Just Published: Theme Park Insider: 2016 Year in Review
But how did this happen? How did I become a Disney park fan? When did I stop waving the Universal flag?
I have participated in the many (and I do mean many) Universal vs Disney debates through the years here on TPI (member since 2005). I generally fall into the bucket that the two really can't be compared and are more complimentary of one another than anything. But because of the amazing deals that Universal has made available through the years, we were frequent visitors to Universal Orlando and seldom gave any thought to Disney. We visited Universal in 2000, 2005, and 2007 while only visiting Magic Kingdom once in 2005.
This all changed in the winter of 2008/2009 while planning our June '09 trip. My wife said she was happy to take another trip to Central Florida but needed a break from Universal. She doesn't do coasters and often ended up patiently waiting or taking our girls to ride something suitable for them. I have three kids (One son, 10, and two daughters, 6 & 8). So for the first time we sat down and took a good look at Disney.
I wasn't super excited about this but knew the kids would probably enjoy it and if the wife was happy I would be happy, right? ;) I am a vacation planning junkie. I have spreadsheets, I make Google maps, I build budgets, and even do schedules sometimes. No, I'm not a Nazi. Just helpful to understand how we are progressing. Think of it more like a touring plan. ;)
So I jumped in with both feet. Allears.net, TPI, Disney's website, and a number of other great resources that many of you turned me onto. One of the things that really stuck out to me right away was comparing what you really get for your money when comparing Universal and Disney. We had often purchased the 7 or 14 day $99 Universal pass but really only would go 3-4 times that week. And the third or fourth days were half days usually. I had long compared that to a week at Disney, $250-275 a person for a base ticket so the $99 seemed like a steal. At the time, I am not sure we could have afforded Disney anyway so working on a much tighter budget Universal was a no brainer. To me this is where Universal compliments Disney allowing families on a budget an amazing alternative while still getting the Orlando experience. But after really digging into all the parks and what we could do there it was very clear that 6 days at 4 different parks does not equal 3.5 days at 2 parks (Universal).
Now that we had the budget to stretch out a little and take in Disney, we settled on a 6-day park hopper pass. We had all been to MK in '05 but only I had ever been to DHS. So Epcot and AK were going to be all new experiences for all of us as well as DHS for the rest of the family. I started meal planning and was blown away by the prices to eat on-site. We ended up having to expand our initial budget by about 33% because I had numbers in there based on Universal and City Walk type establishments.
When all the planning and booking was done, we had in front of us our most expensive vacation ever. I was growing concerned that I was going to be let down. I knew I could do Universal for at least 35-40% less than this trip was going to cost us. It wasn't long before June 2009 arrived and we were about to find out if it was worth it.
I posted at least four days of Trip Reports here in the forums. If you read them then you know we had an amazing time. I ran out of steam and time to post the rest of the trip (we were at Disney for 6 days and the rest at the beach and around Orlando) but it was all great. Coming home I felt a bit overwhelmed by all we had experienced. I really didn't know how I really felt about it. I tried to compare it to our Universal vacations but they just seemed so different.
My wife and I have talked further about this a few times since. At first it was somewhat confusing but then I started to change my expectations of what the trip should have been and it helped to frame the trip better. I went in expecting something similar to Universal and walked away with something entirely different. Not better or worse, just different.
When our plans fell through this week to go to Siesta Key, my wife and I started discussing what to do instead. We had planned a trip in 2011 to Universal figuring we would give them a year to work any kinks in the new HP world. But with our Siesta Key trip being moved to spring 2011, we needed to pull something forward. So of all the things my wife suggests we do Universal this year. I couldn't believe what came out of my mouth next..."I think I would rather go to Disney."
