Uncategorized travel Disney Disney World Universal Universal Studios

Whats the Difference between Universal and Disney World

There are many people out there who don’t know that Universal Orlando Resorts and Walt Disney World are two different places. Your Disney World tickets are not good at Universal, just like your Universal tickets are not good at Disney World. 

Now both theme parks are powerhouses in Orlando. Both have multiple theme parks and hotels. Both have die hard fans that would defend them to the death and would never step foot in the other.While others would try to use their magic bands at Hogwarts or try to get an express pass at Flight of Passage. 

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Today we are going to look at what’s the difference between Universal Orlando Resort and Walt Disney World. 

SIZE AND LOCATION

When we talk about both Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World we need to first understand the size of both of these properties. Both are massive resorts with multiple hotels, restaurants and theme parks.

Universal Orlando Resort is the second largest resort in the Orlando area. The original area is about 541 acres which makes up how we know the Universal area today which includes the 7 hotel resorts, 2 theme parks (Studios and Islands of Adventure) and the Volcano Bay water park and Universal CityWalk. An additional 750 acres was announced on August 1, 2019. This new area is being called Epic Universe and is said to include a third theme park, hotels, retail and dining. 

About 15 miles separate what google maps considers the center of Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World. That makes them pretty close to each other. When you think about it, a lot of us probably drive further than 15 miles each way to work.

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So Universal Orlando sits on a total of about 1,291 acres of land. That is pretty tiny when you consider Walt Disney World Property covers around 25,000 acres. No that is not a typo. I really did mean to put 25,000 acres. Within all this land is 18 Disney owned resorts, 11 Disney Vacation Club Villas, 4 theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios), 2 Water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach), Disney Springs, and 12 non Disney owned Hotels and Timeshares.

Not only is Walt Disney World the number one visited theme park resort in the US it is number one in the World with over 52 million annual visitors. Universal Orlando’s annual attendance is around 21 million. If you look at the chart below you can see the attendance levels of all 6 parks from 2018.

EXPERIENCE

Both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando are family friendly resorts. While both are great for kids, teens and adults. Walt Disney World is much better for younger kids than Universal Orlando. Most of Walt Disney World rides are not on the “scary” side of things. As long as you meet the height requirements, most kids are good to go. Even on the roller coasters like Space Mountain, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Slinky Dog Dash and many others. Universal Orlando roller coasters can be a little too “scary” for the younger kids or even the older kids. Rides like The Incredible Hulk Coaster or Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit can be a little too intense for younger children. 

While both market to everyone. Disney World is truly for everyone. Walt Disney World is differently more kid friendly than Universal. Universal Orlando is more geared towards the older teens and young adults who want to hit up all the thrill rides and think Disney World is too “kiddy”. Don’t worry though Universal does have some great kid zones.

Universal Orlando Resorts do have a couple great kid zones. Seuss Landing and Camp Jurassic, Jurassic Park Discovery Center, and Me Ship, The Olive are all great little kid zones in Islands of Adventure. In Universal Studios you have Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone. Here is the only spot in Universal Studios to find everything that is kid friendly. It’s a cool little area but most of the attractions may be unknown to kids today. Fievel’s play-land, (Fievel is the mouse from An American Tail) has nets, slides and even a water slide for kids to enjoy. 

Here is a list of what most people would consider kid friendly rides at Universal Orlando: Woody Woodpecker’s Coaster, E.T. Ride, Minion Mayhem, Shrek 4D, Twirl ‘n’ Hurl, Hogwarts Express, Flight of the Hippogriff, Pteranodon Flyers, Seuss Trolley Train, Cat in the Hat, Caro-Seuss-el, One Fish, Two Fish, Simpson’s Ride*, Popeye’s Barges *. Popeye’s and Simpson rides can both be a little much for younger kids but only you know your kid’s best. Every other ride at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure can be considered too scary (Hollywood Horror make-up show) or too intense (Hulk Coaster). 

Disney World on the other hand does not have many rides that are NOT kid friendly. Rides that can be considered NOT kid friendly at Walt Disney World are Rock n Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, Dinosaur, and Primeval Whirl. Even all the other roller coasters at Disney are pretty kid friendly. Everest and Space Mountain may be the only too that are too intense for younger kids. But I do know a lot of 5 and 6 year olds who meet the height requirements and love them.

