Universal vs Disney World

Tips and comparisons from a life-long Disney goer’s first trip to Universal Studios


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There are so many things to do in Orlando, Florida! From seeing artifacts from the Titanic, to meeting a penguin IRL!!! I have experienced a lot of what Orlando has to offer.

But the two main attractions are undoubtedly Universal Studios and Walt Disney World. Both resorts have multiple theme parks, hotels, and entertainment districts. As a life-long Disney goer, I’m here to compare the similarities and differences of Universal vs. Disney World, so you can decide which (or both!) is the best fit for you.

Theme Parks: Universal vs. Disney

Hogsmeade Village, Universal’s Islands of Adventure

“Tangled” rest area, Disney’s Magic Kingdom

Universal has 2 theme parks (with a 3rd one coming in 2025), and one water park:

Disney World has four theme parks and two water parks:

Universal Theme Parks

Universal Studios theme park

Universal’s two theme parks: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, are very similar to each other. They both have multiple roller coasters, fun, themed “lands,” shows, character meet and greets, and a Harry Potter section.

Really the biggest difference between Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios is which rides/attractions are where.

One of the biggest differences between Universal’s theme parks vs. Disney’s theme parks is that you can walk from Islands of Adventure to Universal Studios, and vice versa. Universal is much closer together, and easy to park hop between parks, as they are literally side by side.

Universal has more roller coasters and thrill rides than Disney World. If you are a ride person, you will prefer the Universal parks vs. the Disney parks. They also have the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, so that’s a win!

Some things to note about Universal:

  • Some rides do not have a place for you to put your bag, so you will have to get a locker. Small lockers are free and can fit a small purse, but you will have to get a large locker for a backpack, and it will cost $3 EACH TIME!

  • If you stay on property, you can enter 1 hour early to one of the parks, but pay attention to which one. Only one park will be open early (luckily you can walk to the other park if you went to the wrong one!).

  • Even after the parks open, some sections of the park will still be closed until later in the day.

  • Universal park hours vary, but they tend to close earlier than Disney parks. When we were there in February, the parks closed at 7 pm.

Disney World Theme Parks

Disney’s Magic Kingdom theme park

I may be biased toward Walt Disney World, but I think the Disney parks are better than Universal’s theme parks! Universal was cool, and had lots of themed restaurants and areas, but it just did not feel quite as immersive to me as Disney World is.

But, if you like thrill rides, Universal has Disney beat. However, Disney has been adding more epic rides lately, such as the Tron coaster in Magic Kingdom and the Guardians of the Galaxy coaster in EPCOT.

Disney World is A LOT bigger than Universal. This is unfortunate if you want to go park hopping, just because it will take a lot longer to get between parks (although park hopping at Disney is perfectly feasible).

Disney’s theme parks are all individually themed, and feel like separate worlds.

  • Magic Kingdom is the quintessential Disney park, full of fairy tale characters, classic rides, and family friendly attractions. This is the best park for little kids.

  • EPCOT is the futuristic world/World Showcase. There are lots of environmental and international attractions. This is the most “adulty” of the Disney parks.

  • Hollywood Studios focuses on movie magic. There are lots of shows, plus an entire Stars Wars land.

  • Animal Kingdom is like a zoo, but better! There are tons of live animal encounters and adventure rides, plus the World of Pandora.

Disney also has two water parks, as opposed to Universal’s one. However, since Covid, it seems like only one water park will be open at a time. So basically Universal vs. Disney are even on the water park front (Note: I have never been to either water park, so I can’t officially compare them).

Some things to note about Disney:

  • Disney parks are open longer hours than Universal’s parks.

  • Each Disney park has a unique theme to it. But you will see Disney characters at all four parks.

  • Disney rides tend to be roomier than Universal rides, and you will never have to pay to store your bag.

  • Disney parks are a lot further apart than Universal parks, and take longer to get to.

Hotels: Universal vs. Disney

Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort

Basically, when it comes to Disney vs. Universal, Disney just has MORE of everything. Especially resort hotels. Disney has SO many different resorts!

Universal currently has 7 resorts, whereas Disney (currently) has 20 resorts (not counting all of their villas separately!).

Universal Hotels

View of the pool at Universal’s Endless Summer Dockside Resort

We stayed at Universal’s Endless Summer Resort, which is their budget option (Dockside & Surfside). These hotels compare to Disney’s All Star resorts. It actually was a really great price, with all the benefits of staying on property… although the dining hall food was terrible, and you can literally hear through the dividing door (a problem I have never encountered at Disney).

One of may favorite activities to do at Disney is to go resort hopping! We like to visit all the different resorts (because it’s free) and take advantage of the unique activities/decor/food/etc. at each resort.

So one day we went resort hopping at Universal. We took a boat from CityWalk to Sapphire Falls Resort. Like the theme parks, it was a much faster trip to visit this resort than it is at Disney World.

However, I found the resort… boring. There wasn’t much to see. BUT, we did find a Gryffindor pin in the gift shop that we could not find anywhere else, so there is something to be said for resort hopping at Universal.

