Universals policies seem designed to make the lines as long as possible. Why? To sell their hotels (guests get to skip the lines) and to sell very expensive, deceptively advertised express passes that allow you to skip the lines.
First, Universal has MUCH shorter hours than Disney, even when they are packed full. That means you have 3-5 hours less to get to all of the rides, resulting in much longer lines and wait times. The goal seems to be to make the lines so long that you will fork out the extra cash to buy an Express Pass."
These passes are hawked on huge signs all over the park that tempt you to skip the long lines by buying an extra pass. But the signs do not reveal that the passes are good for only one of the two parks, give you only one use per ride, and are not good on the most popular rides. That information is not even available at the venues inside the park that sell the passes. Employees will not reveal this to you unless explicitly asked. If you don't know ahead of time what questions to ask, you lose.
Express Passes are extremely expensive. When we were there, it was $50 for one use per ride for one park, $63 for unlimited uses for ONE park, and a whopping $71 for unlimited uses in both parks. With park entry at $120, that adds up to $191 per person for a one-day ticket if you want to have the chance of actually riding the rides you paid to see before the park closes. Of course, we figured out all of this long after we had actually bought the passes because they don't disclose this information up front.
People who couldnt afford to pay the extortion stood in 2+ hour-long lines, fuming as we sprinted past. I dont blame them. The operators let on 10 Express Pass holders for every regular rider, making their wait even longer. I resented having to pay $71 extra just to get on the rides I had paid to see; other people resented paying up to $120 to get in the park, only to have to wait an extra hour or more in each line so people who paid even more could go first.
The most deceptive part is the in-park advertising. If you don't already know the ins and outs of Express Passes, you will be duped if you buy them in the park. Universal gives Express Passes to their hotel guests. I have no problem with that -- it seems like a reasonable perk. Friends who stayed at the hotel told us about the Passes. Once we saw the long lines, we decided to buy them in the park. But buyer beware! Even though they are called the exact same thing, the Express Pass Plus is not the same as the Express Pass given to hotel guests, which allows unlimited access to all rides in both parks.
The advertising that hawks these passes all over the park trumpets how much time youll save by buying the Universal Express Pass Plus to skip the lines. But the signs don't tell you that you will actually have to buy TWO SEPARATE express passes for Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. Or that they are good only once per ride unless you pay still more. Or that they are not good on certain rides. The sales people will not tell you this either, unless you explicitly ask.
We bought our passes at a store in Islands of Adventure. There are no signs with prices, various add-on options, or exclusions. We pumped the clerk, asking, does this cover everything? She said yes, except for Harry Potter Forbidden Journey. So, we reluctantly forked over the cash. But when we tried to use it at Universal Studios, we were told it was good for Islands of Adventure only!
When we went to Guest Services to complain, they shrugged their shoulders and said, you didnt ask the right questions, and said it was our responsibility to read the fine print (Note: there IS NO FINE PRINT on the hundreds of signs advertising this "perk" all over the park.)
She also repeated that Islands and Universal are two separate parks. If that is true, then why do they have identical signs in both parks advertising Universal Express Pass Plus? If they wanted to make the distinction clear, they could call them the Islands of Adventure Express Pass and the Universal Studios Express Pass" and have different signage to distinguish the two.
They could also indicate on their signs especially at the stores where they sell the passes
-- that Separate Express Passes are required for each park and Express Passes Good for One Use Per Attraction." And "Unlimited Express Passes Available for an Additional Fee. But they do not do this.
It would be so easy to be honest. They could take simple measures to avoid confusing people. But they dont. Because being honest and clear would mean less money in their pockets. Universal appears to deliberately confuse and deceive people into spending more money. Universal Orlando Resorts is a big money grab from beginning to end. We talked to at least a dozen people who had made the same mistake we did. Imagine how confusing it must be for the foreign, non-English speaking guests who flock to this park!
After we returned home, I researched this online and found out that people have been complaining to Universal about this for a long time. They obviously know about it. And they obviously dont care. Making more money is their only goal. A very different vibe from Disney, which bends over backwards to make sure guests have a magical experience.
I think the Florida Attorney General should investigate these deceptive practices and I will be writing to ask them to do so. I encourage anyone else who experienced the same ripoff to write as well.
I will also be advising my very large family not to waste their time at Universal. A few will have to go at least once to see Harry Potter. But the novelty of that will soon wear off. People are on to the scam and ripoff that is Universal Orlando, and most of the people I talked to won't ever come back.