Although summertime is the hottest time of the year for Florida, my family and I braved the heat for a 12-day vacation. I enjoy going on longer summer vacations when the kids get out of school because it gives us more time to spend together in comparison to one-week school breaks (and avoid those extra high travel costs of school breaks). Our goal this summer was to enjoy more of the Florida parks.
Now, I’ve been to the Universal Parks on a 1-day pass before, but this time we did multiple days – we did a 3-Day/3-Park Pass. I must say, it is the smarter way to go. One of the great things about doing a 3-Day/3-Park pass is that you can visit the parks in any 3 days within a 7-day period---this gives you a break between days since it can be exhausting. In addition, due to the number of rides and attractions we wanted to see, we got a chance to enjoy the parks more casually and didn’t have to miss anything that a 1-day pass and long lines can limit. Another benefit of having a ”Park-to-Park” pass is that it is required to ride the Hogwarts Express Train between the two main parks. You can’t do that on a regular ticket. The 3 parks that it includes are Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay Water-Park – plus access to Universal City Walk that includes restaurants, bars, etc.
The Universal Parks have something for ALL ages from young to old. They have Suess Landing, Toon Lagoon, etc. for the little ones to the Hulk Coaster, Jurassic Park, etc for the teens. And, of course Harry Potter Wizarding World for all ages. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to ride the BRAND NEW “Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure” due to the 10-hour lines but I heard it was awesome. One of my favorites was the new Jimmy Fallon virtual ride through NYC. We also loved Volcano Bay’s rapid river (unlike a “lazy” river). There’s just so much to see and do and we were so glad that we had 3 days to do it all!
Now, a few tips we discovered for the Universal Parks:
- DEFINITELY, load the Universal Parks APP onto your phone prior to your visit and get familiar with it. You will want to LINK all your family’s park tickets to your personalized APP ahead of time and set up your “wallet” with your credit card info, etc. for purchases while you’re at the parks. It helped us locate dining, buy tickets, etc. while we were at the parks. I had to buy an extra Volcano Bay ticket so I bought it right from the APP and showed my barcode on my phone at the entrance. This APP was awesome to have as it also gave us a map of the parks so we could see wait-times for the different rides and make a plan on which attraction we wanted to go to next.
- Get through the lines faster with an Express Pass. This is only offered for purchase at 2 of the parks – Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure and was approximately $100 more per person per day and depended on if you wanted to buy it for both parks or just for one park. The Express Pass shortens your wait-times for the rides as there is a separate, shorter line for Express Pass holders. You can either buy an Express Pass WITH you ticket, add it onto your ticket later, or the BEST way to get an Express Pass is to stay in one of the Universal Resorts that include it. You still have to purchase the park tickets separately but by staying in one of their select hotels that include it, then you are actually saving money in comparison to buying it separately (especially since you will be staying in a hotel somewhere in Orlando anyway). We calculated it, definitely the better option if you plan on doing the Express Pass anyway.
- Alternatively, if the Express Pass is out of your budget then I recommend being strategic when going through the two parks. The best time to visit the most popular attractions is later in the day or evening hours. I recommend keeping a close-eye on your APPS ride wait-times and visit the attractions with the shortest lines. Also, during dining hours lines can be a little shorter. And, since we were there during the summer, the afternoons can have short rain showers which can encourage people to leave the park sooner and/or find cover. If you don’t mind a little rain then this is a great time to get in line!
- “Virtual Lines” was also a nice way to cut a few of the lines. This is currently only offered on a handful of rides at the two main parks, can be arranged from anywhere in the parks/resorts, and is FREE of charge. You just use your Universal App on your phone to get in the Virtual Line and reserve your group’s (up to 9 people) ride time. Then just show up at your entrance time.
- Volcano Bay Waterpark has a separate version of the “Virtual Line” and is used throughout the waterpark by ALL its guests for free. This is called TAPUTAPU. Upon entering the park everyone will get a screen-faced wristband that works throughout the park getting you into virtual lines for the rides --so that you don’t have to stand in line for so long. You just “Tap in” with your TapuTapu at an attraction entrance which will give you a return time, then you can go explore the park. Your TapuTapu holds your place in the Virtual Line. Then when your TapuTapu vibrates it’s time to return to the attraction. We learned that you can only do this for one ride at a time. So if your ride time is 90 minutes later then you cannot use it for any other virtual line during that time – or it will remove you from that line. While you are waiting for that ride time then you can enjoy the other attractions that say “ride now” OR you can grab something to eat OR enjoy one of many lounge chairs. My tip: don’t choose the longest ride times right away because it could hold you back from riding some of the other rides (there’s only so many rides that are “open” to ride while you wait for your Virtual Line). Remember, it may be best to do the more popular rides later in the afternoon or during dining times. The TapuTapu was also great for families that are separated within the park (especially teens) because it allowed them to use their TapuTapu at restaurants and snack bars to pay for their purchases without having to FIND their parents. Again, due to loading your credit card info into your TapuTapu’s “wallet” on account and having LINKED tickets.
We also visited Disney World on our Florida trip. We had a 1-Day Park-to-Park ticket so we just hit a few of our favorite rides at 3 of the parks in one day. A few notes about Disney, if you are staying at a Disney resort you can pre-order a free “Magic Band” ahead of time by choosing your band color OR you can pay extra for a character band. Those will be mailed to you directly from Disney. Magic Bands are connected to your Disney stay including your hotel reservation, tickets, etc. You can customize your Magic Band on-line by going onto MYDISNEYEXPERIENCE.COM to arrange Fast Passes, dining reservations, character dining, etc.
Like Universal, you will also want to load the MYDISNEYEXPERIENCE Disney APP. If you don’t have a Magic Band, then you will want to “LINK” your tickets on the MYDISNEYEXPERIENCE APP. Dining reservations can be made within 180 days prior to your arrival on-line or from the APP. The APP is wonderful for making dining reservations while you’re in the park too (if you didn’t do ahead of time) and reserving your “FAST PASS” rides while in the park. With Disney, the Fast Pass is different than Universal. It’s FREE but you can only choose up to 3 rides at a time. You can choose your first 3 Fast Pass rides 60 days prior when staying at a Disney resort (30 days prior if you’re not staying at a Disney resort) on your MYDISNEYEXPERIENCE. I recommend doing this as soon as it comes available to you since the more popular rides fill up fast. Now, keep in mind that you can only reserve 3 Fast Passes at a time (in one park at a time) and you cannot reserve your next 3 Fast Pass lines until all 3 of those have been used (do from your APP while in the parks). Also, if there is a specific restaurant you REALLY want to go to, then make reservations for that ahead too. You can even ORDER food from the menu’s ahead of time at other eateries so that you don’t have to wait in line – just pick it up at your designated time and area. WOW! Isn’t technology wonderful sometimes! Technology has given everyone a much better experience at the parks now!
Tanya has been in the travel business for 25 years. Tanya started at Classic Travel over 20 years ago and spent the past 9 years in outside sales. She recently returned and specializes in leisure travel. Some of her favorite destinations include Mexico, the Caribbean, Australia, and New Zealand. Email Tanya: firstname.lastname@example.org