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For the ultimate no-expenses-spared Universal Orlando experience, book a VIP tour of one or both parks. VIP guests are given the red carpet treatment at both parks, and never have to worry about waiting in line. And don't worry if you aren't a genuine VIP – or even a social media pseudo-celebrity – because at Universal anyone can be treated like the rich and famous...for a price.
Universal offers two types of VIP tours: non-exclusive and private. On non-exclusive tours, your party of up to 6 guests will be paired with other guests to form a group of up to 12. Non-exclusive tours begin at 11 a.m., and last 5 to 7 hours. Your guide will expedite you onto a minimum of 8 attractions (10 if you take the 2-park option) based on group consensus.
Private tours give you free reign to set your start time and make your own itinerary, since the guide is dedicated to only your party for a full 8 hours. Private tours are mandatory if your party has seven or more members. You can even ride your favorite ride over and over all day, if you like.
Either way, your VIP experience begins with free valet parking and a complimentary continental breakfast in the private guest services lounge. In addition to back-dooring you into rides – bypassing even the Universal Express queues – and getting you reserved seating at shows, VIP tour guides are a font of trivia about the history and operations of the parks, and can even grant backstage access to see how some of the magic is done, like a glimpse underneath Revenge of the Mummy's ride track, or inside Transformer’s high-tech control booth. VIP tours also include access to the American Express lounge in USF, and a complementary mid-day meal.
Non-exclusive tour guests each get a one-day quick-service Universal Dining Plan to use where they wish on an entree and snacks, while exclusive VIP tour guests get to pick from an array of full-service options, including an exclusive lunch inside USF’s Cafe LaBamba, where chefs will prepare a sampling of signature dishes from restaurants around the resort.
At the end of the tour, your souvenir VIP lanyard serves as an unlimited Express pass for the rest of the day, and offers discounts on food and merchandise.
Perhaps most importantly, VIP tours are currently the only way to skip the queues at the headlining Harry Potter attractions: Forbidden Journey, Escape from Gringotts, and Hogwarts Express. The value of this perk during peak times can't be overstated; during the height of Diagon Alley's opening summer, when guests were waiting over four hours just for Gringotts, Bob and Len were able to experience everything in both Wizarding Worlds (including lunch and ice cream) plus other park highlights in a little over five hours.
Of course, this kind of star treatment doesn't come cheap. While VIP tours are occasionally offered for as low as $189 on select dates during the slowest seasons, at most times a one-day, one park nonexclusive VIP tour of USF or IOA will run you $329 per person; a one-day tour of both parks is $349. During “peak pricing” times (the weeks around Christmas and Easter) those rates jump up to $399 and $419.
Private tour pricing approaches “if you have to ask, you can't afford it” territory, starting at $2899 for a day in one park, or $3099 for both. That flat rate is good for one to five guests; additional guests (up to total of 10 guests) cost another $350 each for one park, or $375 each for two parks. During peak times, those base prices increase to $3199 ($375 for each additional guest) for one park, and $3499 ($425 for each additional guest) for two parks. Finally, if you splurge on the ultimate two-day, two-park private tour, you'll be poorer by $499 ($5199 during peak periods).
Before you break out your credit card, there's one final catch: in addition to not including tax, the above prices are on top of admission tickets, which are required and not included with any VIP tour.
Whether the VIP tours are “worth it” depends largely on your net worth, and your tolerance for any type of wait. Having taken them many times over the years, we can say the experience is a dream come true for theme park junkies, who will get their money's worth in insider info alone, as well as anyone allergic to rubbing elbows with unwashed hordes. If you were already planning to pony up for unlimited Express passes, the extra couple hundred per person (depending on the season) could seem a bargain in the heat of summer. For most visitors, a stay in at luxury on-site hotels (with free unlimited Express included) is probably a more economical investment, but no one we know who has taken a VIP tour has regretted it.
Non-exclusive tours can be booked online through an interactive calendar with availability and pricing at universalorlando.com/Theme-Park-Tickets/Vip-Experience.aspx#, but private tours must be book by phone at 1-866-346-9350. If you want to take a VIP tour, order early, as they can fill up quickly at busier times.
Note that all of the above tours are only offered during regular daytime operating hours. Different VIP tours with their own pricing may be available during separately ticket special events like Halloween Horror Nights.
Last updated by Seth Kubersky on January 17, 2017