Taking a cue from the cruise and the air lines, Universal Orlando is carving out dedicated spaces reserved for discerning guests, offering seclusion and comfort for those willing to pay a little – or even a lot – more for bragging rights and extra elbow room.
For travel agents, of course, the new offerings hold the promise of bigger tickets. And for higher-end customers and corporate groups, new spaces and new touches to existing spaces promise a more luxurious theme park within the theme park.
From private cabanas at the new Volcano Bay water theme park to VIP Experience private tours at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure to private oases in the parks themselves, guests can avail themselves of enough small touches of luxury, hand-holding and line-jumping to make their Universal experience something completely different from that of the hoi polloi.
The new Volcano Bay, which opened last month, sets the mood with private beach cabanas that include concierges and exclusive menus, a fruit and snack basket, a locker and towel service, and food service.
At the onsite hotels, Loews Portofino Bay offers suites ranging from 450 square feet on up to the 2,725-square-foot Presidente Suite, complete with an expansive outdoor terrace overlooking the harbor, fireplace and wet bar. The Loews Royal Pacific Resort has suites that sleep 11 guests, and feed them in dining rooms large enough to hold a small meeting.
And in the parks, the VIP Experience offers small-group tours with guides who know every detail, lead guests right to the front of the line, guarantee you will ride at least eight major attractions that precisely fit the interests of your individual group, and take you behind the scenes for bragging rights and photo ops.
There’s an underground Immigration Room, for example, where humans are “processed” in the Men in Black exhibit, open only to guests on the tours, and the private Café La Bamba where a complimentary lunch is served. Prices begin at $189 a person for a seven-hour tour.
A tour all your own
Want to spend the whole day at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Or just ride roller coasters from morning til night? No problem; you can have your own private eight-hour tour, complete with a reservation team that will customize the day to exactly what you want to do and a VIP Lobby to take an air-conditioned break.
Those start at about $3,000 for five people plus $200 per person above that number – all commissionable to travel agents – said Kendall, the outgoing and knowledgeable guide who led a tour TMR attended on a press tour in May. They include a private lunch as well as dinner, and express access to even the rides that do not normally offer that feature, such as Escape from the Gringotts.
Being a guide on such tours means being “very patient and adaptive; we are ambassadors to guests as well as to potential investors and travel agents,” said Kendall, noting that guides generally are identified by only their first names. He himself spent four months in specialized training for the position, beyond the normal training for Universal park employees, and memorized tomes full of facts about film history in general, Universal in particular, and every character in the park, from Dr. Seuss to Spiderman. The VIP Experience comes with “a premium price, but we deliver a premium product,” he said. “We know everything about this place.”
But beyond that, Kendall picked up immediately where TMR’s interest lay and wove it into his narrative.
“I guess you could say we are the travel agents of Universal,” he said. “It’s our job to make you feel like a celebrity for a day, to deliver something you could never do without us, to help you experience this unique destination in the best possible way.”