Halloween Horror Nights!

Growing up, I was never a person for anything horror related. Pretty typical kid that had nightmares after watching a scary movie, or after going through a haunted house. But as I grew up, I started to get into movies, and the horror genre became one of my favorites. And while I was opening up my horizons to new movies, the thought of a haunted house still freaked me out.

Life goes on and new things come into our lives, and theme parks was that new interest for me, and when I say theme parks, I mean Walt Disney World. To plan better trips, I would listen to podcasts on the way to and from work, and sometimes, at work. I won’t name it here, but one podcast would just get on my nerves at Halloween every year, because they would shift from covering a lot of Disney, to Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights (HHN). I didn’t want to hear about that, I wanted to hear about the Magical Disney Halloween experience with free candy. But the more podcasts I would start to pick up, the more I would hear about this “ amazing” event at Universal.

So in 2017, we made the decision to take a stab at HHN based on the podcast that I had heard.

Our First Halloween Horror Nights in 2017

The Following:

The best thing about HHN, is the following it has. Just like everything else, there are people that have been with the festivities from day one and the people who are going for the first time. The biggest thing they all have in common is they know the year or event number that they first started to go. For me, its 26 or like I said above 2017 with the only year I have missed being 2020 and that can be technical because they only ran the houses for a short time, and I wasn’t in the parks the day they ran the 2 houses.

This group of people are great. There are people that can tell you the houses and there locations for the past 10 years. They keep a running tab on the best houses and scare zones throughout the years. It’s just fun to be in queues with anyone that is going to this even, but the Hardcore fans make it a little better for me as I get to talk about other years. Everyone is going to have a different opinion on what was great and bad, which helps keep things interesting in conversations.

Houses

The main focus of the event is the Houses (or mazes). As the years have continued, the number of houses have gotten to 10. They are split into Original and IP (intellectual property) Houses. IP houses are going to be based on Movies, TV Shows, and sometimes Music in popular culture. The Walking Dead, The Shining, Stranger Things, and American Horror Story are just a few examples. While originals give the creative team a chance to create their own stories.

The houses are located about the outside perimeter of the park, well besides one. The majority of the houses when you walk into the event and head straight will be in Sound Stages to the right of the park. You will enter these by going through a ride entrance, or through a Backstage access. The houses toward the back of the park are mostly called “Tent Houses”. These are just Tents set up in the back stage areas and will be accessed through a “Team Member Only” area in the park. There are a couple that will lead you through queues to get to them. They do utilize the Parade and a maintenance buildings on this side of the property. The last house is actually located in the 2nd theater of the Shrek 4D attraction.

Scarezones/ Atmosphere

One of the best parts of the event is how the park transforms at night. Universal does a great job of trying to keep the gore to a minimum during the day, covering up a lot of the HHN decorations. The park closes early on the nights that HHN happens to give team members time to set up for the event. But once the gates open back up, the feel of the park has completely changed, and it only gets better as sunsets and the night progresses. The lighting, the music, and the effects all change, not to mention the scare actors come out.

The scare actors are all placed in what are called scarezones, and these scarezones are each themed differently. There are 5 scarezones most years. The first one you will come across is in Production Central, and will usually be the smallest and less themed of the event. In the years I have been, this has been more of a “selfie” area. The next area you come to will be New York, which will be one of the biggest zones. This Scare zone will start at Jimmy Fallon and wrap all the way past Finnegan’s Bar and Grill. You’ll also find the Tribute Store in this area, a place where you can buy all things HHN inspired.

New York is one of the best places to sit and watch scares happen. Guests have a lot more area to run from the actors. San Francisco is the next area, and it’s also pretty small, usually just on either side of the Fast and Furious Gift shop. This area has a more intimate feel, but usually lacks good scares. You’ll have a break until you get back to Central Park, which is one of my favorite areas. The Trees create a dark and gloomy area, with fog machines always on high. Scares are great in this area as you don’t know if you’re coming up on a guest or a scare actor. The last area is Hollywood, this is another big scare zone and with my short experience, has been a hit and miss. A lot of places to sit and watch, but not a lot of scares.

