Trip - comparison Report Universal vs WDW

chimoe

Mouseketeer
Joined
Aug 4, 2018
I wanted to create a review about our recent trip to Universal Orlando. Last month we did a 4 day trip and prior to that late last year we went to WDW for our 1st time. We had a great opportunity to experience both sides and must say there are some interesting differences between WDW and Universal. This is my opinion and some items may be subjective.

Benefits of UO
1. No Planning required. - no ADRs, FP+, etc. (By far the biggest benefit if you want to take a last minute trip)
2. We found a 3night 4 day trip can get you to easily see most if not all attractions at both parks.
3. The rider switch system is much better - they have rooms inside attraction for the family to wait in.
4. ExpressPASS - this kills FP+ at WDW. We had the ExpressPASS Unlimited with our hotel stay at Portofino and must say it made things so much easier for us.
5. Parks not as busy as WDW, so much easier to move around.

Interesting cons and/or differences:
  • UO isn’t good at keeping commitments for showtimes. Example, during our last visit, the Parade was supposed to start at 5PM per the app. At 5PM we were waiting around and after asking an employee, they mentioned they canceled the parade and where just having meet and greats on the streets as a replacement. (Not due to weather or anything)
  • UO doesn’t seem as polished as WDW. Example: they don’t operate their own photo service, it’s done by a 3rd party.
  • No Magic band system - we had to carry 3 cards per person. 1 for ExpressPASS, 1 for dining plan card, 1 for park ticket. (A 4th for PhotoPass). Yikes!
  • UO doesn’t operate the their own hotels, they are 3rd party, done by Loews, which is a great hotel chain.
  • UO LOVES 3D rides. By 1/2 way through our visits we were talking about how they kinda overdid the 3D ride stuff.
  • Staff is a bit different @ UO than at WDW, not as well trained in CS.
  • UO Night-time spectacular not really impressive.
  • UO doesn’t really have a Mascot like the Mouse at WDW.
  • Only a few character meals options. Not a lot of TS options in general.
All in all, I feel UO is behind and needs to play catchup in many areas. We would still go back and visit again, but you can tell that UO doesn’t look at the little things. WDW takes and owns the whole experience, and I feel helps create an overall experience for their guests. I think if Universal and take this queue, they can really have something that can rival WDW at it’s core.
 
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EveDallas

Always keep fighting
Joined
Aug 21, 2008
If you think Universal doesn't "look at the little things", you didn't spend nearly enough time there. The Harry Potter areas alone blow away anything WDW has to offer. I definitely disagree about the customer service. But it sounds like WDW is a better fit for you.
 

chimoe

Mouseketeer
Joined
Aug 4, 2018
If you think Universal doesn't "look at the little things", you didn't spend nearly enough time there. The Harry Potter areas alone blow away anything WDW has to offer. I definitely disagree about the customer service. But it sounds like WDW is a better fit for you.
I didn’t mentioned anything about the theming between the 2 in my review. I agree the theming is great at both. The Harry Potter areas were nice, and others are well themed and both WDW and UO.
 
  • Beer Me

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jun 3, 2014
    I like them both but they are difficult to compare because WDW is so much bigger. This is the reason for many of the advantages universal has - less planning, unlimited express etc. If it grew to the same size as wdw they would have to find similar solutions - 180 ADRs, fp+ etc.

    But I really hope universal keeps competing. It’s great for those of us who love all the parks.
     

    skylock

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Sep 2, 2010
    So you feel if UO ran their own hotels and photo service it would improve your overall enjoyment of the parks?

    I don't care who runs the hotel that is a very few minutes from the parks.

    As for the TM vs CM, disney CM decline is one of the reasons I no longer go to disney. 5 years now and I miss it less every year esp when I wonder over to the disney forums and have a look around. Things could have changed over the last 5 years, but that was only one reason I stopped going and I have been enjoying the orlando area for 31 years at least once a year.

