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Are you a “weekend warrior?” Go to Universal.


Weekend Warriors and Day Trippers
If you’re a Floridian especially, or live anywhere within an easy trip to Orlando, you may be like my family… Sometimes my wife and I will be at dinner or have just had a long day at work and one of us will say, “Hey you want to go to Orlando this weekend?” Or we plan to go in a few weeks, or even a month.

Almost there…

Call us Weekend Warriors, Day-Trippers, spontaneous tourists, or spur-of-the-moment people. We all have one thing in common… Walt Disney World is no longer the best place for us to go.

Why? Because for people like us, two important theme park experiences have recently achieved an Olympic-Level Degree of Difficulty at the House of Mouse. And they just happen to be my two favorites: eating and going on rides!

“You know Honey, I think I would like bacon and eggs for breakfast… on a Tuesday at 7:45am, approximately 180 days from right now.”
Seriously? I have trouble deciding where I want to go out to dinner tonight, let alone several months prior to eating there! How many people really want to book a restaurant 180 days in advance?

Yes, I realize you don’t HAVE to, but if you want even a slim chance at getting a reservation at popular Disney restaurants like Be Our Guest, you better be either a math savant or a NASA Ground Control Specialist.

“Okay honey, I can make our Disney dinner reservations in T-minus 23 days, 10 hours, 21 minutes and 7 seconds until 0600 hours at180 days out. Synchronize smartphone calendar reminders on my mark…. 3…2…1… Mark! (It took less planning to bring Mark Watney home from Mars.)

Even more insulting is the fact that you can actually pre-order your meal too if you want! So, let me get this straight. According to Disney, I should not only be able to decide where I want to eat (and in which of their 4 parks, 72 hotels, or even Disney Springs) but what I want to eat exactly as well?! Dammit Jim, I’m a tourist, not a precog from Minority Report.

So, what do you want to eat in 111 days? – Image Copyright Disney

Disney is supposed to be all about a fun and magical vacation. You know what I don’t find fun and magical? The stress of having to overplan my meals on vacation half a year away. You want to know what the “+” in MyMagic+ stands for? + points added to your blood pressure.

And here’s the kicker, which like all kickers tends to deliver the blow right to your poor defenseless wallet… Due to the fact that all Disney Dining Reservations require at minimum a Credit Card Guarantee (and some require you to pre-pay!), if you don’t cancel your reservation with at least 24 hours notice, you will be charged $10 PER PERSON.

Given how much Disney expects you to predict the future, it’s a shock they don’t want you cancel 24 days in advance. Come on, Disney… Let’s get back to Tomorrowland, not 180 days from Tomorrowland.

In marked contrast to all this reservation consternation is the Universal Orlando Resort. Where my procrastinating self can literally wander into nearly ANY RESTAURANT on property and obtain a table with little to no wait.

One of my family’s favorite restaurants in CityWalk is Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville where, get this, you can only make a reservation within 30 days. Yes, they don’t take reservations for dining dates more than a month away. Why? Because to quote Jimmy Buffett, “I don’t want that much organization in my life.” (“Fruitcakes”, 1994.)

Do I need a reservation?

My stress level is dropping just thinking about how easy that is… I’m as cool and relaxed as Mr. Buffett, who is so stress-free he can actually flee rampaging dinosaurs while heroically saving two margaritas and not even spill a drop of tequila.

“Daddy, I want to ride Soarin’!” “I’m sorry honey, there is a wait that is approximately 2 hours longer than the length of our entire vacation and we don’t have a Fastpass+”
Unlike planning a meal, the generous folks at Disney only make you plan your ride schedule a couple months in advance with Fastpass+. 60 days if you’re gracing a Disney Resort with your presence, and 30 days if you’re an off-property kind of guy or gal. The Fastpass+ system seems to be continually changing and I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that it sucks.

If you’re old like me, you remember the halcyon days of just getting in line and riding a ride. Then, of course, Disney opened approximately 396,000 hotel rooms and the lines were getting longer. So their solution was to create Fastpass…

Oh, how I miss you little guy…

A row of machines outside the busiest attractions; you put in your ticket, and received a return paper pass with a reserved time to ride (in an hour long window.) Once your time started you could go grab another Fastpass for another ride. So you could pretty much guarantee a ride on every busy ride in the park and there was never a real long wait for the other ones. The biggest decision you had to make was on the morning you arrived in the park as to which ride do we hit first.

But now we have FastPass+ Yessir, Fastpass+… And we already know what the plus stands for, don’t we? Now I consider myself a fairly intelligent individual, but when Disney has to release a literal flow chart (see Figure C – for confusing) so their guests can figure it out, then Houston we have a problem.

Figure C – This looks like College Level Algebra to me. – Image Copyright Disney

In my opinion, Fastpass+ is annoying and frustrating… and, well, terrible. It has created lines where none previously existed; it pretty much forces you to choose only one park each day, and even worse it makes you choose categorically between rides there.

For instance, you cannot get a Fastpass+ to Soarin’ and Test Track at EPCOT, without lining up at a kiosk as soon as you get into the park. So, wait, I have to get in line to get a Fastpass at a machine? Hmm. Why does that sound so familiar…

And like the most popular dining options, if you want to try and have a shot at rides/experiences like Seven Dwarfs Mountain Train or a Frozen Meet and Greet, you better be on your computer at midnight on the 1st night you can book, clicking your mouse or track pad like an over-caffeinated woodpecker.

What’s Universal’s alternative to that? Well, if you stay at most of their on-site hotels then on the day you arrive you put your room key into a kiosk in the hotel lobby… and get an Express Pass!

Then instead of the regular ride line, you get in the Express Line. No return time window. Typically less than a 20 minute wait, more often 5 minutes or even walk-on. The only planning needed is figuring whether you’re going clockwise or counter-clockwise around the park.

And the only “big” rides that don’t accept Express are in the two Wizarding Worlds, which usually offer – wait for it – early admission anyway to on-site hotel guests.

I love going to Disney. I love going to Universal. But for people like me, which one offers a more stress-free last minute vacation?

To experience all this and more without too much over planning, don’t forget to utilize the experts at Orlando Informer Travel.

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Episode 14

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About Paul Danner

Paul Danner believes Florida consists mostly of Orlando, and then some other places with oranges and beaches. He is a proud member of Gryffindor House, idolizes Donald Duck (but unlike Donald, wears pants… uh, most of the time), and occasionally writes things that some people find funny. He has visited theme parks well into the hundreds of times in his life so he knows more about them than other things, like politics and math.

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