Universal Orlando Summer Trip Report – Part 4

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This is the final installment of my Universal Orlando Resort trip report. You should read Part 1Part 2Part 3 before reading this installment. Since I think I’ve mostly covered all of the attractions worth covering in detail in previous installments, I’m going to make this installment solely my big picture recap and overall impressions following my first visit to Universal in over a decade. Photos from that late afternoon and evening of shooting will be mixed into this post randomly and without explanation…

Overall, I really enjoyed my visit to Universal Orlando Resort. Enough that I’ve been back twice since, and also took the time to visit Universal Studios Japan in the fall. I’m also planning more trips there, and am really anxious to stay at Cabana Bay Beach Resort, especially after wandering the hotel earlier this month for a couple of hours. Suffice to say, although it’s a totally different park than what I enjoyed as a child, I really love what Universal has done, and the direction in which it’s heading. With that said, I don’t think Universal is doing everything right.

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In an earlier installment, I said I’d return to the topic of thematic design in my conclusion to this report, and that’s probably the main thing to discuss. The recent additions in the two Wizarding World of Harry Potter lands are the high water mark for recent Orlando theme park additions, and possibly the high water marks, overall. I said before that Diagon Alley is Tokyo DisneySea caliber, and I think that says it all.

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I think a big part of the success of these lands from the guest perspective, is that they allow people to enter stories with which they have an established history. Unlike a land based upon abstract concepts of adventure or the American frontier, which need to hook you once you arrive (and can still do so quite successfully), a big segment of the audience is instantly hooked, so long as execution and faithfulness to the source material is there (I mention these things in passing as if they are some easy achievement, which is definitely not true; Universal Creative deserves high praise for bringing these lands to life).

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As much as fans against “synergy” may not want to hear this, I think this is the future of theme parks. The huge success of Cars Land at Disney California Adventure is also demonstrative of this, and outside of the ‘small boys’ demographic, it is not the cultural (not even just ‘cult’) sensation of Harry Potter. I definitely don’t want to see the pendulum swing too far in this direction and have every new addition be the kind that allows guests to step inside an IP, but as this is a relatively new occurrence, I don’t think that will happen anytime soon.

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Disney & Universal, just make sure they are IPs that will stand the test of time, like Jurassic Park, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Avatar. Kidding on that last one…the good thing is that a quality land or attraction can transcend an IP, so it doesn’t really matter. A land with an IP that resonates and killer attractions in that land would be nice, though.

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Then there’s the rest of the Universal Orlando Resort lands. Some of these, like Port of Entry, are incredibly well done (if you don’t recognize the areas depicted in the photos scattered through this installment, they are probably Port of Entry). It’s a quirky introduction to the adventures that await in the rest of the park, and an opening act that features inviting architecture and a certain exoticness that can’t really be placed to a time or place. This area is rife with details and things that make it feel lived in and real, and it’s an exciting place to visit despite the lack of a substantive attraction. For an “adventure” park, it’s the perfect opening act, and sets a great tone for what’s to come.

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After that, and before Hogsmeade, the results are mixed. The Lost Continent is a small land that packs a fair amount of punch, and I think it pretty well gets the job done. Upon subsequent visits, I’ve grown to appreciate Jurassic Park more, but I think my initial criticisms from Part 2 of this report are still mostly apt. It’s based on a popular IP and has the potential to be one of the most imaginative and stunning lands anywhere, but this potential is mostly squandered.

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Still, Jurassic Park is better than other examples. Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, and Seuss Landing all use similar cartoonish styles for what I’d call “faux theming.” There are cartoonish cut-outs and cheap props here masquerading as thematic touches, but really, they all feel under-funded to me in terms of their core design. In fairness, they all feature characters and ideas from disparate properties, but rather than trying for an ambitious way to thematically tie them together, the park’s designers took the easy way out. I wouldn’t mind one land in this vein (probably Toon Lagoon), but three that all feel somewhat similarly cheap is a bit much. Marvel Super Hero Island would probably be the easiest to improve, probably by having it be one distinct area (such as the unbuilt Gotham City), although that would require a clever way to integrate the other super heroes.

