Need vacation planning advice quickly? Join our Facebook group and get your questions answered!
Skip to Content

Disney World vs. Universal Studios: Which One Is Right For You?

Disney World vs. Universal Studios: Which One Is Right For You?

While Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando are two very different parks, it’s nearly impossible not to compare them. These two major theme parks are just down the road from each other and are the largest theme parks in the country. You have probably asked yourself at least once, “which park is right for my family?”

The truth is that the answer of Disney World vs. Universal Studios is going to look different for every family, so here at WDW Vacation Tips, we break it down so you can make the decision to pick which park is right for your family!

Background on Both Parks

Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World opened the Magic Kingdom in 1971 and has since grown to 4 separate theme parks and 1 shopping district. The 4 parks include the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Disney Springs is Walt Disney World’s free entertainment and shopping district.

Disney parks are mainly focused on family and family-friendly attractions to promote magic and togetherness. Each park features a few thrill rides, but you won’t find more attractions for the entire family than in Disney World. Known for the most intricate details, Imagineers bring magic to life.

Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Studios Orlando opened in 1991 and is comprised of 2 parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. These parks focus on thrills and fun. Universal Studios pushes the envelope on danger and excitement. This also means higher height requirements for most rides.

Comparing the Thrills of Disney World vs. Universal Studios

Disney World

With rides like Space Mountain, Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Twlight Zone Tower of Terror, and more, Disney World is definitely a player in the thrills market. What makes their thrill rides unique is the clever engineering to keep the height requirements much lower than the average thrill ride.

The highest height requirement in Walt Disney World is 48” and that is for the only roller coaster that goes upside down, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Height requirements in Disney vary from 38” to 48”, so people of many ages can ride thrill rides.

Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Studios Orlando likes to push their guests outside of their comfort zones with straight drops and zipping speeds. They also specialize in 3D simulator technology that can put your body into scenarios that you never thought possible. (Do yourself a favor and take an anti-nausea before visiting just to ensure that you have a great time!).

Rides can get so intense that many like Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure, HULK, The Mummy, Velocicoaster, and more actually require guests to store absolutely EVERYTHING in lockers beforehand. Don’t stress about this step – The small lockers are free to use and Universal has made the process pretty seamless.

Universal Studios is a thrill seekers dream come true. With all of the thrill, however, comes very high height requirements, eliminating many of its younger guests. All but 2 rides in Universal Studios Orlando have a height requirement of some sort, this even includes the Dr. Seuss area. The tallest height requirement is 54”.

PSA – This is our Public Service Announcement to not fake your child’s height to get on a ride. If they are not tall enough that means it is not safe for them to ride. No attraction is worth risking your child’s health and safety.

Child Swap

Disney World

Disney World offers child swap as a way for more people to enjoy their vacations. If you have members in your party that are not tall enough to ride a particular attraction, or just don’t want to, guests can visit the Cast Member attending the ride to use “Child Swap”. This allows part of your party to wait in the queue while you wait with the child, and when they get off of the ride you get to walk up the Lightning Lane line, essentially skipping right at the front.

This means that in Disney World, children using Child Swap do their waiting outside of the line. No one under the allotted height can be in the queue line. We recommend getting a smoothie, playing with some bubbles, or check out the nearest merchandise shop.

Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Studios operates their Child Swap system a little differently. Instead of arranging it with a Cast Member and waiting outside of the attraction, the entire party waits in the queue together. Once you reach the end of the line, the non-riding guests go to a Child Swap room, and your party just takes turn riding and staying with the child.

What is really unique about how Universal does this is that they theme their Child Swap rooms! The rooms are themed to the ride, so the Child Swap room in Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journal is very castle-like and is playing the Harry Potter movies, whereas the room in the Fast and the Furious features magnetic racing cars to play with, including Dom’s car!

Immersive Lands

Disney World

Disney World vs. Universal Studios: Which One Is Right For You? 2

Disney Imagineering is unmatched when it comes to land immersion. Only in Disney can you travel to space, back in time, and around the world all in the same day. Particularly impressive is Disney’s Pandora in Animal Kingdom. This land is home to 2 attractions, a snack stand, and a quick service restaurant, and will make you completely forget that you are in the middle of Florida. This land truly comes alive! There are sights, sounds, smells, and things to touch. Watch out for those flowers! Pandora is also the home of one of Walt Disney World’s most popular attractions that uses 3D simulator technologies to transform you into an avatar and take you to fly on a Banshee. The Imagineers created a way for the guests to feel the Banshee’s breath between your legs. It’s wild and amazing!

Universal Studios Orlando

Disney World vs. Universal Studios: Which One Is Right For You? 3

Universal Studios Orlando is home to perhaps the most immersive theme park lands in the world – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Any fan of the wizarding franchise will be absolutely blown away at the depth of detail and the skill to completely replicate the land to mimic what we saw in the movies. Well done, Universal.

Walking into Diagon Alley you will forget about everything else. Here you can even purchase a wand and do magic like all of the other witches and wizards while enjoying a butterbeer. Don’t forget to turn down the dark Knockturn Alley. You will notice that it is not only dark, it’s wet and cold, just like how your would expect a dodgy alley in London, England. Now, that’s dedication!

