can go to the park, check out the wait times, and see if you feel like it’s worth buying. However, they sell out of Express Passes during peak periods, so if you’re going when it’s busy, it’s probably worth getting the pass in advance.
The Unlimited Express Pass is like the Express Pass, but lets you use the Express entrance for each attraction that participates as many times as you want. It used to be that the Unlimited Express Pass was only available as one of the Universal Deluxe Resort special benefits, but Universal now makes it available bundled with park-to-park admission, or as a separate daily pass for people who already have tickets or an annual pass. A one-day park-to-park admission ticket plus an Unlimited Express Pass costs $202.35-$287.54 (tax included) for adults and $197.01-$282.21 (tax included) for children (ages 3-9) when you buy it in advance. The price varies depending on season, with peak and holiday season prices the highest (naturally). The prices go down per day if you get 2-, 3- or 4-day Unlimited Express passes. For example, a 4-day park-to-park plus Unlimited Express Passes for all four days is $362.09-$447.29 (tax included) for an adult, which is $90.52-$111.82 per day.
If you subtract out the value of the park-to-park admission, the Unlimited Express Pass itself effectively costs you an additional $57.51-$142.70 for a single day, depending on season, when purchased with the ticket bundle. Unlimited Express is also sold individually, though it’s typically cheaper if you buy it bundled with tickets. Purchased on its own, the price tends to be $85.19-$159.74 (tax included), depending on season.
We think both of these passes are worth the extra money only if you’re visiting at peak times, or if you know you aren’t going into the park early. If either of those apply to you, an Express Pass or Unlimited Express Pass may be worth considering. In the lowest seasons, these passes generally don’t provide enough benefit, because the rides that will have the longest lines (the big Harry Potter rides) are not eligible, and the rest of the rides in the park just don’t have long waits until the middle of the day.
For most people, staying in a Deluxe resort is going to be cheaper than buying an Unlimited Express pass for everyone in your family, and often even cheaper than buying regular Express Passes. When doing the price comparison, remember that a one-night stay in a Universal Deluxe resort includes two days of Unlimited Express Pass.
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:
- Computer-optimized touring plans provide personalized, step-by-step guides that can be altered on the fly for experiencing Universal Orlando’s attractions in the most efficient order, without long lines. Customize your plans with rides, meals, breaks, and character greetings, and save hours seeing the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!
- Universal Orlando Crowd Calendar provides crowd level estimates for each park every day, Universal’s Early Park Admission schedule, show, parade and fireworks times, and special events.
- Lines, a mobile phone application, shows Universal’s current posted wait time at every attraction in real-time, plus an estimate of how long you’ll really wait in line based upon TouringPlans’ research and data.
- Current menus and prices for every restaurant, food stand, and cart in Universal Orlando, with more than 2,000 items listed!
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.
- MouseSavers.com readers get an exclusive 17% discount on subscriptions to TouringPlans.com for Universal Orlando! Use code MSPOTTER. Expires 12/31/15.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade 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.
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!
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. On a weekday in the off-season you can do and see everything in about 3 hours, so the lines were not huge.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley opened to the public on July 8, 2014. The addition of Diagon Alley more than doubles 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 can able to travel between the two areas aboard the iconic Hogwarts Express (though only if you have a park-to-park ticket).
Diagon Alley, a bustling, wizarding hub within the Muggle city of London, has shops, dining experiences, and a new ride called Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts – a multi-sensory, multi-dimensional journey. You can 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.
There is a greatly expanded Ollivanders wand shop that can handle many more people which will reduce the incredibly long lines that Ollivanders in Hogsmeade has had. The Ollivanders in Diagon Alley has exactly the same short but cute show, and it’s certainly worth seeing once, but if you’ve seen the Hogsmeade show, don’t bother with the Diagon Alley one.
At multiple times during the day several different shows are performed on a small stage in the back of Diagon Alley. A company of players will present one of two different Tales of Beedle the Bard, using bunraku-style puppets that are wonderfully detailed. And Celestina Warbeck (Mrs. Weasley’s favorite singer) performs a short set with a trio of backup singers. Both shows are well worth checking out.
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.
- Tips and Tricks for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Tips and Tricks for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- Tips and Tricks for Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts
- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Vacation Package
- If you plan to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley on a weekend, holiday or other busy time period, you would be wise to get in line at the front gates of Universal Studios Florida at least an hour before the official opening time. If you visit mid-week in the off-season, lines are not too bad.
- The crowds in Hogsmeade, the original Harry Potter area in Islands of Adventure, have dropped significantly since Diagon Alley opened. During peak periods, you still may want to get there before park opening, but lines build much slower than before, and on weekdays in the off-season you can show up in the middle of the day and not wait very long for anything.
- Especially during busy time periods, you may also want to consider staying at one of the official Universal Orlando resorts. Resort guests do NOT get Express Passes to the Forbidden Journey, Escape From Gringotts or Hogwarts Express rides, but they DO currently get early admission (one hour prior to official opening) to either Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley (you don’t get to choose which one; there will be signs at your hotel saying which one is open early). If staying on site, it’s currently recommended that you line up outside gates of whichever park is opening early by 7:30 am for 8:00 am early admission to the park.
