In Disney groups, it can be a pretty taboo topic to bring up that other park. For some reason, somewhere along the line it's ended up feeling like asking two girls to the prom when you mention actually enjoying BOTH Disney and...Universal. (Gasp! She said it!) I'm here to make it weird because...as a Disney gal, an avid Disney fan, Disney traveler and Travel Agent, I DO actually really love them both. Orlando truly CAN be a two horse town, who knew?! I'm here with five reasons why Universal should no longer be an afterthought vacation destination and maybe, should even get top billing every once in awhile.
Reason #5: It appeals to "big" kids
I know, I know...not that Disney doesn't, as Disney fans we argue that point all the time, that Disney is magical for guests of all ages, and it's true. Although Universal does have a good amount of attractions for the under 40 inch crowd, they have ACTUAL, true THRILL rides. I am a big fan of Hollywood Studios Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, it's easily one of my favorite WDW attractions but it has NOTHING on Islands of Adventure's brand new Velocicoaster. This metal beast of a coaster quickly became my family's favorite roller coaster EVER. (And we are coaster people) There were at least three times we were all sure we were going to die...but in a cool way. It is incredible. Breathtaking. Exciting and unlike anything I've ever ridden. It's amazing and it's just one of at least six coasters on property.
Reason #4: Citywalk
To say that Universal is smaller than Disney is obvious but may also sound like an insult. However, in many cases the state of being smaller in stature isn't a bad thing. The ease in which you can get around is a major plus. Many resorts (and not just the pricier ones) are within walking distance to the parks, the three parks are within walking distance of each other and you can fall out of the parks and be at Universal's entertainment and dining mecca, Citywalk.
Trust me, you will WANT to fall out of the parks and fall right into any one of the amazing Citywalk restaurants. They have any kind of cuisine you can be craving from sushi to Caribbean to mouthwatering burgers, steaks and shakes the size of your head. There's live entertainment at night, there are shops, a movie theater, mini golf, Quick Service places to eat...and you can even get a new vacation tattoo.
Reason #3: Places to rest your head...and bowl...and float along a lazy river...
Truth Bomb, I would, with zero doubt, put any category of Universal resort toe to toe with Disney's resorts. Spacious rooms, fun themes, reasonable pricing, free park/Citywalk transportation, amazing amenities and FANTASTIC dining.
Universal has narrowed the gap by introducing their "Value" category resorts in the last couple of years. Their Endless Summer Surfside Inn and Suites and its sister resort, Dockside, in my opinion, lead the pack in Orlando Value resorts. Nothing about the design of these resorts feels "Value." Clean lines, fun designs and theming you'd easily want to incorporate in your own home make these two resorts somewhere you'd enjoy calling home on your next vacation while saving LOADS of loot. (And not feeling overly juvenile)
Other resorts like "Prime Value" category (and fan favorite) Universal's Cabana Bay Resort has a fun retro vibe complete with an actual onsite bowling alley. Premier Resorts have relaxing water taxi service to the parks, impeccable dining, large rooms and...in most Universal resorts you can find a Starbucks waiting downstairs for you to fuel up for your busy park days.
Reason #2: Express Pass Unlimited and Early Park Admission
ALL guests staying on site at Universal resorts can access the parks one hour prior to official park opening time. This hour is a HUGE advantage especially when hoping to conquer the incredibly popular "Wizarding World of Harry Potter." Getting to the parks early is a must do and you can get so much accomplished before most folks have even finished noshing on their first VooDoo doughnut.
The BIGGEST Universal resort perk belongs to their Premier resort guests. Universal has MASTERED the art of expediting a "fast" lane. Disney guests know this has been a bone of contention for years at WDW trying to get that fast lane formula just right.
How do you expedite a line without over scheduling guests? How do you do it without over complicating a system? Express Pass Unlimited is the answer.
Universal Premier Resort guests get it "free" with their resort package allowing them to bypass the standby line every day that they have tickets. EVERY DAY and ultimately just about ALL lines except two. It is no exaggeration when I tell you that you feel like an absolute rock star breezing through those lines. It works, it works well. It works during peak seasons and it works well on a random Tuesday. Guests can also pay for this service and it's expensive. But, it is an expensive product that works...every time with zero effort on the part of the guest. No app needed, no additional pay per ride fees, no scheduling, just ride, ride, ride.
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Reason #1: Butterbeer
Okay, not JUST Butterbeer...but mostly. Butterbeer at Universal is probably the equivalent of what the Dole Whip means to Disney. It's their signature treat and you can get it in just about every form imaginable-cold, hot, frozen, as an ice cream and as a fudge flavor. It's non-alcoholic, and has a sweet Butterscotch meets cream soda flavor and is highly addictive. (Made popular by our favorite Hogwarts students as they visited the village of Hogsmeade.)
The true number one reason to visit Universal is to bask in the beauty and absolutely incredible mastery of the "Wizarding World." You don't need to be a Potterhead to enjoy the magic and theming of these lands. The details are incredible, unbelievable really. Moving images on a seemingly stagnant poster, friendly spirits keeping you company in public restrooms, unicorns, spell casting wands, snow all year long and of course, the fire breathing dragon on top of Gringotts Bank.
What Universal was able to accomplish with these Wizarding World areas is remarkable and is my favorite theme park nook/land...period. To me, there is no other theme park that so completely achieves the feeling of being absolutely transported to somewhere else. (Second to Pandora for me.)
The beauty of Universal is that it's smaller. You can have a great vacation in just a matter of 3-4 days and feel like you've adequately conquered all there is to do...but still leave wanting to do it all again. Whereas at Disney World, you can spend the week and still feel like you haven't even begun to "do it all."
Universal isn't going to replace Disney in your heart, but I definitely think there's a corner of coronary real estate that it's worthy of sharing. Next time you're considering a "quick" getaway, give it a shot, you may be surprised at just how much magic is to be found there. If you want help from a seasoned visitor and professional travel planner...click here to GET A QUOTE and plan your trip with me, my services are FREE!