If you're thinking about a trip to the Orlando-area theme parks, one of the questions you'll likely be asking yourself is "where to stay?" Orlando's big two theme park resorts -- Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando -- each offer a variety of perks designed to encourage you to stay with them.
But which resort offers the better deal?
We've talked many times before about the perks of staying on-site: free airport transportation, extended park hours and now, Fastpass+ ride reservations at Walt Disney World, and front-of-line privileges and early Harry Potter admission at Universal Orlando. Depending upon the time of year you visit, free dining or other benefits might be available at each resort, too.
But let's share your personal experiences. How many of you have stayed on-site at these resorts? And if you've stayed at both, which resort's total experience did you prefer? Let's limit this to the on-site hotel experience, coupled with the benefits you get from staying on-site at that resort. After all, you can visit the other parks in the area even when you're staying on-site at one resort.
Please tell us in the comments where you prefer to stay in Orlando, and why. If you've stayed on-site with both resorts, I've asked you to pick a favorite between the two. But if after staying with both, you now choose to stay off-site, tell us about that in the comments. Thank you, as always, for reading Theme Park Insider and have a great weekend!
Disney has a great transportation system to and from the parks and the extra park hours is really nice.
While room comfort is generally fine at both, I did not find the lobby provided anything at all for me at Universal. It was poolside or room or park. Disney lobbies and food courts give you more places to be.
The Loews hotel and the Universal parks are more independent of each other, whereas the Disney brand is emphatically reflected in the Disney hotels.
I am sure my comparison also reflects good and bad experiences: On my last day of stay, I had a security concern at one of the Universal hotels and it was not satisfactorily addressed at any level either in hotel or correspondence after. I simply would not go back to the hotel as a result.
PRICE: Staying onsite at either resort isn't cheap, but Universal currently offers three properties of similar quality that vary only slightly in price. Plus, Universal offers decent Florida-resident and AP discounts that I'm lucky enough to be able to take advantage of. Universal hotels have the added advantage, for me personally, of being very pet-friendly. Disney has lots more properties at varying price points, but I honestly find their "value" resorts to be not much better than a Motel 6 and I swear I got bedbugs at Music Century once. Resorts like the Grand Floridian, Wilderness Lodge or Animal Kingdom Lodge are lovely, but you don't get near enough return value for what you pay.
TRANSPORTATION: At Universal you have the option of walking to both parks and CityWalk, or taking a leisurely boat trip. They also offer shuttles for bad weather. At Disney, on the other hand, unless you're lucky to be on the monorail line, you have to take their awful cattle-cars -- sorry, buses -- between parks. And, quite frankly, the monorail experience isn't as nice as it used to be either.
PERKS: Universal's unlimited express pass and early entry to WWOHP top anything Disney offers as a perk. "Extra Magic" hours are fine, but not equivalent. The unlimited express provides REAL value for what you pay for your room.
A previous poster pointed out that Universal has less to do to justify staying there for a long vacation, and he has a point. But for those of us for whom 3 or 4 day vacations are MORE than long enough, Universal is perfect and completely relaxing.
Obviously, I've got a bit of a Universal bias. I admit it. I really do love Disney too -- it's got some awesome rides, great immersive themes and plenty of nostalgia -- but I don't find a trip there to be relaxing. Going to Disney is more like work for me. But at Universal, I can turn off my internal planner, completely relax and have a care-free vacation.
Sometimes it isn't worth it if you're staying further away from the parks at the value and moderate resorts. It is better to stay close to the parks like near the Magic Kingom Lagoon or near Epcot or the Studios parks. Thus you can avoid taking the inconsistent busses.
Visiting the resorts is overrated. I know many Disney fans recommend visiting the unique resorts and eat at the restaurants. I think they are a waste of time. The theming is largely skin deep. Peel back a layer. The themed facades cover for mere hotel rooms.
Universal has its hotel rooms right next door to the parks. This is the best benefit as the star attraction is the parks.
.... apparently they also broke up the Beatles
"Leave it to John Lennon to make the Beatles break up official by signing the termination papers while on holiday at Disney World."
John Lennon signed the contracts that broke up the Beatles at the Poly.
But I guess getting to the front of the line at Cat in the Hat is more ... culturally satisfying.
When the expansion is opened, I'll be returning and will stay on site for sure.
I did not know that bit of trivia about Mr Nixon, TH Creative. Thanks for revealing that. And I believe Bill Clinton said' "I did not have sex with that woman." from the honeymoon suite at The Breakers in Cedar Point.
I haven't stayed at Disney since they started offering Fastpass+, so I can't say definitively which one is better, but in my personal experience, considering how crowded Universal can tend to get since you can actually access both parks and the crowds get atrocious sometimes, the free unlimited Express Pass is a heck of a gift.
My other portion of my trip was at Portofino were like many other posters before me said staying onsite is the only way to go if your going to do Universal. We turned the car in to the onsite rental place because we already knew we had plenty to do within walking distance. I don't know what people are talking about only spending 2 days at universal and getting everything done. That week we did everything and even some stuff we missed. Looking forward to going back in the near future.
In my opinion, stay at an excellent on property resort not affiliated with Disney at WDW for a better value like the Hilton Bonnet Creek and if you're going to Universal stay at one of the three onsite resorts for the total package like the other posters have said. If you want nostalgia like TH said, then sure you can stay at the Disney properties because nothing says a relaxing vacation than remembering the worst president in recent history and the day music died for an iconic band.... Yeah I want to go there on vacation...... I wonder why the PR guys don't put that in the headlines. "Stay at the Contemporary where Nixon stayed and you can feel like you're lying to the nation all over again"
Being able to ride as much as you like with virtually no wait, leaving the parks to relax for a couple hours, then coming back to do it all on the other park outweighs free parking any day of the week.
At Disney, we felt like we had to rush and plan everything just to get our money's worth whereas Universal is always stress free. If staying on-site at Disney and still having to navigate a sea of sticky kids and strollers for a 2 hour wait on a 40 year old coaster is your cup of tea, I admire you.
I will agree that 2 weeks on-site at Universal would be madness. That would be enough time to visit every attraction at the Magic Kindom at least once... I think.
I did Universal once, and since I had free lodging (one of those time-share sales pitches) I didn't stay on-site.
And since I plan to do lots of other things in orlando, I would guess that next time, I'll do a few days in the Portifino because it sounds very nice, and then move to a typical inexpensive Country Inn and Suites for the rest of my trip. I'll probably stay a day or two in Tampa as well.
Universal's hotels are also overpriced, but the rooms seem better in terms of soundproofing. Their location coupled with the Xpress pass and WWOHH ealy entry makes it a easier pill to swallow.
If you only have a weekend, then it is hands down Universal Orlando simply because of the unlimited express feature of the room key. It is that big deal! The reason I would use this for the weekend stay is with the room key express feature one can easily get their fill of action and still have time left to LEISURELY enjoy the other amenities of the resort and you can walk to them all.
If you are staying more than the weekend I would select a Disney Resort for a few reasons:
1) The food offered at Disney Resorts is much better than Universal Orlando (my opinion, but I have eaten at every resort hotel on both properties)
2) Disney doesn't charge to park your car at their resort while you are a guest. I have always disliked that about Universal and I get it that they don't have a ton of room....barely enough to build another resort. ;)
3) Disney has enough activities and attractions to keep you busy all week with new things each day. Not so much with Universal.
I really am fond of both properties and jump at the chance to visit either.
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