First Trip back to Universal / IOA in 20 years! 7/6 Private VIP Tour

Discussion in 'Universal Studios Trip Reports' started by ktak08, Jul 15, 2018.

  1. ktak08

    ktak08 Mouseketeer

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    The last time DH and I went to Universal/IOA was almost 20 years ago. The most vivid memory I had was riding Dudley Do Rip Saw Falls on our way out of the park. I had no idea that I would be completely drenched for our long drive home! So I guess it took me those 20 years to finally recover from that ha! We have always been more of a Disney family, but decided to take our kids (DS11 and DS12) who had never been to Universal. We planned a trip to Disney World 4th of July week, and dedicated one day of our trip (7/6) to experience Universal. Since we were limited to one day, we booked a Private VIP Tour. It was so much fun but exhausting, all at the same time!

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    Here are some highlights of our fun filled day:
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2018
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  2. ktak08

    ktak08 Mouseketeer

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    We debated doing a split stay with a couple days at Portofino Bay, but ultimately chose just Contemporary Resort. It’s our favorite in all of Disney World - The view of and proximity to Magic Kingdom keeps us coming back there every time. This was the view from our room:

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    We woke up really excited to finally take the boys to Universal. Of course our day started off a little late...we were exhausted from our previous day at Disney and somehow we got confused with navigation and ended up going through the pay gate at Epcot trying to find the interstate. They must have people doing this all the time because they kindly directed us through and told us where to turn.

    Our tour time was scheduled to start at 10am, but we arrived about 10 min late. Valet parking was included so once we finally got there, it was a quick walk to the VIP services building. Our guide PJ met us and gave us lanyards to wear throughout the day. He validated our tickets, and suddenly we were on our way! We did a private tour at Disney World the day before, so we were exhausted and told PJ that we wanted to be more relaxed on this one. So we stopped for a breakfast buffet at the exclusive Cafe Labamba. This gave us a chance to fuel up for the morning and also talk to PJ about all the things we wanted to do. The boys got to take pics and play with the director’s props after breakfast. They couldn’t wait to get started!

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    When we left breakfast, the closest ride was Transformers so we headed that way. As we walked up, Megatron came out and although he is leader of the Decepticons we couldn’t pass up a pic. He was quite scary!

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    We rode Transformers (loved) and then Minion Mayhem. The preshow was really funny and the boys got to meet Stuart. He was so loveable and sweet!

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    After Minions we went over to Mummy. PJ held our bags so we got to skip the locker area. He walked us through the exit and we were onto the ride in no time, front seats. So before our trip, we watched some POV videos of rides because I am a complete wimp and don’t like “thrill rides”. We watched a Mummy POV with the lights on and it didn’t look bad at all. Unfortunately I found out we watched the one in Hollywood... it was different from Orlando and I didn’t know that until we were on the actual ride. I screamed the whole time! Here’s the cheesy ride pic- look how terrified my son and I looked!

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    It was a lot more intense than we expected, but I actually kinda liked it! We even got to walk underneath the Mummy ride to see how it all worked. The screams echoed all around us and we could feel the heat from the fire above us...it was neat to see! Next, we went to Fast and Furious. PJ took us through parts of the queue so we could see the awesome cars and the picnic table scene from the movies. He then walked us through the exit so we could skip the pre-show. I know this ride gets a lot of negative reviews, but we really enjoyed it!

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    We skipped Diagon Alley to do after lunch so we could ride over to IOA and see Hogsmead later. So our next stop was Men in Black. There had been a leak of sorts in the Interrogation Room so sadly we didn’t get to see it, but the ride was really fun! After MIB we rode The Simpson’s and ET (one of my faves). We had so much fun in the Simpson’s Land that we almost got arrested ;)

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    We stopped to take a Back to the Future pic. I am sad that the ride is gone, but glad they at least kept the Delorean. My oldest son apparently didn’t realize the camera was up high :

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    By this time we were getting hungry. The tour included lunch at any restaurant of our choice so we decided to go back to Cafe Labamba to try their lunch buffet. We loved having the restaurant almost to ourselves. There were just a couple other groups dining there... having lunch away from the crowds was just so relaxing and nice. And the food was all delicious with plenty of choices, even for picky eaters. They had popular dishes from restaurants all around Universal, and some really good macaroons. Yum!

    After lunch we headed back towards Diagon Alley...
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2018
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  4. jenrose66

    jenrose66 DIS Veteran

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    Love the pictures of your family! I don’t blame you for not wanting to leave the Contemporary. That view looked perfect!
     
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  5. bobbie68

    bobbie68 DIS Veteran

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    Hi nice report so far. I loved the non-private VIP tour I did last year. It was such a great way to see the park. One day I would love to try the private one. The family looks like they are really enjoying themselves. We don't do the water rides there way too wet for us.
     
