Both Universal Orlando’s CityWalk and Disney Springs at Walt Disney World are worth visiting on an evening after a day at the associated parks. However, if you have a limited amount of time you’ll likely have to choose between the two.
In that case, we’d recommend Disney Springs as it is significantly larger with more restaurants, stores and entertainment options to choose from. Parking here is also free, unlike CityWalk where you’ll be charged $27 unless you’re arriving after 6pm or have two tickets for the cinema.
Of course, depending on what you’re looking for, CityWalk may be a better option which is why I’ve gone ahead and broken each area down based on a number of key factors.
Both CityWalk at Universal Orlando and Disney Springs at Walt Disney World are completely free to enter for guests.
This means you do not need a ticket to Walt Disney World to go to Disney Springs nor do you need a ticket for Universal Studios Orlando to go to CityWalk.
However, while parking at Disney Springs is free, the same can not be said for Universal’s CityWalk.
The parking lot for CityWalk is the same as the parking lot for Universal Orlando. As such those visiting CityWalk are charged the same amount for parking a vehicle as those visiting the parks for the day.
The exception to this is if you’re arriving at the parking lot after 6pm or purchasing two or more Universal Cinemark matinee tickets. In which case parking is free. More information on this is available here.
Given that Disney Springs is significantly larger than Universal’s CityWalk it should come as no surprise that there are significantly more restaurants to choose from here.
This includes 24 table service restaurants and 38 quick service options in contrast to CityWalk’s 9 table service restaurants and 7 quick service options.
However, the only ‘restaurant’ you’ll see in both locations is Starbucks.
As such if you’re wanting to dine somewhere specific it’s worth noting what’s available at each location;
Notable Restaurants At Disney Springs
T-Rex – This dino-themed eatery is always a huge hit with kids!
The Boathouse – We had our wedding meal here after getting married nearby.
Planet Hollywood – This classic burger restaurant never disappoints.
Notable Restaurants At CityWalk
Hard Rock Café – The largest Hard Rock in the world with genuine pieces of the Berlin Wall behind it.
The CowFish – Burgers and sushi combined made this the best place I’ve eaten in Orlando, EVER!
Bubba Gump Shrimp – This classic restaurant serves shrimp, shrimp and more shrimp!
When it comes to shopping Disney Springs wins hands down!
Whether you’re looking to browse the largest Disney Store in the world or pick up a designer handbag, there’s everything (and more!) here.
Some of the stores you can expect to see here include well-known brands such as Lego, Uniqlo and Columbia Sportswear.
However, you’ll also find high-end, luxury brands such as Coach, Lilly Pulitzer and Jo Malone London.
Given the size of Disney Springs, the range of stores doesn’t end there as you’ll find independent or lesser-known stores such as Art of Shaving and Sanuk with fun stores such as M&M’s and Coca-Cola.
Of course, all of this is alongside many Disney stores offering a range of apparel, toys and sweets.
You could easily come to Disney Springs just to shop for the day.
Sadly, the same can’t be said for Universal’s CityWalk which only has a small handful of stores including a large Universal Store and a couple of sportswear shops including Fossil and Quiet Flight Surf Shop.
If you’re shopping at Universal’s CityWalk you’re likely only buying souvenirs or items you forgot rather than having a shopping experience similar to what’s offered at Disney Springs.
Entertainment is easily the broadest category covered in this comparison and I’ve therefore gone ahead and broken it down further into multiple sections.
Both CityWalk and Disney Springs have a cinema complex.
CityWalk is hosted by Universal Cinemark which has more than 20 screens all with state-of-the-art projection and sound systems as well as stadium seating and high-backed chairs.
Meanwhile, Disney Springs is hosted by AMC offering 24 Dolby cinema screens, 6 of which offer a dine-in experience.
Given the similar size, you’ll find that both locations have a vast number of showings for the latest cinema releases.
When it comes to ticket prices they vary dramatically at both cinemas and depend on the way you’re watching the film (3D tickets are more expensive for example), the time of day and who you are (senior and student discounts are available).
As such it’s worth researching each cinema in more detail if the price of the tickets is an important factor for you.
Both CityWalk and Disney Springs offer a variety of live music options.
CityWalk has Hard Rock Live which hosts paid concerts and seats up to 3,000 and boasts state-of-the-art audio, lighting and video.
Meanwhile, Disney Springs has Marketplace Stage which is a free open-air venue that includes Disney Performing Arts dance troupes by day and live tunes by night. Musicians often include a rotating lineup of regional and local faves.
Universal’s CityWalk has a nightclub which is open until 2am in the form of The Groove. This isn’t something replicated at Disney Springs as they continue to focus on a more family-friendly atmosphere.
Both locations offer some relaxing live music, with honourable mentions including Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville at CityWalk and Raglan Road at Disney Springs.
