The weirdest thing I’ve ever seen at a sporting event

I’ve been to close to 200 pro lacrosse games over the last 14 years. In that time, I’ve seen some weird things: a player sent off the floor by the referee because he was wearing Nike shoes instead of Reeboks, a player step on another player’s back while walking back to the bench, goalies fighting with non-goalies, the list goes on. The funniest was probably the time a goalie (Anthony Cosmo) made a save, then picked up the ball and while deciding which teammate to pass it to, didn’t notice the ball slowly roll out of his stick and bounce into the net. The guy who got credit for the goal was already sitting on the bench when it went in.

Given all that, it’s a little surprising that the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen at a sporting event comes from the world of football.

I’m not a football guy. I don’t mind watching the odd CFL game on TV but I don’t really pay much attention to the league in general, and I never watch the NFL. But I’ve been to a couple of Argos games over the years and one Tiger-Cats game too. It was at an Argos game at Skydome a bunch of years ago that this particular event occurred.

It’s not a long story, so don’t blink.

The Argos were playing the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and at some point during the game I heard a chorus of male voices chanting “Here we go Riders, here we go! <clap> <clap> Here we go Riders, here we go! <clap> <clap>” I remember noticing not only because the Riders were the away team, but because I’m used to hearing that chant as “Let’s go <team>, let’s go” rather than “Here we go <team>, here we go”. I figured it was a Saskatchewan thing.


I looked around for the group of Roughrider fans that made the trip to Toronto, or perhaps a group of Saskatchewan ex-pats living in Toronto, but couldn’t find any. Then I realized what was happening.

It was a recording.

The sound was coming directly from the Roughrider bench. They were playing a recording of people chanting “Here we go Riders”, presumably to get their team pumped up.

I’m no pro athlete but I would imagine that playing in front of thousands of people cheering for you or your team can indeed get you pumped. But that’s because of the people themselves and their obvious passion and enthusiasm, not the sounds that they are making. Were the coaches or whoever trying to fool the players into believing they were in Regina and those sounds they heard we the rabid Roughies fans cheering them on? Did they honestly think that would work?

Diet Pepsi caves to the ignorant

It had to happen. Somebody had to be the first. Maybe others will follow and maybe not but either way, this is a very bad idea.

What am I talking about? Pepsi has announced that they will be changing their recipe for Diet Pepsi to remove aspartame (“Nutrasweet”) and replace it with sucralose (“Splenda”). Diet Pepsi has been sweetened with a mix of aspartame and acesulfame-potassium (known as “ace-K”) for a couple of years, and the new formula will be a mix of sucralose and ace-K. Pepsi insists that they’re not doing it because of any problems with aspartame. They said “Decades of studies have shown that aspartame is safe. This is not about safety.” They say they’re doing it because their customers are demanding it, and because their sales are way down in recent years.

This statement is consistent with their actions. If it was about health or product safety, not only would they have said so (so they can be seen as being a company that cares about its customers), but they would be getting rid of aspartame in all of their products, not just Diet Pepsi. They have announced that only the various varieties of Diet Pepsi (i.e. caffeine free, cherry, etc.) would be changing; their other diet products like Diet Mountain Dew would not. Also, they are not removing it from Diet Pepsi in Canada, so it really doesn’t matter much to us Canadians.

As a type-2 diabetic, this is an important topic for me. Artificial sweeteners don’t raise blood sugar level like real sugar does, so products that use them are very important for diabetics. And yes, I do drink diet Pepsi and other diet soft drinks, though I prefer Coke Zero.

The Science

Aspartame is probably the most heavily tested food additive ever. It’s been in thousands of products since the 1980’s and has been approved and deemed safe for consumption by not only the FDA in the US but the equivalent agency in 100+ countries around the world. Yes, if you eat a spoonful of the stuff raw, it’s dangerous. But the reason it’s used is because it’s 200 times sweeter than sugar, which means you only need a tiny amount to sweeten whatever you’re putting it in. The amount used is so small that it has virtually no calories. If a person my size (~170 pounds) were to drink 21 cans of diet pop every day, that would bring him or her to the FDA’s level of “acceptable daily intake” (ADI) of aspartame, meaning he or she could drink that much every day for a lifetime “without appreciable health risk”*. Note that Health Canada’s ADI is lower than the FDA’s, so I could only drink 17 cans of diet pop per day. Awwwww.

