Universal Studios Orlando
Trips

Universal vs Disney

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.

Universal Studios Hogwarts Castle
Hogwarts Castle

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.

Front of Grimmauld Place
Grimmauld Place in Universal Studios

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.

Hogwarts Castle at Universal Studios
Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts

Size

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.

Universal Studios Men in Black
Men in Black

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.

Layout

The layout of Universal Orlando resort is very different than Disney. Very. Different.

Universal Studios Bridge to City Walk
Universal Studios Bridge to City Walk

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.

Universal Studios Security
Security at Universal Studios

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.

Universal Studios City Walk
Universal City Walk

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.

Escape from Gringotts Queue
Escape from Gringotts Queue

Early Entry

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.

Universal Escape from Gringotts
Early Entry at Universal Studios

Rides

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.

Universal Rip Ride Rockit

Transportation

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!

Universal Studios Orlando Bus

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.

Universal Studios Park Entry Area
Universal Studios Entrance

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”.

Hulk Roller Coaster Universal Studios
Incredible Hulk Coaster

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!

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