5 Things Universal Orlando Is Doing Better Than Walt Disney World

5 Things Universal Orlando Is Doing Better Than Walt Disney World

Disney World fans wouldn’t want you to know this but, Universal Orlando resort has been doing some things better than they have for years now. Today I am going to highlight some of these ways. This is clearly an opinion but if you haven’t been paying attention to the Universal Orlando resort as of late than you may be surprised.

Specialty Food and Beverages:

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Photo by Brand Glover

It is no secret to anyone who has enjoyed a Butterbeer that Universal has set the bar for unique food and beverage options in their theme parks and resort. Universal has been leading the field since the opening of Hogsmeade Village in 2010. Universal recognized quickly how much demand there was for good specialty products and expanded the offerings quickly where they had opportunity. Today we are even seeing seasonal brews brought to Springfield with Dufftoberfest while Disney has retreated to a standard bar menu across much of the resort. There is a building catalog of beers brewed specifically for and purchased only on property, none of which are brewed byAnheuser-Busch. Specialty mai tai’s at Tchoup Chop and bacon bourbon from Cowfish expanded that trend into the resorts and CityWalk.

Photo by Brand Glover

Photo by Brand Glover

Fast Food Boulevard in Springfield brought more than just Duff beer to actuality, it also introduced Krusty burgers, Lard Lad donuts and even Korean beef tacos from the Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck. Whether you have had a shot of Fire Whiskey from Diagon Alley or a Shark Attack from Chez Alcatraz, you know that Universal is the leader in this category. Disney seems to have moved in the opposite direction where they are actually consolidating their bar menus across the resort. Now that Disney Springs is bringing so many new food options to the resort there is a chance the mouse will enter the ring once again, but for today Universal is the undisputed champion.

Photo by Brand Glover

Photo by Brand Glover

Photo by Brand Glover

Photo by Brand Glover

Photo by Brand Glover

Photo by Brand Glover

Ride Reservation System:

IMG_5986_EAlthough Disney’s Fast Pass+ system is free, I’d argue you get exactly what you pay for. Forgive me for not knowing what time of the day I would like to ride 7DMT 60 days ahead of time. Actually that is a joke, you can’t even reserve that 60 days out without luck. So really, the joke was I would never want to ride 7DMT but that is a story for another day. The idea of guaranteeing you will be able to experience some attractions is appealing but the implementation is my complaint. The previous generation of Fast Pass was so much easier and the requirement of actually being present in the park to take advantage of it only penalizes the people who are not in your park. Rather than continue the assault on the WDW ride reservation system let me introduce you to Universal’s Express Pass. Express has a cost associated with it, it is never free but it does come in a few flavors. Express Pass can be used once per attraction per day, Express Pass Unlimited can be used as many times as you wish per attraction and On-site Hotel Guest Express Pass Unlimited is given to guests at the Premiere and current Preferred on site hotels for the length of their stay. This includes check out day, which means you get two days of Universal Express Unlimited for a one night stay. This hotel privilege is provided for stays at Portofino Bay, The Hard Rock Hotel, and the Royal Pacific Resort. Express Pass for a single park can be as low as $35 for the day and Express Pass Unlimited for two parks can be as high as $150 for a day. You will have to check your travel dates to see the cost and keep in mind that you do not necessarily need to use the service every day you are in the park, it requires some thought as to what will work best for you and your fellow commandos. While figuring out what option, if any, will work for you may sound confusing, using the express couldn’t be easier. You walk up to the express entrance, whenever you want, and walk in and ride. Simple.  The hidden gem when comparing the two systems is how the ride reservation systems affect the stand by lines. At WDW virtually everyone is participating in the system where at Universal the number of participants has a much lesser impact on the stand by lines. One thing of note, currently the majority of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions do not accept Universal Express in any form.

Value Resorts:

Photo by Brand Glover

Photo by Brand Glover

If you have your mind set to prove a solution before working on the problem, you can probably find the data to prove your theory. I have a lot of Disney friends who do this whenever the value of the Cabana Bay Beach Resort topic comes up. They justify that Cabana Bay matches better to a Disney moderate by applying the worst case scenario. I would agree with them it matches better to a moderate resort in amenities but it matches best to the Disney value resorts in cost which is how both properties define their resort options. Staying at Cabana Bay for a single night is indeed the way to get the worst possible value. The dirty secret is Universal knows their market just like Disney does. Anyone who wants to stay at Universal for a solo night is more than likely staying the rest of the time at a Disney resort and can’t control their urge to see what is going on at that Wizarding World of Harry Potter thingy they have going on across town. Prepare to be price gouged Disney fans, Universal is on to your trick. If you stay for two or more nights you can almost always get 20% off the top just by using cheaptickets.com.

