Universal Orlando or Walt Disney World?
Updated: Mar 7, 2021
Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World both offer a wonderful vacation experience for all ages. Although it's definitely possible to visit both during your trip, many families prefer to choose one or the other. But, how do you choose? Keep reading to find out! Or, if you'd rather get this information in video format, check out the video podcast we did on this topic.
Comparison #1: Size
A good place to start when choosing between Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World is to consider the overall size of each resort. Universal Orlando is much smaller than Walt Disney World. It is comprised of 3 theme parks (2 "dry" parks and 1 water theme park), 8 onsite resort hotels, and a shopping/dining/entertainment district. Universal's parks are easily walkable and getting between them is a breeze. The shopping/dining/entertainment district, known as CityWalk, is also easily walkable from the 2 main parks and several of the onsite resort hotels. At Universal, everything is centrally and conveniently located. No matter where you are, you're only a few minutes away from the heart of the action!
Walt Disney World, by contrast, is twice the size of Manhattan. It is comprised of 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 20 onsite resort hotels (plus an onsite campground), golf and mini golf courses, the ESPN Wide World of Sports, and a shopping/dining/entertainment district called Disney Springs. Disney's size is a great benefit because it means that there is plenty there to keep your family entertained. However, getting from one place to the next often involves taking advantage of the complimentary resort-wide transportation options because most of the parks are not located within walking distance of each other. Despite the size of the resort, Disney's transportation system is remarkably efficient, so don't be deterred by the thought of having to take a bus, Skyliner, or monorail to get to your destination. Disney will still have you there faster than you can say, "pixie dust!"
Comparison #2: Theming
The next thing to consider when choosing between Disney World and Universal Orlando is the theming of the attractions. Universal Orlando is home to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Whether you want to soar through the air on a broomstick with Harry or learn about magical creatures on a motorbike adventure with Hagrid, there's no shortage of fun to be had by witches and wizards of all ages. And, if Harry Potter is not your thing, there's still plenty to love about Universal Orlando Resort. You can visit Jurassic World, live the stories of Dr. Seuss, joke around in Toon Lagoon, or meet your favorite superheroes on Marvel Superhero Island. You can also be immersed in the world of movie magic "onset" in New York, San Francisco, London, or Hollywood.
Disney World's 4 theme parks all boast unique theming and experiences. Magic Kingdom is home to 7 lands: Adventureland, Frontierland, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Liberty Square, Storybook Circus, and Main Street USA. Here you'll find Disney's iconic fairytale characters and rides inspired by their adventures. Disney's Animal Kingdom is all about conservation and preservation. Animal lovers will enjoy the safari and walking trails where you can see animals in their habitats. Thrill seekers will love rides like Expedition Everest and Flight of Passage. And kids can enjoy the carnival games and rides in DINOLAND U.S.A. Over at Disney's Hollywood Studios you can immerse yourself in classic movie franchises at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge and Toy Story Land. You can also party with your friends from Disney Junior and enjoy the only Mickey Mouse themed ride at Disney World! Lastly, you can tour the world without a passport at EPCOT's World Showcase and celebrate imagination and innovation in the rides and attractions in Future World.
Comparison #3: Rides
Although there is some overlap, there is a definite difference between the types of rides you'll find at Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World. Universal offers rollercoasters that will satisfy the adrenaline junkies in your party along with a collection of 3D and simulator rides. Walt Disney World offers one coaster that matches the thrill level of Universal's coasters (I'm looking at you, Rock'n' Roller Coaster) but they also offer family coasters and classic dark rides in addition to 3D and simulator rides.
Both parks have rides that will suit the whole family. A really common question that I get about Universal Orlando is whether or not there is enough there to for younger kids to do. The answer is yes! I also get asked if there is enough at Disney World for older kids and adults to enjoy. The answer again, is yes!
Comparison #4: Cost
Cost is an important factor when planning a vacation and whenever I'm asked whether Universal Orlando or Walt Disney World offer the most economical vacation, my answer is that "it depends." Single day admission tickets to either resort are essentially identical in price. Multi-day non-promotional tickets purchased on their own are also very similarly priced. However, Disney and Universal run their promotions very differently. It's not at all uncommon for Universal to run promotions on tickets such as their buy 2 days get 3 days free promotion. They also have promotional rates on their hotels and often allow ticket discounts and hotel discounts to be "stacked" in a vacation package. Disney World rarely offers promotions on tickets and, when they do, they typically can't be combined with hotel discounts. However, Disney does regularly offer discounts on their hotel rooms and sometimes they also offer free ticket days or free dining plans when you book a hotel and ticket vacation package. Disney also includes certain perks in the cost of their admission for which Universal charges extra. For example, Disney onsite hotel guests get complimentary roundtrip airport transfer service to MCO (although this perk is expiring in 2022). During regular operations, Disney also includes 3 advance fastpasses per ticket day, which gives you the option to skip the regular standby line (please note that fastpasses are not currently available because the fastpass queue spaces are being used to promote physical distancing). Once your 3 advance fastpasses have been used, you can make as many additional fastpasses as you want (based on availability). Universal, by contrast, charges extra for their express passes which allow you to skip the standby lines. However, unlike Disney, Universal's express passes do not have to be scheduled in advance. In regards to food, tours, and other in-park experiences, the costs at Universal and Disney are really similar. Finding the best deal on your vacation is just one of the reasons it's a good idea to work with a travel agent (like me!) because we know the available deals at both resorts and can help you choose which one is going to get the best bang for your buck for your travel dates.
Which One is Right for You?
It depends on what you're looking for! If you want an easily walkable resort where everything is centrally located and you can take your time exploring, choose Universal Orlando. If you want a vacation with no shortage of things to do and lots of different areas to explore, choose Walt Disney World. If you can't decide: do both! They are located just 15 minutes away from each other and there are various transportation options available for getting you back and forth between the 2 even if you don't have a car. I book and plan Disney and Universal split stays for my clients all the time, so I can work with you to help you figure out how to experience both of these amazing resorts in one epic vacation! Best of all: when you book with me you pay the same amount as booking through Universal or Disney directly, but you get the added benefit of my concierge level vacation planning service for no additional charge!