We also didn’t visit the Hardrock Hotel or Cabana Bay (which has their own bowling alley!), so those would be more fun to resort hop to.

  • Good to Know: One fun feature that Universal has that Disney does not, is pool hopping. If you are staying at a Universal resort (other than the value Endless Summer Resorts), you can visit any other Universal resort’s pool.

Disney Hotels

The lobby of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge—my favorite Disney resort!

Disney hotels are the best. That’s all I have to say.

But I will say more!

I love resort hopping at Disney World! There are so many fun things to do at each resort, they are all individually themed, and you can pin trade in the lobby and gift shops.

Although they had pins at Universal, there was no pin “trading.” And although the hotels were “slightly” themed, it was nothing compared to how unique and special each Disney resort is.

Universal wins points for how close everything is, making it easier to visit other resorts. But, Disney resorts are more fun to visit, hands down.

  • Good to Know: Pool hopping is not allowed at Disney. But you can take a look at each resort’s pools, because some of them are really cool to see!

Transportation: Universal vs. Disney

The boats and the monorail bring you to Magic Kingdom at Disney World.

Universal has boats and buses, Disney has boats, buses, skyliners, and monorails!

But at Universal, everything is MUCH closer and easier to get to. You can get between places super fast, so if you just want to pop over to CityWalk at 8am for a donut, you can.

Transportation at Universal Orlando

Boat transportation to Universal

Here is one key thing to understand about Disney vs. Universal: At Universal, almost everything is in the same place!

So when you come out of your resort in the morning and you want to go to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, or CityWalk, they’re all going to be on the SAME bus!! Everything other than Volcano Bay is going to the same entrance.

Whether, you’re taking a resort bus, Uber, or driving yourself, you will enter Universal at the same place. There is a huge area where everyone enters and goes through security, and then walks over to CityWalk (Universal’s version of Disney Springs).

From there, you can find the entrance to both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.

If you are taking boat transportation at Universal, you will go through security before you board the boat, and will dock right in CityWalk. From there you can also take boats (or walk) to other Universal Resorts.

Things to know about Universal transportation:

  • Everything is just WAY closer than at Disney World, and is quicker to get to.

  • But…buses do not leave until the next bus comes. Even if your bus is FULL, it will sit there until the next bus comes. Which is nice that you will never miss a bus, but we spent plenty of time just sitting around on buses.

  • The same bus will take you to Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios, and CityWalk.

  • I do think Universal boat transportation beats Disney, because our boat ride to Sapphire Falls was on a beautiful blue river (plus much shorter!), whereas at Disney you’re out on a huge alligator filled lake, and it’s just not as pretty!

  • You cannot book Universal’s airport shuttle online, plus it was slightly more expensive than the shuttles to Disney. We ended up taking Uber to the airport, and it was a lot cheaper and easier!

Transportation at Disney World

Disney’s skyliners over EPCOT

Disney World is huge, and they have so many different free transportation options, it can be overwhelming. That’s why I have a whole article explaining how to get around Disney World.

In terms of being less confusing and easier to navigate, Universal wins the transportation battle. But in terms of having more fun things to do, Disney wins. Especially because the skyliners are just so dang fun!

Things to know about Disney transportation:

  • Some resorts are so large that they have multiple bus stops within that resort.

  • Transportation runs on regularly scheduled routes (no sitting around waiting for the next bus to come). Most bus stops will have signs showing the next approximate arrival time for each bus.

  • Every park has its own bus (as everything at Disney is spread far apart).

  • Resorts on the skyliner route do not have bus transportation to EPCOT or Hollywood Studios.

  • The skyliners do shut down when there is lightning. In that case, Disney will send a replacement bus.

  • Try to time your skyliner/monorail/boat ride around the evening fireworks shows for great views of the fireworks!

Food: Universal vs. Disney

Toothsome Chocolate Emporium restaurant/candy shop/ice cream counter at Universal’s CityWalk

Ok, where to even begin… There are so many food options at both Disney and Universal! They both have some really good restaurants, and some worth skipping ones.

Universal also has CityWalk, an entertainment area with tons of shops and restaurants. This compares to Disney Springs at Walt Disney World, which is Disney’s entertainment area. Both are free to enter without a park ticket.

Food at Universal

Brunch from the Chocolate Emporium at Universal’s CityWalk

The food we had at Universal was so good!!!

Except for the one meal we ate at our value resort’s dining hall, which was actually terrible.

So, first piece of advice: don’t eat at your value resort dining hall. There are so many better places to go! Citywalk was just a quick bus ride away, plus, because we were in downtown Orlando, as opposed to the extensive Disney property, we could actually walk to restaurants like IHOP near our hotel.

There are so many great places to eat at CityWalk. They have really expensive places, but also fast food joints as well, so you can find whatever you are looking for. We ate at Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Antojito’s Authentic Mexican Food, and both were amazing!!

We also ate at The Leaky Cauldron at Universal Studios, plus tons of butterbeer and other Harry Potter treats, and they were all fantastic.

Honestly, in the food battle of Universal vs. Disney, I would probably pick Universal. All of our food (except the value resort, remember) was so good!!

