We are Universal converts

Discussion in 'Universal Studios Trip Reports' started by A_Princess'_Daddy, Jul 11, 2013.

  1. A_Princess'_Daddy

    A_Princess'_Daddy DIS Veteran

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    We are long-time Disney devotees, and that won't be changing anytime soon, but we just got back from a twelve day vacation that included five days/four nights at Universal Studios and I can say without question that we were BLOWN AWAY by Universal and I have no doubt that our future trips to Orlando will all also include time spent at Universal Studios.

    We were impressed by:

    1. The hotels, particularly the Royal Pacific, where we stayed for four nights. While we usually stay DVC at WDW (an obvious side effect of owing 800 DVC points), we have stayed in nearly all of the Deluxe hotel properties as well and the room at RPH was at least comparable, if not more nicely appointed, than any WDW hotel, and for a significantly better price. The ability to eat in all of the restaurants at the hotel without having to plan months in advance was another nice benefit, and the food (particularly Emeril's Tchoup Chop and the sushi bar) was excellent. It was clean, the pool was nice, the service was prompt and friendly, the parking was convenient, it was an all-around positive experience.

    2. The Express Pass was just phenomenal. Let me say that again: It was PHENOMENAL!!! It enabled us to see everything we wanted to see, multiple times in many cases, during a very busy time of year without having to plan our day around slips of paper with designated return times. It also allowed us to do rides that perhaps only one or two members of the family wanted to do without having to worry about splitting Fastpasses or timing them correctly, so for example I was able to ride all the roller coasters by just jumping in line while my wife and children got a snack or hit the restroom, and ten minutes later I was off and ready to move on as a family to another ride. I know why the concept cannot work at WDW, due to the number of hotels, but WOW, was it a nice experience!

    3. The service was every bit as good as WDW. We had Universal employees be kind to our children, chat with us about our backgrounds, etc. in the same way as we are accustomed to at WDW. I'm not sure why I expected surlier service, but it did not materialize and, in some cases, we had experiences that surpassed customer service experiences that we had on the same trip at WDW.

    4. The theming. Again, I expected (probably from reading too many Universal-denigrating threads on the Dis) Universal to be a barren wasteland of rides, concrete and the unwashed masses. For the most part, it was comparable, in my opinion, to the four parks of WDW, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter exceeded, by a very large margin, anything at WDW in terms of its comprehensive theming as well as the quality of its rides, its merchandise, its food service options and in every other way I'm not thinking to list. There is, in my opinion, simply no comparison in terms of the immersive experience at WWoHP to anything at WDW, and I finally "get" what people mean when they say the FLE is underwhelming by comparison.

    5. The rides. They were a lot of fun. From the WWoHP, which enthralled us all, to the new Minion Mayhem & Simpson's rides, we had our fill of thrill rides, but the Seuss Landing part of IOA was equally fun and engaging. After riding Red Fish, Blue Fish, I made my wife laugh when we rode Dumbo and I said "it's a lot more boring without the Seussical rhymes and water spraying at us" but it is true, Universal found a way to make even kiddie rides more engaging, in my opinion.

    6. The discounts. My lord, between AAA and our newly purchased APs, I don't think there was a place at Universal where we didn't get a nice discount on what, to me at least, already seemed like pretty fair prices.

    The only thing I didn't like was the seeming inability to get a glass of water at any of the quick-service restaurants we went to. I drink tap water not to save money because of my quasi-hippie desire to leave the planet a better place, so having to buy a bottle of water defeats my entire goal. Not a huge deal (and I ended up buying the refillable drink bottles, instead, which worked almost as well and gave us nice souvenirs) but it was annoying at times.

    Again, our new-found love of Universal does not take away from WDW, and in my opinion the two compliment each other exceptionally well and will push each other to keep both of their games high, but I now completely understand why some people love Universal as much as others love WDW. We love them both, and are so happy that we gave Universal a try!
     
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  3. rowan555

    rowan555 DIS Veteran

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    I enjoyed your report SO much! We'll be spending 4 nights at Royal Pacific next month for our first trip to Universal, and you've got me even more enthusiastic than I was before!

    One question about your inability to procure regular ice water...We went to Disney 7 years ago and probably asked for cups of ice water at every counter service restaurant in all 4 parks, and we never had any trouble, even if we weren't ordering anything else. I assumed it would be the same at Universal. I drink a LOT of water and, like you, I don't want to go through 20 bottles a day. Was ice water unavailable, or was there some other issue? I want to be prepared and have a "plan", as little things like this can throw off my entire day (anxiety/OCD combo - fun fun!). It's just me and my daughter, and we want to have as stress-free a time as possible. Related question - she's a big soda drinker, and we're deciding b/t the Freestyle machine mug versus the 99 cent refill mug - do you have an opinion on which is better? And if the water issue is as dire as you say, I may get one for myself too!
     
