SATURDAY SIX: The Disney Hipsters Examine Six of Their Assumptions After Visiting the Universal Orlando Resort
This week’s SATURDAY SIX is a very special one. A little over a year ago I was introduced to the Disney Hipsters podcast via the TouringPlans Podcast Network and I became an immediate fan. They are refreshingly different from the seemingly hundreds of Disney podcasts out there that just recite Disney press releases and while they have a true passion for Walt Disney World they never shy away from pointing out the bad along with the good. When they announced their first ever trip to the Universal Orlando Resort earlier this year, I couldn’t wait to get their unique perspective on the theme parks and staying onsite after years of being “Disney Only” fans. Today Disney Hipster Adam Ferretti is here to examine six of the assumptions they had about Universal before going on the trip and whether or not they held up after the vacation. As always, clicking on any picture will open up its full size version, so with that out of the way I will see you, Dear Reader, at the end of the article and hand the reigns over to Adam…
As Disney nerds going into Universal, we had tons of preconceived notions on what to expect. We thought we would discuss six of those assumptions.
ASSUMPTION # 6 – Universal Team Members Would be Inferior to Disney Cast Members
This assumption was very wrong. As a rule, the team members were super friendly, helpful and amazing. We expected the customer service aspect and general employee/guest interactions at Universal to be less than great. We ended up being really surprised by the enthusiasm of the team members at both the parks and our resort (Royal Pacific.) This was especially true of performers inside both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida.
Universal pays their team members a bit better (we have heard) and gives them more freedom when doing their jobs. This results in guest interactions that come off as way more genuine along with performances that were truly engaging (check out the hosts of Disaster or the Horror Make Up show for great examples.) Disney is more controlling on Cast Member behavior, including what they can and cannot say. Sometimes this makes Cast Members seem like they’re faking it, resulting in their performances being generally stale and boring (see The Great Movie Ride).
ASSUMPTION # 5 – Universal Still Rocks “Theme Park Food”
This one is totally true. At some point, Disney figured out that they could draw longer stays/more visits from adult guests if they increased the quality of food and tried to make food for every diet. They continually get better and better on this front and its one of the reasons we visit so much.
Universal has not learned this yet. During our visit, I was brought back to Disney World circa 2002 when all I could eat was veggie burgers, horrible pizza and French fries (we are both vegetarian). Universal seems to have a million little dining locations, but all of them seem to serve the same bad frozen pizza like pizza. Also…boo for the complete lack of vegetarian food at Three Broomsticks.
Andddddd Mythos… All the Universal folks kept telling us it was rated “the best theme park restaurant in the world.” They forgot to mention that this quote was of questionable origin and was first written 10+ years ago. The sign outside proclaiming this fact should tip you off going in. If something is good, it speaks for itself. You don’t need a sign to tell people how good your food is. That being said, if you love Applebee’s, you’ll love Mythos. We do not love Applebee’s.
I do need to mention the big exception that was Emeril’s Tchoup Chop at the Royal Pacific. It’s a great restaurant and we highly recommend it. Make sure you buy one of their super cool Tiki mugs.
ASSUMPTION #4 – Universal’s Resorts Could NEVER Compare to Disney Resorts
This assumption is completely debunked. We can only speak to the Royal Pacific Resort, but we really loved it. Its slightly less themed than most Disney deluxe resorts, but was it still lovely. We’d also like to give a big A+ for the staff at Royal Pacific. Overall, we really enjoyed our stay here and now plan on hitting up Loews hotels when we travel to other cities.
ASSUMPTION #3 – The Background Music at Universal is the Worst
This one is pretty much true. If you don’t know much about us, we are majorly obsessed with background music. We consider it the largest defining factor in why Disney parks feel so special. This is one additional area (in addition to dining) that Universal could learn something from Disney. The loops were lackluster, unbalanced and lacked transition as a rule. There were definitely a few exceptions such as Hogsmeade and Port of Entry, but overall they were blah.
ASSUMPTION #2 – Universal is technologically superior
I’ll give this one to Universal; however, this doesn’t always translate into fun. I’m an engineer the real world, and the seamless way they’re able to synch physical movement to projected footage is pretty incredible. Automation at that level is difficult to achieve. That being said, we were very impressed with this the first time we experienced it. And then another, and another, and another…you get the idea. It quickly got old and we quickly got nauseas. My opinion on this can be boiled down to these three statements:
- Screens, screens, and more screens.
- Screens are cold. Practical effects are warm and inviting. People (generally) just don’t connect with screens like they do to physical effects.
- Universal is a one trick pony. It’s an impressive trick, but they need a new one.
