Walt Disney World vs Universal Studios Orlando – Which Resort Is Best?
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Walt Disney World Resort and Universal Studios Resort in Orlando Florida are two entirely different resorts owned by two completely different companies.
However, given that both resorts are within 20 miles of each other. Many look to visit one or the other during an Orlando vacation and are confused as to which one might be best for them.
Having visited both Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando in excess of ten times we can safely say that Walt Disney World is better for babies, toddlers and young children whereas Universal Studios is better for tweens, teens and young adults.
However, you need significantly longer to experience everything that Walt Disney World has to offer since this resort is made up of four theme parks and two water parks in contrast to Universal Studios two theme parks and one water park.
What’s The Difference Between Walt Disney World & Universal Studios Orlando?
There are many differences between Walt Disney World and Universal Studios aside from just the two resorts being owned by completely different companies.
One of the major differences between the two is their size. Universal Studios Resort is around 840 acres whereas Walt Disney World Resort is 27,000 acres.
Given this, it’s no surprise that there are more theme parks, water parks, on-site hotels and restaurants at Walt Disney World when compared to Universal Studios.
Walt Disney World
Theme Parks – 4 (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios & EPCOT)
Water Parks – 2 (Blizzard Beach & Typhoon Lagoon)
Entertainment Complex – 1 (Disney Springs)
Hotels – 32 (36,555 rooms)
Restaurants – 200+
Universal Studios Resort
Theme Parks – 2 (Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure)
Water Parks – 1 (Volcano Bay)
Entertainment Complex – 1 (CityWalk)
Hotels – 8 (9,000 rooms)
Restaurants – 50+
Outside of this the Walt Disney World Resort also has golf courses, a fire station, wedding facilities, conference rooms and a spa.
Of course, this means that you need significantly more time to experience everything that Walt Disney World has to offer when compared to Universal Studios.
In most cases, we recommend around one week for Walt Disney World and three to four days at Universal Studios.
After three to four days at Universal Studios, you’re likely to have experienced the vast majority (if not all) of rides and attractions here. However, after a week at Walt Disney World, it’s likely that there are still things you didn’t see and do.
This along with themed events and ongoing modifications and expansions is what often leads people to come back to Walt Disney World year after year.
Given the size of Walt Disney World, it’s no surprise that it’s very much isolated on its own within Orlando, creating its own ecosystem of transport, stores and entertainment.
However, with Universal Studios Orlando you can easily walk off-site to nearby hotels, popular restaurants and general stores such as Walgreens.
This makes saving money at Universal Studios significantly easier when compared to Walt Disney World. Since you’re able to stay at the Hilton just outside the resort, dine at the likes of iHop which is within walking distance or grab essentials from the likes of Dollar Tree without a significant impact on your stay.
Leaving the Walt Disney World Resort to go to off-site hotels, restaurants or stores can not be done on foot. Instead, you’ll either need to find a hotel with a shuttle bus, hire a rental car or take a ride-share service such as Uber or Lyft.
Simply exiting the Walt Disney World Resort can often take up to 15 minutes by car depending on where you are within the resort.
Another major difference between Walt Disney World and Universal Studios is the themed areas within the park and subsequently the characters you’ll meet.
At Walt Disney World you’ll typically meet significantly more characters overall and these characters are all from Disney films.
This includes princesses such as Cinderella and Snow White alongside Pixar animation classics such as Buzz & Woody.
Meanwhile, over at Universal Studios, you’ll meet characters from Universal Studios productions including Scooby-Doo, Minions (from Despicable Me) & Doc Brown (from Back To The Future).
As a result, if you or you’re family are fans of the likes of Frozen, Moana, A Bugs Life and Pinocchio then you’re typically more likely to enjoy Walt Disney World when compared to Universal Studios – This is often (not always) the case for most children under the age of 8 years old.
However, if you’re more interested in Jurassic Park, Harry Potter and Marvel then you’re typically more likely to enjoy Universal Studios when compared to Walt Disney World – This is often (not always) the case for most children over the age of 8 years old.
While Marvel is now owned by Disney it wasn’t the case when the Super Hero area at Islands of Adventure was constructed. Part of the contract during the purchase states that this area can remain at the Universal Studios Resort until modified – which we expect to occur sometime over the next decade.
Which Is Cheaper Walt Disney World or Universal Studios?
A Universal Studios vacation is typically cheaper than a Walt Disney World vacation in every way. This includes park tickets, on-site hotels, food, drink and souvenirs.
This saving is exasperated further by the fact that you need less time at Universal Studios and the fact that it’s easier to stay, eat and shop elsewhere in Orlando when visiting Universal Studios than it is when visiting Walt Disney World.
Ticket prices for Universal Studios are on average $30 per person, per day cheaper than Walt Disney World.
