Which Is Better: Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando?

May 13, 2020, 5:55 PM · Okay, here's the hypothetical: Theme parks are open. Flights are cheap and available. You've got one week to visit Orlando with no risk of coming down with anything. But here's the catch - you can visit only one major theme park resort during that time. So which one will it be? - Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando?

As we wait for these parks to reopen in real life, let's debate about them online with today's "which is better" vote. Walt Disney World is the world's most popular theme park resort, boasting four of the world's top nine most-attended theme parks. Universal Orlando's two parks rank below Disney World's four, but include the park Theme Park Insider readers selected this year as the world's best park - Universal's Islands of Adventure.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter elevated Universal from competition with also-rans such as the SeaWorld parks to compete in the top tier with Disney. But Disney has answered the challenge, stepping up its game with immersive single-IP lands such as Pandora and Galaxy's Edge. So while Universal's parks in 2018 attracted more than 50 million visitors worldwide, Disney's parks did three times that, with more than 150 million visitors.

But this isn't exactly a Disney v. Universal battle. It's Walt Disney World versus Universal Orlando. What happens elsewhere doesn't matter. This is the battle for Central Florida.

Do you prefer the larger size of the Walt Disney World Resort or the more intimate and walkable Universal Orlando? Do you like Disney's owned-and-operated hotels or Universal's alliance with Loews running its hotels? Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon or Volcano Bay?

Or should we just make this about franchises? Disney World's got its princesses, Pixar, Star Wars, and Marvel (well, sort of). Universal Orlando's got its Minions, Wizarding World, Jurassic Park, and Marvel (well, most of it). What's your favorite castle - Cinderella or Hogwarts?

Where would you rather spend your Orlando vacation? I know that many of us answer "at both" in real life, but this is the Internet. You've got to make hard choices here, then defend them with your comments.

Replies (24)

May 13, 2020 at 6:41 PM

The fact that this is even a vote is a testament to how competitive and high quality Universal is. Universal has half the parks and is definitely smaller than Disney World, yet the vote is just about even. Right now I can say that Disney World gets my vote. 5 years ago my vote would've gone to Universal. Universal has added some stuff but Galaxy's Edge, Toy Story Land, Avatar, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train have pulled Disney ever so slightly ahead. It will stay ahead with major additions like Ratatouille, Tron, and Guardians of the Galaxy opening in the next few years. But then...Booom! Epic Universe opens up later this decade. Then my vote may see saw back to Universal.

I'm telling ya... If, for their sake, Sea World joins the would-be 3 Universal parks in a ticket deal you have a good ol' fashioned even match. 4 against 4. 3 Uni plus 1 SW against Disney World's 4 parks. That is when people will start making big decisions. A week vacation at Disney or Universal/Sea World.

May 13, 2020 at 6:51 PM

Universal, no question. A trip there doesn’t require months of advance planning down to every last detail, including what you want to ride and when, not to mention dining reservations. Universal’s hotels are as nice, if not nicer, than most of Disney’s. Plus, with unlimited express at some of them and easy walk-ability from all except the two newest value resorts, they’re more convenient and provide more bang for the buck than Disney’s hotels. WDW Resort may have more to offer to fill a full week, but Universal is able to provide an actual, relaxing vacation.

May 13, 2020 at 7:16 PM

Hard one.

Universal has the better rides, and coke freestyle/icee is all you can drink.

But i see myself chilling at Disney, even if I’m grumpy at the overpriced drink... and it’s WDW I want to return to...

May 13, 2020 at 8:37 PM

Oof my instant bias is Disney, but I'll attempt to be fair in comparison.

I also haven't been to UOR in 6/7ish(?) years - when Diagon Alley was under construction. I haven't been to any of the waterparks and I've only stayed offsite or in Disney hotels. Disney also has me with the nostalgia. So, this might not be a fair comparison for me to make.

Here's the stuff I look for:
-What do my family and friends enjoy?
-Hotel experience
-Well themed and detailed environments
-places to explore
-things to do (rides, shows, restaurants)

My family prefers Disney as a brand. Friends are a mixed bag of preferring Disney, but also preferring coasters. Based on what I can see, the average Universal hotel would be more enjoyable, but I absolutely love visiting the Animal Kingdom Lodge with it's fantastic art, consistent and impressive theme, and of course the animals.

By numbers, Disney has so many more themed areas for me to visit and explore. And by and large, I prefer them to Universal's themed lands (even when leaving out Galaxy's Edge, I'd much prefer to explore World Showcase's or Animal Kingdom's incredibly rich environments to the neat, but small Hogsmead or the beautiful Lost Continent (which definitely gets overlooked by many!). So to quote Chad, I also love "chilling at Disney."

