Universal Orlando vs. Disney World
I’ve traveled to Orlando theme parks from Southern California with my kids four times the past few years, visiting Universal Orlando every time and the Disney parks twice. We had intended to visit Disney World/Epcot a third time, but the kids voted to spend the day at our hotel instead.
I often get asked to compare Disney vs Universal. As far as we’re concerned, our days at Disney are over, but we’ll continue to go back to Universal Orlando – as crazy as that sounds given that we live three times zones away. The five main reasons why:
1) You Can Walk Everywhere
Disney has four theme parks and two water parks in Orlando, as well as the Disney Springs shopping/restaurant area, but you can’t walk between them, or from the Disney hotels to their theme parks – you need to drive or take shuttles between the sites. If we’re at Disney World but we want to eat lunch at Disney Springs, well, that’s not exactly convenient or a good use of our time.
At Universal Orlando, though, you can easily walk from park to park (there are three theme parks: Universal Studios Florida; Islands of Adventure; and Volcano Bay. You can also walk from all of the onsite Universal hotels to the theme parks, and from the parks to Universal CityWalk, with its stores and dining options. There are shuttle and water taxi options from the parks to the hotels if you don’t feel like walking.
2) Universal Has Harry Potter
It’s impossible to exaggerate how cool the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is. Every detail in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley is perfect – you feel like JK Rowling’s books have opened up and invited you inside. We love the rides, the shops, the butterbeer and the overall atmosphere at our favorite Orlando theme park.
3) There Are More Rides/Areas for Older Kids
Disney is very much based on the idea of make-believe for younger kids and nostalgia for older kids and parents. Universal is almost the opposite – it has Seuss Landing, Minions, E.T. and a few other areas for young kids, but really these Orlando theme parks are for people who no longer believe that Mickey and the other five-foot-tall cartoon characters walking around are real.
Our favorite rides at Universal Orlando are Revenge of the Mummy, the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit coaster, the Harry Potter rides, Skull Island: Reign of Kong, the Simpsons ride and Dudley DoRight’s Ripsaw Falls – all extremely fun for kids (subject to height restrictions) and adults alike.
4) The Food Is Better
At Disney, we struggle to find good food options at their Orlando theme parks. At Universal, there’s an abundance of choices, both in the parks (Lombard’s Seafood Grill and Mythos are consistently excellent) and at Universal CityWalk (where we love Toothsome Chocolate Emporium, Cowfish and Vivo). You shouldn’t have to settle for dry chicken tenders and bland pepperoni pizza just because you’re at a theme park.
5) There’s No Pressure to Be Happy
Whenever we’ve gone to Disney, the “Happiest Place on Earth”, I’ve looked around at the lines and the crying kids and the frustrated parents and thought, well, this is NOT the happiest place on earth. Of our 100 happiest days as a family, I’ll guarantee you that none of them were the days we spent at Disney parks.
When we walk through the gates of a Universal park, it’s completely different than walking through the gates at Disneyland or Disney World. We see the Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure parks before us and talk about what we want to do first. That’s it. At Disney parks, we immediately ask ourselves “how are we going to maximize our time here so that the kids are happy?” Those are very different things, doing vs. planning. This carries through to the end of the days too. Relaxing in our hotel room after Universal we always feel like we had a great day. At night after Disney, we’re counting the rides that we went on and asking ourselves what we could do better next time to make for a happier experience.
Your Turn! Please Be Nice and Helpful.
How about you? Do you agree that Universal is the best choice for Orlando theme parks, or do you prefer Disney? Debate on Universal Studios vs. Disney World is welcome! Just please don’t leave general or trolling statements. If you say that the food is better at Disney, please give specific restaurants. The number of passive-aggressive, unhelpful comments I’ve gotten on this post is staggering – most I haven’t published. The goal of my website is to inspire and inform. If you’re going to comment, please do it in a way that helps others who are planning trips to Disney or Universal.
Note: We paid full price for three of our visits. I received complimentary one-day park passes on my last visit with my 10-year-old, in August.
To Book Universal’s Hotels (from cheapest to most expensive): Endless Summer Surfside | Endless Summer Dockside | Aventura | Cabana Bay | Sapphire Falls | Royal Pacific | Hard Rock | Portofino Bay
The last three all come with Express Passes, allowing you to skip lines at the two main parks (not Volcano Bay). Of those, we prefer Hard Rock because of its location. Of the less-expensive hotels, we like Sapphire Falls.
To Search for Flights: Kayak
Carrick | Along for the Trip says
I love this post! We visited earlier this summer (both UOR and WDW), but did not get to experience Reign of Kong or the Chocolate Emporium because they had not opened yet. Even so, I agree with you on many points – the Harry Potter attractions are amazing, and Revenge of the Mummy, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, the Simpsons ride, and Dudley DoRight’s Ripsaw Falls were also our favorites.
In our review, I noted that the 4D/VR rides sort of did us in after awhile because of the motion sickness, and the refillable mugs were a hassle, but the food was delicious and a better value than WDW. We’ll definitely return to both resorts though because we love them for different reasons. And we’ll never be able to quit the Dole Whip 🙂
Eric Stoen says
I’ve heard that from others too about the VR rides. We rarely go on Minions, Spider Man, Simpsons Ride or others more than once though.
We totally agree!!! Universal is a way better experience in our opinion than Disney:)
Rene Toudouze says
I couldn’t disagree more! We just finished up a week in WDW. We visited four Disney theme parks MK, AK, Epcot & HS plus Universal in order to experience the HP magic which our family can’t get enough of. We absolutely loved the Harry Potter areas of Universal but outside of the wizarding world it was dirty, chaotic, run down, unfriendly, and well, yes, not magical. The Simpson ride, which we’d heard about, wasn’t working and our kids were eager to get back to Disney. I still don’t understand the purpose of two Universal parks and splitting HP between the two. We wasted $$$ on express passes at Universal since they don’t work on the HP attractions and ended up leaving Universal disappointed after we finished up in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. I understand JK Rowling not wanting to give up creative control. She’s brilliant but Harry Potter would have fit in MUCH better in the magical environment at WDW. Universal is going to have to make sense of the chaos that surrounds HP or I think the wizarding world would be better off on their own.
Eric Stoen says
Thanks Rene. To your points, in order:
1) I’ve never thought Universal was dirty, chaotic, run down, unfriendly or unmagical. What day did you visit? If it was a Saturday or Sunday I could see it feeling chaotic (we always go mid-week), but otherwise I don’t understand the comments based on all of our visits.
2) The Simpsons Ride is one of my kids’ favorites, so that’s too bad that it wasn’t working.
3) I’m sure Universal has two parks and split Harry Potter for the same reason that Disney created California Adventure instead of simply expanding Disneyland – more revenue. The parks are themed differently of course, but really it’s an opportunity to sell more tickets. Universal is no more guilty of that than others.
4) We’ve always gotten express passes for free when staying at the nearby hotels, but the fine print makes it clear that Harry Potter rides aren’t included. Where did you buy them? There’s signage at all sales locations (from what I’ve seen) with the caveats.
