Which has better food: Disney or Universal?

Edited: February 20, 2018, 8:54 PM ·

I thought of asking this question today as I was thoroughly enjoying my lunch at Margaritaville in Universal Studios Hollywood's CityWalk... and remembering how it's been ages since I had a meal I truly enjoyed at Disneyland's Downtown Disney.

In general, I've been liking the food I've had at Universal better than the food at Disney lately. Yes, Universal wasn't trying as hard as Disney with its Lunar New Year food, but Disney's "soup dumplings without any soup in them" lowered even DCA's standard for bad value on pop-up food festivals. I'd rather a park do a few things right that attempt a bunch of stuff poorly.

As for standard fare, Three Broomsticks remains awesome as ever, even as Plaza Inn seems to be slipping. I'll dock Universal a point for backsliding at Krusty Burger, but the new milkshakes are better than any sweet Disney has added in an age.

Okay, this is all about California, and perhaps the story is different in Orlando. Let's hear your take — is Universal's food better than Disney's?

Replies (24)

February 20, 2018, 9:17 PM ·

Disney has Dole Whips. There's no discussion here :)

February 21, 2018, 1:32 AM ·

It all comes to personal tast but I eat about 20% at WDW and 80% at Universal Orlando Resort. The food (imho) is much better quality and the prices are also better.

February 21, 2018, 7:03 AM ·

Universal Orlando, by far.

In Park: Mythos, Three Broomsticks, Leaky Cauldron, Confisco Grille, Lombard's Seafood Grille, Finnegan's.

Citywalk: Toothsome Chocolate Emporium, Margaritaville, Cowfish, Bob Marley, Emeril's.

Add to that some awesome specialty dessert places, and some top-notch hotel restaurants like The Kitchen, The Palm, and Bice, and it's a no-contest.

February 21, 2018, 7:24 AM ·

Don't have as much experience with dining comparisons in California, but the food in the restaurant at the hotel adjacent to DCA is superb. Also, yes, you have the Dole Whip, but let's not forget the Monte Cristo sandwich either. Disney does tend to go the extra mile on food, and I have not tried the Three Broomsticks in Hollywood yet.

I am always highly critical of the choices Disney has made in WDW, but in Orlando there is no contest. The food is way, way better at WDW. It is a million times more expensive, but it is great. Without even getting to the high end restaurants, you have the Moroccan, German, and French restaurants in EPCOT, a couple of standouts at DHS, the breakfast at the Tusker House is great and gets you into AK an hour early, and the sit down on Liberty Square at WDW is fantastic. That is before mentioning the Mickey Head ice cream bars, the home-made candy, the pastries, and others. If you splurge at some of the deluxe resort hotels it is even better. I have eaten at most of the high end restaurants at the Universal hotels, and they were always below average, but, they are managed by Lowes or were chains. I am sure the utlitidore concept and space below the parks play a huge role on the efficiency of food preparation. I will say I have not been back since they have added the app-ordering, so I do not know how that has affected the quality, if at all.

February 21, 2018, 8:41 AM ·

I think Disney still has a huge lead in fine dining. Even in California, Napa Rose and Carthay Circle have no equal at Universal. In Florida, I haven't been to BICE (may try it out on our next trip), but aside from Emeril's (chain) and The Palm (chain), there really aren't any truly fine dining establishments at USO. There are a dozen high end fine dining restaurants at WDW, so again there's very little comparison between the 2. I do think that on both coasts, Universal has done an excellent job of hitting the target in the middle range (high end counter service and casual table service), but I think it's more of Universal closing the gap than Disney slipping. I do have to say that I really liked the concept behind Sa'Tuli Canteen and along with Be Our Guest (during "counter service" hours), those 2 run neck and neck with Universal's Harry Potter counter service restaurants.