Dumbo, Magic Kingdom, WDW, Walt Disney World

Another big difference with the experience at both is the ability to use your phone or camera on rides. On most rides at Disney World you can use your phone or camera to record your reactions, the rides or just take pictures. In Universal Orlando theme parks you CAN NOT use your phone or camera on ANY ride. Some rides they will even stop while you are going through like the Cat in the Hat. While on roller coasters I can understand why they would not want you to use a camera but on dark rides I just don’t understand. Maybe it is just the photographer/videographer in me but who knows. 

CHARACTERS

Many characters can be found all around Disney parks and Universal parks. Now where most kids know most if not all of the characters in Walt Disney World. The same cannot be said for the characters walking around Universal.

On any given day some more unique characters can be found out and about in Universal. Betty Boop or Beetlejuice could pop up out of nowhere for a photo op. You won’t need a special party to see some of the more unique characters Universal has.

Of course on most days you will be able to find Scooby-Doo and gang or Hello Kitty. Let’s not forget that most days you will also see the Minions running around.

Mystery Machine, Scooby-Doo, Universal Studios Orlando

Now Disney has a bunch of Meet and Greet locations in all 4 theme parks where you can meet Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Donald and many others as well as many of the princesses. For some of the more unique characters like villains, Jack and Sally you would need a special party ticket.

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EXPRESS PASS/ FASTPASS

Both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando have a line skipping system in place. One is free to all guests while the other is only free to guests staying at Premier category hotels otherwise it will cost you $70 plus tax for the basic pass (1 line skip per ride). For unlimited line skips be ready to fork over $90 plus tax per person per day. 

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Universal Orlando’s express pass will cost you additional money on top of your theme park admission. However, it is good for almost every ride in all three parks (Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay). Universal even has an express pass available for the super popular Halloween Horror Nights. The lines in the express pass lane never seem to be that long compared to Disney World.

On my visit in August it seemed like most wait times for people using the express pass was 5 minutes. If you are only going for a day or two getting an express pass might not be a bad idea. A 1 day 2 park ticket with express pass is $250 plus tax. A 1 day 2 park ticket WITHOUT express pass is $170. So getting the express pass in advance will not save you any money compared to buying it the day of. Just know that express passes do sell out. 

Now Walt Disney World’s fastpass + is free to ALL guest visiting any of the 4 theme parks. Anyone coming to visit Disney World can book 3 fastpass + 30 days before they arrive at the parks. Guests who are staying at a Walt Disney World hotel can book their fastpass+ 60 days out (for more info on FP+ click here). Disney’s FastPass+ system again is FREE to all guests. It is included into the price of your ticket if you want to look at it that way.

So which one is better? It really comes down to a matter of opinion. One is free (FP+) and one cost extra (Express pass). One is good for almost every ride once that day (express pass) while the other is only good to book 3 rides to start (FP+). Check out my post on how to book your FastPass+ using the app

FOOD

When you compare the food offered at Disney World theme parks compared to Universal Orlando theme parks the clear winner is Disney. When talking about Disney Springs vs CityWalk one could consider it a tie, even though Disney Springs has a wider selection. 

The choices at Disney World are just mind blowing when you think about it. There are around 160 quick service, table service and snack locations between the 4 theme parks and 2 water parks. Universal only has around 46 between 2 theme parks and one water park.

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At Disney you can find just about any type of food you are craving. Delicious BBQ platters can be found at Flame Tree BBQ in Animal Kingdom. Giant Hot dogs over at Casey’s corner or huge fajita platters at Peco’s Bills in Magic Kingdom. You can even let your taste buds take a trip around the world in EPCOT’s world showcase. You shouldn’t have any problems trying to find some food to eat that will be right for everyone in the group.

Mickey Scrambled eggs, Be Our Guest, Magic Kingdom
Be Our Guest at Magic Kingdom

Now Universal only has 46 different locations in the parks to grab a bite to eat. While they have less don’t let that fool you. They have some great themed locations to eat at. Stop on over at BumbleBee Man’s taco truck or head on over to Moe’s and get the Famous Flaming Moe.

