Universal Orlando vacation packages - insider tips, tricks, & secretsOI Center
Universal vacation packages – an insider’s guide
On this page, we are going to discuss official Universal Orlando vacation packages, their benefits, how they work, and whether you can actually save money booking your travel as a package through Universal.
The purpose of this page is to give you the insider tips, tricks, and secrets about these vacation packages that Universal doesn’t necessary want you to know. That being said, it’s important to note that any price, procedure, or policy related to Universal vacation packages may change at any time. So please, before you make any final decisions, please contact Universal or your travel agent directly.
What exactly is a Universal Orlando vacation package?
Universal Orlando vacation packages present you with a way to “bundle” the components of a Universal vacation into one package. In its most basic form, a Universal Orlando vacation package must include accommodations (either at one of Universal’s on-site hotels or a Universal Orlando Partner Hotel) and theme park admission tickets.
In addition to these two basic components, a vacation package may also include additional entertainment (Cinematic Spectacular Dining Experience, Blue Man Group tickets, etc.), car rental, transportation to Disney, and even airfare.
How do I book a Universal Orlando vacation package?
There are two primary methods for booking Universal Orlando vacation packages. The first method, and for many the easiest, is through a travel agency.
We’re proud to work with Jennifer Green of Destinations in Florida. She can work one-on-one with you to find the best package. Better yet, she can also combine Universal, Disney, and other packages (like a cruise), allowing you to have one-on-one assistance for planning your entire vacation. Best of all, her services are completely free to you. Seriously. To get in touch, just complete this form, or you can learn more in the OI Forums.
If you are a travel agent and would like to learn about selling Universal travel, visit UnviersalTravelAgents.com.
The second option is to book your package directly through Universal Orlando. This can be done via their website, UniversalOrlandoVacations.com, or by calling the vacation package department at 1-800-711-0080. When you call the vacation package department, you are actually calling Universal Orlando’s Guest Contact Center (where I used to work), and your “vacation package call” is routed to a Guest Contact Center team member who is trained in vacation packages.
It’s important to note that, in general, the price of a Universal Orlando vacation package is the same for guests whether the package is booked by a travel agency or directly through Universal. In other words, if you decide to use a travel agent, Universal pays them a commission on the money Universal would otherwise keep. The takeaway is that you, as the guest, will pay pretty much the same thing either way you go.
One more idea to consider when choosing a method of booking your package: Travel agents make a living by ensuring each one of their clients’ specific travel needs is met. Universal, on the other hand, is in the business of running theme parks.
What’s the point of booking a Universal Orlando vacation package?
Now we get to perhaps the most important question, what’s the point of booking a Universal Orlando vacation package and is it worth it? I’m here to tell it like it is. Remember, I’m not trying to sell you a vacation package, so I’ve got nothing to hide.
First off, it’s important to dispel a very popular myth: booking a Universal Orlando vacation package means that you are saving money. I’m sorry to say that this is not true. Even though it feels like you are bundling the components of your vacation so you ought to save, bundling doesn’t mean saving in this case. The truth is, if you were to purchase the parts of your Universal Orlando vacation separately, you are likely to come up with close to the same price. And in the times that you come up with a different price, more often than not that price will be lower than the package price – particularly if you are able to get your admission tickets at a great price from Costco, AAA, or a reputable third-party outlet like Undercover Tourist.
So what’s the point of booking a Universal Orlando vacation package?
There are three real reasons to book a Universal Orlando vacation package: (1) to gain access to Early Park Admission at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter; and (2) to make a guaranteed reservation for breakfast one morning at Three Broomsticks and/or the Leaky Cauldron; and (3) to have a single point of contact for the different components of your Universal vacation (at least until you get on-site).
Let’s look at each of these benefits a little bit closer.
Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Unless you are coming to Universal Orlando when you are certain it will be very slow, or unless you just don’t care about Harry Potter, having Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World is an essential factor to ensuring your vacation is a success. (Be sure you read our How to ensure your trip to WWoHP is a success! page at some point.) Right now, there are only two ways to get Early Park Admission…
The first way is to stay at one of Universal Orlando’s on-site hotels: Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, Royal Pacific Resort, or Cabana Bay Beach Resort. All guests staying on-site, regardless of how they booked their room or whether or not they have a vacation package, get Early Park Admission. So, if you are staying on-site, you do not need a vacation package to get Early Park Admission.
