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Disappointing Trip Yesterday

OrlandoGuy

Veteran Member
Sep 29, 2014
1,046
Chicago
So yesterday, after having had relied on Frequent Fear Passes and comps from old TM friends to get my UO fix over the past few years, my gf and I went to the parks as Annual Passholders. Having worked for the parks and then moving out of state (until permanently relocating here post-COVID), I haven’t been a passholder since I was maybe…14? Needless to say, I was very excited, but unfortunately I came away with a sour taste. Some of these are just me venting, but I think there’s discussion to be had about some of the more disappointing parts of the visit.

But first, it wasn’t all bad…as far as positives:
  • I have to say everything inside of a ride or queue generally looked good.
    • Special shout-out to IOA which genuinely looked great and clean with a few exceptions.
  • Velocicoaster is still my favorite roller coaster ever.
  • The park was busy, but the Hagrid’s line consistently hovered around 90 minutes every time I saw it which seems to indicate smoother operations.
  • They’re taking clear steps to improve the food offerings, and we left with a list of things we want to try in future visits throughout the year.
  • The Hallows Eve store in IOA was surprisingly cool.
  • Cowfish food is still delicious
  • Citywalk drinks don’t mess around—best alcohol value in the Orlando theme park world.

Now for the bad, starting with our arrival and lasting as the day went on…
  • PARKING: Still a cluster after the “toll booths.” I ended up taking the last spot in the row we were directed to but there were still three to four cars behind me…not sure what they had to do.
    • The biggest issue was that, as a new AP, I still had to pay to park. I knew I’d have to pay at the booth, but Guest Services was unwilling to validate it when I picked up the physical passes from the window because “I didn’t have a valid pass at the time of parking.” How is that the case? I paid for them three days ahead of getting there on Saturday…so after dropping however many dollars on two Preferred Passes, I’m welcomed in with a total penny pinching move. I didn’t argue because the Guest Services rep was just doing what she was told, but it really bugged me all day. Terrible first impression.
  • CROWDS: Not really UO’s fault…but crowds were insane. It’s January and Gringotts got up to 145 (!!) minutes. That’s worse than “Hell Week”…what happened to the off season? I’m hoping that a filming for a Premier League show yesterday morning was the cause of the crowds…otherwise, I’m in for a long year.
    • To add insult to injury, several wait times were underreported which only made the problem feel worse.
    • Transformers had a 90+ minute wait all day but the queue never spilled outside…that much wait should mean the extended queue is pretty full. Something broken here?
    • Is it just me or are the people at Universal generally more prone to yelling, running around, and getting right up your behind in lines?
  • FOOD: While the offerings are expanding, the portion sizes for the more exotic stuff are disappointing given the prices. If you stick to the more standard fare, you’re getting lesser quality (for reference, terrible middle school cafeteria tier burger at Burger Digs).
  • USF AMBIENCE: I mentioned IOA looked great—can’t say the same about USF. Lots of stuff looked tattered, worn, dirty, or just tired. I’ve always felt USF is a good hangout park to walk around in holding a beer but that wasn’t the case yesterday because the common areas outside of Diagon look so grungy. It’s disappointing because a few years ago there really was a concentrated effort to focus on show quality but apparently that was a casualty of COVID.
    • Basic cleanliness standards seem lower than they used to, particularly at food carts. Cardboard lying everywhere, messes of trash and condiments on the front counters…at Chez Alcatraz there was so much sticky sugar water all over the place it had become home to a group of bees which weren’t fun to deal with while paying.
    • The street shows also don’t help. They seem to be constantly back to back to back in the NY/SF section, causing nonstop bottlenecks. In general, USF needs more space to get away with what they’re trying to do with the entertainment here.
  • SMELLS: This one is gonna sound weird…but the parks don’t smell good lol. The bathrooms smell terrible (thought maybe I just got unlucky at first with a guy needing to courtesy flush but all of them smelled bad in the many pit stops I needed between beers). The queues also smell gross—could be the people surrounding us, but it wasn’t even a hot or sunny day so I’m nervous to imagine what these will be like in July.
  • SPIDER-MAN: this is just a nitpick, but when did they turn this into a water ride?? We seriously got off SOAKED, and the seats are actually accumulating rust which I have to guess is a result of this.
  • CITYWALK DINING: Had reservations at Cowfish for 6:45. By 6 we were frankly done with the parks and decided to see if we could check in early—they said they’d text us. At 7, I went to the host stand to see if maybe checking in early had screwed up our spot, but was told “we’re just running behind.” Debating whether or not to just leave, I asked if there was an ETA (wasn’t polite or impolite, just asked exactly that) but the guy got kind of defensive and told me he can’t just tell people to get up and leave their tables. I shrugged it off and by 7:15 we were seated, but we definitely got rushed through and felt like we were being held responsible for their being behind.