ASSUMPTION #1 – Universal and Disney Theme Parks Can Be Compared
We are constantly hearing people fighting about if Universal or Disney parks are better/worse than each other, and now that we’ve really experienced both, I don’t get it. The world is a better place with both of them in it. Both have great things, both have terrible things. It’s just a fact of life. If you are going to compare anything, compare Disney to Disney and Universal to Universal.
Honorable Mention: Forget Assumptions, E.T. Adventure is the Greatest Ride Ever Made
That’s right E.T.! E.T. Adventure is the greatest.
So there you have it: The Disney Hipsters Examine Six of Their Assumptions about the Universal Orlando Resort. The Hipsters will be making their way back to UOR shortly to experince Diagon Alley for the first time and possibly some of the CityWalk venues such as Antojitos. We’ll check back with them on a later date to see how it went. See you next weekend for the latest edition of the SATURDAY SIX, where we are going to look at Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights and see if it’s indeed better than Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. After that, FINALLY, the one we’ve been promising forever…. a look at the attractions in the Orlando area outside of the Mouse House and Potterworld. Yes, such things do exist. If you had fun, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the Pardon the Pixie Dust podcast.
Special thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover for his invaluable assistance in this article. I’d also like to thank one of the icons of theme park photography, Tom Bricker of DisneyTouristBlog.com, along with photo wunderkind Mike Sperduto, Trygve Nelson of the awesome Around the Universe photo reports over at Orlando United, and of course The Disney Hipsters Adam and Andrew. I can not recommend their blog or podcast enough as these are two of the most talented guys I know. Also check out Andrew’s musical talents on the EP Let’s Move to Disney World! It’s available on iTunes and Amazon and has several fantastic songs including my favorite, “30 seconds to Wishes.” It may not be for everyone, but if you read the SATURDAY SIX it is more than likely for you, so be sure to check it out.
15 thoughts on “SATURDAY SIX: The Disney Hipsters Examine Six of Their Assumptions After Visiting the Universal Orlando Resort”
I love these guy. I’m so happy to see an article with them! I made a day trip to Islands of Adventure during a recent Disney trip. I agree with almost everything they said in the post. I can’t judge the hotels, since we didn’t stay on property but I have only heard good things. The only decent food we found was at Three Broomsticks and it was strictly for meat eaters. I did not have as an positive experience as the Hipsters when it came to the team members. They were lackluster at best. Not bad but not exceptional. When we got stuck on Spiderman (we got tuck on 2 rides our one day at IoA a opposed to 0 times during the other 7 days at Disney) and ended up having to ride it with the lights on, they seemed annoyed with us when we got off, like we somehow broke it. Forget about being apologetic about getting a crappy ride after waiting in line, I would have settled for polite. The exception was Wizard World of Harry Potter. Those guys were awesome, especially in the gift shop.
Loved this post! I haven’t minded the screens at Universal and think they are technologically superior to what Disney’s been doing recently. However, I’ve only had time to ride the big attractions once, so I’m still in the “amazed” phase. That said, I totally agree about the practical effects. That’s why I loved Forbidden Journey so much. It had both. And I totally agree about E.T.!
I can see the “screens” argument to a point even though I think many of Disney’s most popular attractions built in the last 10 years are also built around screens (Soarin’, Toy Story Midway Mania, Turtle Talk…heck, I personally love Monster Inc Laugh Floor) but I believe the reason Universal’s attractions work so well is that it is screens mixed with practical effects. Forbidden Journey, Escape from Gringotts, and Spider-Man are incredible as you weave your way through physical sets mixed with screens while the attractions using Musion technology – such as Disaster – I think are terrific in the way the screens interact with the Team Members and environment surrounding them.
I think Disney attractions have more practical effects just due to their age. Like Derek mentions, Disney has migrated to screen based rides as well.
I would agree with a good number of these. When we first went to Florida this past September, we didn’t have assumptions going into Universal as much as we had expectations after having been to Universal Studios Hollywood (and they weren’t positive). Things in general disrepair, lackluster music, nowhere to relax, unengaging franchises, stuff like that, and it was all true of USO/IOA.
Where I agree most whole-heartedly is with Universal being a one-trick pony. Gringotts was basically the same ride as The Mummy, but oddly The Mummy was able to mix in more physical effects. Forbidden Journey was a bit of a mess of just stuff popping out at you in the dark until you were whipped around to the next screen. They were fun, certainly, but they were pretty indicative of what USO/IOA offered. It was either screens or carnival rides. There wasn’t really a lot of layered depth in the kinds of attractions it offered… We really felt the absence of things like Haunted Mansion, Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, Peoplemover, Jungle Cruise, and Country Bear Jamboree.
I will hand theming to them though. It’s a lapse in sense and reason to say they’re trouncing Disney, but fair to say that they’re reaching the same level as Animal Kingdom and World Showcase.
