I have been lucky enough the past few years to attend the Family Forward conference that is, in part, sponsored by Universal Studios. The Universal Studios VIP Experience was included in our conference fee last year, and I cannot recommend it enough. In fact, I might be just a touch spoiled from our guides now. My kids don’t want to visit the park any other way.
Here’s the thing. The Universal Studios VIP Experience isn’t cheap. You reserve this experience in addition to your park passes. You can choose to book which of the two parks to visit during your VIP tour or book both parks. Honestly? Go with both parks. During the six hour tour, you hit a minimum of 8 major attractions in the parks, and we accomplished far more than that. With the no wait experience, take advantage of the variety across both parks to see the biggest and best Universal offers. The price difference between one park (starting at $209 per day) and two parks (starting at $219 per day) isn’t enough to leave out a park.
With a group of six or fewer people, book a group tour where you get paired with up to twelve total people in the group. You pay per person, with peak season prices climbing to $399 per person. With more than six people – or if you choose to stay just with your family and friends – you can book a private VIP tour for a flat fee (again with a limit of twelve per group). With the private tour, you have more control over what rides and attractions you visit, while the group tours tend to be slightly more set and require negotiation with others in the group if you wish to (for example) ride Escape from Gringotts a second or third time. In a row.
No matter what, you will see more, learn more, and have a far better theme park experience with the Universal Studios VIP Experience. I admit, I had doubts when we first learned that we had this planned starting at 10am during the conference. I’ve been to Universal Studios and knew what rides I liked. Staying onsite at the premium hotels gives us Universal Express Passes, so our lines already decreased from the standard queue in most cases. Why did I need to be a part of the Universal Studios VIP Experience?
Oh, I learned my lesson. I will never again question the value of the Universal Studios VIP Experience.
9 Reasons You Don’t Want to Miss the Universal Studios VIP Experience
You skip the line entirely.
Fast passes at Universal Studios are great (better than many competing parks). You don’t make reservations and simple go in the Fast Pass entrance with a significantly shorter queue. With the VIP tour, you skip the line. You walk in the back and get on the ride. You wait for no one. No. One. This factor alone means you get on more rides in less time, making your visit to the park more productive.
Another fun aspect? With no one in line ahead of or behind you, you can get some fabulous photos you otherwise can’t. We walked up the side of the line in Escape from Gringotts, then stopped to take photos of our favorite goblins with no stray people. While some areas of the park don’t allow photos behind the scenes, this tour lets you capture fabulous images you may otherwise miss.
You skip every line, even the ones that don’t have Express Pass lines.
A major bummer of the Express Passes? They don’t work at some of the major attractions. My kids love Escape from Gringotts, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and Hogwarts Express, none of which accepts the Express Passes. Those lines tend to be longer than my patience to wait in them. Hogwarts Express – a fun way to get from one park to the other – can easily have a wait of well over an hour, and I’ve seen it over two hours. With the Universal Studios VIP Experience, you walk straight onto those rides. For us, this became the only time we rode those rides due to the wait times.
You visit behind the scenes locations.
The Men in Black ride continues to be one of my favorites. When you walk through the queue, you see the setup with the aliens in the work room below you. On our tour, we went onto the set. We sat in the chairs and saw everything up close and personal while others watched with jaws agape from above. My kids loved that they even got to sign the alien log book, a memory they treasure.
We had a similar experience with Revenge of the Mummy. At the end, we exited through a back way, under where the cars travel. Near the end, our guide had us pause to watch the screen that shows the final scene riders see as they travel. There is a secret extra bit that riders miss because the car continues that we had the pleasure of seeing because we remained stationary. Those little nuggets of secrets make the day even more fun.
Learn the park secrets.
I love knowing all the fun facts and details. The tour guides know so much more about the parks than you might expect. As you walk through the park with your guide, they share information about the history, the building, the speed, and more. Those little tidbits really add to your experience as you realize how much effort it takes to create such an amazing park. This is how you learn where to sit on the rides for the “best” experience or where to watch the parades. The nuggets like where to find Stan Lee in the Amazing Spiderman ride? My kids loved learning these facts and storing them away for “next time” they come. Our tour guide answered every question we asked, and we tried to stump her!
The tour includes lunch.
The “real” tours actually include a complimentary continental breakfast at check-in, though we ate breakfast offsite as part of our conference and didn’t partake. Partway through the day, the tour schedules a break for lunch. Our tour stopped at Cafe La Bamba, which happened to be open only for tours. We enjoyed a fabulous sit meal from a buffet filled with more choices than I expected. Desserts all included dairy, and our tour guide quickly offered to run down to get my daughter Dippin’ Dots (which contain no dairy in many flavors).
Generally, the tour includes lunch at a quick service dining option. Your group stops near wherever you happens to be when it’s time to eat. You choose an entree, a non alcoholic beverage, and a snack.
You don’t have to worry about the rain.
Florida is notorious for its rain. The day may start out perfectly sunny, but at some point, the clouds come and it pours. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten soaked in Florida from afternoon showers. With the Universal Studios VIP Experience, your tour guide procures ponchos for the group at no additional charge, as needed. They know what shops have them, ensuring you don’t panic as you try to track down an elusive poncho in a store that happens to not carry them.
Bonus? When you go on water rides at Universal Studios where you will get wet, your guide offers to provide ponchos for guests who don’t want to drip dry the next couple hours. It happened to be sunny when we visited Jurassic Park River Adventure. We all opted for ponchos, which still meant we got wet – just not soaked. After the ride, we held onto our ponchos, and later that day, the skies opened. We counted our blessings that we had our ponchos then.
The fun doesn’t end when the tour does.
After the tour – yes, you have to say goodbye to your fabulous tour guide eventually – your Universal Studios VIP Experience lanyard stays with you. That lanyard continues to provide benefits for the rest of the day. It acts as a Universal Unlimited Express Pass, so you shorten your wait for rides that accept the pass. It isn’t the skip the line entirely from the tour, but this provides a perfect opportunity to revisit your favorite rides and experience them again without a full wait. The tour lasts 5-7 hours, leaving you plenty of time to explore at your leisure.
Enjoy discounts at the shops.
I almost missed this, but your VIP tour lanyard provides a discount at many dining and stores within the parks. When my daughter visited Ollivander’s Wand Shop, she was the lucky child chosen to have a wand select her. Of course she wanted to buy that wand afterwards (with her own money). We received a 10% discount on the purchase because we bought it the day of our VIP tour. Who doesn’t buy souvenirs when on vacation? Remember to buy all yours the day you book a Universal Studios VIP Experience to save money and help offset the cost of the tour.
Receive complimentary valet parking.
If you aren’t staying onsite, this becomes another winning bonus. Valet parking costs $40, but it makes getting into and out of the park easy. The first time we visited Universal Studios, we parked our rental car. At the end of the day, we spent well over a half hour searching the lot with two tired and cranky children before finding it. I would happily have paid any amount for easy access to my car at the end of the day. Valet parking also decreases the walk from the parking structure to the theme parks significantly, which again makes life easier on a day when surpassing 20,000 steps isn’t a surprise.
Have I convinced you to try the Universal Studios VIP Experience yet?