We are blessed to have wonderful neighbors with kids almost the same ages as our boys, and we jointly decided to spend Memorial Day weekend 2022 together in Los Angeles. One of the cornerstones of our long weekend was the Universal Studios Hollywood VIP experience, which none of us had done before. The VIP experience offers exclusive access to the theme park that you can’t get as a member of the general public. From an exclusive VIP lounge at check in to an expert guide who takes you around the entire park with VIP privileges and a studio tour that gives you up-close-and-personal access (you get to go inside some of the sets!), is the Universal VIP Tour worth it? Read on for our comprehensive, unvarnished opinion of the Universal Studios VIP Experience Tour.
Universal VIP Experience Tour Logistics
Universal Studios VIP tickets range in cost, depending on the time of year that you book. We visited over a holiday weekend, making our tickets more expensive than other times of the year. We spent $389 per person, the same for kids and adults. You will get the best deal visiting on a weekday in low season, but the prices don’t go lower than $369 per person, so you’re not saving much by going at off-peak times.
Booking was an easy process, and I completed the whole thing online. You do have to enter the names of each guest when you book, so you need to have finalized your group prior to booking tickets. You get an email confirmation with QR code tickets, and you will need to bring the tickets along with the credit card used for booking on the day of your tour.
When you book your Universal Studios Hollywood tickets, you choose your date and entry time. They recommend that you arrive at least 30 minutes before your tour start time so that you can get checked in and have something to eat before heading out on the tour. In reality, I don’t think 30 minutes is enough, especially if you have a large group.
Included with your ticket price is:
- 1 day park admission with an expert VIP guide
- Unlimited Universal express access (per day) to each ride, attraction, and seated show. Express line access is a separate line with a shorter wait time at each ride, attraction, and seated show. (Does not apply to food and retail locations or non-seated shows.)
- Free valet parking (but not free self parking)
- VIP access on the studio tour on a private trolley, the most exclusive way to see the movie and TV sets from some of the most famous shows on film, like Desperate Housewives and War of the Worlds
- Light breakfast and gourmet lunch
How Old Do You Have to be for the Universal VIP Pass?
Visitors on the VIP tour must be at least 5 years old, and at least 17 years old to attend without an accompanying adult. My kids were 5 (almost 6) and 8, and our neighbors’ kids were 7 and 9. I do think that 5 is the minimum age to visit, and older would be better. Our 5 year old liked a few of the rides, but some of them (like Transformers) were terrifying for him. He spent the entire ride screaming and burying his face into my chest…pretty traumatic for everyone.
Universal Studios VIP Cancellation Policy
The cancellation policy on the VIP experience is pretty strict – tickets are non-transferable, non-refundable and non-exchangeable. Requests to change your reservation must be made at least 48 hours in advance. Before you book, be sure of your group, your date, and your time.
Universal Studios Hollywood VIP Food
The Universal Studios Hollywood VIP experience includes a light breakfast and a gourmet lunch. The breakfast was served upstairs in the exclusive VIP lounge, which you reach after walking a red carpet into the check-in area. Options included coffee, tea, juice, and water to drink. Breakfast food options left a lot to be desired, so if you care about nutrition or need to fuel up before a long day at the park, you may want to eat beforehand. I would compare it best to a respectable buffet at a budget hotel. If you’re looking for a VIP experience, you’re not going to get it with the breakfast.
I also found that the staff couldn’t keep up with demand, and many of the platters were completely or nearly empty. This wouldn’t be an issue, as I assume they continually refill them, except that you are on a tight schedule, and when your group gets called to go into the park, that’s it. You don’t have another chance to eat until lunch (unless you bring your own snacks, and…really, who wants to do that when you’re paying this much for a VIP experience?)
On the day we visited, the breakfast options included:
- ham and cheese croissant
- egg and cheese croissant
- smoke salmon croissant
- caprese tartlet
- plain croissant
- pain a chocolat
- raspberry danish
- apple danish
- blueberry muffin
- raspberry cream cheese puff
- chocolate chip cookies
- fruit salad
Lunch was more impressive, with lots of cold and hot options, though I don’t seem to have photos of the lunch buffet. I do remember that adults and kids alike had lots of options, and everyone could find something they liked.
Overall, the food experience feels a little rushed, but then I suppose the point of the day isn’t necessarily to enjoy a leisurely meal – it’s to experience as much of the park as possible. Part of how they do this is to keep things moving quickly from one ride to the next, and to optimize your break periods to give you just enough rest to keep going until the next break.
VIP Experience with Food Allergies
If you have food allergies, the Universal Studios Hollywood VIP experience will leave a lot to be desired. My son is anaphylactic to eggs, all nuts, and peanuts. This made it almost impossible to find food for him to eat at either breakfast or lunch. The staff was unable to give us clear guidance on what ingredients were in the breakfast options, which left my son with instant oatmeal and yogurt as his breakfast options. Not terrible, but when the buffet was full of breakfast sandwiches and pastries that he couldn’t eat, it’s a tough sell for a 6 year old.