    But in the end, they are different parks. One does this better and that one does that better. As long as I can get unlimited express pass with a hotel stay, I am good. That FP situation just makes me mad.
     
    Joined
    Oct 23, 2015
    UO doesn’t really have a Mascot like the Mouse at WDW.
    Universal is not based on one character though that's why. As the saying goes with Disney "It started with a Mouse"..well Universal didn't start that way. Does it need a mascot just because Disney has one?

    Staff is a bit different @ UO than at WDW, not as well trained in CS.
    Totally subjective. I hear so.many.gripes about WDW customer service especially in the last several years. Not sure what occured but it may help to describe what went on.

    We encountered very nice people at Universal when we were there during Irma. I had a TM who immediately offered to take a picture of my husband and I together with my phone when he saw us getting ready to take a selfie. No one ever asked us at WDW. That's such an isolated incident though that I can't really compare the two parks though on that though I could if I tried.

    UO Night-time spectacular not really impressive.
    They are restricted for fireworks and whatnot because of where they are located. I haven't seen the displays on Hogwarts castle but I hear people like it.

    UO doesn’t operate the their own hotels, they are 3rd party, done by Loews, which is a great hotel chain.
    I can't tell if this is a con or you are just pointing out the difference (because you listed it under your con and/or differences). But by how people talk about Universal's hotels they are usually more impressed with the service, the value of cost (like sq feet, larger groups or mixed groups), etc though that is my impression from reading people's comment and many point to the fact that it is run by a hotel company as one of the reasons.

    You can't get a true 2-bedroom room at WDW..not unless you go to DVC route (either owner or renter).

    UO doesn’t seem as polished as WDW. Example: they don’t operate their own photo service, it’s done by a 3rd party.
    Polished? I'm not sure I get how polished fits in with your example.

    We would still go back and visit again, but you can tell that UO doesn’t look at the little things. WDW takes and owns the whole experience, and I feel helps create an overall experience for their guests. I think if Universal and take this queue, they can really have something that can rival WDW at it’s core.
    I don't really understand this comment TBH.

    --------------
    I find the biggest limitation on the Boards is people who find themselves comparing USO and WDW expecting them to be the exact same while on vacation. It nearly always leads to disappointment. It very much sounds like you expected USO to be exactly like WDW. Going in with an open mind can really help appreciate each company for their differences.
     

    EveDallas

    Always keep fighting
    Joined
    Aug 21, 2008
    --------------
    I find the biggest limitation on the Boards is people who find themselves comparing USO and WDW expecting them to be the exact same while on vacation. It nearly always leads to disappointment. It very much sounds like you expected USO to be exactly like WDW. Going in with an open mind can really help appreciate each company for their differences.
    THIS!! I really wish people would go in with an open mind and not compare everything about Universal to Disney. It is its own park. If one wants the WDW experience, then go to WDW.

    ETA: This may come across as snarky - if so, I don't mean it that way. I just get *so* tired of reading about how much better Disney does things on the Uni board. I would never go to one of the WDW sections and point out all the ways I feel Universal is better.
     
  • Isatricia

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Mar 3, 2012
    We just got home from our first trip to UO. We have been to WDW, DLP, Universal Hollywood and various other amusement/theme parks over the years. One thing we learned long ago was that the park CANNOT be compared - They each have their own charm.

    What we loved about UO:

    * Express passes - this was the best! We never waited longer than 10 minutes for a ride

    * WWHP - Amazing theming

    * Universal really does a great job on combo rides - 3D/4D but still a ride. Theming was well put together and not lacking in any way.

    * Portofino Bay - beautiful hotel - upgrade to Club Level was more than worth the cost.

    * Discounted Photo Pass by buying ahead of time.

    * Security lines were easy and a breeze

    * Free lockers at the rides were great.

    * Staff was great! We were celebrating my daughter's birthday and literally every staff member told her Happy Birthday. We have celebrated birthdays at DLP & WDW and although some do tell them Happy Birthday, We felt that the staff at UO far surpassed what we received at either Disney location.

