Disney World vs Universal Orlando, which one is better?
These two world-famous Orlando-based theme parks are vastly different. Whilst one is truly the most magical place on earth that was clearly designed with children in mind, the other is all about quick thrills, adrenaline highs and of course for the fans of JK Rowling’s masterpiece, there is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!
Theme parks are usually thought of as a place for families with small children or teens on Spring break. My view from our little excursion is that they are for everyone, for all ages, the big and small, the short and tall, honeymooners, families, kids and the “kids at heart”. Anyone can enjoy the whimsical sense of childlike fun at Disney and get in touch with their wilder side at Universal.
For adults, Universal wins this hands down. The park is filled with thrill rides and crazy movie simulators that are based on more adult-targeted movies like MIB, The Simpsons and Transformers.
Disney’s rides focus on taking visitors on a gentle journey down Disney movie memory lane, with only a handful of roller coasters. But there is no denying the minute you step over the threshold into Disney World it feels like you have been sprinkled with fairy dust and are suddenly overcome with euphoria and everything looks just a little rosier.
Food, Drinks and Retail Centres
Universal’s City Walk is a retail and entertainment complex and although open all day it has a vibrant nightlife with a great selection of sophisticated restaurants, the Blue man Group Theatre, Hard Rock Cafe and people relaxing on a patio, cocktail in hand, at sundown.
Whereas Disney Springs, Disney’s version of a retail and entertainment centre, is massive with a stronger focus on retail and shopping rather than sophisticated dining and relaxing after a wild day at a theme park. It is beautiful, as everything Disney touches is. This open-air shopping complex is lined with boutiques, shops, including big brand names and galleries but when it comes to dining and wanting a decent meal at a budget friendly price that goes beyond a takeaway fry up, Universal’s City Walk takes the prize.
Disney’s restaurants and eateries are for children with novelty themes and basic menus and the few more refined restaurants do not come cheap. Disney is just more expensive all round, no matter where you choose to eat, be it at your hotel, Disney Springs or inside the park, food and drinks come at a premium.
Disney World knows how to capture your attention all day and night with a full itinerary of events, five jam-packed theme parks, multiple character dining experiences, character meet and greets, parades, live performances and then ending the evening at any of the parks closing spectaculars; the grandest of fireworks displays at the Magic Kingdom, Epcot’s Reflections of Earth, Hollywood Studio’s laser and fireworks Star Wars Spectacular. Visiting Disney is a non-stop sensory overload with no time to sleep or rest if you wish to experience it all.
Universal Orlando’s, two theme parks are compact and only a few steps away from one another thus making it easier to hop back and forth between them throughout the day. If you time your visit just right and go during an off-peak season you can easily complete the two parks in a day then shop and dine the night away at City Walk.
Logistics and Getting Around
Disney is a well-oiled machine. Giving you access to everything with a simple tap of your wrist, Disney’s waterproof Magic Bands revolutionise your experience. Being able to tap to access the parks, your hotel room, pay for merchandising, food, snacks, give you access to FastPass+, connect to your dining plan and simply tapping to gain access to one of the many photos taken of you throughout the park makes the Disney experience seamless, hassle free and eliminated the need to carry anything.
Universal gives you a paper ticket to guard with your life as that is your entrance ticket into the parks and the key to using some of the free lockers located around the park. It is way too easy to loose this precious piece of paper as you are constantly required to empty your pockets when going on any roller coaster and the flimsy paper ticket could easily disintegrate after a few rounds on one of their many water rides that they are all too happy to soak you on. Handy Tip: Pack a ziplock bag to put your ticket in and place into a zip up pocket for safe keeping.
If you are staying in one of the Universal resort hotels you can walk from your hotel to the theme parks, but there are also shuttle buses to get you to and from the hotel and parks. Whilst Disney is really a world of its own, you have to use a shuttle bus to get from your hotel to the various parks as well as from park-to-park as they are all miles apart.
There is no clear winner as they fulfil such different needs. There is no denying Disney was created with smaller children in mind but it is the place to bring a little magic back into our lives and relive childhood moment whilst Universal is definitely for teens and adults looking to let their hair down, conquering a fear and go on an assortment of adrenaline inducing wild rides.
Disney World vs Universal Orlando – Which did I prefer? That’s like a parent declaring which child they love more. I adored them both but for different reasons, they each have their merits and hold a special place in my heart. Ultimately I loved Disney more. There is something about it, it’s like stepping into a whole new world (Shining, shimmering splendid) that captured my imagination. The parks are beautiful, the detail in the shops’ facades along Main Street and then the central attraction, Cinderella Castle, the explosion of blossoms and topiary displays at Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival are breathtaking. Although I must say that I LOVED the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, that small corner of Universal made me wish with all my heart that it was all real, and my invite letter to Hogwarts is merely lost in the mail.
Let me know which you prefer Disney World or Universal Orlando?