The epic question of Walt Disney World vs. Universal Orlando can lead to many opinions between serious theme park fans. While the answer depends on what type of vacation you are looking for and who you are traveling with, there are a few big differences between Disney World and Universal. Today we break it down to help you decide between a Disney World or Universal Orlando vacation.
So what is the better park Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando. As a big fan of both parks I will never choose! They each offer a different theme park vacation experience. In certain categories Disney World is better and in others Universal Orlando wins.
At the end of the day, why do we have to choose? I think there is a better option. I love both. Each theme parks has some incredible offerings that no theme park fan should miss. We don’t typically do both in one vacation, more on why later, but we really enjoy vacationing at both for different reasons.
In this article I am going to break down the big differences and let you decide if you are looking for a Disney World or Universal vacation. Better yet you could always plan a Disney World and Universal Orlando trip.
What is the Difference Between Universal Orlando and Disney World
To get started you need to know a little about the difference between Universal Orlando and Disney World. They are both large resorts with Disney World being much bigger. Neither offer complimentary transportation to and from the Orlando Airport but there are paid services like Mears that can take you to either.
Walt Disney World has four theme parks, two water parks, over 30 hotels and a dining/shopping area. Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom are the theme parks. Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon are the water parks.
There are hotels on any budget and they are split into categories value, moderate, and deluxe. Disney Springs is the dining and shopping area. There are internal buses and other transportation at Disney World like boats and the Disney Skyliner that will transport you to and from the parks. Some resorts are close enough to walk to some of the theme parks.
Universal Orlando has two theme parks: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. They are opening their third park Epic Universe in 2025! They have a water park: Volcano Bay and a dining/shopping area Universal’s CityWalk.
There are also around 12 resorts. The Universal Endless Summer Surfside and Universal Endless Summer Dockside are in the value category, Cabana Bay is in the moderate category, and Hard Rock Hotel is in the deluxe category. Each offers transportation to and from the parks or you can walk.
Now that you know what each park has we can get into the details of the parks.
Walt Disney World vs. Universal Orlando
There are basic categories to look at and compare when you are deciding on a vacation. They are cost, accommodations, attractions, dining, and if the destination is a good fit for your travel party.
Cost of Disney World vs. Universal Orlando
Is it cheaper to go to Universal or Disney World? Honestly they cost about the same but there are also less parks at Universal than Disney World so you may spend less because you spend less time.
Based on personal experience we have found better special offers and deals at Universal Orlando for tickets and hotels. We always start pricing out our Disney World or Universal Orlando vacation with our partner Undercover Tourist. Undercover Tourist offers tickets, hotels, and car deals. Then I compare these prices to what the Disney or Universal website is offering.
In the video below I have a break down of our trip to Disney World. Total it cost us $6700.00. This includes flight cost which would be the same for Disney or Universal. For more ways to save on your trip and stretch your Disney dollar check out these articles: Disney Vacation Cost and Disney on a Budget.
Universal Orlando will cost less because there are less parks to visit but a one day ticket starts at $109.00 a day. They are often running buy 2 get 1 free options. We also have saved money by purchasing a Universal Orlando annual pass. Learn how we did that in this article: Is the Universal Annual Pass Worth It?
Universal Orlando hotels are often less expensive then their comparable at Disney World. We love the Endless Summer Resorts because the rooms are spacious and a lot less than the Disney values for a lot more. These rooms in the video below were under $175.00 a night. Learn more about saving on your Universal vacation in this article: Universal on a Budget: Ways to Save on Your Universal Orlando Vacation
Dining Options at Universal Orlando vs. Disney World
Disney World and Universal have dining options to meet the needs of guests appetites’ and budgets. The dining options are themed and go beyond typical theme park food.
Walt Disney World is a larger resort and does offer more dining options because of that, but Universal Orlando has great choices as well.
Both theme parks have options for quick service and sit down meals. It is recommended that you make reservations for any sit down meals at both parks.
At Disney World you make make reservations 60 days in advance and some places will immediately sell out. Keep trying because cancellations happen often. At Universal you can make reservations 30 days in advance and can usually find a table a week before your trip. Mobile ordering is also offered at both parks, although we have had more consistency at Disney World.
We have found Disney World quick service to be more varied and efficient during our last few visits. Some of our favorite meals at the parks are at the quick service restaurants.
Disney World sit down meals are a little more complicated. They offer a wide variety of options from casual sit down to fine dining as well as character and themed meals. Across the board table service dining is pricey.
