What's the perfect way to visit the Universal Orlando Resort?
The days are long past when you could add a getaway day at Universal Studios Florida to your Walt Disney World vacation and come away satisfied that you'd seen all that Disney's biggest rival has to offer. With two theme parks, the world's best water park (fight me), and now seven official hotels, the Universal Orlando Resort provides more than enough entertainment to fill a week's vacation by itself.
So how should you fill that week?
Start with what might be the best deal in theme park tickets right now: Universal Orlando's "B2G3," buy-two-days-get-three-more-free deal. We have that deal available for you on our partner's Universal Orlando tickets page, starting at $230 for those five total days of admission to Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure.
That's about $46 a day to visit a couple of the most popular theme parks in the world. But since that's such a big discount, we recommend that you take the chance to upgrade to the $319 ticket that adds access to the Volcano Bay water theme park as well as "Park to Park" access to USF and IOA.
Park to Park is Universal's term for what Disney calls a "Park Hopper" — allowing you to visit all of the resort's parks in the same day. With all of these parks located within walking distance of each other, hopping from park to park at Universal is easy. Having the Park to Park option also is the only way to experience the Hogwarts Express attraction, which runs between The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade land in Islands of Adventure and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley land in Universal Studios Florida. (It's a different experience in each direction, too!)
So where should you stay when visiting Universal Orlando? Our choices would be one of the resort's three Deluxe hotels: Portofino Bay, Hard Rock, or Royal Pacific. All of Universal's on-site hotels are operated by upmarket hotelier Loews, but Universal's original three on-site hotels also come with what we believe is the best hotel perk in the global theme park industry: Universal Express Unlimited.
That perk gives you unlimited front-of-line access to almost every ride and show at USF and IOA. With Universal Express Unlimited, you can forget about park strategy and trip plans and just go do whatever you want, whenever you want. Universal sells that perk from $90 to $190 per person per day, but staying at one of these three hotels gives you Universal Express Unlimited for everyone in your room (up to five people), from the day you check in until the day you leave, at no extra charge.
Let's do the math. A family of four visiting Universal the last week in August could get a room at the Royal Pacific starting at $354 a night. (All prices are before taxes and fees.) Universal is charging $115 a day for Universal Express Unlimited that week, which comes out to $460 a day for a family of four.
Keep in mind that the Express perk is good from the day you check in until the day you check out. Even if you stay just one night at Universal, that means you get two days of Universal Express Unlimited. That's a $920 value for $354... and Universal throws in that night at a four-star hotel within pleasant walking distance of the parks, too.
You can look at this one of two ways: Either getting Universal Express Unlimited through a hotel stay is a ridiculously good deal that you should not pass up... or that buying Universal Express Unlimited a la carte is ridiculously overpriced and no one should get it that way. Either way you look at it, if you are trying to plan the perfect week at Universal Orlando, you should go with the Deluxe hotel option. Here are links to check dates and rates, and to book:
Our choice? The Royal Pacific tends to have the lowest rate and is located closest to the Islands of Adventure theme park. But the Hard Rock is closest to Universal Studios Florida. The Portofino Bay is located past the Hard Rock along a winding path and waterway, but it's consistently the highest-rated of the three hotels. So there's really no wrong answer here.
Gild the lily on your vacation with some of the extras offered at the hotels, including the Despicable Me Character Breakfast and the Wantilan Luau, which are held on Saturday mornings and evenings, respectively, at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort. Then roll out of bed the next morning for the Sunday Brunch at The Kitchen from 10am to 2:30pm on Sundays in the Hard Rock Hotel.
For the rest of your visit? As we said, do what you want, when you want. Roll out of bed early to take advantage of Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Volcano Bay. Or stay in and get to the parks at your convenience. Check out a movie, play mini golf, or visit a restaurant in the CityWalk entertainment district that connects the parks.
And if you somehow run out of things to do on during your week at Universal Orlando, maybe you can throw in a "getaway" day down the street at Walt Disney World, too. ;^)Tweet
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