In Orlando, it is one of the many construction projects guests snake past in the two parks. The Simpsons area, on the other side of the lagoon, has construction projects directly to its left and right. The details of those projects, like the plans for the work site near Harry Potter, remain under wraps.
What has been released is that a fourth onsite hotel, the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, is scheduled to open in early 2014 and will begin taking reservations as of today, March 31. When complete, it will feature 900 rooms (starting at $119 per night) and 900 family suites ($174).
Staying onsite at Universal has two excellent benefits, especially for a family.
First, the elliptical nature of the resort layout means a car is not necessary, and a short walk or boat ride on the connecting canal will deliver guests to the park entrances in 15 minutes or less. Second, all onsite guests get complimentary Universal Express tickets. This pass (sold for $36 to $120 per person for both parks, depending on date) is similar to FastPass at Disney World, and allows guests to skip the regular lines. On a recent trip, having Universal Express passes saved 15-30 minutes on the most popular rides.
Like many resorts, there are room bargains to be had for lengthier stays. However, despite all of the growth, the parks can be covered comfortably in a day each.
On the extravagant side, a VIP tour starts at $250 per person. Lucas, one of the personable park guides, led a recent group through secret doors and the wrong way up exit ramps. After just a pointed tap of his name tag, ride operators led him and his party to the very front of any line. On a behind-the-scenes walk between parks, through key-coded gates and empty sound stages, he explained how Universal Studios, true its origins, still functions as a set for TV, movie, and advertising shoots.
Be warned: It’s hard not to get spoiled by the VIP tour. When Lucas’s group came out of Circus McGurkus restaurant in Seuss Landing and into a cold rain more suitable to Boston than Orlando, it found a soaking-wet Lucas waiting, holding new Universal rain ponchos for each of them.
As a mom in the group was putting hers on over her sweat- shirt, she said, “I don’t care wherever we vacation in the future — Europe, the Cape — we’re taking Lucas with us as a guide.”
John Vitti can be reached at email@example.com.