I admit it, I am a theme park lover! I’ve been to Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort quite a bit throughout my life, including recent trips as an adult! I traveled to Orlando to both parks in 2019, and Disney twice in 2022 (once through a school program with my MBA and once with my sister) and I had so much fun galavanting around the parks as an adult. There are pros and cons to both parks, and I typically weigh them both based on who I’m with, what the goal of the trip is, and how much I want to spend. I’m breaking down the parks below so you can make the best decision for your next Orlando theme park trip!
Disney World vs Universal Studios
Disney World vs Universal Studios: Tickets
Tickets to the parks aren’t cheap. Theme parks do not make it easy to save money! However, they are worth it because each park is an experience that you can’t get anywhere else.
For Disney, ticket prices decrease the more days you spend in the parks. So, a 4-day park pass (one day/park) would be the most cost-effective around (at the time of this writing) $84/day. The below prices fluctuate with time of year and demand.
A one-day one-park ticket starts at $109.
A one-day park ticket with a park-hopper option starts at $169.
Universal Studios Tickets
Universal also has many packages to compare apples to apples, a 2-park, 4-day ticket will be about $83/day. You may visit multiple parks in one day with this pass! The below prices fluctuate with time of year and demand.
A one-day one-park ticket starts at $119.
A one-day park ticket with a park-hopper option starts at $174.
Which is Better: Disney World vs Universal Ticket Packages and Prices?
All in all, both of the parks are about the same. When comparing apples to apples, at the base price, a single-day ticket is more expensive at Universal Studios, but when purchased in packages, it seems that Universal has a better deal per day.
Disney World vs Universal Studios: Parks and Rides
Disney World Park Rides
Disney World Orlando has two water parks and four theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Blizzard Beach, and Typhoon Lagoon. I have not visited the water parks, so this post will focus on the theme parks. Each of these parks is very different and brings a different facet to the parks! Magic Kingdom is the most recognizable park with the Cinderella castle at the forefront. It is the one that each of the Disney Land Parks around the world is modeled after. Magic Kingdom has the largest amount of rides and with that the most children.
Epcot is home to the Land, the Sea, and the World Showcase. It is the park with the best food and drink, but the fewest rides.
Hollywood Studios has some of the biggest roller coasters like the Rockin Rollercoaster with Aerosmith, Slinky Dog Dash in Andy’s Backyard, Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, and the Indiana Jones show! It’s one of the smaller parks, but it’s also so much fun, and you can buy alcohol.
Finally, Animal Kingdom is home to the World of Avatar, which is amazing and looks so cool at night when everything lights up! There are live animals on the safari, and in shows. Everest, which is one of my favorite rollercoasters. Finally, there is the amazing Tree of Life!
Universal Studios Orlando Park Rides
Universal Orlando has two theme parks and one water park: Islands of Adventures and Universal Studios Florida, and the water park, Volcano Bay. I have not visited the water park, so this post will focus on the theme parks. Both theme parks are right off the City Walk where you can find many of the Universal hotels.
Islands of Adventures is my preferred park with Marvel Superheros with the Hulk roller coaster. There is also the magical Wizarding World of Harry Potter- Hogsmeade where you’ll find the super fun Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure, and finally Jurassic Park. This park is geared more towards adults and older kids except for Seusseland.
Universal Studios is home to The Magical World of Harry Potter- Diagon Alley, and many rides based on Universal movies such as Men in Black, Transformers, and Revenge of the Mummy.
Disney World vs Universal Studios Rides: Which is Better?
If you’re looking for bigger rides, Universal Studios has more large rides and rollercoasters, whereas Disney only has a couple of rollercoasters per park. On the other hand, Disney, in general, is larger and therefore has more rides. Both have a ton of 3D and VR rides so for those prone to motion sickness, it’s getting harder and harder to find rides without 3D and VR.
Disney World vs Universal Studios: Skip The Lines
Disney World: Skip The Lines with Genie+
Disney instated a new system a few years ago called Genie+ and Lightning Lanes to better allocate “fast passes”. There is a ton of information here, I think I would write a whole post just on the complexities of Genie+, so I summarized my best below.
Individual Lightning Lanes
There are individual Lightning Lanes you can purchase separately that range from $10-$25. You can only purchase two per day. These usually consist of the most popular or newest rides such as Avatar Flight of Passage, Tron Lightcycle, Rise of the Resistance, Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind, and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. The good news, most of these are in different parks so you can plan ahead. Be sure to log into your app right at 7am for the best times as these sell out quickly!
There is also the Genie+ system that you can purchase for $16-35 per person per day depending on the demand. Genie+ does not guarantee any ride admission, nor is it unlimited. You must log on at 7am to get the best rides and times! With Genie+, you can add as many Lighting Lanes as you can fit into the day with the following caveats: You can only book one Lightning Lane per ride, per day, but you are more than welcome to ride again in standby! You can book one Lightning Lane at a time and book your second either once you scan into your first Lightning Lane, or two hours after the booking was made (in the morning, the two hours starts once the park opens).
My best lightning lane strategy is to book my favorite rides first, keping in mind rides like Peter Pan’s Flight, Jungle Cruise, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad tend to sell out earliest in the day. Ultimately if you plan well, you can get a ton of Lightning Lanes and ride everything that you want to ride one way or another, but it does take some strategy.
Universal Studios: Skip The Lines with Express Pass
At Universal, it is much more simple, you can buy an express pass for $134 additional per ticket, per day. It adds up fast, but you have unlimited usage for all of the applicable rides and get to skip the lines all day.
