This is my top tip and worth the expense. Stay at an onsite hotel for Universal . While visiting the parks we stay, four to a room, at the Hard Rock Hotel which is an onsite hotel about 10 minutes’ walk from the park.
This was a considered extra expense for us but worthwhile because with the night’s stay you also are permitted TWO DAYS worth of EARLY entry to the parks, and even better an express pass which gets you in to the express line so avoiding the long queues. We have never not had the express pass. On it’s own the express passes are pricey so actually getting one night or more at the Hard Rock or any of the premium Universal hotels really does help especially as it covers both the arrival day and departure day. Also, walking from the hotel to the park takes about 5 mins (it’s the closest of the hotels) and is a huge bonus and gives you a lot more freedom by being able to return back to relax then venture out later. The first time we went to Universal we stayed at the Hard Rock for 4 nights and it definitely worked out well but any longer, like last summer when we thought we would do 7 nights.. well that was a bit too long. The hotel rooms are great but compact and you end up sharing as family – four of us in one room for a whole week was.. how to put it.. tricky. Saying that it is worth it because the Hard Rock is an awesome hotel. The pool is huge, with slides and entertainment for the kids every afternoon. We loved lazing around there after intense theme parking in the morning. Perhaps with a huge plate of fully loaded tortillas too. Bliss!
You also get a chance to visit the other onsite Universal hotels if you are staying there. We went to Portofino Bay Hotel which was absolutely stunning and worth a visit!
We have also stayed at apartments near the Mall of the Millenia which were brilliant but this was not while visiting the parks. For us staying at one of the onsite hotels has been our preference for both the fact that it’s close to the parks, and the express passes. It is more expensive but well worth it.