Outside of the scare zones, you have what they have called the “Roaming Chainsaw Hoard” in the past. It’s not an official zone, but something that just happens in Springfield. Honestly this is the best place to have a drink/meal and watch the guests get stalked and scared. There is generally no theme year to year in this area. Sometimes they are clowns, other times just wearing Purge style masks, non the less it’s all fun.

Stay and Scream

If you have been in the parks all day, and want to get to a specific house right when the park opens, you can stay in one of the 3 Stay and Scream locations. These locations offer you the opportunity to grab a bite to eat, a drink, or just a place to sit and relax before your night of excitement. New York, Production Central, and Springfield are usually the locations for the Stay and Scream locations. You can expect to be a little more crowded when you are in an area that is close to the popular houses, but you will be well ahead of the group of people waiting at the gate to get in.

What else to expect

If you want to sit and relax for a few minutes, HHN has a couple of shows that you can take time to enjoy. The main one takes place in the Fear Factor Live theater. This show revolves around variety. When I started to go, it was the Bill and Ted show, it was later changed to The Academy of Villains, and now it’s Nightmare Fuel. It’s main focus is dance, but throws in some other elements throughout.

The next show is at the Lagoon Projection show, Marathon of Mayhem. Think of this as Universal’s answer to World of Color in Disney California Adventure. Each year this show changes to reflect the theme, houses, and scarezones that are at the event. This show is best viewed at the back side of Central Park, but can be viewed in other locations.

One of the other ways to get off your feet is to get on a ride. Mummy, Gringotts, Rip Ride, and a few other attractions remain open through the night for your enjoyment. Diagon Alley itself is open, and a “safe place” as there is no scare actors in this area.

If you are in need of food or drinks, there are plenty of places to stop. Universal has erected plenty of temporary bars and food tents. Pizza Fries, Hamburgers with Doughnuts for buns, Twisted Potatoes, and much more are available to find while you are roaming the parks. But you can also grab some more traditional food at some of the quick service locations around the park. The bars offer wine, beer, and specialty themed drinks to the event.

Overall, I have come to love this event. It’s one thing I love to look forward to each fall. As soon as the last night of the current event is done, I’m ready to hear what is in store for the next year. It’s a great time to hangout with friends, and if need be a fun solo trip. Whether you are at horror fan or not, I think this would be well worth a try!

A New Way to Tour the Disney Parks, Disney Genie

Disney Parks has announced a new addition to their Mobile platforms, Disney Genie. This addition is a pretty significant one, and will change the way you go about visiting Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts. But while there’s a lot of convince to this new program, there’s a lot of levels and information to go with it. I want to take some time to talk about each new level, and what it has to offer.

Basics

Like I said before, Disney Genie will be a mobile based experience. But there won’t be a need to download any new app on your phone. Genie will be an update to the current My Disney Experience app for Walt Disney World, and the Disneyland App. From this new addition you can unlock everything that Genie has to offer.

Disney Genie (Free)

The basic version of Genie is free and the purpose of it is to make you park days less stressful. You tell Genie what rides you want to do during the day, and an itinerary will magically appear with where you should go at what time. With Disney’s wait time infrastructure built in, Genie will predict the best time for you to visit these attractions with the lowest waits. The app will continue to update and predict what wait times will look like and help you decide if you need to wait and where to go instead.

Genie will also help you with dining. If Genie puts you at Space Mountain around lunch, it might recommend that you go to Cosmic Ray’s for your meal, and allow you to mobile order. You can also reserve a table for a dinner, or if a restaurant has a waitlist you will be able to join it.

There is also a new chat feature built into the app. This will allow you talk to a Castmember about any questions that you may have, and get a pretty instant response. You will also get access to Tip Boards, future forecasted wait times, and attraction virtual queues.

Disney Genie + (Paid)

The Disney Genie + is an upgrade to Disney Genie (naturally). This service gets you everything from the free tier, and adds the ability to join Lightning Lane (formally FastPass + and Max Pass). With this new skip the line feature, you will be able to make one Lightning Lane reservation starting at 7 am each day of your vacation. You can have one Lightning Lane Pass at a time, but you can use it as much as you can throughout the day. If you have ever used Disneyland’s MaxPass it’s very similar to that. Lightning Lane will be available on 40+ attractions at Walt Disney World and 15+ attractions at Disneyland Resort.