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  6. ktak08

    ktak08 Mouseketeer

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    Thank you! We looked into the non private tour also, but I was afraid we’d get paired with families who were more into Thrill rides than we are (Hulk, Rip Rocket, etc) - those were rides we decided to skip this time. I agree, the tours (private and non) are definitely a great way to see the parks!
     
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  7. ktak08

    ktak08 Mouseketeer

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    Wizzarding World of Harry Potter - A few years ago, I was looking for a new book series to read. Someone suggested Harry Potter, and honestly I thought no way I’m reading that! I had seen the first 2 movies and thought it was a bit strange and very kid oriented. Well...after the hype of all the later movies and more people suggesting the books, I finally gave in and read the series. I was blown away and absolutely loved it!!! It was adventurous, dynamic and so emotional. We watched all the movies, so we were all very excited to finally see WWHP at Universal!

    We arrived at Diagon Alley and got to see Kreacher peaking out of the window at 12 Grimmauld Place before we officially went in. We also got to check out the Knight Bus- very cool!

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    Last edited: Aug 2, 2018
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  8. ktak08

    ktak08 Mouseketeer

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    We walked into Diagon Alley and were immediately stunned at how amazing and detailed everything was. The shops were so neat to look at and seeing Gringotts in the distance was very exciting. We took a quick pic with PJ, our super awesome guide. PJ is quite tall, and I think maybe with the help of some magical wizardry (costuming/hair), he could have been our very own Hagrid guiding us around?!

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    He knew exactly when the dragon would spew fire so we stopped to watch. It was neat (and hot) to see! We headed into Olivanders to see the wand show, but didn’t stay in the store very long. It was the most crowded place in the park! Next up was Escape from Gringotts. We went inside the bank first to see the goblins at work and then back through the exit to ride.

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    Escape from Gringotts was SO fun and exhilarating! It had just the right amount of intensity and the theming was just perfect. We then headed to King’s Cross station to board the Hogwarts Express for Hogsmead.

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    The train “ride” was really neat, but it was very hot and stuffy inside our cabin. Not sure if that’s the norm but we were ready to get off. When we arrived in Hogsmead, we found it all so beautiful and realistic with the snow capped buildings.

    The first ride we went to was Flight of the Hippogriff. DS rode twice, once with PJ and once with DH. He loved it!!

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    So we get to Forbidden Journey next...I heard from several people, including PJ that the ride is infamous for causing severe motion sickness. Standing outside the exit, everyone coming off the ride looked queasy or had no emotions on their faces. No one was smiling at all! So we ultimately decided to skip it this time. PJ took us through the Express Pass line just to view the castle instead, and it was very impressive. This is probably the one queue I wouldn’t have minded waiting an hour walking through!
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2018
  9. pattyw

    pattyw DIS Veteran

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    Wow! Sounds like a great day!! The VIP tour sounds amazing and allowed you to leisurely do so much!! I love the Contemporary hotel! and your view is breathtaking!
     
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  10. ktak08

    ktak08 Mouseketeer

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    We had a wonderful day visiting Universal! And we love Contemporary too... can’t imagine staying anywhere else!
     
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  11. macraven

    macraven Proud Redhead Moderator

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    I’m enjoying your trip report !

    You have a very lovely family
    Smiles in all your pictures!
     
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  12. ktak08

    ktak08 Mouseketeer

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    Thank you!! I may be partial, but my boys and DH are the absolute sweetest!! It’s hard not to smile around them :love:
     
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  13. ktak08

    ktak08 Mouseketeer

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    WWHP was so fantastic and definitely my favorite area in all of Universal. I felt like it had a lot of charm...and all of the buildings/attractions really immerses you into the world. I didn’t want to leave, but there was still more to see, and the rain clouds were ominously starting to linger above us.

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    Our next stop was Jurassic Park. We headed towards the River adventure ride and PJ had scheduled for us to meet Blue, the raptor right after. Unfortunately, that is when the clouds decided to open up and the Florida rain started pouring down on us! We immediately headed to the Dinostore where PJ quickly got us some ponchos. On the plus side, the rain cleared everyone out of the walkways and helped cool down the temperature. So we were still excited to keep going. Sadly, we did not get to enjoy Jurassic Park this time, but we did snap a pic just before the rain fell.

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    We then made our way to Kong Skull Island. I felt that overall it was very similar to Fast and Furious, but I would give Kong the slight edge. The screens on both sides made it feel so realistic!

    After Kong, we passed by the infamous Dudley Do-Right Rip Saw Falls...at that point I was thankful for the rain, because it gave me an excuse not to try and conquer it again haha! We finally made it to Spiderman next. The boys were really excited about this one...they loved Transformers so I knew they’d love this one too. And of course we all loved this ride, it was so fun!! We rode in our wet ponchos ...no one else had them on and looked at us like we were strange. They probably didn’t realize it was even raining outside. Here we are looking very attractive in our blue ponchos!

