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Universal Orlando Resort


Bullwinkle and Me
So, like, Wossamotta U? Me and Bullwinkle in 2007...
400px UO Map
Map of Universal Orlando. Click on the map for a larger view...
Map ©Universal Orlando
It took Universal 15 years after Disneyworld opened to figure out it should open a theme park in Orlando. Finally opening in June of 1990, under the name 'Universal Studios Florida', it consisted of... Universal Studios Florida.

Yes, it was a theme park, but only that. A day park. So in the mid-90's, around the time Universal Studios was acquired by Seagram (the liquor company), ground was broken on a billion dollar venture to make Universal a multi-day experience. It was to be the first real threat to Disney's virtual monopoly on Theme Parks in the central Florida area.

In May 1999, now under the ownership of Vivendi and called Universal Studios Escape, a second theme park named Islands of Adventure took Disney's concept of a theme park, and matched it, something I'm not sure was done before.

In addition to the theme park, was the addition of City Walk, a nightclub and merchandising area, and two Hotels run by the Loews Hotel chain (not Lowes, which is a hardware store), a high-end luxury hotel chain. Another hotel was added a year later.

400px UO Map
Overhead map of Universal Orlando.
Map ©Google and a bunch of others...
The entire complex was renamed in 2001 to Universal Orlando Resort. Universal's property is a fraction of the size of the Mouse's house, but they do make good use of the space. Universal actually has some unused land, but announced in mid-2012 that they would be opening a fourth hotel, rather than the expansion of Islands of Adventure into that area.

Most who go to Orlando view Universal as a side trip, myself included, but that doesn't mean Universal Studios Florida (known here on as USF) and Islands of Adventure (IoA) aren't theme parks. They are. It's just both theme parks could probably fit within Epcot alone. They just don't have the sheer size of Disneyworld (and Universal probably paid more for its plot of land than Disney did for its entire property.) If you stay in one of the on-site hotels, you get front of line privileges, and you can do both parks and City walk in two days. And that's including doing Spiderman and MiB twice. (Or four times...)

Here's a hint. One night at any of the three hotels on property will get you two days of front-of-line privileges...

Universal Orlando is Disney's main competitor in Orlando, and with good reason. They study everything that Disney does. If Disney comes up with a novel (good and well received) idea, chances are that Universal will adopt those ideas within a short amount of time. I have been surveyed many times by Universal Orlando on the web and a couple times in the parks, and they always seem to have a question or two or more about Disney, and your behavior with them.

I'll go as far as to say Universal Orlando is the dark side of Disneyworld. Not that UO is evil, but let's compare...

Disney has Mickey Mouse, Universal has Beetlejuice.
Disney has Buzz Lightyear, Universal has Spiderman. (Who is now owned by Disney... Oh, the irony...)
Disney has Donald Duck, Universal has Shrek.
Disney has Chip and Dale, Universal has Jake and Elwood Blues.

Do I need to go on here?

Now that doesn't mean that I don't like Universal. Quite the opposite in fact. Universal caters to the crowds by presenting less-than-Disney-sanitized attractions, ones that include not so subtle innuendos and just plain raunchy humor. Go see a Beetlejuice show if you want to know what I mean.

Universal (and thus it's owner General Electric who owns NBC) also has a more ranging catalog of movies and other media venues to choose from than does Disney. For instance, Universal invented the horror genre, and has an excellent show to prove the point. Disney's version of horror is Haunted Mansion. (Or small world. Depending on your preferences.)
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Universal Studios Florida
Universal Studios Florida

Universal Studios Florida opened in 1990, and was the original theme park here, and in some places you can tell. Still, they've updated the park to try to keep the tourists interested, but it's biggest boost was the addition of another theme park, right next door.

Islands of Adventure is that theme park, and this place could rival some of Disney's best. Opening in 1999, along with some help from ex-Disney Imagineers and the likes of Steven Spielberg, you just have to get used to the themes. From Marvel Comics, to Jurassic Park, to Dr. Seuss' nonsensical world (to the attractions generally emptying out into a souvenir store), Universal learned from Disney quite well...

Islands of Adventure
Walt Disney World
Universal Orlando City walk
Universal Orlando City walk

Universal Orlando City walk is Universal's version of Downtown Disney, right down to the twenty-something screen movie theater. Universal has even plussed Disney on this front, since (if you're not staying on-site) you have to walk through this giant souvenir, food, and nightclub area on the way back to your car. Imagine if all four theme parks at Disney funneled you though Downtown Disney on the way out...

The On-site Hotels are all operated by Loews Hotels (not Lowes), and are all up-scale hotels, from the Royal Pacific Resort on the less expensive end, to the Hard Rock Hotel, and final the amazingly expensive Portofino Bay Hotel.

I've stayed at all three hotels. They may be expensive, but you can often get deals, and once you factor in the front-of-line privileges (not to mention being on-site and not having to take the long walk from the parking garage), expensive becomes a relative thing...

Universal Orlando On-Site Hotels
Universal Orlando On-Site Hotels

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  • 05/06/2010 - Entire page re-imaged, pictures added
  • 09/12/2012 - Update to v3
  • 12/31/2012 - Update to v3.1
  • 09/01/2014 - Update to v3.2