In some ways, the two Orlando parks are alike. Both have many of the same or similar programs. That also is true in small issues. Both parks charge $17 for parking, to give one small example. This has led to many park-goers having strong feelings about one park over another. When one blog asked which was best, the vote was split 50-50. A tie.
But say you had to make a choice between them: Disney or Universal. You did not have the time or money for both.
Which would you choose?
To say it depends is not much of an answer because, of course, it does.
Depends on your ages, whether or not you have children, and many other factors.
An enduring myth is that Disney is best for small children, while Universal appeals to teenagers. In fact, both parks were founded on the premise that the entire family should be able to have fun together. Both offer a healthy mix of thrills and chills, children’s play areas and attractions appropriate for everyone.
Disney is for Kids, Universal for Teens
It’s commonly assumed that if you have younger children, Disney is the better choice. But older siblings tend to prefer the greater variety of more exciting roller coaster choices at Universal. Disney’s Magic Kingdom with all the Disney classics is definitely for younger children. But Epcot appeals to older ones. But this is a generality and may not apply to you.
But here are some considerations if you had to choose.
Winners, losers and ties.
Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure are side-by-side. But they have only two parks. Disney has four main parks. So the nod has to go to Disney for choices.
Nobody pays full price
Both have discounted packages for multiple attractions. There are many variables that depend on length of stay, etc. Relax. Odds are good you won't pay the full sticker-shock gate price, at Disney, Universal or any other park. Without going into details, call it a tie.
If your preference is for live animals, Disney gets the nod. It is the choice with Animal Kingdom with the African Safari and even a Lion King production.
If you are staying on the property, Disney offers over 25 resort options, while Universal has four hotels on-site. Three of those hotels are in the deluxe price range, with one described as moderate. Hotel-goers at Universal get Express Passes included with their stay, but Disney benefits’ include transportation everywhere and extended park hours to beat the crowds. Disney’s latest hotels are generally moderate priced. So generally, Disney wins, at least in sheer numbers.
Disney Wins for Hotels
But Universal has seen Disney’s success. More hotels are underway and planned. An aside: Look for special rates as they open.
Both Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Florida celebrate holidays and festivals year round. Disney is perhaps best known for its elaborate Christmas festivities, which span all four parks and include dozens of highly regarded events. Universal created the horror film genre and its annual Halloween Horror Nights (which seem to get endlessly longer every year) is world renowned. A toss-up.
When it comes to lines, Universal offers the Express Pass which lets you skip all lines. Disney, perhaps in a less elitist view, offers the Fast Pass that lets users pick three ride lines to skip. But users must arrive at a set time. Popular rides book fast, so there’s a need to book ahead. A toss-up here.
If you like roller coasters, both parks have their share. Universal’s Islands of Adventure is generally viewed as a coaster park with perhaps the most popular one the dueling tracks of the “Dragon Challenge.” It also has water coasters that end with a splash, literally. And of course the “Incredible Hulk” which gets to 40 miles an hour or faster than you might go on some highways. Disney’s famous “Space Mountain” has less thrills but Disney also has the “Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster” that is far faster, up to 60 miles an hour. Which has the fastest roller coaster? Neither. For that, you have to go to Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ, where you breeze along at 128 miles per hour. But while you are in Orlando, you might want to stick with Universal for the best coaster thrills. And give the nod to Universal for more variety.
When it comes to more relaxing rides, Universal’s best known may be the “Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man” with its 3-D film and live action. It’s an interactive experience. There’s also “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.” Disney is better known for the mildly amusing “It’s a Small World.” But it also offers the famous “Twilight Zone Tower of Terror,” which has an unusual guarantee: designed so that it will never be the same ride twice. We’ll give this a toss-up verdict.
Disney’s Dining Plan for guests lets you pay a flat rate in exchange for food credits. It limits you to certain restaurants such as snack stands. Universal’s Meal Deal includes flat rates available only at certain restaurants. Prices are comparable. Disney wins for food, however. You can eat at any one of the more than 25 Disney hotels as well as at Downtown Disney. Epcot has some great places as well with a lot of variety.
Both parks have no shortage of shows that appeal to various age groups. Disney has the highly popular nightly fireworks show. So give a slight edge to Disney for its pyrotechnics.
For real park fans, however, the real winners are not hard to spotlight. They’re the ones who make it to both parks. ###