5) As for Harry Potter at Disneyland, honestly if HP was a Disney franchise, the attraction still wouldn’t be open. Disney does a lot of things well, but it takes them FOREVER to open new attractions. They announced an Avatar attraction at AK in 2011 and it’s still not open six years later. Maybe it opens this year, maybe it doesn’t. Star Wars Land was announced in 2015 and right now is scheduled for 2019, but given Avatar’s history I would bet anything they don’t stick to that. Harry Potter went from announcement to opening in three years.
Jerry swags says
So they opened avatar what you wanna say now.
Eric Stoen says
I liked the movie Avatar and I’ve heard great things from friends who have already been to Disney’s Pandora. The food is supposed to be better than at other Disney parks too. But my comment on the timeline is still accurate. The movie came out in 2009. Pandora opened in 2017. Have you been yet?
I think they split harry potter for two reasons:
1. So there would be a good reason to ride the Hogwarts express and feel like, “Hey that wasn’t a waste of (insert time you spent waiting in line)! I actually got somewhere!
2. So you are just that much more likely to pay for the other park so you can see the rest by riding the Hogwarts express.
Looking for input! I have never been to either WDW or Universal. This blog seems to hit the nail on the head as far as how I’m feeling when researching both though. I am in complete stress and panic mode about WDW but feel like Universal would suit us perfectly due to the size. We are a family of 4 and want as little stress but as much fun as possible. I don’t care much about missing this or that, more about enjoying what we do have time to do. Crowds and lines are something i know we can’t avoid, but if i can minimize it, that’s a huge plus – I know no kids like lines, but i also HATE waiting in lines for anything. Here’s the kicker though…i have 4 & 6 year old boys. Its very obvious WDW is what the vast majority of people would tell me to do based on the age factor alone. But, we only have 2 days, so WDW would leave me feeling just as you described above I think! And yes, my kids are only 4 & 6 so WDW is much more geared to them than Universal, but also, i’ll say it again, my kids are 4 & 6. No matter where we go, i am guessing they will LOVE it! Fully aware of the obvious height restrictions on the thrill rides at Universal and such, but not sure that deters me at all. My boys aren’t super daring anyways. Would we still have plenty to do at Universal if we can’t do a lot of rides? The water park looks awesome and we love water parks. Am I a fool to choose Universal over WDW for our short trip?!
Eric Stoen says
Hi Jen! Do your boys like Disney? Do they watch the movies and like Mickey Mouse, et al? If so, they may really like Disney World – it can still be magical for kids who believe. But several times now I’ve seen kids in Harry Potter shirts walking around Four Seasons Orlando (at WDW) and I’ve asked them and their parents which park they preferred. Every single boy has said Universal. They’ve said it was because of rides, Harry Potter and super heroes. And yes it’s more expensive getting two-park or three-park passes at Universal, but everything is so close together that you’ll be constantly moving between the two main parks at least. And if you get Express Passes, you can minimize lines on the rides that they’re old enough for.
I don’t think you would regret simply spending time at Universal. The problem is that at some point you’ll be curious about WDW and feel like you need to give your boys that experience too. The question is whether you do that this trip, when they’re closer to the ideal age for Disney, or on a future trip. A lot of people LOVE all things Disney. We just like Universal better, and I think your boys probably will too.
Disney is awesome for young children if you plan accordingly. I did a ton of research and plan 5 months in advance before going. I knew every ride we were going to do to every place we were going to eat. My family loves Disney and so far is getting irritated at universals meal plan options.
Eric Stoen says
Thanks Amy, but you just proved my point number five. You created a detailed Disney plan FIVE MONTHS IN ADVANCE! It’s a theme park. No theme park is worth having to do that much work to maximize your time there and (try to) make your kids happy.
Yes Eric! Yes, THIS! I worked at Disney around the Millenium, and visited a couple of times growing up on the 80’s/90’s. I did a Trip Advisor review when I finally visited as a Mom, and my title was “The Magic is Gone”. Disney has gotten too big to deliver on the magic. Too crowded, lines too long, too much wait time, too expensive, too much “pre-travel engineering” as I called it. And just as you said, at the end of the day it wasn’t fun. We took our son when he was 8 year old, and he couldn’t care less if we never go back. That tells you everything you need to know right there. I was truly disappointed with our visit. Planning a Universal visit for this year or next, and this blog just further confirms my hopes that the Universal trip (it’s been a LONG time since I visited Universal…….early 90’s?) will be the experience I was HOPING Disney would be.
Eric Stoen says
Thanks Michelle! Please add another comment once you’ve visited Universal. Hopefully it’s a fun trip and doesn’t take you back to your less-than-magical Disney days!
The stress to have a perfect trip at Disney is not a Disney problem, but a problem with your expectations. You don’t have to go crazy with planning. I never understood why people did. Disney seems stressful because you feel like you have to have a perfect time. When you go to Universal with no expectations it has nothing to live up to, so you don’t have to worry about it being perfect. Try going to Disney with a laid back attitude. Spend a day exploring the resorts, or check out Disney Springs.
I think both are a MUST. I live in CA and have yet to visit universal. In researching I came across this blog. The prices at both parks unfortunately are too similar as this point to splurge on universal admission.
This is only because my children are 8, 5, and 1 and when my 8 year old still cries when we leave Disney because it is the most magical place, well then…..that is when you know another trip is in order.
We have been to Disney often enough to have a really effective system (knock on wood) that works for our family but it definably includes a time school is in session, and utilizing the max pass/fast pass system.
Appreciate everyone’s individual thoughts and experiences.
Heres your game plan…
Stay at cabana bay resort and get the room that comes with universal express and a 2 park ticket. Once you unpack all your stuff, go to the lobby, head outside and get the bus to citywalk. From there, go to islands of adventure and your golden! Just do whatever for 2 days, use the express and (Very Important) explore harry potter and (even more important) RIDE THE HOGWARTS EXPRESS! it was quite clever how they could make a boring 4 minute ride an experience with all the projections. In islands of adventure, definitely do the hulk and hogwarts castle. On universal studios, do the rockit, the mummy, and gringotts, then do whatever else. Those are just the main rides that get really big attention, so you would be wise to do them early in the day to avoid more line. Also, hit up the simpsons are in universal studios because it just has a really great feel.
PS if you already went and Im too late, Im sorry, but take this into account next time! Efficiency=Win.
Eric Stoen says
Sounds great IF rooms at Cabana Bay come with Express Passes. I haven’t heard that before, and I haven’t verified it. Otherwise Royal Pacific is typically the lowest-priced hotel that has Express Passes.
cabana bay does not include express passes
Can confirm. I’m sitting in Cabana Bay right now and it did not include express passes. It DID, however, include early start (one hour early admission), so you may be thinking about that.
We’re planning now, the kids are inbetween ages (11 & 13), and not huge ‘coaster’ fans yet, but want to see all the great scenery and other attractions. Thoughts? DEFINITELY don’t want stuck in lines all day, lol.
