I attended Family Forward where I received a discounted hotel stay. My thoughts on reasons to stay onsite at Universal Studios were not required as part of this conference.
When you travel, you want to maximize the enjoyment of your vacation. You want it to be low stress and easy and fun – and you want to save money. Balancing those goals can be a challenge sometimes. If you head to Florida, there are plenty of reasons to stay onsite at Universal Studios. The first time we visited – for Mister Man’s 8th birthday – we did not stay on site, and it was nowhere near the same experience as what we have had every other visit. Stay onsite. Truly.
Reasons to Stay Onsite at Universal Studios
Free Unlimited Fast Passes
Yes, you heard that right. Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure offer Universal Express, so you can move through lines faster. It’s a fantastic bonus, especially for those busier times of year. This allows my family to ride so many more rides than we could otherwise. Universal does sell the Universal Express passes in the theme parks, as well. The passes start at $54.99 for Islands of Adventure and $74.99 for Universal Studios, $84.99 for both parks. That’s starting. Are you going around Christmas vacation or other holiday periods? You’re looking at $149.99 per person.
You do still need a valid theme park admission, whether you’re buying the Universal Express pass or staying at a Universal hotel, but for my family of four, the benefit of the Universal Express pass not only pays for our hotel stay but makes our experience that much better. This alone makes it one of my top reasons to stay onsite at Universal Studios.
The Universal Express pass doesn’t work on every ride. And it doesn’t mean you won’t have a wait at all, but it cuts down on wait time significantly. They aren’t valid everywhere; there is no express line for Escape from Gringotts, Hogwarts Express, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Pteranodon Flyers, or Kang and Kodos’ Twirl and Hurl. When we were there over Labor Day, we timed our rides on the Hogwarts Express and waited less than ten minutes. Kang and Kodos are very often a five minute wait or less already, and Escape from Gringotts has reduced its line significantly since it first opened. There is also a single rider line for Escape from Gringotts that can reduce your wait.
One caveat: This benefit isn’t available at Cabana Bay or the brand new Sapphire Falls Resort. Make sure to stay at Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, or the Royal Pacific Resort to gain access to this benefit.
Early Entry to Theme Parks
Another of the great reasons to stay onsite at Universal Studios is early admission. With your hotel stay, you are able to get into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter one hour before they open to the public. Hint: Head over more than an hour early. The rides may open one hour before the park does, but we have gotten into the park and walked to the worlds more than an hour in advance to maximize our time there.
You can go only to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and only ride those rides, so if you aren’t a fan of Harry Potter (why not?), this is less of a benefit, but it still helps you get deep into the park to start riding other rides no matter what. Since most of the Harry Potter rides do not utilize the Universal Express passes, this is typically the shortest those lines will be. Note that you will need a two park pass to ride the Hogwarts Express between parks.
Transportation to the Parks
Universal Studios is great in that the hotels are all fairly close to the theme parks and City Walk. You can easily walk along the garden path from most hotels. It’s a pretty walk, and it’s great to have that option when you don’t want to wait in line for transportation back to your hotel. It’s a little further to walk to Cabana Bay, Sapphire Falls, and Portofino Bay, but I’ve done it to and from all those locations.
Each hotel also offers shuttles to the parks. There are beautiful water taxis that run from Hard Rock, Royal Pacific, Sapphire Falls, and Portofino Bay, with shuttle buses from Cabana Bay. When weather threatens and the water taxis can’t run, the garden paths remain open, and shuttle buses run in their place, as well.
The first time we visited Universal Studios, we stayed offsite, and the walk from our car to City Walk and then to the theme park was daunting. The resort makes it so much easier to get to the theme parks, especially when you have little ones who may need a nap. We’ll never visit again now that we’ve figured this out. The reasons to stay onsite at Universal Studios keep piling up.
Priority Seating at Restaurants
When we want to eat, we want to eat. I know I’m not alone in this. There are some fantastic restaurants on City Walk, and people often head to the area to enjoy the restaurants without even visiting the theme parks. That means at prime lunch and dinner hours, there can be a wait.
