Help me plan a split stay

This trip is for me and my 11yo. We’ve never been to Universal. I booked 5-day 3-park tickets on a crazy deal (educational pricing), and bought plane tickets before the prices could go up. Since then, my husband has lost his job. I’m figuring out how to book hotels with credit card points, and luckily we have several options there. We need 7 hotel nights.

I have enough Marriott points for the whole trip, but I’d rather be on site.

We have points to book 2-3 nights in a premium Universal hotel, with the remainder in Surfside, or maybe Cabana Bay if I get my act together fast enough. Would it make more sense to have express passes at the beginning of our trip (which is a weekend), or at the end?

I could book 4 nights in a premium Universal hotel, but that would use all my non-Marriott points. I suspect being onsite is better than an extra day of express passes, but tell me if I’m wrong.

Luggage is part of the puzzle. I don’t plan on renting a car, so we need to figure out where our suitcases go in between hotel stays, and also need a safe place to leave them on our departure day, because we plan on hitting the parks that day. Will Universal resorts allow me to leave my luggage with the front desk like at Disney?



What are your dates so I can check the crowd calendar?

Yes Universal hotels have free luggage storage for early arrivals and on your check out day.

Nov 25 - Dec 2. I know, I should have figured this out ages ago.

Ideally you want to have Express Pass for the weekend because of longer lines and end your trip with EP. But since the crowd level predictions are quite low on the weekdays that week, it should be fine to not have EP to end your trip.

Hagrid’s and Velocicoaster don’t have an Express Lane anyway, and most other attractions should not have too long of waits on the weekdays. (A Touring Plan will help with that too). Plus, you have 5 day tickets, so really you have plenty of time to cover everything and do repeats. You may want 2 half days at Volcano Bay or 1 full day.


Sorry for the challenges. You could probably get by with only 2 nights at a premier hotel, which will get you 3 full days of express passes. That’s about the most we ever do. Check in first thing in the morning on first day to get your express pass/room keys, leave your bags with the luggage desk, and they’ll text you when room is ready. On check out day, you can use even after checking out until parks close. I agree that staying onsite will be beneficial: it will help with transportation and easy luggage storage when needed.


PLOT TWIST! Hilton just emailed me and said I have 150k points expiring. Isn’t there a Hilton that’s an easy walk from Universal?

There’s a DoubleTree by Hilton at the Entrance to Universal Orlando that’s probably a 20 minute walk.

Trying to find availability Friday night is going to be difficult. At this point, the Double Tree near UOR looks like it’s fully booked for that night.

How often are you able to switch hotels?
Do you know the approximate cash value of the of the points to select which nights you can stay at the Universal hotel?

I have 95k Amex points, and 135k Chase points, which can be used at Universal hotels. I think Chase gives me a better conversion rate than Amex. Plus 150k Hilton points, and I don’t even know how many Marriott points and free nights I have, but they could cover the whole stay if I wanted to rent a car and dealing with parking every single day .

If I’m changing hotels, I need to get an Uber and figure out where my luggage is spending the day, but it’s not the end of the world if I have to do that more than once.

I panic booked Orlando World Center (Marriott) for our arrival night (Friday 11/25, the day AFTER Thanksgiving), but I could change that. They have waterslides, which gives us something to do if our plane arrives on time.

What I’m finding is that Saturday night 11/26 is the most expensive, but everything’s available. Monday and Tuesday are cheaper, but some resorts are sold out for points bookings. Cabana Bay and Surfside had all the nights available when I searched.

At this point, I’m thinking I should try to book a premium resort for Saturday and Sunday nights, which gives us 3 days of express passes, then we can transfer to a less expensive Universal hotel for the rest of the trip. Or maybe Hilton, since those points are the only ones expiring.

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I know Universal will hold bags on your check in and checkout day.

Are you trying to preserve points for future use?

What if you could do two nights at the Marriott, then do 5 nights at the Hilton, which would use up all those points.

Then pick which days you wanted express passes, and reserve rooms at UOR that you don’t intend to use, just for the express passes. If you did two separate single night reservations, you could get express passes for 4 days.

Ooh, there’s a twist. I like it, except that the Universal premium hotels are undoubtedly nicer than whatever Hilton we’d end up at.

Having never been to Universal, I’m uncertain about the ease of transferring between hotels. Will I always need an Uber, or can we take a couple suitcases on the water taxi? (They’d be overhead-compartment size). Are there times of day it might be hard to get a rideshare? Does Universal struggle to have rooms ready for afternoon checkin?

My opinion is that you only need EP for maybe 2 days of your UOR visit, which can be accomplished with one night at a premium hotel (2 nights might be easier to avoid moving in the middle of the day). The rest of the time I would use your points elsewhere.

Of course, it’s up to you if you prefer to just stay put vs. move around. But if you have more than 2 days at UOR, you’re going to have plenty of time to experience all the attractions, even if you didn’t have EP at all.

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I’d do them on weekends when it’s more crowded

Yes, of course.

In regards to the question of would I spend 4 nights on site at Deluxe versus 2-3 with the remainder at Cabana Bay or Surfside, this will give you 3-4 days of Express which should be plenty. And if you do your water park day on one of the other days (especially if you choose Cabana Bay for its back entrance to VB) just perfect. Then if you do end up having one park day without Express Pass, just concentrate on shows from 11am on that day and you’ll be fine.

I think she’s somehow able to use points on the Loews hotels.

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Yeah, sorry, I phrased that poorly. I’ll edit.

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If you are transferring from a premium hotel to Cabana Bay or Surfside you’re not going to be able to take the water taxi…unless you’re for example you’re staying at HRH or Portofino and are gonna swithc Taxis at Citywalk and take it to RPR (which no water Taxi at all if this is your Premium) and then you’d have to walk to Cabana Bay from here. It’d be a pain with luggage and I’d just Uber.


If you’re switching hotels and leaving your bags and going to the park, I think it won’t matter which is what I’d do on transfer days because you’ll have such a big chunk of the day without a room. I don’t really know if they struggle as my room is always ready when I get there past checkin time but I often get in later than checkin time.

I’m finding a bit of everything on the Amex and Chase travel portals. Hotels that are fully booked don’t show up (they make you choose dates first, no flexibility), so I can’t tell you whether Portofino is full or doesn’t participate. Same for Dockside – never made an appearance in my searches, even though Surfside comes up for all my dates.

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Portofino is my favorite of the Premiums for it’s theming but HRH is usually my first choice. RPR is not a bad option either. I just prefer the room size and pool at HRH. They are both equidistant from one theme park or the other (unless the back pool entrance is open again at HRH in which case its closer).

I prefer CBR to Surfside but Surfside is not bad. I just loved the pools and amenities better at CBR plus the back entrance to VB and you can walk to the parks should you choose and can handle the mile trek.

Current plan:

I’ll keep the arrival night at Orlando World Center. It’s not the closest thing to Universal, but I like that there are activities baked in for our arrival day, and they’re free, so it won’t feel like a huge loss if we have travel delays.

Saturday and Sunday nights we’ll stay at the Hard Rock Hotel on Chase points. My guitar-loving kid will be happy, and we’ll have express passes for the crazy weekend.

Monday we’ll transfer to Cabana Bay, where I can book four nights on Amex points. We’ll be there for our day at Volcano Bay, our break day, our fifth Universal day, and our potential Hollywood Studios day if I can find that stack of Disney gift cards that have been in a box since we moved last year.

I just learned that Hilton points can be spent on Lyft rides, so now I’m using ALL of the rewards programs and keeping a promise to my kid without spending money we don’t have.

Thanks for helping me think it through!