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Over in Universal Studios Florida, some truly poor placement in terms of Transformers and Rip, Ride, Rock-It, has really hurt the cohesiveness of the park. The rest of the park isn’t that bad, but a big part of my thinking on that probably stems from the fact that I’m willing to give ‘studios’ parks a bit of a pass as a collection of stuff. Still, Universal Studios Florida mostly does a good job, and the ‘city’ lands there mostly work. It isn’t the most ambitious concept ever, but it is what it is.

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Despite their construction dates, I’d actually view Islands of Adventure as the first gate and Universal Studios Florida as the second gate since the former contains the more ambitious park concept (albeit a less impressive attraction roster at this time). There’s nothing outside of Diagon Alley that wows me in terms of theming in USF, but aside from Transformers and the coaster, it’s all passable with some real highlights.

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I think this is probably my greatest criticism of Universal’s thematic execution. Arguably, each of the various lands has flashes of thematic brilliance and there are some great details throughout Universal Orlando, but they usually stop short before that can be achieved. For instance, I think the Men in Black building and area around it is visually stunning and reminiscent of the ’64 World’s Fair, making it perfectly befitting of a World Expo area in terms of architecture…but that’s it. There’s nothing else there. 

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The adjacent Springfield has cool nods to The Simpsons, but at no point does it attempt to actually draw guests into the world of Springfield. It feels like a stop gap to quickly fix an unpopular area. Given the longevity and popularity of The Simpsons, the decision to not go all-in, creating a true Springfield feels like a big missed opportunity.

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When it comes to attractions, Universal Orlando packs a lot of punch. Several of my favorite attractions in Orlando are in the Universal parks. Spider-Man, Revenge of the Mummy, Men in Black, Disaster, ET Adventure, Transformers, Forbidden Journey, and Escape from Gringotts are all very good to excellent. There are also some very solid shows.

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Universal is often lambasted for its over-reliance on screens and 3D, and I think there is some validity in this. To be sure, the parks still have variety, but many of the best attractions at Universal Orlando Resort have a lot in common. I suppose it could be said that Disney overuses slow-moving dark rides, but I think if you looked at the “best” attractions in Walt Disney World, most lists would have more in terms of variety.

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In its best attractions, like Spider-Man, I don’t think the screens are even all that noticeable because the attraction is just so awesome. Much like an awesome attraction transcends IP, so too does it transcend the ride system. I’m really not even all that concerned with ride system, I’m just looking for awesome experiences, and I find myself a little fatigued by the commonalities in some of Universal’s attractions at the end of the day.

I do think many Disney fans overemphasize this “problem” as it gives them a card to play in some concocted “war”, but I do believe it is an issue to some degree, and I hope Universal Creative builds its future attractions with fully dimensional sets and animated figures.

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Then there’s Universal fans. I think fandom is an interesting thing, and Disney certainly has fans of its theme parks who are so deeply entrenched in nostalgia that they fail to view the parks with any sense of objectivity, with some unwavering negative and positive beliefs arising out of that. I’d like to think I’m not one of those types of Disney fans, but who knows, maybe I am.

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In the last few years, it seems like Universal has had its own group of devotees crop up. Rather than this group being grounded in nostalgia, largely it seems that (some of) their attitudes are a direct or indirect response of Disney fans who are dismissive of everything Universal does. This response by Universal fans is understandable to a degree, as many Walt Disney World fans have largely blown off Universal or arbitrarily deemed it lacking in “magic” and refused to give it any further consideration without any real objective analysis, despite many spectacularly well-done attractions opening at Universal.

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This view by Disney fans certainly lacks rationality, especially in a time when Disney is almost as much a collection of randomly assorted intellectual properties as Universal is, and far less about the creations of one man and his inner circle. I openly point a finger at myself for unwittingly contributing to this, as I didn’t visit Universal for countless trips to Orlando despite knowledge that they had opened new attractions widely viewed as excellent. Burying my head in the sand with regard to those new additions makes me guilty of the very things I’m critiquing here.