After she picked herself up off the floor, I explained why. This is the point where you all start shaking your heads and telling me "I told you so." :)
1 ) The biggest part of the Disney experience that reverberates through my head when I think back through our trip is that our entire family was together for 90% of the trip riding attractions TOGETHER. At Universal, we were always forced to split up for half the day. My son and I would go ride the thrill rides, girls go ride the kiddy rides, then we meet up to ride dark rides, shows, etc. Now this isn't Universal's fault, per say, so I am not knocking them. Their focus is on families with older kids, teens, young adults, or as I mentioned above, a family on a budget. I have long argued that Universal has tons of great rides for kids, and they do, but nothing can compare to being able to get on almost every ride in a park with your kids and everyone enjoy it. That's a benefit I can't put a high enough value on.
2 ) The food. Need I say more? I have been told over and over how great the food is at Disney and I blew it off time and time again saying "sure, but its still theme park food." Now I see why Mythos is such an anomaly at Universal. Its standard at the Disney parks. I didn't eat one thing in the six days we were there from counter service to expensive sit downs that I wasn't satisfied with or didn't enjoy. Color me impressed and wanting more!
3 ) Shows. The shows at Disney really blew my mind. From Lion King to Nemo to the Little Mermaid. I really didn't think I would enjoy them all that much. But they were so well done and very entertaining. I felt like I should have paid for an additional ticket to see them.
4 ) Cleanliness. Unfortunately the Universal parks have not been quite up to par in this regard on our last few visits. They aren't filthy by any stretch but now I see what they could be like.
There are many more things I could go on about but the point I wanted to make is this. Disney vs Universal is often debated and always will be. And there are many truths and fallacies on both sides of the argument. But the biggest reason a person will argue for or against something is their personal experience. If you enjoy Universal or Disney more than the other then great, to each his own but being open minded about the other will allow you to experience new things that you may not have realized were there. I never really understood what it would mean to me to be able to ride so many rides with my daughters. I just figured I would have to wait until they got older or climb on top of the carousel horse with them.
So Disney, thank you for the wonderful experience. We're coming back. Your magic is not to be underestimated nor your ability to offer something for everyone.
And Universal, I am not forgetting you completely. I love Spider-Man, Dueling Dragons (or whatever it's new name is), Men in Black, and the Mummy. I am sure we are just a few years away from my kids wanting to see you instead of Disney. Which was another reason we chose to go this year, I know the window for my kids to fully enjoy Disney won't be open for too much longer. So Universal, we'll see you soon, just not real soon. :)
Looking at it now, the pros and cons of both theme park juggernauts compliment each other. Very good comparison!
As much as I have wandered USO and IOA to the point that I think the parks should be paying me for how many times I've helped lost guests... I want to get a Disney pass soon.
Perhaps it's because I need a change of USO scenery-- or I really want to enjoy a theme park with the entire family-- or I want a theme park where I can just enjoy the view like those 80-year-old couples with big cameras. Maybe I'll be like you, Don, and be a Disney freak soon
That WHOLE FAMILY thing is something I have talked about for as long as I have been posting on this site. It is undeniably the single most important factor is Disney's unrivaled success.
And don't get me wrong, I totally love Universal (and Busch, and Herschend, and SeaWorld), but for me and my family, at this time in our lives, nothing beats a trip to a Disney park. Nothing.
Ten days in May....just around the corner. WDW, here I come!
What dates in May?
Don, I've been going to Florida since the 70's. First with my wife, then my daughter and now with Zachary. Disney by far is the family park for the young ones, and Universal is the 9 year old and up park.
Love both places, but would probably take Disney over Universal, just because of the atmosphere. I don't think Universal will ever come up with anything that can beat Mickey and company. Thats their ace in the hole, a childs' love of Mickey.
Granted, Universal can draw the older kids, but I don't see many families planning trips there just for that purpose, I know I never did. Some years, I would plan a vacation, without Disney, but it was never just Universal. It included Sea World, Disney Quest, Disney Water Parks and other attractions.
But I have planned vacations without Universal and just Disney World. There's just not enough to do at Universal to plan a 14 day trip around, like I did with Disney, jmho. Great thread Don.