Surely the lines depend on the time of year, weather, and parks in general, but when I went, the lines were generally short at Universal Studios, but the parks were very empty as a whole in early September. However, the newer rides in all of the parks each had long wait times, more than an hour up to more than two hours.
Which is Better: Disney World vs Universal Studios Skip The Line Options
At the end of the day, Disney is much more intensive to plan and strategize, but it is less expensive overall per person, per day. Universal is more expenive but simpler, and has fewer limitations.
Disney World vs Universal Studios: Food and Drink
Disney World Food and Drink
Disney has much better food than Universal in my opinion. Epcot is known for the Food and Wine festivals hosted in the World Showcase, so you know you’ll be getting a great meal. In the other parks, I recommend looking for specialty shops and restaurants, such as Casey’s Corner, the hot dog shop on Main Street in Magic Kingdom! If you’re looking to sip on an alcoholic drink all day, choose your parks carefully. Magic Kingdom only serves alcohol in sit-down restaurants most of the time you’ll need a reservation for those. Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios have kiosks with drinks around the parks that open at 11 a.m., but Epcot is the clear best choice for day drinking. It’s known for people attempting to ‘Drink Around the World”!
Sit Down Restaurants
On my latest trip, we booked restaurant reservations. While we originally thought it would slow us down, ultimately we had to sit and eat somewhere. We figured we might as well be in air conditioning and with better food. Attending the parks in the summer, there are tons of people, it’s hot, and we wanted good food and air conditioning, and somewhere to sit down, all of which is shockingly hard to come by. In one restaurant we got only a couple of appetizers and had a few drinks to cool off. While you don’t have to order full meals, you do have to order food with reservations; you can’t take up a table to drink.
The restaurants won’t rush you, but they do know how to churn you in and out. You won’t be sitting there for long waiting for service when you would rather be in line for a ride. Trust me, you won’t miss anything! Restaurant reservations open up 60 days in advance of your park visits, and I recommend booking them then. The major restaurants like Cinderella’s Royal Table, or Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom sell out fast. However, we were able to get a last-minute afternoon spot at Hollywood’s Brown Derby in Hollywood Studios when we were desperate for a seat and A/C.
Universal Studios Food and Drink
I’ll be completely honest, I don’t ever expect grab and go park food to be great. Universal Studios meals are abysmal no matter what restaurant you walk into. On the other hand, they have recognizable fast food favorites like Ben and Jerry’s and Auntie Anne’s. Universal Studios more widely serves alcohol such as beer at most kiosks.
Which is Better: Disney World vs Universal Studios Food and Drink?
Disney is a clear winner in this category. There is an abundance of options in each of the parks and they range from quick grab and go snacks, to sit down restaurants. Plus they have the infamous Dole Whip! Epcot will be your best park for a variety of food and drinks. Mexico has the best margaritas and I love the grapefruit beer and pretzels (the Bavarian one, not the one shaped like Mickey’s head!) in Germany!
However, Universal does have alcoholic drinks more readily available, albeit fewer options.
Disney World vs Universal Studios: The Details
Disney World Details
Something I notice every time I visit Disney World is the details throughout the park. From the bumblebees on the caution tape of the Winnie the Pooh ride to hidden Mickeys, to cast members never breaking character. The magic is truly alive in Disney! Disney has so many rules for cast members to fully immerse guests into whicheverworld they are currently in. Therer is. anelaborate underground tunnnel system so that guests done have to see someone in adventureland wearing frontierland gear.
Universal Studios Details
Universal has definitely stepped up the park details more recently. I love the wand tricks in the Harry Potter World, and I think that the new Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure ride is incredible. The animatronics are fantastic!
One complaint I have is that their park workers are very different. While in line for a ride, I watched workers check their cell phones, joke around with each other, and talk about their shifts. It seems small, but it makes such a difference when it doesn’t happen elsewhere.
Which is Better: Disney World vs Universal Studios Details?
I think my answer here is clear. Disney has amazing cast members, and it shows in their performance, service, and acting skills!
Disney World vs Universal Studios: Firework Shows
Disney Firework Shows
Disney Firework shows are amazing. Animal Kingdom lights up the tree with color, light, and movie clips. Hollywood Studios created a magical dance to Star Wars music, Epcot’s fireworks are easily seen by everyone since they happen on the lake in the middle of the World Showcase, and I cannot tell you how obsessed I was with the Happily Ever After showcase on the Cinderella Castle in Magic Kingdom! They set fireworks, lights, and a show of movie clips projected onto the castle, and it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. While the show has changed, it is always awesome!
Universal Studios Firework Shows
Universal Studios has a fun fireworks display on the lake featuring lights cinematic features on the water! It’s freaking awesome guys! I only wish we stayed to watch them on our most recent trip!
Which is Better: Disney World vs Universal Studios Firework Shows?
Honestly, see them all! I was completely enamored with the show on the castle in Magic Kingdom, and I’m so amazed at the water show at Universal Studios! This one is a total tie for me!
Disney World vs Universal Studios: Which is Best to Visit as an Adult?
I really enjoy both parks for different reasons. I am a huge Disney fan and also absolutely love Harry Potter, so it’s always a tough choice. It truly depends on your goal of the trip! If you want to ride bigger rides, drink a bit, walk onto rides, Universal Studios is your park. Disney is better suited for people who appreciate the details, don’t mind more kids, want to try different foods, and have more park options.