It may seem like a small thing for guests who don’t deal with allergies on a daily basis, but for us, it’s a constant stressor when traveling, and we often seek out luxury options (like in Israel) because they can easily – and happily – accommodate us. I mistakenly assumed we could receive similar treatment on the Universal Studios Hollywood VIP tour, and visitors with food allergies would do well to have proper expectations going in.
My husband is allergic to gluten, and his options were similarly limited. The majority of the breakfast items contained gluten, but he isn’t much of a breakfast eater anyway and he adapted ok.
Lunch was even more disappointing (on the dessert front particularly). There were enough entree options to manage our allergies (hooray!) Dessert, however, was a frustrating experience. There were many dessert options, but the ONLY one that was egg-free…was covered in peanuts. That left my son literally no dessert options. Any parent knows how excruciating it is for a kid to watch a table full of other kids eat dessert and have nothing to offer them.
What was most disappointing for a VIP experience and a supposedly gourmet meal was that even after the staff was aware of my son’s allergies and that there was nothing for him to eat, they did not offer to get him something different or bring in something from elsewhere in the park, which frankly I would expect at this price point.
Instead, he and I left the private VIP dining room and ventured into the park to find an ice cream stand, where the very kind cashier let me check the ingredient labels on all the packaged ice cream treats until I found one my son could eat. She asked why the heck we were buying ice cream when our lanyards indicated that we were VIP guests and offered us a discount when she learned of our situation. It was far kinder than the service we received in the private dining room, and I very much appreciated it.
I suppose if you don’t deal with food allergies regularly, this might not be top of mind, but I hope Universal’s executive chef takes a second look at the offerings and makes some simple adjustments to make the menu significantly more allergy-friendly. As all of our allergies are in the Top 8 allergens worldwide, one would assume we aren’t the only VIP visitors with dietary restrictions to accommodate.
Universal Studios VIP Tour Experience Review
One of the first things you should know as a VIP guest is that you might think that you have a completely private tour, but you don’t (unless your group is large enough). We had 8 people in our group (4 adults and 4 kids) and we were paired with a family of 4, for a total of 12. Their kids were similar ages, and the kids ended up hanging out for the day, which was fine. I would have preferred a fully private group, especially since we were already 8 people, but it didn’t detract from the day.
Best Rides for Kids – Pets, Minions, Simpsons
Our private guide led us to each attraction, starting with the Pets ride. This one was good for littler kids, with interactive elements that weren’t scary. Both my kids liked this one a lot, but it was boring for adults.
One of the additional VIP benefits that you get in addition to a private guide is skip the line tickets, which saves a lot of time standing in line. Our guide led us to the front of the line and we got right in.
The second ride we did was a crowd favorite, as it was Minions. There were lots of special effects but toed the line of being great for kids and being too scary. Again, the skip the line benefit got us quick access to the ride, though there was some waiting to get into the actual room. The ride is set up like stadium seating, and you go in a single file line, so it’s possible to be separated from your group (if you are in the third row, for instance, you may be in the third row of 2 different ride machines, as our group was – they don’t take your group and do rows 3 and 4 of the same equipment). Our kids were old enough (and with friends) where this wasn’t an issue, but if you have a little one who may need a helping hand, make sure you pay attention to where you are in line.
One of the last rides we did was the Simpsons, which my kids really enjoyed despite having never seen The Simpsons before. We all enjoyed it, though it wasn’t one of the television shows I was allowed to watch as a kid, and it doesn’t hold any nostalgia for me.
Scary Rides for Kids – Transformers and Jurassic World
I loved the Transformers ride personally, but my 5 year old thought he was getting actually attacked and completely lost his mind. I couldn’t wait to get off this ride because of how panicked he was, and our entire car was giving us sympathetic looks and trying to calm him down. We opted out of the Jurassic World ride for that reason, because our guide steered me away from it. Our older son and my husband went ahead, and they loved that this one ended with a literal splash!
The big hiccup we had with the Mummy ride was that you have to store your gear in a locker. It is supposed to be smart and save you time by giving you a keycode to use to open it rather than a physical key…except that my husband’s code wouldn’t open the locker at the end. We ended up waiting a long time while they had to get park maintenance to come open it for him, which put a damper on the day. We did feel that bringing a backpack was critical for our day, but it did get annoying on the rides where you couldn’t bring it on.
Want to know what else we packed for our day at Universal Studios? Check out my packing list and what to wear at Universal Studios Hollywood.
One of the nice perks of the VIP tour is that they think of the little comforts that make your day more pleasant – they provide bottled water (crucial for those hot days!!) as well as ponchos for the water rides. I loved that we didn’t have to carry everything ourselves, but yet we had everything we needed at just the right time.
Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Our tour ended with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which was just as well, because I sure as heck didn’t want to leave once we got there. The physical embodiment of one of the world’s favorite movies, Harry Potter World is nothing short of magical. Whether you’re a Muggle who has never experienced Harry Potter or you know just which house you belong to, you can’t miss Harry Potter at Universal.
Our guide obligingly took photos of us at the entrance, and found us the best way to skip lines on the many rides within the bounds of Harry Potter. The whole world is magical, from Ollivander’s wand store and RFID-enabled wand activities throughout Hogsmeade to Hogwarts Castle and the Forbidden Journey ride (my favorite – I did it twice…but my stomach wished I only did it once). I loved that our VIP tickets for us unlimited express access, so I was able to zip through the castle…more or less…while my husband took the kids for food.
My kids preferred the Flight of the Hippogriff ride, and they tolerated the long line (even in the fast pass line) well. So well, in fact, that they opted to ride it twice, one of the only rides they wanted to do again.
I did find that lines in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter were longer than in other parts of the park, but they make the experience so immersive that you sort of forget you are waiting in a line, especially while going into Hogwarts Castle.
Live Show on the Universal Studios Hollywood VIP Tour
To switch up the pace, we attended a live show during our day as VIPs. Our guide led us to the best seats, which had been reserved for VIP visitors only. They were farther up than I would have expected in the amphitheater, but we had a great view and we didn’t get hit with water like the lower rows. The show was a combination of daring stunts, acting, and audience participation. It was entertaining, believable, and very well executed. I wouldn’t have chosen to attend the show if it weren’t part of our itinerary, but it was a nice way to rest from all the movement of the day, and our kids loved it!
Universal Backlot Tour
After a full morning of rides, our entire group went together for our back lot tour. You are combined with other VIP groups to visit the set pieces and sound stages of the world’s largest movie studio. I didn’t love that we were put with a larger group, but it was generally ok. The tour on the bus (really more like an open-air trolley) is narrated by Jimmy Kimmel, and your expert tour guides get off the bus with you and explain more about the sets, like how they design them for camera angles, and how they achieve optical illusions in the filming process. We even got to go inside one of the houses on Wisteria Lane!
One of the most interesting parts was hearing how they adapt the same set for different productions with just small tweaks, and seeing how you could turn the corner on the bus and go from gritty downtown Chicago to a rural Mexican shootout town, showing just how efficient and immersive they can make a single “street.”
Visiting iconic sets of Hollywood movies isn’t the only activity on the backlot tour. There are several “rides” you experience as well – from King Kong to Fast and the Furious. My kids didn’t love these rides, and I did a lot of snuggling and reassuring that no, we weren’t going to catch on fire, and no, the giant ape wasn’t going to attack us. Another indication that 5 is definitely the floor for visiting Universal Studios…older ages may have a better, less scary time.
My favorite part of the backlot tour was the War of the Worlds section. Despite it being a plane crash, it somehow felt the most “real” to me, with sirens going off sporadically, and “smoke” emanating from the wreckage of the plane. My kids were freaked out a bit, it felt so real. After some reassurance, they loved seeing the wreckage spread out before them.
Best Spots for Photos at Universal Studios
There are several great spots for photos during the unique experience of being a Universal VIP. My favorites were the following:
- Red carpet leading into the check in area – don’t get shepherded in too quickly – your arrival is the only time you will be here. Take a moment to grab a photo!
- The Universal Studios fountain leading to the private VIP entrance – this one if FULL of people, so don’t expect to get a photo without a ton of people in it, but it is a classic photo with the Universal logo
- Standing at the gates of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Standing at the entrance of Hogwarts Castle
- Hanging out of the special trolley for VIP guests – this is a good place to get a family photo…if you can arrive early and each pop into a window seat, you can hang out the windows and get a cute photo
- The fake Hollywood sign setup on the backlot tour – the background is surprisingly real-looking, and you can crop your photo to make it look like you’re really there!
- On set on the back lot tour – pick your backdrop based on your favorite tv shows and movies…Wisteria Lane is possible, as is some of the Jaws set, the courthouse from Back to the Future, or just wandering down the various streets used to make movie sets look like anywhere but Hollywood – old Mexico, Chicago, and more.
Is the Universal Studios Hollywood VIP Experience Worth It?
Admittedly, I haven’t been to the Disney World VIP tour or to Universal Studios Orlando, so my review has to stand alone for the Universal Studios Hollywood. That said, yes, I would absolutely recommend it. You get a completely different backlot tour than you can get with a regular ticket, and the VIP guide helps you save a ton of time throughout the day. It’s great having the little things taken care of, like ponchos and water, and to have someone who can help you navigate lost items (RIP sunglasses) and hold bags at certain rides.
The experience fell short for us on food, but when your time is limited, the VIP tour experience is a really solid value. With regular tickets starting at $109 and skip-the-line tickets starting at $199, the $369 starting price for VIP isn’t too much of a stretch.
What do you think – is the VIP tour right for you?