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  1. #1
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    Oct 2004
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    Default Need Help Planning Universal Vacation!!!

    My oldest daughter (8 years old) has read the first four Harry Potter books. She loves them and has been begging for our next vacation to be at Universal Studios. I have been pricing it out, and honestly am quite shocked by how expensive it is. For some reason it seems like I get a better value at Disney.

    I need some help with planning and have a few questions:
    1. Does Universal ever have any good discounts that I should wait for?
    2. If we go during a slow season (like the beginning of December or January), how necessary is the Unlimited Express Pass? Essentially, do I need to pay to stay at the hotel that supplies that, or will lines be low enough that it isn't needed.
    3. I stayed at the Sapphire Falls Hotel for work earlier this year. I thought the boat system to the City Walk and park entrances was fantastic. But only the 3 most expensive hotels are on that boat canal. If you stay at Cabana Beach or the new Aventura hotel, what is transportation to the parks like?
    4. Are there any "must-do" restaurants. I think my kids would be pretty intrigued by the Chocolate Factory.
    5. Does Universal have any airport transportation? Like how Disney has the Magical Express?

    Thanks!

    March 2017 - Pop Century
    November 2015 - Caribbean Beach
    October 2014 - Boardwalk Villas
    November 2013 - POR
    May 2009 - Animal Kingdom Lodge
    October 2007 - Disneyland
    January 2005 - Riverside
    December 2004 - Riverside
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    December 1996 - Caribbean Beach

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  4. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
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    Ithaca, NY
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    Magical Journeys can also help you with Universal Orlando bookings and planning. They are the best, and they are FREE, so if you haven't used them before, give them a try. I am going to for the first time next week, so I can't answer all your questions. I do know there is no transportation like ME included, but you can pay for Super Shuttle or use a cab, Uber/Lyft.

    Happy planning!
    ~Nikki~
    Last Trip: July 2015 Birthday trip - Disneyland! April 2016 - Disneyland!!
    Next Trips: INTERCOT 20th Anniversary Meet October 2017!

  5. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
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    We have been to Universal for the past three summers, last summer for 4th of July. On those three trips we stayed at Cabana Bay. All previous trips (3 other trips in November, December, February) we stayed at Hard Rock. Honestly as much as we love Hard Rock, and express pass, and being able to walk to both parks and city walk, we have come to love Cabana Bay. We just can't beat the great deal we have gotten at Cabana Bay the past three summers. We have used the military discount. I am not sure what other discounts Universal typically offers.

    We did not miss having express pass at all! Even in the middle of summer we never had to wait long for any rides, and unlike Disney we were able to ride our favorites over and over without much wait. Mummy, one of my favorite rides, we have been able to ride back to back with a 5 minute posted wait in the middle of the day, numerous times.

    The thing we missed most about Hard Rock was being so close to the parks. But even still, Cabana Bay's bus system is super quick and unbelievably efficient! We usually did not have to wait for a bus, coming or going. There was practically always a bus, or two, there anytime we walked up to the bus stop. The only exception was once or twice at park closing, but even then the next bus came quickly. We NEVER experienced waiting 20-30 minutes for a bus like we have in Disney.

    I have teen boys who initially loved Hard Rock. Each year we go back to Universal I have asked them where they want to stay, and they keep picking Cabana Bay. They say it's a funner resort and just feels like home now.

    Universal is not like Disney when it comes to planning. Once we select our dates, tickets, and resort we are all set. There is no need to book dining or rides months in advanced. You literally just show up and have fun! Since your daughter is a Harry Potter fan you should plan to eat a few meals in the HP sections of the parks. Both restaurants are like Quick Service, no need for reservations. We have never had any problems eating anywhere in Universal and we never made reservations. We have eaten in the parks, at the resorts, and in city walk. The one place we were encouraged to make reservations for was the chocolate factory place. We ended up just buying some things in the gift shop of the restaurant. But it was only suggested that we make reservations same day, nothing that needed to be planned very much ahead of time.

    One thing I would recommend is the park hopper. You can't ride the train between parks without the hopper and it really does add to the experience, especially for a potter fan.

    Good luck and I hope you have a great trip! We love Disney, but Universal has definitely grown on us, and we have as much fun because it's such an easy trip compared to Disney.
    Denise

    Resorts we've stayed at in 20+ trips: ASMo, ASMu, ASSp, PC, CSR, CBR, POR, POFQ, WL, AKL Jambo, AKL Kidani, Poly, Contemporary, BC, YC, BWV, OKW, SSR, Swan, Shades of Green, Vero Beach, Disneyland Resort

    Next Trip: ???

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  7. #4
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    Jan 2016
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    I agree with buzznwoodysmom that Universal is a different experience. Basically not much of a wait for rides or meals. We stayed at Cabana Bay and loved it. We got a family suite which gave us extra room and saved us money on food, especially breakfast. We got a cab from the airport for $50 each way. Also take advantage of early park opening. One or the other opens HP area an hour early and you can do the rides in that park then take the train over to the other before open to general public, this will save you lots of time in that area. Have fun!!!

  8. #5
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    Jul 2011
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    I loved the express pass. Didn't need it on every ride, but some it helped out quite a bit. And others, we were able to go later in the day, and not have to wait. Rides like Spiderman, very helpful, for example.