Here’s where the benefits of Genie + splits. Disneyland will get unlimited Photopass downloads for the days that you get Genie +, while Walt Disney World will have access to AR Lenses and unique listening experiences around the parks.

Disneyland’s Price is $20 per person per day and Walt Disney World is $15 per person per day. You can choose how many days you would like to utilize this service instead of having to use it every day.

Lightning Lane (select attractions)

If Genie + isn’t up your alley, and you just want to hit a couple of the biggest attractions each day, Lightning Lane (select attractions) is for you. This experience is another paid option to ride a ride. Similar to the Premier Access that just launched in Disneyland Paris, the the Lightning Lane will have only a few of the most popular attractions to chose from in each park.

You can only have 2 of these reservations a day, and the prices will very. These rides are not included in Genie +, so if you want to Lightning Lane any of the rides that offer Lightning Lane (select attractions), it will be another charge on top of the $15/$20 that you already paid to get the Genie +. The prices for these attractions have not been said, but they will be based on date, park, and attraction.

Guests staying at a Disney Resort will be able to make these selections starting at 7 am on the day they plan to experience the attractions, all other guest will be able to at a later time.

Upgrading

At this time, you will be able to upgrade your ticket through the app. And in the near future, you will be able to buy the Genie + option on your resort package. Annual Passholders and Magic Key Holders are likely to get the option to add on this feature on to their tickets at a later date.

That’s a lot of info to go through, and Disney has more to put out as time draws closer to launch. But I will be glad to answer any questions that you may have! If I don’t know the answer, I will be glad to look for it!

A Wizarding Hotel Experience

After Walt Disney World announced their Star Wars Galactic Cruise (known to the fandom as the Star Wars Hotel), a lot of people started to talk about how Universal needed to create a Harry Potter experience in the same way. Last week, WDW released the pricing and itinerary for the 2 night “cruise”, and it was met with a gasp. We all knew the price tag would be fairly high, but not that high for what it did and didn’t include. Biggest thing to take away is that your Star Wars Cruise gets you Room, Food, access to Hollywood Studios, and rides in Smugglers Run and Rise of the Resistance. They will up sale you any gear that you may want so you can feel in universe. Starting Price for these experiences for 2 adults is $4,809, this would be during the lowest season.

So it got me thinking on what I would do if I could pitch a Wizarding World themed Hotel Experience while keeping the Disney price and time table, but make you feel like you got a deal.

Pre Arrival

This would all start at home of course. During the booking time frame, some simple things would happen. Naturally, how many Kids and adults, but more specifically, what Hogwarts house would the family be? This would be based on availability, as each Dorm would only have so many rooms for the time period of the trip.

Once you are booked, You would receive an acceptance letter in the mail for Hogwarts (sorry it won’t be by owl). This welcome package would include some of the Harry Potter package that Universal includes in their current packages but let’s say house lanyards, pins, and luggage tags.

Arrival

To make this a little more magical, Universal would retheme some of the SuperStar Shuttles that they use for pick up to the Knight Bus. I would also have them adopt the luggage delivery just to add that little special touch. On the Knight Bus ride, you will meet a Hogwarts professor. They will welcome you, hand you a special Knight Bus Ticket, and get to know you on the trip to your next destination, as you will be seeing them a lot over the next few days.

You wouldn’t go straight to the Castle, you have to get your school wardrobe, wand, and pet. So you are dropped off at Diagon Alley to get your shopping done. Your professor will escort you to Gringotts, where you will have to with draw some money. But we know there’s some trouble that brews there. After you get off the ride, you will go to the Money Exchange, where you will present your Knight Bus Ticket and get some galleons, Wizarding Money (included in the package).

The next stop would be to Olivanders, where each guest will get their interactive wand (also included). If you don’t like the wand that chooses you, you will be able to find one of your liking after the experience. Once you are finished with your wand purchase, your professor will give you a time to meet at King’s Cross so that you can be on your way. But you will need to get your Robes, and pet before you meet them. This free time will allow you to grab a bite to eat at Leaky Cauldron (included) and shop around for the school requirements, you will be given enough galleons to cover all purchases.

