This website is going to be doing something uncommon in the world of “Disney blogging.”
In that we’re going to be taking a trip out to Universal Studios Florida to see what it has to offer. The pictures will occasionally be over-edited. But when the “turn up the colors and add halos to the trees” button pops up, it’s difficult not to click.
Not to go full Walt on you, but I like Walt Disney World because it offers an opportunity for families to have fun together.
But Disney doesn’t necessarily have a monopoly on family fun.
With the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios has become a “destination Park.”
For a lot of people, Universal is no longer the after thought that it once was.
There are some things Universal does better than Disney.
For one, once you’re there – you’re there. There are no monorails. No buses. No 43 square miles or whatever. Universal has two theme parks, CityWalk, and a couple of miniature golf courses. And from where we stand, they’re all less than a five minute walk away.
That’s Universal Studios down to the right – just a pleasant walk along the water.
As friend-of-the-site Brian Noble would tell you, it’s economically intelligent to do either a “Disney vacation” or a “Not Disney Vacation.”
Undercover Tourist would sell you a seven day Magic Your Way Park Hopper ticket to Disney World for $356.75. Add Water Parks and you’re talking $376.95. On the other hand, a 14-day ticket to Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, SeaWorld, Aquatica, Wet ‘n Wild, and CityWalk runs $296.95. So you’re getting twice as much time in the Parks for less money. And you can add Busch Gardens Tampa for another $40 and that includes bus transportation out to Tampa Bay. One day tickets to Disney World or one of the Universal theme parks are the same price.
Don’t worry. This isn’t a “sponsored post.” Disney does a lot of things better than Universal and we’ll point those out as we progress.
Universal also isn’t for everyone. The minimum height for Forbidden Journey (the Harry Potter ride) is 48 inches.
And The Hulk, pictured above, is 54″. You probably want your kids to be tall enough to ride both before you consider visiting Universal.
You’ll get the most value if everyone in your party is willing and able to ride the coasters, both of which are far and away more intense than anything Disney has to offer.
Almost across the board, Universal’s attractions are more technologically advanced than Disney’s. Dudley Do-Right’s Here isn’t quite up to Splash Mountain’s theming.
But that’s a bigger drop.
At faster speeds. That’s pretty much the theme of Universal – bigger and faster than Disney.
One other nice thing about Universal is that when it’s “dead,” it’s dead. This is 11:28am on Wednesday December 5th, so wait times aren’t going to get any longer. You could walk on virtually anything all day – it certainly beats those 60+ minute waits at Toy Story that we see virtually every day.
And everything is basically a ride. You may remember that Disney’s Hollywood Studios “literally” has six rides. And that’s including The Great Movie Ride and Backlot Tour. Islands of Adventure has almost three times that, several of which are “major attractions.”
Navigating Islands of Adventure is pretty easy. The layout is basically a circle with various themed “islands.” The first one you’ll come to on your left is “Marvel Super Hero Island.”
The Hulk is the biggie here and arguably Universal’s most intense coaster.
We’re talking 4 G’s, 67 miles per hour, seven inversions, and a 105 foot drop.
Despite its headliner status, wait times aren’t usually that bad. In the middle of the afternoon here, the posted wait is 5 minutes and you could basically walk on and ride as many times as you wanted.
The second major attraction is The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman, a “4D Dark Ride.” It’s sort of like Sum of All Thrills in 3D with projections and set pieces. Very neat and Disney really doesn’t have anything like it.
Universal’s version of Tower of Terror is pretty terrible.
It’s basically an amusement park ride that sends you up and then down exactly one time. It then goes up and down gently a couple of times. Because of its low capacity, it often has longer wait times than most other attractions, including The Hulk.
Storm Force Acceleration is the Land’s fourth attraction.
You may know it as Mad Tea Party, only faster and without the whimsy. Also due to a lousy capacity, Storm Force often has waits longer than Hulk.
Here we have the extended queue for Hulk. Fast forward to Christmas or July and you’re talking serious waits – 100 minutes for Hulk isn’t unheard of.
