A Better Mouse Trap?
Die-hard Disney devotees may want to cover their mouse ears because we are about to utter the ultimate blasphemy: It is possible to enjoy an awesome Orlando vacation without spending a single minute in Mickey’s world. For much of the past four decades, the notion of spending a holiday in central Florida without seeing Walt Disney’s sprawling wonderland seemed silly. While visitors might take a day or two out of their trip to explore independent attractions such as SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, or Kennedy Space Center, the Magic Kingdom and its sister parks were seen by most as the area’s main draw.
Much to the Mouse House’s dismay, that situation is swiftly shifting. While Walt Disney World is in no danger of closing for lack of interest—attendance at Disney’s theme parks hit an all-time high in 2014—its share of Orlando’s lucrative tourism market has been steadily and significantly swinging in favor of an energetic upstart located a few miles up I-4: the Universal Orlando Resort.
Originally opened in 1990 as a single theme park packed with advanced but unreliable attractions, Universal Orlando has matured into a full-service, fully immersive vacation destination with enough world-class activities to keep a family occupied for four days or more. Universal Studios Florida, a longtime rival of Disney’s Hollywood Studios that draws its inspiration from movies and television, has been almost entirely overhauled since its debut, and it now houses one of the world’s top collections of cutting-edge attractions.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure debuted in 1999 as the most modern, high-tech theme park in the United States, featuring an all-star lineup of thrill rides that makes it the best park in town for older kids and young-at-heart adults.
Together, the two parks are home to the game-changing Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a meticulously imagined multilayered experience that’s drawing millions of Muggle fans from around the world to the hallowed halls of Hogwarts Castle and Gringotts Bank. Surrounding the two parks are four (soon to be five) immaculately appointed on-site resort hotels, and a CityWalk nightlife complex full of restaurants, nightclubs, and entertainment options appealing to families and adults.
Universal Orlando’s ascendance is not about to bankrupt Walt Disney World, and likely never will—Disney’s nearly unlimited dominion over its vast 43-square-mile kingdom practically ensures its dominance. But those who approach Universal with open eyes will find that the resort can provide just as much magic and fantasy in its own fashion. Universal Orlando has an energy, pace, and attitude all its own that might appeal to the most adamant anti-amusement park person, and could even convert confirmed Disney customers. Instead of opting for the same old rat race, consider spending your next vacation playing Quidditch with Harry, saving New York with Spidey, and drinking a Duff with the Simpsons. You may just find yourself asking, “Mickey who?”
The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando is a brand-new book and the first comprehensive Unofficial Guide dedicated to Universal Orlando. The book will be available for sale as of August 11. But why wait? Pre-order your copy NOW.
About the author: A contributor to several top-selling guidebooks, Seth Kubersky is nationally recognized as an authority on theme parks and amusement attractions. He has worked for more than 20 years as a theatrical artist, culture critic, and travel journalist. In addition to coauthoring The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland, Kubersky also contributes to TouringPlans.com, The Unofficial Guide to Las Vegas, The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, and Orlando Attractions Magazine. Named Best Arts Writer in The Daily City’s 2013 readers’ poll, Kubersky writes an arts and entertainment column, “Live Active Cultures,” that appears in every issue of the Orlando Weekly, central Florida’s leading alternative newspaper. Kubersky lives in downtown Orlando, FL.