Walt Disney World vs. Universal Studios: Which is the Better Orlando Theme Park? – Episode 37
Should you go to Disney World or Universal? After visiting Universal Studios Orlando and Disney World (multiple times), we compare our experiences at each theme park and share the pros and cons. Whether you have limited funds or limited vacation time to spend with your family, we understand that you want to invest in the right Orlando theme park experience, so we’re here to share our honest reviews and opinions. To give you some perspective, we were a married couple without kids when recording this podcast episode. While we’ve seen started a family, please keep this in mind.
Listen to the podcast episode here.
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In this episode, we cover:
- The differences between Disney and Universal.
- The extra costs that they don’t tell you about in advance.
- The must-see attractions at each theme park.
- The rides you should avoid.
- Things we disliked about each theme park.
- Why you should visit both and come up with your own conclusion.
This post was written by Podcasts Recapped, who is creating thoughtful recaps of some of the most interesting podcasts worldwide. I highly recommend checking them out.
Differences Between Disney World and Universal Studios
Disney World and Universal Studios are both located in Florida; actually, they are pretty close together. Both offer a variety of hotels and transportation options for all budgets. Ultimately, both parks have their own pros and cons, which we dive into below.
Disney is comprised of four theme parks; each offers a different theme and unique experience:
- Hollywood Studios
- Animal Kingdom Theme Park
- Magic Kingdom
Within each of these four theme parks, Disney does a tremendous job of making guests feel fully immersed in the experience. We felt Disney wanted us to stay long enough in each location to appreciate the details, characters, and amenities.
At Animal Kingdom, we loved the immersive Asian region, which included a Yeti protecting the Forbidden Mountain roller coaster ride.
For the most part, Universal Studios lacks the same immersion and detail as Disney. For example, guests might see the Men in Black ride; then they might turn around and see Homer from The Simpsons. While seeing many of our favorite characters is delightful, getting lost in the moment would’ve been nice.
One area where Universal Studios did very well with immersion is in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
While the line to get in was long, it was more than worth it. The attention to detail was phenomenal. We aren’t even big Harry Potter fans, but we found ourselves engrossed in the festivities – we even shared a butterbeer (which was a bit too sweet, if I’m being honest).
Another thing to note about The Harry Potter World was the high prices in the gift shop but this expected.
The extra costs that they don’t tell you about in advance
One thing that was not so fun about Universal is how you can feel nickeled and dimed at every turn. Even Kyle, who is usually pretty relaxed about spending money, got annoyed at one point.
Kyle wore a backpack to keep all of our things together. At Disney, this wasn’t much of a problem because there are free lockers where he could stow away his backpack. However, at Universal, the lockers weren’t big enough for Kyle to fit his backpack – instead, he had to pay extra money every time he wanted to store it away. The price wasn’t astronomical, but it did leave a bad taste in our mouths.
So if you’re wondering if the lockers at Universal cost money — the answer is yes.
With all-day lockers, get unlimited access throughout the day for a flat fee of $12-$15 depending on the size (large and family). Single-time lockers are also available at certain rides like Revenge of the Mummy or Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Storing your belongings is required as you cannot bring anything on the rides.
Cash and credit are accepted for both options.
How much do tickets cost?
From a ticket perspective, each theme park offers its pricing tiers, each tier coming with various benefits:
- Disney’s Genie+ (Formerly known as FastPass) costs an extra $15 to $29 per person per day at Walt Disney World and offers guests access to over 40 rides.
- Universal’s Express Pass allows guests to skip lines at different parks but at different price tiers. For example, Universal Express starts at $89.99 and can go up to $349.99.
The must-see attractions at each theme park
The best attractions at Universal are the Harry Potter World and The Mummy ride. There is a hidden surprise on The Mummy that Kyle really enjoyed, although it did feel like a somewhat short ride.
The best rides at Disney are the Flight of Passage (an Avatar themed-ride) and the Dinosaur Ride in Animal Kingdom. Kyle and I were also pleasantly surprised by Soaring, a simulation-based ride that takes you on a digital journey around the world.
One of the best things about Disney is that even if you don’t have huge expectations for a ride, the rides manage to blow away your expectations.
Wait times for rides and rides you should avoid
There are a few rides that really stood out to us and others that were “okay.” Looking back on the experience, how we felt about a particular ride had to do with how good the ride was and how long the line was to get ON the ride. A hidden “cost” of visiting both of the parks is the wait times, so I would keep that in mind if traveling with small kids.
It could be our personal experience that day, but the lines for rides in Universal seemed very manageable. Disney, on the other hand, had very long lines.
Another thing that came to mind was that in Universal, there are a lot of movie-themed rides. If you haven’t seen the movies, you might not be able to understand the full context of a ride, which definitely happened to us. For example, neither Kyle nor I had seen The Men in Black movie before getting on the ride. There were a few references during the ride that we could not pick up on.
The Fast & Furious was another example of a ride that we just didn’t get 100% enjoyment out of. The ride started with actors from the movie like The Rock, Ludacris, and Vin Diesel talking about the ride. Then, all of a sudden, the ride transitioned to a somewhat outdated video game-type screen experience. It just wasn’t the best transition or experience.
Why you should visit both and come up with your own conclusion
Ultimately, both Disney and Universal theme parks have good and bad things going for them. They both offer unique experiences and will keep just about anyone entertained. If you have a shorter vacation, I would recommend going to Universal. Disney might be your best bet if you have more time to spend on vacation. Additionally, Disney seems to be a bit more of a family-friendly destination just due to all of the characters, photo opportunities, great food, and more. Overall, both parks have their own strengths and will be a great time for any visitor!
Want more Disney tips? Listen to Episode 36: Avatar Flight of Passage, discussing whether this ride was worth the two-hour wait.
Looking for more ways to save money for an epic trip to Disney or Universal? I recommend using the Digit app, which helps you save your spare change automatically. Use my referral code and get $5 starting today.
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Danielle Desir Corbett paid off $63,000 of student loan debt in 4 years, bought a house at 27, and has traveled to 27 countries, including her favorites, Iceland, China, and Bermuda. Go here to learn Danielle’s incredible story, from struggling financially and in debt to finding creative ways to earn more and live on her terms. Listen to The Thought Card Podcast, where Danielle shares how you can creatively travel more and build wealth regardless of your current financial situation. Reach out to Danielle by contacting: thethoughtcard (at) gmail (dot) com.
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