However, the exact price difference varies depending on;
- The number of days you’re visiting the resort for
- Whether you’re looking to go to water parks as well as theme parks
- If you need a park-to-park or park-hopper ticket
- The exact date you’re visiting
While $30 doesn’t sound like a lot, the difference between a three-day ticket to Universal Studios and Walt Disney World is close to $100. Which for a family of four would be in the region of $400 in total.
Which Is More Crowded Walt Disney World or Universal Studios?
Generally speaking, Universal Studios always feels slightly more crowded than Walt Disney World given the size of both the resort and the individual theme parks.
This is especially the case inside the popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where the vast majority of guests visiting the parks spend the majority of their time.
However, at selected times Walt Disney World can also feel exceptionally busy, especially at the resort’s most popular theme park, Magic Kingdom.
This is especially true during the evening fireworks where people will begin lining Main Street USA up to three hours in advance of the performance and again after the performance as people look to exit the park either via the ferry or using the monorail.
Typically the most popular rides at both Walt Disney World and Universal Studios will experience similar average wait times (up to 200 mins during peak season).
Which Resort Is Best For Babies & Toddlers Walt Disney World or Universal Studios?
Having taken our baby Oliver (aged six months at the time of travel) to both Universal Studios and Walt Disney World, we can safely say that Walt Disney World has the better rides, attractions, services and amenities for babies and toddlers.
This includes an incredible baby care centre which is perfect for feeding, changing, taking a break from the heat and humidity & picking up any baby essentials that you may have forgotten (including nappies, formula, purees & outfits).
Alongside some family-friendly rides and attractions such as “It’s A Small World” at Magic Kingdom and the Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
While Universal Studios is still very accommodating, it very much feels that Walt Disney World has understood its target market of families with young children and has done everything it can to accommodate and support that audience.
Which Resort Is Best For Young Children Walt Disney World or Universal Studios?
Walt Disney World is also the better choice for families with young children (between the ages of 3 and 8) since there are more rides and attractions with lower height requirements and suitable for their interests.
This includes the incredible parades which take place daily and a variety of meet-and-greet opportunities with amazing Disney characters.
Some of the best rides for young children at the Disney parks include;
- Space Mountain, Magic Kingdom
- Haunted Mansion, Magic Kingdom
- Slinky Dog Dash Roller Coaster, Hollywood Studios
- Test Track, EPCOT
- Expedition Everest, Animal Kingdom
Of course, that’s not to say that Universal Studios Resort has nothing for young children. There are themed areas, characters and rides that will interest them including;
- Hogwarts Express, Universal Studios Florida & Universal’s Islands of Adventure
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Universal Studios Florida
- The Cat In The Hat, Islands of Adventure
- Flight of the Hippogriff, Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure
Which Resort Is Best For Teens Walt Disney World or Universal Studios?
The tween, teen and young adult market is where Universal Studios typically excels over Walt Disney World with an extensive range of thrill rides and shows.
Some of the most popular rides at Universal Studios for teenagers include;
- Revenge of the Mummy, Universal Studios Florida
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, Universal Studios Florida
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Islands of Adventure
- Incredible Hulk Coaster, Islands of Adventure
Since the recent opening of Star Wars, Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios Walt Disney World has been able to increase its appeal to an older audience.
Some of the most popular rides at the Walt Disney World Resort for teens include;
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, Hollywood Studios
- Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, Hollywood Studios
- Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, EPCOT
At both Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, it’s generally these thrill rides that result in the longest wait times. Thankfully, both resorts provide the opportunity for you to upgrade your experience and skip the line (to some extent) if that’s something within your budget.
At Walt Disney World this comes in the form of Disney Genie+ which costs $15 per person, per day. The Disney Genie+ process doesn’t cover all rides at the park and has a number of limitations and requirements which require significantly more organisation and preparation (a general theme with a trip to Walt Disney World).
Meanwhile, at Universal Studios this comes in the form of an Express Pass which can be purchased in a number of different formats depending on your budget and requirements.
However, in most cases, the best value of an Express Pass comes by staying on-site at a selected Universal Studios property and subsequently obtaining complimentary Express Passes for everyone in your room throughout the duration of your stay.
Which Resort Has The Best Food & Drink Walt Disney World or Universal Studios?
The Walt Disney World Resort has significantly better food when compared to Universal Studios. However, that’s not to say that the food at Universal Studios is bad.
Instead, it’s simply to say that with four times the number of restaurant options and a core focus on dining experiences so to appeal to both families dining at the parks and adult fans of Disney the variety, quality and experiences available at the Walt Disney World are better.
Unsurprisingly the cost of food and drink at both Universal Studios and Walt Disney World is inflated when compared to similar restaurants, food and drink options outside of the theme parks.