    I find eating at the park to be pretty lackluster. The JP burger area is pretty cool though (looks like the JP welcome center).
    ===================

    2016 POR
    2015 CS
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    2014 Disneyland-offsite
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    2013 Dolphin
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    1998 Dixie Landings
    1990's, Dixie Landings, Misc Offsite

  9. #6
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    We're going to be there on May 12th - we've been to Universal a couple of times, but this will be the first time we've stayed onsite. We did decide to splurge and stay at the cheapest of the big three - Royal Pacific Resort - largely because of the Express passes - also like the idea of pool hopping between the three. yes, its annoying about the transportation - I wish there was a designated shuttle service even if it's not free, but we are just going to wait until we get to the airport and then grab a cab. At least Universal hotels DO offer sfree huttle service to Seaworld (and a few others, I think). Now, I have NO idea how this happened - but I booked really early and scored a club level room that is actually LESS money than the current rack rate on regular rooms. That is a mystery to me, but it'll be nice to grab breakfast and snacks from the club lounge. I guess my point there is price everything out and keep looking for deals - you never know what will turn up! I'll probably know a lot more and be able to answer your questions a lot better after the trip ;-) One thing I would do is take a look at the height restrictions on ALL the rides, and prepare your daughter for what she might not be big enough to do. But I can totally vouch for Harry Potter world being absolutely MAGICAL. We only saw the first phase - my daughters are teens and I had to work hard to get them to go do other things in the park, and then they went back there after anyway. I don't know how to describe it...even if you aren't doing all the attractions, you just feel like you are really THERE and just walking the village streets is amazing. Sorry, I'm a huge Harry Potter nerd...my kids grew up on those, me reading each book to my oldest AS they were released!

  10. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
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    Chicago
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    Thank you for all of your responses. I think we'll be staying at Cabana Bay based on the good reviews.

    March 2017 - Pop Century
    November 2015 - Caribbean Beach
    October 2014 - Boardwalk Villas
    November 2013 - POR
    May 2009 - Animal Kingdom Lodge
    October 2007 - Disneyland
    January 2005 - Riverside
    December 2004 - Riverside
    August 2000 - Coronado Springs
    December 1996 - Caribbean Beach

  11. #8
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    If you were going to Universal in the summer months, then the lines definitely do get long, although maybe not quite as long as at WDW. I think the longest I have ever waited at Universal was 2 hours for Gringotts, but that was shortly after it opened and it also broke down part of the time, adding to the wait. In the months you mentioned, I do not think the Express Pass will be as important. If it turns out to be crowded (say, on a weekend), you can always buy an Express Pass for one day and get as many of the eligible rides in as possible. You can also split your stay, so say stay two nights at one of the premium resorts, which would enable you to use the attached Express Pass for three full days. Then you could stay at Cabana Bay for the remaining nights, enjoying the amenities and still having access to the early entry option to hit the important Harry Potter rides.

    BTW, my son and I stayed at Cabana Beach soon after it opened and loved it! The pool area is fantastic and we spent one very fun evening at the bowling alley--not something you would be able to do at a Disney World resort!
    Beth
    INTERCOT Staff--
    Theme Parks and Accommodations



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  12. #9
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    Jun 2003
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    Totally new to planning a Universal Trip. I went once in 1992 as a young teenager.

    My oldest is a huge Harry Potter fan and she has devoured all the books (including the Cursed Child). So, naturally we are now thinking of making a trip to Orlando and spending some time at Universal.

    I have no idea. What are the basics? How many days should we plan? What is must see?

    Thanks!

    JS
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  13. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Skellington View Post
    Totally new to planning a Universal Trip. I went once in 1992 as a young teenager.

    My oldest is a huge Harry Potter fan and she has devoured all the books (including the Cursed Child). So, naturally we are now thinking of making a trip to Orlando and spending some time at Universal.

    I have no idea. What are the basics? How many days should we plan? What is must see?

    Thanks!
    I would suggest a minimum of three days at Universal, more if you are going when it is busy or not staying at a hotel that offers the Express Pass and Early Park Entry. They really do make a difference in what you can see, especially with the Harry Potter stuff and the newer more popular attractions. If you can go in September or May you'll enjoy the water rides a lot more than in, say, December or January. And the summer heat won't be as bad.
    Beth
    INTERCOT Staff--
    Theme Parks and Accommodations



    Take a look at what INTERCOT's wonderful sponsors have to offer!

  14. #11
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    Jul 2011
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    Well, must do Universal and Island of Adventures.

    2-3 days. We did it in 2, but moving at an okay pace, just 2 of us, and paid for the quickpass. We do have some size issues on a couple of rides, but by and large at least 1 of us rode pretty much everything except the roller coaster (rocket) at Uni.

    Aside from Harry Potter at both parks
    Our Must do's:
    IOA: Jurassic Park river ride, Dr. Seus High in the sky train, Spiderman, Dudley Do right, Popeye Barges.

    Skip everything in Lost Continent. Universal does not pay you for this time out of your life.

    We like eating at the JP welcome center, b/c its just like in the original movie.

    Universal:
    Must: Minions, Transformers, Mummy, Men in Black,

    Optional: Simpsons the ride, ET (cute, but very dated obviously).

    Skip. Jimmy Fallon. I haven't ridden it. But everyone I've spoken to who has, or any reviews I've seen, have not been good.
    ===================

    2016 POR
    2015 CS
    2014 WDW-Offsite
    2014 Disneyland-offsite
    2014 CBR
    2013 Dolphin
    2012 POR
    2012 WDW-Offsite
    2011 ASMusic, POR

    1998 Dixie Landings
    1990's, Dixie Landings, Misc Offsite

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