I also remember going to IOA soon after it opened in the early 2000's. This was the first time that my allegiance to Disney was ever shaken. As a young teenager, it was too hard to pass up the opportunity to ride real thrills like the Hulk and Spiderman, as compared to the more tame attractions offered by Disney World. Universal Studios was always a half-day trip, the sort of thing you could do once and feel like you covered it.
It wasn't until Universal started investing in major improvements that I felt it was a true competitor to Disney. All of a sudden lights were being fixed, fog effects that had been down for years worked, buildings were painted, and general upkeep was stellar, Disney-level work. There were parts of attractions that I never had an idea about in IOA because I had never seen them work!
The introduction of Harry Potter really was the tipping point for me. Such a major investment in not just a single attraction but an entire world just for one story. The way I see it, right now in the theme park business there is no achievement greater than Harry Potter in what it accomplishes with immersion, attention to detail, and the ability to go back again and again and love it every time. I still like Disney, but I don't LOVE it unconditionally like I once did.
We started our Disney trips in 2000. Whether you are staying on property or anywhere within a few miles of the parks, the hotels are packed with families who all seem to get up at the same time, pack the breakfast buffets, and all head out to the parks about an hour before opening, en masse.
I always had this feeling we were just part of a huge machine with a cult like status when visiting Orlando. The hotels we stayed in were practically a ghost towns for the good part of the day. Monorails and Disney wrapped buses on a seemingly endless circle bringing guests to and from the parks.
You could easily pick out the families that have the means to stay at the Grand Floridian or one of the other top end hotels. They just looked "different". Almost as if they were dressed for Easter Sunday.
When you actually entered the parks is where the "Hunger Games" began. Seasoned veterans who instinctively knew when a FastPass machine was about to spit out a new round of tickets, moms who know every inch of the park and had the day planned down to the minute.
We always felt like "newbies" because we never had the time to do all that homework and spent a good portion of the day waiting in lines. All this being said, I think I know the Disney culture pretty well. I am simply glad we moved on to a place where we make our own rules and waiting for rides is almost non-existent.
You still have this feeling of being part of a cult at USF, but on a much smaller scale. You know everybody heading out to IOA at 6-6:30 in the morning is staying on the property. Same goes for the Express lines.
I noticed we can strike up conversations with other families around the hotel / pool / pool bars, which are always in use at any time of day. You just know you can pick up at any time, walk a couple minutes and be on almost any ride in no time at all. At Disney, it seemed like the energy spent trying to get your money's worth took it's toll on people. The mass crowd zombie walk after Extra Magic Hours was almost silent. Everyone seem drained.
In conclusion, Disney has it's own unique lifestyle, just like USF. They are just on drastically different sides of the spectrum. We simply prefer the latter. Time management goes out the window and relaxation takes over.
I would love to hear opinions, experiences and thoughts of the people who make Disney their exclusive stay, especially when you visit during the Summer.
I can only speak for myself and my wife. We enjoy visiting USF and always make sure it is in our itinerary on our visits to Florida. We love the cutting-edge attractions and the adrenaline-rush we get off many of them. We love the different take on a theme park that USF provides. We always enjoy our visits. But the truth is that we have never spent more than 2/3 of a day at either Universal park, having experienced every attraction, and the thought of spending more than a couple of days there fills me with an enormous sense of 'why'? Harry Potter was clever but left me cold, never having been a fan of the books. I look forward to Diagon Alley and expect to be deeply impressed, but the only reason we would consider staying at a Universal property would be to gain Express access and ensure we can get onto everything without waiting, (we are too old to spend hours in line any more).
We stay at Disney, and we will do so again next time, because we like the 'lifestyle'. We find Disney less 'in your face' than Universal and feel more relaxed on Disney property. Port Orleans two years ago was one of the most beautiful environments we have ever stayed in and we spent a surprising amount of time simply 'being' - walking around Disneyworld and enjoying the places we were in, much as we would if we had gone on a 'real' vacation to, say, Italy. I don't expect everyone to agree with me. We are all different and Universal appeals to some people. But just because it's your cup of tea don't dismiss those of us who haven't bought into its ethos. Disney gets a lot of criticism on here for not investing in uber-cool attractions but Disney knows its market and I suspect I am firmly within that demographic. It suits me and I won't even consider staying anywhere else....
Don’t get me wrong -- a part of me will always love Disney. There really IS something magical about the place and it’s got some awesome rides. But I never feel completely relaxed there. Part of it is the feeling of being part of a herd, on an endless quest to have fun even if it kills you. And the other part is that the whole “Disney Brand” thing sort of creeps me out -- if I’m on the property more than a day or two I start to get seriously twitchy.
