I say this quite often: my time has value.
My time has value.
While there are many times that I enjoy slowing down and taking my time to see or do something, I really really hate wasting time. During our recent road trip to Florida, we spent two days checking out the Universal theme parks. You have two parks to visit when you go to Universal: the original Universal Studios park and the Islands of Adventure theme park. You can choose to purchase a one or two park pass – depending on which areas you want to visit.
Universal Studios is the original. The streets have a distinct Hollywood feel to them and there are a bunch of rides to enjoy. Most are thrill rides featuring pyrotechnics, roller coaster elements and a TON of special effects. There are characters wandering around the park to meet (Nickelodeon characters, the Simpsons, even older classics like Betty Boop). Food and gift shops are around every turn. I loved E.T. Adventure, Jaws and Disaster (HILARIOUS!) while Revenge of the Mummy scared the COMPLETE CRAP out of me. Seriously, had to close my eyes and everything!
Islands of Adventure is next door. Sections of that park (or “islands” if you will) have different themes: Marvel Comics, Jurassic Park, Dr Suess, Lost Continent and Harry Potter (<– look for an entire review just on HP in days to come). Each island features rides and other attractions that all coincide with the island theme. We enjoyed a bunch of the water rides (getting COMPLETELY drenched on a couple) and Lily LOVED just about every single ride in Seuss Landing.
Child Swap at Universal Orlando
Very much the opposite of the Disney parks that we visited, the majority of both Universal parks is aimed at adults. With just a smattering of slower-paced children rides at either park, you will be treated to an abundance of action-packed thrill rides. Coasters, free falls, special effects – these rides will rattle your brain and make you scream – we had a blast!
As you might imagine, at just 2.5 years old, Lily Bean was not old enough for the majority of these rides. In fact, I would say that she was only able to go on about 10% of the rides at Universal.
BUT THAT DID NOT MATTER ONE BIT.
She was happy as a clam the entire day. Why? CHILD SWAP.
So each ride at Universal (both parks) houses a Child Swap room. This room is right near the loading spot for the ride and it is where you can wait with a young child while Mom, Dad, Aunt Bessy, whoever goes on the ride first. Then when that person is finished on the ride , he or she swaps places with the other adult – staying with the child while the other person gets a chance to go on the ride.
The Child Swap rooms were really nice! Plenty of seating and just about all of them had a television playing some sort of kid-appropriate show or movie. The room had a diaper changing table and some of the rooms even had a few toys/activity tables.
Here’s how we worked it: the four of us – Biker Bob, my dad, my stepmom and myself – would wait in line with Lily Bean. When we got to the front of the ride we informed the attendant that we would be doing a child swap. Then two of us would go with Lily into the Child Swap room while the other two got right on the ride. When the first couple finished the ride, they would go sit with Lily while the second couple got their chance to ride.
SO COOL. We only had to wait in line ONCE for all 4 of us to get to ride.
Express Plus Pass at Universal Orlando
Now let’s talk about those ride times. We visited in late-March. The parks were busy, but I know that the crowds we saw didn’t come close to the summertime crowds. I would say that the majority of the rides at both Universal parks all had a minimum wait time of at least 30 minutes. Some rides were at 1-2 hours.
When you visit a theme park, tickets are not cheap. Universal is most DEFINITELY no exception. The ticket prices are HIGH. (We paid $135 per person for 2 day 2 park passes – plus tax… ouch!)
So after paying those high ticket prices, you are probably going to tell me that I’m crazy for what I’m about to tell you. But I’m going to tell you anyway:
I very much totally without a doubt HIGHLY recommend that you fork over a little bit more money and get everyone Express Passes. (Please remember: I am writing this as a vacationer who visited these parks for just 2 days and I probably won’t be back for many more years. The goal was to fit as many rides and attractions as humanly possible into those two days. It was only after talking to about 5 season ticket holders who highly recommended the Express Passes for our quick visit that I decided to buy them. )
Huh? More money? You’ve got to be kidding, right? NOPE.
Here’s why: only a certain amount of Express Passes are sold per day. They average in price around $20-$40 per person per day – price depends on time of year and peak vs. non-peak dates and if you want 1 park or 2 park passes. This is in ADDITION to your park admission (*gulp*). By limiting the number of Express Passes sold, Universal can guarantee a minimal wait time for each ride. (Please note – Express Passes can cost upwards of $80/PERSON/DAY during very popular peak times. When they get that expensive, you will really need to weigh the cost vs. benefits. Personally, I would most likely never plan a theme park vacation during peak season- I don’t handle big crowds too well and would spend the majority of the trip annoyed and grumpy. When we visited in mid-March we paid $20ish/person/day for Express Passes.)
You have two choices – an Express Plus Pass which will get you express admission to each ride in the park ONCE. There is also a VIP Pass (costs more) that gets you UNLIMITED express admission to each ride in both parks.
Tip: For what it’s worth, we spent two entire days at Universal – one at Universal Studios and one at Islands of Adventure. It took the two full days just to ride the majority of the rides ONCE – and we still didn’t get to all of them. Non-VIP passes worked great for us.
Why I suggest getting Express Plus Passes: Remember how I said that my time had value? Here’s the perfect example. With our Express Passes we literally walked onto EVERY SINGLE RIDE that we wanted to go on. We did not wait more than 5 minutes to get on a single ride. Rides that had 90 minute wait times – we walked RIGHT ON. (I would think during peak times, like summer, even Express Passers might have to wait for upwards of 10-15 minutes, but not much more than that.) We were able to check out almost every single ride in both parks in 2 days. If we had not had the Express Passes, we would have spent our entire day waiting in lines for probably half the rides that we rode. Express Plus Passes enabled us to maximize our time at Universal – it was amazing.
Not included: There are THREE rides that Express Plus Passes and VIP Passes do NOT grant you quick entrance to: Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Pteranodon Flyers.
But they add so much money to our tickets – I can’t afford it. Let’s face it – if you’re planning a trip to Universal, you will be spending money on park tickets, hotels, food and some sort of transportation like plane tickets or gas for the car. I know that it can be hard to imagine budgeting for one more thing. BUT TRUST ME – this was worth it. So give up take-out dinner for a month, skip date night at the movies a couple of times, it all adds up.
And just think of the smiles your family will be wearing when they zip past everyone wasting their time standing in that non-Express Pass line. :)
Universal Orlando has in no way compensated me nor did they provide tickets in exchange for this review. We paid for our tickets out of our own piggy bank. All opinions are 100% our own.