Frugal Family of 5: 3 nights/2 days at Universal


We’ll be travelling for the first time to Universal Resort in the summer of 2018. We have triplet 10 year olds, so we need a room that accommodates 5. We are planning to stay on-site.

Two questions:

1.We think Cabana Bay family suites are the cheapest and “fit” our family best. However, we’re considering staying the first night in Royal Pacific just to get the express passes.

For a one-night stay at Royal Pacific, how many days of EPs would we get (one day or two days)? Is Express Pass worth it? (We’d pay $150 extra for that first night, compared to the next two nights’ rooms at CB.)

We are HP fans, so that’s our biggest priority. We can wake up early. We generally have good stamina in theme parks.

  1. For Cabana Bay–would you all recommend the Courtyard suites or the Tower suites (pricing is negligible…more concerned about noise and distance to parks)?


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You’d get Ex Pass for 2 days, you get it for both check in and check out day (as well as other days if you stay more than one night of course!). I think it’s worth an extra $150 for 5 people, it makes touring very easy. We kept our room at POFQ to stay at HRH for a night for about $375 to get it. Not just for that, I really wanted to stay there.

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We stayed a RP two summers ago and loved having the pass! It was so hot and the lines were so long! We got so much done including our favorites multiple times. There were honestly times we felt guilty about all of the hot sweaty people we saw in line! I think the 150 would be money very well spent!! Plus, if you have an Amex card, there’s a little lounge with water and some snacks…and cranking ac!!

Express Pass is a godsend, particularly in Summer.

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The Express pass will be worth it because you get it for 2 days. Especially helpful at US. We didn’t have an Express for IOA and didn’t really need it anyway - even Forbidden Journey was only a 20 min wait at about 11 am. But that was in early October. Your kids will love Cabana Bay. There is so much to do - bowling, table tennis, sand games, movies, lazy river. We were sorry we only had 3 days there. For our teens it was one of the highlights of the trip. I don’t think the tower or courtyard rooms make a difference in getting to the parks, but tower rooms would be quieter. Ask for the end closest to the lobby to reduce walking to the entrance.

My boss stayed at Cabana Bay last year and her kids (10 & 6) preferred it to AKL and the Hilton at DS where they also stayed.

Yes they thought CBR catered for very young kids especially at the pool area so weren’t too impressed.

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TRUST me - I understand budget. I would suggest the following

1 - Stay in a Deluxe though so that you get the express pass
2 - I know the rooms at Portafino are HUGE and you could easily fit 5 people in there no problem.
3 - Check out hotel rates on 3rd party sites such as / travelocity etc
4 - Buy your tickets at REPUTABLE 3rd party site such as undercover tourist

YES YES YES - the Express Pass is very much worth it. You will STILL WAIT - however you will be able to get through the whole park in 2 days.

I am VERY FRUGAL - but I try to get the best value. I also HIGHLY suggest getting a credit card such as Capital One that give VERY generous travel points based on your regular purchases. We put EVERYTHING on the credit card and get literally THOUSANDS of dollars for use on travel.

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We are also a family of five and that Express Pass is a Godsend. In summer of 2015, we had what essentially amounted to two full days, broken out over three calendar days, and we would not have gotten nearly as much done if we didn’t have the EP. Definitely worth it, especially if the cost breaks down to only $30 per person!

Universal does crowd control right!!!

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  1. My family of 5 had the same dilemma.

It is definitely worth it to stay for 1-night at RP to get express for $30/person especially since the HP headliners and Hogwarts Express have Express access. You’ll get Unlimited Express for the entire day on both your check-in and checkout days. You can arrive as early as you like your first day, drop your bags off and pick-up your express passes.

We went for 4 days/4 nights the third week of June in 2017 and were all booked at CBBR. We liked the family suites best in terms of room layout (we were also excited about the bowling alley and lazy river). We ended up deciding to switch to a hotel which had express passes in May.

It is worthwhile checking on AP hotel rates (you don’t need an AP to see them) and FL resident rates (if you qualify for them). There were no AP discounts 5 months in advance when we booked at CBBR, but they were available a month before we went. The price difference between the 4 day park-to-park ticket was about $100 and savings on the hotel room was $100/night so for 4 nights it made sense. With the AP discount Portofino Bay worked out to be the same price as a non-discounted RP room plus it was bigger. One thing to be aware of at PB is that the sinks are inside the (huge) bathroom. Not all room types were available at the AP rate (there were no standard rooms available at HRH or RP). CBBR family suites were discounted about $50/night.

  1. Request the highest floor available for reduced noise. Bus transportation is in front of the CB lobby so centrally located to both the tower and courtyard wings. As you stand outside facing the lobby, the tower wings are to the left of the lobby and the courtyard buildings to the right . I recommend using the bus in the summer particularly the afternoon. There is a walkway from CB to the theme parks, but it takes longer than the bus and most of it lacks shade. We walked from CityWalk to CBBR for bowling around 2 pm. The first part past the RP is lovely, but then we missed the turn over the bridge and ended up going the long way to Sapphire Falls and then got the wrong directions at SF. We took the air-conditioned bus back which was much more efficient.

In re-reading the title of this - it got me thinking (I know - doesn’t happen much). A WDW / US vacation - if only a few days is a MAJOR cash expenditure. You HAVE to be FRUGAL to keep it from getting out of control. I remember when a WDW vacation, although not cheap was not the massive expenditure it is now a days. You have to dodge and weave to find good options so you aren’t working until you are 90. So to all that scour for discount codes and other ways to save - GOOD FOR YOU!!!