I just find the experience at Universal to be more relaxed. Yes, a lot of it has to do with being able to afford the onsite hotels and the express pass perk (thank you Florida resident discounts!!!) But there really is something to be said for being able to WALK back to your hotel in 5 minutes if you’re tired or just need a short break. And say what you will about Disney customer service being superior -- maybe it is -- but I’ve always found the folks at Universal to be quite pleasant and to have a great sense of humor.
I love the effort Universal is putting into improving their parks. But I do worry a bit, ‘cause I think part of the problems I have with Disney generate from its size. It’s just sooo huge. And watching Universal build Cabana Bay, and hearing that there’s a 5th hotel in the works, I fear that some day the laid back Universal experience I’ve come to love will start to resemble the harried Disney experience that I don’t enjoy. Time will tell….
I think a lot of it is just personal preference. I WISH I could relax at Disney, but I just can’t. I read David Brown’s comment and I completely understand his point of view. His experience at Port Orleans sounds exactly the way I feel when I’m at Royal Pacific. I guess it’s a good thing that both resorts exist so that we can all have a place where we feel completely happy ;-).
To answer your question Robert: I consider myself a Disney fan, just as much as I enjoy Universal, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros, Dreamworks, NBC, TBS, AMC, whatever company whose medium is shared by Disney. The idea of having a Disney lifestyle probably doesn't apply to me, but there are days where I can't get Let It Go out of my head (or Happy). However, my love of theme parks first came from a Disney visit, so maybe it's safe to say its played a big influence on who I am now.
Every jaunt from the hotel seems like a major undertaking that requires planning. That is why I never fully understood why staying at one of the Disney owned hotels and not a "partner" hotel was such a benefit. OK, so we are slightly closer to the theme parks and parking is free... now get in line like everyone else...
Ride reservations? No, thank you....
This being said, I do not want to sway anyone from the Disney side to try out USF. You will just add to the park capacity....
P.S. I'm not the 1% who voted "Anything but Disney". I voted for the one above it....
Someone will bring up popularity / attendance, theme park & souvenir net revenue, and having to pay for parking at USF hotels by comparison. But that is like saying McDonalds is better than Ruth's Chris because more people go there....
What they really need to do is think about how to make the customer's experience better. Make a Star Wars Land at Hollywood Studios on a grand scale. Not one ride and a restaurant, but several rides, stores, and themed areas. If Universal game get amazing attractions running in two years, they should not take five to get C and D ticket rides going. Throughout all the parks redo the cheesy 70's costumes that are everywhere. Make a fifth gate. And to the biggest: change that awful Fast Pass Plus. When we went there were hour plus lines for Spaceship Earth and Haunted Mansion most of the day. That was never the case. That is an example of them wanting to find a way to get more people in instead of making the experience great for the customer. They have the money. Now that they got the billion plus armbands done, it is time to get back to making magical experiences.
Yes, the discussion is Universal v. Disney. That is bound to happen. I like both, but I used to only like Disney. We simply had more fun at Universal the last time we were there due to really great new attractions and the Express Pass. Transformers, Mummy, Simpsons, Harry Potter, and the hotel were great. We went where we wanted when we wanted. At Disney is was all scheduled out in advance. It is time for Disney to step up to the plate.
In terms of the never ending Universal vs Disney, I like both, but it is apples & oranges.
Look at how many parks Disney operates vs Universal, yet this "debate" always seem to take place in connection with mainly the Florida parks.
Universal Japan vs Tokyo Disney ResortUniversal Hollywood vs Disneyland Resort
Then there's Universal Singapore, Hong Kong Disneyland, & Disneyland Paris
My point is that if one REALLY wanted to compare the companies, you have to look at the bigger picture.
As far as answering the question, Yes I am a Disney fan! But I don't think they are the "Absolute Best". They are obviously very good at what they do and they have there hands in a ton of industries (Theme Parks, Movies, TV, Cruise Line, ect.)
Overall I almost always find joy in whatever Disney activity or experience I partake in, but I have also been underwhelmed and even disappointed with them on occasion. I can also find just as much or sometimes more joy with Disney's competitors in the same area's (NBC Universal for example! LOL).
Because of the overall mix of ups and downs I've had with Disney, I can say that I am definitely a fan, but they are not my hands down, BEST EVER, Favorite.
I have no issue saying that while I love themed entertainment across the board, I love Disney the most. Looking at the big picture, Disney offers a complete entertainment package with almost everything they produce being suitable for my entire family. Add to that comment the fact that two of the most important brands to me in my formative years, Star Wars and Marvel, are part of the Disney fold, what's not to love?