Hotel arrival

Now that you have gotten all your school supplies it’s time to go to Hogwarts! You get to take the Hogwarts experience over to Hogsmeade. While loading on to the train your Professor will hand you a small bit of treats to enjoy on the ride over.

As you walk off the platform in Hogmeade, and you see Hogwarts in the distance, you will be taken on a special path that takes you to transportation to your hotel. This experience will give you the history of Hogwarts and it’s Founders.

When you arrive at the castle you will be brought into the Great Hall, where you see the sorting hat sitting on its perch. Each family member will “magically” be sorted into the same house, and the asked to sit at the house table. During your dinner you will want to get to know your house classmates as the House Cup is on the line. During this fantastic dinner the new Headmaster will give you the rules and what to expect.

When dinner is done your House Prefect will walk you to the Dorms, giving you the secret word (key) to get in dorm and your room number. From there you have the rest of the night to explore the castle, relax in the House Common room, or just go to bed.

Activities

The second day of your adventure will have you learning how to use your wand, make some potions, and some herbology. You will be mixed with other houses and different schedules for different families. These classes won’t be short, but they will be fun, and you never know what may happen.

For your lunch break you will be taken to Hogsmeade for your good behavior, and lunch at Three Brookstricks will be a welcomed treat. You will be given some time to explore and have a few butterbeers, or send a letter home. Before you head back for your afternoon class, Harry wants to meet you, so you will take a Forbidden Journey. Your professor will meet you and explain that Hagrid is ready to teach you about some of the creatures in the Forbidden Forest, so you must go meet him there instead of the castle.

When you come out of Hagrid’s class, Hogwarts will become enchanted. And you will have time to enjoy some desserts, and the show. Before heading back you will have a presentation by the frog choir and the Tri Wizards schools.

While you will have a very structured day, many things will happen that will allow you to gain points in the House Cup, but there will also be things that happen where you will have to help fight off Death Eaters or even He Who Shall Not Be Named.

Returning back to the Great Hall you will have a farewell Holiday feast! The Headmaster will announce the House Cup winner (it will always be a tie) and thank you for saving the day. Hogsmeade will be available to the students of Hogwarts after dinner, where they will have the whole place to themselves.

Depature

The morning you leave, all you will have to do is pick up your bags and put them on your bed. You will have your choice of a Great Hall, Three Broom Sticks, or Leaky Cauldron breakfast and some final time to walk around the park. If you are going home after the experience, your luggage will magically be at the airport for you, but if you are going to stay for some Universal Resort Fun, you luggage will be delivered to your next hotel destination. Your return transfer to the Airport would also be included in the price.

What’s included?

I’ve mentioned a lot of stuff in the article, but everything you need to have a fun and exciting time would be included. From food and snacks, to your robes and wand. Your Knight Bus ticket would be the way to get all of that. The exact amount of galleons given would be for your Robes and “pet”. Showing your Knight Bus ticket would get you a set number of snacks, refillable Butterbeer Mug (that is free refills while you’re enjoying your Hogwarts stay), and your meals while in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. You will be backdoored into all the Wizarding World attractions, and have special seating for any venues you do in the Wizarding World.

Post stay, you would get an express pass for the remainder of your checkout day, so you could enjoy other offerings the parks have to offer. And your refillable mug would be able to be used throughout that day as well.

Design of the hotel

Overall the hotel would have the feel of the Hogwarts we know and love from the movie. You could get a visit from Moaning Myrtle while in the bathrooms, walk in on a conversation between the paintings in the moving staircases, or see the Quidditch cup in your common room.

Each hotel room would still have the modern convinces, but have the medieval feel to it. There would be little nods to different things that the readers would notice, and things from the movies that would be noticed. Characters from the past would leave their marks and maybe a map will help you find some secret rooms.

Wizarding World vs Galaxy’s Edge

There’s always a debate on what fan base is better than the other, and I think it’s a little more intense when theme parks get involved. I had personally just come back around to the theme park world right after the opening of Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogsmeade, and that was the only reason I wanted to go to Universal. Walt Disney World didn’t have an Intellectual Property (IP) based land yet, but they had just announced the Avatar land (Pandora: Valley or Mo’ara).