Unfortunately, UOR can't compete with WDW's quantity of shows and restaurants. UOR has some great rides like Spidy, River Adventure, MIB, Forbidden Journey, the Mummy, and ET, all of which I assume (really hope) are overshadowed by Gringotts and Motorbike (I haven't ridden either). At the end of the day though, I would rather ride Everest, Flight of Passage, WDW version of Pirates #nostalgia, Splash Mountain, Spaceship Earth, Star Tours (seriously underrated by 99% of people), Tower of Terror, Smuggler's Run, or Rise of the Resistance over anything I've ridden at UOR (or USJ for that matter), though Spidy comes awfully close to many of those attractions. BUT I probably have lots of subconscious biases. #Disney5ever

Regarding Planning: I totally get that many people can feel more relaxed with less planning for Universal. Personally, I love planning; it's a great part of the process. I also enjoy Disney trips where I decide to go a month in advance, even if it's not the most efficient trip.

@ Manny Barron - I've always thought TPI to be a site that tends to have a client base that prefers Universal because Robert provides fair coverage of most parks. Since most other big theme park sites tend to favor Disney, perhaps people who enjoy Universal a lot come to TPI for better coverage. I think might skew the vote toward Universal more than what the general populace would actually vote. But yes, you're right that Universal is high quality and competitive. [Edited for misspelling. My apologies].

May 13, 2020 at 9:51 PM

My tentative plan for my Florida trip this fall is 3 days at Disney, 1 at Universal, 1 at SeaWorld, 1 at Busch Gardens, and 1 for non-park activities. Given that it would be easier to cut the 1 day at Universal than the 3 at Disney, I voted Disney.

That said, I do think Universal is superior on a park to park basis, and for a shorter trip I'd absolutely pick them. The issue is I couldn't see myself ever spending more than three days at Universal in one trip because they don't have enough to do for a longer period, so if given a week Disney is going to win out every time.

May 13, 2020 at 10:06 PM

Have to be WDW. Last time at Universal, hit by how rough some of the rides were on me and I'm feeling older now. Plus, just long-time love for Disney itself to push in and the wider range of parks/rides makes WDW more a must-be there to me.

Universal is fine for a day or two but WDW is a true week-long experience to savor.

May 13, 2020 at 10:50 PM

When Universal adds more slow-paced rides that all ages can enjoy, it'll get my vote. Til then, I go with the better variety you can find at Disney.

May 13, 2020 at 11:28 PM

Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights is tops in when it comes to theme parks for me. Also, WDW parks are spread too thin when it comes to rides and attractions.

May 13, 2020 at 11:48 PM

Give me Universal Express passes via my room key at Royal Pacific, and hands down, Universal Orlando is the better experience.

The only thing that would give it a run for its money is a stay at the Boardwalk, where I could walk or take a boat to Hollywood Studios and EPCOT.

I'd really like to see Walt Disney World put some effort into improving the walk to DHS. It's nice to walk along the canal, but the end portion where you have to navigate the parking lot is a bit of a mess.

Add a few more shade trees or even some artificial awning, too.

Voted for Universal. Can't wait to stay at the Royal Pacific or Hard Rock again. It's been 5+ years since I've been, so the cost would easily be worth it, with all that's been added - including WW2.

May 14, 2020 at 1:47 AM

Much as I enjoy Universal there just isn't enough to keep me entertained for a week. Disney World may not have the thrills but it has a hell of a lot more - I can spend literally days just wandering around soaking up the environments. Id rather I didn't have to choose but if it's either/or then it's Disney all the way.

May 14, 2020 at 3:40 AM

I like universal, but for a week, Disney wins hands down so much more to do and see.

May 14, 2020 at 6:00 AM

I agree both parks have lots to offer. However WDW has much more. Manny said if you added Seaworld and Universal he would vote for that combination, but they were together in the past with the Orlando pass package and it didn't help Universal so they dropped out and planned their own 3rd gate. And a note for Aaron, I hope Halloween Horror Nights happens this year but I don't this it will. The required social distancing and safety requirements would ruin it.

May 14, 2020 at 6:06 AM

It would partially depend on which park I visited last and whom I was traveling with (just my wife or wife and kids). But all things being equal, for a week I would choose Disney for the reasons others gave (more to fill up a week with). If it were 1-4 days though, I'd choose Universal. I like Universal's hotels better (for the price), I like Citywalk better than Disney Springs, I like the rides and shows better, and it's just a lot easier to get around. However once Epic Universe opens that would make Universal a true week-long destination (5-7 days).