  4. RMulieri

    RMulieri DIS Veteran

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    Glad you enjoyed your trip!!! I was a Unversal Convert last JAn..WE stayed Portofino Bay resort ( and are again in a couple weeks).It was gorgeous, express passes are wonderful and we found universal to be just as magical and fantastic ( if not moreso at times than Disney).We aren't even going back to Disney this year again.We may drive over just to see the new fantasyland but honestly the closer I am getting to my trip the less I want to bother with the hassle..
     
  5. A_Princess'_Daddy

    A_Princess'_Daddy DIS Veteran

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    I, too, assumed ice water would work the same way as at WDW (and at pretty much every restaurant I've ever been to in the "real world") but every time I asked for a glass of water, I was either sold a bottle without being told it would cost money (unnoticed by me the first two times and refused the third time after I realized what was going on) or told that they don't give out water. I may have just had bad luck or it may have been policy, but I was never able to get free water at a quick-service restaurant (I got it with no issue at sit-down restaurants).

    As to the Freestyle mug, I didn't notice that option when I initially bought the $0.99-refills mug, and so I never really researched how that option works, but if it's unlimited refills but for only one day, versus the apparently unlimited lifespan of the $0.99-refills mug, the break-even point on the $0.99 refill mug is pretty short. Plus, I hate those Freestyle machines because they take people forever to figure out, but that's a personal thing.

    We're tempted to try Portofino on our next trip (scheduled around the Princess half-marathon in February) but were joking that we don't want to jinx our good luck. With the AP rates (assuming they parallel what are offered this year) it's a bargain! We'll keep going to WDW, both because our chilren adore it and because my wife, I think, adores it even more than the children, and with the ages of our children they still love it, but I won't deny a bit of a letdown when returning to WDW after the four days at Universal and having to run around again for Fastpasses!
     
  6. rowan555

    rowan555 DIS Veteran

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    I thought I read, when we researched our Disney trip seven years ago (yes, it's been THAT long since we've been to Orlando, lol), that FL law required all restaurants including parks to provide free ice water upon request. I'm going to have to look for more information on this, because now I'm just curious!
     
  7. BrinkofSunshine

    BrinkofSunshine DIS Veteran

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    I've never had a problem getting water at the parks. I always emphasize "Just a cup for water". They'll also give out cups of water at any outdoor stall that has a soda machine :)

    I've never paid for water in the parks and I don't drink soda!
     
  8. rowan555

    rowan555 DIS Veteran

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    Thanks. I've noticed lately here in New Orleans, at most fast food places if you ask for a water they charge you for a bottle without asking if you want a bottle or a cup. I know I'll be thirsty in the August heat at Universal, and I'd rather drink lots of water without being stressed about asking for the free cups and the employees giving me attitude or insisting I buy a bottle.

    Related question - are there water fountains throughout the park?
     
  9. A_Princess'_Daddy

    A_Princess'_Daddy DIS Veteran

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    Very good to know! Thank you!

    I know that I did say "cup of water" each time, but I didn't push the issue as I started to assume it must be a policy and I wasn't in the mood to force the issue (which is rare for me--I'm usually the guy who loves to stand on principle) so I just gave up...Must be another sign of how much fun I was having...
     
  10. hydrotony

    hydrotony DIS Veteran

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    I just spent 6 days/5 nights in Orlando (came home late yesterday) with a friend and his family (wife and 8 & 10 yr old girls) who are doing their 1st Orlando trip (14 days). I live in FL and go often. Here are some observations. Three days at Disney, 3 days at Universal. They did 2 WDW parks before I joined them.

    Water- Yesterday, friend & I did IOA while the ladies went elsewhere for a few hours. We had no problem getting an 8 oz plastic cup with ice at any fast service place with soda dispensers. Just went up and asked, several different places, no problem. YOU MUST GO TO PLACES WITH SODA DISPENSERS.

    They found Universal much more fun and engaging. They were big readers that loved Harry Potter and were completely taken by WWoHP. The girls also loved roller coasters and loved Dragon Challenge (did both), The Hulk and Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket. Loved Transformers, Spiderman and Forbidden Journey too. Parents were not thrill ride fans so I was 'forced' to go on those rides with them. They found the Disney parks rides tame and so-so except for Rock n' Roller Coaster. They liked the Disney shows but were not Disney-brainwashed kids so princess hunting did not interest them. It was nice being around young kids that were more intellectually stimulated and less visually stimulated. The girls enjoyed the KidCot stuff though and we needed to prod them to move on. Didn't do Tower of Terror or Revenge of the Mummy, parent decision, too scary.

    Overall, they were pleased the most with the 2 Universal parks and were happy they got the 14-day 3-park pass. The rest of their trip will be Universal centered and I think they may not even use all 7 days on their WDW basic magic your way ticket.
     
  11. Metro West

    Metro West <font color=red>Proud Redhead<br><font color=blue> Moderator

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    Moving to the Trip Reports board.
     
  12. dedex13

    dedex13 Mouseketeer

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    We took filtered bottles with us and didn't have a problem finding water fountains (I think there was one outside every bathroom). Had a problem fitting the bottle into the fountain :laughing: so next time will also bring a collapsible cup to help with refills.
     
  13. -Hope-

    -Hope- Always dreaming of adventure...