By time WDW opened Pandora (2015), Universal had managed to open their second Wizarding World being Diagon Alley (2014). But Disney was just getting started. In 2015’s D23, Bob Chapek announced that not only a Toy Storyland would be coming to Hollywood Studios, but an immersive Star Wars land, known as Galaxy’s Edge, would also be on the way. The Star Wars fan base was excited to see what Disney was going to pull out to compete with Universal’s Harry Potter.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Let me start with some history of the Wizarding World and theme parks. In 2003, both Disney and Universal entered a bidding war with Warner Brothers and JK Rowling for the theme park rights to Harry Potter. Rowling signed a letter of intent with Disney to create a small area in Fantasyland of Magic Kingdom. But once Disney actually pitched 2 small attractions (rumored to be a Omnimover with Wands like Buzz Lightyear, and a Magical Creator encounter, think the Velociraptor Encounter at Universal) and a small quick service themed to Leaky Cauldron, she was underwhelmed. She then pulled out and took the Boy who lived to Universal.

Beth (the wife) on our first Wizarding World visit.

Once Universal had won the battle, it was time to start the war. To do that, they put more time, expertise, and money to make this experience better than anything they had built before. And in 2010, they opened the gates of Islands of Adventure to thousands of fans waiting to have a Butterbeer, go to Olivander’s for a wand, and most importantly visit Hogwarts. Before the paint had time to dry, Universal had already started to build an expansion of the land in Universal Studios, Diagon Alley, and in 2014 the walls to Diagon Alley Opened and the Hogwarts Express started to run.

Disney Starts to feel the pressure

Over the time frame that Universal spent building the Wizarding World, Disney announced and open the New Fantasyland expansion, and while it brought a lot of needed attendance to the parks, it wasn’t enough to compete with Harry Potter. However Disney was hoping to change that with their Pandora themed area for Animal Kingdom that was based on James Cameron’s Avatar.

Announced in September of 2011, Disney officially announced this new land that would be designed by Cameron and Joe Rohde at the lead. It wasn’t until January 2014 that construction actually began, and Pandora officially had its first intergalactic visitors in May 2017. It took 6 years from the start to build this land, and it had a lot of hype to follow it. Two new attractions, quick service restaurant, bar, bioluminescence, and themed entertainment, this land was going to be Disney’s first chance at taking on the Wizarding World.

Myself and Joe Rohde at D23

Theme Park goers loved the E-ticket attraction, Flights of passage, but most pass on Navi River journey. It wasn’t the home run Disney wanted, but it was a step in the right direction.

As mentioned before, at D23 2015 Bob Chapek announced a long rumored Star Wars land, called Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. This new experience would bring you into your own Star Wars story on the planet Batuu. This would be a new planet in the Star Wars universe where the Resistance has a hidden base and the First Order is looking to find them. With this announcement, Star Wars and Disney Fans finally were going to get their all immersive land like Harry Potter and Universal Fans had.

The downside to this announcement was that the time frame for this land was in between episodes 8 and 9, Disney’s trilogy. The long rumor was that the land would take you to some of your favorite places from the whole saga. You would have a chance to see characters from through out the saga. But Disney wants to sell toys from their trilogy, so we couldn’t get all of that.

First visit to Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland with my friend, Brian.

How Do They Stack Up against each other?

Both of these additions to the parks are incredible. I grew up loving Star Wars, and read the Harry Potter books as they came out, so to say I was excited to see either of these properties come to the Theme Parks, is an understatement.

The attention to details in both of the lands are incredible, but it really comes down to heart for me. You see Star Wars was something I watched with my late father (Phantom Menace was one of the last movies we saw together), so the Falcon, the characters, and the environment mean so much to me. But when I walk into Galaxy’s Edge I don’t feel anything. None of the characters I grew up with are there, and the Falcon isn’t this big reveal. Even getting to pilot the Falcon on Smuggler’s Run, it just didn’t have the greatest memorable moment for me.

Beth, Sav, Brice, and myself for their first Wizarding World experience in 2018

Walking into either of the Wizarding World lands is always such an emotional journey, and I don’t have a heart touching history with the stories. But I know the locations. I’m walking in the places I’ve read about and watched for so long. Walking through the areas makes me come back to my childhood memories. There’s no forced story, or background you really have to know to understand the land.