Most sit down meals will cost over $100.00 at least for a family of five. If you are planning a character meal like 1900 Park Fare expect to pay over $200.00 for a family. The price is higher when your children are 10 years old and up because they are considered adult prices.
We noticed that most of the sit down restaurants inside the Universal park cost similar to the quick service meals. We like to reserve a sit-down meal at the parks or CityWalk to cool down and not feel rushed during our meal. Some of our picks at Universal can be found in this article: Top 16 Best Restaurants at Universal Orlando Resort.
Attractions at Disney World vs. Universal Orlando
There are so many attractions at Disney World and Universal Orlando. Both parks have thrilling attractions, although Universal Orlando has more intense rides than Disney World. At Disney World you will find attractions themed to Disney characters. At Universal Orlando you will find a mix of Universal characters, Dreamworks, and Minions.
One of the biggest misconceptions is about Harry Potter. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is at Universal not Disney World. Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge is at Disney’s Hollywood Studios park.
There are more rides at Disney World without ride height requirements meaning younger kids will have more attractions they can enjoy. Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure higher ride height and the rides can be a little scarier. This article, Scariest Rides at Disney World, goes into details on what to expect with attractions at the parks.
Age of Travel Party
If you are traveling with very young children Disney World may be a better choice for your vacation. There are many characters to meet and attractions for small children to enjoy.
Universal does have areas for younger kids like Seuss Landing but there are more height requirements at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure than there are at Disney World. The attractions at Universal are also a bit scarier than Disney so keep that in mind when visiting.
We visited Universal for the first time when my youngest was 42inches and 5 years old. He didn’t ride everything but could ride most if he wanted. The large roller coasters have a taller height requirements ranging from 48 inches to 52 inches.
Split Stay Disney World and Universal Orlando
Often people ask about doing a split stay at Disney World and Universal Orlando and if cost is a factor in your vacation planning I usually discourage it. The reason is because of how they structure the ticket prices.
At both Disney and Universal the more days you visit the parks the less per day you pay. Here is an example for August 29, 2022. Prices vary depending on the date of your visit.
- 2 days at Disney World ($212.33) & 2 Days at Universal Orlando ($213.99): Total $426.32
- 4 days at Disney World: Total $447.70
- 4 days at Universal Orlando Total $248.99
- 6 days at Disney World: Total $504.45
- 6 days at Universal Orlando: Total $424.99 *Universal doesn’t offer a 6 day ticket plan. This is the cost for an annual pass.
- 4 days at Disney World ($447.70) & 2 Days at Universal Orlando ($213.99): Total $661.69
As you can see if you want to do all 6 parks it will cost you the most amount of money. The price per day goes dramatically down at Universal. An annual pass at Universal Orlando cost less then 6 day cost of a Disney World vacation.
If you plan on visiting Orlando more than once you would benefit from purchasing a Universal annual pass for your first trip and then using it during a Disney World vacation for your next trip.
Another thing to consider when planning a split stay at Universal and Disney World is transportation needs. Be prepared to rent a car or take an uber to move between the parks and resorts if you are planning to do both.
I am on the pick both side of the Disney World vs. Universal argument. We have vacationed at both resorts and have an amazing time each visit. I like Universal more for some things and Disney World more for others.
Universal Orlando did an incredible job with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and they are consistently bringing new things to the parks. Walt Disney World built an immersive land with Pandora at Animal Kingdom and Galaxy’s Edge at Hollywood Studios.
One is not necessarily better than the other and I think that is a great thing! They continue to push the immersive and innovative attractions and provide constant entertainment and enjoyment for our theme park vacations.
Read Next: Orlando Theme Parks Guide for Beginners
Looking for more Orlando tips and articles. Check out Disney World Accommodations for Large Families, Disney Cruise vs. Disney World | Which is the Better Disney Trip, Top 16 Best Restaurants at Universal Orlando Resort, Encore Resort Orlando Review: Water Park and Resort Tour. You can also go directly to our Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando archives for more information.
Leah has been traveling with her family of 5 since 2012 and sharing her expertise on planning family vacations and visiting theme parks since 2016. Leah has been featured in Visit Rochester, Undercover Tourist, and Home Publications. She has worked with brands like Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, Hersheypark, Toyota, and various Tourism boards and destinations. Leah creates family travel itineraries based on real trip experiences with her family. Her guides and tips help others plan great family vacations. Learn more about Leah and Five for the Road.