My ‘Secret’ Universal Vacation Plan

You’ve read my story of “How We Started” Orlando Hotel Shuttles with our dad-and-son trip that included Disney’s Pop Century Resort, plus the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom Park, and our favorite, Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Well last year, I planned a Spring Break trip with that son, Jesse, and his older brother, Matthew. This time we headed for Universal Studios Theme Parks. After I shared our vacation plan with a woman on the phone who was planning to come down with her two teenage sons — along with my personal “secret” for making the trip a success (she was very excited to hear it!) — I thought I really ought to share the ideas with more travelers. So here goes.

We started our trip at the Best Western Plus Orlando Gateway. It is a very comfortable hotel and literally across the street from Wet ‘n Wild, and I bought us 3-day Park-to-Park tickets that included this fun and awesome park. We booked a relaxing afternoon flight to arrive at MCO in early evening, then had the evening to hang around the hotel pool or walk either south to International Drive or north to Universal CityWalk for entertainment and dinner. (We chose CityWalk.) Next day, sleep in and hit Wet ‘n Wild all day long. (Water parks always open later in the morning and close early evening, giving you another night to chill.)

The morning of our second full day, we packed our bags and took a taxi from the Best Western to Loews Royal Pacific Resort one mile away. Now the Best Western is comfortable (and the right price!), but the Royal Pacific is très magnifique! (Actually the Portofino Bay Hotel is très magnifique-er, but we were traveling on a budget.)

So why blow the hotel budget on the third night in? Glad you asked! Any of the Loews hotels on-property at Universal Studios will let you check-in at 7 a.m. (you store your luggage with the bellman). Now you have your room key — granting you one hour earlier access to Universal’s Islands of Adventure and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — and you also get unlimited Express ride access, to skip the regular lines in both parks all day. AND the benefits extend through all day tomorrow, after you check out. (This is my “Big Secret” for making the most of your days at both Universal parks.) Be sure you get your tickets to Blue Man Group for tonight or tomorrow — you will love this incredibly unique show!

[Note: As of April 2014, Universal’s new on-site hotel, the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, is now open — and boasts even lower rates than the other hotels on-property. However, the Universal Express Unlimited ride access feature I mention above applies only for guests at “Deluxe On-Site Hotels” according to — guests staying at the Cabana Bay do not receive this bonus.]

Day 3: Check out of the Royal Pacific and leave bags once again with the bellmen. After the parks close, ride the free water taxi back to your hotel, collect your suitcases, and stroll (or taxi) across the street to the Holiday Inn & Suites Maingate to Universal. (There is also the DoubleTree Hotel Universal Orlando and my personal all-around favorite, the Hyatt Place Universal … but they were booked solid on this particular night.)

Next morning, meet your driver just outside the hotel lobby doors, and you’re on the shuttle to Orlando International Airport. (Wow! I’m ready to go again!  : )

Wishing you this much FUN on your trip!
— Rick