In advance of the Wizarding World's grand opening (back in 2010), Universal decided it would be in its best interest to overhaul its entire ticketing schedule; the result is a ticketing system similar to (but not exactly like) Disney's, with single-park tickets and multipark tickets good for between 1 and 7 days. Currently a 1-day, one-park ticket costs $85 for adults, $79 for children 3 to 9. A 2-day, one-park-per-day ticket, good for admission to either of Universal's major theme parks (Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure) on each day your ticket is valid, runs $115.99 for adults, $105.99 for children. As the number of days increases, so does the ticket price. A 1-day park-to-park access ticket (allowing you to park-hop between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure) costs $120.99 for adults, $114.99 for children 3 to 9. A 2-day park-to-park ticket costs $135.99 for adults, $125.99 for children; again, as the number of days increases, so does the ticket price (up to a 4-day park-to-park access ticket at a cost of $155.99 for adults, $142.99 for children) -- but the bonus is the cost per day goes down substantially as the number of days your ticket is good for increases (a 4-day park-to-park access ticket averaging less than $40 per day). Tickets purchased at the gate cost an extra $20 each. A two-park premier annual pass runs $349.99 (any age). The latter includes unlimited admission to the parks (no blackout dates), free self-parking, free valet parking on most days, Universal Express Plus privileges after 4pm, all-club access at CityWalk, and a slew of discounts good at Universal parks and resorts. A two-park preferred annual pass is less expensive at $229.99 (any age) and includes unlimited admission to the parks (no blackout dates), free self-parking, and numerous discounts good at Universal parks and resorts.

Like Disney, Universal offers savings on tickets if you purchase them before you leave home. Buy your park tickets online (single or park-to-park), and you'll save $20 per ticket, adding up to a substantial savings for families. You can pick up your tickets at the front gate of either park or have them sent (for a delivery charge) to your home. Using the print-at-home option, while adding $2.15 to your ticket, can be a real timesaver. Note that the type of tickets offered (and the various special offers associated with them) often come and go, so be sure to check Universal's website at www.universalorlando.com when planning your vacation and your budget.

All multiday passes let you move between Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. Multiday passes also give you free access to the CityWalk clubs at night. Because the parks are within walking distance of each other, you won't lose much time jockeying back and forth, which is not the case at Disney. Nevertheless, it's a long walk for tykes and people with limited mobility, so consider a stroller or wheelchair.

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There are also 5-hour VIP tours at either Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure, which include a guided tour, free valet parking, refreshments, and line-cutting privileges at a number of high-profile attractions, among other perks, for $150 per person. A 7-hour, two-park VIP tour covers both parks and costs $185 per person. Prices for both tours do not include 6.5% tax and do not include admission to the parks! For more information on the VIP tour, call tel. 407/363-8295, or send an e-mail to viptours@universalorlando.com. Tours start at 10am and noon daily. Anyone 17 and under must be accompanied by a paying adult. If you plan on visiting during peak season, if money isn't an issue, and if you aren't staying at one of the Universal resorts, this is a good way to experience the best of the park without having to spend most of your day in lines.

The Flexticket

The most economical way to see the various "other-than-Disney" parks is with a multiday pass that counters Disney's Park Hopper add-on. With the FlexTicket, you pay one price to visit any of the participating parks as many times as you want during a 14-day period. A five-park pass to Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, Wet 'n Wild, Aquatica, and SeaWorld is $274.95 for adults and $254.95 for children 3 to 9. A six-park pass, which adds Busch Gardens in Tampa, is $314.95 for adults and $294.95 for kids. Both passes also include entrance to Universal CityWalk. The FlexTicket can be ordered through Universal (tel. 407/363-8000; www.universalorlando.com), SeaWorld (tel. 407/351-3600; www.seaworld.com), Aquatica (tel. 800/363-2559; www.aquaticabyseaworld.com), or Wet 'n Wild (tel. 800/992-9453 or 407/351-1800; www.wetnwild.com). Note: There's a round-trip shuttle available to Busch Gardens that's free for FlexTicket buyers (it's $10 for other guests).

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Lounging Around -- Guests holding multipark passes or annual passes purchased with an American Express card (either at the front gate or online at www.universalorlando.com) now have a place to sit, relax, and recharge (literally -- the lounge features recharging stations for cameras and cellphones) before heading back out to the park to fight off aliens, tackle a twister, and survive a shark attack (not to mention those lengthy lines). The American Express Lounge opened in summer 2011 and can be found along the side street between Shrek 4-D and the Classic Monster Cafe. Complimentary beverages and light refreshments are available in air-conditioned comfort, with a concierge staff available to help with dining reservations and similar services. The lounge is open 7 days a week from noon to 5pm.

Universal Express Plus Pass

This is Universal's answer to Disney's FASTPASS; however, at Universal, you'll pay a price (literally) to skip the long lines. Single-day and multiday ticket buyers not staying at a Universal resort can purchase an Express Plus Pass that's good for either 1 day at one park ($19.99-$59.99) or 1 day at two parks ($25.99-$69.99). The downside (other than having to fork out the extra cash): Express Plus Passes are good only on select dates during the year (for a complete list, see Universal's website), and they are only valid for a single entry to each ride featuring an express line. In other words, you can only wait in the express line for the Hulk once; if you want to ride a second (or third, or fourth) time, you'll have to head to the regular line with everyone else. And if you are a multiday ticket holder, the Express Plus Pass is only good for a single day -- you'll have to purchase an additional Express Plus Pass if you want to skip the long lines for more than just a single day. Another option (albeit far more pricy than the first) is to purchase the 2-Park Express VIP Pass (good for btw. 1 and 4 days during a consecutive 14-day period) that allows unlimited express access at both parks for as long as the ticket is valid. A 4-day VIP ticket costs between $285.99 and $365.99 for adults (depending on the season), and between $269.99 and $349.99 for kids 3 to 9. The 1-day option costs between $169.99 and $209.99 for adults and between $159.99 and $199.99 for kids.

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The plus in Express Plus: Waits are usually 15 minutes or less. Be aware, however, that passes are not unlimited and can run out during busier times (especially as they are now available ahead of time online). If you're at the parks during peak season (when lines grow even more intolerable, as those who have purchased Express Plus back things up even more), really can't stand waiting in line, and have plenty of cash to spare, the pass may be worth your while (but it's not likely); otherwise, don't bother.

A family of four would be far better off spending the extra bucks ($80-$260 for Express Plus Passes, $620-$780 for Express VIP Passes -- and that's only for single-day access) to stay at one of Universal's resorts (even if only for a portion of your vacation). Guests of the Portofino Bay, Hard Rock, and Royal Pacific hotels need only show their room key to skip the long lines. And the best part: Resort guests are allowed unlimited express-line access for the length of their stay. Call tel. 407/363-8000 or go to www.universalorlando.com for more information.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.