When I first started to go to Walt Disney World for my vacations I was the person that would only step foot in “the other park” for only one day, while looking down on them for their none Disney ways. But as our travels increased, and I started to research more about what the Universal Parks and Resorts had to offer, my curiosity started to get the best of me.
Let me start at the beginning a little more. In 2011, the only reason we wanted to go to Universal was like everyone else, for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It had just opened in 2010 and I had to see what it was about. Once we had rode Forbidden Journey, eaten at 3 Broomsticks, explored the shops, and had our butter beer we left Islands of Adventure. We had spent maybe 4 hours in the park, and most of that was waiting in line for Forbidden Journey. The rest of the day was walking around Universal Studios, and only riding ET. We walked out around 4 to grab dinner at Hard Rock Cafe and got a ride back to our resort by 7 pm.
The next trip was pretty much a carbon copy. The only difference was they were announcing the new Transormer’s ride, so naturally we stayed to see the announcement but skipped out of the press event after when Optimus and Bumblebee came out. We had made it back to the hotel before the late news.
It was this trip that brought a question to me and my fiancé at the time. Before their nighttime show (it was water screens and horrible), a family from Alabama was standing next to us. They stated that they did universal for a week but would take one day to do all the Disney parks. We were appalled, how could you spend just one day in one of the most immersive theme parks in the world?
We started to get antsy to get back when they announced that Diagon Alley was going to be coming in 2014. I made one trip in 2013 just to beat a non theme park fan to ride Transformers, but nothing else in between 2012 and 2014. So our one day trip in 2014 was booked for our honeymoon.
Diagon AlleyIt was walking into Diagon Alley that I learned the detail of which Universal was taking great care of, and going above and beyond for theming. The Disney community was still waiting for Pandora to open (announced in 2011 and opened in 2017) while Diagon Alley has been announced in 2011 and opened in half the time.
Universal had started to step the game up on theming and listening to the consumer. Since Diagon Alley opened, we have had at least 1 major attraction open each year, 3 hotels (2 more on the way), and a well themed water park open. Not to mention the Nintendo land announcement, and the land bought to build another park.
When Volcano Bay opened in 2017, I decided to book my first exclusive Universal Trip. This is what changed my mind. We stayed in the fabulously themed Cabana Bay resort towers with a view of the water park. While we didn’t go in to the main dry parks, experiencing the “bubble” of Universal was a delight. The modes of transportation, the walkability of the resort, and once again the details of the parks fully brought me in.
It was obvious that this wasn’t a Disney resort or Park. But it was it’s own competitive beast. Pushing Disney to up what they were offering. The Universal resort was much more older family friendly, with the thrill seeking and laid back ways. The offerings of seasonal events were much different and a welcome sight to me.
For the first time ever, in 2017 I made another trek to Universal, but this time for Halloween Horror Nights. I had heard so many things about this after hours event that were positive, but because I had my Disney blinders on, it would have never lived up to my experience that I wanted. But boy was I wrong. Walking through the park and getting scared, laughing at others getting scared, or seeing the Teammebers having a good time with their job just made the atmosphere even better.
Last year became the year of Disney and Universal. I ended up at Universal 3-4 times. Mardi Gras, TA Training, HHN, And a random trip. I’m no longer planning on when to go to just Walt Disney world, but when to go to Universal and stay in the new resort or ride the new ride.
With that long timeline to say this: Universal is not the park of the past. While they know where they come from, they are pushing to the future. If the Wizarding World hadn’t of been as detailed as it is, we wouldn’t have gotten Pandora or Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge in a way that they are coming. The increase of thrill rides at Universal is pushing Disney to put more attractions in their parks. Who knows with the idea of a 3rd dry park coming to Universal, Disney May consider a 5th park at the Walt Disney World resort.
Even in the food offerings, Universal started to push what theme park food is, or what people will stop and eat on the way out of the park. Butterbeer’s popularity gave Disney an idea to make a lesser Lefou’s Brew, Toothsome’s Chocolate Emporium’s extravagant shakes were cloned at Planet Hollywood and Beaches and cream. Volcano Bay brought tacos, pizza, artisan burgers and much more to a water park.
On the hotel side of things, Universal has become a lot more competitive with pricing and offerings. Every hotel that they have built is within walking distance of the theme park area, including the two new resorts (just a bit more of a hike). Speaking of new resorts both Dock Side and Beach scheduled to open this year and next year)side will be some of the cheapest resorts on either Disney or Universal properties, starting at $79 a night for a standard or $111 for a family suite! Amenities are catering to the younger generation, Aventura has an iPad in each room that controls lighting, a/c, tv, lets you log into streaming services, and even text the front desk. These small accommodations are things that Universal are looking to up their guest experience. While Disney is taking away the uniqueness of each resort with remodels, Universal is staying creative.
Without this healthy competition in Orlando, Disney or Universal might just sit stale and let you live on nostalgia for a few years while introducing small attractions here and there.
If there’s only one thing I want to get across in this post, it’s that you don’t need to underestimate the competitors of Disney. Whether SeaWorld, Legolas’s, Universal, FunSpot, or Busch Gardens each one has their unique attractions that can bring more to your vacations. So if you only do Walt Disney World each trip I beg you to just look down the street and see the amazing things that Universal has to offer!