- For Hogsmeade, here’s our suggested order to visit to minimize waiting:
- Ollivander’s is a very cute 5-minute show that Harry Potter fans will enjoy. (If you’re not a Harry Potter fan, just skip it completely.) Due to the show’s small capacity, the line can be very long. If you want to experience the show, try first thing in the morning. If the line is already long when you get there, wait and try again at lunchtime, or in the last hour before the park closes.
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is the “big” ride that you don’t want to miss. See below for tips and tricks.
- Shopping – All of the shops are small and there can be long lines to get in as the crowds build. If you want a wand, the same ones sold at Dervish and Banges (which almost always has a long line to get in) are for sale at a cart near Forbidden Journey.
- Three Broomsticks/Butterbeer – If you don’t care about eating a meal in Three Broomsticks, go in during a non-mealtime and get a Butterbeer. The staff in Three Broomsticks may tell you to go out on the patio if you “only” order Butterbeer. Try to ignore those instructions, because the patio is not themed to any degree. You want to be inside, where you can enjoy the owl special effects. (Note that during non-mealtimes, it’s MUCH faster to get a Butterbeer in Three Broomsticks than to wait in the long lines at the Butterbeer carts on the street! Also, almost everyone seems to like the frozen Butterbeer better than the regular.) There can be long waits at mealtimes for Three Broomsticks during busy times of year, so if you want to eat there, either book a vacation package that includes breakfast, or try to eat at an odd hour.
- Dragon Challenge and Flight of the Hippogriff – Lines for these rides, which are old rides that have been re-themed, are usually not significant. If you’re staying at one of the official Universal Orlando resorts, you’ll get access to the Express Line anyway.
- For Diagon Alley, here’s our suggested order to minimizing waiting:
- Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts develops long lines early, and is a signature ride you don’t want to miss, so get in line for it right away.
- Ollivander’s doesn’t develop quite as long lines in Diagon Alley as the location in Hogwarts, as they actually have up to three shows running at a time in Diagon Alley. But it’s still worth doing early to minimize the wait.
- Carkitt Market shows. All of the shows are well worth seeing, so check out the schedule and make a point to come by when they’re happening. We especially liked the Tales of Beedle the Bard, but the Celestina Warbeck show is also quite entertaining.
- Shopping and sightseeing. All the shops are worth a visit. They’ve developed a really wide variety of souvenirs and each shop has at least a few things that are unique to that location. In addition, the theming and decoration of each shop is well worth seeing. Make sure to visit the money exchange, which has an animatronic goblin who will respond to questions.
- Leaky Cauldron – Definitely go in here even if you don’t need food, and admire the amazing attention to detail. But if you are going to have lunch in the park, this is one of the better choices. The pub-style food is tasty and not wildly expensive compared to other choices at Universal.
- If you are visiting for at least two days, we recommend doing each “side” of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter on separate days, so you can visit each of them first thing in the morning, then tour the rest of either Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure for the rest of the day. Do ride the Hogwarts Express on one of the days at your leisure when the wait time is posted at 20 minutes or less, and then turn around and ride it back.
- If you have only one day and have early entry, then go to whichever side has early entry and ride the main ride (either Forbidden Journey or Gringotts) and go to Ollivander’s (it’s the same show in either location). If you’re in Hogsmeade, ride the secondary rides (Dragon Challenge and Flight of the Hippogriff). In either area, spend the rest of the time sightseeing until the other park opens and you can ride the Hogwarts Express to the other area, then visit the primary attractions in the second park (skipping Ollivander’s unless you want to see it twice for some reason), then explore the whole Harry Potter area at the second park, and finally ride the Hogwarts Express back to the first park to finish your sightseeing.
- If you have only one day and don’t have early entry, generally your best bet is going to be to go to Diagon Alley first and ride Gringotts, then head immediately over to Hogsmeade and ride all the rides there, starting with Forbidden Journey. Then explore Hogsmeade thoroughly and head back to Diagon Alley to finish your sightseeing.
- The single rider line for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey usually goes very fast. “Single rider” means you’re willing to fill any empty seat and not ride with the rest of your party. Signage is minimal for the single rider line: ask a Team Member at the beginning of the line outside the Castle.
- The single rider line bypasses the amazing Castle effects, which you will definitely want to see, but there’s a way around that. You can go through the “tour” line to see Hogwarts instead of standing in the normal line. You can take your time, enjoy all the animations and stick around to see the multiple versions of each one. Then when you’re ready to ride, go in the single-rider line. MouseSavers.com reader Jeffrey L reports, “The normal line was 60 minutes or longer, but I took the tour and rode 3 times [in the single rider line] with almost no wait each time.”
