Staying at one of the Universal Orlando hotels has some obvious advantages. For one thing, you will be staying almost literally at the gates to the theme parks. None of the first three hotels is more than a ten-minute complimentary boat ride from CityWalk (just a short walk from the park gates) and some are much closer. For another, these are very nice hotels, far superior to the usual run of tourist hotels that ring Universal Orlando and continue down the tacky environs of International Drive. But there are other advantages to being a Universal hotel guest. Staying at an on-property hotel confers certain VIP privileges unavailable to the average run-of-the-mill tourist.
• Early Entry to the Wizarding World. At press time, all on-site hotel guests get into Islands of Adventure an hour before the general public, allowing them to explore the Harry Potter attractions in relative privacy. The Forbidden Journey ride currently offers limited Universal Express access for hotel guests (see below), but this privilege nearly makes up for it.
• Universal Express Priority Access. Perhaps the most talked-about perk of all is that resort guests get priority access at most of the rides and attractions in the theme parks. Simply use your room key to get immediate access to the Universal Express Plus entrance to the ride. You can use this privilege as many times as you like. Of course, this may change in the future, so it’s not guaranteed. Check with the concierge when you arrive.
You should get a separate room key for everyone in your party when you check in, which will allow your family to split up and still get Express access. If you tour together, a single key will sometimes gain access for more than one person, but attendants are supposed to check the eligibility of everyone in the group.
This perk is sometimes referred to as “Front-of-the-Line” or FOTL and some people think it means they are supposed to quite literally be the very first person in line. Not so. What it does mean is that your wait to ride will usually be cut to 15 minutes or less, although at extremely busy periods the wait can be somewhat longer.
It is like the Universal Express Plus system, with the difference that those who have paid for Express access can only use their passes once per ride and cannot use them at all during the first hour the park is open, giving hotel guests first crack at the most popular rides. (For more on Universal Express Plus, see Chapter One: Planning Your Escape.)
During very busy periods or at popular attractions like Forbidden Journey and Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, this perk may be restricted somewhat during part of the day, preventing you from riding the same ride many times in succession. However, enforcing such restrictions is left largely to the ride attendants, who may not always enforce it vigorously. Guests have reported that they experienced few if any restrictions, even when they were supposed to be in effect.
• Priority seating. This perk gets you the best seats for some shows and priority seating Sunday through Thursday nights at some restaurants in CityWalk and the theme parks. Check with the hotel concierge to see which shows and restaurants are offering this perk at the time of your visit.
• Package delivery. Any park visitor can get some shops to deliver their purchases to the front gate for later pick-up, but Universal hotel guests can have their purchases sent directly to their rooms, provided they are staying over till at least the next day. Packages are delivered the day after your purchase.
• Charge privileges. You can use your room key (which looks much like a credit card) to charge purchases in park shops and restaurants that accept credit cards. You pay just one bill when you check out.
• Length-of-stay tickets. Resort guests can purchase park passes valid for however long they are staying at the hotel. These tickets are usually booked as part of a package. They don’t represent any great savings on park admission but they have the beneficial effect of giving you a better room rate. They can also come in handy if the length of your stay doesn’t match one of the standard pass options. If you wish to purchase length-of-stay tickets once you have checked in, see the concierge.
• Character Dining reservations. All resort hotel restaurants play host to characters from the Universal stable of stars. Typically, these events happen a few times a week during the evening meal. As a hotel guest, you will have priority when making reservations for these popular events. Check with the concierge for the nights and restaurants involved in the Character Dining experience during your stay.
Additional perks may be added. It’s also possible that some may be changed or discontinued. So make sure to ask the concierge for the latest information when you check in. You are paying a premium to stay in such style so close to the parks, so you should take advantage of the privileges conferred by your status as an honored guest.
Perhaps the best perk is the excellent treatment you’re sure to enjoy from Loews famously guest-oriented staff. Whatever you need, you'll find the staff remarkably responsive to any requests.
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