* – This means no appreciable health risk from the aspartame. It’s not like there are no other health risks with drinking that much pop.

Have there been studies on rats that showed higher rates of lymphoma and leukemia with increased aspartame intake? Yes. But first off, those studies are a little suspect; some were testing rats ingesting amounts of aspartame equivalent to a person drinking a couple of thousand cans of diet pop per day. Secondly, rats aren’t people. Chocolate is deadly to dogs and cats but we don’t ban it for people and nobody says “this stuff will kill your dog, why would YOU eat it?”. There have been thousands of studies on the effects of aspartame on people over the past forty years, and none of them have shown any association between aspartame and various cancers. There have even been studies on people who claim to have “aspartame sensitivity” which showed that such a thing does not exist.

Zumwalt Meadow

(I tried to find a suitable picture for this article, but I did an image search for “aspartame” and the results were pretty much nothing but “aspartame is poison!” infographics containing incorrect information. So here’s a completely unrelated image of Zumwalt Meadow in Kings Canyon National Park in California. I’ve never been there but it looks lovely. This is from a photographer named Kevin Gong.)

There are people who have a genetic condition known as phenylketonuria (PKU) which causes the body to be unable to metabolize an amino acid called phenylalanine, which is one of the by-products of digesting aspartame. Those people are generally told to avoid aspartame, though they get more phenylalanine from their regular diet than from aspartame anyway. But this condition is rare and has other more far-reaching effects than just getting sick from aspartame – this is not the kind of thing you don’t know you have until you’re 30.

And no, it didn’t start out as ant poison until they accidentally realized how sweet it tasted. It started out as an anti-ulcer drug until they accidentally realized how sweet it tasted. I wonder if anyone has any idea how well it works to prevent ulcers?

Even better are the “oh yeah, who paid for that study?” people. First off, the fact that a study was paid for by a company doesn’t mean that company had a hand in the outcome. Second, good studies publish their data as well as their conclusions so that other scientists (who weren’t paid) can look it over and make sure it all was done correctly and the interpretation of the data makes sense. This is called peer-review and without it, studies are far less reliable. Third, studies that aren’t replicated by other scientists are also less reliable. And fourth, we have my standard question to believers of huge conspiracy theories: do you really think that 30+ years of peer-reviewed and replicated studies by hundreds of different scientists were all manipulated and falsified without anyone finding out or blowing the whistle? Show me the evidence for the conspiracy, and remember that things that are consistent with a conspiracy are not necessarily evidence of one.

The decision

So that’s the science. Nothing in science is ever 100% guaranteed, but as far as we can tell from a ton of testing, aspartame is safe to consume in the quantities that people are consuming it. Pepsi even acknowledges this. So why change? Due to customer demand. But why are customers demanding it? Are there really that many people out there with PKU who want to drink Diet Pepsi but can’t? No. It’s not PKU, it’s FUD.

FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) is something that people frequently use when talking about nutrition. Most anti-GMO and pro-organic articles you read on the web are based on FUD. The Food Babe makes her living off of it. (More like the FUD Babe, amirite?) (Dammit, someone else already said that) It’s essentially a logical fallacy that creates a false choice, then makes you afraid of one of the options (frequently using incorrect information or outright lies) to make it “obvious” that the other option must be the right one. But once somebody’s given you a reason to fear something, it’s very hard to see past it. So people end up avoiding whatever it is “just in case”.

Such is the case with aspartame. If hundreds (or thousands) of well-performed studies over decades show no association with any negative health effects (other than PKU), then it’s likely that there are none. But since science can’t prove beyond any doubt that it’s safe, people think that maybe it’s not. I suppose that’s technically true, but just because the options are “it’s safe” and “it’s not safe”, that doesn’t mean the two options are equally likely. Is it possible that every one of the thousands of aspartame studies showing that it’s safe are wrong or flawed? Sure it’s possible. But if you flip a coin 100 times and it comes up heads 99 of those times, it’s possible that you have a completely fair and balanced coin, but it’s far more likely that it’s not.



Ultimately, you know that the Food Babe and Dr. Oz and a zillion other people will point to this decision as “proof” that aspartame is dangerous. They won’t mention the science (why start now?). They won’t mention that Pepsi said that it’s not about safety (or they’ll imply that Pepsi was lying). They won’t mention the fact that Pepsi didn’t change their other diet drinks (which is inconsistent with Pepsi lying about safety, but they’ll say it anyway). They won’t mention that a soft drink company may not be the best place to get your nutritional information.