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    We decided to head towards Cat in the Hat next...the ride was cute, and maybe borderline strange?! But it was a nice, cool ride out of the rain. We didn’t get to ride Trolley in the sky, but I think we would have liked that more.

    At this point, we were getting tired and very hungry for dinner. During lunch, PJ showed us menus from all the restaurants in the park and City Walk...he was able to reserve us a table for any restaurant we wanted. He suggested Chocolate Toothsome and the ESPN place, but I knew once DH saw sushi on the menu that we’d be eating at Cowfish that night. He scheduled our reservation for after the tour so since we still had about an hour left, we decided to watch the Horror Makeup Show. We walked through a back passageway to get back to Universal Studios. Along the way, we passed the soundstage for Deal or No Deal. I’m so glad they are filming more episodes, we loved that show! We came in through an exit beside Rip rockit...I could not imagine riding that coaster in a million years! The vertical incline and almost vertical drop made my blood pressure rise just looking at it.

    We still had some time before the show, so we decided to ride Transformers again and went shopping in the stores nearby. Then about ten minutes before the start time, PJ walked us into the empty theater and we sat in the front row, center. It was neat seeing all the props on stage!


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    Suddenly the doors opened, and the theater filled up quickly. Honestly, this show was not even on our agenda. But we absolutely loved it so much! It was hilarious, and we laughed and smiled the entire time. DS and I even participated in the show, and our family was given a lot of attention! I was definitely impressed!

    After the show, the rain finally stopped and we got to throw away our ponchos. We headed back to the VIP services office so PJ could validate our valet parking pass. He then gave us our voucher for dinner and told us how to get there. We thanked him for making our day so much fun, tipped him and went our separate ways. He really was so nice, and we would definitely request him again!

    We arrived at Cowfish and were immediately seated on the 3rd floor overlooking City Walk and towards IOA.

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    Our voucher included 4 entrees, 2 total appetizers (1 for every 2 people), 4 desserts, non alcoholic drinks and a percentage tip for our waitress. DH ordered sushi, the boys ordered burgers and chicken/fries and I had the oriental chicken salad with edamame and shrimp for our appetizers. Everything was really delicious! And then came dessert...we each got to order one, so 3 of us got the “tall” apple pie and 1 chocolate cake. You know how Starbucks has a “tall” size and it happens to be a small? Well, not this apple pie! Each piece was HUGE, about the size of my whole head, literally. Unfortunately, like in most cases quantity was not better than quality. It was just “ok”, and I definitely wouldn’t order it again. They gave a tiny, half dollar sized scoop of vanilla ice cream with it. I would have rather had more ice cream. We ate so little of it ... I always feel terrible wasting so much food. But our service was excellent and I guess ordering more food meant a bigger tip for our waitress!

    We left Cowfish and decided to just go back to our hotel. Our lanyards actually became Express passes after the tour, but we were very content with everything we did that day...and we were so tired! Our day at Universal/IOA was truly memorable, and we’d definitely come back again!

    More thoughts on the Private tour soon and how it compares to Disney!

    Also, you can read our Disney world trip report here:

    https://www.disboards.com/threads/our-last-minute-trip-back-to-disney-world-4th-of-july-week-7-5-private-vip-tour.3693984/#post-59493294
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2018
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  14. pattyw

    pattyw DIS Veteran

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    Beautiful pictures!

    The Horror makeup show is great! It's one of those hidden gems!!

    Your VIP tour sounds wonderful!! Can't wait to hear about your dinner at Cowfish! We haven't made it there yet!
     
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  15. ktak08

    ktak08 Mouseketeer

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    Thank you! I just added more about Cowfish!
     
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  16. macraven

    macraven Proud Redhead Moderator

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    I’m loving your trip report!

    Sounds like a fantastic day you all had

    Spider-Man is always a top ride for many!
     
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  17. Lynne G

    Lynne G DIS Veteran

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    Sounds like you had a perfect day. Thank you for writing about your VIP tour, and your pictures are great.
     
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  18. ktak08

    ktak08 Mouseketeer

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    We did! Thank you so much!!
     
  19. cynditech

    cynditech Mouseketeer

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    Thank you for sharing your trip report! We are normally hardcore Disney peeps, but tried Universal for a day last year and really loved it. We're going again this year and staying onsite this time. We've done the non-private tour and would love to try the private one sometime.

    Love love love Contemporary! One of our favorite places to stay!
     
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  20. ktak08

    ktak08 Mouseketeer

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    Yes, same as you we are hardcore Disney but so glad we gave Universal a try! It was a totally different experience than Disney, but we had a wonderful time. How was the non private tour? Did you still get a lot done?

