• Welcome to the WDWMAGIC.COM Forums!
    Please take a look around, and feel free to sign up and join the community.You can use your Twitter or Facebook account to sign up, or register directly.

Universal Stay with a few Disney Days (trip observations and thoughts)

sbunit

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
I’m currently sitting in MCO waiting on my flight back home to NYC and wanted to share my thoughts regarding this trip while still fresh in my mind. Hopefully it can serve as a perspective for those out there debating on trip options.

Background:
This was our first trip back to Disney in just over 3 years. The major difference this time around was we decided for the first time ever to not stay on Disney property. This was primarily based on the fact that several pre-pandemic experiences were either not available or have changed. Instead we decided to stay on Universal Property and scheduled two day trips to Disney Parks. Quite frankly, we were suppose to go to Disney this past December for a week and obviously canceled. The driving force behind this last minute trip was my wife and I really wanted to get our 5 year old over there to experience the rides (and whatever experiences may be available) before he outgrows this phase of his imagination. For his personality, We felt he was at prime age to allow his imagination soar at the theme parks.

Previously we’ve always stayed at Deluxe resorts and always signed up for the deluxe dining plan. We enjoy the signature restaurants and for our purposes find that the deluxe dining plan suites our preferences well (we are not over eaters and yes the quantity can be daunting) as we like to have dinner every evening at a signature restaurant (I guess that comes from our habits of eating out in NYC).

With that being said, we flew down this past Monday and spent 5 nights at the Portofino Bay Resort. We didn’t know what to expect in regards to crowds (normally we’d always avoid Disney during any major holiday or school break) but my wife and I both got fully vaccinated, the snow just didn’t want to end in NYC and we were all desperate for a vacation that didn’t involve leaving the US mainland (just in case any Covid related reasons caused any possible havoc on international air travel that could block our way back h

Here we go (and in no specific order)...

1) Both Disney and Universal are putting in the right effort in terms of health related precautions. Temperature checks at both resorts were efficient and not viewed as a hinderance. Mask wearing was enforced by both resorts equally but of course there were a fair share of guests at both resorts that tried to circumvent the rules, some innocently unknowing and others certainly just not giving a flying you know what but they were very few and far between. the weather cooperated for the most part and made the mask wearing tolerable. I however would want no part of wearing the mask during the Florida summer (and I am a healthcare practiitoner who wears one every day and is quite used to it).

Where Universal stands out above Disney is in my opinion the fact that before any guests gets on any attraction they must have hand disinfectant placed onto their hands and wiped down. That makes sense from every which way possible and is a true deterrent to spreading any type of infectious disease. I was shocked that Disney did not utilize this practice.


As sound as Disney’s overall protocols were, However, I do feel that a portion of their practices didn’t make much sense and gave me the sense that it was for window dressing and resulted in what is in my opinion more of a nuisance than anything else. For example, while on line for flight of passage, there was a segment of the line that zigzagged through the festival of the lion king enclosure. We probably spent as much time inside that enclosure with what I estimated was about another 100 or so moving mass of people that it would take to watch the entire festival of the lion king show. Very similar set up for Pirates. If Disney is going to set up lines in this manner (and yes there were social distancing markers) why can’t they just bring back the shows? I personally didn’t see how it made sense or coincided with their decisions to continue to not bring back shows/entertainment. If I’m going to spend 15 minutes or so in an enclosed space with several other people I see no reason why shows aren’t brought back. We experienced the Bourne Stunt show at Universal with every other row utilized and 2 empty seats separating each party and felt it was safe and adequate.

2) Social distancing is hit or miss at both parks. Some people adhere to it more than others and there is no way you can control your neighbors actions without constant reminders if you chose to do so. At the end of the day I noticed that social distancing becomes less compliant as people burn out from the efforts of running around the park, me included. I caught myself on several occasions on line zoning out and just walking past the marker to only correct myself (or have my 7 year old correct me) several times. While there are markers everywhere at both parks guests must have a realistic expectation that the parks aren’t under surveillance like an elementary school class would be and distancing can be quite dynamic but still overall compliant.

3) Florida weather and rain is another factor that should be taken into account. The skys opened on us yesterday in Universal and as a result EVERYONE rushed under the canopy of a nearby restaurant (I believe maybe 3 broomsticks, not sure) and it evolved into a mosh pit of human flesh and the total opposite of social distancing. This is something to keep in mind for those who are especially uneasy to close physical space during these times. Consider the unpredictability of Florida weather and the resulting unpredictability of the human response around you.