Eric Stoen says
You’re great at any Orlando parks even if you don’t like coasters – there’s plenty to do. We obviously prefer Universal, but there are a lot of people who are passionate about Disney. If you don’t like lines, go to the parks mid-week, off-season. You’ll always hit lines on weekends or during the summer or holidays. If you choose Universal, stay on-site at one of the hotels that gives you free Express Passes – the Hard Rock, Portofino Bay or Royal Pacific. That way you can skip most lines.
Erin M. says
We are planning our first trip to both WDW and Universal as a family for next November; something I’ve heard referred to as Jersey week (and yes I’m from NJ). We are a family of 5 and by that time 2 of the kids will be of adult age and one will be 11. My husband and 2 older kids are all about Universal and the younger one is really excited about Disney. The oldest two are also big Disney lovers. So my question is after reading your article, if we split stay, which sounds like it may be best or if we stay at WDW resort and take taxi, Mears, etc to Universal can we make it work allocating 3 days for each park? WDW we plan to do MK, Epcot and HS. I’m afraid if we rent off site somewhere in the middle the cost to rent a car, drive time and parking just wouldn’t make it worth it. Appreciate any input. Thanks.
Eric Stoen says
If I was going for 6 or 7 days, I’d probably opt to start at Universal for three nights (staying onsite), then take a day off and switch to a WDW hotel and have a lazy down day, and then hit WDW. Don’t try to go to parks that middle day – too awkward to have to check out of one hotel early, do something with your luggage, go to a park, and then check into another hotel in the late afternoon. And you’ll appreciate a break in the middle. Our favorite WDW hotel by far is Four Seasons WDW. We love spending whole days there and not feeling like we’re missing anything by not running over to WDW.
Jonathan S Griffin says
I wish I could love Universal as much as Disney, but having been to both, I don’t think that I can. Disney has a timelessness that is missing from Universal. In other words, while Disney will get rid of some rides and attractions to make way for new ones, they will still keep iconic rides and attractions. I don’t think I can say the same for Universal. Many fans bemoan the Universal that isn’t there anymore, the Universal without classics such as the Back to the Future ride, ET ride, and others. Recently I went to Islands of Adventure and loved Harry Potter World, but I ask myself, how long will they keep Harry Potter World? How long will they keep the Jurassic Park River Ride? Will they get rid of those rides and attractions someday just as they got rid of the other iconic attractions. Now look at Disney. Yes, they do replace some old rides and attractions with news ones, but they are also smart enough to know to keep more iconic rides such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, Thunder Mountain, etc, etc. It’s why I love Disney. Because there is more of a timelessness about it.
Eric Stoen says
Great point Jonathan. Universal definitely doesn’t hang onto rides once they start becoming less popular. I think Harry Potter will be there forever, but things like Jimmy Fallon’s Race Through New York, Skull Island, The Mummy, etc… could easily disappear in 10 years to make way for rides based on new films.
Jonathan S Griffin says
Thanks for your thoughtful response, Eric. This I know, if they keep the Jurassic Park rides, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I will love Universal just as much as DIsney.
Steve M says
This article is 100% accurate. A few points you should add are:
Child swap at Universal is far and away SUPERIOR to Disney. At Universal, they can wait in line with you, baby stays in a great AC room near the ride boarding, then mom or dad goes first with whoever else, then switch and the kids can double ride. It’s a true life saver. At Disney, if you don’t qualify to ride, you’re stuck wandering in the crowds fighting for shade. Stroller parking is a riot at Disney as well.
I went to Magic Kingdom recently then Universal, and Universal is, oddly enough, the more family friendly of the two. Disney makes these claims, but Magic Kingdom rides were not worth the 45-60 min wait for us. Universal had 5 min waits and rides we still talk about. Not to mention within the first 15 minutes at Universal Studios we met megatron, hello kitty, and a fantastically done beetlejuice. Disney? 15 min for Peter Pan, didn’t actually run into anyone else. Saw Eeyore and piglet in the buffet…
And also, the drink cup refills at universal are another must do. I bought one for $15, refilled it at will, whenever I pleased, then $5.99 for another day. Disney does not have anything like this, as the sheer volume would collapse any efforts.
Eric Stoen says
Thanks for the feedback Steve. Agree on the child swap. We used it again two weeks ago when I was there with my 11-year-old and 7-year-old. They didn’t always want to go on the same rides, and there were some that I wanted to go on after my 11-year-old. It always works well.
Bettina Valdez says
As for the refillable drinks…You buy mugs at Disney and you get refills at resorts and in the parks for free.
You cannot refill the mugs in the parks at Disney. I just returned from there and bought the refillable mugs and it’s made clear that it’s only refillable at self service stations in any resort.
Richard Wyrick says
I have just finished up a vacation at all 4 disney parks, IOA, and universal studios with express pass. I agree that universal, especially IOA had more rides geared towards older people which I think disney needs to be better at including. But I was in a group of 4, agrs between 25 and 35 and we all disliked universal studios. IOA was great with cool rides, and and themes, universal felt boring. the jimmy fallon ride is terrible, even with express it took us 30 minutes to get on. Then once we got on the ride was lost all immersion had terrible special effects and a weird unnecessary story. i liked transformers but its basicslly the same ride as spider man, despicable me, and simpsons. I felt like the signage should have been stronger in front of diagon alley (we thought they were restrooms). Men in black, terminator and shrek 4d need to go (I know terminator is closing next month).
The only disney park we didnt really like was hollywood studios and thats because they are adding star wars and toy story, so it didnt seem like there was alot there. to be fair we reallu enjoyed IOA, it seemed to blend toller coasters and simulators really well. at universal it seemed like every ride we had to out on those dumb glasses. It may be due to size, money or a bit of nostalgia but disney seems to reall surround you in its theme when im in frointer land i cant see fantasy land, universal ( other than wizarding world) felt like they just threw a whole bunch of stuff together.
Eric Stoen says
I agree with you on Jimmy Fallon – I like the tribute to the Tonight Show, but it takes a while to get in and isn’t all that different a ride from the other motion simulators. We’ve never done Terminator or Shrek. We love Men in Black though – just like with Disney’s Astro Blasters it’s more about the shooting than the theme.
You lost me with your comment about Diagon Alley signage though. Have you read Harry Potter? Diagon Alley is a wizarding shopping street in the middle of London, hidden from Muggles. So Universal Studios recreated a portion of London, and true to the books, has you walk through an otherwise generic, hidden brick wall to enter. Any signage at all would destroy the illusion! Wizards don’t need to be pointed to Diagon Alley, and Muggles shouldn’t know that it exists in the first place.
Yeah.. After a few of the 3d rides, it was obviously super gimmicky. The motion simulators were kinda lame.. not so much the ones where you actually move, though. those were good. Seuss landing was just… I felt like I was 2 again! Good lord. That was more my childhood than anything disney. Even so, I am only 13, so take my words with a grain of salt. The coasters were better than disney ones. Though disney did have some unique rides. Harry potter-World was just.. so immersive. Wow. Wait.. this is a comment, not a love letter to universal! Dang, I should probably stop typing now. Ok.
