Since I’ve started travel writing, I’ve had a pretty strict policy of not reviewing “VIP” or special treatment that other people may not receive. While I appreciate a free bottle of wine, I don’t let special treatment get in the way of my actual opinion. I’m also quite weary of any special attention my kids get because I want them to be world travellers who aren’t caught up on extra luxuries they don’t really need. That being said, when a VIP Tour is offered by a theme park and is offered to anyone who wants to pay for it, you bet I’m going to review it. Here’s what you need to know about the VIP Tour at Universal Orlando (Universal Orlando VIP Experience) from price break down to why its worth every penny.
Universal Orlando VIP Experience
First things first. The Universal Orlando VIP Experience is open to everybody. You can book a tour for either Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure or both parks. To book a VIP tour all you need to do is call 1-866-346-9350 any day of the week during normal business hours (9AM-7PM EST, 7 days a week).
Secondly, unlike other parks whose tours do not guarantee you skip ride lines, it is made very clear from the get-go that you will receive the VIP treatment you are paying for which includes front of the line access to the rides and attractions.
Lastly, it’s not cheap but its totally worth it.
Cost Break Down
Before I tell you anything more about the VIP tour, you need to know the cost breakdown. There are 3 tours to choose from: a 1-day 1-park tour, a 1-day 2-park tour and a private VIP experience. What is key to understand is that you will need to purchase separate admission for the parks that is not included in the cost of the tour.
The 1-day 1-park tour starts at $189.99 plus tax per person while the 1-day 2-park tour starts at $199.99 plus tax per person. If you are only visiting for one day, the single park ticket will cost you $105 per adult and $100 per child. A park to park ticket will run you $155 per day per adult and and $150 per adult. You may be starting to add this all up but stay with me. If you are visiting for multiple days, the daily entry gets quite a bit cheaper with a 4 day ticket costing you only $60 per day.
Where I think the VIP tour really comes into play is when you consider the cost of the Express Pass. The Unlimited Express Pass is available for $84.99 a day and earns you the right to stand in a shorter line but does not get you to the front of the line. Add-in the fact that the VIP tour includes exclusive behind the scenes stops, valet parking, continental breakfast, reserved seating at shows and the Universal’s Superstar Parade and lunch (our group lunch totalled over $200) and you start to see the benefits piling up.
Additionally knowing that the Express Passes do not work at any of the Harry Potter attractions including the Hogwarts Express makes it pretty clear that the added cost will save you loads of time.
As an added bonus, once your tour ends, your tour pass works as an express pass for the remainder of the day.
Which Tour to Pick?
When choosing a tour, I would advise you choose the 1-day 2-park experience. While I love all of Universal Studios, the heart of the park is really the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. You will want to experience the rides, skip the lines for the Hogwarts Express, find secret spell locations and dine in one of the iconic pubs like the Leaky Cauldron. In addition, your tour will take you to the major rides in each park seriously cutting the wait times.
The deal with the 1-day 2-park experience is that you will not be alone on your tour. Don’t fret as the maximum number of people in the tour is only 12. The tour route is pre-determined by your guide, so don’t worry about having to argue over where to go. I’ve now experienced the tour twice. Once with a group of women who were quite older and much less interested in roller coasters than me and secondly with two families with kids ranging from 16 to 6. When both tours started I was nervous. The reality is that tour guides know what they are doing. They will not make small children stand and wait for hours while everyone rides the Hulk and they will pay attention to the vibe of the group. I found having added people on the tour made it a lot more fun in the end. Especially since our kids had other kids to play with.
Additional things not to worry about include: the tour guides ability to offer quick bathroom stops; answer all questions while on the go; pay special attention to each member of the group from smallest to grumpiest and most excited to least wanting to be there; and generally handle any questions or concerns in an instant.
When is the VIP Tour at Universal Orlando Worth The Cost?
As J.K. Rowling famously wrote; Always.
If you only have one day, this tour will cover everything you want to see and still leave you extra time to re-visit what you loved or what you still want to do. In my opinion, you are better off dedicating a day to the tour then spending three days in the park without it. I particularly love that there is no stress factor to the tour. Someone else is there to make all decisions. There is no rushing from ride to ride. You simply walk to the next one, learn some really cool facts and then walk on the ride.
I also think the tour is worth it if you are visiting the parks for multiple days. My advice would be to do the tour on your first or second day in the parks. This is two-fold. The stress of seeing everything will be gone as soon as your tour is over. Secondly, you learn such cool facts about the rides after you ride them that you will want to go back and see if you can spot them on your own. After riding Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, we were told about how the track moves during certain parts of the ride and headed back in to see if we could spot the transitions once we knew. Even if you aren’t that into rides or engineering, it’s pretty fascinating stuff.
Kyle The Tour Guide
I would be remiss to finish this review without giving a shout out to Kyle, our tour guide. Kyle and I have now toured together twice and both were fun and memorable experiences. When I saw Kyle for the second time, I wondered how he would adapt the tour knowing I had recently completed it. Turns out Kyle knows way more about the parks then can be shared in one day, so pretty much everything he said was new to me.
What I love most about the Universal Studio tour guides is that they are passionate people who clearly love the parks. Kyle in fact loves the park so much that when the Twister ride was finally dismantled, he bought one of the fake but life-sized cows who now lives with him in his apartment. Kyle didn’t seem bored, exhausted, or disgruntled in any way. He instead exuded the exact attitude you look for in a group leader. He somehow had time to bond with each child and was able to connect with every one of them on different levels. He made Charlie, the youngest on the tour, feel special about being too short to ride certain rides and made sure to surprise her with additional rides he knew she would love.
Kyle also managed to never push anyone to ride anything while simultaneously providing support to those brave enough to take on some of the bigger rides. He knew how to calm riders’ nerves while being a reassuring friend to the kids who were tall enough but just not yet ready to attempt the larger coasters. In the end, no one felt bad about not riding and everyone had an incredible day.
VIP Experience at Universal Orlando
The final take is that the VIP Tour at Universal Orlando is truly a VIP Experience. You don’t need to worry about not getting to the front of lines and not having an memorable day. Once the stresses of planning, trying to beat lines, deciding where to eat, and meeting everyones’ needs are removed, a new experience unfolds before your very eyes. As a mother, I found I was enjoying our vacation without having to check a map or ride wait time app. I spent time instead experiencing the delights of the park with my family. I loved watching my kids’ reactions to things and holding their hands on new rides I hadn’t yet experienced like Skull Island: Reign of Kong.
I’ll admit being treated like a VIP wasn’t so bad after all.
Pin Image Courtesy of Melinda Johnson at Melinda Jae Photography http://melindajae.com