Monday, April 25, 2011

A Universal Experience

For my last few trips to visit my sister in Florida, we've at least once ended up at Downtown Disney, a shopping and entertainment area that houses Cirque du Soleil's permanent show La Nouba; the largest Disney Store in the world; DisneyQuest (essentially a giant Disney-themed arcade); The House of Blues; T-Rex; a Wolfgang Puck restaurant; an AMC multiplex and what was formerly known as Pleasure Island. We would shop, eat and enjoy an afternoon together in the only free Disney attraction in Florida. But we've been there at least a dozen times and I thought we might try something different.

My sister may well be a self-described "Disney Dork," but I much prefer Universal Studios when it comes to theme parks. Still, it had been a very long time since we'd been there - the Islands of Adventure park had only recently opened - and we weren't sure what to expect. First, we were shocked to find it was $15.00 just to park (Downtown Disney doesn't charge at all). And because we had our elderly mother with us, we required handicapped parking, After we paid, my sister followed the signs that indicated such parking was to the left. But we soon rounded a corner where a very rude Universal employee told us we had gone the wrong way, despite what the signs said, and that we had to leave the park and re-enter to go in the correct direction. Only his directions led back onto the highway and 30+ minutes out of our way. When we finally made it back to the park and got inside, we headed immediately to Guest Relations, where two very pleasant and apologetic parking facility managers eventually refunded our parking fee.

All of that nonsense aside, we found Universal CityWalk to be rather a huge disappointment. Filled with outrageously expensive restaurants and shops ($15.00 for a side of mashed potatoes at Emeril's; $335.00 for a Hawaiian shirt at the surf shop); ear-piercingly loud music over the PA system and hardly half the fun of DTD; CityWalk seemed like the biggest waste of a trip to Orlando as we had ever taken. And that's not to mention the $112.00 they wanted for a one-day pass to the parks, themselves. And while I did manage to find some gifts for my dear Harry Potter-loving K at the Universal Studios Store, we left after less than hour and headed to a local outlet mall where I spent more at the Disney outlet than I had at Universal.

While my love/hate relationship to House of Mouse remains firmly in place, my disappointment with Universal Studios is what will remain with me about that particular trip. Do I hate Universal Studios Orlando? No. But when it comes to bang for your buck, I must admit that the Mouse does it better.

Here's a virtual tour of DisneyQuest (an additional fee at DTD, but so much fun):

Okay, enough bitching. I really did have a wonderful time in Florida, despite Universal's lame CityWalk and my end-of-the-trip illness. And more about that trip, next time.

More, anon.

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