I remember reading years ago that Universal sold off like 1000 acres. Anybody ever heard or read about this too? If they did, I bet they're kicking themselves now with all the growth that's taken place at the resort the last decade or so. They truly could have been a resort destination like disney.
Phil, I total agree with the value additional gates would bring to Universal. With the Nickelodeon and Dreamworks brands they could really run with it and build a more family oriented park as a third gate that would put them back in the mix for families. A four park package that included Nick Studios, IoA, USO, and a waterpark would be great.
Bob, I have NOT been quiet lately! Robert Niles just keeps deleting all my most active threads! =)
As for lunch we have Cosmic Ray's @ MK, El Pirata y El Perico @ MK on the second day, and Flame Tree BBQ at AK. Any lunch recommendations for our two days at Epcot and our DHS visit?
And, make sure to get the Plaza Club when you go to the Plaza Restaurant. You won't be disappointed. At least I wasn't...three years ago when I last had one! =)
If I had to pick a favorite I'd have to go for Disney, but that's not me trying to downplay Universal, I love both resorts and as has been said they compliment each other well.
- Lunch: Flame Tree BBQ
- DInner: Offsite
- Breakfast: O'Hana @ Polynesian
- Lunch: El Pirata y El Perico
- Dinner: The Plaza Restaurant
- Lunch: Open
- Dinner: Nine Dragons Inn (China)
- Lunch: Pizza Planet (we did 50's Primetime last year)
- Dinner: Sci-Fi Diner
- Lunch: Cosmic Ray's
- Dinner: Crystal Palace
- Lunch: Coral Reef
- Dinner: Open
Space Mountain was closed last year when we were there so I am looking forward to taking the kids on that one. They were too little in 2005 when we went.
And for TH...my kids asked that I remove Jungle Cruise from the Touring Plan this year. Ouch! :D
However, if you get a chance to ride Jungle Cruise in the dark, you should give it a try. The "jokes" aren't any better, but the ride itself seems a little more mysterious.
If its super late, they tend to get a bit ranchy (for Disney, so not very bad)
Sunday: Animal Kingdom
Monday: Magic Kingdom
Thursday: Magic Kingdom
Friday: Morning @ AK/Afternoon @ Epcot
Saturday: Daytona Beach
Sunday: Venice Beach
I love Universal for those very same reasons. And as I said in closing, we'll definitely get back there. One of my biggest gripes against Magic Kingdom is the half hour it takes to get from your car to the gate. But in some ways that's part of the adventure I guess.
Universal is a better park for me personally as well but as a family, Disney provides a more complete experience due to the ages of my kids. Mostly because of reason #1 in my original post.
If so, Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom win hands down. Tons of great family rides, shows, play places, and animals (at AK) to see and do together.
That being said HHN is still our main reason for vacationing in Orlando every October/November, so Universal still holds our hearts in that regard.
Recently I found that Google Maps had used their street view technology to map the entirety of both Universal Parks. I took some time and "walked" the parks. I definitely loved seeing all the attractions and it made me want to go back. But it made me wish that Disney had mapped their parks with Google's Street View technology more. LOL :P
I can't wait to take my son on the Hulk and Dueling Dragons, my daughters on Spider-man and Popeye's Bilge Rat Barges. But it will be a few years as I stated above. In the meantime Mickey's Pixie dust has us locked in.
8 weeks, 5 days until Disney!!! YAY! :D
I haven't been to Busch Gardens so unfortunately I can't compare the two but have heard good things about it on the site. Perhaps another TPI'r can jump in here and provide some insight.
In a nutshell, my opinion is that Busch Tampa is far superior to AK for animal viewing experiences. You can get quite close to many animals in the several walking and riding tours. BGT also is better for roller coasters. AK, being Disney, is far superior in live shows and theme-ing and character encounters. Each park has a few quality dining experiences and each park has one or two shows or animal encounters as good as the other.
Walt Disney World
Tokyo Disney Resort