As well as the traditional attractions that makes Florida a major holiday destination for US, UK and worldwide travellers, the state is also a hotbed for sports lovers. There are some of the best golf courses in the US located throughout the state as well as some amazing deep sea fishing and scuba activities around the gulf and atlantic coasts as well as along the Keys.
And then, for the sports fan, there’s a real choice of top class team sport with some big time franchise clubs at most of the major sports played out in North America.
Florida can boast 2 top-flight professional baseball teams, both competing in the Major League Baseball (MLB). If you’re holidaying around central Florida then you can find your way over to Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays. A relatively new team to the MLB roster, they were formed in 1998, the Rays are not one of baseballs traditional powerhouses.
However, they did mark their 10th anniversary with a run all the way to the World Series (losing to Philadelphia) and have qualified for the post season play-offs in most of the subsequent seasons. One of the smaller stadiums in pro baseball, at just over 31,000 capacity, Tropicana Field is a domed arena in St Petersburg, making it accessible for those holidaying in the area to take in a game (if you can get hold of a ticket that is).
In the south of the state you’ll find the Miami Marlins. Based at Marlins Park, Miami the side have been competing in MLB since 1993. Over this 2 decade period the Marlins have enjoyed mixed fortunes on the baseball field with their undoubted highlights being crowned World Series Champions on 2 separate occasions (in 1997 & 2003).
NBA basketball arrived in Florida in the late 80s, coinciding with the boom in tourism through that decade. 2 new franchises sprung up at that time, both still in existence today: Miami Heat & Orlando Magic.
Whilst the Magic have had a lot of profile over the years, proximity to the Orlando attractions playing a part, as well as the fact that they were the team of superstar Shaquille o’Neal for a few years. However, the most successful of the 2 teams has undoubtedly been the Heat in Miami.
Three times Champions of the NBA Championship they’ve grown to be one of the BIG name teams in the US, gaining major attention during their championship year of 2013 when they went on the 2nd longest winning run in NBA history (27 games in a row).
Being a state in a sort of perpetual summer, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Florida was not really a powerhouse of ice hockey. And you’d be almost right.
That said, the state still boasts 2 major NHL teams in the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning, with the latter side even managing to claim the big prize in North American hockey, the Stanley Cup, back in 2004.
A traditionally huge sport in the state Florida is now home to THREE teams in the NFL: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, The Jacksonville Jaguars and the Miami Dolphins.
Perhaps best known in the UK, courtesy of its profile in the mid-80s and superstar quarterback Dan Marino, are the Dolphins. Winners of 2 Superbowls in the 1970s as well as the only team to have completed ‘The Perfect Season’ – winning all 17 matches en route to Championship glory in 1972.
The Buccaneers can lay claim to a bit of glory of their own with a Superbowl win in 2002.
Football / Soccer
If you fancy catching a footy match while on your Orlando holiday you can now get yourself to an MLS match courtesy of the Orlando City soccer franchise. Entering the league in 2013 this is the newest major franchise in the state and play their matches in the impressively large 61,000 capacity Citrus Bowl in the Orlando area.
Topping the bill for Orlando is former Brazil superstar Kaka, playing out the latter stages of his career as the main playmaker for this new team, which is managed by Adrian Heath – who football fans of a certain vintage will remember as the diminutive striker from Everton back in the early to mid 1980s.
So, here’s an alternative idea to consider when planning a short visit to Universal Resort® whilst on a villa or other self-catering holiday in Orlando. It’s something I’ve recently done myself and which we have subsequently recommended to families (with success) since.
Basically it’s this: when heading over to Universal during busy seasons in the year, why not consider staying for a night at one of the major resort hotels such as Loews Royal Pacific?
But, why, I hear you ask, would we book a night in a hotel when we’ve already booked into a villa for our holiday?
And it’s a valid and fair question for sure. So maybe I should explain the reasoning a little bit more.
The main reason why you’d consider doing this is if you’re considering the option of using Universal’s Express Pass system when in the park.
The Express Pass
As you may or may not be aware, the Express Pass is Universal’s version of the Fastpass+ system that you might be familiar with from Disney. As with Fastpass+, the Express Pass allows users to essentially, go to the front of the queues on the attractions and ride in the park. However, while it’s their equivalent feature to Disney’s Fastpass+, it’s not an exact copy of the system.
For one thing, it’s NOT a complimentary service as part of your park entry ticket as is the case in Disney. If you want to take advantage of the Express Pass system, you have to pay for it.
And how much does it cost?
Well that’s just the thing – there’s actually no fixed pricing for the pass. Prices fluctuate throughout the year, rising and falling in accordance with demand. So you’ll pay a premium for it during peak seasons when the queues are highest, less so during quieter times of the year.
