Disney vs Universal: Which is Better for You?

ThemeParkHipsters, today we are SO excited to bring to you one of our most requested article topics: Disney vs Universal! Which is better? Which is cheaper? And which should you choose for your long awaited and well-deserved vacation?

As you likely already know, this question is really hard to answer! 

Both theme parks are unique in their own special way, and you’d definitely walk away from each one with memories to last a lifetime! 

However, we also know that each Theme Park Hipster has their own unique needs and desires…

And so, that’s exactly what we plan on addressing in today’s Disney vs Universal Comprehensive Guide! 

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Hogwarts Castle in Florida Sun

What to Expect on this Disney vs. Universal Orlando Guide

We’ll be assessing Disney and Universal category by category:

  • Amount of Things to Do
  • On Property Experience
  • Food
  • Rides
  • Fandoms
  • Entertainment
  • Shopping
  • Ride Wait Times
  • Busy/Peak Season
  • How Long Do You Need
  • Pricing

Each topic will help you figure out which theme park has all the elements you need for the perfect theme park day!  

So what are you waiting for? Let’s get started on this long awaited Disney vs Universal head to head challenge!

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Amount of Things to Do

If you’re someone who judges the success of your theme park experience by how much you can cram into your day, then there’s no question about it- Disney in the place for you! 

How big is Disney World with Spaceship Earth Cinderella Castle Mount Everest

Walt Disney World has FOUR theme parks and two water parks:

  1. Magic Kingdom
  2. Epcot
  3. Hollywood Studios
  4. Animal Kingdom
  5. Typhoon Lagoon
  6. Blizzard Beach

While Universal Orlando Resort has two theme parks and one water park:

  1. Universal Studios
  2. Islands of Adventure
  3. Volcano Bay

Walt Disney World is also a property spanning 40 square miles, you could probably go to Disney every single day for a year and STILL not have done everything.

From rides to resort hopping, annual festivals and marathons, Disney really does shine when it comes to the sheer amount of what they offer.

Boardwalk Inn Resort with Disney Boat on the Lagoon
Boardwalk Inn Resort a Disney Hotel Near Epcot

Now, that’s not to say that Universal is boring by any means. With two Harry Potter lands aka: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and eight resorts just a short boat ride away, you could definitely spend a week in just Universal and feel satisfied…

Harry Potter World Hogsmeade
Hogsmeade Village

….but your options just won’t seem as endless as Disney.

Category Winner: Disney

On Property Experience

When it comes to the amenities that resort guests are afforded at Disney and Universal, both match up pretty well. 

HULK Roller Coaster
The Incredible HULK Roller Coaster at Islands of Adventure

Both Disney and Universal offer extra park hours to guests who are currently staying at one of their on property hotels (known as “Extra Magic Hours” or EMH on Disney Property…when available), and both offer free transportation to and from the resort and parks. (And Universal even offers transportation to and from SeaWorld too with certain vacation packages!)

Additionally, free package delivery to your room (should you buy a souvenir while park hopping) and complimentary onsite parking at the theme parks are also given when you are a guest at any Disney resort. 

The real difference between the two, again, lie in the sheer amount of resorts and property.  

Whereas Disney has around 34 different hotels with varying degrees of luxury (the lowest tier Value Resort hotels cost about $100 to $200 per night, and the highest tier Deluxe Resorts Hotels costs nearly $1,000 per night).

Dolphin Hotel Resort Gorgeous Back Entrance
The Dolphin Resort at Disney

Universal has 8 on property resort options (with the lowest tier Endless Summer Resort costing about $100 per night, and the highest tier Loews Portofino Bay costing nearly $500 per night).  

P.S. Remember that prices are subject to change based on time of year and availability.

Category Winner: Tie (Universal’s more budget friendly, but Disney’s got more options!)

Food

Again, if “endless options” are the name of your theme park game, then Disney is the way to go in terms of food service! With over 200 restaurants, any and every craving will be fulfilled, whether that’s Asian, Mexican, or good old American comfort food.  

Spice Road Table Epcot World Showcase Pavilion with Mediterranean food.
Spice Road Table at Epcot

Disney is also known to impress Guests with their ability to accommodate any and every dietary restriction, from vegan to severe nut allergies; as well with their Disney Dining Plan offering.

It’s a great way to save money if you’re traveling in a large group for an elongated stay.

Universal, on the other hand, still remains competitive in this category because of the higher quality of their food.  

Mythos Islands of Adventure
Mythos at Islands of Adventure

While Disney oftentimes offers buffets that can sometimes underwhelm, Universal has the award-winning Mythos restaurant, ranked as the “#1 Theme Park Restaurant” 6 years in a row!

Additionally, Universal has familiar chain restaurants on CityWalk that might be more appropriate for adult cravings, like Margaritaville and the Hard Rock Café. 

CityWalk Universal Orlando Margaritaville Delicious golden cocktail with lime.
CityWalk Universal Orlando Margaritaville

And of course, we can’t forget to mention the Universal fan favorite: Butterbeer! Aka: the most delectable frozen drink any witch, wizard, or muggle has ever tasted!