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However, it seems to me that many of these Universal fans over-compensate for the dismissiveness of Disney fans, and want to offer praise to Universal that isn’t quite yet apt. Without a doubt, if you view the last half-decade or so in a vacuum, Universal is trouncing Disney in terms of envelope-pushing additions, and the pace at which these additions are occurring. The problem with this is that it’s just as arbitrary as saying Universal lacks “magic.”

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When you visit a theme park, you’re partaking in the entire experience, and any comparison should, I think, necessarily include the whole package. In that regard, Universal is still playing catch-up to Disney. Part of this is understandable, as Disney had an almost two-decade head start in building its parks. Part of it is not so understandable, as Universal had its own period of stagnation for several years after the construction of Islands of Adventure.

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Obviously, quality judgments are in the eye of the beholder, but when I hear statements like “Universal is now better than Disney” or something of that nature, and it’s then backed up with construction during the last 5 years, I wonder if the comment is a bit…overly eager. I have no doubt that Universal is on a better trajectory than Disney with management more invested in creating spectacular theme parks, but better? That’s a tough sell to me given what Walt Disney World did during that two-decade head start and the time leading up to the late 1990s. Frankly, I don’t think it’s even fair to Universal, as it creates some unreasonable expectations.

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I do have to say that I agree with the idea of some of this sentiment, that it’s time for Walt Disney World to wake up and start innovating on the substance of its theme parks (something I optimistically hope is happening in Animal Kingdom and about to happen in Disney’s Hollywood Studios) as Universal is really pushing the envelope right now, but to call their two parks–with their own thematic and attraction lineup weaknesses–better sounds like the words of an extremely jaded Disney fan, or someone who really likes thrill rides but doesn’t care for much else. Disney fans, please don’t conflate what I’m saying here for you being “right” about Universal not being a contender. You aren’t.

I’m saying that I don’t think either side wins with this unnecessary adversarial undertone to fandom. A healthy sense of competition between Walt Disney World and Universal would make all of us winners in terms of theme parks we can enjoy, but the “competing” sects of theme park fandom does little positive, and really just creates a rift among fans. This is not to say that passionate fans are a bad thing, but there’s a fine line (more like a gaping chasm) between passion and entrenched zealousness for one “side” or the other.

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Sorry, just some random food for thought that’s been on my mind for a while. I’m sure anyone reading a “trip report” doesn’t care, but if I don’t write those kind of things here, where else will I?

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I’ve you’ve read every installment of this report, commented, or shared these posts, I want to extend a huge thanks. The response to this trip report has been very positive and I have plenty more post ideas for Universal Orlando that I plan on covering in the future, from restaurant reviews to a photo tour of Cabana Bay Beach Resort, and more. If there’s any particular post you’d like to see, please let me know! To catch up if you haven’t read the previous installments, visit my Universal Orlando Summer Trip Report index page.

These photos were all taken by me with my Nikon D810; I used my Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 Lens for the vast majority of the shots. I also used my MeFoto travel tripod for some of the shots, particularly the Diagon Alley nighttime ones.

To get some more Universal photo ideas, check out my Universal Orlando Resort Photo Gallery.

Your Thoughts…

Do you agree or disagree with any of my thoughts about Universal’s thematic design? What about the nature of its attractions? The issues with theme park fandom? Have any questions or other thoughts? Please share below in the comments!

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29 replies
  1. Wendy Spears
    Wendy Spears says:

    Thanks for the entertaining posts! We’re going to Orlando for the first time at the end of August. We have three nights at Disney’s Art of Animation and four nights booked at Cabana Bay to split our trip between Disney parks and Universal. We’re excited to visit both places and have been reading a lot of your posts for tips and tricks (have our Chilly Pads bought and packed!). One thing I have noticed as a first timer is the difference in pre-visit engagement by both companies. Since I booked Disney, I have received several teasers in the mail, personalized to do lists and our magic express tickets. All of this generates excitement and anticipation. I haven’t received anything from Universal, beyond the original confirmation email. When I call both companies with inquiries or to update reservations, I consistently get good service from both, but at this point I really feel “wowed” by Disney and I haven’t even arrived. It will be interesting to see how this translates to the resort / park experience. Thanks again! Great information.