I will say, my expectations may have been too high. I adore these parks and took great pride in them when I worked there. But it really sucked to have such a disparity between what I had envisioned in my mind when we bought the passes and what we ultimately got.

I know we love Universal for their aggressive expansion philosophy and that’s a huge positive for a community like this one that likes to visit frequently. With that being said, I’d love to see a year or two where significant CAPEX got dedicated to building up the infrastructure, doing some training, giving everything a dust and fresh coat of paint—it could do wonders. Right now, I get the sense Comcast is sort of pimping the parks out for dollars, cramming as many people in and enticing them with shiny new rides while ignoring the overall guest experience once you’ve paid your admission (and $27 parking fee).

In getting passes, the idea was we’d go for a couple hours at a time, hang out, chill, try new stuff during Mardi Gras and the holidays, etc. But it feels like if you’re not in a queue or riding a ride, you’re not “doing” Universal properly. Which is kind of disappointing because I can ride a bunch of rides with a 1-day pass and be good for the year without needing to come back.

To caveat all this, the passes are MUCH cheaper than Disney’s. You could very well say “you get what you pay for” and that’s completely fair. But I really do hope to see positive strides taken in investing in things OTHER THAN new rides. As of now, for what I’m looking for (a place to chill outside for a few hours with a drink and an option to get on a ride if I want), Disney is the better experience. I’m fully aware that’s a personal preference based on OUR style of touring, but it doesn’t make yesterday any less disappointing.

Hopeful that the next year brings some improvements before these passes expire.
 

Mad Dog

Premium Member
Jan 30, 2013
20,962
Pittsburgh area
Unfortunately, I have to agree with you. I've always been a huge Universal cheerleader, but we noticed the level of service and operations declining, even before covid. And, a huge drop off in guest treatment at the Deluxe hotels,
also starting before covid. So covid complications aren't the whole story. It's certainly troubling. Seems like management only cares about Epic, and that gives them an excuse to ignore other stuff, like park capacity issues. I'm not
a demanding person, and little stuff doesn't bother me, but I miss the special treatment I used to get at Portofino and RP that seemed to disappear a few years ago for some reason or other. .
 

UniversalRBLX

Veteran Member
Nov 3, 2015
3,836
Cabana Bae
The 2014-2020 era was Universal working hard to match Disney's level of service quality. Then came Covid and nothing really changed, but Disney implemented so many negative changes that it made Universal look even better. Now, Disney has done a masterful job at getting back to normal, while Universal continues to remain stale.

I HATE SAYING THIS, but since late 2021, Universal has been in a rather steep decline in quality & service in park operations. Trash cans overflowing, poor staffing levels across food & beverage, and parking operations are heading in an even more negative direction.

I'm excited about Epic Universe, but if they don't get their act together in the next 2 years, EU will make the situation much worse.
 

OrlandoGuy

Veteran Member
Sep 29, 2014
1,046
Chicago
Now, Disney has done a masterful job at getting back to normal, while Universal continues to remain stale.
Unfortunately not much to disagree with here based on my visit yesterday, although I do find this perspective interesting. A lot of the things Disney has implemented that make it a better experience (to me) seem pretty widely maligned in the theme park-verse. I like that with the reservation system, I generally know what kind of crowds to expect when I get there. I like how instead of chancing the headliners being 145 minutes, I know that I can get a VL for the most popular rides. I also like that Genie+ is accessible enough that you can choose to use it some days without breaking the bank or not use it without it being a major detriment to your day. I think both parks have done some good and not so good stuff in the wake of COVID (who hasn’t?) but this is the first time I’ve seen another positive opinion about some of the Mouse’s new procedures.
 

UNIrd

Premium Member
Jul 18, 2008
6,568
This report made me realize that my Universal touring habits are the way they are BECAUSE of the things that I don't enjoy about visiting. Never been a fan of dealing with their parking, so I stay on-site whenever I can to use the transportation or use the Valet on my Premier pass. The counter service food is usually pretty bad, has long lines and takes forever, so I make sure I dine at a table service restaurant or back at the hotel.

