The biggest debate for anyone going to central Florida is, of course, which park is better, Disney World or Universal Orlando? Each have their devoted fans who will defend their chosen amusement park vehemently. They’ll happily extol those virtues if you want to hear them. However, when it comes down to it, which park is truly the best?
I had the chance to visit both last year when I was down in Florida for a friend’s wedding, and I like to think my experiences were evenly matched. I spent only one day in each park, had insider tips and observations for both, and both parks have something that I loved as a kid. Disney has Tower of Terror and, now, Star Wars, while Universal has Harry Potter.
To be fair, I’m going to break it down by category, so you can decide for yourself. Though, if you ask me, I say go to both!
Disney World or Universal Orlando: Which park is better?
The size of the parks
There’s no getting around it. Disney World is massive. Along with its four main parks, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, EPCOT, and Hollywood Studios, it also has two water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. That’s not to mention Disney Springs, all its various resorts, the boardwalk, and more. Each park is spread out so that it feels like you’re isolated from the others. With the crowds though, sometimes a 20-minute drive can take up to an hour to get in between sites!
Universal Orlando is definitely smaller, and you can easily get around the parks. Its two main parks are Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. There’s also the newly opened waterpark, Volcano Bay, as well as CityWalk, which is an entertainment and restaurant area.
So who wins? Well, it depends.
The thing is, Disney World can be a bit too overwhelming for a single day trip. If you try to fit everything into one day, you’re going to end up exhausted. And, of course, you’ll definitely miss some things. However, if you’re going with a family of younger children, the fact that there’s so much variety will be more exciting.
Universal Orlando is a nice size for a day or two as you can get between the parks easily. However, you probably don’t need a week there to see everything, whereas you could easily spend a week at Disney World and still not see everything.
Both parks are pretty expensive. Disney World costs anywhere from $164-184 for a multi-park pass depending on the day while Universal Orlando is $169 for a 2-for-1 pass.
Also, both (of course) overcharge for food and souvenirs. Disney World sells sequin Minnie Mouse ears for $30, and Universal Orlando sells Harry Potter wands for $50! Did I borrow the former from a friend and buy the latter? Of course, I did.
Winner? It’s a draw.
The ‘thrill’ factor
Now, when I go to an amusement park, I want to feel like my stomach is dropping out. I also want to feel that slight tinge of fear that I might just die. Rollercoasters and thrill rides have always been my favorite rides.
Universal Orlando is by far the winner in this category. While Disney World has some ‘cool’ rides, none of them are thrilling. Pandora is interesting for the details and the virtual reality. However, you’ll never feel like you’re dying. Also if you don’t time your visit right, you could wind up standing in line for 3+ hours!
Universal Orlando, though, has a ton of awesome rides. The Rip Ride Rockit is insane, and with the single rider line, you can probably squeeze in two rides! Even their virtual reality ones are pretty thrilling, like Escape from Gringotts and the Forbidden Journey.
Let’s just put it this way, only one park made me throw-up.
While both parks do a lot to be family-friendly, I will say that Disney World is probably the most family-oriented place I’ve been to… ever. And it shows. There were probably as many strollers in that park as there were people!
Ride-wise, if Universal Orlando takes the thrill factor prize, Disney World gets the prize for being the most kid-friendly. While smaller children will probably have to sit out of some of Universal’s major rides, there are so many options for them in any of Disney’s parks.
Also, Disney World’s franchises generally appeal to younger kids more than teens or young adults, like Universal’s do.
Comparing their franchises
Speaking of franchises, who’s got the best? Let’s be honest, if you’re a lifelong Harry Potter fan, you’re ultimately going to love Universal more than Disney no matter what. If you grew up wanting to be a Disney princess, not even Universal’s Marilyn Monroe skit is going to compare to getting an autograph from Sleeping Beauty.
Really, neither has the ‘best’ because it’s subjective to which ones you prefer. However, here are some of the franchises you might find:
Some of Disney World’s:
- Star Wars
- The Princesses
- Pirates of the Caribbean
Some of Universal’s:
- Harry Potter
- The Simpsons
- Dr. Seuss
- The Mummy
- Marvel (pre-2009)
The final verdict:
So Disney World or Universal Orlando: which should you visit?
It’s hard to say! Personally, I loved Universal because I could geek out over Harry Potter, and I got sick from the rides. Nothing I saw in Disney World compared to walking into Diagon Alley. I was that kid who really thought I was going to get a letter from Hogwarts at the age of 11. You can’t compete with childhood obsessions.
Over all, though, I’d say this:
For teens and young adults: Universal Orlando
Universal Orlando feels like the perfect place for teens and young adults. That’s usually the age range that wants thrill rides. It’s also probably the age range that grew up obsessed with Harry Potter and Marvel. The magic of Disney has probably worn off for most, while the nostalgia for it hasn’t set in yet. In terms of safety, the park is pretty enclosed so once they’re inside, they’re inside.
For families: Disney World
However, if you have little kids, take them to Disney World! They’ll have an absolute blast filling their autograph books, getting breakfast with princesses, going on all the rides, and more. It’s such a family-oriented park, you really don’t have worry about a thing.
For more Florida travel, check these posts next:
- 10 Things to Do in Orlando, Florida (That Aren’t Theme Parks)
- 6 of the Best Southern American Cities for Your USA Itinerary
- 6 Things to Do in Kissimmee Other than Disney and Universal
Like this post? Pin it!
Have you ever been to Disney World or Universal Orlando? Which would you choose?