Category Winner: Walt Disney World

Rides

If you’re a ThemeParkHipster seeking some thrills, then Disney may not be your best bet. While of course they have Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom, Mission Space in Epcot, Tower of Terror in Hollywood Studios, and Space Mountain in Magic Kingdom, the majority of rides are geared towards that 5 to 12 age range.  

Expedition Everest at Disney Animal Kingdom

So, not only are your options for thrill rides limited at Disney, but additionally, these thrill rides can have long wait times since they are few and far between.

In Universal, on the other hand, cutting edge technology really is the name of the game. Rides in 3D and 4D engage all five senses and are extremely immersive. 

Shrek 4D Universal Studios Photos Orlando Tips

And of course, when put head to head against Disney, Universal really comes out as King of the Roller Coasters. From the Hulk, to Rip Ride Rockit, to Dr. Doom’s Fearfall, thrill seekers definitely won’t feel short changed at Universal.

Category Winner: Universal (If you’re a thrill seeker!)

Fandoms

Another important element to consider when trying to pick between Disney and Universal are your fandom preferences. 

Rey in Star Wars Galaxy's Edge

While of course Disney has character meet and greets and rides themed around some crowd favorite films like Snow White, Star Wars, Avatar, and Toy Story.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal is much more than a meet and greet here or a ride there…it’s an immersive experience!

Butterbeer Universal Studios Recipe with hot butterbeer and Hogwarts castle in the background.

Fans are known to see Harry Potter World for the first time and tear up at the accuracies and close attention to detail. 

While Disney has done its best in years past to compete with the impressive Avatar and Star Wars Land, for many theme park enthusiasts out there, no fandom is as near and dear to their heart as Harry Potter. 

Category Winner: Up to you!  What’s your fandom?  Let us know in the comments below!

Entertainment

When it comes to entertainment offerings, both parks are pretty jam packed. Disney has memorable dinners shows, like the Spirit of Aloha and Hoop-Dee-Doo musical revue.

Biergarten Epcot Horn Blower
Biergarten Restaurant at Epcot

Disney also has awesome in park offerings like the Frozen Sing Along Celebration in Hollywood Studios, Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage in Hollywood Studios, Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire on the castle stage at Magic Kingdom, and the Once Upon a Time nightly firework and castle projection show in Magic Kingdom.  

Universal, on the other hand, doesn’t have any dinner show offerings, although fans do rave about the Frog Choir show and Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. 

Celestina Warbeck at Diagon Alley Orlando
Celestina Warbeck at Diagon Alley

Outside of Harry Potter World, guests tend to enjoy the percussive and humorous Beat Builders and Horror Makeup Show when at Universal Studios.

Parades and Shows

And while perhaps not as impressive as Disney’s Once Upon a Time firework display, Universal does have a Cinematic Celebration each night, which combines projections, lighting, music, and water displays for a memorable end to your park day. 

Hogwarts Castle nighttime show

Additionally, they also have the Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle (which has temporarily been halted due to the current safety restrictions).

Similarly though, both Disney and Universal have daily parades (during “normal times”) and a fair mix of “scheduled shows,” where you’ll have to find your seat ahead of time to enjoy the entertainment.

Universal Orlando on a budget. #universalstudios #universalorlando #themeparks
Sponge Bob Parade Universal Studios

Plus, there are “spontaneous entertainment offerings” that you might just find yourself accidentally stumbling across during your park visit.

Category Winner: Disney (More entertainment offerings and more impressive nighttime offerings.)

Shopping

While your favorite fandom might come into play here (because who doesn’t want a birthday wand and house cloak from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter?!), we also want to use this section to focus on the variety of shopping each park can offer you.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Wands at Ollivanders
Wizarding World of Harry Potter Wands

At Disney, of course you have your hundreds upon hundreds of gift shop locations to stock up on Mickey ears, Minnie Mouse plushies, and park themed shirts.

You can also get the one of a kind cultural shopping experience that is Epcot, and the outdoor mall of Disney Springs.

In Epcot, you can buy culturally accurate clothes from any of the eleven country pavilions (including China, Japan, and Norway, just to name a few), as well as toys and snacks actually imported from those countries. 

And of course, at Disney Springs, you can spend all day shopping for your favorite brands like UNIQLO, Lululemon, Francesca’s, and Harley Davidson.

Disney Springs Christmas Tree at Entrance

Universal, on the other hand, does boast a few name brand shops in their CityWalk entry area, like Fossil, but it’s definitely not as expansive as Disney Springs. 

One perk Universal does have over Disney, however, is a discounted souvenir section at the front of each park when you’re exiting.  A big win if you want to snag a souvenir for less!

Category Winner: Disney (Wider store selection, and a more unique shopping experience!)

Ride Wait Times

As you likely already know, both parks are highly popular and so at times, waiting in line is just a part of the experience. However, in recent years, both parks have taken their own approach to remedying this age old problem.

View of Space Mountain from Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse

At Disney, the FastPass+ feature is popular among guests, since you can reserve three speedier line passes per day – free of charge. 