    Reply
  2. Lauren Downing
    Lauren Downing says:

    Love your blogs. We took a stand alone trip to Universal last fall. We had a smaller window to visit last year, which was the reason we skipped Disney. Previously, on Disney trips, we simply have taken a taxi to Universal for a day, so that my son could visit Harry Potter. This fall, our trip will be entirely devoted to Disney.

    One thing I’d like to see in your upcoming posts, is whether staying on property at Universal changes any perspective you have on the parks. Prior to this past fall trip, we always looked upon Universal as the other small park with which we had to go for our HP fan son. We enjoyed the butter beer and the HP theming, but outside of this, we thought the Universal was very inferior to Disney.

    On this last trip, we stayed at Portofino. While expensive, I felt the price was offset by the fact that staying there upgrades everyone’s park ticket to unlimited express passes. We felt this an awesome perk for which Disney has no match. There were only three attractions that had no express pass service: Gringott’s, Forbidden Journey, and Olivander’s. We were also able to get early entrance to Diagon Alley/Hogsmeade to get to these attractions in before the queues got too long. This made our 3 day trip to Universal amazing, and raised the park as a whole in our esteem.

    While Cabana Bay looks fabulous and is new and affordable– I don’t believe it offers the express pass upgrade that the Loew’s properties do. Again, I’d love your thoughts on this, as all of your other opinions seem to mirror mine.

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Solid insight there, and definitely a post I’ll consider writing in the future–once I stay on-site.

      As for Cabana Bay, I really liked it, and that will probably be the first resort at which I stay. I try to visit during times that aren’t so busy and use Single Rider extensively, so the lack of Express Pass isn’t a big deal to me. However, I can see it being really important for families who want to ride together or anyone visiting at peak season.

      Reply
  3. Robert Ruffo
    Robert Ruffo says:

    Harry Potter is extraordinary. Diagon Alley is maybe the best themed land that has ever existed in human history. That said, Universal lacks charm, and outside if Harry Potter, lacks innocence. When you say “That Disney feeling” it evokes something very clearly, whether you like that feeling or not (most people do). However, when you say “That Universal feeling’ it evokes nothing at all, has no meaning. It’s just an upscale fun park with high budget rides and no real soul or overreaching message.

    Then there is the slight sleaze. For example, we went to magic show, assuming it would be, well, a real magic show, but it wasn’t. It was merely a showcase of what the magic products in the nearby store could do. There was nothing magical about it . Repeatedly we were told that the tricks we saw required no real skill, only purchasing a mundane $40 kit in the shop next door. Disney is not perfect, but Disney would never sucker guests into a show that was a sales demonstration like that, a demonstration where guests were told again and agin that there was nothing special about the performer. This is Coney Island level carny behavior.

    The rides themselves (outside of Harry Potter, ET and Cat in the Hat) feel like monster truck shows. Very loud, very in your face, dare I say crass and lacking any elegance or subtlety. Even Spiderman. It’s a thrilling experience, yes, but not a magical one by any stretch of the imagination. .Disney is a little girl dressed up as a Princess. Universal is a teenage boy revving the engine of a muscle car.

    But maybe the worst problem about Universal is that if 3D simulator rides give you motion sickness, and you’re not into extreme coasters, then there is little else to do except walk through the Harry Potter lands and maybe check out Zeus land, ET and Revenge of the Mummy. This is worth doing, but both parks, in that case, are one day put together.

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Interesting insight, and while I can see your point with some of these things, I can’t say I agree. I think Disney tries to sucker guests into things all the time, they just do it with more finesse, and in a way that is a little less blatant than what you describe.

      “Soul” is a tough thing to put your finger on, and I think it can mean different things for different people, as can “magic.” For me, Spider-Man is not really lacking in any department, and feels like you’re entering the world of those characters. I think that could be described as “magical”, but certainly not in a ‘princess’ sense of the word.