    What could have been better, but really isn't a complaint:

    * We had to ask photographers to have pictures taken

    * No photographers in WWHP.

    * Would love to have a backlot tour like in Universal Hollywood.

    * Some odd operating hours and not consistent.

    We had an amazing time!
     
    Joined
    Oct 23, 2015
    We had to ask photographers to have pictures taken
    I ran into this at Disneyland. No one ever asked if we wanted a photo taken (and we had PhotoPass because we had purchased MP). To be fair it rained almost the whole day for 1 of our days so I ignore that for comparisons sake. The one and actually only time we got PhotoPass photos was in Cars land and we tracked down a guy who messed with his camera for longer than I thought necessary and another woman stood close by getting other people's photos much quicker. That's not to say it's a true issue because we didn't focus on PhotoPass. I also know that in general Disneyland doesn't have nearly the same amount of options for getting PhotoPass as WDW.

    No photographers in WWHP.
    I believe this would be against J.K. Rowling's wishes and that's probably why they don't do it. She went to Universal as opposed to Disney because Universal gave her a lot of say. She really does want to keep the theming intact. I feel like roaming photographers would be against the theming of it and honestly it would clog up the areas (moreso Diagon Alley). I know it would seem cool though! I believe there was a place (and honestly I'm blanking if it still exists or not) where you would do something similar to magic shots where a green screen was used to simulate scenes from the area so they sorta blended that into the theming by making it a themed storefront rather than roaming photographers.
     

    Monykalyn

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jun 11, 2014
    ShutterButtons is the photo place that puts you into various wizarding world scenes. It’s so much fun

    Love Uni- have APs and will be there in week from Thursday. Love Disney too, but it’s a lot less expensive for us at Universal.

    I do like Disney’s memory maker included with AP, and the magic band system though. We’ve all got several lanyards but nothing really beats the ease of MB and having photos auto captured.
     

    Flapdoodle

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Sep 28, 2018
    Our family just returned from a trip to Universal/Disney We spent four days at Cabana Bay Resort and three days at POP Century. We loved universal and Cabana Bay. It was cheaper than POP but felt more like a moderate resort to us. We enjoyed both parks and never compared one to the other. I enjoyed all the planning that is required of Disney but also enjoyed the more relaxed feel of Universal. Definitely will return and will do both parks again
     
  • EveDallas

    Always keep fighting
    Joined
    Aug 21, 2008
    I believe this would be against J.K. Rowling's wishes and that's probably why they don't do it. She went to Universal as opposed to Disney because Universal gave her a lot of say. She really does want to keep the theming intact.
    Just wanted to jump in here to say you're right. I honestly did not know this until I mentioned the lack of photographers in the Wizarding World to a TM on the bridge before you go into Hogsmeade and she told me that they are not permitted inside per J.K. Rowling.
     

    smiths02

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Feb 13, 2009
    So you feel if UO ran their own hotels and photo service it would improve your overall enjoyment of the parks?

    I don't care who runs the hotel that is a very few minutes from the parks.

    As for the TM vs CM, disney CM decline is one of the reasons I no longer go to disney. 5 years now and I miss it less every year esp when I wonder over to the disney forums and have a look around. Things could have changed over the last 5 years, but that was only one reason I stopped going and I have been enjoying the orlando area for 31 years at least once a year.

    But in the end, they are different parks. One does this better and that one does that better. As long as I can get unlimited express pass with a hotel stay, I am good. That FP situation just makes me mad.
    Not OP. I do have to say that I loved our stay at Portofino. I do have to say that Disney it can be easier for the guest that they run the hotels. Paying with a Universal gift card at the hotel for room charges was difficult, for instance.
    Also, MDE with the integration of magic bands, checking in online, paying for everything online, etc. can be more convenient.
    I don't think Universal can ever be an "all inclusive" like Disney is to some people.