The second way is to book a vacation package that includes one of Universal’s 40 or so Partner Hotels, which are hotels off-property that Universal has contracted with to sell their rooms. It’s very important to note that you must book accommodations at a Universal Partner Hotel as part of a Universal Orlando vacation package to get Early Park Admission. So if you want to stay at the DoubleTree across from the entrance to Universal and you want Early Park Admission, you MUST book a Universal Orlando vacation package with the DoubleTree as your hotel. If you just book the hotel on your own, and purchase your own theme park admission tickets, you will NOT get Early Park Admission.
Finally, keep in mind that Early Park Admission is a benefit included with ALL vacation packages – if you book a Universal Orlando vacation, whether its the 2-Park Getaway or any other package, you get Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Reservations at Three Broomsticks and the Leaky Cauldron
Being able to set up a reservation for breakfast one morning at Three Broomsticks and the Leaky Cauldron is a special benefit of the Exclusive Harry Potter vacation package. If you want to make a reservation for breakfast, you need to book a vacation package – doesn’t matter where you are staying, on-site or off-site – and you have to book the Exclusive Harry Potter vacation package. I’ll explain the different vacation packages a little further down.
Please note that, during slower times, guests may be able to enjoy breakfast at the Wizarding World restaurants without reservations. Also, keep in mind that, for lunch and dinner, Three Broomsticks and the Leaky Cauldron are first-come-first-served for everyone.
Is there any other reason to book a Universal Orlando vacation package?
You now know that you are not really going to save any money by booking a vacation package – in most cases, you will end up paying a little more. The real reasons to book a package are either to get Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World if you are staying at an off-property hotel, or to get reservations for during your trip.
But there must be other reasons, right?
The truth is, there really are not. For example, if you book a vacation package, you get complimentary access to the night clubs at Universal CityWalk (called the CityWalk Party Pass). But you get that same complimentary access if you purchase a Park-to-Park admission ticket from Universal anyway. Or if you purchase Blue Man Group tickets. Or, you can purchase the pass alone right at CityWalk for about $10. The point is, complimentary access to the nightclubs is not much of a reason to get a vacation package.
The only thing I can add is that, as I mentioned above, booking a package does give you one point of contact. So if you have issues with your admission tickets, or hotel, or if you want to talk to someone about the dining options at Universal, you can just call your travel agent or Universal’s vacation package department.
What are the different types of vacation packages available?
Universal Orlando’s vacation packages breakdown into four main categories:
1 – The 2-Park Getaway
This is Universal’s basic vacation package. As the basic package, it includes the basic components: hotel accommodations and theme park admission tickets. It also includes Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
The 2-Park Getaway is the most flexible package, meaning that you can book it for as many nights as you want, and add and adjust components, just as long as there is one night at a hotel and one theme park admission ticket somewhere in the package. All of the other vacation packages offered by Universal Orlando are basically variations of the 2-Park Getaway.
2 – Exclusive Harry Potter vacation package
Like the 2-Park Getaway, this package includes hotel and park admission tickets. But for a slightly higher price that is hidden in with the cost of the hotel, it also includes breakfast at Three Broomsticks and/or the Leaky Cauldron. Because the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is so incredibly popular, Universal often requires a 4-night stay to book this package. If you don’t want to stay for four nights at Universal, book the 2-Park Getaway and all you lose is the one-time breakfast at Three Broomsticks and/or the Leaky Cauldron – and remember, you might be able to walk in for breakfast without a reservation, or you can just have lunch or dinner at these venues.
3 – Florida resident discount packages
Universal’s Florida resident packages are exactly like the 2-Park Getaway, except the hotel rates can be slightly less if the hotel you choose is offering a Florida resident discount. It’s worth noting that Universal’s Florida resident discount admission tickets can be added to any vacation package, making the “Florida resident vacation packages” rather unnecessary, other than for marketing reasons.
4 – Seasonal & specialty vacation packages
During special events, such as Halloween Horror Nights, or for new promotions, Universal may offer special vacation packages. To differentiate them from the 2-Park Getaway, these specialty packages usually offer one additional benefit, such as a complimentary character photograph, or access to a otherwise private activity. But be cautious about the complimentary or exclusive benefits included in these packages – the cost for them is often hidden with the cost of the hotel (which means your paying for them anyway), or, in the case of a private event, there are often other methods for getting in.
