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Beyond Rides: Maximizing your Universal Orlando Annual Pass

July 8, 2024 7 min read

One of the great things about living in Orlando is having access to the theme parks. I live about 30 minutes away from Universal Orlando. While I spent many years refusing to give big corporations my money, I finally caved in and decided to get a Universal Orlando Annual Pass. It was actually a gift from my husband, but I had been asking for it for quite some time until he caved in.

Universal Studios has a great list on its website of all the benefits of each annual pass. Whether you get a seasonal or premier, each one offers something slightly different, but you still get some benefits. However, even with this list available, there is so much more the Universal Orlando Annual Pass offers, something you don’t find out about until you are actually an annual pass member.

In this post, you will not only learn how to maximize your Universal Orlando Annual Pass, but you will also learn a bit from my experience as an Annual Pass member.

Understanding Your Pass: Types and Tiers

Universal Orlando has different types of passes. You can pick between a 2-day pass or a 3-day pass, but it doesn’t stop there. You also need to pick between premier, preferred, power, and seasonal. I won’t go into too much detail about the passes as you can find more information on their website, but I will go through some of the differences between the passes.

One of the main differences and one that affects which one people choose is the price. While the premier pass is $905, the seasonal pass is more affordable with a price tag of $425. Of course, you can choose to pay for the premier pass monthly, which is about $44 a month (after you pay the down payment). Another difference is the benefits. The premier pass gives you a free ticket to Halloween Horror Nights, admission to select concerts, hotel discounts, merchandise discounts, free parking, and more. While the seasonal pass has a few discounts, you do not get free parking, you do not get a free Halloween Horror Nights Pass and you also have blackout dates (meaning there are days you cannot use your pass).

Since I do not go to Halloween Horror Nights, I ended up with the Preferred Annual Pass. I also did not need the free valet parking and the Universal Express after 4 PM. I did, however, need the free parking and did not want to have blackout dates. So this pass was a perfect choice because of how often I’d go to Universal. I was going about 2-5 times a month.

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Exclusive Passholder Events and Preview Nights

As a pass holder, I’ve gotten to do some fun things that people without an annual pass couldn’t do. One of those things was throwing beads from the Mardi Gras float. I believe this is an every-year thing as I’ve gotten to see this as a perk the past two years. Another perk was getting to preview Minion Land and DreamWorks Land before everyone else, which was great!

Annual Passholders get these perks, and while they are listed in the benefits list, one usually doesn’t see how amazing this benefit is until you get one of the emails inviting you to the preview.

Tip

Not everyone gets to go to the Event/Preview because it is usually first come, first serve. For example, to get on the Mardi Gras float, you must reserve your spot as soon as you receive an email. So keep a watchful eye on your email while you’re an annual pass holder.

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Shopping Perks: What Universal Doesn’t Tell You

While you get a discount at the stores with your annual pass, there is a better way to get even more of a discount and that is attending the UOAP garage sale. About twice a year, Universal will have a garage sale for annual passholders and team members. The garage sales mostly have 70% off items, which is HUGE especially since the Universal items can be quite expensive. Universal will send out an email when these garage sales happen, but as soon as you find out, you need to make sure to get there as soon as it opens because the line for these garage sales is long.

Tip

If you plan to purchase $300 worth of products at the garage sale, get the gift card! But only get the gift card if there is an offer to get a free HP wand. This is something Universal doesn’t connect for consumers, so many who purchase $300 worth of products at the garage sale have no idea that they could easily get the gift card and get a free wand doing so.
Now I will say this, the last time I was at the garage sale, I did end up buying three interactive wands, which all came out to about $19 each (original price was $65) and while I got $300 worth of items, it only cost $90! You may not use all of the gift card balance at the garage sale, but if you live in Florida, there’ll be plenty of chances to use it again at another garage sale.

Universal Orlando Annual Pass

Making the Most of Holiday Events

The holidays at Universal are some of the best! There is so much to see and so many holiday events to check out. From the Christmas light show at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to the festivities in Whoville, there is plenty to do in the parks during the holidays. One of my favorites is the Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular, which is such a cute show and it’s free to go to once you are in the park. There are also the holiday parades that occur at Universal – the Thanksgiving parade and the Christmas parade. You’ll get to see a lot of parades, shows, performances, lights, and decorations during the holidays.

Tip

Be sure to get the Universal App to see all the shows available in Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. This app comes in handy when you are trying to keep track of all the holiday festivities in the parks.

Passholder Lounges

While Universal Studios Orlando did make changes to the passholder lounge, it is still not that great. It is a nice area to go into and relax. You can also charge your phone there, but if you need a drink, you do need to pay for it. For being a passholder, we should be getting free drinks in the lounge at the very least! One thing I do like about it though is being able to get away from the crowds and collect my free magnet, poster, or sticker, which are sometimes passholder exclusive.

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Essential Social Media Groups

There are several social media groups on Facebook that you can join. I am part of two different ones – Universal Orlando Annual Passholders – UOAP and Annual Passholders – Universal Orlando Resort. Being part of these groups has been helpful, especially when you are a brand-new passholder! You will find tips, get to ask questions about the parks, and you get to find out about the garage sales before you get an email from Universal. I love seeing people share their purchases from the garage sale. This is also how I learned the tip about using gift cards at the garage sale.

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Insider Tips for Avoiding Crowds and Peak Times

All of last year, I went to Universal at different times during the week and weekend. Times I thought people would not be there, I would find myself in a crowd, and the times I thought would be packed, I would later find out were the perfect times to go. However, after a lot of trial and error, I found a few perfect times to go.

If you’re planning to go to Universal for the holidays, you want to after Thanksgiving and before Christmas. The holidays are usually crowded, but between the 11th of December and the 16thth of December, you will find the parks mostly empty. I went right on December 14th last year and the park was quite empty with a few people around. After that though, it becomes unbearably crowded.

When possible, avoid going during the holidays when people are off of work and kids are off for their holidays. Also, Spring Break and Summer time are not a good idea since the kids are on holiday here in the U.S.

As for the other months, January is a great month to visit because most of everyone leaves once the holiday season is over. February is a good time too, not as crowded, but by March it starts getting a bit crowded due to Spring break and the Mardi Gras celebrations.

As for times, the best time to go is early in the morning! If you are an annual passholder (depending on your pass), you can get in an hour before the park opens. Take advantage of that as you will find most rides are 15 minutes or less.

Tip

I love using the Crowd Calendar by Undercover Tourist. It helps me make decisions as to when I should go and while it’s not always correct, it has given me a few good dates to go. I’d recommend using them to plan your trip to Universal Orlando

Depending on the pass you have, you can maximize your benefits. While, Universal might not mention everything you can do with your benefits, some amazing people in the Facebook groups will help you do more with your benefits. Things you probably never realized you could do. So if there is anything you should take from this post, it is to join the Facebook groups, don’t go to Universal during the holiday peak times, go to the garage sales, and have fun!

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About Me

About Me

Hola!

Hola! I'm Hanny and I have been traveling since the age of three. Although, I grew up traveling, it wasn't until 2013, when I decided to start a blog. Read More

xoxo Hanny

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