I always leave Hulk with a headache. While it isn’t necessarily a rough coaster, the head cushioning seems to leave something to be desired.
The nice thing about Disney World is that it’s very bag/camera friendly. You can bring your belongings on any attraction. At Universal, a lot of rides require stowing your stuff in a locker, including Hulk.
While not necessarily a huge deal, it’s an added hassle. Luckily, lockers are free “while you ride.” The amount of free time depends on the wait for the attraction. That also means you’ll have to move your stuff after each ride or you risk being charged. I’ve ridden Hulk back to back without moving my bag and was charged the $3.
Theme park food is another area where Universal is generally lacking.
This is actually one of the more interesting menus available.
Most of the other locations just offer chicken fingers and burgers. We’ll happen across some good food at Three Broomsticks and Thunder Falls Terrace though.
Another nice thing about Universal is the refillable popcorn buckets and fountain beverages. Pay $4.99 once and you can get as many refills as you want for 89 cents a pop. The buckets aren’t dated so you can reuse them for the duration of your trip.
You can also get a nice souvenir cup for $7.99 and then the refills are 89 cents. Again, you can reuse your cup in both theme parks and out on CityWalk for 89 cents for the duration of your trip.
And they’re buy 2 get 1 free so you don’t necessarily have to share. Disney doesn’t offer a comparable deal.
But almost all of Universal’s snack kiosks and locations offer the same stuff.
The same cotton candy, churros, pretzels, Icees, and what have you as just about every other location.
The kiosks are also somewhat obnoxiously located every five steps. In typical easyWDW fashion, I have a picture of “literally” every single one of them along with their menus.
If you’ve been to Disney World, you pretty much know what to expect from Universal. They have your typical character meet and greets.
Typically, they’re more informal with shorter lines.
But the characters are potentially less iconic.
Universal is smart with these green screen meets. Ordinarily, you could get the exact same picture of you and the character with your own camera. Not so much with the green screen.
Speaking of familiarity, the theme park experience is pretty much the same as Disney. You’ll enter the Park through turnstiles in the front, where they scan your finger. Unlike Disney’s biometric scan, this is actually a fingerprint. Tinfoil hat optional.
A potentially over-themed rental price list. ECVs are seen much less frequently at the Universal theme parks. I ran into about four on this particular afternoon over the course of several hours.
As far as customer service is concerned, Disney probably wins on that front. While the “magic” is all in your head, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of it at Universal. Ordinarily I’d be greeted with a smile and a “hello” multiple times at Disney, as creepy as I am, but I didn’t get a single smile or hello at Universal.
Toon Lagoon is the next major section.
Here, Universal has out-DinoLand’d DinoLand.
With an assortment of over priced carnival games. Kind of tacky.
And with Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges, Universal has out-Kali-River-Rapids’d Kali River Rapids.
You’re going to get soaked.
On the plus side, they won’t make you feel bad about living in a house made of wood.
Wait times are pretty ugly in the summer, but with the 75 degree day in December, you could walk right on.
Close by sits Dudley Do-Right’s Rip Saw Falls, which we saw a few pictures of earlier.
On the customer service front, I can’t think of an attraction where you get saluted on your way in.
This one’s pretty wild.
Like most of the other attractions, Do-Right’s is a walk-on. Fast forward to July and you’re looking at 90 minute waits.
Toon Lagoon also affords the opportunity to board The Olive.
It’s a play area for kids.
But it also offers some great views of the Park.
We’ll get over to “Harry Potter Land” shortly.
Otherwise, the theme here is color and fun.
Unlike Disney, which is rolling out “free” WiFi resort-wide, Universal charges.
A pretty penny at that.
In Part 2, we’ll head to Jurassic Park and the Wizarding World. And another “don’t worry,” this isn’t turning into a “Universal blog.” I’m actually headed out to Epcot to update my “ideal morning” touring plan now that Test Track has reopened.