Fantastic Food Options

Disney World

Disney World vs. Universal Studios: Which One Is Right For You? 4

Over the years Disney has definitely made a name for itself in the food department. They are constantly changing the game of what to expect from theme park food. Sure, you can get hot dogs, hamburgers, and ice cream, but you can also get things like beef wellington, pulled pork jelly donut sandwiches, alcoholic milkshakes, and huge lineup of desserts. The possibilities are endless.

Foodies can have an absolutely amazing time at one of EPCOT’s many festivals. These festivals feature food booths all over World Showcase featuring different small plates of fancy food. You can expect to try things like risotto, prime rib, soft shell crab, and don’t even get us started on the craft beers and fancy cocktails.

There is almost always a festival going on in EPCOT. Throughout the year this is the Festival of the Arts, Flower and Garden Festival, Food & Wine Festival, and Festival of the Holidays.

Universal Studios Orlando

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter absolutely slaps with its food. All of the menu options are dishes mentioned throughout the books. There are dishes like toad in a hole, fish and chips, and shepherd’s pie, drinks like fire whisky, and of course, Butterbeer. All the Butterbeer!

Everyone can enjoy Butterbeer, which is great because it’s practically required for a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. All Butterbeer in Universal Studios is non-alcoholic. There are 3 types, regular, frozen, and hot. All three are combinations of cream soda, butterscotch, and creamy foam. And all very delicious!

Food at the rest of the Universal Studios Orlando parks is not quite as exciting, however. Universal Studios sticks to the main theme park thoroughfare of hamburgers and french fries. There are a few other options sprinkled in there, but in our experience, manage expectations and treat food as fuel everywhere except for the Wizarding World lands in the parks. Harsh, but true.

Live Entertainment

Disney World vs. Universal Studios: Which One Is Right For You? 5

Disney World

Disney World has tons of different live entertainment in each park. From stage shows to nighttime spectaculars, they have something for everyone! Be sure to look up the different show times in the “Entertainment” section of your My Disney Experience App!

Stage Shows

Walt reminds us that it all started with a mouse, and the Magic Kingdom starts each day with the main mouse, Mickey, for a good morning stage show. Mickey and his pals also put on stage shows throughout the day with our favorite princesses and characters teaching us to believe in ourselves and that dreams come true!

Parades

Has there ever been a commercial for Walt Disney World where they didn’t show a parade? What’s more Disney and magical than a parade down Main Street USA. Walt Disney World has different parades and cavalcades throughout the year to match the seasons, but you can always guarantee lots of colors, dancers, and characters galore!

Nighttime Spectaculars

Every night, Disney World hosts a full nighttime spectacular fireworks display with music and projections on Cinderella Castle. While the fireworks show in the Magic Kingdom is the biggest and most popular in Disney World, there are also nighttime shows in all 4 parks!

Animal Kingdom shows short story projections onto the Tree of Life, EPCOT has different music and light shows projected on Spaceship Earth in addition to a major fireworks display over the lagoon, and Hollywood Studios has the newly reimagined Fantasmic!

EPCOT

EPCOT has so many forms of live entertainment that it gets its own category. All over World Showcase you can find live entertainment with singing, dancing, and more from around the world. You may find singers in Germany singing favorite Disney songs in German, or a punk rock band in the UK, the JAMMitors in Canada, and of course whoever is on stage at the American Adventure. There is always something going on around EPCOT.

Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Studios does not try to compete with Disney on their nighttime spectaculars, instead, they went the opposite route.

In their Universal Studios park they play host to the Cinematic Celebration on the water where they combine music, water displays, and projections to pay tribute to some of the greatest movies of all time. You will see scenes from Jurassic Park, Fast and the Furious, Despicable Me, and more.

Islands of Adventure is home to Hogwarts, and at night there is a projection show on Hogwarts Castle. You will hear music and watch scenes from the Harry Potter movies play out. If you get the chance to visit in September or October, things take a darker turn when the Death Eaters take over. The Dark Mark will show in the sky and Death Eaters will literally roam and duel in the streets of Hogsmeade.

After Hours Events

After Hours events are separately ticketed events on select dates so you can enjoy a much less crowded park. These events are usually themed and often enjoy exclusive entertainment, treats, and souvenirs.

 Disney World

Walt Disney World hosts multiple different After Hours events throughout the year. The most popular ones are the seasonal parties, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. In the past, Disney has hosted Villain themed after hours parties, and we can’t wait to see those again! In addition to the themed nights are regular after hours events hosted throughout the year. These are available for the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios.

In addition to much lower crowds than a typical day, each Disney World after hours event comes with free treats! Seriously, eat as much as you want, it’s free! The Halloween party has trick or treating where you can get your weight in free candy, the Christmas party has unlimited free cookies, cocoa, and hot apple cider, and the regular after hours events have unlimited free Mickey Premium Bars, ice cream sandwiches, strawberry pops, popcorn, and soda!

