Sneak Peak Slideshow: Diagon Alley Opening at Universal Studios Florida in summer 2014.
Universal Orlando is a popular destination for families in Orlando Florida, with two theme parks --Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida-- and three resorts. Universal's theme parks are known for thrill rides but offer plenty for little kids too, and the addition of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has made Universal Orlando an even bigger draw.
Like many theme parks, Universal Orlando offers a way for guests to minimize line ups: Universal Express lets guests enter a special fast line-up at popular attractions. Note however, that unlike Fastpass at Disney World -- which is available to every guest-- Universal Express has to be purchased by guests or acquired as a perk- read more below. (Note too that, at time of writing, Universal Express isn't available for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride.)
Skip Those Line-ups!
1. Stay at a Universal Orlando Resort:
Universal Orlando has three beautiful resorts, The Hard Rock, Portofino Bay, and Royal Pacific, all with "beach"-style pools, kids clubs, boat-shuttles to the theme parks, and a terrific perk: free "Universal Express" access to popular rides. Show up at the ride, show your room key, and enter a fast-track line-up; works for unlimited access for participating rides at both theme parks.*
2. Buy a Universal Express pass.
Visitors can purchase several types of Universal Express passes, and costs for these passes vary on different days of the year. For example, price for a one-day "2-Park Universal Express Plus Pass" ranges from approx. $26 to $56.*
This price is in addition to regular theme park admission. Buy your pass online; you will also probably see ads within the theme park offering an opportunity to buy a pass.
Guests can also buy a Universal Express Plus Pass for Islands of Adventure only, or for Universal Studios only.
Note that Universal Express Plus passes are valid for just one entry, per participating attraction. If you want to ride an attraction multiple times, you'll need the "Park to Park VIP Ticket" which includes admission to both parks and unlimited Universal Express access to rides. This ticket can be bought for multiple days. (Details for Universal Express passes can change over time, so check the Universal Orlando site.)
3. Finally, for a premium price, guests can take a VIP tour that includes a Universal Express Pass with access to participating rides.*
All in all, staying at a Universal Orlando resort look like a good way to get fast-lane ride access; and in fact, many guests at Universal Orlando resorts think that the access privileges make their stay. Besides this great perk, the three resorts offer free water-taxi shuttles to the parks (which are all less than 15-minute walk to the theme parks, on landscaped paths.) Each property has a large "beach pool" --i.e. zero-entry with sand by the pool -- and waterslides or a waterplay zone.
The Hard Rock Hotel is the lowest-priced, with promotions starting at about $200*; check for packages that include theme park passes.
The Portofino Bay Hotel -- modeled on Portofino in Italy -- has its own small harbor, "beach" pool, kiddle pool, waterslide, lovely "quiet pool", spa, kids' club, fine dining, and plenty of luxury.
The Royal Pacific Resort has beautiful Balinese-style decor, a luau, an Emeril's restaurant, large beach pool with a pirate-ship with water squirters.
*Always check destination web sites for updates!