First Universal Orlando Passholder Morning – July 2020
When we checked in at the Universal resort at the beginning of our trip the team member who gave us our tickets from our package let us know about current offers for using our tickets towards the cost of an Annual Pass.
Yall know. We are DISNEY people. The fact that we’d even purchased a ticket package to UNIVERSAL was CRAZY, but to consider Annual Passes?!?! No way.
BUT. I’m a reasonable person. Not just blinded by my love for Disney.
At at that point? I wasn’t super happy with Disney. In my opinion, Disney hasn’t handled the whole pandemic thing all that well. Communication wasn’t great. Concern over passholders was minimal. Reopening guidelines were all over the place. It was just all very disappointing.
And Universal handled a LOT of it all WAY better than Disney did. A LOT better. It was interesting talking to team members and hearing their thoughts as so many are also annual pass holders at Disney Parks and had that insider knowledge of both of the theme park brands.
The vast majority of Orlando Theme Park people I’ve talked to, encountered, or read comments from via Twitter almost unanimously agree – when it came to all the crazy of 2020 Universal > Disney.
Heck, Disney’s less than stellar communication is what HAD me heading to Universal to book a trip! So why NOT consider upgrading that package to an Annual Pass, right?
We knew for sure we’d be upgrading to some sort of Universal Orlando Annual Pass because the cheapest option was only $4 per person. Zach and I did the pros and cons all throughout our trip an debated the best way to go.
In the end we decided to upgrade our tickets to the three park pass for $99 per person. We don’t get express passes and we have blackout dates for Volcano Bay during July but that’s it. And the passes are good through October 2021!
We really went back and forth on the decision and in the end decided to go for it because investing more into Orlando travel makes sense this year. We own a home there. A vacation rental home is a bit of a struggle to rent when people aren’t really vacationing. The reality is we’ll probably be doing a LOT more Orlando travel in the coming year because we have a home we’re paying for that is available for our use. With Disney having so many limitations to park days, why not have another option for things to do while in the area? It’s also highly likely we WON’T be traveling many other places in the coming year. Many places aren’t as open as Orlando, we’ve had financial hits that limit our spending, and we just don’t know what the future might bring.
If theme parks shut down again…they will keep extending the pass. So why NOT have one?!?! It’s a great opportunity to test it out since the money we had already spent on the tickets we’d already used went towards and cost and since we’re considered Florida Residents because we do own the home down there, we got a KILLER deal that was too good to pass up!
We discussed it with the kids and let them know: this is a ONE TIME THING and will NOT be a “must-have item” forever moving forward. We are doing this because it was a GREAT deal to do so and are NOT becoming Universal people 😉
I also had a talk to Zach about Disney ALWAYS coming FIRST. I don’t want us to be prioritizing Universal over Disney haha! I’m frequently the “Disney Parent” who takes the big kids in the afternoons while Zach stays back with Spear and that will NOT be the case with Universal. It’s a theme park where I may be the one staying back with Spear while HE goes with the big kids. And he was down for that!
Really the Volcano Bay Water Park alone sold it for us. With our Disney World Annual Passes we do NOT have the water park option. We’ve been waiting on that until all the kids are old enough to make it worthwhile. So with the Universal Orlando Annual Passes we’ll have water park access! The single day water park ticket is like $89 per person anyway so it is the main thing that helped us pull the trigger.
I was worn OUT this trip. I had driven down solo with the girls, done Universal solo with the girls, Universal with the big kids and Zach, the water park, Hollywood Studios, water park again, Disney Springs and Legoland Hotel, and Legoland. I’ve NEVER done so much back to back to back parks. Plus staying in three different places over the course of one week. It was a LOT.
Zach and I had taken two cars down to Orlando since the girls and I had driven down earlier than the boys. Mrs Charlotte had also brought her own car as she had to go back to Valdosta mid-trip for an event and wanted to be able to come back down.
Zach offered to take Spear home with him in the truck and it presented a rare opportunity where I had my own vehicle and only the big kids. I felt like I HAD to go to Universal on our way out. I mean I just had to, right?
At that point I’d already done like 7 straight days of theme parks – why not make it 8? I was flat out exhausted and wasn’t sure if my body would let me walk at all let alone push a stroller through a theme park yet again…but I felt like I needed to do it.
I wanted to see what it FELT like to be an Annual Passholder at a theme park other than Disney. I wanted to get the feel of it solo with the kids as a pass holder so I’d know what to plan for moving forward. Would I WANT to have solo time at this park? Would I WANT to be there every single time I could be? I wouldn’t know unless I WENT for it!
How would it be visiting while NOT staying on property (we’ve only been twice and both times we were staying on property) and WITHOUT Express Passes (ditto for the Express Pass). I needed to have all of this knowledge so it was a must-do stop!
SO WEIRD TO BE ANNUAL PASSHOLDERS at UNIVERSAL. I don’t think it’ll ever NOT feel like I’m being a trader haha
It was my first time parking in the parking garage for the parks and going through the main security. It was all pretty quick and seamless!
Passholders had early access that morning.
We didn’t realize it ahead of time which I’m thankful for because I really needed that SLEEP that morning!
We headed over to Diagon Ally to do some spells and be able to ride Gringott’s again for Tessie 🙂
It was nice having Kye there with us to check things out and to not feel rushed at all. It was a Wednesday morning so I wasn’t shocked by the low crowds but did feel like they were higher than we’d experienced a week earlier.
The kids all had their wands and Tessie brought Rosie too!
