MousePlanet Mailbag

by Stephanie Wien, staff writer

Welcome to fall everyone! October is almost here and the resorts are all ready for Halloweentime. Staff writer Chris Barry opens up the mailbag this week, sharing letters in response to his article about that other park in Florida, "Top 5 Ways We Were Pleasantly Surprised with the Universal Orlando Resort" (September 3, 2010).

Harry writes:

Thanks for a very informative article. I am a huge Disney fan, and often find myself comparing when I go to other destinations.

When I went to Universal a few years ago, I thought that the rides were fantastic, and did beat Disney on a few of them, but for the most part, there was no heart. It just didn't feel magical. It felt like they were out to get my money and I knew it. Strange, isn't it, that Disney is doing the same thing, but yet, I don't feel the same way? I don't know... it was something that was very apparent, and after just spending one day at Universal, we were ready to head back and visit the Mouse.

I actually just got back from visiting Hersheypark and was surprised by it... and not in a good way. I was disappointed by a lot of it, and almost the haphazard way it felt. Maybe it's because the park's growth was done before theming was even considered, but I just didn't get the impression that there was any difference between one land and the next. I would love to hear your thoughts on it!

Like I said in my story, Universal's attractions tend to bombard you constantly. Lots of effects, lots of explosions, lots of movement. It's high tech extra sensory attraction time. Disney's tradition is concentrating on story and giving you a reason to care about the attractions and their backstory. It's really their trademark, and something that no one else can duplicate. I think for what Universal does, they do it exceptionally well. But, they don't do exactly what Disney does, and they shouldn't, and we shouldn't expect it going in.

I think that the way that we toured Universal was key to our enjoyment. Staying in a nice hotel right there next to the parks, gave us reason to leave and do the two parks in small doses. It was easy and comfortable and gave us plenty of downtime at the hotel and its awesome pool.

Hershey is definitely more "old school" amusement park than it is theme park. I liked Hershey. Once again, we stayed in a Hershey hotel that had a constant shuttle bus back and forth and great pool facilities, so we didn't overdose on the park all in one shot. We went back and forth. But, Hershey and Disney and Universal are really all in different classes of resorts.

Gina writes:

I really enjoyed your article about "the other Orlando theme parks." I've never stayed on property at Universal. Last time I visited was even before Islands of Adventure opened. I never found magic at their studios. The queue areas were never imaginative and they never seemed to manage crowds or move lines efficiently. It only felt a little more special than a Six Flags. Having said that I'm grateful for your article because I'd really like to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Now we just may do that.

Disney does spoil you with their queue designs don't they? However, Islands of Adventure is the closest thing you're going to find to a Disney park. It's beautiful and very well themed. The queue through Hogwarts is a work of art. You'll be very impressed. Try to stay on property so you can get into the Wizarding World early and appreciate the details.

Linden writes:

Thanks for your great article on Universal Orlando. We are planning on going there in late October. Can you tell me if the characters sign autographs, or do they just pose for pictures? Also, does the express pass work on any of the rides in the Harry Potter area?

October should be a great time to be at Universal. Their Halloween celebration is pretty famous. Be warned, it's supposed to be much more adult than over at Disney.

I did see characters signing autographs. For some reason, my daughter didn't take out her autograph book at Universal. It has Minnie Mouse on the cover and she was very concerned about wearing or using Disney items in the Universal parks and vice versa. I think she felt she would somehow offend the Cat in the Hat if he were signing a Disney autograph book.

As far as Express goes in the Wizarding World, it's only available on the two coasters, Dueling Dragons and Flight of the Hippogriff, not on the main Harry Potter attraction, Forbidden Journey. To be honest, I wouldn't want to walk through a different line on Forbidden Journey. The queue is half the attraction and I hear that was a factor in Express being left off of this particular attraction. You don't want to miss any of the line. Stay on property and get in there early. Going late also seems to work.

Audress J. writes:

Very interesting and much appreciated article on Universal Orlando. I have only been one time in 2006 with some friends, and I think you're right, it's hard to do a strict comparison between the two. I enjoyed it... but so much of it just did not resonate with me because I am only vaguely familiar with most of their stories and characters, unlike Disney. It was almost like going to a family reunion with someone else's family. They did have some incredibly creative attractions and some really great engineering designs, which impressed me.