4) Park reservations are great for corporate Disney and how they run their business but IMO adds another Avenue of stress in planning your family’s “perfect” Disney vacation. We really wanted to make sure we score boarding passes for Rise of the resistance. But what if we didn’t? Would our 2nd best park option be available? What if the weather changes the day you wanted to go to a certain park and you want to cancel theme parks that day for another day? Risk losing out on possibly not getting into that park later in your trip?

I can see park reservations being great for
Locals. But for those who vacation at Disney infrequently I personally think it’s just another obstacle to plan and stress over as it can remove a great deal of flexibility in your trip. Universal on the other hand, wake up and go where you want based on your plans or whatever you feel like doing that morning. We were
Much less stressed at Universal.


4) we had express passed for Universal which were a God Send. As we all know fastpass wasn’t an option at Disney. Now I can’t accurately comment about the crowd levels at Disney this past week although I’m fairly confident to assume they were on the higher than normal side. With the lack of entertainment and crowd diversions like stage shows and character interactions literally every guest in the park was focused on rides. The lines were considerably longer in Disney as compared to Universal. For those considering going to Disney during periods of school closures please plan accordingly and anticipate long waits with no real way to circumvent them (with the exception of rope drop but that assumes you’re staying on site). As stated Universal IMO for the time being beat out Disney as they are still implementing express pass there and allowed for us to experience everything multiple times at a leisurely pace.

5) Food options are somewhat limited at Disney these days but overall food quality is superior to Universal. I felt Disney still provides a more dynamic array of options than the typical theme park variety. Universal needs to step its game up there.

the virtual ordering at Disney is also a major plus as it keeps you off another line to wait on. It’s actually quite convenient and efficient. However for those who like to spend cash at the park, be warned that you cannot utilize cash at any of the options utilizing the virtual ordering as once you order you must pay with a credit card for the order to process. For some this can be an annoyance who rely on cash.

6) We saw and interacted with much more characters in Universal than Disney. Both parks enforce social distancing with their characters but Universal still has them set up in a stationary manner so you can take pictures with them, albeit 6 feet behind you. Disney has spontaneous unannounced character calvacades which won’t allow you to take any pictures with the characters. Either situation is not ideal but at least with Universal you can take a photo with characters. Universal is also much more lax with dropping your mask to take a photo (Not an option at all at Disney)

7) Disney property is still superior to Universal, it just feels more quaint and homey. I hate to say this but while Universal was nice it felt more “artificial”
And cold. We certainly missed staying and experiencing the Disney bubble but we just couldn’t justify paying for a Disney resort with all the current limitations in place. Both resorts (we had dinner at Narcoossee at the Grand Floridian one night) immaculately clean and well kept with cast members constantly wiping thinhs

Overall we had a great trip and were able to accomplish all our goals (with a lot of planning). We felt safe, the parks were both clean and at the end of the day we were on vacation and enjoying our time
Together as a family.

i would strongly caution those families who are planning a once in a lifetime trip or once in a decade trip to think twice about going to Disney in 2021 however. The essence of what makes Disney special is still
Missing. While there are character calvacades they don’t compare to seeing your little one hug and high five their favorite character. Pictures and keepsakes aren’t the same. The fireworks and shows that distinguish Disney from your average theme park are still missing as well as a good amount of dining. I would strongly recommend this group of vacationers to delay their visit until pre-covid offerings are reintroduced otherwise you will get a water downed experience. For those have been there numerous times, this is a great time to go especially if you can go while schools are in session and crowds are limited. I personally will not be returning until we feel
Comfortable staying on property again which will be strictly dictated by the return of pre-pandemic offerings and protocols.

All of the above are just
My personal opinions and not the opinions of anyone else and should not be viewed as such nor as fact. At the end of the day every family should decide what’s best for theirs and hopefully some of my observations in this thread will help. Regardless Disney is still Disney and it’s still a magical destination. All the best and happy to answer any questions
 

Ckelly14

New Member
Advertisement
Thanks for the detailed review.
 

Dutch Inn '76

Well-Known Member
Agree totally with your assessment of Universal as more "artificial" than Disney. The only parts of USO that live up to the Disney standard are the WWOHP and Kong. Everything else is down at least one step. Some attractions are Six Flags-ish.

We just returned from our umpteenth trip to WDW, and I also agree that if you're planning a "once in a lifetime trip," then put it off until the place is back up to speed. Right now, a lot of the fun is absent.
 
Last edited:

JIMINYCR

Well-Known Member
Disney remains our favorite for many reasons, but its good theres another option for an alternative park for entertainment. Going to Uni helps break up our Disney time and makes us appreciate Disney all that more.
As far as the social distancing break down in the parks goes... it just shows that you can have all the rules and parameters in place, but nothing is infallible. A simple lapse of attention or downpour of rain can cause you to forget about safety.
Glad you and your family had a great time and were able to enjoy the time away from NY.
 