Never been to Orlando before but we are hoping to go next year (2018). We are thinking about October half-term as it sound as though the weather is still good and the queues are shorter. Our two kids will be 12 and 10 by then. We love Alton Towers and Lightwater Valley in the UK and even though my youngest can get a bit freaked at the scariest rides, I just feel from the comments that Universal sounds like it will suit them best.
I’m also guessing that if we are only going for 7 nights we should decide between Disney or Universal, as trying to do both is just unrealistic in one week.
I’d also be interested in what else we might be able to squeeze in – for example if we allocated say 3 or 4 days for the Universal Parks, is it realistic to fit in things like Busch Gardens; Kennedy Space Centre; a power boat ride.
I’m also worried about the cost of food – is it better to pre-buy some of the available packages or just go with the flow?
Sorry – lots of questions!
Eric Stoen says
I wouldn’t do seven days at either Universal or Disney. Everything is close enough so that you can mix and match and hit all of the things that appeal to your family. You could spend three nights at Universal, doing two to three days in the parks, and then switch to a Disney hotel for four nights, going to a couple parks. Both Disney and Universal are a little over an hour from Kennedy so it’s an easy day trip from either. Just don’t go too crazy with theme parks. I wouldn’t want to do 6 or 7 days straight in parks. Do the space center or something else in the middle to break it up.
I’ve never done a dining plan anywhere. We’re not soda drinkers so that’s not a savings, and there are always restrictions. I can’t see that it would save you a lot of money, and it would likely be annoying having to search out the included restaurants. I’d go with the flow.
Josh Vignevic says
Disney has some of the best dining options in Orlando. There are literally hundreds of restaurants ranging from quick service to 5 course upscale restaurants. The atmosphere and food at every table service restaurant is unique and never disappoints. The restaurant choices at CityWalk just seemed like your run of the mill corporate eateries. We had scheduled 2 days for universal while we were in Disney and managed to do everything that both parks had to offer in 1 day. Good thing we didn’t book a week there. Some of the rides were decent but the overall vibe of the parks made the feel just like an amusement park. Didn’t really compare to the Disney Magic. The food choices for lunch were average and didn’t compare at all to the wide range of choices at Disney. All in all, Universal is fun for a day or two but Disney by far has the upper hand.
Eric Stoen says
Great to know that things are improving. I still associate the parks with bad pizza, unhealthy options like churros everywhere, and unripe prepackaged mango, and when I think of Disney Springs I picture chain restaurants like Rainforest Cafe, House of Blues, Wolfgang Puck, and places that are more about theme than good food (T-Rex). You didn’t mention any specific restaurants. Where are your favorite places? If you are at WDW, what are the three best restaurants for food (not theme) within the park or walking distance?
Disney Springs dinning options have chains and upscale unique dinning options.
Morimotos (Disney Springs) is AMAZING. It is the one we have to do every time we are there
The Boathouse (Disney Springs) is AMAZING
Raglan Road has great food and adult entertainment
Paddlefish is new and we had the lobster bake. It was AMAZING
The Edison just opened and I hear good things. Steampunk inspired atmosphere.
Eric Stoen says
Awesome, thank you for the recommendations Jamie!
After going to Universal I can’t help but feel like a second class citizen. Those who can afford a fass pass, get on all rides immediately, the rest of us, end up standing in line for 1-2hrs. At Disney, everyone, regardless of income, can get fast passes.
Eric Stoen says
I’ve never paid for express passes – simply gotten them for free from our hotels. It will be interesting to see how this changes going forward. Any theme park’s goal is to have equal demand for rides, so that each ride is constantly busy without long queues. Universal’s Volcano Bay doesn’t have fast passes or (theoretically) lines, so everyone is equal – enter the virtual queue and then return when it’s your turn to ride. With parks integrating ride data with apps more and more, at some point there will be a perfect system where there’s not a need for fast passes.
Eric, you never paid for fast passes because you got them from the hotel? Where were you staying? It wasn’t Cabana Bay, because they don’t offer fast passes. If you stayed at one of the higher up Universal hotels, like the Royal Pacific or Hard Rock, then you most certainly did pay for the fast passes as they are added to the price of your stay. These hotels are very expensive when compared to those that don’t offer the fast pass with your stay. At Disney you can stay at their lowest priced lodging like All Star Resorts even the the Disney Campground and you get fast passes. Are you staying at an off property site that is offering Universal fast pass as some type of incentive? Because if you’re not I think saying you’ve never paid for fast pass at universal is misleading.
Eric Stoen says
Always nice to get passive-agressive comments from people who don’t use their real names. I’ll respond anyway.
First, Universal doesn’t have fast passes. It has express passes. They’re different. Express passes let you go to the front of virtually every line without planning ahead. You can jump between the parks and go on any rides you want, whenever you want. Fast pass access though comes with any Disney ticket (to the best of my knowledge) and means you can return to selected rides at pre-reserved times. I’ll take express passes over fast passes based on the flexibility and the fact that they can be used on far more rides than fast passes can.
Second, I’m not misleading. I talk about the five on-site Universal hotels in this post, and discuss which hotels include express passes in room prices.
Third, “very expensive” is relative, and the math certainly works in favor of staying at any onsite hotel that offers express passes. I just ran prices for a 3-night stay on random dates in April. Cabana Bay, Universal’s (current) lowest-priced hotel, is $148/night. Loews Royal Pacific Resort, the lowest-priced hotel with 2-park express passes, is $274/night. Of course it’s a nicer property, but even if you assign zero value to staying somewhere nicer, that makes the difference $126/night. For a family of four, that makes the express pass price $31.50/person. That’s compared to $85 or so if you buy them separately.
If there’s an equivalent deal at Disney, please let me know what it is – i.e. an on-site hotel (short walking distance to a park) that lets you skip the lines on almost every ride for $274/night or less. To me that’s a good deal.
I was just at Cabana less than one month ago. I don’t know about when you went, but they totally did give us free express passes. I don’t know, maybe it was because we were staying in a relatively new tower next t othe main building? IDK just, my experience was different. I
Eric Stoen says
I can’t confirm that Express Passes are ever included with rooms at Cabana Bay. Are you sure they weren’t part of a package you purchased?
Obviously this was from four years ago, but now Disney is releasing their Genie pass to replace FastPass. It’s $15-$20 a day per person, and you have to purchase it each day of your trip. So, I guess Disney’s going for the same cash grab as all the other theme parks.
Eric Stoen says
And pretty sure none of the onsite hotels will provide them to guests for free – even the more premium hotels. The landscape keeps changing. For the record, we still prefer Universal.
