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  • When Should You Buy a Universal Annual Pass?When does it make sense to upgrade from daily tickets?
  • Top 10 Theme Park CastlesOur editor's picks for the world's best theme park castles
  • Our Wizarding World of Harry Potter GuidebookOur in-depth guidebook to Universal's Harry Potter lands is now on sale!
  • A Closer Look at Universal Studios BeijingUniversal's building a new theme park in China. But what will be in it?
When Should You Buy a Universal Annual Pass? Top 10 Theme Park Castles Our Wizarding World of Harry Potter Guidebook A Closer Look at Universal Studios Beijing
Robert Niles

Insider's Update: Fix 'er Up and Let 'er Fly

Published: October 23, 2014 at 2:12 PM

A few news items as you get ready for Friday:

The Swan and Dolphin hotels at the Walt Disney World Resort have announced a $125-million room-renovation plan, now underway at the hotels. The 758-room Swan goes first, with renovations to 500 of its rooms expected to be completed by the end of this year. Renovations at the 1,509-room Dolphin start early in 2015. The entire project is expected to be completed in 2016. Renovations will include the addition of newer, larger, high-definition televisions, additional power outlets, new beds, and a back-lit mirror in the bathroom.

New room at the Swan Hotel
The new Swan room. Image courtesy Starwood Hotels & Resorts

Harry Potter continues to pay off for Universal Parks & Resorts, as the debut of the The Wizarding World and Harry Potter - Diagon Alley pushed Universal Orlando to record attendance for the third quarter and Comcast's theme park division to a nearly 19 percent increase in revenue over the same period last year.

The Disneyland Paris Resort will offer a free fireworks show on Lake Disney for three nights early next month. Mickey’s Magical Fireworks and Bonfire will run on November 3rd, 5th and 7th, starting at 8.30pm on the Lake Disney at resort's Disney Village. Here's a teaser video from the resort, which is worth watching just to see the difference in PR production value withe Disney's U.S. theme parks.

Finally, Blackpool Pleasure Beach in the United Kingdom today announced a new ride for 2015: Skyforce. Themed to the Royal Air Force's aerobatic team, the Red Arrows, Skyforce will give riders the ability to control the spinning of their own fighter-themed cockpit seat. From the park's press release:

Image courtesy Blackpool Pleasure Beach

The 72-ft high, 12-seat white-knuckle ride will take you on a 360-degree tour of the skies and sits in the shadow of the world famous Big One rollercoaster. Stepping into your very own Red Arrows cockpit, you take control of the plane and spin, glide and take formation in your very own display.

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Robert Niles

When Should You Buy a Universal Studios Annual Pass?

Published: October 23, 2014 at 10:25 AM

At what point do visitors get a better deal by purchasing a Universal annual pass, instead of single- or multi-day tickets? Last week, we answered that annual pass question for Disney theme parks, so let's look at Disney's biggest competitor today.

Universal Orlando charges $96 for a one-day/one-park theme park ticket, a couple bucks more than the $94 that Walt Disney World charges for three of its parks and three dollars less than Disney charges for one day at the Magic Kingdom. But you can buy a Universal Orlando annual pass for far less than the cost of a Disney World AP. Universal Orlando's unrestricted annual pass costs $295 ($260 for Florida residents), which is less than half of the cost of Walt Disney World's $634 annual pass.

Universal Studios Florida

That lower cost should encourage theme park fans to invest in the Universal Orlando annual pass if they are planning more than one multi-day visit to the resort in a 12-month period. At these prices, the Universal Orlando annual pass becomes a better deal than buying four one-day tickets for any out-of-state visitor, and a better deal than buying just three one-day tickets for a Florida resident.

And remember that the annual pass includes Park-to-Park privileges on any day of your visit, a must if you want to ride the resort's highest-rated attraction — the Hogwarts Express. With a one-day, Park-to-Park ticket costing $136, anyone is better off going with the AP than buying three one-day, Park-to-Park tickets in a 12-month period.

Universal is currently running a "third day free" promotion for resident of the U.S. or Canada who buy a two-day Park-to-Park ticket, which is $176 for adults. If you're only thinking about a one-time visit to the resort right now, that's the best deal out there which allows you to experience everything at the resort.