Universal Studios Orlando

Disney World vs. Universal Studios: Which One Is Right For You? 6

Universal Studios is definitely the naughty sister to Disney that is a bit of a bad girl hanging out on the edge. They are famous for their Halloween Horror Nights after hours, which is nothing like anything ever seen in Disney. Halloween Horror Nights is for fans of scary, gory, thrilling horror that loves being scared.

Universal Studios creates elaborate Hollywood worthy sets for haunted houses that they change out each year. These aren’t your mother’s haunted houses either. Let’s just say, bring an extra pair of pants!

In addition to the houses, there are scare zones and entertainment galore. HHN is celebrating more than 30 years of blood, guts, leather, fire, and fear. Obviously, not meant for small children, but all Halloween fans need to go at least once.

Water Parks

Disney World

Walt Disney World has 2 water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. Each park comes with rides, slides, wave pools, and a cool backstory.

Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Studios Orlando has one water park, Volcano Bay. It’s close proximity to the parks and the hotels, plus the use of the special band used to reserve a spot in line, makes this the more easy going water park. Those water slides are no joke, though! One even has a straight drop down!

Resorts at Disney World vs. Universal Studios

Disney World

Disney World vs. Universal Studios: Which One Is Right For You? 7

Disney World has over 30 different resorts to choose from in three different budget categories, ensuring that there is something for every family. Choose from value, moderate, and deluxe and what theme park you want to be closest to start your search.

It’s important to note that while staying on Disney property has many perks like transportation and extra magic hours, depending on the resort, it does come with a hefty price tag. Even the least expensive rooms can cost as much as an expensive hotel off Disney property. Many people choose to stay in what are called “Disney Good Neighbor” hotels to save a little money. Check out our article on some of the best places to stay off-property here.

All Disney World Resorts offer free transportation to all 4 theme parks and Disney Springs. Depending on which resort you stay in you will have access to buses, Skyliner, ferry boats, and the monorail.

Most of the Disney Resorts are about a 10-15 minute bus ride from the parks, unless you stay at one of the deluxe resorts like the Grand Floridian, the Polynesian Village Resort, or one of the EPCOT area resorts like the Boardwalk Inn Resort.

 Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Studios Orlando Resort features 8 different hotels. They are not elaborately themed or as exciting as some Disney Resort hotels, however, they have 2 major components that Walt Disney World Resort hotels just don’t have: Price and proximity.

First of all, we are always amazed at how affordable rooms are at Universal Studios. They are spacious and don’t break the bank. We have stayed in family suites for around $99 per night! Vacations definitely feel more fun when you’re not breaking the bank.

Second, all of Universal Studios properties are so close to the parks that you are there in under 5 minutes. Even the closest resorts in Walt Disney World require 10-15 minutes of walking or monorail time.

Transportation varies based on your resort, but you have buses, ferries, and of course, good old fashioned walking. It never took us longer than 5 minutes to get to the parks from our hotels.

BONUS: Funny Similarities Between Universal Studios and Hollywood Studios

Have you ever noticed just how similar Universal Studios park and Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World are? Have you ever wondered why? Dating back to the very early days of the Walt Disney Company, Disney and Universal have been rivals. When Universal realized just the kind of revenue that Disney was pulling in from their theme parks, they decided to open up their very own theme park based on their hit movies and the process that goes into making them. They had a goal to make guests feel like they were at times behind the scenes of the movie-making process, and at other times actually in the movies.

Now Disney, not to be outmatched at their own game, announced that they, too, would build a movie-themed park. They announced that their Hollywood theme park would have a Disneyfied backstory of the golden era of Hollywood where they would put guests behind the scenes of the movies, into the movies, and experience the glory of Hollywood in its hay day for themselves.

So, who won, Disney World vs. Universal Studios?

Disney World vs. Universal Studios: Which One Is Right For You? 8

Walt Disney World beat Universal in the race to open, opening almost a full year ahead of Universal Studios. Disney’s Hollywood Studios opened May 1, 1989, and Universal Studios opened June 7, 1990.

According to estimated data, Disney’s Hollywood Studios continues to win the race, as it is just a smidge more popular than Universal Studios in attendance. In 2022, an estimated 9,000,000 people visited Universal Studios park, and 11,000,000 visited Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Seeing Double at Disney World and Universal Studios

Disney World vs. Universal Studios: Which One Is Right For You? 9

What is fun is to go to both parks and find similarities to out-do one another. Here are some that we found:

Disney’s Hollywood StudiosUniversal Studios
Handprints at the Chinese TheatreHollywood Walk of Fame
Brown Derby RestaurantBrown Derby (Shoppe)
Indiana Jones Stunt SpectacularBourne Stunt Spectacular
Immersive Cartoon Area: Toy StoryImmersive Cartoon Area: Simpsons
Live Shows: Beauty and the Beast, Frozen, etc.Live Shows: Fear Factor Live, Animal Encounters, Horror Makeup Show, etc.
Music Themed Roller Coaster: Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring AerosmithMusic Themed Roller Coaster: Rip Ride Rockit
Disney World vs. Universal Studios: Which One Is Right For You? 10

Let us know in the comments which is your favorite park to go to!