Galaxy’s Edge is a beautiful land, and it really raises the bar for Disney Parks. But I think they missed the mark by setting in on a planet that no one had heard of, or allowing the land to be able to exists through time, where you could run into characters from the saga. There were also huge concepts that had been announced that we never saw. Droids freely roaming the land, different species working in the land, random scuffles happening all around, and having your reputation follow you after you do your smugglers missions; but none of them came about.

Sav, Beth, myself, and Emily on their first Galaxy’s Edge experience.

So for me Wizarding World has my heart. I always enjoy strolling around the land and seeing every little detail they put into it. Galaxy’s Edge isn’t beyond repair, but what it lacks hits in all the wrong spots.

Why Fastpass+ Should Never return

Naturally, when this is published, there will be some sort of announcement of the return of fastpass at Walt Disney World, but as of this writing, there is no foreseeable return to this long beloved Disney Perk. So I want to take a few minutes to tell you all why I think that it shouldn’t ever return.

History of Disney’s Fastpass System

Some history of the Fastpass system. In 1999, The Fastpass system was introduced to the Disney Park goers with the idea that you wouldn’t have to wait queues with high wait times. You would go to a machine, slide your tickets in and get a return time for the ride or attraction. When that time came, your party would then go through a special line where you could pretty much walk on the ride.

Walt Disney World decided to change up their vacation planning system in 2013, with the introduction of MyMagic+, which would include the new and improved FastPass+. Most rides and attractions in WDW were added to the new FastPass+ system. The biggest benefit to this system was that you didn’t have to wait until your vacation to get the FastPass, at 60 days out of your arrival, you could book up to 3 fast passes for one park, for each day of your trip.

Not to be out done, Disneyland Resort announced MaxPass in 2017. This would be the first time that the Fastpass system wouldn’t be free. MaxPass started out at $10/per day, per person, but was later increased to $15, this also included your Photopass for each day. The traditional Fastpass was still available for free, but the convince of MaxPass makes it more appealing. With MaxPass you would use your phone to make your Fastpasses from anywhere within the park, instead of making the mad dash to the popular rides or shows Fastpass kiosk, to make sure you got a spot.

Why Fastpass should never return

While there are some great benefits to the FastPass system in both resorts, it’s ultimately flawed. The proof happens at the rides that have never had FastPass until the recent changes. This mostly is effected at Walt Disney World but can apply to Disneyland, but for ease of the conversation I will focus on Walt Disney World and their Fastpass System.

Before Fastpass+ was added to rides such as Spaceship Earth, It’s a Small World, Mad Tea Party, Living With the Land, and many other like attractions had very minimal wait times, between 10 -20 mins. Once the FastPass+ system went live, these wait times started to grow. Spaceship Earth now averages about a 30 minute wait, while Small World is about 20 minute wait.

The reason for the jump of the wait times is the amount of people using fastpass being let into the ride over the standby lines. The average ratio is 10 fastpass for every 1 standby guest. Which takes a steady moving line and and kills it. The more popular the ride, generally the more fastpass they allow in at a time, making the standby wait time grow and be very close to accurate to the posted time.

When the parks reopened last year, to no FastPass to be seen, the wait times seemed to be pretty high. When I went in September, the wait for Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway was 120 mins. we only waited an hour, and we hardly stopped moving. “But Jason, the Parks aren’t at Capacity!” That’s true, but they also weren’t loading (and in some cases still aren’t) to their max capacity either.

When you start filling the rides to the max capacity it won’t change the speed of the queue line that is currently happening with limited capacity. With the lines continually moving due to Fastpass not returning, your wait times would be very minimal, and the line would continue to move when the parks are at full capacity.

What’s the Solution?

My first choice is to obviously not to replace the system, and keep it strictly to standby. But Disney has made the Fastpass experience that everyone relies on, and now to the point of planning their trips around the fastpasses that they have made.

But if I have to replace it, I would do one of two options. The first one would be to use the model of Disneyland’s Maxpass. I love the idea of being able to be more spontaneous while at the parks. Being able to go into a park with no ties to rides until I come through the Tapstiles, where you tap your magic band to enter the parks, is just freeing.