My husband and I hve been annual passholders for both. We were first passholders for Universal/IOA, mainly because of Harry Potter. It was amazing as to how much detail they’ve put in! I literally felt like I was stepping into the book pages. And the rides were geared towards more mature riders, which is another reason I didn’t want to go to Disney at the time. We loved Transformers, Spiderman, Mummy, etc. And, I’m sorry but Men In Black over Buzz Lightyear any day (kids enjoy it as much, but adults enjoy it more!).
That being said, after a year of going to Universal/IOA, we did reach a point of “been there, done that, anything new?” (with the exception of Harry Potter, because I never grow tired of it). That being said, we are Floridians, so please take that into account since that allowed us to go multiple times. Plus a lot of their newer rides are starting to look the same, a lot of the same format as Transformer/Spiderman/Gringotts.
Since Universal raises their annual pass price SIGNIFICANTLY over the last 2 years (from around $178 to what it is now), we had to compare the price option. For about even less, we opted for Disney’s weekday annual pass. Now, this doesn’t allow us to go on weekends (keep this in mind, since I think that pass that does let you go on the weekend is more expensive or about the same as universal), but it works for our work schedule, and less lines on weekdats.
That said, I find Disney to be an amazing experience! First of all, they put the same attention to detail to everything as Universal did for Harry Potter (which is (although I agree it bites when it is in construction) why it takes longer to build. Pandora/Land of Avatar is just amazing and it glows at night, not to mention that Flight of Passage really made you feel as if you’re flying into that world. There are 4 parks to choose from and each are unique. We’ve gone to Disney twice as much already as we did for the whole year we had our annual passes at Universal, and we still feel like we are nowhere near to having done/seen everything. Our main reason of not going to Disney years ago out of fear that it will all be kiddie rides is also gone. Epcot is the perfect place to adults, with rides like Mission Space, Soarin, and Test Track. Not to mention that around the world Food & Wine Festival. I like that the $20 parking is free with my annual pass, which Universal doesn’t offer with their basic annual pass. I also loved my magic band. We stayed at a WDW resort and literally didn’t carry anything but our magic bands (and one cellphone) because it was our ticket, room key, credit card, and we didnt need a car to get anywhere since continuous shuttles are available to take us hotel to park to park. And we have fastpasses included with every admission ticket. You get 3 ahead of time, the after you use it, you get to use one at a time as much as you want. We didnt have to pay for an extra day express pass like in Universal. There’s something magical about Disney, and I don’t think you have to overplan it to get it. The only planning we do is picking which 3 rides to pick for our first 3 fastpasses the day before and it takes 2 seconds on our phone. I think people just overplan or feel like they have to overplan because there is so much more to see and they all want to do it or feel like they have to do it in 1-2 days (which is possible for Universal, but not for Disney). I agree that the food/price option is better at Universal and that you have to pay a premium for good food at Disney (can’t argue there). Also, each park at Disney have great nighttime spectacular attractions – Happily Ever After at Magic Kingdom, Illuminations at Epcot, Star Wars and Fantastmic at Hollywood Studios, Rivers of Light and Tree of Life Awakings at Animal Kingdom. Universal only has the Cinematic one which doesn’t even compare. Universal definitely allows us to have less exhausting days compared to Disney because the two parks are within walking distance of each other, even made easier by the Hogwarts express. Meanwhile, it takes a lot of energy to hop park to park at Disney.
Overall, honestly, I like them both, they each have their strengths and weaknesses. Like I said, I’ve been an annual passholder for both and we feel like we haven’t even come close to seeing all of Disney. My opinion is, take it for what it’s worth, if you are going for a few days and want to see everything, go to Universal because if you expect to do that with Disney, it will be a frustrating and unmagical day (just not doable). That said, with a Disney annual pass, it is fantastic! We honestly just switch back and forth. With the arrival of 3 more upcoming Harry Potter rides, we’re getting ready to switch back, but when Star Wars land is completed, we’ll switch back again, and so on. They’re both great on their own accords. But don’t rule out Disney too quick, because it’s awesome too! Oh and on a random note, I wore my Hogwarts tee at Disney and got stopped multiple times by Disney staff complimenting me and asking me which Hogwarts house I’m in. One even told me that she was a Ravenclaw!
Eric Stoen says
Thank you for the amazingly balanced review! Everything you said makes sense. I’ve never been impressed with Epcot since, well, everything is a bland stereotype of really amazing places and I’d far rather travel to those places than see the fake versions. But I’ve heard great things about the Food & Wine Festival. And I’d love to see Avatar. I’ll be in Orlando this weekend – maybe I’ll try to head over.
I agree with most of this except food. Disney has every kind of food you can imagine, from Norwegian to African.
Eric Stoen says
That’s great if their food has improved, but you’re only mentioning cuisines. What are the best Disney restaurants and where are they?
Tara W. says
I love Disney World but do agree that planning is very important to having a magical experience. Our initial trip as a family left us with kids crying and my husband vowing to never go again. I relaxed some of my hyper energy and we tried a variety of different things on our next couple of trips to cut some costs mostly. This allowed me not be to a fixated on getting everything in. We later tried out staying onsite again and getting the meal plan and making reservations for every meal in advance. We have a lot of allergies and Disney does an awesome job of meeting our needs, primarily at the table dining restaurants. Now we economize differently- we camp at Fort Wilderness, we eat 1 or 2 meals at restaurants each day with reservations, we stay longer with at least one relax day. We also use our fast passes and think of every additional attraction as a bonus. I’ve been thinking we need to try out Universal and therefore have been reading up on it and found this review. I’m not sure that the universal experience will give us more of what we most enjoy at Disney. Disney restaurant suggestions were asked for a few times so here are my favorites:
Epcot- Le Cellier for steak
Animal Kingdom- Tusker House buffet with African specialties for brunch- reserve at 10;30 to get both breakfast and lunch choices
Hollywood Studios- Mama Melrose’s- Italian with good gluten free options and all natural sangria
Magic Kingdom area- O’Hana- family style meal
Eric Stoen says
Thanks Tara! That’s all great information.
My boyfriend and I will have two full days in Orlando and I’m having such a hard time deciding! I’m not into big roller coasters so we might be able to get through Universal in one day…? That would only leave one day for Disney but we’ve been to CA and Paris Disney in the past few years. We could go straight to the unique areas like Avatar. Thoughts?
Eric Stoen says
There’s no right answer. From a financial perspective it usually makes more sense to spend two days somewhere, and get two-day tickets, than to split your time between Disney and Universal. If you like Harry Potter you could easily spend two days at Universal, and there’s a lot to do beyond coasters, but Disney also has some unique elements like Avatar and Epcot, so there wouldn’t be a lot of overlap with Anaheim and Paris. I’d pick either Disney or UOR, and then visit again at some point and do the other for a couple days. We’ve always liked Universal better obviously, but we also haven’t been to Avatar yet. Sorry I can’t tell you which to choose!
Thank you for this blog, very useful
We are taking our first vacation to disney (family of four – 8 & 9yr olds). We just finished looking at all the theme parks, and it seems as though both Disney and Universal have something for all members of our family.