    Photographers were not abundant and getting a ride photo always required time (whereas it would just be on our magic band at Disney)

    For my family, other than the paying with gift cards (which I will just do differently now) and the photographers (which, again, I would only do with a steep discount or just not do again), I would compare the two vacations favorably.

    I found things like cleanliness, customer service, attention to theme, etc. to be comparable
     

    danno561

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Jul 4, 2005
    We just got home from our first trip to UO. We have been to WDW, DLP, Universal Hollywood and various other amusement/theme parks over the years. One thing we learned long ago was that the park CANNOT be compared - They each have their own charm.

    What we loved about UO:

    * Express passes - this was the best! We never waited longer than 10 minutes for a ride

    * WWHP - Amazing theming

    * Universal really does a great job on combo rides - 3D/4D but still a ride. Theming was well put together and not lacking in any way.

    * Portofino Bay - beautiful hotel - upgrade to Club Level was more than worth the cost.

    * Discounted Photo Pass by buying ahead of time.

    * Security lines were easy and a breeze

    * Free lockers at the rides were great.

    * Staff was great! We were celebrating my daughter's birthday and literally every staff member told her Happy Birthday. We have celebrated birthdays at DLP & WDW and although some do tell them Happy Birthday, We felt that the staff at UO far surpassed what we received at either Disney location.

    What could have been better, but really isn't a complaint:

    * We had to ask photographers to have pictures taken

    * No photographers in WWHP.

    * Would love to have a backlot tour like in Universal Hollywood.

    * Some odd operating hours and not consistent.

    We had an amazing time!
    I agree with all of your points. The only thing that I would like to see at Universal is a time share. I would sell our Animal Kingdom Lodge interest in a heart beat to have a property interest in site at Universal! Plus, I will take the short walk or boat ride back to the resort over those crazy disney bus rides.
     

    lebeau

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Apr 2, 2008
    I agree with all of your points. The only thing that I would like to see at Universal is a time share. I would sell our Animal Kingdom Lodge interest in a heart beat to have a property interest in site at Universal! Plus, I will take the short walk or boat ride back to the resort over those crazy disney bus rides.
    I would prefer not to see Universal go down the DVC rabbit hole. But I definitely agree with you regarding Disney buses. They were ultimately what drove us out of Disney World.

    Loewe's is an actual hotel company.All inclusive?We'll take UO over Disney any day.Food is better,hotels are better,transportation is first rate,etc.
    Agreed. "All inclusive" isn't the best term. Disney has upcharges out the wazoo. But they are master marketers who bundle everything and convince guests that they are getting a value when in reality many are paying for perks they wouldn't have purchased otherwise.

    I think the point that has some validity is that Disney does everything in-house whereas Universal works with third parties like Loews and Amazing Photos. This can lead to some clunky interactions. Hotel employees aren't always up to speed on the ins and outs of Universal. Not that I haven't gotten misinformation from plenty of Disney castmembers, but a lot of times at Universal you need to know who to call. It has rarely been an issue, but I will concede that Disney's dining plan and photography program are better operated than the Universal counterparts.

    Even so, I vastly prefer Universal over Disney. It's just easier all the way around. We don't buy into the dining plan at either resort and we only buy a package from Amazing Photos when they are deeply discounted (which is frequent).
     

    joedplumber

    Love Vacationing!
    Joined
    Jul 28, 2012
    We spent 4 nights at Royal Pacific in April and loved everything about our visit. This was the kids first time to UO after many trips to WDW. I think what we loved most was that there was no need for any sort of transportation to get around. We walked to everything! It also felt so much more relaxed due to not needing to book anything and having the express pass. I do love WDW but with the crowds and all the new things opening I find it just so overwhelming. I just think UO is such an easy vacation compared to WDW. Also, the hotel was fantastic and the pool area was great! Definitely see ourselves going back again.
     