The second (and what I think Disney will do) is based off of the ExpressPass system at Universal. This system is a paid option (starting at $100 per person per day), and is only free to those that are staying at one of 3 Onsite Deluxe Resorts. They also have 2 tiers, the regular and unlimited. Unlimited lets you ride the rides as many times as you would like, while the regular gets you one ride on each attraction. Not all rides have ExpressPass, and the new ones don’t get it right away.

Disney adapting this would be a ground shattering change for the fan base, and not in a good way. But Disney is looking at how to make a profit, and still offer what the fan base is use to having. However, if Disney would do this, the standby lines would still move more quickly. Fastpass has turned into a premium option, that would make a WDW trip that much more expensive for a family on a budget. Everyone does benefit though, your families that decide to spend the extra money on the Fastpass, would get through faster, but you wouldn’t have a ratio that is always having to be monitored to get the Fastpass line down.

This would also give the parks the option to pull rides off of fastpass + and bring more waits times down. Being able to put Fastpass on line for a brand new ride at a later date, giving once in a lifetime families a chance to ride that new ride.

The Universal Question

Entry Arches of Universal Studios

When I first started to go to Walt Disney World for my vacations I was the person that would only step foot in “the other park” for only one day, while looking down on them for their none Disney ways. But as our travels increased, and I started to research more about what the Universal Parks and Resorts had to offer, my curiosity started to get the best of me.

Let me start at the beginning a little more. In 2011, the only reason we wanted to go to Universal was like everyone else, for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It had just opened in 2010 and I had to see what it was about. Once we had rode Forbidden Journey, eaten at 3 Broomsticks, explored the shops, and had our butter beer we left Islands of Adventure. We had spent maybe 4 hours in the park, and most of that was waiting in line for Forbidden Journey. The rest of the day was walking around Universal Studios, and only riding ET. We walked out around 4 to grab dinner at Hard Rock Cafe and got a ride back to our resort by 7 pm.

Beth and I in front of the Universal Globe

The next trip was pretty much a carbon copy. The only difference was they were announcing the new Transormer’s ride, so naturally we stayed to see the announcement but skipped out of the press event after when Optimus and Bumblebee came out. We had made it back to the hotel before the late news. 

It was this trip that brought a question to me and my fiancé at the time. Before their nighttime show (it was water screens and horrible), a family from Alabama was standing next to us. They stated that they did universal for a week but would take one day to do all the Disney parks. We were appalled, how could you spend just one day in one of the most immersive theme parks in the world? 

The dragon on top of Gringotts in Diagonal Alley

We started to get antsy to get back when they announced that Diagon Alley was going to be coming in 2014.  I made one trip in 2013 just to beat a non theme park fan to ride Transformers, but nothing else in between 2012 and 2014. So our one day trip in 2014 was booked for our honeymoon. 

Diagon AlleyIt was walking into Diagon Alley that I learned the detail of which Universal was taking great care of, and going above and beyond for theming. The Disney community was still waiting for Pandora to open (announced in 2011 and opened in 2017) while Diagon Alley has been announced in 2011 and opened in half the time. 

Universal had started to step the game up on theming and listening to the consumer. Since Diagon Alley opened, we have had at least 1 major attraction open each year,  3 hotels (2 more on the way), and a well themed water park open. Not to mention the Nintendo land announcement, and the land bought to build another park. 

When Volcano Bay opened in 2017, I decided to book my first exclusive Universal Trip. This is what changed my mind. We stayed in the fabulously themed Cabana Bay resort towers with a view of the water park. While we didn’t go in to the main dry parks, experiencing the “bubble” of Universal was a delight. The modes of transportation, the walkability of the resort, and once again the details of the parks fully brought me in.

Friends at the Globe

It was obvious that this wasn’t a Disney resort or Park. But it was it’s own competitive beast. Pushing Disney to up what they were offering. The Universal resort was much more older family friendly, with the thrill seeking and laid back ways. The offerings of seasonal events were much different and a welcome sight to me. 

For the first time ever, in 2017 I made another trek to Universal, but this time for Halloween Horror Nights.  I had heard so many things about this after hours event that were positive, but because I had my Disney blinders on, it would have never lived up to my experience that I wanted. But boy was I wrong. Walking through the park and getting scared, laughing at others getting scared, or seeing the Teammebers having a good time with their job just made the atmosphere even better. 

