Let’s pick up here, shall we? Disney, after all, is much too large to get a holistic view in a few computer pages. In this segment, we’ll continue our overview of Disney as it compares to Universal by summing up the additional amenities of the Disney property: water parks, shopping, dining, resort stays, and pricing, all for your review.
Water Parks and Video Games
As if there wasn’t enough excitement to be had at the theme parks, you can come cool off at Disney’s water parks: Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Bring some water shoes and a bathing suit that will stay on — you’ll need it for the Summit Plummet free fall coaster at Blizzard Beach and, at Typhoon Lagoon’s wave pool, the largest in the country. The water parks are chock full of walking icebergs and skiing critters and lazy rivers–nice places to cool off and beat the heat. Disney Quest is an huge (air-conditioned) indoor arcade with more games than you can imagine–that’ll keep kids occupied for hours.
You’ll never be at a loss for shopping venues throughout the Walt Disney World resort. Every park features unique shops in keeping with the park theme (ie, director’s clapboards at Hollywood Studios and miniature cars with Mickey and Minnie at Epcot). Additionally, all resorts offer at least 2-3 (sometimes more) shops where you can pick up merchandise specific to that resort, whether it be straw tiki frames at the Polynesian or swashbuckling swords at Caribbean Beach. And, there’s a whole area called Downtown Disney devoted to shops, restaurants, live music, and movies. Here, you’ll find the World of Disney (the largest Disney shop in the world) and specialty shops for every occasion. Between Once-Upon-A-Toy, the 25 Days of Christmas, and the Lego store, everyone can emerge with a favorite memento. Even the shops at Disney are “authentic”–if it’s a beach store that sells Roxy and Billabong, you better believe they’ll be surfboards and sand in the store. Everything, right down to the details in the shops, is done to perfection in the classic Disney style, not missing a beat, and never resembling a shopping mall.
There’s no shortage of dining, either. Each resort features their own restaurant, and in the moderate and deluxe resorts, there’s not only a quick-service grocery-like eatery, but there’s also table service dinners all themed (of course) in keeping with the resort style. There are also fantastic restaurants in every park, especially in Epcot where you can pick up chopsticks at a hibachi or be served a genuine authentic meal a little further down. There is eating for every budget, and every occasion. And, Disney is becoming increasingly health-conscious. Of course, you’ll still find your French fries and hot dogs and pizza, but Disney has implemented a whole new campaign to bring healthy foods to its guests. There’s even a great deal of restaurants that contain vegetarian items. You’ll find no soggy salads or gritty meat here–whereas Disney food used to be overpriced and fatty ten years ago, now it’s healthy, wholesome, diverse, and entertaining even to the palate. Don’t be surprised to find veggies and hummus in a whole grain pita or a chicken-salad wrap. Kids can choose from apples or carrots as a side to their meal. Again, there’s something for everyone always available, some solution to every wallet, and plenty of food to make kids of all ages smile at a delightful meal.
One deterrent for many prospective visitors is the price of Disney–and it really shouldn’t be so. Of course Disney is more expensive than Universal, but think of how much bigger it is and how much more it can offer to you! Even so, prices are not unreasonable, and if you’re a Florida resident, you get extra discounts. Passholders get discounts on merchandise, resorts, and dining, and sometimes “perks” such as exclusive sneak peaks at new attractions and shows. There are premium annual passes which get you into all 4 parks, 2 waterparks, and Disney Quest all year ($509 for FL resident adults, 2011), annual passes that get you admission to the theme parks 365 days a year with free parking ($389 for FL resident adults, 2011), and there’s the highly economical seasonal passes, permitting you admission into all four parks for most of the year, ie, there’s selective blackout dates ($269 for FL resident adults, 2011). Disney’s newest programs (created in an effort to make ticket prices affordable) include the Weekday Select pass, where you can visit Monday-Friday with the same blackout dates as a seasonal pass ($179 for FL resident adults, 2011), and an Epcot “after 4” pass, likely intended for locals when you can come for a brief nightly visit to Epcot ($149 for FL resident adults, 2011). So, as you can see, Disney may seem expensive at first, but upon a closer look it is quite reasonable. Non-Florida resident pricing can be found at http://tickets.disney.go.com/buy/TicketTrans.
Suffice it to say, there’s plenty of resorts to go around. With 4 (soon to be 5) value resorts starting at $89/night, 4 moderate resorts starting at $149/night, and at least 8 deluxe/vacation club resorts starting at $249/night — there’s a room for every price range. All guests staying at a Disney hotel can access the Disney transport system, getting you to the parks by bus, boat, or monorail quickly and easily. Guests also get free parking to the theme parks and get to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours. EMH is a program where resort guests can, each day, either enter a designated park one hour before opening time, or stay there three hours after closing. It’s a great way to avoid crowds, and Disney’s all yours! Further, there are also several on-site third-party hotels in the Downtown Disney area that offer lower room prices (starting at $69/night) without the extra EMH perks.
Last, but certainly not least, the issue of Fast Passes. You don’t have to pay for them in Disney like you do in Universal. Get your park ticket, insert it at FastPass kiosks, and simply return at the designated time to secure a briefer wait time. It’s the way to go on more popular rides — you can ride twice as much in half the time. Enough said on that one, it’s a freebie!
In short, then, if you are looking for rock n’ roll music, compacted crowds, and thrills, if you’re younger and excited by rap concerts, Disney is not your place. If, however, you’re looking for a balanced vacation, or a seasonal endeavor, if you want to balance roller coasters with a cultural walk around the nations, if you crave diversity and a unique experience with each visit, then Disney is a perfect fit. It’s a gross misnomer that Disney is for kids–it’s for everyone: for parents who are still enchanted by Broadway shows and the look of a castle lit up by fireworks for night, for kids who want to play princesses and pirates, for adults who like to relax and just stroll — Disney is for everyone. There are ample resorts, restaurants, and shopping venues to make bearers of all budgets feel at home and welcome. Transportation is easy, service always pleasant, resorts–remarkable. If you’re searching out a place to relax — you can find it in Disney among the inner courtyards and terraces of the Italian Pavilion. If you’re looking for a refreshing beer, kick back at Germany with a pretzel in hand. With Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom being the “get-up-and-go” parks, Epcot and Animal Kingdom are the “fun at your leisure” arenas. At nighttime, you’ll never see a park light up as with Epcot’s Illuminations firework display. Every time you venture to Disney, you are invited to craft your own individual experience. If you like to innovate, you’ll love Disney. If you like consistency and heart-pumping all day — try Universal. Each to his own, as the French say. Enjoy your vacation wherever you go!