We chatted with the shrunken head at the Knight Bus and then went over to ride The Hogwarts Express for the first time without Express Pass. It took MUCH longer than it ever had for us to ride it before and I do think if/when we go back we might started at Islands of Adventure to knock out those rides prior to riding it to Diagon Ally side and work through the parks that way rather than the way we did it.
Once in Hogsmeade Tess and I walked through Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. I’ve never walked through it to see all the cool details in the line and Kye and Britt have only ever ridden it with an Express Pass so they’d never seen it all either.
Much like our other two days in the parks, everything was walk-on so it was nice to go through the line and see how cool everything was and then Kye and Britt were able to ride the ride together while Tessie and I waited for them in the gift shop exit.
We weren’t quite sure about Universal’s rules when it comes to rides and kids and riding without parents. Again, this morning was kinda a “test run” for me to see the vibe and how things went with the mindset of being passholders.
One of my missions for the morning was to figure out a system because I DO NOT ride thrill rides and Universal is MAJORITY thrill rides.
It is GREAT that Universal allows anyone over 48 inches to ride solo on the rides they are tall enough to ride. Disney it’s based on age, Universal it’s based on height.
At Disney ages 7+ may ride solo (or with another person over age 7) but under 7 must ride with someone age 14 or older.
Universal if you’re over 48 inches it doesn’t matter how old you are – as long as you’re tall enough for the attraction you’re good to go.
Tess is NOT 48 inches so even though she was tall enough to ride Flight of the Hippogriff she could NOT right without an adult since she hadn’t met the 48 inch threshold. Which is very similar to her not being allow to ride if it was a ride at Disney too, either set of rules would require me to ride with her which just wasn’t happening 😉 They are lucky I’m brave enough for Gringotts!
So we skipped that ride and enjoyed having some free time in Hogsmeade to do ALL the spells. It was pouring down rain BOTH of our park days when we were at Hogsmeade so it was nice to have pretty weather and no rush on their spell casting.
We got a frozen Butterbeer to split as a treat and did a little shopping as well. Britt has SEVERAL things on her Birthday and Christmas list from Universal annnnnd being a passholder has the added advantage of discounts on merchandise! The kids did some spells while I did some shopping 😉
We had a virtual line reservation for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventures so once our time came up Kye and Britt went to ride that. I was able to check them into the virtual line check-in and they were allowed to go the rest of the way on their own.
I’m very anti-phones for my kids but with this splitting up situation I really, really wished I had SOME way to communicate with them. I didn’t like not knowing when they’d be done with the ride and felt like Tess and I had to be sitting directly at the exit so we wouldn’t miss them or they wouldn’t miss us.
I felt anxious and nervous the entire time and having a way to communicate with them would have made the entire experience MUCH less stressful and more enjoyable for Tessie too! This experience and knowing we’ll have more time at Universal made me realize we really do need a “family phone” or some extra way to communicate at times like these. It’d make splitting up WAY easier!
I grabbed Tessie and I another Butterbeer and a treat. We had a LONG wait for them to be done. Between walking through the line and riding the attraction we were hanging out for a good 30-40 minutes.
Tess is SO great though and never complained. She LOVES thrill rides and not being tall enough is very frustrating for her but she was patient and we enjoyed our special treat together.
Kye and Britt LOVE being big enough to ride things without an adult and it’s so bonding for them to have these experiences together. As much guilt as I felt for Tess and worry I felt being separated, I know that time together was very special for the two of them and THAT is something I want to encourage!
Kye was really hoping to ride Hulk so we walked through Islands of Adventure towards the exit and agreed that if we passed anything with a low wait time that they wanted to ride, they could!
Lines were LONG and it was hot and I was EXHAUSTED. We ended up not doing anything else. Even Hulk by the time we got there was well over an hour wait and I still had the 3.5 hour drive home to get through so we called it a day!
Still pretty productive to get to ride Gringott’s, Hogwarts Express, Forbidden Journey and Hagrid’s in less than three hours!
Kye is so much like Zach in that he can’t STAND to go slow…he ended up pushing Tessie in the stroller a lot of the way. Just raisin’ him to be a Theme Park Dad someday 😉
We had a really nice morning and I’m SO glad we went. I was truly so interested to see how I’d feel and if Universal would be more special to me as an Annual Passholder…but nope. Even with all the frustrations with Disney and the way things have been handled this year, Universal will NEVER be Disney for me.
I struggle to EVER leave Disney Parks. On this morning? I was well over it and well ready to head home. Just BEING in Disney is joyful for me. The vibe. The experience. The people watching. Even just standing within the theme park gates I’m happy.
It just isn’t like that at Universal for me. I don’t regret buying the passes! I’m sure our family will have LOTS of fun in the coming year at Universal parks and that we’ll make lots and lots of memories together that we’ll all cherish, but it is NOT magical for me. It’s not MY happy place!
I can see Zach, Kye and Britt going to hit the parks while Tess, Spear and I do something else. I can also see us all going and splitting up as Tessie STILL hasn’t gotten to go to the Dr Suess area and really wants to! However, I know FOR SURE that I will never want to take any sort of Solo Trip to Universal nor will I ever want to do a Mommy-Solo Day at Universal again either (not saying I won’t do it if plans work out where it makes sense for me to do so…it’s just not something I’d PLAN to do). This was a one and done for me and I’m glad we tested it out on the way home so I’d KNOW as we make plans for the future!
It felt like THE LONGEST DRIVE EVER and I’m so thankful that McD Iced Coffee and Baby Yoda’s force skills got us safely home from the most epic week of all time! Corona who? We made-up for all the travel time lost with this trip – FOR SURE!!!