For example, the Gory Getaway is the name of the specialty vacation package Universal offers during Halloween Horror Nights. It usually includes 3-night hotel accommodations, 2-day Base tickets, 1-night admission to HHN, and a CityWalk Party Pass. When you purchase this package, the advertising gives the impressive that somehow you’re saving money by bundling. But you’re not. You can easily book all these features on their own, and with a little research, come up with much better prices.
Do you recommend booking a Universal Orlando vacation package?
In a couple of cases yes, but otherwise no. Let’s take a look:
If you want EARLY PARK ADMISSION and YOU ARE NOT ABLE TO STAY ON-SITE, then absolutely yes! There is no way to get Early Park Admission, if you are staying off-property, without booking a vacation package.
If you want THE CONVENIENCE OF BOOKING ALL YOUR TRAVEL THROUGH ONE CONTACT, then yes. And we recommend using a travel agency like Destinations in Florida instead of booking directly with Universal.
If you want BREAKFAST IN THE WIZARDING WORLD with a guaranteed reservation, then yes, because you will need to book the Exclusive Harry Potter package to get a breakfast reservation for Three Broomsticks and/or the Leaky Cauldron.
If you want to SAVE THE MOST MONEY, then no, you don’t want to book a package. With enough trial and error you will be able to put together your own “vacation package” one component at a time that will cost less than Universal’s vacation packages. For example, there are some very economical hotels in the neighborhood that Universal does not have contracts with, so you would not be able to book them if you did a Universal package. Just keep in mind that certain benefits, namely Early Park Admission, will not be available to you if you book an off-property hotel on your own and not as part of a package.
Another example of saving money by skipping a vacation package and booking items a la carte comes to us from one of our readers:
Why is Universal’s vacation package website so confusing?
Ended up finding a great rate at the Royal Pacific through lastminutetravel.com. It was one of the hidden hotels they have (a 4.5 star in the International Drive/Universal Resort Area) but the description gave it away talking about pool access at sister properties (Hard Rock and Portofino). Saved about $120/night through the site.
I don’t have much of a good answer for you here, other than to say that yes, it is very confusing. And, as someone who has worked on both sides of the issues (as a guest booking a package and as a Universal Orlando Sales Counselor assisting guests), I can tell you that the system can be just as clumsy for the folks at Universal.
That being said, I do want to tell you that travel agents and the Universal Sales Counselors have the ability to makes changes, additions, and subtractions to vacation packages that you cannot make on UniversalOrlandoVacations.com. In addition, they work with the system all day, every day, so they know what they are doing. That is why I recommend making a phone call to your travel agent or direct to Universal instead of trying to use the UniversalOrlandoVacations.com website.
Give Kids The World vacation package
On April 17, 2013, Universal launched a partnership with Give Kids The World, a nonprofit “storybook” resort for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. As part of this partnership, guests now have the opportunity to book a Universal vacation package that includes a four-hour volunteer shift at the Give Kids The World village.
Here are the details of the package:
- 3-night accommodations at one of three AAA Four Diamond Award on-site hotels at Universal Orlando
- 2-Day Base Ticket – one theme park, per day
- A four-hour volunteer opportunity for you and your family at Give Kids The World
- FREE roundtrip transportation between hotel and Give Kids The World provided by Quick Transportation
- Universal Express in both theme parks – a FREE benefit worth up to $89 per person, per day
- Early Park Admission to experience The Wizarding World of Harry Potter before the rest of the general public
- The 3-night package starts from $1489 per family of four
- For every package sold, Universal will donate $100 to Give Kids The World.
The Script: TICKETS, PACKAGES & PLANNING
- Maps, Rider’s Guide & Vacation brochure
- Attraction Assistance & Guest Assistance Passes
- Universal vacation packages – an insider’s guide
- Top 12 easiest ways to save time & money at Universal
- Ride wait times based on crowd levels
- Universal Express Passes – complete insider’s guide
- The secret to getting UNLIMITED Express Passes
- Universal’s Q-bot Ride Reservation System
- Universal Dining Plans – complete insider’s guide
- Dining reservations at Universal Orlando
- Parking & Universal’s transportation hub
- Shuttles, taxis & towncars: Transportation recommendations
- Orlando average monthly temperatures
- What to pack for your vacation