Minnesota disney fan

Well-Known Member
I agree with everything you said, having experienced Universal in a deluxe. I personally prefer the non stress feeling I get at Universal, as you related. With or without EP, you can just decide to ride an attraction over and over if you want. We did this with MIB with back to back to back rides, until I finally beat my husband, LOL. I thought the hotels were very clean and efficient. The TM's were exceptional and helpful at Universal.
You are right that there is that nostalgic factor at disney, but I am starting to lose the "nostalgia" with all the cuts and changes. I hope the WDW Co. realizes how much the little things, and big things, that have been taken away really do impact how the public feels about disney. Right now, out in the real world, I hear alot of negativity involving disney and their decisions. I hope they are listening too, because you can't rely on your good brand name forever. Just ask Sears, and other companies who thought so.
 

sbunit

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
I agree with everything you said, having experienced Universal in a deluxe. I personally prefer the non stress feeling I get at Universal, as you related. With or without EP, you can just decide to ride an attraction over and over if you want. We did this with MIB with back to back to back rides, until I finally beat my husband, LOL. I thought the hotels were very clean and efficient. The TM's were exceptional and helpful at Universal.
You are right that there is that nostalgic factor at disney, but I am starting to lose the "nostalgia" with all the cuts and changes. I hope the WDW Co. realizes how much the little things, and big things, that have been taken away really do impact how the public feels about disney. Right now, out in the real world, I hear alot of negativity involving disney and their decisions. I hope they are listening too, because you can't rely on your good brand name forever. Just ask Sears, and other companies who thought so.
Couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve stated on a number of occasions on differing threads that Disney has lost its core foundation and appears to be sailing through a storm with no true leadership at the helm. Almost all of their latest decisions appear to be very short sighted and strictly from a black and white accounting standpoint. It is very reflective in the parks and many guests I encountered echoed my same sentiments. Disney is playing with fire and hopefully they get their act together before they dig themselves in too deep
 

Giss Neric

Well-Known Member
Universal on the other hand, wake up and go where you want based on your plans or whatever you feel like doing that morning. We were
Much less stressed at Universal.
You must have gone on a slow day as they do close the parks if it reaches capacity. We went there once when they just announced that they are closed due to capacity and there were a lot of angry guests there, but they did open it back up a couple of hours later. We just killed time in the mall and waited for an announcement. I think the reservation system is better.
 

Jon81uk

Well-Known Member
Where Universal stands out above Disney is in my opinion the fact that before any guests gets on any attraction they must have hand disinfectant placed onto their hands and wiped down. That makes sense from every which way possible and is a true deterrent to spreading any type of infectious disease. I was shocked that Disney did not utilize this practice.

I wouldn't get too hung up on surfaces and hand hygiene, covid is airborne, worry more about the poorly ventilated spaces and distancing from others. Yes wash your hands regularly and before touching your face and food. But if you aren't about to touch your face then its not as important as distancing is.
 

UNCgolf

Well-Known Member
I couldn't agree more about the food at Universal. While the restaurants at CityWalk are fine -- the Italian restaurant there was actually quite good -- most of the food in the parks is atrocious.

It's not even that Disney's food is especially good, because it isn't (like Universal, the stuff at Disney Springs is much better than almost anything you can get in the parks). Generally speaking, though, the average in-park food at Disney is much better than the average in-park food at Universal.

It is mitigated at Universal by the fact CityWalk is right outside the gates of both parks, though. It's much easier/less of a time commitment to leave the park and eat in CityWalk than it is to head to Disney Springs from one of the WDW parks.
 

rreading

Premium Member
Re: park reservations, how is it any different than FastPass+?

People have been making park reservations since 2013, it just has a different name now.

True, but if your main ride to ride at HS is ROTR and you can't get the FP 60d out, you might plan a different park for that day with a different array of FP. In this case, you have to be all-in on HS in order to get a chance to ride ROTR - which hasn't always worked out for everyone.
 

CaptainAmerica

Premium Member
True, but if your main ride to ride at HS is ROTR and you can't get the FP 60d out, you might plan a different park for that day with a different array of FP. In this case, you have to be all-in on HS in order to get a chance to ride ROTR - which hasn't always worked out for everyone.
Right but ROTR has always been a morning-of situation. It was never bookable at 60.
 

NelleBelle

Well-Known Member
And if you have a PH and don't get either the 7am or 1pm BG for RotR, you can leave the park! That's our plan for HS day. Hopefully we'll have been able to get a BG early and not have to worry. Even if there was 60-day FP+, there isn't a guarantee you'd get the FP.
 

sbunit

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Re: park reservations, how is it any different than FastPass+?