      Reply
  4. Brandy
    Brandy says:

    I’ve really enjoyed your whole Universal and Islands trip report. We are going at the beginning of April and it will be our first trip since Diagon Alley opened at Universal. I was wondering though about the shows that you may have watched? For years I had visited the park and never stopped to watch any of the shows until 2013 when I decided I was going to finally see Bettlejuice Graveyard Revue which I thoroughly enjoyed. I too would love to see a “plan of attack”. We are visiting Magic Kingdom for a day, so I’ll be reading a few Disney posts as well. I would l ukulele me to say as far as money/expense is concerned I think you get more “bang for your buck” at Universal, this comes from a Disney fan who grew up on Disney. Thanks for great “reporting” and I look forward to future blogs.

    Reply
  5. Ruth
    Ruth says:

    Thanks Tom for the great descriptions of Universal! I also love the humor, and was chuckling all through your reports:) My husband and I are going in November or December this year and, like you, haven’t been since the Kong ride, Jaws, etc. Like you, I LOVED the Kong ride, with the car falling down from Kong’s grasp to the basement for our escape. Awesome! We are thinking of doing 2 days at Universal. My question is: Is 2 days enough to grasp all of Universal besides the rides? We love to check out the ambience, architecture, as well as the attractions. In other words, we love to roam and check stuff out as much as riding attractions. In your opinion, is 2 days enough? We are combining WDW with this in a 10 day vacation span! Also, we love your photos;; they are amazing! thanks

    Reply
    • Len
      Len says:

      Hi Ruth,
      I’m in the same boat as you. Flying up for the holidays and spending two days at Universal. I would like an additional 3rd day, but don’t want it cutting anymore into the WDW portion of our trip. Thinking I will spent a majority of the time checking out the Harry Potter attractions and the Universal hotels. If I have time, I’ll hit the old favorites like E.T. and Twister (although that’s probably a goner).

      Reply
  6. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    My husband and I are going to Universal this spring for the first time since we were kids. I always drag him to Disney and he asked me so kindly if we could please go to another park this year (in addition to Disney of course :P). I haven’t spent much time being excited for Universal, but after reading your reports and looking at all the great pictures, I’m getting pumped!

    Reply
  7. Tommy D
    Tommy D says:

    Great work Tom. I agree with you 100%. Healthy competition between companies make us theme park fans the ultimate winners.
    Keep up the great work on both blogs.

    TD

    Reply
  8. Sarah-Jane
    Sarah-Jane says:

    We were at Universal and Islands of Adventure. I completely agree with your comments about theming (and many missed opportunities). My biggest issue with Universal is customer service. It is miles behind the Disney experience. We had a pretty awful day yesterday and mostly that was to do with staff, poor managent and lack of communication. The atmosphere was really fraught. We are from the UK, this is only my second Disney trip. I adore Harry Potter but I wouldn’t be going back again this trip if I hadn’t already paid for tickets, as it stands I will be giving it another chance next week (but mostly because the mummy is such a good ride!).

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Do you really think it’s that bad? I don’t want to discount your experience, as I’m sure it was awful, but I hear about poor experiences at Disney, too. The question is: are those poor experiences an outlier, or the norm?

      Really, both resorts are drawing from the same labor pool and generally hiring the same types of people as Cast Members/Team Members. Disney has one advantage in that some people dream of working in the “magic”, regardless of pay, but I don’t think that makes a huge difference in terms of the talent they are attracting. Likewise, Disney might have better training, but how big of an impact does that really have.

      Reply
  9. Dani
    Dani says:

    Fantastic work, Tom!! I was once a diehard Disney devotee. About five years ago I realized how foolish that was and opened myself up to UOR.

    I had been as a kid, as with SeaWorld, but now as a self declared Orlando Native turned fanatic, I have to say it is ok to love them all.

    Fanaticism beyond reason is dillusion

    Reply
  10. Len
    Len says:

    Hey Tom,
    Outstanding article and review as always! We’re heading up there Thanksgiving Day and while Portofino is our hotel of choice, I like the look and style of the Cabana Bay Beach Resort. I am a sucker for that retro type of design, so I’ll be sure to sneak away to there so I can fire off some camera shots!