In the height of the season (Easter period, Summer Holidays, Christmas & New Year) you can expect to pay anywhere between £70 – £100 for one 2-Park Unlimited Express Pass for 1 day (NOTE: you still have to buy a ticket to enter the parks as well). For a single use Express Pass (where you only get 1 express access per ride – meaning if you want to go back on a ride you’ll have to join the main queue) you can expect to pay between £50 and £80.
As you can see, for a family of 4, this can be a reasonably large addition to the holiday budget.
HOWEVER – THEY ARE REALLY GOOD!!
The fact is, when the park’s get busy, they can get REALLY busy, with queues for the best rides getting up to 2 hours (or beyond). So if you’re only there for a day or two, without the Express Pass, you simply might not get to experience all the rides you want.
And that’s when the Express Pass comes into its own.
Frankly, if you are paying a significant amount of money on a big family holiday, the additional cost of getting an Express Pass (if you’re only going to Universal for a couple of days) is money well spent – in my humble opinion.
Oh yes, that’s another thing you need to consider – there is one notable restriction to the Express Pass system.
As of the time of writing this, the main attractions at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ are NOT part of the Express Pass deal. You just have to queue up with the rest of the visitors. (There are a couple of other rides not included as well – but this is the main one in terms of popularity).
Now, for many, this bombshell might well put people off purchasing the pass – perceiving it to be of less value.
Personally, I don’t believe that to be the case at all.
There are a lot of really fantastic rides and attractions across the 2 Universal parks which you should be experiencing – all of which ARE valid with the Express Pass – where the time saved by getting to the front of the queues can be massive.
YOU NEED TO EXPLORE THE BEST VALUE OPTIONS
This brings us to the idea of exploring the hotel accommodation options. In a moment of ‘thinking outside the box’ clarity (don’t you just love jargon?) our last trip brought us (the family and I) to this idea.
It’s an option that many don’t think to consider – a night in a resort hotel such as the wonderful Loews Royal Pacific.
The Reason it’s great value:
- When you stay at one of the main resort hotels (Loews 2 hotels – Royal Pacific or Portofino Bay or Hard Rock Hotel) each guest receives a complimentary Unlimited Express Pass for the duration of their stay. The Unlimited Express Pass entitles you to get to the front of the queues on every valid ride, as often as you want.
- Based on a family of 4, the cost of 1 night’s accommodation is comparative (and in most instances if booked well enough in advance) cheaper than the cost of an Unlimited Pass for each of you.
- Furthermore, when you purchase an Unlimited Pass, it is valid for ONE day only. When you book into the hotel you have the Express Pass from the moment you check in to the moment you leave Universal Resort®. In effect this means you have a pass for TWO days (the day you check-in and the day you check-out). Bear in mind that you can check-in from 2pm and the parks are generally open into the evening during peak times so you will have hours to enjoy on both days – all with the convenience of minimal queuing!
- The Harry Potter issue. One of the other perks about staying at one of the aforementioned hotels is that you have exclusive access to the 2 parks (Universal Studios® & Islands of Adventure®) 1 HOUR before the parks open to the general public. This means you can be up early and straight over the Harry Potter rides before they get really busy and you will have ticked off one of Florida’s most popular attractions with minimal fuss and still with a day of queue beating fun ahead of you.
TIP: Why not skip breakfast and get to the park at least 15 mins before gate opening. Then you’ll be one of the first at the Harry Potter rides before taking breakfast at the Three Broomsticks™ restaurant in Hogsmeade™ for the full Wizarding experience?
- Car Parking is made easier as you can use the hotel car park, avoiding the busy (albeit very well organised) public car parks. Leave your car once you’ve checked in and you can forget about it until you leave the park later the following day.
- Easy access to the parks from the hotels. Both parks are a pleasant stroll or a complimentary water taxi from your hotel
- Staying at the hotel for a night will give you access to Universal CityWalk® where you’ll find a huge choice of bars, restaurants and entertainment after your day in the park.
- The hotels themselves are a wonderful, family friendly environment with activities and excellent pool areas should you wish to utilise them on your short stay. Either way, your stay can add another memorable experience to your visit to Universal.
So, you see, it might seem a little odd on the surface to recommend booking a night in a hotel when you’ve already got accommodation but if you really want to add to your experience and are looking for a way to get the most out of a visit to Universal, staying ahead of the queues during peak season, then this is an option that can prove memorable, fun and actually pretty good value for what you get in return.
To find out more about Universal Resort® Orlando holidays or tickets visit our Universal Page here…