The Universal Orlando advantage

Jeff's avatar
I know that it's no secret that I am a big Universal Orlando fan boy. It's not even because I have something against the rat or anything, I just really like the parks and the resorts.

So while planning a visit for next month, I noticed that the annual pass, the one without blackout dates, is only $180, and it's good for 15 months. That's a pretty hard deal to pass up knowing that I'll probably go back next year, and maybe in the summer if the Blue Man show opens.

Compare this to Disney, where annual passes are probably outside the realm of being reasonable for most people at $434. Even their multi-day passes aren't a very good value unless you buy the 5-day or longer. They nail you on the park-hopper thing. For my three days I'm looking at $79 a day, for each of us.

It's amazing that the market allows this. Granted, look at me, I'm doing it. But it's also the only time I've spent my own money as an adult (got comps last time) on tickets, because for the last five years, I've gone to Universal, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens instead. The only value I can find is that some of the on-site hotels are fairly inexpensive, which is probably why they keep building on to them.

So this is their chance. They better show me some "magic" or I can't imagine going back any time soon.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Phrazy

Kick The Sky's avatar
You certainly have to admit that the on-site hotel advantage at Universal is much better than Disney's. I'm a bit of a Disneyana freak, so the mouse is where I spend more of my money, but I definately agree that Universal is sounding more and more attractive for my next visit down to Orlando.

I know that the "other" Orlando parks (and Busch Gardens) have often gotten together on ticket deals and what have you. It would be interesting if they could somehow strike a deal with the Universal Resort Hotels for perks at those parks as well. It might boost attendance at the other parks and help keep the Universal Hotels filled as well. With the 5 billion ton elephant in their back yard that has done anything and everything to keep people on their property, maybe these resorts/parks should be thinking about the same thing.

Certain victory.

The Mole's avatar
I agree, Disney needs to step up a lot more, but I disagree on a few points.

Disney has 4 major parks. Universal has 2. I have to admit that I'll be going to Universal for BMG and maybe the parks, but I'll still be going to WDW to stay on property. Why? Because that's what I like doing, but I am interested in doing on property stay at Universal some time.

rollergator's avatar
I just renewed a few months ago, got two years, both parks, parking, discounts on food/merchandise, the whole ball of wax.....180 per person.

I'd like to spend more of my Orlando time at Disney...just can't justify the expen$e....then again, when I do go to Disney, as I had occasion to do with all the friends visiting this year, I notice two things right away:

First, since Disney draws SUCH a large percentage of visitors from overseas, the "value of a dollar" is harder for them to quantify, exchange rates and all...and they cost of COMING to Orlando is so high that the ticket prices SEEM less exorbitant.

Second, Disney's theming and operations are SO "above and beyond" that waits are shorter, and even when they ARE longer, there's PLENTY to look at and do, distracting you from recognizing the amount of time spent in line...and then there's the free-of-charge fastpasses...

My time and money generally end up at UO....but Disney could easily get their share just by offering some sort of deal on tix...last time I got a "buy 2 days, get one free" thru AAA, but that was only for FL residents....bottom line: *Disney don't discount*... :-/

Lord Gonchar's avatar
Et tu, Jeff? :)

Looking ahead at our trip, if we'd score 6 day passes with none of the little add-on thingies, it'd be a total of $758. That's only 31.58 per person per day. (that's on par with the KW's and HW's - and cheaper than Cypress Gardens!)

That's what Disney wants you to do - come to Disney...not come to Orlando. If you choose to play Disney's way, you get a ridiculous value.

And hey, it must be working. WDW's attendance is up, up, up and the other parks are giving away stupid cheap, value deals to get people in the gate.

In fact, that's the key for us to keeping our whole Orlando vacation in the 'reasonable' range - play Disney's game for 5 or 6 days and then use all those super-sick-value-deals from the other parks to do the rest of Orlando for another week. It's win/win for us.

Jeff's avatar
I agree, that if you want to spend a week straight at Disney, there is value there. But especially in the off-season, who needs that long? I guess the thing is that indeed, Disney isn't hurting by this arrangement. But by sheer contrast, I suspect that it can mean significant gains for Universal in the long run.

Incidentally, Universal discounts for number of days in their hotels. I learned this today when I shortened my stay to do one extra night at Disney (for convenience's sake). Four nights at Royal Pacific were $149 each, but three nights made it $159 a night. For $1,400, a family of four could basically own the resort in the off-season, skip the non-existent lines, and party in the parks every day. I've seen packages that include Wet-n-Wild, movie passes, etc., too. Disney would cost a couple hundred bucks more, with park-hopper, but you're also staying in a 2-Diamond instead of 4-Diamond hotel.

I just bought tickets for opening night of the Blue Man show (only fifty bucks!), so I'm totally buying an annual pass now. I'd be silly not to.

Clearly the only real solution is to move to Florida and be a resident.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Phrazy

Jeff, I think part of how you come to your conclusion (which I don't disagree with) is that you are not in either of the Mouse's key demographics. Those being: families with pre-school to not-yet-tween kids, and older post-retirement couples.

In our case, the long-stay WDW tickets work very well for us, and Universal has much less to offer our family. I've got two kids, 6 (and 48") and 8 (and 52"). Neither are particularly aggressive thrill-seekers yet. The 6 year old has just about mastered Blue Streak, but hasn't taken his first inversion or gone to any larger coasters. The 8 year old has mastered Magnum and corkscrew, but hasn't touched maxAir, Skyhawk, Wicked Twister, or any larger coasters.