People have been making park reservations since 2013, it just has a different name now.
The wildcard in all of this is the rise of the resistance boarding group lottery. As someone else mentioned, if you intend to ride this attraction you really gotta be all in on Hollywood studios when it comes to park reservations. It really takes the flexibility out of your planning for the most part because you’re always going to content with the “what if we don’t get it on that day” mentality.
Plus if I wake up one day and find that the weather isn’t to my liking for a particular park that day for example (just throwing out any type of random example), I don’t have the luxury to “just pick another park to do.” I don’t think it’s fair to say the park reservations are like fastpass.
 

sbunit

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
I couldn't agree more about the food at Universal. While the restaurants at CityWalk are fine -- the Italian restaurant there was actually quite good -- most of the food in the parks is atrocious.

It's not even that Disney's food is especially good, because it isn't (like Universal, the stuff at Disney Springs is much better than almost anything you can get in the parks). Generally speaking, though, the average in-park food at Disney is much better than the average in-park food at Universal.

It is mitigated at Universal by the fact CityWalk is right outside the gates of both parks, though. It's much easier/less of a time commitment to leave the park and eat in CityWalk than it is to head to Disney Springs from one of the WDW parks.
I personally found that the overall food experience and variety at Universal was lacking. I felt as if I was surrounded by different variations of fast food. In some cases disguised by being served in a sit down restaurant and served on a plastic plate. Even citywalk felt lacking but concealed with interesting theming.

and don’t get me started on “snacks”, Disney blows Universal out of the water in that department.
 

sbunit

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
I wouldn't get too hung up on surfaces and hand hygiene, covid is airborne, worry more about the poorly ventilated spaces and distancing from others. Yes wash your hands regularly and before touching your face and food. But if you aren't about to touch your face then its not as important as distancing is.
I don’t know. The thought of you holding the same apparatus (handlebar) as a few hundred people before you only seconds apart sure does sound fairly potent to spreading germs. IMO it’s no different than riding the subway system in nyc. It may not play a major role in transmission but I find it hard to believe it doesn’t play much of a role at all
 

UNCgolf

Well-Known Member
I personally found that the overall food experience and variety at Universal was lacking. I felt as if I was surrounded by different variations of fast food. In some cases disguised by being served in a sit down restaurant and served on a plastic plate. Even citywalk felt lacking but concealed with interesting theming.

and don’t get me started on “snacks”, Disney blows Universal out of the water in that department.

Vivo Italian Kitchen at CityWalk was really good. Not on the level of an actual local Italian restaurant, but much better than any Italian food I've had at WDW (haven't been to Disney Springs Italian so not comparing it to that). The other meals we had at CityWalk were just kind of above average chain restaurant level -- certainly not great (and the best stuff at Disney Springs is significantly better than anything we had other than Vivo), but light years better than anything offered in the parks themselves. The QS food in the Simpsons area was basically inedible; my GF and I had different things and we both ended up throwing most of it away.
 

GrandCanyonConcourse

Well-Known Member
Vivo Italian Kitchen at CityWalk was really good. Not on the level of an actual local Italian restaurant, but much better than any Italian food I've had at WDW (haven't been to Disney Springs Italian so not comparing it to that). The other meals we had at CityWalk were just kind of above average chain restaurant level -- certainly not great (and the best stuff at Disney Springs is significantly better than anything we had other than Vivo), but light years better than anything offered in the parks themselves. The QS food in the Simpsons area was basically inedible; my GF and I had different things and we both ended up throwing most of it away.
Better than via Napoli too?
 

Disneyhead'71

Well-Known Member
I never seem to have a problem finding good food at Universal. Palm and BiCE are fantastic. Mama Della's is quite enjoyable. Vivo, Antojito's, Toothsome's, Bigfire, and Cowfish are solid. In the parks, Mythos and Finnegan's are my go toos. As far as Counter Service, Thunder Falls, Three Broomsticks, and Leaky Cauldron are not bad, and Fire Eaters Grill is surprisingly good. Louie's Pizza is way better than the pizza at WDW, Via Napoli excepted. But the better pizza at Universal is either at Red Oven or Sal's. I do miss Tchop Chop though.
 

UNCgolf

Well-Known Member
Better than via Napoli too?

The appetizer, the entree, and the bread was much better at Vivo than anything I had the last time I was at Via Napoli and my GF felt the same way.

I don't think Via Napoli is especially good, though. It's fine and certainly not somewhere you need to avoid but it's definitely not one of the better Italian meals I've ever had in the US.

I haven't had the pizza at Via Napoli though so I'm not talking about that. Just the regular entrees.
 
Last edited:

Register on WDWMAGIC. This sidebar will go away, and you'll see fewer ads.

Top Bottom