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Parking at Universal Orlando

Whichever entrance you use, you will arrive at the tollbooth entrance to the two huge parking structures; one is five levels high, the other six, and they hold a total of 20,000 cars. At the booth, an attendant will collect your daily parking fee of $16 ($22 for RVs, buses, and trailers). Preferred or Premier Annual Passholders can show their pass for free admission to the parking lots. Parking is $5 (or free for Florida residents) between 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., except during special events, and is free for all after 10:00 p.m.

Tip: The leftmost open tollbooth lanes usually have the shortest lines.

Once you have paid the parking fee, you will be directed to your parking space. The parking structures are ingeniously designed so that as one level fills up cars are routed directly to the next level, without having to corkscrew upwards as you do in most multistory parking lots. If you arrive early, you will be directed in such a way that the two parking structures are filled in the most efficient way possible. However, the structures are often understaffed later in the day, leaving drivers to fend for themselves, so drive cautiously if arriving after noon. One of the great things about Universal Orlando's parking is that most of it is covered, thus protecting you and your car from the broiling Florida sun and those sudden afternoon downpours. During the busy summer season, however, the open roof is filled fairly early in the day to spare the lot attendants the worst of the sun and heat. Great for the employees, not so great for you. You can ask the attendant to direct you to sheltered parking on one of the lower levels. It may take some polite persistence but it can be done.

The various sections in the two structures are named after movies or characters (Jaws, Jurassic Park, Cat in the Hat, and so forth); rows are indicated by numbers, with the first digit indicating the level. Thus "Jaws 305" would be on the third level. As always in these situations, it's a good idea to make a written note of your parking lot location. Better yet, take a picture of your row number with your cell phone or digital camera!

Once parked, you've got a healthy walk ahead of you to the attractions. Universal Orlando's parking setup is divisive: some love the shelter and absence of pokey parking trams, while others hate the hike. Universal claims that the farthest parking space is just a nine-minute walk from CityWalk, assuming the frequently stalled moving walkways are operating to speed your journey. But at the end of a long day it can feel like a million miles.

Handicapped Parking. Handicapped parking spaces are provided close to the main entrance on Level 3. Follow the signs for handicapped parking and you will be directed accordingly.

Preferred Parking. If you'd like to shave a few minutes off your walk, you can pay $20 ($5 for annual passholders) for a parking space that's almost as close to the main entrance as the handicapped spaces.

Valet Parking. Get in the Hollywood spirit by having an attendant park your car for you as you pull up right at CityWalk. Just follow the signs. The fee is $15 if you stay for less than two hours and $30 for over two hours ($25 if you arrive after 6:00 p.m.). "Red carpet" service, which guarantees you'll get your car in five minutes or less, is $40. Preferred Annual Pass holders pay a flat rate of $15 ($25 for Red Carpet) no matter how long they stay. Premier Passholders can valet for free (plus gratuity), or use Red Carpet for $15. If you are coming just for lunch Monday through Friday, between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., you can have your parking stub validated at most full-service CityWalk restaurants. A stay of under two hours is free and two to four hours is $15, but a stay of over four hours will cost you the full $30, even with validation. If you leave your car in valet past closing time (2:00 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, 3:00 a.m. Friday and Saturday) you'll face a $50 fee in the morning.

Passenger Drop-Off. If you're in a generous mood, you can drop your family off near CityWalk before you go off to park the car. Look for the signs directing you to the drop-off area, which is just across Universal Boulevard from the Valet Parking area.

Parking for Resort Guests. If you are staying at one of the on-property resort hotels, use any of the entrances and follow the signs to your hotel. All of the hotels have separate gates, with separate, paid parking facilities for guests. Non-guests can also use these lots but at rates higher than those charged to guests and considerably higher than the fee levied at the main theme park parking garages. In other words, the hotel parking does not provide an economical or more convenient alternative to regular parking, unless you are getting valet parking validated at a hotel restaurant.

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