There are similarities between Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando. Both are destination resorts with great theme parks, wonderful attractions, fine hotels, delicious restaurants, and plenty of ways to have fun. Also, both attract lots of visitors and generate long lines -- sometimes painfully long -- at their wonderful attractions.
Unlike Disney World, which offers the complementary MyMagic+ trip planning program and includes FastPass+ ride reservations, Universal does not have a comparable program. Unless you do your homework and some strategic planning, you might have to suffer through some insufferably long lines before you get to ride with Harry Potter and his pals. That's where I can help. I've done the homework for you.
There ARE ways to skip, or at least minimize the lines at both of the resorts' theme parks, Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. Let's review the options so that you'll be able to do and see as much as possible during your next visit.
Option 1: Visit During a Less Crowded Time.
Perhaps the best strategy to avoid long lines, especially if you don't plan to stay at one of Universal Orlando's resorts, is to visit during the off season. That way, fewer people will be at the parks, and the lines should be fairly manageable. It's unlikely you'd be able to walk onto any rides or attractions, but you should be able to get onto many more of them than during busier times of the year.
Option 2: Stay at a Universal Orlando Hotel
Run in conjunction with Loew's Hotels, the on-property resorts at Universal are all wonderful. They have endearing themes, are a relatively short walk to the parks and all of the action, have great amenities and are fine hotels in their own right. Three of them, however, offer an incredible benefit: All guests receive passes that allow them to skip the lines at nearly all of the rides.
The benefit is available to guests staying at Universal's deluxe properties: Portofino Bay, Royal Pacific, and Hard Rock Hotel. If you choose to stay at any of the three hotels, it really doesn't matter what time of year you visit. Even during the most crowded times, you could sashay up to a ride attendant, flash your skip-the-line card, and bypass the standby line for most attractions.
Notice I said most attractions. Significantly, the skip-the-line passes do not work for three of the most popular rides: Hogwarts Express, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts. Staying at the hotels would still help you avoid lines, however. Hotel guests, including those who stay at the value Cabana Bay Resort, get exclusive early admission to both Wizarding World of Harry Potter lands, Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. If you take advantage of the benefit, you'd get a jump on the general public and encounter much shorter lines than later in the day.
Option 3: Purchase a Universal Express Pass
If you do not stay at an on-property hotel, you could still skip the lines at most of the rides by buying a pass. (Unlike Disney World, which offers its Fastpass+ ride reservation system at no additional charge, at Universal you have to pay to play.) The passes come in two varieties: Express Pass and Express Unlimited Pass. The former works like the hotel's skip-the-line program. You show your pass and move to the front of the queue. The pass entitles users to cut the line once on each of the participating attractions.
As its name implies, the Unlimited Pass allows users to cut the line and ride each participating attraction as many times as they wish. Like the hotel line-skipping benefit, the Express Passes are not valid at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions.
Express Pass holders, like hotel guests, could visit any time of year and avoid the lines. However, the prices of the passes vary according to the time of the year. You'll end up paying a premium -- in some cases a hefty one -- to purchase an Express pass during the most crowded seasons. (Similarly, the room rates at the on-property hotels are higher during the busier seasons. It's all the more reason to plan your visit during less crowded times of the year.)
Option 4: Purchase a VIP Experience
If you are rolling in the dough, you could book a VIP Experience. You'd be part of a small tour group, and a Universal guide would escort you around one or both parks. You'd get front-of the-line access to all attractions, including the ones in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter lands. In addition, VIP Experience group members receive valet parking, continental breakfast, special meetups with characters, and exclusive seating and viewing areas for shows. The cost varies based on the number of parks you want to visit and the time of year you want to take the tour.
Regardless, it is a pricey option.