I recently returned from my first visit to Universal Studios in Orlando. This was not my first visit to Central Florida. In fact, I’m a big Disney fan. I’ve been to visit the Mouse numerous times but never ventured off Walt Disney World property.
On this Orlando vacation, however, we stayed at Universal Studios and did not set foot in Walt Disney World. And, I’ll admit it was a little strange to be so close and not visit Disney.
Universal vs Disney
As a Disney veteran planning a trip to Universal Studios, there were several differences in Universal vs Disney that I just didn’t grasp until I got there. If you’re planning your first trip to Universal Studios, I hope these these observations will help you get ready for your adventure.
The Universal Studios property is MUCH smaller than Disney. This has pros and cons. On the plus side, getting around is faster and walking between the parks and/or your resort is an option.
A drawback for me is that Universal doesn’t feel as much like a bubble. (You know… being at Disney feels like being in another world.) Universal feels more like the middle of Orlando.
The layout of Universal Orlando resort is very different than Disney. Very. Different.
At Disney, guests basically travel from point to point. For example, guests go from their resort directly to the gates of a particular park.
Universal is smaller, so it is naturally more compact. But, the way people move throughout the property is also different.
At Universal, guests enter though a central parking hub where everyone goes through security. Then, all guests funnel through Universal City Walk to reach the park of their choice… go right for Universal Studios or left for Islands of Adventure.
Visitors to Volcano Bay board a special Volcano Bay bus at the central parking hub.
There are a few exceptions to this for guests staying at some Universal resorts, but generally speaking, that’s how it works.
Express Pass vs Fastpass
Express Pass and Fastpass are NOT the same. Unlike Fastpass, Universal’s Express Pass costs extra (or requires that you stay in a pricier hotel). The benefit, however, is Express Pass can be used on most rides throughout the day… so, it is more valuable and saves more time.
Early entry is available at both resorts for guests staying on property. But, the number of attractions that are open during early entry at Universal is much more limited than at Disney. So, those attractions fill up more quickly.
The target audience for the rides at Universal is more limited than at Disney. While there are some rides for little kids, most of the rides are much more intense and geared towards older kids and teens. And, if someone in your party is sensitive to motion sickness, they’ll likely have trouble at Universal.
The bus system at Universal Studios is really efficient. Other than the night we left the park after closing, we never waited for a bus for more than 5 minutes all week! If you’ve done the Disney bus thing… you know this is a BIG deal! Kudos to Universal on their bus system!
Park Pass and Room Key
Your park pass and your room key are not the same at Universal. We had a key card for our room and a separate park pass card. I love Disney’s magic band system, and it would be nice if Universal had something similar.
Which Resort is Better?
This is a difficult question to answer. Comparing Universal vs Disney is a little like comparing apples and oranges. Sure, Universal and Disney are both theme parks with rides along with all the trappings. But, I think both resorts are awesome and have something unique to offer.
Each resort offers a it’s own twist on the theme park experience. I’d say Universal offers more thrilling rides while Disney focuses on stories and “magic”.
Universal vs Disney? Which one is better depends on what your looking for on your vacation.
Clearly, I’m going need to continue to research this topic. Of course, the only way to do that properly is to visit Disney AND Universal again!