Michelle went to Universal Studios Orlando this past month during all the COVID-19 Pandemic protocols. She returned with some great information for everyone curious about visiting Orlando theme parks at this time. Join me as we hear what she has to say:
Learn more about Universal Studios in my post linked here. If you would like me to handle booking and planning your Orlando theme park vacation, please fill out my travel questionnaire here.
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If you love military Florida theme park deals like me, this is the place for you! I’ll discuss the ticket discount, where to stay, how to plan your theme park days, and I have a fun Universal Video Recap of our trip as well if you would like to get a feel for the park and location of our hotel. Let’s get started!
Universal Studios offers U.S. military and DoD civilians a significant discount on their tickets. You can purchase them at your Travel and Leisure office on base, but the cool thing about these tickets is that the sponsor does not have to be with you at the park entrance like they do at Disney World. The tickets you buy at the military base are already activated and ready to use. You can instantly load them into the Universal App and start seeing wait times and park maps.
The tickets are about $180 for a 4-day, 2- park voucher. That is the price you would pay for a 1-day, 2-park ticket at regular price! These tickets expire at the end of whatever year you buy them. We bought ours in April 2019, so they expired December 2019. You can choose your 2 parks out of these three: Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay. If Harry Potter is a big deal to you, you’ll want both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. The Hogwarts Train ride takes you from Islands of Adventure to the Universal Studios to reach Diagon Alley, so they check your tickets when you get off the train. If beating the heat with water rides is priority, you’ll want to choose Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay.
I called the Universal Resort trip advising center first, just to check their pricing for military discounted tickets and resort lodging. It doesn’t come close to buying accommodations on your own. The price they gave me made the resort stay about $300 per night. Your best bet, if your priority is price, is to buy your Universal tickets at your nearest military base and book a hotel on Universal Blvd with a bus shuttle.
We stayed at Residence Inn Universal Blvd and loved it! You can use the government discount code to book at a discounted rate. This hotel has a full, complimentary breakfast and a kitchen in each room so we were able to eat dinner in the hotel some nights instead of at the park. In this area, there is also a DoubleTree, Extended Stay, Hyatt Place, Best Western Plus, Holiday Inn, and Fairfield Inn. These hotels range from $80-$200 per night.
If you don’t mind a short drive, and parking in the Universal parking deck, AFVclub.com is the way to go for both a clean, nice stay and cost efficiency. AFVclub offers week-long vacation stays all over the world, with the bulk of lodging located around Florida theme parks. For an entire week, Club Wyndham Cypress Palms costs $350 on Armed Forces Vacation Club, which is available to active and retired military and DoD civilians. This club has a large pool, gym, full, condo style rooms, and is 15 minutes from Disney.
Growing up, Universal was our annual summer vacation, and we stayed in AFVclubs all over Orlando and Kissimmee. I loved them all, just make sure the TripAdvisor reviews are positive, and you should be good to go! Most of these stays are offered only by booking a full week, but many of them are only the cost of a 2-night hotel stay. We went to Universal last minute, so AFVclub was booked, but it is always my first choice in Florida.
Transportation to the Park
Since several hotels use the same shuttle bus, getting a seat can be tricky. You sign up the day before for the time you want to leave, and they check for your name before allowing you to board the bus. Signing up the day you arrive can be a little tricky if you arrive later than the shuttle desk stays open. Also, the shuttle has very few stops that take you from the park back to your hotel in the evening. So if you don’t make the cut for the time you are waiting for, you may be stuck waiting an hour and half for the next bus home.
We took the shuttle the first day, but then decided it was well worth the effort to just walk the 15 minute, sidewalk stroll into Universal. We were able to get to the park earlier this way, arriving ahead of the crowd. The walk from the hotels that I mentioned earlier do cross a major road, but there is a crosswalk and it is no effort at all. I would only suggest carrying your little ones or making sure they are strapped into their strollers.
When to go?
Obviously, when kids are in school is always the best time to visit theme parks for lower wait times. However, we visited last Easter weekend when many kids were out of school, and Universal nor Islands of Adventure were really that crowded. We rode everything we wanted to in two days, then just re-rode our favorites on the third day. You can definitely get through both of the main parks in 2 days. We ended up just not using the 4th day that was on our ticket.
I hope this helps with your Universal Orlando vacation planning! Writing about our trip makes me want to go as soon as it opens back up! Here’s a quick video of our trip to Universal and Islands of Adventure Orlando: