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Old 07-11-2013, 12:25 PM   #1
A_Princess'_Daddy
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We are Universal converts

We are long-time Disney devotees, and that won't be changing anytime soon, but we just got back from a twelve day vacation that included five days/four nights at Universal Studios and I can say without question that we were BLOWN AWAY by Universal and I have no doubt that our future trips to Orlando will all also include time spent at Universal Studios.

We were impressed by:

1. The hotels, particularly the Royal Pacific, where we stayed for four nights. While we usually stay DVC at WDW (an obvious side effect of owing 800 DVC points), we have stayed in nearly all of the Deluxe hotel properties as well and the room at RPH was at least comparable, if not more nicely appointed, than any WDW hotel, and for a significantly better price. The ability to eat in all of the restaurants at the hotel without having to plan months in advance was another nice benefit, and the food (particularly Emeril's Tchoup Chop and the sushi bar) was excellent. It was clean, the pool was nice, the service was prompt and friendly, the parking was convenient, it was an all-around positive experience.

2. The Express Pass was just phenomenal. Let me say that again: It was PHENOMENAL!!! It enabled us to see everything we wanted to see, multiple times in many cases, during a very busy time of year without having to plan our day around slips of paper with designated return times. It also allowed us to do rides that perhaps only one or two members of the family wanted to do without having to worry about splitting Fastpasses or timing them correctly, so for example I was able to ride all the roller coasters by just jumping in line while my wife and children got a snack or hit the restroom, and ten minutes later I was off and ready to move on as a family to another ride. I know why the concept cannot work at WDW, due to the number of hotels, but WOW, was it a nice experience!

3. The service was every bit as good as WDW. We had Universal employees be kind to our children, chat with us about our backgrounds, etc. in the same way as we are accustomed to at WDW. I'm not sure why I expected surlier service, but it did not materialize and, in some cases, we had experiences that surpassed customer service experiences that we had on the same trip at WDW.

4. The theming. Again, I expected (probably from reading too many Universal-denigrating threads on the Dis) Universal to be a barren wasteland of rides, concrete and the unwashed masses. For the most part, it was comparable, in my opinion, to the four parks of WDW, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter exceeded, by a very large margin, anything at WDW in terms of its comprehensive theming as well as the quality of its rides, its merchandise, its food service options and in every other way I'm not thinking to list. There is, in my opinion, simply no comparison in terms of the immersive experience at WWoHP to anything at WDW, and I finally "get" what people mean when they say the FLE is underwhelming by comparison.

5. The rides. They were a lot of fun. From the WWoHP, which enthralled us all, to the new Minion Mayhem & Simpson's rides, we had our fill of thrill rides, but the Seuss Landing part of IOA was equally fun and engaging. After riding Red Fish, Blue Fish, I made my wife laugh when we rode Dumbo and I said "it's a lot more boring without the Seussical rhymes and water spraying at us" but it is true, Universal found a way to make even kiddie rides more engaging, in my opinion.

6. The discounts. My lord, between AAA and our newly purchased APs, I don't think there was a place at Universal where we didn't get a nice discount on what, to me at least, already seemed like pretty fair prices.

The only thing I didn't like was the seeming inability to get a glass of water at any of the quick-service restaurants we went to. I drink tap water not to save money because of my quasi-hippie desire to leave the planet a better place, so having to buy a bottle of water defeats my entire goal. Not a huge deal (and I ended up buying the refillable drink bottles, instead, which worked almost as well and gave us nice souvenirs) but it was annoying at times.

Again, our new-found love of Universal does not take away from WDW, and in my opinion the two compliment each other exceptionally well and will push each other to keep both of their games high, but I now completely understand why some people love Universal as much as others love WDW. We love them both, and are so happy that we gave Universal a try!
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Old 07-11-2013, 01:02 PM   #2
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I enjoyed your report SO much! We'll be spending 4 nights at Royal Pacific next month for our first trip to Universal, and you've got me even more enthusiastic than I was before!

One question about your inability to procure regular ice water...We went to Disney 7 years ago and probably asked for cups of ice water at every counter service restaurant in all 4 parks, and we never had any trouble, even if we weren't ordering anything else. I assumed it would be the same at Universal. I drink a LOT of water and, like you, I don't want to go through 20 bottles a day. Was ice water unavailable, or was there some other issue? I want to be prepared and have a "plan", as little things like this can throw off my entire day (anxiety/OCD combo - fun fun!). It's just me and my daughter, and we want to have as stress-free a time as possible. Related question - she's a big soda drinker, and we're deciding b/t the Freestyle machine mug versus the 99 cent refill mug - do you have an opinion on which is better? And if the water issue is as dire as you say, I may get one for myself too!
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Old 07-11-2013, 01:08 PM   #3
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Glad you enjoyed your trip!!! I was a Unversal Convert last JAn..WE stayed Portofino Bay resort ( and are again in a couple weeks).It was gorgeous, express passes are wonderful and we found universal to be just as magical and fantastic ( if not moreso at times than Disney).We aren't even going back to Disney this year again.We may drive over just to see the new fantasyland but honestly the closer I am getting to my trip the less I want to bother with the hassle..
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Old 07-11-2013, 01:39 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rowan555 View Post
I enjoyed your report SO much! We'll be spending 4 nights at Royal Pacific next month for our first trip to Universal, and you've got me even more enthusiastic than I was before!

One question about your inability to procure regular ice water...We went to Disney 7 years ago and probably asked for cups of ice water at every counter service restaurant in all 4 parks, and we never had any trouble, even if we weren't ordering anything else. I assumed it would be the same at Universal. I drink a LOT of water and, like you, I don't want to go through 20 bottles a day. Was ice water unavailable, or was there some other issue? I want to be prepared and have a "plan", as little things like this can throw off my entire day (anxiety/OCD combo - fun fun!). It's just me and my daughter, and we want to have as stress-free a time as possible. Related question - she's a big soda drinker, and we're deciding b/t the Freestyle machine mug versus the 99 cent refill mug - do you have an opinion on which is better? And if the water issue is as dire as you say, I may get one for myself too!
I, too, assumed ice water would work the same way as at WDW (and at pretty much every restaurant I've ever been to in the "real world") but every time I asked for a glass of water, I was either sold a bottle without being told it would cost money (unnoticed by me the first two times and refused the third time after I realized what was going on) or told that they don't give out water. I may have just had bad luck or it may have been policy, but I was never able to get free water at a quick-service restaurant (I got it with no issue at sit-down restaurants).

As to the Freestyle mug, I didn't notice that option when I initially bought the $0.99-refills mug, and so I never really researched how that option works, but if it's unlimited refills but for only one day, versus the apparently unlimited lifespan of the $0.99-refills mug, the break-even point on the $0.99 refill mug is pretty short. Plus, I hate those Freestyle machines because they take people forever to figure out, but that's a personal thing.

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Originally Posted by RMulieri View Post
Glad you enjoyed your trip!!! I was a Unversal Convert last JAn..WE stayed Portofino Bay resort ( and are again in a couple weeks).It was gorgeous, express passes are wonderful and we found universal to be just as magical and fantastic ( if not moreso at times than Disney).We aren't even going back to Disney this year again.We may drive over just to see the new fantasyland but honestly the closer I am getting to my trip the less I want to bother with the hassle..
We're tempted to try Portofino on our next trip (scheduled around the Princess half-marathon in February) but were joking that we don't want to jinx our good luck. With the AP rates (assuming they parallel what are offered this year) it's a bargain! We'll keep going to WDW, both because our chilren adore it and because my wife, I think, adores it even more than the children, and with the ages of our children they still love it, but I won't deny a bit of a letdown when returning to WDW after the four days at Universal and having to run around again for Fastpasses!
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Old 07-11-2013, 01:58 PM   #5
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I thought I read, when we researched our Disney trip seven years ago (yes, it's been THAT long since we've been to Orlando, lol), that FL law required all restaurants including parks to provide free ice water upon request. I'm going to have to look for more information on this, because now I'm just curious!
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Old 07-11-2013, 02:18 PM   #6
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I've never had a problem getting water at the parks. I always emphasize "Just a cup for water". They'll also give out cups of water at any outdoor stall that has a soda machine

I've never paid for water in the parks and I don't drink soda!
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Old 07-11-2013, 02:22 PM   #7
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I've never had a problem getting water at the parks. I always emphasize "Just a cup for water". They'll also give out cups of water at any outdoor stall that has a soda machine

I've never paid for water in the parks and I don't drink soda!
Thanks. I've noticed lately here in New Orleans, at most fast food places if you ask for a water they charge you for a bottle without asking if you want a bottle or a cup. I know I'll be thirsty in the August heat at Universal, and I'd rather drink lots of water without being stressed about asking for the free cups and the employees giving me attitude or insisting I buy a bottle.