The differences in live music at both of these venues make them hard to compare. While Hard Rock Live tickets cost money, the Marketplace stage is free.
That said, CityWalk has a nightclub and Disney Springs doesn’t and both offer a variety of relaxing live music options at different bars.
Since The Blue Man Group show sadly closed at Universal Studios Orlando there are now no longer any shows hosted at Universal’s CityWalk.
This is in contrast to Disney Springs which has recently relaunched Cirque du Soleil with a new show ‘Drawn to Life’.
This show is designed to transport you into an inspiring world with Disney animation with performances available twice daily with tickets starting from $80 per person.
There are a couple of additional entertainment items that are unique to either CityWalk or Disney Springs which may factor into which one you head to.
Given its size, in comparison to Disney Springs, it should come as no surprise that Universal’s CityWalk only has one additional entertainment option.
Hollywood Drive-In Golf
In our opinion, one of the best things to do at Universal Studio’s Citywalk is to take on a round (or two) of mini-golf at the Hollywood Drive-In.
Choose between The Haunting of Ghostly Greens and Invaders From Planet Putt, or play all 36 holes for a daring “double feature”.
Unsurprisingly, Disney Springs has a significantly larger portion of unique entertainment experiences including;
With a range of bowling lanes, Billards and live entertainment it’s no surprise that Splitsville is incredibly popular with those visiting Disney Springs.
Meanwhile, the laid back bar and restaurant is the perfect place to grab a bite to eat or a drink before or after your game.
Fancy tasting different Coke products from around the world? The incredible Coca-Cola rooftop bar is the perfect place to do just that.
The ultimate taste test experience allows you a number of tasting options including;
The Freestyle Experience – Sample up to 5 different refills or blend any of the 100 choices to create new flavours.
Create Your Own Beverage Experience – Play mixologist and muddle fresh ingredients together to craft your own incredible concoctions.
Tastes Around The World – Try up to 16 different beverages from various countries.
Don’t forget to head inside and take a photo with the iconic Coca-Cola polar bear once you’ve finished.
This balloon flight takes you 400 feet above Disney Springs offering some of the best views of the Walt Disney World Resort around.
The tour lasts 8 minutes, costs a reasonable $25 per adult and runs daily, although in our opinion the best time to go is as the sun is setting.
Head to The Boathouse restaurant to book your experience of heading out on the water in one of the few remaining luxury vintage amphicars.
This tour around the lake lasts 20 minutes and costs $125 per car with each car holding up to 3-4 people.
Universal Orlando Travel Planning Guide
🎟️ Where To Buy Tickets for Universal Orlando?
If you’re based in the US or Canada, I recommend Klook for your Universal Orlando tickets. Klook consistently has the most competitive prices. There’s also a range of different ticket options to suit all budgets and requirements.
Meanwhile, if you’re based in the United Kingdom. Then I recommend buying your Universal Orlando theme park tickets from AttractionTix. I personally use AttractionTix when purchasing Orlando theme park tickets. That’s because AttractionTix consistently has the most competitive prices and incredible customer service.
🏥 Should I Buy Travel Insurance for a Visit to Universal Orlando?
If you’re travelling to Universal Orlando for vacation, then travel insurance is recommended. Basic travel insurance coverage with Safety Wing averages between $5 – $10 per day and offers peace of mind.
However, if a trip to Universal Orlando isn’t part of a vacation. For example, you live locally. Then travel insurance isn’t likely to be necessary.
🚘 Do I Need to Rent a Car for a Visit to Universal Orlando?
You don’t need to rent a car to visit Universal Orlando, as the resort has Uber / Lyft pick-up and drop-off points. However, if Universal Orlando makes up the majority of your vacation, then you may want to stay on-site.
Staying onsite at the Universal Orlando Resort comes with several perks. Including complimentary transport from the hotel to the Universal Orlando theme parks. In some cases, you can even walk from your hotel straight to the theme park gates.
However, if a trip to Universal Orlando only makes up a portion of your vacation, then you may want to rent a car. I personally use Discover Cars to find the best car rental for all of my trips to Orlando.
🏨 Where to Stay When Visiting Universal Orlando?
If you’re spending the majority of your vacation at Universal Orlando, it’s a good idea to stay at a Universal Orlando hotel. Staying onsite at Universal Orlando comes with several perks, including;
- Early park admission
- Complimentary transport
- Complimentary Universal Express Passes (selected hotels only)
- Walking distance of the Universal theme parks (selected hotels only)
While staying onsite at Universal Orlando is great value for money, it can still be out of budget for many. Thankfully, there are several budget-friendly hotels close to Universal Orlando to choose from.
Meanwhile, if Universal Orlando only makes up part of your Orlando vacation, then you may want to stay elsewhere. Kissimmee, International Drive and Lake Buena Vista are all within a 40-minute drive of Universal Orlando.