Make Mine Marvel Disney!!!
I had an interesting conversation last night with someone I have known for about a year now. Her name is Heather, and I think I found a bigger Universal fan than myself.
The last time she was there, the Mummy had just opened and the parks didn't look anything like they did now. She is about half my age and has been plotting to return since.
I turned her on to TPI and showed her all of the pics on my phone from last years trip. The things she said were uncanny. Every path / shortcut, hidden things that people walk right past, how to score big on MIB, it was insane.
So yeah, I'm a Disney fan.
P.S. Walt Disney World does not charge resort guests for parking.
I'll simply say I am indeed a Disney fan (and working at EPCOT was the most fun I ever had at a job), but I have been more interested/fascinated lately with Universal's projects.
I feel like I'm married to Disney but Universal is my mistress and trying really hard to get me to divorce.
And as to that free parking at Disney resorts...
Universal's Portofino Bay - single room $295.50 per night $20 self parking or $27 valet parking unlimited Express Passes with room key
Disney's Polynesian Village - single room $523.67 per night free self or valet parking 4 FastPass+ reservations per day
Even with the parking added in, staying at Portofino Bay is still approximately $200 less per day.
Something tells me that you're still paying for that "free" parking.
This is fun!
I think a few of us like to poke fun at the fact that no matter which Disney hotel you stay at, the perks are the same.
"Oh, you're staying in the $1440 a night room at the Polynesian with a view of the castle and marina? How nice for you, now get in line like everyone else...."
Cedar Point admission $35.00Magic Kingdom $99.00
You be the judge...
I did say "theme park admission", so your comparison is a bit of a stretch, however, it is $50 a day to go to Cedar Point, not $35. So you pay half the price... and in a way, you get half the experience. Seems to be about what I expected. But take it one step further, if you add "fastpass" (Fastlane) to your Cedar Point visit (which is free at Disney) you are looking at an ADDITIONAL $75 - $95 per person during a July weekday visit. Ouch.
Still, my statement was more in comparing apples to apples, theme parks to theme parks. Or in this thread, Disney and Universal. And their prices are almost identical for single day tickets.
By the way, I personally don't care about the single day ticket price at the Orlando parks, since I never stay for just a single day. And honestly, I like having expensive single day tickets cause it keeps the riffraff out! ;)
And they don't charge guests to park -- which is classy.
I've never stayed in the Portofino Bay Resort, but I have stayed in the Polynesian Village and the Contemporary Resort. The rooms in both resorts were nice, but it was hard to justify the price. Now that Universal has onsite hotels at the Florida resort, the price differential is glaringly apparent, and it really gets hard to reconcile the extra cost to stay in one of the Disney premium hotels.
I know that Disney charges what the market will bear, and I don't blame them for doing so, but I hate the feeling that I'm getting "skinned" for being an ardent fan. What it does encourage me to do, however, is to go more often to Universal instead of Disney. (and pay for parking) ;^)
(If only I weren't so cheap, I'd buy that e-booklet that Robert wrote about how to save money at the Disney parks.)
I'm sure a lot of people who live near Orlando drop $350-$500 per night to stay at hotel with no real incentive to do so when they live 10 minutes away. They have to, otherwise TH could not post that opinion truthfully.
Okay I can see where you're coming from. Here in Michigan, we can buy one-day admission tickets for Cedar Point at your local Meijer for $35.00. I just checked on their website and saw tickets are listed at $50.00 as you stated. I suppose the overall "experience" depends on the individual. Obviously Disney doesn't compare to Cedar Point's elite roller coasters. And Cedar Point doesn't compare to Disney's dark rides. BUT for the price... $35-50.00 clearly beats Disney's $99.00 one-day admission.
Most amusement parks do charge less than their theme park brethren. I really am not debating that point. But I do want to reiterate that Fastpass is free at Disney parks, not at Cedar Fair parks, which is a great equalizer when it comes to the whole park experience. Granted, CP doesn't pull anywhere close to the crowds at a Disney park, so FastLane may not always be needed, but it is a rare day indeed when the top coasters at CP aren't saddled with some kind of extended wait. You wanna bypass that wait? You just added a minimum of $75 to your ticket... Making your CP day more expensive than your Magic Kingdom day!
These guys gotta get their money somehow, and gouging the customers with expensive tickets, add ons, parking, food, up charge attractions, lockers, and souvenirs is commonplace. My only point being, Disney certainly does not hold exclusive rights to overpricing no matter how you add up the costs!
I Respond: Free parking! Woo Hoo!
So, your philosophy is "pay more for less"... got it.