    SG131

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Apr 3, 2017
    Universal is not based on one character though that's why. As the saying goes with Disney "It started with a Mouse"..well Universal didn't start that way. Does it need a mascot just because Disney has one?
    Not saying the mascot is right or wrong, but we have a lot of local theme parks, some pretty old school that still use tickets and a cedar point. They all seem to have adopted mascots in recent years. I’m sure it helps with marketing and brand recognition. Is it necessary, eh probably not?

    The one thing that annoyed me most about universal was their parade. It really wasn’t very well rehearsed or executed. But that’s more of a pet peeve of mine after many years of competitive dancing. I do wish they’d put a bit more effort in though.

    I also do have issues with all the screen rides because the motion simulators do get to me after awhile. It does seem like they are finally hearing that issue with Hagrid’s coaster and putting some animatronics in it.

    Best thing about universal is the single rider lines! I travel a lot solo, but even as a teen my dad and I used to use the single rider lines so we could go through rides faster and didn’t mind being split up.

    I also like that there are affordable offsite hotels close enough that I can walk to the parks.

    For me the advanced planning is neither a pro or con, I like getting into the Disney planning and it gives me something to look forward to, but I also appreciate being able to go with the flow.

    I am looking forward to what they will do with their 3rd park. The Harry Potter area was done so well I’m hoping they continue with that same level of theming and commitment. And a few less screens.
     
    Joined
    Oct 23, 2015
    Not saying the mascot is right or wrong, but we have a lot of local theme parks, some pretty old school that still use tickets and a cedar point. They all seem to have adopted mascots in recent years. I’m sure it helps with marketing and brand recognition. Is it necessary, eh probably not?
    I know what you mean for sure. I just look at it as how would you even pick what mascot? Why does it matter if it has one? I mean we do have the globe for Universal Studios in terms of logo is you will and Islands of Adventure is the compass points but it's an issue because they don't have a Mickey Mouse equivalent? That's more what I just don't get and I think it goes back to how Universal theme parks. They are IP based pulling from many sources.

    The one thing that annoyed me most about universal was their parade. It really wasn’t very well rehearsed or executed. But that’s more of a pet peeve of mine after many years of competitive dancing. I do wish they’d put a bit more effort in though.
    Agreed. I'm not a parade person really but it's not their strong suit that's for sure.

    I also do have issues with all the screen rides because the motion simulators do get to me after awhile. It does seem like they are finally hearing that issue with Hagrid’s coaster and putting some animatronics in it.
    That's my main complaint with them especially because I have motion sickness. I am hoping that Hagrid's is a slight turning point in that start having more of these to re-balance out the type of rides.

    Best thing about universal is the single rider lines! I travel a lot solo, but even as a teen my dad and I used to use the single rider lines so we could go through rides faster and didn’t mind being split up.
    My husband loved that. He went on Hulk many times using that.

    I also like that there are affordable offsite hotels close enough that I can walk to the parks.
    Me too. I haven't stayed at Universal hotels yet but I've really been contemplating doing that for our next trip (years from now) and maybe doing a split stay with a Hilton property.

    For me the advanced planning is neither a pro or con, I like getting into the Disney planning and it gives me something to look forward to, but I also appreciate being able to go with the flow.
    I love planning and still did quite a lot for Universal BUT it was also very different. I didn't pre-book what rides I wanted, I just looked at what rides I wanted to go on. I never made an ADR, I just looked at what places I maybe wanted to eat at. I also looked into showtimes for things like Blues Brothers and the Harry Potter ones but left it open to when we would see them.

    I am looking forward to what they will do with their 3rd park. The Harry Potter area was done so well I’m hoping they continue with that same level of theming and commitment. And a few less screens.
    Oh me as well!

    Though I wished the rumored Nintendo land had actually come to fruition for Orlando. From what I've heard they now may be holding that back for their 3rd gate (I don't really consider Volcano Bay their 3rd gate even if they do lol..it's still a water park) in Orlando so it's not that it's off the table completely.
     

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