On my most recent trip to Orlando I was hosted on a VIP tour of Universal Studios theme parks. Seeing that I hadn’t been since I was about 10 years old, I was super excited about this! Especially because I was going to be visiting during the Christmas season. I was also curious to see how the Universal VIP Experience compared to Walt Disney World’s VIP Services, which I loved!
The first thing to know is that unlike Walt Disney’s VIP program, Universal has a couple different options to help you have a more luxurious experience depending on what you want to spend. Note that all of the pricing below (like Disney’s VIP program) does not include park admission prices, which you have to pay separately. It also does not include taxes.
So here’s the deal with Universal Studio’s VIP Tours
It’s worth noting first that the most basic “VIP” experience is offered to guests of Universal on-site hotels. When you stay at these hotels you’re given Universal Express Unlimited ride passes (valid theme park admission is still required). It’s basically the equivalent of an unlimited Disney Fast Pass. You can use the pass an unlimited number of times at participating rides and attractions. Big ticket rides like Harry Potter rides are not included but more than 90% of the attractions do participate! You’re also given early park admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter for one hour before the theme park officially opens. You can also purchase the Universal Express Unlimited Pass if you’re not staying at a hotel and for a 2-Park Universal Express Pass, prices start at $59.99. Then, there is also the option of purchasing just a Universal Express Pass, which you can only use one time per each participating ride. Prices for Universal Express Passes for 2-Parks start at $39.99. Click here for more information.
The Express passes again are essentially like Disney’s Fast Passes so you’ll still have to wait in lines, though they’ll be much shorter (usually not longer than 20 mins). I like their Express service more than Disney because unlike Fast Passes, you don’t have to plan anything in advance. I have commitment issues. Here you just walk up whenever and go to the special shorter line. In Disney you have to set everything up online in advance, which has advantages for some.
But back to your regularly scheduled programming: VIP Tours. You can sign up for the basic VIP Experience, which gets you a guided tour and priority entrance into a minimum of 8 of the park’s major rides and attractions, behind-the-scenes experiences, etc. This is actually quite reasonably priced if you ask me. Non-Peak prices start at $299 per person (plus tax) for a 1-Day, 1-Park experience or $329.99 per person (plus tax) for a 1-Day, 2-Park Experience. During “peak pricing” times (the weeks around Christmas and Easter) those rates jump to somewhere around $369 and $389. The plus side is of course that you have a private guide and don’t have to wait in any lines. The downside is that they take you in groups of 12 and the tour guide chooses what you will visit. So that means if you have a family of 6 you will be paired up with 6 strangers. I’m sure they do their best to find guests with similar interests but that said, your schedule won’t be entirely up to you.
Every VIP Experience includes:
Complimentary continental Breakfast to start your day.
Priority front-of-the-line access to rides and attractions during the tour. (And I mean no lines at all. Not just going to the Fast Pass line.)
Exclusive behind-the-scenes experiences in the parks (subject to availability).
Reserved seating at shows and special viewing areas for parades
Complimentary Valet Parking for 1 vehicle.
Universal Express Unlimited ride access at participating rides and attractions after your VIP tour is over
A VIP Experience souvenir lanyard. (Is it so nerdy that I actually thought this was cool)
You also get select discounts at full service dining and merchandise locations within the parks.
Now onto the gold standard, which is what we did—the Private VIP Experience. Prices vary based on time of year, etc. but this tour starts at about $2,700 per day—this rate is good for up to five guests then after that each guests adds on about $349 per person. During peak times the prices jump to about $3,200. Ohh and I should mention that these also don’t include admission tickets or taxes. So clearly, a very luxe experience. Not for everyone of course—but that’s the idea, right?
On Universal’s private VIP tours, you choose the entire itinerary of your day. The Private VIP Experience at Universal Studios also includes lunch at one of Universal’s full service restaurants. The tour lasts from approximately 10:30 AM – 6:30 PM but since it’s private it’s a bit more flexible.
After experiencing Universal Orlando like a VIP, I could never go back. You’re treated like a celebrity—and there is nothing I love more. But that said, if you don’t want to cough up such a large sum, I think the semi-private tours could be a great option too. So here’s what a day is like if you choose to purchase one of Universal Studio’s Private VIP Tour Experiences.
Our day started when we bypassed the parking lot and valet parked our car. What a dream this is! Seriously almost makes it worth not having to deal with the parking lot alone! Make sure you do the Standard Valet Parking as this is what is complimentary with your tour. Preferred Valet Parking and Red Carpet Valet Parking are not. Our car was retrieved for us in less than 5 minutes so standard for me was more than adequate.
I think it’s worth noting that you still have a bit of a walk to reach the VIP Services building for those who may have difficulty getting around. But far less than if you self-parked!
When you reach the VIP Services Office, we were welcomed at the front door, they validated our parking and welcomed us upstairs where we were offered a continental breakfast and the chance to get acquainted with our tour guide. The breakfast is basically muffins and pastries so if you’re someone with healthier tastes you may want to consider eating a little something before you come—as it’s not a green juice type of situation. In other important news, the coffee was fabulous!