I commend Pepsi for stressing that this decision had everything to do with making customers happy and nothing to do with product safety. Despite what I said at the top of this article, I can’t really say this was a bad idea, since I have no idea how it will affect sales – if sales go up, then it was a great idea since that was the goal.

That said, I really wish they hadn’t done it. All this decision will do is imply that all of the FUD about aspartame is justified. Honestly, Pepsi can say whatever they want about safety or their reasons for doing this but in two years, nobody’s going to remember any of that. They’ll just see the Food Babe and others spin it as “don’t forget, Pepsi refused to continue including aspartame in Diet Pepsi!”

And science loses again.


American Cancer Society. (2014). Aspartame. Retrieved from

Choi, C. (April 24, 2015) Diet Pepsi Will Be Aspartame-Free, But Not In Canada. Huffington Post Canada.

Health Canada. (2005) Aspartame. Retrieved from

Health Canada. (2008) The Safety of Sugar Substitutes. Retrieved from

Horovitz, B. (April 24, 2015). Diet Pepsi to ditch the aspartame. USA Today (online). Retrieved from

National Cancer Institute. (2006). Aspartame and Cancer: Questions and Answers. Retrieved from

National Cancer Institute. (2009). Artificial Sweeteners and Cancer. Retrieved from

Pomeroy, R. (undated). Study Finds No Evidence for ‘Aspartame Sensitivity’. Real Clear Science. Retrieved from

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2014). Additional Information about High-Intensity Sweeteners Permitted for use in Food in the United States. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2014). Aspartame. Retrieved from

We need healing crystals here, stat! Aquamarine quartz!

Proponents of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM – though I tend to add the word “So-called” at the beginning because that acronym is a little more accurate) rarely say “Never go to a doctor” or “you should always use naturopathic medicine”. They know that this could turn many people off of CAM, so they try to state their case as a preference. If you want to go to your doctor that’s fine, but if you prefer to go to a naturopath, that should be your right and your insurance provider (and the health care system in general) should be accepting of that, i.e. should support it and pay for it. This is, in my opinion, a false equivalency – they are implying that “traditional” medicine and CAM are equally valid and equally effective when in reality CAM consists entirely of “treatments” that either have never been proven effective or have been proven ineffective.

That’s the official CAM literature, anyway: it’s a choice. But in the real world, the CAM community is full of people who talk all the time about the medical conspiracy and how doctors are withholding cures for diseases and how you should never go to a doctor practicing “Western medicine” or allow them to pump you full of man-made chemicals. Alternative medicines are the only way to go. This is not 100% of all CAM supporters, but a very vocal subset.

CAM people want the right to use homeopathic “vaccines” instead of regular ones. They want the right for the healthcare system to pay for their reiki or acupuncture or other pretend magic remedies. But there’s one thing that I’ve never heard a CAM supporter fight for.

Why aren’t CAM supporters demanding the right to have ambulance workers provide CAM instead of “traditional” medicine when they call 911?

If you don’t trust Western medicine and you believe that doctors are all part of a conspiracy to keep people sick and that natural medicine is your best option, why do you accept the possibility of being taken to a traditional hospital to be treated by Western doctors after an accident? What if some medical emergency happens to you and you can’t communicate your beliefs? Hopefully someone will call 911 but then without asking, they’ll take you to a traditional hospital. They might even start Western treatment right there in the ambulance. How awful!

What we need is the CAMbulance. You call 911 (or possibly a different number so you don’t get a traditional Western ambulance by mistake), describe the problem to the operator, and say you want the CAMbulance, and they’ll send out a different vehicle to take you to a local acupuncturist or homeopath or faith healer or something. That way you won’t get horrible things like painkillers or penicillin, which are of course made up entirely of CHEMICALS. I’m sure your acupuncturist can repair the internal bleeding and the homeopath can give you something that will clean up the plaque in your arteries that caused that heart attack. Your faith healer can re-attach that severed arm and if he can’t, well God must not have wanted you to have it anyway.

Even better – CAM people should sell Medic Alert-type bracelets saying “if in an accident, take me to a naturopath, not a hospital”. That way even if you’re incapacitated, your feelings can be made clear. Or perhaps they could just take you straight to the funeral home and skip the middleman. The CAMbulance is really a hearse.