I’d totally agree with the assessment of the cast members. The actor playing “Jody” at Universal’s Disaster! attraction when I visited last year was the best attraction actor I have ever seen. He worked seamlessly with the Musion screens and the guests called up to participate, and really sold the role. Disney management should see this attraction and consider giving the Jungle Cruise castmembers some more freedom to improvise.
You mentioned the background music being so special at Disney parks. Well, I agree, except for the trip I just completed. I’ve always LOVED the background music on Sunset Blvd. at Hollywood Studios. I look forward to hearing that great period music as I turn the corner on to Sunset. Not this time though. Since FROZEN has taken over the parks, everything just HAS to be Frozen themed. Background music gone. After a week there I’m so sick of Frozen that it might turn me away from Disney. Shame on them for taking away the music that makes that park so special. I’ve gone with my family once a year (missing one here and there) for the past 15 years. I hate to say it, but every time I go, it seems that they have made changes that make the parks much less special for me and my family. On this trip, it was fun, don’t get me wrong, but the magic was definitely missing.
Any article that proclaims the greatness of ET Adventure is obviously brilliant, so well done in that regard.
Beyond pointing out the obvious about ET Adventure totally kicking ass and anyone who dislikes it being an ignorant slob, I think you hit the nail on the head with several of your points in this article.
The biggest of these is the comparison of front of line employees. Way too many times, I’ve heard that Disney Cast Members are better, and I’ve never quite understood this. I think “better” is synonymous with “more likely to give me a disingenuous comment with the word ‘magical’ in it” for many people. Maybe I’m just way too cynical, but I feel that way too many of my interactions with Cast Members at Walt Disney World feel forced and fake, as if they are just saying what they know they have to say.
At Universal, I felt like I had more ‘off-the-cuff’ interactions, and while not everyone encouraged me to have a magical time, I thought the Team Members were generally solid, and as good as the Cast Members at Walt Disney World.
What do I know, though. I also liked the Cast Members at Disneyland Paris, and it seems like *every* Disney fan who has been there complains about them being aloof or rude…
WDW (Walt Disney World) vs USR (Universal studios resort) is an old ongoing one. My family & I went to USR in August of this year. Since we go to WDW WAY too much, this comparison was part of our vacation.
As far as cast members vs team members, depending on the day & time of year, it can be a big hit or miss. We’ve had more bad experiences at WDW than at USR. We’ve had older cast members that were not very nice, members talking about can’t waiting for their shift to be over. However, the jungle cruise normally has awesome cast members. At USR, inside the parks, the team members were great. It seemed as if everyone enjoyed their jobs. This being said, we go to WDW WAY more than USR, 5 to 1 if not more.
The resorts, no one does it better than Disney.
The food, these are 2 different worlds. Disney does table service better. Universal does quick service better. I am not counting City Walk as this changes everything & makes USR very comparable to WDW. Also, the pricing is far more attractive at USR.
Technology, you’re focusing on screens. Sure Disney has dark rides but how many times can you ride any dark ride.
There will always be comparisons. USR does their thing really well. They focus on the older visitor. Disney has a younger focus.
A word of warning to Disney, USR’s new areas are light years away from the older areas of USR. Potterlands are amazing and there is no comparison anywhere in Disney. If Disney doesn’t start putting money back into the parks, the new tag line will be the most magical place in Orlando will be the Potterlands.
Kudos to Three Broomsticks for not caving in to self-absorbed “vegetarians”. It is absurd that a special interest group conspicuous by self-imposed gastronomic restrictions believes that it can affect the offerings of a private business. If the lack of “vegetarian” offerings affected the bottom line, then they would make changes to the menu.
You’re not gettin’ any for a month.
I love both Universal and Disney world. Every year we get APs to one and then switch to the other the next year. They each have their delights!
You really hit the nail on the head with #6. The way some WDW snobs talk about UOR Team Members, you would expect them to be like travelling carny workers. We had some of the best cast interactions at UOR, and the guy who did the wand show at WWoHP was fantastic.
Also agree with #1 – competition is good, and the consumer ends up being the winner. Right now I think that UOR has the momentum, but hopefully once WDW gets out of its ‘make everything Frozen” rut it will catch up and deliver some great new attractions.
I’m glad you brought up the wandkeepers Bryan. I have had nothing but AMAZING shows each and every time I have done Ollivander’s at either Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley. Beyond exceptional and the addition of female wandkeepers to the rotation in Diagon Alley worked out wonderfully.
Three of my favorite Disney Bloggers (Adam, Andrew and Tom Bricker) featured in one of my favorite Disney blogs. Am I dreaming?