    Contemporary will always be our favorite! Polynesian looks amazing too...if we ever decide to venture out and try a different resort, we may stay there one day!
     
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  21. ktak08

    ktak08 Mouseketeer

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    How does Universal and Disney Private VIP Tours compare??

    Here are highlights of both tours...please keep in mind that these are our personal experiences and benefits/experiences are not guaranteed on subsequent tours.


    Universal Orlando Private VIP Tour highlights:
    -Meet Guide at VIP Services office and bypass turnstiles.
    -VIP Lanyards are worn during tour and become Express Pass for remainder of day after tour.
    -10% discounts in gift shops and any food/snacks added for the entire day with lanyards.
    -Valet Parking included.
    -Picture package included (ride and photographer).
    -Full Breakfast buffet at Cafe Labamba, Lunch and Dinner at any restaurant throughout Universal Parks and City Walk. Reservations are made in advance through your guide. (Gratuity included)
    -Front of Line access to all rides (through exits) plus you can sit in any row and ride multiple times.
    -Guide holds your bags during rides, if needed.
    -Behind the scenes look at certain rides/attractions like Mummy, Spiderman and MIB
    -Front of Line access to character meets.
    -Front seats in shows and plenty of attention on your family.
    -Guide secures ponchos for rain/wet rides
    -Tour last 8 hours including lunch.

    Disney World Private VIP Tour:
    -Guide will pick you up anywhere in Orlando (airport, onsite and offsite hotels, meet in Disney parks, etc).
    -Flexible start time
    -Guide will drive you to the back entrances close to rides that you choose.
    -Visit all 4 Disney World parks same day with park hoppers.
    -CMs scan your magic bands or tickets at back entrances and provide baskets of snacks to choose from and cold water bottles.
    -Guide is your unlimited Fast pass during tour. Enter rides through Fast pass lines with very minimal wait.
    -You can ride anything multiple times, in different rows if you want.
    -Front row seats in shows and your family is picked to join in (dancing, participating, etc).
    -At MK you get private, shaded viewing area (with benches) for parades and again, a lot of attention from the characters during the entire parade.
    -Private viewing area for fireworks.
    -Priority Character meets.
    -Pre schedule Jedi Academy Training.
    -Guide also pushed stroller when our kids were little.
    -Guide can help secure difficult, last minute ADRs.
    -Guide can take you to the pool, Disney Springs, etc.
    -Guide will drop you off at hotel or leave you in the parks after the tour, whatever you decide.
    -Tour is 7 hours minimum but can be extended up to max 14 hours per day. Additional hours are billed in 15 min increments after the 7 hours.
    ***Certain things like character meets, parades, fireworks viewing and Jedi Training usually require advance scheduling. We simply emailed Disney signature services with a list of our must dos, and they always accommodate us.

    Disneyland Private VIP Tour (similar to Disney World):
    -Meet Guide in valet at Grand Californian Hotel
    -Guide is unlimited Fast pass, but will get you priority access on rides that do not have FP.
    -We walked to everything, instead of driving since the parks are together like Universal.
    -Reserved seating at shows, parades and private VIP area (with benches) to watch Color of Lights/fireworks.

    Guides at all 3 will ride with your family at their discretion (most will not do wet rides). They will also ride with or wait with your children on certain attractions if someone can’t ride. Guides have extensive knowledge of the parks and will share interesting and fun facts. They will also take pictures of your family if you ask!

    Personally, we loved both Disney and Universal tours! I do feel like the one at Universal is a better overall value. All of your food is included plus pictures, and you get true front of the line access on all rides and at shows. However, I feel with Express Passes at Universal we could have easily managed to do everything we wanted and still have so much fun. On the other hand, Fast passes at Disney World have to be “scheduled” and some rides will run out of those FPs before your trip even starts. Plus, traveling to all 4 parks would be difficult and very time consuming. Then trying to find a spot for fireworks and parades among the crowd is not always easy either. So while Disney’s VIP tours do not give you “front of line” access or include any food/snacks, I personally feel it is definitely superior to Universals because it allows you to do so much in one day that you wouldn’t be able to do on your own. And overall it just feels more “magical”. Cost is roughly the same if you compare similar hours.

    Side note: Universal’s tour was definitely more “flashy” - your Guide will put you in the front of every ride/character line, and those already waiting definitely see you cutting in front of them. Plus they bump you to the best seats (usually front) on rides causing those waiting for the front row to wait even longer. Disney’s tour is a lot more low key, and it seems like they try to keep it really discreet.

    I hope this helps anyone who may be on the fence about Disney and Universal Private VIP tours. You really can’t go wrong with either!!
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2018

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