For example, a bottle of Coke often costs in the region of $4 plus tax and a quick-service meal such as a hot dog and fries is often in the range of $12 to $15 plus tax.
Some of the best restaurants at Walt Disney World include;
- Saana, Animal Kingdom Lodge
- The Boathouse, Disney Springs
- Citricos, Grand Floridian Resort
However, for those looking for something truly special we recommend Victoria & Albert’s at The Grand Floridian Resort. This is the only AAA 5-Diamond restaurant in Orlando and one of the top-rated restaurants in the entire state of Florida.
Meanwhile, some of the best restaurants at Universal Studios include;
- The Hard Rock Café, CityWalk
- Toothsome Chocolate Emporium, CityWalk
- Mama Della’s Ristorante, Lowes Portofino Bay Hotel
Fans of the Harry Potter franchise may also want to consider dining on traditional British cuisine inside The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
At Diagon Alley inside Universal Studios Florida, this is available at the Leaky Cauldron, while at Hogsmeade inside Universal’s Islands of Adventure this is available at The Three Broomsticks.
Which Resort Has The Best Hotels?
Both Universal Studios & Walt Disney World have hotels to suit all budgets. However, in both cases staying on-site is more expensive than staying off-site in a similar-rated hotel nearby.
Generally speaking, this is exasperated further with stays at Walt Disney World, where accommodation is typically 20% more expensive than a similar rated option at Universal Studios.
In the past, this extra expense was often worthwhile given the benefits. However, since 2019 the number of on-site benefits available to guests staying at a Disney property has been reduced dramatically.
This includes the removal of the complimentary Magical Express from Orlando International Airport to Walt Disney World Resort hotels and complimentary MagicBands – these all now come at an additional cost.
Instead, now the only benefits at both Universal Studios and Walt Disney World remain to be;
- Complimentary transport around the resort
- Early park admission
- Being closer to the action
With the additional benefit of complimentary Express Passes for all guests staying at Premier on-site hotels at the Universal Studios Resort.
With that in mind, the real difference between hotels at Walt Disney World and Universal Studios is done on a case-by-case basis depending on the hotel specifically.
However, generally speaking, Walt Disney World has more high-end luxury hotel rooms, the hotels are larger and have more unique experiences (such as staying in a room overlooking the Savanah at Animal Kingdom Lodge).
Which Resort Has The Best Fireworks Walt Disney World or Universal Studios?
Given Universal Studios’ location, only low-range fireworks are permitted. As such Universal focuses instead on a light show with a limited number of small fireworks.
At the Universal Studios Florida theme park, this 15-minute-long performance takes place on the man-made lagoon. While at Universal’s Islands of Adventure this is an ongoing projection onto the Hogwarts Castle inside The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
While these light shows are fantastic, they are in our opinion nothing compared to the incredible spectacle that is the evening performances at Walt Disney World, specifically Magic Kingdom.
Magic Kingdom is the main park at Walt Disney World and where you’ll find the iconic Cinderella’s castle. This park is home to some of the best parades, performances and most importantly fireworks.
The fireworks show at Magic Kingdom takes place at Cinderella’s Castle and can be seen along Main Street USA. The popularity of this show with Disney enthusiasts means that many begin to find ‘the best spot’ from which to watch the performance upwards of three hours in advance of the show taking place.
However, this isn’t the only Walt Disney World theme park to offer an evening performance.
At Animal Kingdom, the evening performance contains no fireworks – given the animals. Instead, you’ll find the Tree of Life Nighttime Awakenings, offering a similar projection experience to that offered on Hogwarts at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
A similar projection experience with limited fireworks also takes place at Hollywood Studios and is projected onto the iconic façade of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre at the entrance of the park.
Meanwhile, at EPCOT, the water and light performance takes place on the manmade lagoon in the centre of the park. Similar to that at Universal Studios Florida.
Which Resort Has The Best Events?
Throughout the year there are a number of events that take place at both Universal Studios and Walt Disney World. Sometimes these are themed periods of time for no set reason (such as The Food & Wine Festival at EPCOT) while other events are based around a specific holiday such as Halloween or Christmas.
The majority of these events both at Universal Studios and Walt Disney World are ticketed events meaning that you’ll be required to purchase an additional event ticket on top of your general park ticket in order to experience them.
At Walt Disney World these experiences include Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
Meanwhile, at Universal Studios, these experiences include Halloween Horror Nights.
No single experience here is better than the other, instead much like the theme parks themselves it really comes down to who you’re visiting with and their interests.
Halloween Horror Nights has a target audience similar to that of the Universal Studios theme parks and therefore is generally unsuitable for children aged 12 and under (and even those under 18 may still find the experience too scary).
Meanwhile, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party are suitable for the whole family.
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