Or perhaps the CAMbulance would take you to a place like this:

(Note “A&E” stands for “Accidents & Emergencies” which is the British term for what we in North America would call the ER.)

Opting out

March 4, 2015

To whom it may concern,

I would like to opt out of your diabetes program.

I was first accepted into your program a little over two years ago, in January 2013. I don’t remember actually volunteering for this program; I think it must have happened when I was in the hospital with pancreatitis five years ago. I did spent a lot of time on painkillers then so who knows what I signed up for. Anyway, I went on the medication and cut down on sugary stuff, and it really wasn’t that big a deal. My wife had been in your program for three years already, and she’s doing just fine. She doesn’t even test her blood all that often anymore since her sugar numbers are under control. For a while, mine were too, but then near the end of 2014 I noticed them going up again. I attributed that to Christmas and a couple of weeks of less-than-healthy eating. I started eating better in January but the numbers didn’t come back down, so I went to see my doctor and she advanced me to level two of your program.

I first injected myself with insulin on January 23, 2015. I started with 5 units per day and was told to keep testing my blood 4-5 times a day, increasing the dosage by one unit every two days until the blood sugar numbers were where they were supposed to be. Six weeks later, my fingers are all bruised from pricking them with needles before and after almost every meal, and I’m at 22 units per day. The numbers have come down a fair bit but they’re still not quite in the range they need to be.

I miss you.I lost 10 pounds at the beginning and I’ve been maintaining the new weight ever since, but I’m getting tired of feeling hungry all the time. I’m tired of deciding between oatmeal or eggs for breakfast every day because they’re the only things that don’t spike my blood sugar. Luckily, the turkey sausage breakfast sandwich from Tim Horton’s isn’t bad either so I treat myself now and again. But what I wouldn’t give for a bagel or a regular old bowl of cereal, which I’ve lived on for breakfast for the last 45 years. I was never a Froot Loops or Cap’n Crunch kind of guy, but even a bowl of Cheerios shot my blood sugar up over 6 points. When the acceptable range is 4 to 7 and you generally start your day around 9, adding another 6 is not helpful.

Oddly, the insulin injections aren’t that big a deal but I’m tired of having to have a bedtime snack that contains protein, carbs and fat. I know that helps slow down the insulin absorption, which helps it to last all the next day, but sometimes I just want to go to bed and not think about what would be an appropriate snack. I suppose if I thought about it 20 minutes before I want to go to bed that would work, but it’s not part of my routine yet.

I’m tired of looking at everything I eat and wondering how it will affect my blood sugar. I’m tired of my eyesight getting worse and hoping it’s because I’m 45 and not because diabetes is making me blind. I’m tired of being scared with any change in my body, wondering if it’s caused by the diabetes or if it’s the beginning of another round of hospital visits. Or worse.

And of course, I’m tired of skipping desserts and cookies and anything that has sugar in it. We had to throw some cupcakes out the other day because they got stale; that would never have happened a year ago.

It’s not like it’s all bad, I do want to acknowledge the perks. The free annual eye exam is nice, and the fact that I can seemingly eat all the crackers and cheese, eggs, and peanut butter I want and not gain weight is OK too. But the bit about “eat a cookie now, and we’ll wait 20 years before chopping some toes off ” is a little harsh.

In conclusion, I appreciate your interest in having me in this program, but I would really like to opt out and resume my previous lifestyle. Thanks for your attention in this matter, and please let me know how we proceed from here.


Graeme Perrow

This “letter” was written with tongue firmly in cheek. Sure this whole diabetes thing is a drag but quite honestly, I’m managing it fine. This was kind of fun to write and allowed me to whine about aspects of having diabetes that that bug me, but if it sounds like I’m moping around the house all the time thinking “woe is me, it’s so hard“, I’m really not.

I know full well that there are many people that have it far worse than I do. There are type 1 diabetics who have it worse. There are people with things like colitis and lupus and depression and cancer and a hundred other things, and those people have it worse. I have a wonderful wife who I adore, two great kids who I am very proud of, family, friends, a career I enjoy, and other than the diabetes, my health is pretty good. At the end of the day, my bed is very comfortable. I really do love my life.

In which I admit to myself who I really am

It’s time for me to come clean and admit it. I’ve been fighting this for years, but it’s getting harder and harder to hide it and pretend that I’m something I’m not. I just can’t go on living this lie. The irony is that I’ve become that which I have been making fun of for years. I suppose the easiest way would be just to come out and say it.