At breakfast, you have a little time to not only get to know your guide (and if you’re going in a group, the other people) but also it’s a chance to give your guide an idea of what you want to see and what is important to you. Our guide’s name was Jesse. He was amazing. Extremely knowledgeable and also very friendly, funny and eager to ensure we had a fabulous day (as I imagine all the guides are). Before we embarked on our tour, Jesse suggested what he thought would be the best schedule and we knew we were in very capable hands.
After we grabbed a couple complimentary waters, we were off!
I brought my parents and husband along to try out the tour by the way. Theme parks are hardly as much fun on your own! Jesse was fabulous because while my husband and I are total thrill seekers, my mom is not. Having him available to us as a resource was fabulous because before each ride he was able to tell us exactly what the ride was like and whether or not someone who gets nauseous easily or someone who is afraid of heights or fast speeds will like it. And that’s just one perk of the Universal VIP Tour! Some of the other perks of having a VIP Guide were:
You get to avoid the lines entirely. The VIP Tours at Disney really just give you an unlimited FastPass so you still have to wait in short lines. At Universal they walk you through back entrances and secret passageways and shuttle you straight to the front. No waiting at all! Here we are going in through an exit!
You can also choose the best seat! Jesse always made a point to tell us whether the front or back row would give us the best ride. At Disney World they’re a little more, let’s say thoughtful. You can tell that VIP guides (in a very Disney fashion) don’t want to completely displace other guests, which I understand—but must say that if you’re paying all the money for VIP, it seems appropriate. You can tell everyone looks at you trying to figure out why you’re being shuttled out of back entry ways. It’s a very red carpet experience. From start to finish.
I also loved that we could ride the rides over and over again as many times as we wanted! We rode Escape from Gringott’s bank 3 times in a row. Best ride ever by the way. I can’t get over the state-of-the-art technology they’ve got over here. It blew me away.
It is worth noting that Universal has gone to great lengths to make their queues very entertaining and interactive so I know we did miss a few cool things along the way. That said—I would obviously still opt for skipping the line! Check out the Portrait Hall and Gringott’s, which are part of the lines! Not bad, eh?
VIP Guides know tons of details about the parks that you’d completely miss if you didn’t know better. Jesse pointed out tons of things to us throughout the day and peppered in lots of history about the park as well. History that only employees or extreme park aficionados would know about!
Having a guide to not only schedule your plan of attack but lead you through the park without having to consult a map or search for employees to guide you in the right direction really made our entire experience a lot more stress free. We didn’t realize how much so until our time with Jesse ended and we were on our own. Boy did we miss him! It was like he parted the Red Sea for us and once he left we just became swallowed up by the sea of people!
Oh, it’s also worth noting that Universal’s Private VIP Tour Experience includes lunch at one of their restaurants. You are able to choose this the day of and you can choose a sit-down restaurant or a quick-service option. While I was tempted to go with some British food in The Leaky Cauldron, we learned that Universal is home to Mythos, one of the best theme park restaurants in the world (according to ThemeParkInsider.com 6 years in a row). Your meal is included in the price too, which was a nice perk. You could order 1 appetizer for 2 people, 1 entrée each and a dessert! Here was our view from our lunch table.
As part of the VIP experience you are also entitled to preferred viewing for shows and parades but we never took our guide up on this because we wanted to spend our time doing other things. I’ve heard though that most of the shows don’t fill up because the theaters are quite large. For whatever that’s worth.
VIP Experiences also boast backstage access to see things like getting a look below the Revenge of the Mummy’s ride track, or up close action with the aliens at the Men in Black attraction. The guide and the PR rep seemed really excited about this but I have to say we were cracking up that people find this to be such a thrill. That said, we had a good laugh about it and still took the mandatory photo opps. Just didn’t find this to be the biggest perk. However, I would imagine I might have aged out of finding this to be so magical. Here we are with the aliens.
Also, and this one I’m not sure about, but characters in the parks may give you some extra special attention if your’e part of a VIP tour. Either that or Betty Boop just loved my dad a whole lot. This kiss blowing went on for quite a while! He is the best though, so who can blame her.
You also have someone to give you his/her own personal recommendations for food and beverages. And with so many amazing choices, you’ll need it!
The question I get asked the most about tours like these are is it worth it? The answer to this loaded question of course depends on a few things: your tolerance for waiting as well as your bank account. For most adults and luxury travelers, the thought of waiting in a 2-hour line for many attractions doesn’t sound like a vacation at all. That said, if your budget isn’t as flexible as Kim Kardashian’s you may not wish to go full, private VIP style. I personally think it would be worth every penny if it’s within your budget. If it’s not, Universal is great because they offer so many levels of access to planning a luxury experience. So I would say that investing in some sort of tour or express pass, especially if you’re visiting during a busy time of year, is absolutely worth it. Especially for Harry Potter attractions, which get the longest lines. I mean, can you blame people? So cool, right! Check out more pics of our Universal Studios VIP Tour in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter below.
You can book Non-exclusive tours can online with availability and pricing here. For private tours you must reserve them by phone at 1-866-346-9350. I recommend calling early especially if you plan to visit during peak seasons like Christmas or Easter as they do book up.
All aboard the Hogwart’s Express! For your own peace of mind, most of these beers are the same. We didn’t have a keg party in the park 🙂
*As always, my opinions are my own. You can’t buy the love here, people. That said, I did experience this fabulous day of VIP treatment free of charge in consideration of me writing this here (fabulous) blog article (ahem, if I do say so myself).