Guests find this quite convenient, especially because these complimentary reservations can be made right on their phone up to 30 days before their park visit.

At Universal, on the other hand, guests have to purchase this same “FastPass” perk called the Express Pass. It ranges from $60 to $260 depending on how long you want the pass to last and what restrictions apply. 

Men in Black Alien Attack front entrance at Universal Studios Florida

While not as budget friendly as Disney’s FastPass option, some guests feel they can justify this cost since Universal tends to be a cheaper theme park overall (but more on that later).

All that being said though, we did do a quick Google Search for “average ride wait times” at each park, and Disney comes in at 35-minutes, whereas Universal comes in at 15-minutes. 

Plus, Universal has way more rides with “Single Rider” line options, a HUGE plus for those solo Theme Park Hipsters out there!

Category Winner: Universal (Shorter average wait time, and more single rider line options!)

Busy/Peak Season

Both parks have the same peak and slow seasons, so don’t consider this factor too much when choosing your theme park vacation destination. 

Diagon Alley Grand Opening Tips Carkit Market
Diagon Alley at Universal Studios

Basically, any park in the Orlando area will be more busy from June – August when kids are on summer vacation, and during the Holiday season, when people are looking to get away and enjoy festive décor and fun holiday offerings.

September through November and January to mid-February, tend to be slower and less crowded for those ThemeParkHipsters who prefer to minimize their line wait times.

Category Winner: Tie

How Many Days Do You Need?

The age old question of “How many days do you need to enjoy Disney or Universal? rears its head again when comparing the two popular parks; and so we’ll do our best to answer it! 

Minnie and Mickey Mouse Topiary in Front of Cinderella Castle

Of course, just due to its sheer size, if you want to get the full Disney experience, we recommend at least 4 full days, and even then, you certainly won’t experience everything!

Four full days in Disney, for example, might break down like this:

But like we said before, four days still won’t quite cover it all.

With Universal though, you can get quite a lot done in two days – one day per park.  If you want to check out Volcano Bay, Universal’s Water Theme Park, then add in a third day.

When it comes to Universal, it’s rare for people to designate a day just to “explore” the property like people might at Disney. 

Cabana Bay Beach Resort Expansion Room Shoot, Bayside Tower, overlooking Volcano Bay
Photo Copyright: Universal Orlando Resort

Since CityWalk (the restaurant and shopping area towards the front of the parks) is located right before the park entrances, it’s easy to integrate that experience right into your park day.

Category Winner – Tie! (Disney if you want a long, limitless vacation; or Universal if you’re only looking for a packed couple of days!)

Pricing

So the big question…which is more expensive, Disney or Universal?!

Well, in pretty much every category, Disney comes out to be more expensive.  

Disney Art of Animation Resort

Resort Cost

First of all, Disney’s on property resorts, even the lowest tier ones, are double the price of Universal’s. Plus, just because Disney has more ground to cover, you’ll likely need to stay longer, making you spend more money.

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Theme Park Tickets

And while the price of Disney tickets fluctuate depending on the time of year, a single day, single park ticket can cost anywhere from $109 – $125; with a single day park hopper costing nearly $200! 

Magicbands are used for theme park or water park entry at Walt Disney World.
Magicbands are used for theme park or water park entry at Walt Disney World. Copyright Disney.

You’ll be able to snag some savings if you’re a Florida Resident, but still, Disney World definitely stands as the most expensive theme park in the world when it comes to admission!

Universal, however, costs $123 for a single day park hopper, meaning that for about the price of one single Disney park ticket, Universal lets you enjoy two. 

Plus at Universal, park hopping is a ride since you can opt to take the Hogwarts Express between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.

Hogwarts Express Train on Hogsmeade at Universal Studios

But, more than just the cost of single/multi-day tickets, you see an EVEN BIGGER price disparity when we look at Annual Passes between the two parks. 

For $520, you’ll get the most basic Disney Annual Pass that allows you limited access to all 4 parks (as blockout dates apply). Whereas the equivalent of that same pass at Universal is $300, or the cost of 2.5 park days.

Disney World Annual Passholder Benefits and Prices
Screenshot from Disney

*Please note that prices are subject to change.

Category Winner: Universal

The Final Breakdown

And so, what’s our final say? Well, if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly vacation full of lots of thrilling, immersive rides and Harry Potter magic, then Universal is definitely the way to go!

But, if you’re willing to spend more money and feel like your park, ride, resort, and dining options are limitless, then Disney might be calling your name.

Just like we said in the opening of this article, there’s certainly no wrong choice when it comes to picking between these two state of the art parks, and everyone has their preference…

UNIVERSAL VS. DISNEY
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So, help our readers decide by using the comment section below – which Orlando theme park is your favorite, and why?

Can’t wait to read all about it!

Until next time, Happy Park Hopping Hipsters!

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About the Author

Gina Arfi Disney Writer at ThemeParkHipster

Gina is a former Walt Disney World and Disney Cruise Line Cast Member who enjoys reliving the magic by writing helpful tips and tricks for future guests! 

Check out more about her Disney adventures and writing endeavors at www.ginaarfi.net.

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