For us lucky Florida fans, the existence of both Universal and Walt Disney World in close proximity means that we get a whole lot of fun experiences without needing to travel very far. I’ve blogged before about the competition between them being very good for us as it keeps them adding new stuff and trying to outdo each other for your hard-earned dollars.
This week we had the excitement of our theme park tickets arriving in the post. This simple transaction highlighted to me the difference between the two. You probably know that if given a choice between visiting just Disney parks or just Universal ones then the former would win quite easily. There are more of them for a start but they just hold more of a place in my affections for reasons that I can’t easily articulate. Maybe this very small example might help to demonstrate how Disney do the little things very well, adding up to an excellent overall experience.
The WDW tickets arrived first. Each one of the five had a different character picture on it, so for those with smaller kids, the fun starts immediately as two of your children rip each other to pieces as they both want to be Mickey. The cards are substantial, by which I mean plastic and look like they would survive a trip or two down Splash Mountain.
That is if they needed to because of course once you get your tickets you can start to feel ever closer to the magic by linking them up to your My Disney Experience App along with your on site accommodation if that’s what you are doing. Then if you’re staying on site, you can customise your Magic Band, which is basically choosing a colour, but it’s YOUR Magic Band and YOUR colour. This is important!
This makes the whole thing feel real, personal and yes exciting. Seeing all your names, plans and tickets staring back at you from your app makes the holiday come to life. You are immediately anticipating that day when you can start to book FastPasses too. The holiday has already started to some extent. Sure linking up the tickets can be a bit fiddly, especially if you try to do it early in the day in the UK when Disney seem to like to take their servers down during their night-time hours but you don’t mind the faffing and time it takes. This is your holiday!
I’ve often spoken about how a trip to WDW lasts forever. All the planning, ADR booking, FastPass reserving and general planning can take months. Then when you get back, if you are sad, like me, you write it all up too, which takes a while too. It’s all good.
Now of course much of that is true for Universal too, but I do think they are missing a trick here. In contrast to the experience above, a few days later our Universal tickets arrived. Again, they were real tickets, but they are flimsy paper things which wouldn’t last one trip around Bluto’s Bilgerats no matter how sturdy your fanny pack is!
You have to write your name on, manually, in pen and sign it. That’s it. No real excitement, no personal connection, no customisation for your unique trip and tastes. Once you get there of course it doesn’t matter so much as the Universal park experience is excellent, but this is, in my view, where Disney win your hearts and minds and Universal is something you do if you have the time and money to fit it into your plans.
We’ll be staying on site with them too, but I can’t set anything up in their app and the whole thing feels much less personal and engaging. I know there are folks who prefer Universal for all sorts of reasons and that is of course down to everyone’s own taste, but I think Universal could do better here. I did read with interest that they appear to be trialing facial recognition for Front Of Line Access for on site guests. If it works, great! Last time we were pointed at a small self-serve photo booth in the foyer and left to figure out how to create our own (flimsy paper) Front Of Line passes to show. Again, it’s not a big deal, but you pay a heavy premium to stay on site and I think they should give you something to reflect that and your “VIP” status. Flashing some sort of card, band or golden (laminated) ticket would be better and hopefully they are moving in that direction.
I love both sets of park of course and we LOVE the on site experience at Universal. As always seems to have been the case though, they could learn a trick or two in the details from Disney.
Till the next time…..