I am a fair-weather fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Whew, I feel better already, just having gotten that off my chest.

I was never one to watch EVERY SINGLE Leafs game on TV, but I would watch as often as I could. I paid attention to where they were in the standings. I knew most of the players’ names, where they played, and how they were doing. If they made a trade, I at least had some clue whether it was a good one or a bad one. But none of these things are true anymore. I know they’re having a terrible season and have decided to begin the rebuilding process, but not much more than that. I hang my head in shame.

Way to go Dion! And, um, #42!I blame lacrosse. I started watching the National Lacrosse League in 2001 and have gotten deeper and deeper into it every year since. I started blogging about it in 2005, and have since written for three lacrosse blogs (including what are probably the two most popular indoor lacrosse blogs anywhere) and started my own. I wouldn’t call myself a lacrosse expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I am reasonably knowledgeable about the NLL teams and players. But paying that much attention to lacrosse has taken up all of my sports-related free time in the winter, and hasn’t left me much time for hockey. The rest of my free time is spent with my family and none of them are hockey fans. If I have to choose between watching the Leafs lose play and watching Elementary with my wife, well, the Leafs lose (pun intended). But if there’s a Rock game on, sorry honey.

It’s also easy to blame the fact that the team has been anywhere from not very good to terrible for the last decade.

I still pay some attention to the Leafs. Though I may not know all the players, I know Dion Kessel and Phil van Reimsdyk and such, the big names. And I have watched bits of games here and there, just not as much as, say, 10 years ago. But I know that if the Leafs were to go on some crazy winning streak, I’d be right back there, watching the games, talking about them on social media, and maybe even blogging about them.

Don’t get me wrong: I have been a Leafs fan all my life, and that will not change. When they win the Cup in 2021, I will watch every game of the playoffs and I’ll be as excited as everyone else. I know there are people who lose their passion and are all “I used to be a Leafs fan, but now I don’t care if they win or lose” and I can’t imagine saying that, especially if the team starts doing really well. I do still care, I just don’t have the time to pay as much attention as I used to. But given the way the team has been playing this season (so I hear) and the fact that they’re rebuilding, I imagine I’ve got several more years of suckage before they have a chance of really contending. And that’s assuming the rebuild is actually successful. So it seems unlikely that I’ll be watching much hockey until then but when they’re good again, boy, I’ll be right there. As long as the weather remains fair.

Not a word of a lie: There’s a Leafs game on right now, and I’m going to watch it.

Update: Watched it. They lost. Sigh.

Guest post from both Nicky and Shadow

For several months now, I’ve had an idea sitting in my list of “blog post ideas”. The idea was a “guest post” written by my cat Shadow, where I would write about his life with us from his own point of view. I thought this would be fun but I never got around to actually writing it.

Then last week, Nicky said that he had a project to do for school where he had to write a short story from an unusual point of view. There were some suggestions given:

  • Tell a story about yourself but in the third-person. Graeme hates this kind of stuff. It really bugs him.
  • Pretend you told a story about yourself to a friend. Tell the story as the friend who’s now re-telling it to someone else.
  • Tell a story from the point of view of an animal or an inanimate object which is involved in the story.
  • etc.

Nicky said he was having trouble coming up with ideas, and so we brainstormed for a while. I mentioned telling a story from Shadow’s point of view, and he immediately thought of telling the story of how we found him. Nicky ran with it. He talked about how we found him and he spent most of the day in my sister’s garage, how they took him to the vet to see if he was microchipped, how we brought him home, and even how we took him to our vet to get him microchipped, though he left out the part about being neutered. That’s probably for the best.

Anyway I thought Nicky did such a good job on the story, I’m reposting it here. He even gave me his permission:

I, Nicky Perrow, give my formal consent to my daddy, Graeme Perrow, to use this story in his Blogs, Facebooks, Tweets, Etc. as much as he may wish.

For posterity, Nicky is 12 and in grade seven.