Disney: Magic Kingdom and Hollywood studios seem to be the favorites…with a love for epcot’s cora reef
Universal: all three parks
We are thinking of a 7 night stay
– Do you recommend a split stay? or, stay at one location and take a shuttle?
– Do you recommend doing both Disney and Universal in one week? or are we going to burn out
– Do you recommend, a full day at either magic kingdom or Hollystudios, followed by the coral reef in the evening? or is this too much?
– Does each park need a full day?
– accommodations: i like the idea of having the hotel pay for the fast or express pass (especially when it means it will cost less in the long run)
What accomodations do you recommend at Disney and Universal?
Eric Stoen says
Hi John. Seven nights should be perfect. You can definitely do both Disney and Universal in a week, but don’t spend every day in the parks. Take a break in the middle for a day. I’ve stayed at Universal and commuted to Disney, and stayed at Disney and commuted to Universal. That’s far cheaper now with Uber. In the past the Mears transportation monopoly meant paying $60+ to go between parks. Now it’s under $20 with Uber. Even so, I’d split your time – do 3-4 nights at Disney, take a day off and change hotels and enjoy the pools, and then do a few nights at Universal. Or vice versa.
I’m not an expert on Disney so I can’t answer those questions. For Universal you don’t need a full day at each park, but we definitely enjoy going for 2-3 days and moving among the parks throughout each day – going to Diagon Alley every day, for example.
At Universal only three hotels include the express passes. I have a post on visiting Universal (https://travelbabbo.com/universal-orlando-tips/) where I talk about the hotels. I’d go for the Hard Rock Hotel, but they all have pros and cons.
I just got a vacation package for my mom and siblings to go to universal studios for the very first time, I’m really excited about harry potter and volcano bay, we’re also planning to go to sea world afterwards.
unfortunately we will only be there for 2 days, I hope 2 days is enough to explore most of the thrilling rides at universal studios
Eric Stoen says
Two days is fine. In August we’re going back and just spending two days. We’ll probably just do the two main parks, but it’s easy to head to Volcano Bay for half a day too and still do a lot of the rides at Universal and Islands.
I’m trying to plan a trip for my family to go to either Disney World or Universal for my 4 yr old’s 5 bday , He’s not all into Mickey that much but I was loving the fact that Disney had the meal plans and that I wouldn’t have to rent a car. My family includes Myself , My child’s father and our 4 children ages 4, 12, 13,14. 3 boys and a girl who is 14. The older ones are definitely not into Disney . I’m trying to way out my options my oldest children say Universal can you help me we are going July 25th ,2018 to July 29th ,2018
Eric Stoen says
We never rent a car in Orlando, but we always stay at on-site hotels, or at least hotels with park shuttles. Universal could be a great option given the ages of your kids. I can’t help with specific trip planning, but my post on Universal may have things that can help you? https://travelbabbo.com/universal-orlando-tips/
Thk you so much we have taking a family vote and we have picked universal your blog and this website really helped us with our decision.
Eric Stoen says
Have a great trip! When you get back please let me know if you liked it or not!
Rita Ross says
Curious about staying at the Four Seasons Orlando if we are planning to be at Universal for most, if not all of the trip. We have a 9 and (almost) 6 year old who could easily be swayed by a pool and water slide in lieu of a water park for a day, so I love the idea of the Four Seasons.
Also, I discovered your blog about a week ago and have basically read every post- amazing info as we begin to plan some serious family vacations. The English teacher in me also appreciates your attention to grammatical detail. 🙂
Thanks for all the great info. Enjoy your summer of travel ahead!
Eric Stoen says
Thanks Rita – I had a great English teacher in high school! I try not to make mistakes, and it drives me crazy when I read other blogs and there are grammatical errors.
Your question about FS Orlando is one that I wrestle with as well. We love staying onsite at Universal since the hotels are good and it’s really convenient to be able to run back to the room in the middle of the day for downtime. Plus the Express Passes are a great bonus. But FS Orlando is one of our favorite hotels in the country and I’m always tempted to stay there and Uber the 20 minutes or so each way. Since there’s no easy answer, I’d split your time. Stay onsite at Universal for 2-3 nights, enjoy the parks, and then move over to Four Seasons for your last day or two. If you check out of your Universal hotel (presumably cheaper) in the morning, go straight to FS. Even if your room isn’t available yet you can enjoy the pool all day.
Rushikesh Joshi says
I am not sure why we need to compare two parks, both of them are for different age groups, but yes my +1 will go to Disney or you are saying WDW. There are lots of things for all ages at Disney. I was Annual pass holder of WDW for 3 years in a raw and recently started Annual membership for UOR.
Why I have big +1 for Disney
Long years back people used to say “Disney is Orlando and Orlando is Disney”, Disney got a big land for their business (It is a different story about land acquisition and we are not talking about it 🙂 ).
– They arranged things nicely, their all parks are for the specific purpose.
– They have nice parking spaces, I have never seen any chaos at parking even in peak seasons also their arrangments goes well.
– Their staff overall nicely and are very informal with a big smile on their face.
– Their parades (I am so sorry that their world famous electric parade has been discontinued ) but still other parades are amazing to see and you will feel the different world.
– They covered almost all ages, even in Florida Summer you will not feel that bad into WDW.
– Their attractions are more of outdoor activities except for few shows and games which required close walls.
– They have extended hours and still 5 years back when we visited 1st time 12 in the midnight we wanted to have more time to stay there.
Downsides at Disney
– A teenager, especially a boy will feel bored there, he might think WDW is feminist as you will see all fairy and fairytales, but then there are few amazing rides like Space Mountain, 7 Dwarf Mind, Rock and Roll, train, Avatar, Everest, Sorin these will keep your teen busy.
– Food, there is something Disney should seriously think of it. In name of the food, they have only a few options available. Also, overall food is quite expensive at WDW.
– Their merchandise, those are over expensive, name it a ballon selling at 17$ to a small Monorail toy at 25$ and list goes on.
– They discontinued Electrical Parade, bring it back.
Why I have a boo for UOR
– They designed parks in Orlando downtown area which itself is so overcrowded nowadays, this gave them a very limited space.
– Their parking is multistoried and single parking facility for all 3 parks + city walk people, just imagine the scene of parking during closing hours. Two times we spent 1.5 hours just to reach I4 from their parking and decided to leave early now.
– Their staff is not friendly and not approaching you, even if they are seeing you are struggling.
– Their parades are kind of Okay, have seen a lot of time their performers just walking. They are inviting lots of people in their Mardi Gras and who will not love free bead neckless 🙂 )
– There are very limited options for less than 4-year-old kid and below 2 hardly there is anything.
– They don’t have space for future expansion and if they want to add a new attraction, they have to get rid of someone’s favorite one, like recently they are replacing Tornado.
Good things at UOR
– It is close to Orlando Downtown so no need to drive long.
– Their parks are connected to the same parking lot so if you want to change your mind you can still go to the different park.