- Lines for the lockers outside of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey are long and cause big bottlenecks. To avoid this, try not to bring things like camera bags or day packs that will have to go in a locker. Alternatively, pay for an all-day locker at the front of the park. A small waist pack or small items (cell phone/camera/sunglasses) that you can stuff in a pocket will allow you to skip the lockers. However, if you are borderline on fitting into the seats (see below), you won’t want anything in your pockets or around your waist that could bulk you up.
- The Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction has significant size restrictions. There is a minimum height requirement of 48 inches. Also, some larger-sized adults do not fit in the unusual overhead seat restraints. Seats on some cars now have modified restraints that accommodate more body types. If you are in the “obese” BMI category (check your BMI here), like more than 30% of American adults, you may need one of the seats with the modified restraints. People with large chests (about 48″ or more), large midsections and/or large thighs may also need to use the modified restraints. Sample seats are available at the front of the attraction and offer a “traffic light” system: red light, you can’t ride; yellow light, you can wait for one of the newly modified seats; green light, you can take any seat. If you think you may be borderline on fitting into the restraints, be sure to wear thin, stretchy clothing (synthetic workout gear is great) and put everything you’re carrying, including the contents of your pockets, into a locker before riding.
- Thanks to MouseSavers.com readers Lew C, Jeffrey L and Maria B for tips.
- The single rider line is a great option to save a lot of line waiting. “Single rider” means you’re willing to fill any empty seat and not ride with the rest of your party. Signage is minimal for the single rider line: ask a Team Member at the beginning of the line. You’ll all ride at approximately the same time, but just not seated next to each other.
- You’ll need to put any backpacks or loose items like cameras in a locker. However, you can get in line first (especially if it’s in the morning and the line is snaking through the entire area) and when you get to the entrance of Gringotts ask a team member for a locker return ticket. One of your party can take the return ticket, go off with everyone’s stuff and put it in a locker, then show the ticket to the team members at the entrance, which will let them rejoin their party via the single-rider line, which runs parallel to the main queue.
- The size restrictions on Gringotts are not quite as bad as they are on the Forbidden Journey ride, but big or tall people should ask for the back row, which has a little more leg room than the other rows in each vehicle.
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.
This EXCLUSIVE vacation package includes:
- 4-Night hotel accommodations (available at the official on-site Universal hotels* and at Universal Partner Hotels)
- 3-Day Park-to-Park Ticket^
- Early Park Admission** to experience The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Breakfast at the Three Broomsticks – one per person
- Breakfast at The Leaky Cauldron – one per person
- CityWalk Party Pass valid for the length of your stay (up to 14 consecutive nights)
- A Shutterbuttons Photo Studio session to create a moving portrait
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!)
4-Night minimum stay required. Travel must be completed by 12/31/16.
*If you stay at one of the official on-site Deluxe Universal hotels, you’ll get an Express Pass to many rides (not including Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, Hogwarts Express and other select attractions).
^The 3-Day Park-to-Park Base Ticket entitles one guest admission to BOTH Universal Studio and Islands of Adventure theme parks on the same day for the duration of the ticket. 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. 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 at one Universal Orlando theme park. Valid at selection attractions at each park.
- To start your booking with Small World Vacations, send an email to email@example.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.
Check out the full calendar of current and upcoming special events at Universal Orlando.
For 2015, Mardi Gras at Universal Studios was offered on select nights between February 7 – April 18.
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.
Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) is an after-hours event at Universal Orlando that is held on selected nights in late Fall — usually Friday, Saturday and most Sunday nights, plus Halloween night and sometimes a few weeknights.
For 2015 the Halloween Horror Nights will be on select nights September 18 – November 1.
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.
2015 Ticket Prices & Discounts
- Regular admission is $101.99 plus tax, plus service charge if you order online.
- Undercover Tourist usually sells HHN tickets at a discount. This ticket broker is completely reliable, prices include tax and shipping is FREE.
- Annual Passholders qualify for discounted HHN tickets on select nights.
- Halloween Horror Nights Add On Tickets – If you purchase admission to either of the theme parks for the same day you plan to go to HHN, you can buy your HHN tickets as an add-on at a reduced price. You can add this option when pre-ordering tickets from the Universal website, or add it to any ticket at the ticket booths (as long as that night isn’t sold out).
- Florida residents with a UPC code from select Coke products can buy discounted HHN tickets. Order in advance through the Universal website.
- Rush of Fear Pass provides admission to HHN every night for the first three weeks (September 18 – October 4) for $83.99 plus tax. Order in advance through the Universal website.
- Frequent Fear Pass – For $94.99 plus tax, you can come back for unlimited Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday nights plus the first Friday and Saturday. Order in advance through the Universal website.
- Frequent Fear Pass Plus – For $110.99 plus tax, this ticket is the same as the Frequent Fear Pass but also adds Fridays. Order in advance through the Universal website.
- Express Access add-on allows you to skip the lines during HHN and use the Express Access entrance. It’s available for most multi-day HHN passes purchased in advance through the Universal website.
Holiday events at Universal Orlando run from early December through early January each year.
The 2015 holiday season will be December 4 though January 2.
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.
- Click here for more information about Holidays at Universal Orlando.