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    I'm so glad you had a good trip. Thanks for sharing it with us. :goodvibes
     
  14. wookiebeck

    wookiebeck Fan of both WDW and USO

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    The OP's write-up is similar to ours. I wouldn't say 'convert' as much as 'Universal Included'. We love WDW. We also love going to Universal. It is funny that there are those who pick sides.

    There are great memories and fun at both places. I guess it is just me, I also like BOTH Star Wars and Star Trek...can't we all just get along? :happytv:

    Thanks for the time you took to add the details. Your points are all spot-on. :thumbsup2
     
  15. Alexsandra

    Alexsandra Ready for the next adventure

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    Thanks for the report. This is very encouraging because we are going to try Universal for the first time. This September , my husband and I are staying at WDW for 5 nights then switching to Royal Pacific for three nights. With my calculations it comes out to the same price to buy Universal's annual pass and use APH discount on room than if I pay regular price for three nights without pass. Since pass gives me additional discounts on food and merchandise and since I am going back to Orlando in March with the kids, I decided to go ahead and buy one annual pass. Looks like I am going back to US in March too!
    After your review, I am looking forward to it!:goodvibes
     
  16. indimom

    indimom Are We There Yet?

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    Loved the report. This is exactly how we felt on our first trip to Universal in 2008. We still love Disney, but can never understand why anyone would rip on Universal?? It's fabulous! :woohoo:
    We are doing both Disney and Universal on this trip and one thing we made sure to do was put the Universal portion at the END of the trip. That way the Disney Fast Pass situation wouldn't feel like a let-down after the relaxed touring allowed by Express Pass at Universal. We'll rush-rush hurry at the start of the trip when we've got lots of energy, then can relax and go with the flow at the end when we're worn out! :thumbsup2
     
  17. DummbGiRL

    DummbGiRL Mouseketeer

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    Thanks so much for this report! I was last in Universal for a day in December 2007. All in all, it wasn't that hip of a day at all. For a 9 day trip (6 at WDW, 1 at SW, one resort day, and one IoA/US day), it was by far my least favorite day. After being immersed in the Disney magic and Disney cast, dealing with Universal employees who did not hide the fact they hated their jobs really drove my anxiety level high and became super nitpicky about the "dirtiness" of the park. This being said, I have a free 6 night time share coming up in the next year or so that includes 7 days to US/IoA and I've been kind of dreading it and mad at the company for not giving me WDW passes. Reading your post has put those memories behind me and now super looking forward to the parks! I haven't been to the WWoHP and I LOVE HARRY POTTER, so it WAS the only thing I was looking forward too... and The Spiderman ride, because to this day I will tell anyone who will listen it's my favorite ride I've ever been on. So thank you thank you! Sadly, I won't be able to stay "on property", but that's fine. I've convinced my DH to rent some DVC point to finish our Orlando vacation with 4-5 nights at a DVC villa. Even better, it sounds like we'll be able to buy super discounted tickets to WDW through the timeshare ($20 off a 4 day pass plus day 5 and day 6 free!)... which means we'll probably use our rental car to drive ourselves to Disney one day to get MK and/or AK out of the way and spend the rest of the days between HS and Epcot (planning on Food & Wine Festival 2014).... Thank you thank you! I needed this.
     
  18. clickrs

    clickrs Earning My Ears

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    Thanks for the report, we are going to Disney at the end of Aug for 8 days and then over to Universal for 3 days, staying at the RPR also. Glad it was a positive experience, we can't wait.
     
  19. labfan

    labfan Mouseketeer

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    We did a Disney/Universal trip this past May/June. Last week in May we stayed at Disney's POFQ and then we switched to the Royal Pacific to end the trip. From now on we will always end our trips at Universal. It seems much more relaxing being so close to the parks. We would walk over each morning and spend time in the parks, come back to rest at the resort and then back out to the parks or City Walk at night. No buses to wait for and no dealing with Fast Passes at set times.
    I love both Disney and Universal and will be doing a split stay again in 2 years.
     
  20. zebsterama

    zebsterama Mouseketeer

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    Thanks very much for your report. Just booked the flight and planning a Universal trip next July. Been to DW a number of times and this will be our first trip to Universal - we're staying 8 nights in one of the on-sight hotels .... can't decide which one :scratchin.

    Anyway - I'm the big Disney freak of the family and not going to the World kind of saddens me in that missing out brainwashed kind of manner ;). My wife and my two children who will be 12 and 10 when we go - think I'm nuts. :wave2:

    Anyway what I find most encouraging about your post is that it takes some of my fear and in fact adds a little excitement to this decision. Thank you very much for sharing your experience.

    In terms of discounts, you mentioned AAA and I believe something else. Can you please let us know what discounts you managed to get? For example was AAA for your hotel/theme ticket booking or other? I live in Canada - we have CAA, which is the AAA equivalent.

    Thanks again for sharing.

    Cheers,
    Zebsterama
    pirate:
     
  21. BuddyThomas

    BuddyThomas Mouseketeer

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    Loved this report!!
     

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