How I found my cat, Shadow

I was walking around outside for a while, freezing my tail off, when I saw a red van pull up and some friendly-­looking people stepped out. “Salvation!” I purred loudly. I started to wrap myself around their legs and purring as heavily as I could. Soon they were petting me and one even picked me up! Then they put me down and walked away, “MEOW!” I cried. They turned around and gestured for me to follow so I did and I trailed behind them until we got to a door, the door opened and we went inside. It was massive! Some older friendly people came and started petting me. After that, we went down some stairs to a cold room. Not as cold as outside but still a bit chilly. I was left there with one of the smaller friendly people petting me and playing with me. After a while, the other nice people came back with a bed, food, water, and a strange light that is very bright but when I got close to it then I got all warm and fuzzy. Then everyone left and I realized how hungry I was so I started munching away at the food that they had brought me. Then I lay down in the bed and fell asleep right away.

When I woke up, I ate a little bit but my breakfast was interrupted by the older people coming and putting me in a small box with a nice little cloth. Then they started swinging me around! Who did they think they were?! All of a sudden I was in a big vibrating thing. It looked a lot like the red van from earlier but it was black. Birds and trees were racing past me, but then it all stopped. I was taken into a room and let out. A man walked up and waved a small box over me, nothing happened. Next thing I knew, I was zipping by the birds and trees again! Once we got back in the door, I saw the people from the red van! Then they put me in a more comfortable box with a fluffy towel! I was in there for a very long time. I even had a little nap! I awoke to my box being carried through a door into a house that was even more massive than the one before! They let me out and I explored a bit. After a long time I went back into the box and into the red van. I decided to have a bath but it was cut short by me getting carried into another room where I got poked. It hurt a lot! Then a small box was waved over where I got poked, it looked similar to the one that did nothing so I wasn’t worried but just then it beeped loudly causing me to jump back. After that, I went back into the van. I went home.

The people take good care of me and it’s a lot better that living on the street! I’ve been here ever since.

by Nicky Perrow

Nicky And Shadow

Florida 2014: Disney vs. Universal

In August 2014, we spent two weeks on vacation in Florida, which included 4 days at the Universal Studios theme parks and 8 days at Disney World. I’ve summarized our vacation in some detail already (planning, Universal, Disney), but here I’m going to look at the similarities and differences between Universal and Disney. I’m skipping the rides, shows, and food, mainly because they’re so varied and you can find ride reviews anywhere. I wanted to focus on other parts of the experience that may not get talked about as much. Primarily, I want to look at the difference between their two “line-skipping” technologies, Disney’s Fastpass+ and Universal Express.

First I’ll describe each one, and then compare them.


Disney’s Fastpass has been around for a while (it was there when we went in 2002), and it recently got changed and renamed to Fastpass+. It allows you to sign up for a ride hours or days in advance and then skip the line. It’s basically a “reservation” for a ride; you are assigned a time range (usually 15 minutes) and as long as you arrive within that time range, you can go into the Fastpass+ line rather than the regular line, and your wait is significantly decreased. For some rides, this is the only way to get on the ride without waiting an hour or more. You can also get Fastpasses for non-ride things like shows, character greetings, and even some restaurants. However not every ride accepts Fastpasses, and for those that do the number they have is limited so you generally have to get them in advance.

Fastpass+You can only have one FastPass+ per ride at a time, so you can’t get a bunch of Fastpasses for Mission: Space and ride it all day. You can get Fastpasses online or through the Disney app, and there are even stations throughout the parks where you can get them.

Fastpass+ is free for all Disney guests.

Universal Express

Universal Express is similar to Fastpass+ but not quite the same. While Fastpass+ is essentially a reservation system, Universal Express is simply a way of paying extra for the privilege of bypassing the normal lines to wait in much shorter lines. It’s not available on every ride, but almost all of the rides that didn’t offer it were the ones where the lines were short anyway. The big exceptions were the Hogwarts Express and Escape from Gringotts.

Multiple lines at The HulkIf you are a guest at one of the Universal hotels, you get Express for “free” (considering the price of tickets and hotels, it’s hard to use the word “free”. Let’s say it doesn’t cost any extra). But if you’re staying off-site, it’s rather expensive. The Express costs anywhere from $34.99 (with restrictions) up to $149.99 (with none, peak time), and that’s per day per ticket. Express is an add-on, so this cost is on top of your regular ticket price.

Compare and contrast

Both Fastpass+ and Express provided lines that were much shorter than the regular lines and in some cases we just walked straight onto the ride, feeling a bit like a VIP. “Sorry, regular people, these people want to ride now, so you’ll all have to wait.”