February 21, 2018, 10:13 AM ·

I'll also vote for Universal Orlando.... for all the reasons DBCooper mentioned,minus Cowfish -- not my thing -- and adding Mama Della's over at Portofino. They may not have any truly "fine" dining establishments, but they have lots of good, solid, enjoyable ones... plus you don't have plan 6 months in advance and offer up your first born child in order to get a reservation .... I can usually walk right into anywhere I want to eat at UO.

February 21, 2018, 10:37 AM ·

"plus you don't have plan 6 months in advance and offer up your first born child in order to get a reservation"


February 21, 2018, 11:23 AM ·

Speaking only on Orlando - WDW has way better food in-park in my experience. I'm a huge fan of Potter, so I'd personally choose those restaurants as my favorite, but other than those I wouldn't even bother getting a full meal at USF or IoA until heading out to CityWalk which has great food.

February 21, 2018, 11:26 AM ·

FWIW, I've actually been pleasantly surprised by SeaWorld's food in my few experiences there.

February 21, 2018, 11:57 AM ·

SeaWorld does have some good food. I also think WDW has had good food in the past -- lately anything I get there equates to mass produced junk. The restaurant in Pandora was only ok, although I appreciate the attempt at themeing.

FloreanFortescue, I'm not sure how you can not consider food options like Mythos and Lombard's to be a good full meal at a theme park. Mythos was the TPI award winner for best theme park food for many years in fact.

February 21, 2018, 1:00 PM ·

I love the Mythos building theming. Other than that I think it's over rated. Good, yes, but not good enough to get me to sit down and eat a full meal when finer options await outside the gates. I'll have to give Lombards a shot.
I will say, what Universal does amazing for me is the novelty of snacks, not necessarily quality of the food. Lard Lad donuts, Duff beer, wizarding candies, my username's ice cream, steampunk milkshakes, Krusty burger, and best of all multiple variations of butterbeer. Even green eggs and ham and the Dagwood were cool ideas.

February 21, 2018, 2:12 PM ·

WDW over UO ... Le Collier is tops, California Grill, Todd English’s Blue Zoo. And then add STK, Frontera Covina and Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ which is packing them in at the Disney Springs theme park.

* Ducks *

Edited: February 21, 2018, 3:07 PM ·

Well, for me its universal at orlando by default. My Wife's Hot Dog at Disney was so disapointingly sad looking (untoasted/unseasoned bun, no toppings or flair) that it cancels out most of the goodness that dole whip was. Crystal palace was okay, when we got in, but not worth writing home about... but I guess you don't go there for the food.

But the food in Springfield I remember as being good (even if the ribwich didn't work from a meat to bun perspective it tasted good), and Universal has all you can drink rather than a small amount of coke under a ton of ice.

February 21, 2018, 3:16 PM ·

FlorianFortescue - I would give Mythos another go, we've had nothing but fantastic meals there. I agree with you on the novelty snacks -- for these Universal is unmatched. Disney has a good entry with the blue chessecake in Pandora as well, although I found it tasted odd.

TH Creative - I forgot about Le Collier, it is very good. The others you mention I find just ok.

February 21, 2018, 3:20 PM ·

I will be very angry if the food at WDW has slipped. Have not been back there in a bit. I was very, very disappointed at the Krusty Burger, Monsters kitchen (or whatever it is called) and always underwhelmed by Mythos. The theming at the Potter places is great, but the food has been average. I do religiously plan meals, and we tend to hit it to maximize our line benefits, but I have to agree with TH on this one. I will say, though, that the Wizarding World did perfect the Butterbeer. If you have to put a unique treat fight out there, the final battle will be Butterbeer barely beating the Dole Whip.

February 21, 2018, 3:22 PM ·

But, of course, I still refuse to go to those shopping only places.


February 21, 2018, 4:02 PM ·

Some of the food at WDW has definitely slipped over the past few years, likely a result of increased production IMO. As TH reminded me, there are still consistently great places like Le Collier.

Monsters Kitchen is only ok, and I don't think anyone was claiming that it was top notch. Krusty Burger fits in with the themeing -- a fast food joint from The Simpsons -- quite well. No, it's not world-class food but well-themed mid-range fare.

