Theme Parks

Our First Visit to Universal Orlando Resort As Annual Passholders

It was about six months ago that my family and I decided not to renew our Walt Disney World Annual Passes. After twelve years, it was a tough decision, but the right decision for our family.

Just this last week, we made the jump and became Universal Orlando Annual Passholders. It had been eight years since our last visit to the Universal Parks and we still have a lot to learn, but it was a BLAST and my girls are already asking when we can go back again.

We had an incredible two days of fun exploring the parks, CityWalk and our resort. Here’s a recap of our trip –

The Scoop on Universal Orlando Annual Passes

We opted to purchase the Two-Park Preferred Pass allowing us entry into Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida 365 days a year. Self-parking is included after the first visit and we also have access to Early Entry at one park each day. Our passes offer discounts on merchandise, food/beverage and other events.

And because we are Florida residents, we were able to take advantage of the FlexPay – we made a down payment and will have monthly payments. Easy peasy.

Staying On-Site – Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort

Santa was kind enough to bring our girls an overnight stay at the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort. Thankfully, the girls let us tag along on their stay. *wink, wink* As Florida residents and Annual Passholders we found a rate within our price range at this resort, making it doable for our trip. Being that our trip was Thursday night in January – a slow period – the rate was significantly lower than normal.

We were excited that included with our stay at this Premium Resort, we received Unlimited Express Passes for each of us. An Express Pass at Universal allows you to enter a separate line at most attractions, making your wait time much less than the posted time. Express Passes are typically over $100 per person, making this a fantastic perk for spending a bit more than usual on a resort room.

Another great perk for the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort – it is within walking distance to both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. In fact, I’d be willing to say that it is a shorter walk than going from Disney’s Contemporary Resort to Magic Kingdom Park. There is water taxi service between the hotel and the parks, but we never tried it. The walk was short and had great views. Plus, you go through a security gate on the walking path, which is a huge time saver considering all the crowds everywhere else.

Let’s Go To The Parks

When we arrived at Universal that morning, we went straight to our resort, knowing the room wasn’t ready, but we wanted to park and pick up our Express Passes. They are good for the day of check in and also the day you check out – major bonus! Once we took care of that, we were off to the parks!

With a quick stop at Guest Services to sign some Passholder paperwork, we entered Universal Studios Florida as Maggie was super excited to go to Springfield and see The Simpsons! I think we saw and touched everything in the Springfield area – the girls were so happy! We eventually made our way to see the Minions, the Jimmy Fallon ride, Transformers and met lots of characters along the way.

I’m (kind of) ashamed to admit that we are not a Harry Potter family – never seen the movies, never read the books – so we didn’t even make our way to Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade until day two.

On our second day at the parks, we decided to ride the Hogwarts Express train from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade over in Islands of Adventure. It may not have been the fastest route to get to Islands of Adventure, but we enjoyed it! From there, we made our way to Seuss Landing and then over to the Spiderman ride for Maggie and Dad.

We eventually made our way back over to Universal Studios Florida – for another ride with the Minions and so Maggie and Dad could catch The Bourne Stuntacular show. It was a great day and we spoiled ourselves with both low crowds and the Express Pass.

Excited to Return to Universal Orlando

We’ve only been home a few days from our first trip to Universal Orlando as Annual Passholders and we’ve already booked our next trip. We’ve got a few more weeks until we are back, so I plan on reading and learning as much as possible about our new theme park ‘home’.

I can already tell this next year is going to be tons of fun at Universal Orlando Resort!

** Disclosure: My family and I purchased our own Annual Passes, our own food, souvenirs, accommodations – everything. No one hosted us or provided anything to us. This story is my opinion. Always. **

Hi there!

I'm Carrie McLaren,

based in Jacksonville, Fla. Family travel is my passion and I want to help you succeed in making fantastic memories with your family.




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