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4 Winning Strategies Universal Should Steal from Disney ASAP

The food

Image: DisneyOne of my favorite things to mention about Walt Disney World is that it's home to one of the top two fine-dining restaurants in the United States. This fact blows the minds of non-Disney people. When friends ask me for trip suggestions for Disney vacations, I always lead with the dining. I want everyone to understand the stunning quality of the food at Walt Disney World.

We tend to take this for granted, as theme park tourists are used to the deep roster of great eateries on the Disney campus. My family can easily plan a seven-night vacation’s worth of meals. In truth, we generally have to skip a few of our favorites due to lack of availability or, you know, fear of gluttony.

Image: DisneyAt Universal Studios, we tend to eat at both Harry Potter restaurants. Honestly, we do it more out of obligation than any real excitement for the cuisine, though. Somehow, Rose & Crown Dining Room serves better British food than the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, something I find inexcusable.

To a larger point, the best in-park restaurant at Universal is unquestionably Mythos. Deciding the second-best eatery borders on irrelevant. If you don’t like Mythos, your best bet is to head outside to Universal CityWalk Orlando. And most of the restaurants there are chain establishments rather than unique offerings. So, Disney Springs has it all over CityWalk, too.

Universal simply hasn’t prioritized dining enough at its parks. The entire campus is a gigantic cliché about fatty carnival food. Disney hires Top Chef winners and Michelin Star chefs. Universal serves Krusty Burgers that even Krusty would worry are too disgusting for customers to eat.

Customer satisfaction

Image: DisneyThe final suggestion is more of a meta-statement. Customers just like Disney better. The company is frequently listed as one of the five most admired businesses in America. The same is most assuredly not true of NBCUniversal. Before you protest, please remember that the actual owner of this subdivision is…Comcast. Yeah.

Sure, Universal Studios gets caught in the bad press of Comcast, but the park experience still isn't good enough. Surveys for Disney are generally glowing, with the company acting to remove attractions that aren't up to snuff like Stitch's Great Escape. At Universal, what's there is there and seems like it will be there until the end of time. I'm looking at you, innumerable water rides and Dr. Seuss attractions!

For some reason, Universal seems to lack the passion for theme park management that Disney possesses. With Universal, they seem to do the bare minimum to earn return visits from guests. To my mind, they could learn from Disney in two specific meta-areas.

Image: DisneyThe first is customer service. Have you ever had an issue at Walt Disney World? A cast member will treat you like the most important person on the planet, doing everything that they can to solve your problem. At Universal, just finding an employee can feel like an adventure. Getting a helpful one is a lottery ticket, with roughly the same odds of winning as the real lottery.

Look, Universal can't possibly match the customer service at Disney theme parks. The latter company has literally written the book on customer service excellence. I'd just like to see Universal act like they want to be competitive. Many of the workers here act like they didn't get the job that they wanted at Disney, and so these employees are stuck where they are. It's regrettable and seemingly systemic.

The other critical area for improvement is line queue management. Disney’s invested billions of dollars trying to get customers out of long lines. Sure, it’s an impossible dilemma due to the popularity of Disney theme parks, but they DO try.

Image: DisneyThus far, Universal’s best strategy is to sell a super-expensive Universal Express Pass. Disney receives a beating any time that they run an upsell ticketed event like Disney After Hours. Universal sells the same thing EVERY day. It's a fundamental part of Universal Studios park dynamics that the higher-paying customers receive a vastly superior experience.

I’m someone who uses Universal Express whenever I visit the park. I do it because I can completely conquer two parks in two days, and I have plenty of time left over to spend extra hours in Springfield and the Wizarding World. I also do it because the lines at Universal are maddening when I don’t have the express pass. Like, they’re a deal-breaker for me. I won’t even consider a visit without that pass.

Image: DisneyDisney’s built an app, My Disney Experience, so that guests can book FastPasses rather than wait in line. Universal’s app borders on cruel. It tells you what the wait-times are but does nothing to help you avoid them. To their credit, they did add Virtual Line at Volcano Bay, but exponentially more guests visit the theme parks than the water park. It’s noticeably absent from these locations.

When I evaluate the difference in management at Disney and Universal, the primary difference is want-to. Universal needs to care more about the park experience of its customers. That’s a choice management must make, a commitment to do better in the face of stiff competition. To date, Universal's just rolled over and ceded dominance to Disney. The time is now to push back instead. Universal can’t rely on Harry Potter forever.

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