My heart belongs to Walt Disney World, but overall, I’m a theme park junkie and don’t discriminate. I love trips to Universal Studios in Orlando, too. Hanging out on Diagon Alley in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter or indulging in Voodoo Doughnut at CityWalk are among my favorite Orlando experiences. That said, Universal needs to learn some lessons from Disney World.
As irritating as the Park reservation system at Walt Disney World can be, it serves an important purpose. Sure, this extra step in the booking process is not a favorite of die-hard Disney World fans that have frequented the Parks for years, but at least we know that our spot is secured for planned Park days. That is not always the case for Guests visiting Universal Studios.
When using a multiday ticket at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure during a holiday promotion, Guests need to hit the Park as early as possible to ensure admission. When visiting on a holiday vacation during a “Buy 3 Get 2 Days Free” ticket promotion, Universal Studios oversold tickets, and many families — mine included — were left queuing outside the gates past CityWalk for hours.
Guests who had single-day tickets were guaranteed admission to the Park. Individuals with multi-day tickets and annual passes were turned away because the Park reached capacity or were asked to wait in line for Guests to leave the Park. This one-person-in, one-person-out rhythm left many families with no activity for the day. Not to mention, many kids were sad that they would not be exploring the world of Harry Potter as planned.
Lesson learned: always check the fine print on your Park tickets to ensure you understand details about Park capacity, rescheduling your Park day, and refunds. A Park reservation system especially for high traffic times like the holidays could be helpful at Universal Studios. This is a lesson Universal Orlando Resort could learn from Walt Disney World.
Come on, you did not think this Disney foodie was going to let Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure slide on culinary offerings, did you? Walt Disney World Resort blows Universal Studios out of the water when it comes to theme park dining experiences. Sure, you’ll find yummy ice cream in Diagon Alley (looking at you Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour), but outside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, there are not many sit-down dining experiences that are super delicious and not to be missed vacation staples.
Meanwhile, dining at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant at Disney’s Hollywood Studios or enjoying dinner and a show in EPCOT’s World Showcase at Teppan Edo are staple experiences on a Disney vacation. Universal Studios Florida absolutely has fun takeaway food options like Butterbeer, sweet shop staples and even Homer Simpson-sized donuts. Still, better table service dining options would make Universal Orlando Resort even more fun to visit!
A very noticeable difference between entering any Disney Park and walking into Universal Studios Florida is the staff vibe. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been assisted by plenty of kind Universal staff from Jurassic Park to Hogsmeade to Toon Lagoon, but Walt Disney World Resort just does customer service better. Disney Springs, Disney Parks, and Disney Resorts are run by kind Cast Members that truly go above and beyond to craft the perfect Guest experience.
After interacting with a Cast Member for a few moments, you quickly understand that working at Magic Kingdom, Art of Animation Resort, or in any other capacity on the Disney Property feels like a calling more than a job. Maybe it’s the pixie dust? Regardless, the Cast Members at Walt Disney World have something extra that Universal Studios staff don’t have.
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Special Touches & Shows
Disney World is great about having another surprise or hidden detail around the bend, just when you think you have seen it all in a Disney Park. Fun touches like the Wilderness Explorer kids scavenger hunt at Animal Kingdom, Kidcot Fun Stops at EPCOT or A Pirate’s Adventure in Magic Kingdom are all extra educational and scavenger hunt activities kids and families can enjoy in Disney Parks. Parades, cavalcades, and shows also seem to be bigger and better at Walt Disney World.
When it comes to evening entertainment, Disney World is second to none. With staple shows like Fantasmic!, Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular, and Disney Enchantment to name just a few — it’s tough to compete. Disney Parks consistently send Guests away at the end of their Park day with magical memories of lights and fireworks erupting over the Parks.
Disney also tends to do holidays really big. Visiting the Magic Kingdom for 4th of July festivities or EPCOT to ring in the New Year is unforgettable. Joining droves of Guests to celebrate Christmas morning in the Park at Magic Kingdom is another peak holiday experience.
Universal Studios Orlando does Halloween big with Halloween Horror Nights, offers New Year’s packages for Guests looking to celebrate in style, and of course, decorates the Parks with gusto at Christmas. But in my opinion, Disney World will always do the little details, evening shows, and holiday festivities better than Universal Studios.
Even the toughest guys on a Disney World vacation melt when they see their favorite character. Maybe it’s seeing Belle and Jasmine in World Showcase at EPCOT or waving to Pluto on the train platform on Main Street U.S.A. in Magic Kingdom, we bet most Disney vacationers have a fond vacation memory with a Disney character.
The option for character dining and the chance to hug your favorite movie characters in a Disney Park are all staple Disney vacation experiences. Universal Studios unfortunately is lacking in this area. Sure, we understand that the Park audience differs a lot. Maybe that is enough reason for the low number of character meets available. Still, we would love the chance to shake hands with more of our favorite movie stars at Universal Studios.
Yes, there are audience differences between Disney Parks and Universal Studios, so I understand the need for more thrilling rides at Universal and Islands of Adventure. Still, it’s worth mentioning that Disney does storybook rides better. Peter Pan’s Flight, Toy Story Mania, and classics like Pirates of the Caribbean are such great rides that Guests love, despite the fact that they don’t have jaw-dropping scares or thrilling ride tracks.
Disney has some scary thrill rides, but that is Universal Studio’s specialty. As a fan of thrill rides and storybook rides, I wish I could afford an Annual Pass to both Disney World and Universal Studios because there are so many great rides to enjoy. Still, if you are trying to choose between vacation spots and are traveling with a storybook ride loyal group, you should know that Disney World does those better than Universal Studios.
What do you think? Are there details I forgot to mention that have you saying- “do better Universal”?