Ten Things I Love about Universal Orlando Resort

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It’s probably the worst kept secret on the Internet that TouringPlans has been in the process of launching Universal Orlando content this year. Actually, the worst kept secret is about Tom Bricker and Brian McNichols and that time on “it’s a small world”…but I digress.

Universal Studios Florida (the park) and Islands of Adventure have become more than an afterthought to Central Florida vacations. They are destination parks with a lot to offer. The following are some things I really like about Universal:

  1. Centralized bag check. Once you go through security at the entrance to CityWalk, that’s it. You’re then free to move from park to park without going through another bag check line.
  2. Parking garages. No more getting into your sun-baked car at the end of your park day.
  3. Generous Annual Pass discounts. Universal Annual Passholders get discounts on dining, merchandise, and the onsite hotels all the time.
  4. Thrill rides. Disney may still be the master of telling a story with an attraction, but you don’t care when you’re screaming for your life on Hulk or Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit.
  5. No Princesses. No Pirates. That’s right – I said it. I’m over Aurora, Rapunzel, and Jack Sparrow. Bring on Harry Potter and Marvel (for now).
  6. Lower crowds. In general, a slow day at Universal is less crowded than a slow day at Walt Disney World.
  7. Team Members. I’ve have universally (see what I did there?) great experiences with the folks who work at Universal Resort. They are as friendly and helpful as the best Cast Members at that other resort.
  8. Halloween Horror Nights. A Halloween event that isn’t afraid to be scary. If only Disney could give us something a little more adult-oriented (Donald’s Kinda Sorta Scary Halloween Party at the Studios maybe?).
  9. Easy access to two parks with no transportation issues. Disneyland folks know what I’m talking about here. You want to go back and forth between Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure? Go for it; it’s just a short walk.
  10. Universal Express (yes, this will also show up on my “Things I Don’t Like” list). No return times to worry about – just show your pass and get in the shorter line.

That’s what I have for now. Have you visited Universal Orlando and think I’m way off base? Tell me in the comments. Are you considering a trip there and your curiosity is piqued? Check out the great new Universal content on the site and ask questions in the comment section. Stay tuned for the inevitable follow-up list of “Things I Don’t Like at Universal” in a future article.

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Posted on February 18, 2013

16 Responses to “Ten Things I Love about Universal Orlando Resort”

  • You should probably have proofread this before posting.

    On topic, though…I agree with what you’ve said. I think Universal has stepped up their game considerably over the last few years. I often enjoy a single day at Universal more than a day at any of the Disney Parks.

  • I do agree with a number of these things. I’m interested in your dislikes. I’m hopng you include a few of my dislikes: prices, paying for express pass, themeing, quality of food (don’t get me started on the awful “meal deal”). Overall, universal is good for our family about once every 3-4 years, but thats it. I get very annoyed and frustrated after a day there. I love rollercoasters, but it misses that something extra that Disney provides. I also noticed a distinct lack of children’s ride. Once I have my own kids, you can bet there will be no trips to Universal for me.

  • I agree with pretty much all of these. Looking at the top 10 attractions, I’m stunned to admit this given my Disney fandom, but I think Universal Orlando may be better. However, Disney is still superior from 10-25 and in terms of the overall atmosphere. Universal is going a long way to close the gap, and Disney isn’t responding as well as I’d like to see.

  • There are some aggravating things about the Universal experience, but you’re right that there’s a lot to like. The rides are quite a few steps ahead of anything in the Disney parks these days. I’m still spending the majority of my theme park time in Disney World, but Universal is eating away at some of that time.

    One thing you didn’t mention is that you can buy a ticket for Universal and some of the other Orlando area attractions. We know Disney doesn’t like you to leave their property, but it’s a lot more vacationer-friendly to acknowledge that guests might actually want to visit other theme parks and to allow theme to save a little money over buying single day tickets to each park.

  • Glad to see you’re adding Universal to the Touring Plans app. (Yes, I did already notice.) I agree with you and some of the other commenters that Universal seems to be working harder to “push the envelope” with their attractions. I would have hoped that “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” would have kick-started some competitive juices over at Disney, but Ariel’s “Under the Sea” ride says that another dark ride with smoother audio-animatronics will do for them right now. I’m holding out hope that the Seven Dwarves mine ride will be more than another Big Thunder Mountain.

    One thing Disney still has going for it is their free Fast Passes. I hope that the new MyMagic system will be an improvement on an already great system. And yes, the food is better at Disney, too.

  • The centralized bag check is nice, but it doesn’t really affect us much at Disney because we don’t park-hop. We typically stay at one park each day because of the inordinate amount of time wasted traveling between the parks. (See perk #9).

    I personally prefer the “thrill level” of Disney’s rides. There are a lot more high-adrenaline rides at Universal, for those that like such things. But I’ll take a people-mover any day of the week. I also realize that I’m probably in the minority in that respect.

    As far as team members go, we didn’t have any major problems, but did not find the overall “vibe” to be nearly as universally (see what I did there?) friendly as we typically experience at WDW. I specify WDW because we have found the cast members at DL aren’t nearly as nice as the ones at WDW. I would say the “friendliness quotient” is higher at Universal than Disneyland, but WDW beats them both.

    Universal Express is FAR, FAR better than FastPass. I know some complain because it’s an extra charge, but we stay on property so it’s included. However, if I stayed off property, I’d still be tempted to spend the $$ as I truly believe it can make or break your experience, especially during busier seasons. I just wish more rides had and Express lane.

    On the whole, I find that Universal does not capture the “magic” that Disney does. I honesty didn’t think anyone but Disney was even capable of achieving that level of wonder. That is, until we visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. While most of Universal succeeds at being a souped-up Six Flags, WWHP truly rivals Disney in “magic,” and may even surpass Disney in ride technology. Forbidden Journey is truly impressive.

    I do wish Universal could extend WWHP’s level of creativity into the rest of the park. I also worry about what will happen when Disney finally pulls the plug on Universal’s Marvel contract (which they will eventually).

    Overall, I’m still a die-hard Disney fan. But it’s safe to say that most future Disney visits for our family will include at least one day at Universal.

  • Our family loves both Disney and UOR. We do tend to find our Universal vacations to be a bit less expensive and more relaxing. While I love staying on site at Disney, the hotels at Universal seem to give a bit more bang for the buck, and the express feature means you can visit at any time of the year without worrying about crowd levels. While the food at the Disney parks and resort hotels is far more varied, there are some great options at Universal, especially at the hotels. And you don’t need to make reservations months in advance.
    I have favorite rides at both resorts, and get that magic feeling at both as well! It’s usually really hard for us to choose each year whether to go to Disney or Universal, they are both great in different ways.

  • The worst kept secret to which Laurel is referring is the time Bryan so desperately wanted to be “pretty like the ‘dollies’ in the ride,” that he went to Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique to get a princess makeover (not sure this has anything to do with the ride…I think he just wanted the makeover) and then jumped out of the boat while we were on the attraction and started spinning around in circles in one of the show scenes.

    My only involvement was trying to coax him back to the boat.

  • “Over” Jack Sparrow? Hmmmm — can such a thing really happen? Then again, when I think about Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, I suppose I could be persuaded to be “over” the good Captain. :)

    As always, I enjoy the articles! We’re doing Disney again this year. (Our second trip.) In another 5 years, we’ll probably do Universal, since we’ll have teenagers then. I will look forward to reading all your Universal info!

  • Nice post – I am looking forward to the follow-up with your “don’t likes”! We took a day away from The Mouse to do both UOR parks in December, and our findings mirrored yours. Although in general you may be right about Disney being the master of telling a story with an attraction (for example Tower of Terror is far superior to Dr. Doom’s FeerFall), Universal is really pushing the envelope – I don’t think that WDW has anything that compares to Forbidden Journey in terms of technology and themeing.

    • “Feerfall” – sheesh, can’t type today…

      Also, I think that Universal is doing more to lure back the less-than-fanatic guest. The WWoHP expansion (still not officially announced despite all of the obvious work?) is far more likely to convince us to go back to Orlando than the completion of New Fantasy Land.

  • I could sum up everything that I like about the Universal Studios Resort in six words: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Everything about the attraction makes visiting Islands of Adventure worth it. It’s painful for me to admit, but Disney doesn’t have anything close to this experience…yet.

  • Hi Laurel. Fantastic post here! Universal has so much to offer. It’s a must-visit

    Best wishes, Alex

  • Interesting that I agree with many of these 10 when I consider Universal far inferior to Disney. I just feel happy in WDW whereas the whole ‘feel’ of Universal – while far superior to any theme park here in the UK – somewhat lacks compared to WDW parks.

    For me, Universal means some amazing rides (Jurassic Park & Spiderman are my favourites) and also some which are too much for me (Hulk, Rip Ride, Dr Doom). I love the nearness of everything and the hotels are top notch and really close by. One silly thing I love having at Universal is the Fossil shop at City Walk. The Uni shops in generally though hold no power over me. The Disney shops are pretty damn wonderful by comparison but I know and like the Disney stories far more.

    Actually, I think that’s it, it’s the stories. I don’t watch the Simpsons. Not a fan of The Mummy or Men in Black or Shrek. I love the Disney stories old and new. So my heart always goes there.

  • Last October my boyfriend and I traveled to both WDW and Universal. We stayed onsite at both locations and to be honest, the Cast Members were better as was the price for Disney. We stayed one less day, went one less day in the parks and didn’t have a meal plan, but still paid the same at Universal. I thought this was a big ripoff. Additionally, we stayed at the Hard Rock and had to go through four complaints, hours of waiting and a room change for a plumbing issue. What a waste of time! And the service nearly everywhere we went was terrible and the food was expensive.

    That being said we loved the rides. The Wizarding World was amazing. And Express Pass is worth it’s wait in gold and far surpasses Fast Pass. Staying onsite was also worth the extra hour at Harry Potter and walking to the parks and park hopping was easy and convenient. As far as Halloween Horror nights: it was fun, but lines were incredibly long (we didn’t pay the extra for an express pass). We didn’t get to ride any rides and only saw three of the houses (and waited probably 5 hours in line). On the other hand we attended Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party where we saw the parade, each got a huge bag of candy, and rode all our favorite rides at least twice.

    I guess my advice is just to caution people as to value and think about what they want most from their vacation. I would do both again, but I might just choose to stay and eat and Disney the whole vacation next time.