    Reply
  11. a mournful soul
    a mournful soul says:

    “For years, I had put off the idea of ordering chicken wings. I had eaten them fairly frequently when younger in an era where flavor options were generally limited to variations of ‘hot’ buffalo sauce. Since the increase in the overall number of flavors that began several years ago with the burgeoning junk food market looking to expand its offerings, I’ve considered it many times but ultimately determined to stick with the more tried-and-tested chicken nugget entree.

    ……

    Overall, I really enjoyed eating chicken wings. So much so, I plan on eating chicken wings twice more in the coming month, and am really anxious to try additional flavors there of. It is very much a different chicken wing world than when I was younger, but I love the direction wings are going in today’s culinary scene. That said, not everything is perfect with the chicken wing.

    Yes, chicken wings (and ‘boneless wings’, as tenders dipped in various wing sauces are sometimes referred to) have increased their overall numbers of flavors, and more care than ever is put into producing quality wings for the consumer market. And they represent, in many ways, the evolution of the entire food industry – unparalleled growth in choice and variety, coming in ever larger sizes for increasingly big and choosy members of the general eating public. Still, this is a fairly new direction, and traditional favorites (meatloaf, for instance) will likely stay with us for some time to come.

    Now while many chicken wings are quite delicious, there are some elements that simply stand out as failings. Chicken wings have bones in them, as well as sinuous tissue that tends to be less edible than the meat surrounding it. Chicken wings all use similar sauces that I call ‘faux seasoning.’ There are sweet and ‘hot’ flourishes, but they seem a bit under-constructed in terms of their final design and lack in serious complexity. Further, contact with bone is uncomfortable to my teeth, and I tend to not like to be reminded that what I am eating was once a living creature if at all possible. I these are my greatest criticisms of chicken wings culinary execution. Chicken wings have flashes of brilliance, but stop short before they can be fully achieved.

    I think many chicken nugget fans overemphasize the problems of chicken wings’ sauces and taste. This view lacks rationality, as chicken nugget essentially duplicate those issues in their own individual realm. Wings are often lambasted for the reliance on ‘buffalo’ sauce, and I think there is some validity to this. In its best flavors, such as mango habanero, I don’t think the heat is so overpowering because the overall flavor profile is so awesome. Much like how an awesome dish transcends ingredients, so too does it transcend presentation. I’m not even that concerned with the presentation – I’m just looking for delicious food, and I find myself fatigued by the decided similarities between forms of chicken wing.

    In the last few years, it seems that there has been a group of chicken wing devotees that have appeared. However, it seems to me that many of these chicken wing fans overcompensate for the dismissiveness of chicken nugget fans. Without a doubt, if one looks only at the last decade or so, chicken wings have trounced chicken nuggets in terms of envelope-pushing flavor. The problem is that it is just as arbitrary to do so as to claim that wings lack quality from being generally un-dippable.

    When you eat chicken nuggets, you partake in the whole experience, and any comparison should, I think, necessarily include the entire package. Part of this is understandable. Nuggets have always been made of an amalgamation of (mostly) breast meat pressed into form. Part of it is not so understandable, as poultry producers have had years to genetically modify bones and change them into tastier cartilage and fat.

    Obviously, quality judgments are in the eye of the beholder, but when I hear statements like “Wings are better than nuggets” or something of that nature, and it’s then backed up with the growth of wing chains in the last decade, I wonder if the comment is a bit…overly eager. I have no doubt that chicken wings are on a better trajectory than nuggets with street food gaining more popularity, but better? That’s a tough sell to me given what chicken nuggets have done in the time leading up to the early 2000s. Frankly, I don’t think it’s even fair to chicken wings, as it creates some unreasonable expectations.

    I do have to say that I agree with the idea of some of this sentiment, that it’s time for restaurateurs to wake up and start innovating on the substance of nuggets (something I optimistically hope is happening at Burger King and about to happen in Wendy’s) as Wing Stop is really pushing the envelope right now, but to call wings–with their own formulaic and structural weaknesses–better sounds like the words of an extremely jaded nugget fan, or someone who really likes spicy food and doesn’t care for much else. Nugget fans, please don’t conflate what I’m saying here for you being “right” about wings not being delicious. You aren’t.