As for service, I did not experience the kind of warmth I'm used to at Walt Disney World, anywhere I went. Service was good, but instead of feeling like a long-lost cousin greeted with open arms, as I do at Walt Disney World, I felt like a quickly-forgotten stranger, even from the face characters. Maybe things have improved?

I am also a Harry Potter fan and I will definitely be going to experience the Wizarding World, I just don't know when.

There's definitely a warmth to Walt Disney World that can't be had anywhere else. I don't think we were looking for the same kind of thing out of Universal. We were expecting more of a run of the mill theme park experience, and were so happily surprised by the treatment we received. Perhaps they have been working on customer service, because for a family like ours, so used to the Disney magic to even think Universal came close is a major statement on their behalf. We know what it's like to feel the warmth of Disney and we were feeling it on this last trip. The Wizarding World is a must. Enjoy it when you go.

Nigel W. writes:

As a regular visitor to the site I found your article on Universal Orlando to be a great read and this particular piece was of even more interest than normal as I'm currently weighing up our options with my fiancee with regard to our Honeymoon next Easter, a large part of which will be in Florida.

We're about to book a seven night Disney Cruise and the original plan was to fly in from the UK, spend a single night near the airport before taking our cruise then enjoying 13 nights at a moderate Disney resort taking advantage of their Free Disney Dining Package. The Walt Disney World portion of the trip will cost just under $3,000 which includes 13 nights accommodation, 14 day Park Tickets and the basic Disney food package of two counter-service meals, snacks, drinks, etc.

Just ahead of actually proceeding with booking we've weighed up a few other options, one of which is spending four nights at Universal Orlando ahead of the Cruise then back to another Orlando resort (Celebration Hotel or a Walt Disney World property). Having just priced up four nights at the Hard Rock Hotel (marginally more expensive than Royal Pacific) and four day theme park tickets and the cost is only $200 away from the 13 night Disney stay with all the bells and whistles! In fairness, the Hard Rock shouldn't be compared to say Port Orleans so we're not exactly comparing like-for-like but I'm sure you get the picture.

Needless to say, considering that we're splashing out on the cruise, it looks like a Universal Hotel is off the cards as in comparison, Disney are offering a great deal even though right now, the Universal parks and Sea World have more pull as we've visited Disney property every year for the last five years and we'll be getting a mouse-fix on the cruise.

Sorry to waffle but I love your thoughts on Universal - as a Brit with many family and friends being fans of Orlando, you're the first person I've heard complimenting Seuss Landings, in fact going as far as saying you loved it. I think it's fine but most people I know hate it and it's always intrigued me because Seuss means very little over here in the UK which I've always considered when hearing friend's thoughts on the "gaudy, concrete laden place with the fairground rides" as one pal commented. Thankfully we're all very different as otherwise we'd all be vacationing in the same resort, staying in the same hotel and queuing for the same rides. Great article Chris - look forward to the next one!

Something the Americans just don't get is the European way of vacationing. You guys really do things right: 13 nights at Disney and a seven night cruise and maybe a stay at Universal or near the airport. We should all take off for three weeks at a time. We'd be a happier, healthier nation for sure. Enjoy your holiday with your new spouse, no matter what you decide.

It's a tough pill to swallow, paying almost the same for such a shorter time at the Hard Rock. Quite honestly, I'd rather stay at Port Orleans than the Hard Rock anyway, but in your case, maybe just a night or two at the Royal Pacific to just get your fill of Universal. You'd save a few dollars and with the Universal Express benefit and no children, you could easily do everything in two days at the Universal parks. This way you get to see the Wizarding World early in the day, which is totally worth the trip.

I stand by my thoughts on Seuss Landing. I think it's a fantastic place that really captures the wacky amazingly creative world of Dr. Seuss. Maybe it's because of how much I read the books as a child, but I really did love the place. My wife is a tough act to please. She's a creative director, owns her own graphic design company and is a lifelong artist and the design and feel of Seuss Landing blew her away as well. You are 100% correct though, it takes all kinds and thankfully we're all different.

Thanks for a great response and the kind words and enjoy your wonderful honeymoon.