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Disney, Universal Studios Theme Parks Offer VIP Experience (If You Can Afford It)

Forget Disney's Lighting Lanes, Genie+, and even Universal's pricey Express Pass, both theme parks offer a much higher end experience for people willing to pay for it.

A day at Disney World or Universal Studios often offers nearly as much frustration as fun. Yes, you get to ride world-class rides, see top-quality shows, eat fabulous food, and even get a picture with your favorite character, but all of that comes with a lot of waiting in line.

Both Walt Disney (DIS) - Get The Walt Disney Company Report and Comcast's (CMCSA) - Get Comcast Corporation Class A Common Stock Report Universal Studios offer some of the best theme park attractions in the world, but they also nearly always also have crowds. There's no quiet season in Florida anymore -- it always seems to be a school vacation somewhere -- so visitors to either park can choose to wait in line or pay up for a better experience.

Disney World offers two ways for regular people to do that, Lightning Lanes and Genie+. Both of these added-fee promotions allow for faster, but not always fast access to rides. Universal has something similar (although it generally costs a lot more) called Express Pass where theme park visitors can buy either a single time or multiple times using a special line to get faster access to most (but not all) rides in one or both of its Florida theme parks.

Paying up gets you a better experience, but on many days it feels like a must have to make your visit tolerable not a high-end, red carpet, VIP experience. So, if you truly want to feel special, you need to pay up for the actual VIP experiences that both companies offer.

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Disney and Universal Offer Experiences for the Wealthy

If you want to experience the theme parks like a celebrity, you have to pay up. Disney World offers what it calls "VIP Tours."

"The team at Disney VIP Tour Services will plan the most efficient, enjoyable way for groups up to 10 Guests to see and do the things on your list. Just tell your personal VIP Tour Guide what you'd like to see, and they'll customize your day to your desire," the company shared on its website. "After being picked up from your Walt Disney World Resort accommodations in a private vehicle, enjoy unparalleled hospitality and experience some of your favorite attractions alongside a VIP Tour Guide."

People who pay for this elite service get "the ability to enjoy some of your favorite attractions efficiently," as well as pre-arrival planning services, the ability to visit more than one park in a day (or across multiple days), and an actual tour guide to lead you around the parks.

How much will that set you back? We'll let Disney share that in the company's own words.

"Pricing: Ranging from $425 to $850 per hour, depending on the season (valid park admission is required for each park visited on tour and is not included in the price of the tour)."

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Universal's VIP Tour Experience offers similar perks, according to the company's website.

"With the VIP experience, you'll be personally escorted by a Universal Orlando expert on a guided group tour through Universal Studios Florida or Universal's Islands of Adventure, or both with a 2-park experience," Universal Studios shared. "You'll get exclusive backstage access, learn fun insider information, and enjoy the parks' most amazing rides and attractions without waiting in line."

Prices start at $189 per person, per day, but can run much higher.

Universal also offers a "Private VIP Tour Experience.

"As the only guests on this all-day tour, your private group will get exclusive VIP treatment. Build your own itinerary and experience the parks your way with the tour guide's undivided attention and unlimited front-of-the-line access to all participating rides and attractions," according to the company.

This higher-end VIP experience starts at $3,000 (plus park admission) for up to five people, according to Travel Weekly (prices are not shared on the Universal site).  

"Both options, which range from 5 to 8 hours per day, one or two parks, or one or two days, include valet parking, buffet breakfast, tour guide, reserved show seating and front-of-line ride entry via backstage shortcuts. Two-park, nonprivate experiences include buffet lunch, and one-park, one-day guests do not receive a meal. The Personal Experience includes dinner at participating Universal-owned restaurants," the travel website shared.

Disney and Universal Want Wealthy Customers

Disney and Universal have learned a lesson during the pandemic -- people will pay more for a better park experience. That's arguably something Disney already understood well given its successful extra-fee after-hours events.

The challenge, of course, is that neither company can make it appear as if it only wants to cater to wealthier customers. In reality, though, the theme parks offer a better experience when crowds are smaller. Both companies have tried to raise prices to limit crowds, but that has not really worked to limit how many people are willing to pay.

Offering add-ons and premium experience allows Disney and Universal to have the best of both worlds. They can fill up the parks at regular prices, then make even more money selling add-ons and upper-tier VIP experiences. That also allows them to maintain the idea that everyone can still afford a theme park visit, even though a visit with a base admission isn't nearly as good an experience as paying for better access.