We, as DVC owners, have a love and an investment in Disney that is arguably unparalleled. We bought a real estate investment within a Disney resort for a reason… for frequent trips to Disney and for a very long time.

With the vast majority of Disney Vacation Club resorts located at Walt Disney World, it’s easy to forget the world outside the bubble. Central Florida has a lot to offer that is decidedly not Disney, but we, as DVC owners, have a unique opportunity to explore the area from a different point of view.

This past September, we found ourselves in a unique position to “do what we never do” and use our DVC points for a partial trip to Universal.

Universal is a bit of an enigma for me. It’s a hodgepodge of theming cobbled together in a way that’s confusing and unsettling. However, what Universal does well (Harry Potter for example), it does really well, and as DVC owners staying for very little money, we are in a unique opportunity to take advantage of these savings.

First of all, let’s talk about Universal’s Express Pass. When Disney broke the news about Disney Genie+ and the fact that something that was free wasn’t anymore, we all reacted in our own way. The additional cost of $15 per person was too much for a lot of us. However, Universal’s front-of-the-line program is far more expensive, yet for us, it was a far better value. We paid $149 per day on top of our two-day park pass, which covered both of Universal’s parks. $149 per day, far greater than Disney’s $15 per day. However, the nerd in me did some pretty heavy tracking. On a Saturday, which I felt was relatively busy at Universal, we spent from open to close, 8 am to 8 pm, 12 hours, splitting our time between Universal Studios and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. I tracked on my phone and, using my smartwatch, our actual wait times compared to the posted wait times at each attraction. At $149, I wanted to know what the real value was. I can provide the spreadsheet to anyone that wants it, but the short version is we saved 11.5 hours of waiting in line in a 12 hour day. We waited 6 minutes for Escape from Gringotts when the posted wait time was 60 minutes. We waited 4 minutes for Rip Ride Rocket when the posted wait time was 45 minutes. And so on. We easily did both parks, each and every ride, in a single day, some of them twice.

This is not a luxury purchase we would have considered had we had to pay for our hotel. And to be fair, you can get the front-of-the-line perk by staying at Universal’s top-tier hotels. But why would we, when we have a far better room that we already invested in just down the road?

Second, Universal knocks it out of the park with their refillable mugs. I know, that’s a weird thing to fixate on, but my Disney refillable mug (at the height of the dining plans) only worked at my resort, which was a place I did not spend a lot of time. Conversely, Universal’s works everywhere, and I mean EVERYWHERE! There are refillable mug stations scattered all over both parks and your mug works everywhere. I still don’t understand why Disney doesn’t just let this one go. It’s such a cheap perk for them to offer and they already do it at the water parks.

Lastly, I dare say The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is in close competition to anything Disney has done in recent years, especially if you’re a Harry Potter fan. They nailed the immersion, the theming, and played to the fans in a way that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge does and also does not. The interactivity of the wand features is something that Star Wars flubbed. Spreading the Wizarding World between both parks all but ensures a park-to-park ticket, where Star Wars suffers as an awesome but half-day experience. And a $50 wand is far more accessible than a $225 lightsaber.

That’s not to say Universal is perfect. Far from it. Outside The Wizarding World, the theming goes awry, with the possible exception of the Dr. Seuss themed area. The rest of the rides are very heavy on motion screens or 3D effects, though Velicoaster may be the best thrill ride in Orlando. The water rides are specifically designed to absolutely drench guests, from head to toe.

However, saving money on a Universal hotel by utilizing your DVC membership definitely opens up the pocketbook to new experiences and makes a Universal trip something that maybe some wouldn’t consider. At the time of this writing, Universal will still sell an annual pass to basically anyone at a steep savings to Disney’s annual passes, which still vary on their availability.

I’ll never be one to advocate Universal as a replacement to our beloved Disney parks. Despite all the things we’ve lost over the past couple of years, Disney still does things in a very Disney way, and it’s almost hard to beat. However, Universal has raised their competitive hackles over the past decade and has reached a point where they can realistically draw guests away and we shouldn’t be afraid to follow the draw. Many of us, as DVC owners, have already done what Disney has to offer multiple times. As I’ve increased my DVC ownership over the past year, I’ve found myself spending less time in the parks and not riding It’s a Small World and Peter Pan’s Flight every single time. I’ve found that with more frequent visits, one day an Animal Kingdom is sufficient as opposed to the two I used to do. Adding on a couple of days at Universal creates a rare combination of being able to effectively use my DVC points and trying something different. By maybe staying at a resort with a lower point cost that isn’t adjacent to EPCOT or Magic Kingdom for say Old Key West, where I’m renting a car anyway, really opens up some of these opportunities.

Universal is not for everyone, but with a third gate at Universal heading our way within a few years, lower-cost annual passes, increasingly better ride offerings, and other options, Universal is something that DVC owners shouldn’t be afraid to try.

5 thoughts on “Universal: A DVC Point of View

  • I’m in town now for the week. We chose to stay here at Universal instead of using our DVC. We did use a ride share for a day at EPCOT for the Festival of the Arts. I will say that reminds us of why we bought DVC and the bubble that Disney has created.

    USF isn’t bad it is just different and in some ways they are definitely doing it better.
    We did purchase UOAP right after we bought into DVC since Disney was not selling their AP. Still stings to think that you are investing in their product so heavy and they wouldn’t make an exception to the rule.

    We will continue to make a day trip or two during our DVC stays but are Disney fans all the way.

    Great article for sure.

  • Great post! The Disney refillable mugs are a mystery to me. Even at the resort, there are limited places to get them filled. Worst is Boardwalk. Exception is Caribbean Beach where there was a refill station with the ice machine in our building. We have really gotten our money’s worth from mugs at Universal though.

  • Love the refillable mugs at Universal, but they only work at the parks – they don’t work at the resorts without paying an additional fee.

  • We had to reschedule a December trip due to Covid so lost my 7 night stay at OKW. Our reschedule date had no availability at OKW (we were waitllisted), but could give us 4 nights at SS for our last 4 nights. Since we wanted to spend 2 days with Harry Potter, I decided to reserve at Universal. I didn’t realize at the time that my reservation (at one of their top tier hotels) included free Express Passes for our whole party of 5, more than paying for our whole stay! (I must mention that our hotel was a 5 min boat ride from the parks, allowing for lots more actual park time.)

    After 4 frustrating days trying to master Genie+, I’d pay for the simplicity of an Express Pass system.

    So, I essentially saved myself enough DVC points to schedule another long weekend with Micky!

  • This article is 100% spot on!
    I agree with everything presented here. As someone who has used dvc for a universal trip, I think Disney will continue to lose market share as a result of some of the recent changes.

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