Related question - are there water fountains throughout the park?
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Old 07-11-2013, 02:22 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BrinkofSunshine View Post
I've never had a problem getting water at the parks. I always emphasize "Just a cup for water". They'll also give out cups of water at any outdoor stall that has a soda machine

I've never paid for water in the parks and I don't drink soda!
Very good to know! Thank you!

I know that I did say "cup of water" each time, but I didn't push the issue as I started to assume it must be a policy and I wasn't in the mood to force the issue (which is rare for me--I'm usually the guy who loves to stand on principle) so I just gave up...Must be another sign of how much fun I was having...
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Old 07-11-2013, 02:53 PM   #9
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I just spent 6 days/5 nights in Orlando (came home late yesterday) with a friend and his family (wife and 8 & 10 yr old girls) who are doing their 1st Orlando trip (14 days). I live in FL and go often. Here are some observations. Three days at Disney, 3 days at Universal. They did 2 WDW parks before I joined them.

Water- Yesterday, friend & I did IOA while the ladies went elsewhere for a few hours. We had no problem getting an 8 oz plastic cup with ice at any fast service place with soda dispensers. Just went up and asked, several different places, no problem. YOU MUST GO TO PLACES WITH SODA DISPENSERS.

They found Universal much more fun and engaging. They were big readers that loved Harry Potter and were completely taken by WWoHP. The girls also loved roller coasters and loved Dragon Challenge (did both), The Hulk and Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket. Loved Transformers, Spiderman and Forbidden Journey too. Parents were not thrill ride fans so I was 'forced' to go on those rides with them. They found the Disney parks rides tame and so-so except for Rock n' Roller Coaster. They liked the Disney shows but were not Disney-brainwashed kids so princess hunting did not interest them. It was nice being around young kids that were more intellectually stimulated and less visually stimulated. The girls enjoyed the KidCot stuff though and we needed to prod them to move on. Didn't do Tower of Terror or Revenge of the Mummy, parent decision, too scary.

Overall, they were pleased the most with the 2 Universal parks and were happy they got the 14-day 3-park pass. The rest of their trip will be Universal centered and I think they may not even use all 7 days on their WDW basic magic your way ticket.
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Old 07-11-2013, 05:33 PM   #10
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Old 07-12-2013, 06:24 AM   #11
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Quote:
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Related question - are there water fountains throughout the park?
We took filtered bottles with us and didn't have a problem finding water fountains (I think there was one outside every bathroom). Had a problem fitting the bottle into the fountain so next time will also bring a collapsible cup to help with refills.
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Old 07-12-2013, 07:34 AM   #12
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I'm so glad you had a good trip. Thanks for sharing it with us.
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Old 07-12-2013, 11:51 AM   #13
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The OP's write-up is similar to ours. I wouldn't say 'convert' as much as 'Universal Included'. We love WDW. We also love going to Universal. It is funny that there are those who pick sides.

There are great memories and fun at both places. I guess it is just me, I also like BOTH Star Wars and Star Trek...can't we all just get along?

Thanks for the time you took to add the details. Your points are all spot-on.
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Old 07-12-2013, 12:38 PM   #14
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Thanks for the report. This is very encouraging because we are going to try Universal for the first time. This September , my husband and I are staying at WDW for 5 nights then switching to Royal Pacific for three nights. With my calculations it comes out to the same price to buy Universal's annual pass and use APH discount on room than if I pay regular price for three nights without pass. Since pass gives me additional discounts on food and merchandise and since I am going back to Orlando in March with the kids, I decided to go ahead and buy one annual pass. Looks like I am going back to US in March too!
After your review, I am looking forward to it!
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Old 07-15-2013, 03:23 AM   #15
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Loved the report. This is exactly how we felt on our first trip to Universal in 2008. We still love Disney, but can never understand why anyone would rip on Universal?? It's fabulous!
We are doing both Disney and Universal on this trip and one thing we made sure to do was put the Universal portion at the END of the trip. That way the Disney Fast Pass situation wouldn't feel like a let-down after the relaxed touring allowed by Express Pass at Universal. We'll rush-rush hurry at the start of the trip when we've got lots of energy, then can relax and go with the flow at the end when we're worn out!
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