– They have good food options inside and outside the park and refill on popcorns and drinks keep kids busy.
Both add fun and gives quality time to you and your family.
Both costs money
Both make money
Eric Stoen says
Thanks for all the thoughts. I don’t have any major disagreements, except with saying that UOR staff isn’t friendly. Last year my youngest daughter was in Ollivanders in Diagon Alley and was silent on which wand she wanted, and being incredibly shy with the salesperson. For five minutes we tried to get out of her which wand she wanted. The salesperson was incredible, finally breaking through and getting the information out of her. And then the salesperson walked us all over and bought us three Butterbeers – like $24 worth. The UOR employee had no idea that I write for UOR or was in any way connected to the parks. And I see that all the time. I can’t imagine someone not helping, especially if you’re struggling with something? Where and when did that happen?
Greetings! Thank you for this super informative and “down to earth ‘blog’. So helpful. My daughter and I will be in Orlando for another event in June, we extended our stay an extra day and will have 1 day, a Friday, for the park(s).
We are thinking Universal, but now I am see there are actually 3 parks in Universal. So, my question is… do we choose 1 or do 2? The two we are looking at are Universal Studios and Island of Adventure (both Harry Potter fans). Thoughts? My daughter is 16, we are both long legged and agile if that helps insights.
thank you! 🙂
Eric Stoen says
Two! If you’re only there for a day skip Volcano Bay and get a 1-day, 2-park ticket. I’d start at whichever park opens earlier, enjoy Harry Potter there, and then take the Hogwarts Express to the other park (you can only take the train if you have a 2-park ticket). Enjoy! It truly is magical the first time – or, in my case, the 15th time!
Thank you Eric! This is what our gut is telling us too. Do you have any insights on ‘express passes’ vs going in the ‘single rider lines’? We don’t actually have a huge budget but are weighing benefits of time and being able to enjoy each Harry Potter ride. We are okay to not ‘see it all’ and realize that is probably unrealistic in a day anyway, but we do want to get the most out of our day.
thanks again for any insights you may have to share.
Eric Stoen says
The only single rider lines that I’ve done are at the Harry Potter rides, since those didn’t have Express Pass access until last year. If normal lines were 40 minutes or so, it seemed like the single rider lines were 20 minutes, and now that you can use Express Passes, you can usually get on in under 10. That’s not scientific by any means though. If there are a lot of school groups, like in May, the single rider lines take a lot longer since the school groups in the normal lines use up all of the seats.
Next time I go to the parks I’m going to test this on a few more rides. For you, I don’t have a recommendation either way, but if you want to save the money then single rider lines could work well and save you some time. I just don’t know how much time.
Thanks Eric! We are going to go for the single rider line option. It will be an experiment that will hopefully pay off for us. Thank you for all your insights!
Tracy Hamlin says
I just returned from a week long trip to Orlando, where my husband, myself, and our 18 year old son celebrated his high school graduation. We have always gone to Disney, never Universal, but decided as Harry Potter fans that we were obliged to visit!
We got 6 single day base tickets. This is expressly because of cost. We visited IOA and US, taking a day for each park. I will preface this post by saying that we are a Disney family, raised on all things Disney, so to us, the Magic Kingdom is the pinnacle of what a theme park is.
The City Walk area is truly gorgeous, most especially at night. Everyone and every thing funnels into it, then splits off from there.
The three parks are adjacent.
Harry Potter area is spectacular in both parks. Every attention to detail was paid.
Go for the interactive wand at $50. There are places throughout both parks to cast spells with said wand.
Seuss Landing was my favorite. It was unbelievable.
The $15 cups with free refills every 10 minutes? Genius.
The food is less expensive than Disney, but a piece of pizza for $18 is still a ripoff. Bring snacks with you into the park.
They allow strollers, carts, all sorts of things that were NOT allowed when we were in Disney parks two years ago. They also have parking for these vehicles.
We did single rider lines where available and walked right in to most rides.
Child Swap was an effective tool that is genius.
Interaction with cast members at HP area is so easy. This is not Disney, where you have to stand on line and cannot interact with the characters once you get to meet them. It’s an easier vibe.
The layout at US and IOA is like Ikea…so easy to follow.
Yes, the parks are more action-oriented, but they are all, for the most part, THE SAME RIDE. And that ride, for the people like me who tend to become motion sick easily, is not a good thing.
Unlike Disney, you can cover these parks very quickly. It’s less than a day’s worth of stuff unless you want to repeat the rides.
Without a park to park ticket, the Hogwart’s Express is basically $60 more per person. It is an 11 minute ride. In our estimation, totally NOT worth it unless you are jumping from park to park.
On our trip, it seemed as though most of the folks had express passes.
The rides do NOT fit all body types. And it appears in some cases an arbitrary system of measurement. Beware if you have broad shoulders and like Harry Potter… you can’t ride the rides once you get there.
The verdict for me and my family:
I prefer Disney’s Magic Kingdom while the 18 year old says IOA is more his style.
Hope this gives you a perspective from someone who just got home from the trip!
Eric Stoen says
Thanks Tracy! That’s a great recap, and it’s nice to get feedback from someone who hasn’t been to UOR before.
My family and I have been to both Disney and Universal, and all of us are in agreement that we enjoy Universal far more. I am so happy to hear that we are not the only ones. The food is so much better, and they have healthier options that are more accessible than they were when we went to Disney. The rides are aimed at all ages. Also, we stay at the Royal Pacific on site and get express passes, which can now be used on Harry Potter rides. It cuts down on the wait time. The distance between rides is not as long as it is at Disney. I also love how quickly they build rides there. Disney takes longer so by the time the ride is built the movies have been out for many many years. Overall, Universal was just a better experience for us. I think people should try both at some point in their lives and form their own opinions, but for us Universal will always be a step above.
Eric Stoen says
Thanks for the thoughts Kasie! I completely agree. But people do make a good point that a lot of Universal’s rides are starting to feel the same. Do a lot of the motion simulator rides blend together for you, or do some stand out?
My family is planning a trip to Orlando for next May. We are debating whether to hit up Universal or WDW. I have 5 teen/young adults and a 2 y/o grandchild that will be on the trip. 4 of which have never been to a large theme park (we have a local small theme park). Some of the kids do not like coasters and we’re not big Harry Potter fans. I was initially thinking Universal would be a better fit. Now I’m wondering I’d Universal would be entertaining for the part of my group that’s not into HP or roller coasters? Also wondering if there are things to entertain the 2 y/o while others are riding in Universal?
Thanks for your help.
Eric Stoen says
There’s no right answer. Disney skews younger, so the 2-year-old would likely be happier there. Universal has Seuss Landing, which is great for young kids, but most rides are definitely for older kids. I’d put it to a vote. Let the kids go online and check out both parks, and see what they want to do. It’s also not difficult to do both, depending on how long your trip is. Spend a couple days at Disney and a couple at Universal.