For a tasty drink head over to Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley for some Butterbeer. This tasty cream soda with Butterscotch flavors and a sweet whipped topping is a must try. On those hot summer days grab yourself a frozen one. You will thank me later.

Now Universal has got one of the best deals you can get in a theme park. For $16 plus tax for one and cheaper the more you buy, you can get an unlimited refillable cup on the day of Purchase. If you bring it back it will cost you $10 plus tax for unlimited refills that day too. You can fill it up at the Coca Cola Freestyle machines which have around 100 different flavors to pick from. You can also get Icees. Like the frozen butterbeer nothing beats a hot day like a frozen coca cola icee.

HOTELS

Both Universal and Disney World have hotels that are close to the theme parks. Most of Universal’s 7 hotels are within a short walk, yes walk, to the theme parks. Disney World hotels on the other hand are not a short walk to the parks. A handful of them are. However most you will need to take a bus, boat, or gondola to. The price of Universal Hotels are also cheaper when compared to Disney World.

For a stay at Hard Rock Hotel which is one of Universal’s premier hotels, for one night on Friday April 24th into the 25th will cost you $404 plus tax. A stay at Disney’s Beach Club for the same date will cost you $561 plus tax. Both would be standard rooms. 

Hotels.com: $99 or Less

Now for the same dates but at a value resort will cost you $187 plus tax at Disney’s All Star movies resort. At Universal’s Endless Summer resort the cost for a night in April will run you $159 plus tax. 

Both resort hotels can be a little on the more expensive side of things. Both have great theming, staff, and rooms. Just one is closer to Disney theme parks while the other is closer to Universal theme parks. Both Disney and Universal also have good neighbor hotels. 

Universal good neighbor hotels can save you up to $150 on a 4 night hotel package and get your early access (1 hour) to the parks before they open. Most of the time staying at a good neighbor hotel is cheaper than staying at a Universal hotel. Walt Disney World also has a few good neighbor hotels.

Staying at a WDW good neighbor hotel will save you a little money compared to Disney resort hotels but also get you access to book your FastPass + 60 days out and access to extra magic hours. Check out my review on Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista at Disney Springs. This is one of Disney’s good neighbor hotels I recently stayed out. 

If you are looking to visit both Universal and Disney World and don’t want to stay at either resort you should check out Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld. Located pretty much half way between both Disney and Universal. Check out my review of this hotel here. They offer transport to both theme parks or if you drove, is only a short 20 minute or so car ride to either Universal or Magic Kingdom.

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When you ask what’s the difference between Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World the answers can vary widely. Both have their pros and cons. Universal hotels are cheaper but WDW hotels have a greater level of theming and details. Staff at both resorts are outstanding.

When looking for a more thrilling day the choice can only be Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Way more thrill rides than Disney has to offer. While Disney does have a few thrill rides. Most are not thrilling enough to older teens and young adults.

When looking at food, Disney wins this hands down. So many different places to pick from and tons of Character dining if that is your thing. When it comes to drinks in the park Universal really has Disney Beat with their refillable cup. It comes in hand on those hot Florida summer days.

Both places are really worth a visit. Now I tend to visit Disney every year. Universal I do every 2 to 3 years since not much changes from year to year here. Of course that will all change in a few short years when Universal Epic Universe opens. With in the next few years is going to be a great time to visit the theme parks around Orlando, Florida. Walt Disney World turns 50 in 2021 and Epic Universe maybe opening sometime in 2024 (my guess). Start saving for one heck of a family vacation or go at it solo.

For more information on Universal Orlando check out the Unofficial guide to Universal Orlando. For one of the best guides to Walt Disney World check out the Unofficial guide to Walt Disney World.

Do you have an opinion on which one is better? Do you visit both while staying in Orlando. Do you agree with the differences we listed? Let us know in the comments below. Kozmophotos is going to be going through a little rebranding in the next couple of months. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest. This way you can be up to date with the coming changes and know when our newest post are added.

We post 2 to 3 times a week. Our current schedule will be Hotel reviews on Mondays, Universal Orlando relate things on Wednesdays and Disney Related things on Fridays. I just got back from a long 3 week vacation in Tampa, Orlando and Bluffton, SC. So there will be a lot of new content coming your way in the next few weeks and months.

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