But here's a smart "bounce back" plan, if you decide you'd like to visit again: If you can plan your next visit to fall within the next 12 months, upgrade your current ticket to an annual pass before you finish the last day on your current ticket. (You can do this at any ticket booth, guest relations office, or hotel ticket desk.) If you get the third-day-free deal, you'll pay $119 to upgrade and get as many days in the parks as you can fit before that ticket expires in 12 months.

Universal Orlando also offers discounts on food, merchandise and parking to its annual passholders, which can make buying a pass an even better deal. Remember that Universal Orlando charges $17 per car to park at the resort. You won't have to pay that fee on future visits once you buy an annual pass. Annual passholders also get 10% off food and merchandise in the parks, but so do AAA members, so if you're already using your AAA card for those discounts on a "regular" ticket, upgrading to the annual pass won't get you additional savings there.

Universal Orlando offers a "Premier Pass" for $435, which adds a free Halloween Horror Nights ticket, an upgrade to free valet parking, CityWalk club access, and free Universal Express access after 4pm each day. That's the pass that gets you front-of-line access to almost all Universal Orlando attractions. That ticket is just $385 for Florida residents.

What Universal does not offer, however, is an annual pass that's good for both Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood. That makes Universal unique among all major theme park chains in the United States in that it does not have a chain-wide annual pass option. So if you're considering a visit to Southern California and want to include a visit to Universal's original theme park, you'll have to consider that as a separate purchase from a Universal Orlando visit.

Fortunately, the decision on whether to buy a Universal Studios Hollywood annual pass is absurdly simple. Are you going to visit the park for more than one day in a year? Then buy an annual pass. The only question is: which one?

A one-day Universal Studios Hollywood ticket costs $92. However, for that price, you can buy a "buy a day, get the year" ticket that is good for the remainder of the calendar year, too. (Blackout days apply on your future visits — 79 days in 2015, by my count.) If you buy one of those tickets now, you not only get the rest of 2014, you get all of 2015 at no extra charge, too.

Universal Studios Hollywood also offers a 12-month annual pass that has just 62 blackout dates and 10% off food and merchandise inside the park. (Universal Studios Hollywood no longer offers AAA discounts inside the park.) If you want to visit on the blackout dates, an unrestricted annual pass costs $139 online. Finally, Universal Studios Hollywood's "Premium Star Pass" costs $179 online and includes free parking before 5pm and priority boarding on the Studio Tour for the passholder. (Parking at Universal Studios Hollywood costs $16 a day. Unlike at Universal Orlando, there's no free parking for local residents in the evenings, either. In fact, there's no free parking even for annual passholders in the evenings, ever.) You can buy guest tickets for $12 off and get discounts on Halloween Horror Nights tickets with all USH annual passes, if you'd like to factor that into your decision, too.

Only if you are certain that you will visit Universal Studios Hollywood only one day in the next year should you skip the annual pass options and instead buy a discounted one-day-only ticket online at

Do you have a Universal annual pass? Tell us in the comments which ticket you bought, and if you're happy with it.


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Anthony Murphy

Review: Six Flags Great America’s Fright Fest 2014

Published: October 22, 2014 at 12:50 PM

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Robert Niles

Disney California Adventure reportedly set to close Luigi's Flying Tires in January

Published: October 21, 2014 at 2:59 PM

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Robert Niles

Monday Top 10: The World's Best Theme Park Castles

Published: October 20, 2014 at 3:19 PM

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Robert Niles

Disney Rebrands 'Glow with the Show' and Introduces Its Own Interactive Magic Wands

Published: October 20, 2014 at 10:13 AM

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James Koehl

Review: Midnight Syndicate Live! Legacy of Shadows, at Cedar Point

Published: October 20, 2014 at 9:46 AM

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Russell Meyer

How to Plan an Orlando Vacation: Part Two

Published: October 18, 2014 at 4:49 PM

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Robert Niles

Vote of the Week: What is Your Theme Park Dream Job?

Published: October 17, 2014 at 2:39 PM

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Russell Meyer

How to Plan an Orlando Vacation: Part One

Published: October 17, 2014 at 10:18 AM

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