We typically go to Florida for a week each year, with about 5 full days plus two or three half days available for parks over our seven night stay. Crowds are typically moderate. Every year, with only the four major Disney gates, there are always things we don't get to, and other things we would have liked to do again. It's not because we are waiting in lines, either (we have never waited more than 15 minutes for any ride.) If we had an extra, say, day or two, it would be perfect.

Tickets for our time in the WDW parks come to about $900 for the four of us. We could spend the week at Universal+Busch on their current deals for about $600 instead. But, right now, the Disney parks offer more to our family than the Universal+Busch parks do. As our kids get older and enter the tween-to-teen years, that won't be true any longer, and we'll switch.

We'll still probably stay in offsite homes, and just buy universal express when we need it---it's less expensive and more comfortable for us than a hotel room or two.

they cost of COMING to Orlando is so high that the ticket prices SEEM less exorbitant.

This is part of the deal for us, too. We spend about $1000 on airfare. Another $1000 on a house rental. Another $250 on rental car. No matter where we eat, we're going to be spending a good $60/day, minimum (and it can be more). Another several hundred in assorted baubles purchased in gift shops, on-ride photos, etc. etc. etc.

Add it all up, and the costs of going to Orlando are a cool $3K plus attraction tickets. In light of that, the $300 difference between Disney and Universal+Busch really isn't that important---it's less than 10% of the total vacation price.

rollergator's avatar
In the olden days, when I was still an *infant* in enthusiast terms, I always had a Disney pass (family coming down for vacations, etc.)...of course, back then UF had good discounts available as well...

Times change, we grow older (perhaps wiser? Probably not!), our tastes evolve...someday I'll be old enough to where a Disney pass is the way to go again....that's when I'll retire and move to Florida... :~P

Jeff said:Clearly the only real solution is to move to Florida and be a resident.


While I don't disagree, I'm a big fan of the 10 day non-expiring park hopper. Sure it's more cash up-front, but you get pretty much everything that an annual pass does, but without the restrictions of time. Come back in 10 or 20 years if you want - The tickets still work, and you'll save some money in the long run.
Jeff's avatar
Yeah... I toyed with the idea briefly of doing that, but it's a whole lot of cash up front. $409 for ten days, no expiration, with park-hopper. Yikes!

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Phrazy


We've got room so come on down and be a co-resident with me. We had a great Sea World deal back in September. I think we paid around $40-$45 for AAA tickets and Sea World had a promotion going where we could return to the park for the next 5 days or even, if I'm not mistake, go over the Busch Gardens.

Being a resident of the "Hanging Chad" state has it's privileges.

For me, the longer term park hopper passes with no expiration are the way to go. This last trip I was in florida 10 days. I did 2 days and BGA (with the 5 days free bounce back tickets). 3 days at a Disney Theme park (1/2 a day at each park then 1 4 park favorite day). and a Day at Typhoon Lagoon (all left over from Last years trip). Then 3 Days at Universal, (Purchase annual pass last year). The final day was the travel day home. I go to Orlando about once a year so tickets bought ahead will eventually be used. Right now, I still have 3 Disney theme parks days left, 1 plus day, and 4 two-day universal tickets to be used in the future. The universal tickets were comps after a problem last year.

All of the Central Florida Parks are wanting you to spend your entire vacation with them and will give you good deals to help ensure it.

I bought a 10 days no expiration park hopper last year when I visited and so, I'm cover for my future visits... When I go back to Orlando, Disney, Sea World and probably BGA will get my business... Even if you'd pay me, I would not even step foot in Universal Orlando!

Living in Orlando and going to Universal every 3-4 weeks just burned me from the place. The attractions I still care for are Poseidon's Fury, DD Fire, Jurassic Park and Terminator 2.

The Disadvantage of Universal is Dirty Bathrooms, Tables and floor path. Also, don’t forget the rude employees. That’s how my visit was for 4 days at the onsite hotel. With broken elevators which were not yet fixed for the 4 nights I stayed there. After I went I realized why Universal is not doing well.
Brian - - -> I'm very jealous. My 8 year old didn't crack the 46 inch mark yet.

Even though he likes thrills, it's hard to find rides he can go on to extend his non-kiddie credits.

Here's To Shorter Lines & Longer Trip Reports!

Lord Gonchar's avatar
My 8 year old is 56 inches tall. :)

First looper at age 4. (Hershey's SDL)

MF at age 5.

TTD at age 8.

(is that the equivalent of parental bragging for enthusiasts? ;) )

And to keep it relevant regarding Disney's prices and value:

Revenue from Disney's parks and resorts rose 8% to $2.5 billion, while operating income increased 28% to $396 million.

Jeff's avatar
I'm not saying you guys didn't have a bad experience at Universal, but I doubt it's a regular occurrence. The hotels are AAA 4-Diamond rated... that's not easy to get. I've never encountered a dirty park or nasty employees either, even when I felt compelled to talk to a manager over a ride closure.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Phrazy

SFoGswim's avatar
The non-expiring park hoppers are also a good deal because when the time comes that you want to use that 10th day, however many years in the future, the way things are going it'll probably cost more for a one-day park hopper than you paid for your 10.

Welcome back, red train, how was your ride?!
A few years ago I bought AP's for universal for 180.00 each for a family of 4 (got buy 1 year get 2nd free)stayed off site for 30.00 a night.Since then i have stayed on property twice.So universals business model got money from me and I had a good time in the parks.

Disney's model is is to get families with $100,000 a year in income (or more)that increases per cap spending .Reducing ticket prices would get us low class,low income people in the park who eat picnic lunch's out of our cars ,eat breakfast before we get there, and eat dinner after we leave.But you can't get any of our money if you do not get us in your park.

That said disney is doing well following this model so I don't expect it to change.

Kevin38 *** Edited 11/10/2006 12:33:22 PM UTC by kevin38***

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