A Mom’s Perspective on Universal Studios & Walt Disney World

Stephanie, one of our customers from the Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania area, recently booked a 12 day trip with her family to Florida. Stephanie, her husband and three children took in all the sites and experienced both Universal Studios and Disney theme parks.

Below is Stephanie’s recap of her trip, as well as her tips for any families traveling to Florida amusement parks.

Universal Studios:

I am really glad we took four days to experience Universal Studios as we were able to re-ride our favorites and have some down time to swim in the pool. The hotel was beautiful. In the evening at the hotel, they had movies by the pool and a Hawaiian dancer and flame-thrower as entertainment. It was fascinating to watch and we were surrounded by the beautiful, tropical atmosphere. At the pool, a staff member frequently came around with fresh, warm towels and cucumbers for loungers to place on their eyes (thank goodness my kids were in the pool, they probably would have eaten them!). We were treated very well. The parks were within walking distance of our resort, and each morning and evening we had the opportunity to walk through the tropical gardens to go from hotel to the park.

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Scenic Hotel View at Universal Studios

The rides at Universal Studios and Island of Adventure were definitely more intense thrill-rides than what Walt Disney World generally offers. This was certainly better for the older kiddos. A great tip is to have lanyards to hold the tickets and my husband kept all the tickets in one lanyard making it so much easier in Universal Studios. This way, there was no waiting to find everyone’s tickets to show for the express lines and to take a train between the parks (Walt Disney World has the Magic Band wrist bands making it much easier). In terms of meals, we did stop by Mythos at Universal’s Islands of Adventure to eat, and though the online menu did not catch my eye, I am glad we stopped as they had more choices than listed online and the food was to die for!

 

Disney:

Then it was onto Disney. It was our third time there and we stayed at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort. The hotel will certainly be our choice next time as well. It was everything that I was hoping for… everything Disney! The family suites were perfect for us. The little kitchenette was even stocked with paper plates (with Mickey Mouse printed on the border of course), paper bowls, plastic-wrapped utensils, a can opener, tea, coffee, paper towels, and cups. It is amazing how they think of everything when designing the resorts. The pool area is next to the laundry area which is adjacent to the “Drop Off Bar.” I have never seen so many people happily do laundry (of course, while enjoying the drinks)!

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Disney’s The Art of Animation Resort

I highly recommend making reservation at Beauty & the Beast’s Be Our Guest. It is magnificent! When you look out the windows, it appears as if it is snowing and the food was amazing.

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The Beast’s Dining Room at “Be Our Guest” Restaurant in Magic Kingdom

We went on our trip in late November, the week before Thanksgiving. The crowds were not bad during our vacation until the Monday before the holiday when you could tell that the Thanksgiving vacationers had arrived.

Walt Disney’s transport to the airport from the hotel was wonderful. We did not have to worry about transporting our luggage and the bus ride was nice.

It could not have been a better vacation and I’m happy our family got to experience both Universal Studios and the Disney parks. I certainly think Disney is more entertainment, Universal much more thrill ride, Magic Kingdom remains our favorite park. We did see the start of Avatar area being built at Animal Kingdom and the Disney Star Wars expansion in Disney – we look forward to experiencing it once it is completed. After our 12 days in Florida, I was wondering how soon we can get back! Thank you to Boscov’s Travel and Kerri from the Selinsgrove location at Susquehanna Valley Mall for all of her work… everything went absolutely flawless.

 

Tips:

Ordering the photo pass online ahead of time seemed expensive but was worth it! They made video clips, including story lines from various rides showing our family as we navigated around the park. The number of pictures we received was really great and I did not have to always worry about stopping the kids to get the perfect picture.

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Ordering Garden Grocer, a grocery delivery service, was fantastic! I got a text when the groceries were delivered to our Walt Disney World Resort. Yogurt and milk were kept in a fridge at front desk.  The website even offers a breakdown of resorts what will likely fit in the fridge, since each resort has different refrigerator sizes. Garden Grocer does offer a discount if you order 30, 60 or90 days ahead of time.  It really was worth it.

We regretted not bringing our stroller for this trip since we have a four year old, and the cost to rent for more than a day is crazy. When we were about to rent the stroller for an additional day, we saw umbrella strollers for sale for just $40. They had a cup holder, mesh bag for items, and a small canopy. We bought one and saved a lot of money instead of renting for an additional few days. It served its purpose and because of its relatively small size, we did not have trouble getting around people. It provided enough room for a four year old to rest and for us to place a few items in it as well.

 

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The Best Age to Take Your Child to Disney

As a Travel Specialist, I am often asked, “What is the best age to take a child to Disney?”  That is a question loaded with expectations… Though the answer is different for every family, by asking the right questions, you can figure out what works for your family.

Parents often feel overwhelmed by the Disney question… you are investing in a trip that is considered a childhood rite of passage, and you absolutely want your little ones to be engaged and cherish the experience.  So what’s the perfect age?  Assuming that there is an ultimate answer to the ‘age’ question is a trap that even I as a travel professional have fallen into.  My husband and I didn’t want to go until all our kids could ‘remember’ the trip.  We waited until the youngest was three (young and perhaps pushing it from a memory perspective).  Our oldest however was eight and while we had a wonderful time, I feel like he lost something by being asked to wait until he was eight to see this wondrous place.  Still, it was a great trip and we learned a lot.  At that point in time, we weren’t seasoned travelers with our kids and we had no concept of how they would adjust to a lot of things.  It wasn’t just Disney, we had postponed experiences and we didn’t train them well for travel in doing so.

My then eight year old never knew the wonder of seeing Mickey and believing in the magic of him…and I never got to see it either.  He is my first – fondly called my ‘practice child’ and all mistakes were and still are made on him.  I remember that first birthday party.  He turned one and we invited everyone we knew to bring things we didn’t need.  Friends and family gathered to watch him dive into a cake and guess what…he doesn’t remember that.  But I do.  If our children’s childhoods were all about what they could remember, many of our decisions would be different. A lot of their young lives are about how we remember it.  How many parents took photos of your child the first time they experienced snow, or sand or put their toes in the ocean (or tasted lemon – my personal favorite)?  We have to do some of the remembering for them and retell the experiences through our stories and pictures.  We have to prepare them for experiences by giving them experiences.  It’s a process.

That’s why you can take your children to Walt Disney World as young as you would like (and are comfortable) because we need to have vacations, even with our babies and toddlers.  Of course we may have to adjust our expectations of the trip; naps may be in order, familiar foods and snack packs are essential, and pool time is a requirement (do not underestimate the benefit of water therapy in a land as hyperkinetic as a Disney theme park).  But taking it at a slower pace does not mean it will be less enjoyable. As parents we spend all sorts of time adjusting – our schedules and yes, our vacations. We’re pros at this sort of thing.

So in answer to the question, “What is the best age to take your child to Disney?” my response is… soon, very soon.

 

Ready to experience the magic of Disney with your children? Take one of our charter flights from local airports in Reading, Wilkes-Barre, Harrisburg, or Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Learn more here.

Jennifer Fegan is a Travel Specialist at Boscov’s Travel within Boscov’s at the Camp Hill Shopping Mall. With five years’ experience in the travel industry, Jennifer has helped her family, friends and clients bring their travel dreams to life. As a mother, Jennifer has become an expert on all things Disney. Whether you’re looking to visit the happiest place on earth or set sail to a tropical paradise, Jennifer will help you to maximize your budget and make unforgettable memories for you and your family.