For those of you planning or thinking of planning a trip to Universal and / or Sea World, I thought I’d compile a short list of dos and don’ts for you.
- Spring for the one of the premier resorts. Staying at Loews Royal Pacific over Cabana Bay gave us all free Universal Express Passes. Had we added them onto our reservation for Cabana Bay, we would have ended up spending a few hundred more. (BTW, the Express Passes are nothing like Disney’s Fast Passes. The Express Pass is a ticket in hand that allows you to join a separate line at an attraction that offers the Express Pass advantage. Workers scan the pass as you first enter the line and again up at the front just before you ride.)
- Staying at Loews Royal Pacific or Loews Sapphire Falls gives you the option of taking a water taxi to CityWalk. Because of the chance of having to wait on a boat, you won’t necessarily save any time over walking, but it is a an enjoyable and relaxing experience. Extra points if you have a captain who entertains the audience!
- You are allowed to bring bags and food into the park. We even saw a few families with coolers. If this is something you don’t mind, you can skip a meal plan entirely. Because larger bags won’t fit in the lockers though, not everyone will be able to ride together. Someone will have to stay back with the larger bags.
- That said, even in the fine dining restaurants, dinner at CityWalk and in the parks is not terribly expensive. Entrees run between $14-$20. Less for kids’ meals. If that’s too much for your budget, there are a variety of quick service restaurants with hearty servings in the $6-$8 range.
- Dining reservations are not required but they are helpful. It works more like advanced seating, but during peak hours can trim up to 20 minutes off your wait time. Bookings open 30 days prior.
- If you do any shopping in the parks, you can ask for free delivery to a designated point to collect before leaving. So no need to backtrack halfway across the park for a special souvenir you saw earlier in the day.
- If you book a 3-day ticket like we did, and have school-aged children, spend a second day at Islands of Adventure. Both parks are fun and no matter their age, children will be enamored for hours. However, Islands of Adventure has more thrills that older children will like. There was more to do in the Hogsmeade section that Diagon Alley (although if we talk about more to see, then its the reverse).
- Also with school-aged children, you won’t see everything each park has to offer in one day. It’s just not possible. Therefore park hopping seems like an additional stress to me, trying to squeeze in more than one day will allow, ending up with tired, cranky kids the next day. So we skipped the park-to-park tickets, which meant that we didn’t get to ride Hogwarts Express from one park to the other. But you know what, the kids didn’t even notice. The DH and I just steered their attention to something else Potter as we passed the stations. When they’re older, sure we’ll spring for the upgrade, but for now, it wasn’t necessary.
- If you lost anything in the parks, and it ends up in the lost and found, Universal will ship it free of charge anywhere in the United States.
- Download a park map and look up the ride details for the younger members in your family. Some may be too intense or the kids may not be tall enough to ride. And don’t be like me, actually remember to refer to your notes!
- Universal has a free shuttle to and from Sea World. You must book it 24 hours prior but it was pretty hassle free.
- If the One World show with Shamu and Friends is top of your list, make note of the time you want to go and get there early. Especially for the evening shows as the stadium fills up quickly.
- If you sit just off center, on either side, even in the splash zone, likely you will not get wet. Dead center (behind the platform) or further left or right will get you what you seek.
- Try to avoid the playground. It is enormous with multiple exits!! It will likely be overcrowded and you will lose sight of your kid within minutes!
- If you plan to spend the entire day, pack a lunch. Like Universal, there is no restriction on bringing food into the park. Food is incredibly expensive at Sea World, even quick service. If you don’t want to lug food along, your next best option is to spring for the All-Day Dining Deal, which starts at $35 for adults and $20 for kids. Not bad for lunch and dinner.
- We didn’t opt for the Front of the Line Access Pass, but truthfully didn’t need it. We didn’t ride Manta, Kraken, or Mako, so we avoided those wait times. We moved around the park a lot, so if one attraction was too crowded, we simply moved on to something else and backtracked when the line slowed (like during a One World show). The exception was Journey to Atlantis. It was one of those hour long waits, without the scenery, but we entertained ourselves as best we could.
- Lastly, research the rides before you go for intensity, height requirements, etc.
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