Even with all this, there's some penny pinching that they do that I LOATHE, especially when it comes to soda. Spending money in the parks, on their food, on their perch, and staying in their hotels... and then having the chip under my cup tell me I can't fill up the rest of my soda at a Freestyle that I only filled halfway because I intended to mix with another flavor. Or buying a ridiculous $20 free refills cup to be told I have to wait 10-15 minutes for the next one... even though I have a tray of food and made the "mistake" of drinking first. (Needed a manager both times... ridiculous)

It's little things like this that, let's face it, are the "Disney Difference." You can say all you want about Express is better than Genie+, and park reservations SUCK, etc. But that's actually nitpicking. The foundation that a theme park that's charging the prices that they do should have are basic levels of service, cleanliness, and hospitality.
 

UniversalRBLX

Veteran Member
Nov 3, 2015
3,836
Cabana Bae
I don't like the reservation system, but Genie+ was inevitable and didn't surprise me at all, ratios are awful and they need to increase prices.

The main problem is just that Universal is unwilling to change its operations from its pre-potter days when attendance has increased 2x as much. CityWalk can't handle the increased number of rooms and park visitors.
 

anihilnation

Veteran Member
Oct 13, 2013
3,687
Orlando
Sadly, they have a lot of trouble filling positions in park services, and food and beverage.
As for wait times, yeah, most days it is insane how busy it is for January, maybe part of the reason is that fearing a recession people decide to vacation now?
 
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UniversalRBLX

Veteran Member
Nov 3, 2015
3,836
Cabana Bae
Sadly, they have a lot of trouble filling positions in park services, and food and beverage.
As for wait times, yeah, most days it is insane how busy it is for January, maybe part of the reason is that fearing a recession people decide to vacation now?
No, I think the parks are just "Disney busy" and they were never prepared for it (even though trends showed otherwise). They have a significant AP base now with more hotel capacity.

People love theme parks, and prior recessions have shown that economic downturns don't make a major impact. Discounting and promotions work at keeping attendance levels similar.
 
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Brian G.

Editor-in-Chief
Staff member
Administrator
V.I.P.
Jan 21, 2008
22,733
Orlando, FL
  • PARKING: Still a cluster after the “toll booths.” I ended up taking the last spot in the row we were directed to but there were still three to four cars behind me…not sure what they had to do.
    • The biggest issue was that, as a new AP, I still had to pay to park. I knew I’d have to pay at the booth, but Guest Services was unwilling to validate it when I picked up the physical passes from the window because “I didn’t have a valid pass at the time of parking.” How is that the case? I paid for them three days ahead of getting there on Saturday…so after dropping however many dollars on two Preferred Passes, I’m welcomed in with a total penny pinching move. I didn’t argue because the Guest Services rep was just doing what she was told, but it really bugged me all day. Terrible first impression.
Unfortunately, those are in the terms and conditions. Not saying they shouldn't change it but otherwise, sorry to hear your visit wasn't up to par.

Also, think the crowds saw an influx due to the Premier League Fan Fest.
 

MrRoamer

Premium Member
May 20, 2013
2,216
Local
Its weird, I've seen a lot of talk in the news, tiktok, twitter, etc talking about how bad Disney has gotten with a lot of these same things. Cleanliness, trash build up, rude cast members, and so on. I typically feel like Universal and Disney are pretty even leveled most of the time with the exception of bathrooms, Universal's are far far better and cleaner than Disney's in my opinion. I did however manage to win the which faucet has all of Disney World's water pressure Disney World game. But bathrooms aside I generally considered them on par with each other.

The last couple years though I definitely feel like in the few times I've gone to Universal that there have been more instances where Disney is coming out ahead. I think Universal just gets a free pass on a lot of things, so they don't bother going the extra mile.

Yesterday specifically was while walking around Festival of the Arts and comparing the different Epcot festivals to Mardi Gras and Summer Music Fest (RIP). Disney catches a lot of flak for having "Subpar" or "Has Been" acts. I don't see a way Universal, especially this year, even holds a candle to their offering.
 

OrlandoGuy

Veteran Member
Sep 29, 2014
1,046
Chicago
Sadly, they have a lot of trouble filling positions in park services, and food and beverage.
As for wait times, yeah, most days it is insane how busy it is for January, maybe part of the reason is that fearing a recession people decide to vacation now?
I know you work there on the frontlines so I do feel the need to say, none of my issues were with the TMs. Some of the policies they were asked to enforce? Eh, different story. But everyone working was courteous, efficient, and keeping the park running the best they could. You guys do amazing work.

On that note I should mention, I’m appreciative of how proactive the TMs are about giving you pass holder discounts. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten an AP discount at Disney for anything, but the UO TMs were constantly reminding me to scan on the snacks and meals we ordered. I meant to include that as a positive.