    I’m saying that I don’t think either side wins with this unnecessary adversarial undertone to fandom. A healthy sense of competition between nuggets and wings would make all of us winners in terms of processed chicken food we can enjoy, but the ‘competing’ sects of processed chicken food fandom does little positive, and really just creates a rift among fans. This is not to say that passionate fans are a bad thing, but there’s a fine line (more like a gaping chasm) between passion and entrenched zealousness for one ‘side’ or the other.”

    Reply
  12. Carly
    Carly says:

    Fabulous photos! I have really enjoyed this trip report. I’d love to read a “Daily Blueprint” for visiting these parks. Maybe even a blueprint for doing both in one day for the die hard Harry Potter fans who are mostly interested in those areas. I enjoy these parks, but usually maximize my vacation time in WDW. Would love to know how to get the best of both worlds!

    Reply
      • Tom Bricker
        Tom Bricker says:

        Hmm…I might want to go another time or two before I do a post like that. I mean, I have what I think works as a plan of attack, but I don’t know all the little quiet spots, places to get snacks, etc. that really completes those plans. Yet.

        Reply
  13. Dave
    Dave says:

    Pretty much everything I was hoping for in your report. I, too am a lifelong Disney fan (Florida parks) with fond memories of Universal Studios Florida from adolescence. I figured all the good stuff was gone such as BTTF, Jaws, etc. I have been looking forward to your opinions as I would like to bring my boys (14,11 and 4) there and was unsure if it was more akin to a Six Flags type of park.

    Some of the detail in your photos have impressed me. It looks like Universal is attempting to spend money and time to fully immerse park attendees… and that, in my book, is what makes a good park great. I know you don’t have kids of your own yet, but what would you say about options for a toddler in either of these two parks?

    Dave

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      There are options for a toddler, but I think you and the other boys are going to have MUCH more fun in the Universal parks. Not only that, but the toddler stuff looks decidedly like toddler stuff, so I doubt the other boys would remotely enjoy it. ET Adventure and a few shows aside, there really isn’t much ‘for the entire family’ type stuff.

      Reply
  14. Matt
    Matt says:

    Well done and thoughtful post. I agree with everything you said. A lot of the Universal fandom seems to be in direct response to Disney fandom.

    You can see Universal progressing nicely. First they doing innovative and wonderful rides and just plopping them anywhere. This is painfully evident in Universal Hollywood. Place making was only slightly above Six Flags level. What they have done with Harry Potter has shown they are now capable of creating entire lands at the highest level but this was done with JK poking them at every turn. They have yet to execute a land this well with their own IP. Can they do it without an external force driving them?

    What they have yet to do is create an entire park that flows thematically like the top Disney parks. IOA was a step forward in trying to thematically tie lands together but has the flaws you pointed out. Beijing looks like it will be their next shot at creating a full park (not counting Water Park.) I’m excited to see what Universal has in store for the future.

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      I wonder how much of it was ‘JK poking them at every turn’ and how much was the realization they scored an IP that was basically a license to print money, which convinced the powers that be to give creatives the budgets necessary to create something amazing.

      Between Universal Creative and Walt Disney Imagineering, there are numerous individuals who used to work for the other organization; outside of the organizations themselves, they hire a lot of the same subcontractors and outsource to the same tech companies. I guess what my point is that I think the talent level in BOTH organizations is high, it’s just a question of having the budget and creative freedom to do something amazing.

      Reply
      • Matt
        Matt says:

        With Hogesmede I think it was JK pushing Uni Creative. There are several stories about JK putting her foot down when Uni wanted to do this or that. With Diagon though I think Creative was given free reigns and they went for it with spectacular results.

        I agree the talent level at both Disney and Universal is very high. Money has been an issue at Universal and they chose to use it on the attraction instead of the place making. Universal also has been under constant changes of ownership whereas Disney has only had to weather bad management at times within the same organization. Hopefully Universal has some stability now that believes in theme parks and gives creative the tools to continue on its current path.

        Reply

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