I recently had the opportunity to spend several days at Universal Orlando Resort. I have only been to Universal Orlando a handful of times over the years and the last time was probably about seven years ago. It was basically like visiting for the first time since so much has been closed, expanded and created since then. I visit Walt Disney World Resort
constantly regularly – at least 6 or 8 times a year, so it was a very different visit to Orlando for me.
As a Disney
fanatic fan, I found myself constantly comparing the two resorts/theme parks. It’s only natural. Although I did enjoy Universal Orlando, Islands of Adventures and the CityWalk area, as well as the resort I stayed at (Portofino Bay Resort), there were several things about my experience and differences between the two that I think are important to share.
As all Disney lovers know, when you reserve a vacation to Walt Disney World Resort, before you leave home you will receive everything you need either via e-mail or by regular mail delivery. Your Magic Bands will have so much necessary information contained on them that all you really need is to snap on your band and head to Orlando.
AIRPORT TRANSPORTATION – DISNEY WINS
The first differences – Disney’s Magical Express – FREE! Easy to locate in the airport. Scan your Magic Band, get on the Magical Express and head to your resort. On occasion you may have to wait a short time for the bus to be full if you are traveling during a peak time but you are usually on your way before very long. Disney even collects your luggage for you. Universal does offer an airport transfer service. However, it is not free. There is a charge of around $35 per person round trip. Universal Orlando uses SuperStar Shuttle Service. Also you must collect your own luggage.
Even when paying in advance for the shuttle, once you arrive at Orlando International Airport you must collect your luggage and then find your way to the concierge desk in the Universal Orlando store in the airport to collect your packet for shuttle access. However, if you arrive after 8:30 at night you will have to call for pickup. At the time you pick up your packet, you will be told where to meet the shuttle. I admit they do give you a re-usable, fancy wallet type document packet but that doesn’t really make up for the inconvenience of having to go collect documents after traveling all morning. The shuttles are small, only seat about 12 people. I waited almost an hour for the shuttle to arrive even after I was told it would be there in 15 minutes. Once it arrives, it won’t leave until they are sure there are no others coming to board soon so you may also sit another 30 minutes waiting for others. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do after traveling for several hours is having to locate a store, stand in line for shuttle access paperwork and then wait around for a shuttle. It should be noted that the shuttle also makes multiple stops on the way to Universal Orlando Resort. Unfortunately, I also found the shuttle drivers to be rude and absolutely nothing like the Magical Express drivers. A person in my group on a different shuttle actually experienced her driver spit at and on a car!
FASTPASS+ at DISNEY vs. EXPRESS PASS at UNIVERSAL
All Disney fans love their FastPasses! FREE. The same system called Express Pass at Universal costs about $40 per person per day for one ride on each of the rides that accept Express Pass for all who visit the park not staying in one of their on-site resorts. You pay around $60 per person per day for unlimited access to have an Express Pass for multiple rides per attraction. That is a heck of alot of money! Those staying on-site (excluding Cabana Bay Beach Resort) do receive free Express Passes Unlimited but you have to be sure to arrange it yourself through a lobby kiosk.
RESORT MISC. – SORRY UNIVERSAL. DISNEY WINS AGAIN!
I will say the Universal resort (Portofino Bay Resort) I stayed at was beautiful. Clean, convenient to the parks, beautifully taken care of and had great restaurants. There were, however, several problems I had with my stay there.
- Check-in #1: I always do on-line check-in when going to Disney. On-line check-in makes the arrival process quick and easy. Even at peak times, there are cast members located throughout the lines with iPads moving the process along. The cast members at the desk are always welcoming and pleasant. At check-in at the Portofino, the line was fairly long with only 3 customer service representatives at the desk. One was ruder then the next. No pleasantries. No welcoming. It was very disappointing.
- Check-in #2: As a frequent traveler I know that rooms are not always ready during peak times. I arrived at Universal several hours after my flight arrival due to the time spent waiting for the shuttle. After initially being told there was no reservation for me (because my name was entered in their computer incorrectly) I was told it would be several hours before a room was available. I must add that the customer service representative refused to correct the spelling of my name in the computer. It took me two days and several drawn out mix ups to get the spelling of my name corrected. I was at Universal Resort at Universal’s invitation for a media event starting at 2 p.m. After traveling all day (since 5 a.m.) I had no choice but to attend the first event without changing clothes or even freshening up. I finally received a text that they had a room ready for me at 4 p.m.
- Check-in #3: When I checked in I was asked for my credit card. This is normal. However, at Disney you are asked if you WOULD LIKE to leave a card ON FILE for incidental charges. At Universal you have no choice. Not only do you have no choice but the card is not put on file. The card is charged – are you ready for this – $200 per night held against your card in case of incidentals. This is unacceptable as far as I’m concerned. If a family is staying at Portofino for 5 nights – that’s $1,000 held against their credit card! From what I understand the per night charge is different depending on which of their resorts you are staying at but that it does exist at each of their on-site resorts.
- Portofino is a deluxe resort but has no mini-fridge in the rooms. There is an old style snack bar in the room that contains some bottled water and $5 candy bars. You can rent a mini-fridge for about $20 per day. Here’s the kicker! The candy bars and snacks sit on sensors. So you don’t even have to eat them to be charged for them. Simply pick one up to read the label or decide if you want it and if it is off the sensor for longer then one minute – CHARGED! This is a huge huge huge issue as far as I’m concerned.
CAST MEMBERS – NO CONTEST! DISNEY WINS AGAIN!
I know there are some that will disagree with me and some that have experienced un-Disney like behavior from cast members at Disney. I, however, have never experienced rude behavior from any cast member. I have never been treated rudely while on Disney property. My experience has always been cast members going out of their way. The same can’t be said for Universal. Starting with the shuttle drivers to the employees at the resort check-in to those working in the parks – there were several instances in the 4 days I was there that I experienced rudeness.
SECURITY CHECK POINT – UNIVERSAL WINS
There is one area that Universal wins. Unfortunately, it just isn’t a possibility at Disney due to the number of resorts and people being moved from those resorts, as well as the fact that most are being moved via bus. Universal Orlando resorts (except for Cabana Bay Beach Resort) all have boat transportation to the parks. Before boarding the boat you go through a security check point making it unnecessary to go through security at the parks with the bulk of the crowds. I have to admit that this was a nice convenience. Unfortunately Universal only wins where this is concerned because I just don’t think it’s a possibility at Disney.
Again, overall I found Universal Orlando Resort to be great parks with great attractions, a huge variety and selection of food. The resort was beautiful. I may just be a little tiny bit Disney spoiled and I do tend to compare any place I go to Disney standards.
If you will be visiting Universal Orlando, I hope some of this information will help!
Disclosure: I received Universal Orlando park passes, Express Passes, Resort stay and meals. All opinions are my own.