Three Broomsticks and The Leaky Cauldron -- I would never call this food "average", but it's not decidedly high-end either.

Mythos -- always top tier, but perhaps we had different food / different experiences. I've been there at least 2 dozen times though, and always try something different. Desserts are amazing as well.

But I agree with you, JC, on the Butterbeer.

February 22, 2018, 6:54 AM ·

The fish n'chips in the UK EPCOT area are always excellent .... :) Not sure if they do fish n'chips at Universal ... maybe at the Irish pub ?
I've always found the food at both parks is very good, but if I was to pick one place I think is the best it would most probably be the Le Cellier steakhouse in Epcot's Canada area. The salmon is truly remarkable. Other than that, if you want somewhere different take a short drive out to the Gaylord Palms and try one of their restaurants. The sheer ambiance of the place is worth the visit on it's own. A bit like going to the Grand Floridian .... but then if you go there try Narcoossee's .... another excellent place to eat. Especially when the fireworks display is on, and you can get a seat by the window.

February 22, 2018, 7:26 AM ·

Pleased to hear that many people are enjoying good ol British food at harry potters restaurants haha. For me though the choice would be wdw, last time we went, in October, we had some great meals at wdw, places like tusker house. I was disappointed with universal, even really disappointed with the night we spent in universals Loews royal Pacific resort ( it lacked atmosphere and nearly everything was shut by 10pm). For food and experience it’s wdw for me

February 22, 2018, 12:29 PM ·

>>>Not sure if they do fish n'chips at Universal .

Frying Dutchman

February 22, 2018, 12:41 PM ·

In general, I'd say the following holds true for both coasts:

Disney Full Service > Universal Full Service > Universal Counter Service > Disney Counter Service

There are exceptions to the above, including a majority of the offerings at Epcot, but I've rarely had a notably subpar full service meal or an above average counter service meal at a Disney park. There isn't as much of a gap between the two for Universal (especially in California, where the park has no full service dining), but I did find Mythos and Toothsome to be a little better than Fast Food Boulevard.

Note that this applies only to restaurants owned and operated by Disney/Universal, as it would be unfair to include chain restaurants that are more or less the same everywhere.

February 23, 2018, 9:47 AM ·

Disney Full Service > Universal Full Service > Universal Counter Service > Disney Counter Service

This has been my experience.

February 23, 2018, 10:31 AM ·

While I agree with AJ that Universal Counter Service > Disney Counter Service, the upper end stuff is on par with Disney full service (Mythos, Toothsome, The Kitchen, Emerils, Cowfish, BiCE). As an AP at both parks, I feel qualified to make that call. IMO, Disney Full Service = Universal Full Service.

Even if that weren't the case, how many of us are eating high-end for every meal? It's probably more important to have great mid-range food and unique snacks and desserts. Here, clearly, Universal reigns supreme.

March 10, 2018, 8:35 AM ·

I would generally agree with AJ for all the food.

However, as being somebody who has been to "both costs", Universal is slightly better on the West Coast and Disney is slightly better on the East Coast.

The problem with comparing East to West Coast is that the East Coast parks have room to spare. In other words, they are more willing to test out a restaurant and tweak menus before the pull the plug. The West coast does not have the time or space. If something stinks, shut it down! Because of this, the East Coast has a lot of more options so there is quantity of good food vs West Coast quality of food.

For those who have never been to Disneyland's Downtown Disney....just don't! Even at its construction-y worst, Disney Springs still provided better restaurants and shopping than DLR Downtown Disney. It looks like a bit of an afterthought when Disney saw how well Disney Springs and Citywalk were doing.

As for today, the best place for food in any park or shopping district we have discussed is Disney Spring...by a long shot. That shouldn't be surprising since its the newest. With the addition of Frontera, Boathouse, Morimoto, and Homecomin', it has catapulted itself as having the best food of any theme park area.

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