Food at Disney World

Mickey confetti milkshake from Disney’s Beaches & Cream

There are so many food options at Disney World. Some of them are mediocre, some are just ok, and some are fantastic. We ate at Be Our Guest Restaurant in Magic Kingdom once, and it could not compare to our dining experiences we had at Universal!

I have to say that our dining experience at Universal was so great! And I have had many meals at Disney World, but I’ve never been as excited about any of them as I was about almost all of our food at Universal (I’ve also never hated a meal so much as the meal we had at our Universal hotel’s food court, so there’s that).

Basically, you’ve just got to look at your options at Disney, and pick what you’re in the mood for.

There’s the classic churros (good choice) and Mickey ice cream bars (honestly pretty generic). There are beautiful cupcakes, which usually don’t taste as good as they look. There’s Dole Whip, which can be served simple or fancy.

One good restaurant to always go with (or just get ice cream to go from!) is Beaches & Cream at the Disney’s Beach Club Resort. Also, pretty much anything at Disney Springs is pretty good. We especially love the taco trucks (when they’re open).

Extra Activities: Universal vs. Disney

Disney’s Fantasia Gardens mini golf course

There are plenty of things to do at both Universal and Disney without paying to go into a park (though, like everything else, Disney has more).

Extra Activities at Universal

You can go resort hopping at Universal, though it is less exciting than Disney. It is still easy to get to any resort from Universal’s CityWalk, via boats, bus, or walking trail. And again, if you are staying at any Universal hotel other than the value hotels, you can use any of the resort pools!

One special thing to do at Universal is to resort hop to Cabana Bay and go bowling!

There are also some fun things to do at CityWalk besides just eating and shopping. They do have a mini golf course, a movie theater and a movie themed escape room.

We personally did not try any of these things. We were interested in doing the escape room, but as it was $50 per person, we decided it was not worth it.

The mini golf, we honestly didn’t even see (it’s down a flight of stairs when you first enter CityWalk), but my local friend told me it wasn’t a great course.

Honestly, I think the best thing to do on a day off from Universal would be to take an Uber to one of the MANY other attractions around the city (or Disney Springs…!).

Extra Activities at Disney

Disney just has a lot more to do. They have daily activities at all of their resorts (even the value ones), like movies under the stars and roasting marshmallows. You could also resort hop to another hotel and participate in their activities, like painting classes and trivia games.

Plus, resort hopping at Disney is just so much fun! There is pin trading, Dole Whip eating, live animal sighting, and atmosphere enjoying!

Disney also has two mini golf courses (well, technically four, because they each have two sides). Or you could just stroll along the boardwalk, and maybe catch some live entertainment.

If you compare Universal vs. Disney for who has more/better extra activities, Disney definitely wins!

Cost: Universal vs. Disney

Gringotts money in Diagon Alley, Universal Studios

Now we come down to… cost. Both Disney and Universal are EXPENSIVE!

But, they are also both pretty comparable pricewise.

Park Tickets

Park ticket prices vary greatly throughout the year, so be sure to check the calendar for the best prices available. On average, a single adult park ticket for Universal is around $120, while a single ticket for Disney will set you back about $140.

You can get cheaper tickets the more days you book for. Universal often has deals where if you book a certain number of days, you can get several more for free!

Be sure to check both Universal and Disney’s websites for specials on ticket prices.

Hotel Prices

Hotel prices, like park tickets vary greatly week to week. Definitely check the rate calendar to find the cheapest prices.

Both Universal and Disney have a wide variety of hotels available, from value resorts to luxury. I think Universal and Disney both have good options for their hotels.

Overall Cost

As you can see, both parks are expensive, and both are pretty similar in price.

Universal tends to run a bit cheaper than Disney World in hotel and ticket prices (though pretty close). However, Universal also charges for lockers on multiple rides in their park ($3 each time—that adds up!), and their airport shuttle is more expensive (although Uber is the way to go).

Basically, Universal vs. Disney cost about the same (too much…), but you will save more money the longer you stay and the more days you book. Or… well, your cost per day will go down. Your overall cost will be more the longer you stay…

Check the rate calendars, check for deals, and use these tips to save money at Disney (and Universal!).

Which is Better: Universal vs. Disney

A fire-breathing dragon at Universal Studio’s Harry Potter world

Mickey balloons for sale in Disney’s Magic Kingdom

Now we come to it… Is Disney World or Universal better?

This entirely depends on your opinion. Or maybe your upbringing.

At the end of the day, I will have to say that Disney World is better than Universal. But, I also have been going to Disney World since before I could even walk. I come from a Disney family. So, I am a little biased.

Disney just has more everything than Universal. And no, more is not always better. But there are so many more options, it’s impossible to get bored at Disney World!

However, I did seriously love the food at Universal, plus it is so much closer to get to all of the attractions (Disney World is maybe a little too big…). And they have Harry Potter World, which is pretty awesome.

Either way, Disney and Universal are both great, and you will have fun at both parks.

End your day with an evening at Disney’s Boardwalk Resort!

Any more questions?

If you have any more questions about Universal vs. Disney World (or your own opinions to share!), feel free to email me or comment below.

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