Photo by Brand Glover

Photo by Brand Glover

Disney fans next remind you that Universal doesn’t have Magical Express and they charge you $12 a day to park your rental. You can pay for the shuttle service to get there or take advantage of Uber which is about $16.00 one way to and from Cabana Bay. Parking should not be an issue for the typical tourist as there really is no need to have a car when staying at Universal Orlando, your longest walk will be about 20 minutes, with water taxi and bus options that are actually efficient. Even if you do have a car, every time I have done a price comparison against the value resorts it has come up $2 more per day after the 20% discount WITH parking cost included. Enough about transportation and parking, lets get to the meat and potatoes. It really is all about what Cabana Bay has, which includes: Bigger rooms, more outlets, usb outlets, a coffee maker, a Starbucks, a fitness center, multiple food options beyond the standard food court, 4 bars, a 10 lane bowling alley and a lazy river. If you enjoy smaller rooms, no outlets, no ability to make coffee in your room, no fitness center, a single food option, no bars, no bowling and no lazy river for two dollars a day less, then yes, you should stay at the all stars.

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Photo by Brand Glover

Photo by Brand Glover

Photo by Brand Glover

Ticketing:

Photo by Brand Glover

Photo by Brand Glover

Sure, Disney and Universal match prices pretty much on a one day ticket for the simple reason that neither property wants to feel like the other has a superior offering. First lets acknowledge how smart Universal was for something that goes against your advantage as a customer. Theme Park fans see a 1 day ticket as $100 but the truth is at Universal there is almost no such thing. When they introduced the Hogwarts Express, the typical one day ticket is $150 as a park to park ticket. They didn’t just dodge the 3 digit bullet they were hoping to avoid, they leap frogged it by leaps an bounds. Once you get over that little bit of a slap in the face you will realize that very quickly as you add days the Universal price advantage kicks into over drive. In fact once you get to the price of a Disney World 2 day park hopper ticket you can purchase the low end Universal Orlando non resident annual pass for about $10 less. Keeping in mind the real value comes the following year when you suddenly have a very reasonable renewal rate which will make that less than a 2 day Disney ticket without park hopper. The truth is a multi day vacation with your family will be significantly less than your Disney vacation because of the value Universal offers on ticket pricing. If for some reason you come back next year the savings are bigger because your tickets are already paid for. Now that is a value.

Photo by Brand Glover

Photo by Brand Glover

Themed Lands:

IMG_5924_EUniversal has been building some superior themed lands for longer than they get credit for. When opening the Islands of Adventure theme park in 1999 the biggest attractions happened to exist in lands that did lack in the theming department diverting attention from lands such as Port of Entry and Lost Continent. Port of entry can stand with any themed land in existence if only people would stop and smell the flowers. Admittedly it has the same problem most theme parks have: people rushing through to get to the attractions on the way in, and people to tired to stop upon exit. Next time you visit, stop and look around, you will not be disappointed. None of the attractions in the Lost Continent will be winning any awards anytime soon but the visual environment is stunning to say the least. How good the Mythos restaurant is has been under debate since it won best theme park restaurant several years ago. What is never under dispute is how themed and how well it fits in the surrounding area. Find a better themed restaurant in a theme park elsewhere and I’ll show you a pixie dust lab in your basement (Yes, this includes Be Our Guest you pixie dust addict). Of course the revolution in this particular area also started with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2010. IMG_5998_EOnly with the introduction of Diagon Alley to Universal Studios in 2014 did Hogsmeade have a rival. The introduction of Springfield and everything we can see from the current mini land expansion ‘Skull Island – Reign of Kong’ shows that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is no fluke by Universal Creative. They are in it to win it.  Disney has an opportunity to take on the champ once again with ‘Pandora – World of Avatar’, which is ironic in that the WDW fans hate the idea of this outside IP. The Harambe upgrades are gorgeous and what was done in New Fantasyland is practical as well as inspirational but they are not enough to hold their own against the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

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Before the Disney fans start picketing at my house, I promise in the future to do a similar article on 5 things that Walt Disney World does better than Universal Orlando. Not only that I promise it will be done before Avatar land opens in 2038! Just kidding, honest. If you enjoyed this article, I am @aengus and a huge Patriots fan. If you did not, I’m @derekburgan and a Chargers fan

Special Thanks to Brandon Glover for the use of several photos that are on display in this article. You can follow him on twitter @brandglover and on Flickr as well