Its a rather long message though it is not really a complete trip report. After reading many wonderful trip reports I abndoned my plan of posting a detailed day wise report as I though it will not add much value. However, I wanted to post some of my expereince esp. comparing the experience at Universal and Disney.
BTW this is much delayed post as we were in Universal Studios and Disney Parks last month from 7th to 13th July.
We arrived on 7th July at around 01:00 PM at Orlando Airport. Took a cab to Universal Royal Pacific Resort. It was a comfortable ride of about 20-25 mins and it came to about $55 including tip. At the resort, it was indeed a royal reception. Someone was there to open the doors of our taxi, took out our bags and the bags reached our room as soon as we reached the room after checking in. Check in was also very smooth and we were in room within 10 mins of arriving. Room was excellent: spacious, clean and with a nice view of the garden. Minibar was well stocked even though we didnt use it. We rested a bit in the room. Got the idea of kind of money we are going to spend in next days when we saw a small bottle of water in the room for $7. Normally a couple of bottles are complimentary. But we were in Universal. Came down to reception for our express passes. There were cast members there to help us too and within minutes all four of us had our express passes and we were ready to hit the park.
We walked to Island of Adventure. It was about 10 mins walk and by 04:00 PM we were in the park. There are ferries too but if you want to save time, walking is faster. It was a wonderful start with the kids section, beginning with Cat in the Hat. We all loved it. The entire Dr. Suess area was beautiful. Loved the performance of Oh the stories you will hear. Children took pictures with the Cat in the Hat,Lorax, Thing1 and 2 and other characters. It was not at all crowded, definitely not what we had expected. Children also loved one fish, two fish....
Thanks to Express pass, we were able to cover Poseidon's Fury, Harry Potter area (without the FJ ride), River adventure (we sat in the front row and got completely wet) with a comfortable snack break and play break for my son in the Jurassic park area.
After the play break, we headed back to Harry Potter zone. My daughter was thrilled to know that Hogwarts Express was running on a trial basis (it was 7th July, one day before the official opening). We rided the Hogwarts Express almost without any wait to Universal Studios as we had park to park ticket. Daughter was absolutely thrilled. In Universal also the crowd was quite thin ( or may be i had much worse in my mind). It was close to 09:00 and I was a bit surprised to see many quick dining restaurants were already closed. After managing our dinner we watched the Cinematic Spectacular. It was indeed Spectacular. The entire ambience with water fountains, lights and fireworks was fantastic. That was the end of our first day. Tired we headed back to home, this time we took Ferry.
Next morning we headed back again to IOA to finish the remaining rides. We had breakfast in the park. For breakfast in IOA I definitely recommend Croissant Moon Bakery. It is on the right as soon as you enter the park. You cannot miss it. Great place for Vegetarians too like us. We finished the remaining rides we wanted to do - Spiderman (Fall though simulated is indeed scary!!!) and Popeye water ride where we got completely drenched!!. We wore our Ponchos in jurassic Park river adventure but did the mistake of not wearing them in this ride. From head to toes we were drenched. There are personal driers outside which can be used by a family of 4 for $5. We used that but was not really that useful. Seeing us many families lined up for it. :-) After a ride in the High in the sky Suess Trolley we headed to Universal Studios.
In US we really enjoyed Minion Mayhem and E.T. ride. My wife hated Simpson"s ride as it was too nauseating. Horror Make up show was also fun. Shrek 4D was OK. We didn"t even attempt to go near Diagon Alley which had inaugurated that day as wait times were running over 6 hours! But in the evening we got to ride the Hogwarts Express back from US to IOA as both ways are different. It was indeed fun to see people disappearing in 9 3/4 Platform!
We returned back in the late evening after dinner and asked for our luggage at the luggage desk as we had deposited our bags there as we had to take a taxi to Disney to start our Disney adventure the next day. The service again was excellent like the first day. We waited for a few minutes and the taxi was arranged and our bags shifted to the taxi and we were all set to go. I could not even tip the porter properly as I had little change with me at that time, but he was very gracious. This was the end of a very happy 2 day trip to Universal. And carrying this wonderful experience we sat in the taxi to Port Orleas Riverside resort expecting even better experience as afterall we were going to Disney.
Alas, no porters waiting for us at the entrance. It"s OK, it was almost 10:00 PM. We carried our bags and half sleepy children and managed to open the door and stood in the line for check-in ( I had already done online check-in). The lady looked at us, no smiles, no wish, told us "Please go to the next counter, my PC is not working". We stood in the next line. In about 15 minutes, check-in was done. We were assigned the Alligator B. room. On request, the lady at the counter changed it to Magnolia room in a relatively nearer building. I was happy that we got the building of our choice. My happiness was shortlived, when the bell service told that they have no one available to transfer our luggage. He told us that we can leave our bags, but he cant tell when it will reach our room. Obviously, we were tired and wanted to sleep. We requested, if they could arrange our transfer to the room through a golf cart , we were told there is no such service (not in a very friendly way). We decided to lug our bags and sleeping 5 year old and a half sleepy 12 year old and walked towards our room. Our troubles had just started. The lady while check-in told us to turn right after exiting which we did, but it turned out we exited from the opposite side than what she had meant. It was really frustrating trying to find our room at such an hour with luggage and children. After asking everyone we could find on our way and more than 20-25 mins of walk around the resort we finally reached our room. Well, definitely not the kind of start we were looking for. It was well past 11 and we quickly went to bed.
Next days were a mix of good and not so good experiences. We had a wonderful start at Animal Kingdom. Had a peaceful Safari in the early morning, without any rush. I absolutrly loved Lion King and Finding Nemo shows.
What we found absolutely unsatisfactory was the bus service from and to POR. (Or may be my expectation was too high). We hardly ever got to sit and with an average wait time of 20 mins. Once we waited 40 mins at the south depot for going to Hollywood Studio. One particular unpleasant experience was when we were waiting for bus before 08:00 for MK to be there in time for extra magic hour, when the cast member at the bus stop suggested us to take the bus to Epcot and then take Monorail from there. The next bus came for Epcot and we boarded that. We had to go through security check at epcot to reach the monorail only to find that it starts at 09:00. We came back and took the bus to MK. It was almost 09:00 by the time we reached MK and the end of our extra magic hour. I would have killed that CM if I saw her again which I didn't :-)
Sorry for sounding negative, but the check-in and the bus incident somehow spoiled our mood. But it doesnt mean that we didnt have fun. Indiana Jones stunt show, Enchanted tales with Belle, Soarin, world pavalions, star tours, parades, nighttime spectacular and as I said Safari, Finding Nemo and Lion King to name a few were all fantastic in the next days.
It could be wrong time, our high expectations or exceptionally good experience at Universal or just plain chance in our particualr instance that we found our Universal experience better in almost all respects. But at the same time, if you ask me if we would like to go back to Disney sometime in future, well, we will :-)
One tip I will like to share for those traveling from outside the US. The cheapest way to buy US Dollars is not to buy them at all. Thats right. Cheapest is to use the credit card. Even with foreign currency Surcharge ( my Visa charged 1.75%), it comes out to be significantly cheaper than buying USD at a bank. Second best is to withdraw from the ATM in the US. Find out the US partner bank of your bank and you wont pay any transaction fees. Even with fees, it will come out cheaper if you dont withdraw very small amounts. The reason is on CC and ATM withdrawals you get bank-to-bank exchange rate which is 5-7% better than the end customer rate banks charge.