Sydney Buchsbaum says
Two things you didn’t mention, single rider lines, and child swap. If all your kids are at least 12, don’t get a front of the line pass. The single rider line is free and is usually a similar wait. You won’t sit with your party, but you’ll usually be on the same cart. There’s no single rider for the 4d shows though, so do those in the morning when lines are short. The second thing is childswap. If you have at least 2 adults and 1 little kid you can still do thrill rides. You all wait in line together and then they have a child swap room where one parent (or teen) goes and then they switch. I also like how Universal has AC in a lot of the waiting areas. In California do Disney, but in Orlando Universal gives you way more bang for your buck.
Eric Stoen says
I’ve always had better luck with express passes than single rider lines, especially with Harry Potter rides, but obviously there’s a cost factor. That’s a great point that people can get much of the same benefit by going single. And yes, we love the child swap system and use it all the time. Definitely better than Disney – even the Disney folks usually agree on that point!
Duane Adrian says
August 27, 2018
I have been to DisneyWorld Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, EPCOT and Disney Hollywood Studios. I like DisneyWorld Magic Kingdom and Disney Hollywood Studios the BEST. DisneyWorld parks cost $102 to $119 depending on which park you want to go to. I did not care about EPCOT because it did not have too many rides and Animal Kingdom was mostly like going to a ZOO. I did go to Universal Studios and I like the connected 2 parks. But is cost $170 plus TAX per person. I liked all the rides and the setup. The only advice I have for anyone. Go to these places Monday thru Thursday. It is CHEAPER and not so many people. Friday thru Sunday is too crowded and more expensive. Food is expensive at DisneyWorld Parks and at Orlando Universal Studios.
Eric Stoen says
Agree on the days to go. But why are you comparing Disney’s one-park price to Universal’s two-park price? Seems deceptive. They’re not that different if you compare apples and apples.
Going to universal next November 3rd-8th. We have been to Disney several times but our kids are older and we want something different. My question is, what are the crowds like normally the first week in November ? When pricing we could stay at cabana bay for about 1,000$ less with no express passes of course. What are your thoughts for universal in November?
Eric Stoen says
Should be a really good time to visit. Halloween Horror Nights runs until November 3rd. At that point it’s going to be quiet until Thanksgiving break.
Pam White says
Thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate the information you have shared. We are big Disney World fans but I really feel like Universal will not disappoint. Do you have some favorite restaurants you can recommend? Will we need to make reservations for sit down table service as we do at Disney?
Eric Stoen says
The only restaurant we make reservations at regularly is Mama Della’s at Portofino Bay – probably the best restaurant at Universal. Other favorites are Cowfish, Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Antojitos. Toothsome doesn’t take reservations, but most do: https://www.universalorlando.com/web/en/us/plan-your-visit/dining-experiences/reservations/index.html?le=cs. It can’t hurt to book, although it limits your flexibility in the parks a little.
I might be minority here but I agree with people saying that Universal is dirty. Also, from the minute we got there we were yelled at by workers yelling at everyone trying to show people where to go. I felt like we just got to a military base or something. It was so shocking and opposite of Disney that we almost turned around. I couldn’t believe that we are paying for THIS!
We also miss free passes that Disney does and had to spend $900 for one day of fast passes for 5 people after standing 2 hours in one line. Once we got to Harry Potter area we couldn’t get bitterer because the line was 1 hour long, we couldn’t step into any of stores. So our Harry Potter experience was just walking through with crowds. On the positive, our teenage kids loved all the rides. I couldn’t handle rides and had my eyes closed on each ride 90% of the time. I personally like how nice and friendly and pretty and clean Disney is.
We purchased annual pass for Disney and we never went back to Universal, that is pretty much a button line, we let money talk louder than words and our money go to Disney.
Eric Stoen says
I completely agree that Disney is clean. One week we made the mistake of going to LEGOLAND California after Disneyland, and likewise felt like it was filthy. Nothing compares to Disney. I’ve never felt like Universal was that dirty though, or crowded, and we’ve definitely never been yelled at. What day was this?
And FYI, if you were staying at one of the three higher-end onsite hotels, you would get Express Passes for free. Geez – you could have walked over to Royal Pacific Resort, paid $350 for a room that you didn’t need, and you would have gotten four Express Passes good for your day of arrival and day of departure.
I can agree with the first two points, the third was iffy — Disney does a great job of catering to all ages. But I couldn’t disagree more with the last two points. Disney is known for some of their great food. You must not be eating at the right places if you can’t find good food at the WDW theme parks; there’s great food all over the place. In contrast, I haven’t always been impressed with some of the more quick-service-type places at UOR. It’s not bad, just not great. We do love Margaritaville and HRC at UOR. And we have just as good a time at WDW as we do at UOR. We feel that both places have their charms. We love Harry Potter and we love Star Wars and Aladdin too. The Harry Potter attractions impress the heck out of us, but UOR is still behind WDW in customer service and overall experience. The music, the smells, the deco – it all works together so well. We have an appreciation for both places, and will be visiting both this July.
Eric Stoen says
And you mentioned the only two places at UOR that I don’t think are good – Margaritaville and HRC. IMO, just bland chain restaurants on par with Rainforest Cafe. If you haven’t tried the more unique places at Citywalk, I’d highly recommend it.
I absolutely hated Universal. Me and my sister wanted to never go back. We’ve visited Disney 8 times and every time has been better than the last. The longest we’ve waited it line was 45 minutes. At Universal studios it stank of vomit, urine and just disgust smells in general. At Disney everywhere smelled lovely and the food was cheaper and tasted better. We also had breakfast with Cinderella and I’ll never forget it. I want to forget Universal Studios. The staff were so unpleasant to me and my family and there was littler absolutely everywhere. We went on a Wednesday and we went to Disney on a weekend and the place was spotless and absolutely magic. My sister cried leaving Disney because she loved it but cried on the way back from Universal studios because we could have gone to magic kingdom instead. The staff at Universal wouldn’t refund us when we spent a damn 2,000 dollars on tickets and had an awful experience. I’m willing to give it another go but nothing will change the stench of that place. We paid 19,000 dollars on the holiday in total including plane tickets and park tickets.
Eric Stoen says
This comment makes me incredibly sad. Not because you had a bad experience at Universal, but because Universal and Disney don’t matter! They’re theme parks. They’re not worth $19,000. They’re make believe. Instead of seeing Cinderella’s castle, you could have seen real castles in Europe. Instead of going on the Jungle Cruise, you could have taken a boat through the Amazon Rain Forest in Brazil. You could have skipped the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and seen London and all of England for that matter. You would eat better too. Next time I’d highly recommend taking your $19,000 and buying plane tickets to literally anywhere in the world other than Orlando or Anaheim.
you have brain damage if you think universal food is better than disney.
Eric Stoen says
Hi Isabella. That comment isn’t helpful. If you have the knowledge to comment in the first place, please give everyone a little insight as to what’s behind your opinion. Helping people is always better than being a troll. What are the best places to eat at Disney World or Disneyland? Which restaurants would you suggest people stay away from at Universal?