Social Encore: Dueling theme parks
Disney World and Universal Studios Florida are completely two different worlds that cater to people that share a common aspect: they want to be entertained. My cousins and I were able to travel to Orlando, Fla., to experience two of the nation's biggest theme parks. If you’re thinking about going, I’ll tell you what I experienced and have tips to help you during your planning.
The only thing that I did in terms of planning for this trip was booking my flight to Orlando. I wanted to experience the whole customer service transaction from start to finish.
Booking the Disney package directly through Disney was great. The people were nice over the phone and they were even better when we arrived at our Disney Beach Club Resort. Arriving at 6 a.m. after a red-eye flight is uncomfortable for most people, but when we arrived, the receptionist put us at ease, explaining in full detail what the resort package entailed. She even had a room ready for us so that we could rest a little.
The Disney MagicBand was amazing! It is your key to everything Disney. It acted as our hotel room key and our FastPass. It was even our key to redeeming food from our (optional) meal plan at the park. We could connect it with our credit card so that you can purchase items seamlessly.
I can’t stress enough how much I loved Disney’s customer service and it really did make me feel like it was the “happiest place on Earth.” I mean, even when I was eating at the "Beauty and the Beast"-themed restaurant called "Be Our Guest" and mistook the kitchen entrance for the bathroom entrance, a waitress smiled and said “Oh no princess, wrong way.”
The parks that I would recommend would be Epcot and the Magic Kingdom. Take a stroll through Downtown Disney too. I loved Epcot’s futuristic feel. The spaceship Earth ball makes for a great selfie, and it's a fun ride too. The Magic Kingdom, meanwhile, is pure nostalgia. From taking photos in front of the iconic Cinderella castle to wearing mouse ears on your head, it will make you feel like a kid again.
Besides the kiddy rides, Disney World is visually entertaining. I personally enjoyed the parade, fireworks and the light show that reflected off the Cinderella Castle. Disney is really good at giving you the “wow, how do they do that?” factor. For all that, I think that the real value of Disney World is for children that are between the ages of 6-12. Children at that age are aware of their surroundings and can fully enjoy the rides since they reach the height requirements, but they still have a mind full of imagination.
>> UNIVERSAL STUDIOS FLORIDA
Universal Studios is about 20 minutes away from Disney World and my cousins and I arrived at our Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, early in the morning. Universal Studios Florida did a great job when I had to book our group package. Agents are able to give you a quote that has a breakdown of your package costs and it also does the math for you and shows you how much it is going to cost per person.
The one great perk about staying at a Universal Studios Florida resort is that you are able to receive a Express Pass for free (an $89 value) and you get into the parks one hour earlier than the general public. The Express Pass is like Disney World’s FastPass but better. You don’t have to book your rides in advance, you just show up at the ride and skip the long lines. Believe me when I say that it is worth it. The rides are way better than Disney World, and the two Harry Potter worlds will rock your world.
I felt that Universal Studios caters more to an adult audience. The park definitely fulfilled the thrill-seeker in me. I wasn’t a big Harry Potter fan at first, but Universal nailed the Harry Potter world with intricate details and made me a fan. From having dementors sneak their way on the Hogwarts Express train to having wands that moved things at your swivel, it made me feel as if I was living in a real Harry Potter world. I would suggest that you watch all of the Harry Potter movies before your trip to catch on the fine details that the theme park has. Something that I miss the most for sure -- Butterbeer.
Who loves roller coasters? I sure do! From the ride drops to having 3D glasses to throw your five senses off track, you really will get a kick out of it all. There are roller coasters like the Hollywood Rip Ride Rocki that reaches up to 65 mph and has a drop of over 17 stories. The one great thing that we loved about that roller coaster is that you can choose a song during your ride to help you get pumped up. The even crazier thing is that there is a camera that films your entire ride! Too cool for school, right? Just like space mountain (a Disney roller coaster ride in the dark), Universal Studios has the "Revenge of the Mummy" ride. Roller coasters in the dark puts a twist on everything because you just don’t know what to expect-super fun!
Book in advance: Book at least two months in advance so that you can select colored MagicBands. For Disney World, have them sent to your house if you want and you can book your Disney rides and eateries in advance. This also assures you a hotel stay at the theme parks and also leaves room for any last-minute details to be squared away.
Get the dining plan: The dining plan will save you money at both Universal and Disney but you also get unlimited fountain drinks. Disney gives you the opportunity to dine at amazing places like Disney's Cinderella Castle and if you get the FastPass, you can guarantee your spot. Pack snacks if you like but the meal plan was enough for me.
Stay at the resort: It is a lot more convenient when it comes to traveling from park to park and you’ll also have reliable transportation that will take you directly to your hotel after a long day of fun. There are also additional perks when you stay at the hotel as well. Universal Studios gives you the Express Pass for free and allows you to enter the park an hour before the general public.
Travel light: You want to take pictures but you also want to indulge in the moment. The theme parks have photo packages with trained photographers to take your photos to download later. You want to have some things handy but make sure that you keep things in a small bag. It won’t be fun finding a locker to store stuff just before you have to hop on a ride.
There are so many things that I could probably add but overall my conclusion is this: Disney World is a land of fairytale and make believe to help bring back childhood classics and nostalgia, while Universal Studios helps rev your engine and is more interactive and exciting for adults. If you have any questions, leave a comment below and I’ll try and answer them.
Jermel-Lynn Quillopo is a multi-faceted, energetic individual with experience in both print and broadcast journalism. "Social Encore" aims to tell diverse stories about Hawaii's food, events and people; share your tips with Jermel via email or follow her on Twitter.