But if you are a hotel guest staying at Royal Pacific, Portofino, or Hard Rock, you get to skip to the head of the line at select restaurants. After a long day at the parks, being able eat sooner is a huge benefit. Granted, if other hotel guests are hip to this, you go on the list behind them, but you are still ahead of the general public.
If you don’t want to wait at all, many of the resort restaurants also accept reservations. Not all do, and not all restaurants have a priority list for hotel guests (the new Chocolate Emporium sadly doesn’t). If you know you want to eat at a specific time, you can find a restaurant to suit your needs. Me? I tend to not be so organized, so I don’t know where I’ll be when while on vacation, but this is another great option.
No Need to Carry a Wallet
I hate carrying cash and having to pull out my wallet to pay for everything. Throughout the day, I buy meals, snacks, drinks, souvenirs, and more. I’m paranoid that I’m going to drop something or lose something with my wallet going in and out. Fortunately, my room key acts as payment throughout the resort. It makes life so much easier.
When you check in, you can choose who has charging privileges on the card. If you don’t want your kids to overspend, you can choose to deny ability to charge. If you have kids who can handle the responsibility, they can use the key to spend. It is noted in the overall hotel system and printed on the card so there is no confusion.
I love that I can simply slide the card from the card case in my phone and not have to mess with anything else. No worries about losing my wallet. No rushing to an ATM. And it’s fast, too!
Free Wifi to Stay Connected in Rooms
I don’t know about you, but I like (need?) to stay connected while I’m on vacation. Unfortunately, I have work emails to (quickly) respond to. I want to share photos with friends. And I may or may not want to stream something before I fall asleep. Free wifi is a must for me, and all the hotels offer free wifi in guest rooms and common rooms. You can hook up to 5 devices to the in-room wifi, so everyone can share.
Access to All Pools at All Universal Hotels
While the theme parks tend to be the focus, each hotel has a fantastic pool. They are all themed, and each one is different. The lazy river at Cabana Bay is fantastic. (You can purchase inner tubes they’ll blow up for $8 there or bring your own.) Sapphire Falls has a 16,000 square foot pool with waterfalls and two beaches, plus a kids’ water play area. Every hotel has its own amenities.
When you stay for multiple days, it’s fun to check out all the different pool options. With your hotel key, you aren’t limited to just the pool at your hotel. You can take a shuttle (or walk) to another hotel, show your room key, and have access to the pools there. They provide the towels, so you need just your sunscreen and a good book.
Another fun benefit? The hotel bars sell specialty cocktails in souvenir glasses. Your first drink is $15, and refills for the length of your stay are just $10. You can use the same glass at any of the hotel pools, and that’s a bargain. In Chicago, I can’t get a drink for $10, let alone at a hotel resort. If the combination of these two benefits doesn’t fall on your list of reasons to stay onsite at Universal Studios, you’re missing out!
Souvenir Delivery to Your Room
We love the memories we create on vacation. Looking back on our vacation can be almost as fun as the vacation itself. Sometimes that’s reminiscing our favorite stories or giggling about things that happened. No vacation is complete without souvenirs. I used to make my kids wait until the end of the day to buy a souvenir. I didn’t want to carry it around all day. The challenge? By the end of the day, we’re in a rush to get home because everyone’s tired and cranky. That never ended well.
Another of my favorite reasons to stay onsite at Universal Studios? We find a souvenir we must have, buy it, and they send it back to my hotel room. I don’t have to carry it or worry about setting it down and forgetting to pick it up again. I don’t have to deal with cranky kids at the end of the day. And if it rains (it rains a ton in Florida), I don’t risk it getting wet and ruined.
Hotel Character Appearances
While we love spending time in the parks, we make sure to schedule downtime, too. My kids still love characters, but in the parks, there can be huge lines to meet up with their favorites. While sometimes I (and they) have the patience to wait, in the Universal hotels, characters come visit without the super long lines.
You never know who’ll show up, but characters appear all the time in various locations within the hotels. We’ve seen super heroes, movie characters, and more. There are rarely any other families taking photos, as most walk past not realizing the characters intend to interact with guests. My kids love the extra time and attention they get from characters in the hotel, and it’s a great way to make a non park day special, too.
Where do you stay on vacation? Can you think of other reasons to stay onsite at Universal Studios?