There are two big advantages to Fastpass+. The first is that you know when you will be riding certain rides, and you can plan your day around that. This is also the big disadvantage – if you decide to change your plans, you either lose your Fastpass or you can try to change it online. But we found that changing it was generally not possible because the times booked up very quickly. You can also only have one Fastpass for a ride at a time, so if you loved a ride, you can’t just turn around and bypass the line again. You can do that with Universal Express.

The second big advantage is that Fastpass+ doesn’t cost any extra and everyone can use it. For those staying onsite, Universal Express is included but otherwise, it ranges from a bit of a pricey add-on to “holy crap, are you kidding?” expensive. There were stations around Universal advertising “Buy your Express pass here!”, and when we were there the cost was around $89.99 (per day per ticket). Since we went to Universal for four days, that would have cost us over $1400. That’s insane.

The biggest advantages for Universal Express is that it’s available on the majority of rides and it’s very flexible – you just walk onto the ride. You don’t need to plan ahead and you don’t need an app on your phone. If you get the cheaper version you can’t use it more than once for the same ride in a day, but the “Universal unlimited” pass (that we had) allows you to use it as many times as you want.

Since we did stay on-site, the price wasn’t an issue for us and so overall I preferred Universal Express to Fastpass+. it was so much easier to simply walk in the Express line rather than booking the time in advance. Having said that, if I had to pay several hundred bucks per day for the four of us to get the Express tickets, that opinion would change very quickly.

In a nutshell, Universal Express was easier and more flexible than Fastpass+, but unless you’re staying on-site, it’s not worth the crazy amount of money.

I originally thought the price was unrealistically high – who’s going to pay that? Why would Universal charge that much? But I figured out why. Having this feature free for hotel guests may push people to stay at a Universal hotel rather than off-site. The hotel may be a little more expensive, but if you save $1000+ by not having to buy Express for everyone in your family, you may decide that the higher hotel price is worth it. If I were going back to Universal again, I’d certainly consider it.

A few other comparisons:

  • Magic BandsAt Universal, your ticket is a small card (like a credit card) with your name on it and a mag stripe, which you swipe to get into the park and hotel room. Universal Express was a different ticket (WHY?!), and we bought lanyards to keep both tickets easily reachable. For the cost of the vacation, I think Universal could have thrown in four lanyards. Disney used a “magic band” (see right), which is a plastic bracelet with an RFID chip in it. The bracelet was your park ticket (with a fingerprint), Fastpass+ ticket, meal plan ticket, hotel key, and identification for the Disney photographers. You could even use it to charge things to your room (with a PIN). As I said in an earlier article, the only thing it didn’t work for was the in-room safe (which used a large metal key – WHY?!). Advantage: Disney.
  • At a number of rides, there were lockers nearby since they don’t want you bringing cameras and backpacks and such on the rides. At Universal (and at Kennedy Space Center too), there were fingerprint scanners near each bank of lockers. You scanned your finger and it would open an empty locker for you to use. When you came back later, you scanned your finger again and it opened the locker. If you were gone less than 20 minutes or so (the time varied with the general lineup length for the ride), the locker rental was free, otherwise you had to pay to get your stuff back. The boys thought that using the fingerprint scanner was pretty cool, though personally I wasn’t as impressed – I wrote fingerprint scanning software two decades ago. Disney had no such lockers. Advantage: Universal.
  • Both resorts had free wifi throughout the parks and hotels but Universal’s was much spottier. In the hotel, you had to agree to some terms and conditions before it would let you surf, and I had to agree to those terms and conditions a number of times because it seemed to forget. There were a number of places throughout Universal where the wifi signal dropped to nothing. At Disney, the wifi covered just about everywhere (you might say it was universal) and had a much stronger signal. Advantage: Disney.

One other difference was the staff. The Disney staff seemed to truly enjoy being there, and there were quite a few that went above and beyond. While waiting for the boys and I to finish a ride at Epcot, Gail saw an impromptu “concert” by some of the cleaning staff, who put a bunch of upside-down garbage cans and buckets together and started drumming on them. They called themselves the “Jammitors”. Also at Epcot, we saw another member of the cleaning staff “painting” surprisingly good pictures of Goofy and Donald Duck on the ground with a wet broom. This was very shortly after the park opened, and he knew full well that the pictures would only last minutes because of the heat, but it was fun for him and guests liked it. It’s not that we had any negative experiences with the Universal staff, and some of the people in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley did get quite into character, but more often we felt the Disney staff just went that little bit extra.