Last year became the year of Disney and Universal. I ended up at Universal 3-4 times. Mardi Gras, TA Training, HHN, And a random trip. I’m no longer planning on when to go to just Walt Disney world, but when to go to Universal and stay in the new resort or ride the new ride. 

With that long timeline to say this: Universal is not the park of the past. While they know where they come from, they are pushing to the future. If the Wizarding World hadn’t of been as detailed as it is, we wouldn’t have gotten Pandora or Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge in a way that they are coming. The increase of thrill rides at Universal is pushing Disney to put more attractions in their parks. Who knows with the idea of a 3rd dry park coming to Universal, Disney May consider a 5th park at the Walt Disney World resort. 

Even in the food offerings, Universal started to push what theme park food is, or what people will stop and eat on the way out of the park. Butterbeer’s popularity gave Disney an idea to make a lesser Lefou’s Brew, Toothsome’s Chocolate Emporium’s extravagant shakes were cloned at Planet Hollywood and Beaches and cream. Volcano Bay brought tacos, pizza, artisan burgers and much more to a water park. 

On the hotel side of things, Universal has become a lot more competitive with pricing and offerings. Every hotel that they have built is within walking distance of the theme park area, including the two new resorts (just a bit more of a hike). Speaking of new resorts both Dock Side and Beach scheduled to open this year and next year)side will be some of the cheapest resorts on either Disney or Universal properties, starting at $79 a night for a standard or $111 for a family suite! Amenities are catering to the younger generation, Aventura has an iPad in each room that controls lighting, a/c, tv, lets you log into streaming services, and even text the front desk. These small accommodations are things that Universal are looking to up their guest experience. While Disney is taking away the uniqueness of each resort with remodels, Universal is staying creative.

Beth and I at Volcano Bay

Without this healthy competition in Orlando, Disney or Universal might just sit stale and let you live on  nostalgia for a few years while introducing small attractions here and there. 

If there’s only one thing I want to get across in this post, it’s that you don’t need to underestimate the competitors of Disney. Whether SeaWorld, Legolas’s, Universal, FunSpot, or Busch Gardens each one has their unique attractions that can bring more to your vacations. So if you only do Walt Disney World each trip I beg you to just look down the street and see the amazing things that Universal has to offer!

An Introduction to Me and the Blog

My Disney and Universal passion started in 2011 when I was planning a trip for my wife’s (then girlfriend) first trip to the parks. This had to be perfect, as I was planning to propose. This had me go deep into the Walt Disney World websites, and fan sites to see what other people would suggest or have done. Add to that I had gone through a Travel Agent that helped pull off one of the best trips I ever had.

After our first trip, we wanted to try and make it an annual trip. Because of this, I would start to dig deeper into the planning. What were these after hour parties? There are mini golf courses on property? Who has the best steak? What is DVC? There’s more than Walt Disney World and Disneyland in the US? What’s HHN? Who knew Universal had their own hotels?

As time went on, it went from me getting suggestions from my travel agent to me just saying what we wanted. From the hotel rooms to the dining, I had everything planned, and started to find this hobby too much more enjoyable than I thought it would have been.

One trip a year went to two, and then three, and soon we were going about once a month. We never needed a reason to go, but we always found a way to get down there. What once was strictly WDW trips with Universal on the side, to Universal only trips. The love for all the parks in Orlando started to make its way to me. And the bug of planning only got worse.

As friends and families started to ask me about planning their trips with them, it was then I realized I should try and do this as a side job. I was connected with MTE Vacations/ My Travel Elf in 2015, and started my journey as a Disney and Universal focused Vacation planner.

That’s just a little about me, we are starting a new phase in life, where we will be starting to bring a child with us to the parks we love, and creating memories with him. As we take this journey, join me. I may not say too many new things, but it will be my honest opinion on all the things we see and experience.

The purpose of this blog isn’t going to be about the latest news of the parks, there are other sites that will copy and paste articles for that. This blog is going to be about mine and my friends thoughts on what is going on at the parks. Our thoughts about the news that has come out, how that news might effect you, and how to help you plan the best vacation you can have.

At the bottom of every article you will find a link to get in touch with the author, that way if you want them to plan your next vacation, or if you have any questions, you can reach out directly to them.