Heck, they're both great destinations, and I wouldn't say "no" to either.

May 14, 2020 at 6:27 AM

For a whole week? Disney, hands down.

Both resorts are amazing, and I agree the high-pressure preplanning of Disney in order to do it "right" can be off putting. But if I am there for a whole week, the Walt Disney World resort is just unparalleled in terms of things to do. And not just the four parks; Disney Springs, the Boardwalk, two water parks...even just going to visit some of the other hotels can be a blast. All within its own little mini-country.

I love Universal. But since they raised the bar with Harry Potter, Disney returned in kind, matching and surpassing, and Disney still has the advantage of all that real estate, infrastructure and closed control over making your vacation "magical".

May 14, 2020 at 6:48 AM

When it comes to dining and night shows, Disney olbliterates Universal.

But...the other 80% of the day, Universal is the more enjoyable place for me. For that reason, I voted for Universal. If I had to make the choice of only visiting one, it would definitely be Universal.

I enjoy staying off site, with a rental car the most, so it’s neither when it comes to Hotels/Resorts. I feel more like a captive when being on the Theme Park Resort only with their means of transportation. Nothing beats having the freedom to go where you want, when you want, including a few days down in Tampa.

For Water Parks, I can’t make a comparison, because I have not been to Volcano Bay yet. But I’m not overly impressed with either Disney Water Park. I’d take Aquatica over either Disney Water park, without question.

It’s true what a few said, that you can’t spend a week at just Universal, while you could spend a week strictly at Disney. But the week+ trips that include Universal, SW, Aquatica, BGT and other non-park activities are always the trips I enjoy the most (and don’t want to end). After a full week at Disney, I usually have the feeling that I have had enough, and am ready to go back home.

May 14, 2020 at 9:00 AM

Without the addition of Universal's 3rd park yet there is no competition. WDW is the eighth wonder of the world. When the 3rd park opens, this question may take a little more thought.

The one caveat I would add is if it were WDW v Universal each October, I think you know which I'd choose.

May 14, 2020 at 9:04 AM

Universal for me.... Both parks are fantastic for us.

We love the general vibe and more adult themed parks.
Disney AK is a great park but the Disney parks get too busy, long wait times, child meltdowns.... You end up exhausted after a day in the MK, avoiding strollers and EV's all day....

May 14, 2020 at 10:26 AM

Had to go with Universal. They just have more exciting rides in my opinion, better hotels, real express passes and best of all no months in advance planning required. Almost forgot that they also have the best water park in the world! Can't wait for Epic Universe!!!

May 14, 2020 at 10:51 AM

I voted for Universal out of principal. That said, I am really missing Epcot. If this had been a vote for a particular park, I would have voted quickly for Epcot. Even knowing that much of the park is undergoing renovation. Even knowing much of what I love about it from the park's first couple of decades no longer exists. I visit Disneyland Resort frequently so I have my fill of those attractions. I worked at UO for years, so being at that resort feel like going back to work (in the best possible way, but if you get what I'm saying, you get it.). I want to stroll around World Showcase, and spend time with family and friends enjoying that park's atmosphere.

May 14, 2020 at 1:50 PM

I will never get over my love for the Disney Parks. The atmosphere of just Main Street alone makes me happy. Disney's secret is the nostalgia and the built-in "happiness" that Universal simply can not provide. Find me a human on this planet who doesn't at least smile when they hear Disney music zip pa de do dah or Lion King's Hakuna Matata (Universal is missing the "music" ingredient). For many years it really was "magical."

BUT, for a host of reasons, the pixie dust disappeared after being sucked away in a series of tornado winds.

I don't begrudge Disney for making money (I own stock!). It is a business. But at some point the business forgot what made it such a successful business to begin with. I what it comes down to is they destroyed the "illusion" that the business side cared about the customer.

I found myself working too hard-- too much time and energy-- to plan every detail months in advance. It just doesn't seem right for ME to work that much just to hand them a huge wad of cash. And even after all of that work, I still find myself disappointed before walking into the gate because after years of trying, I still haven't been able to get that restaurant reservation or ride that "new to me" attraction that's no longer new (Snow White). Forget Avatar and Star Wars-- I now just assume I won't snag the reservation times.

After basically forcing me to visit Universal, Disney ended up losing my dollars. I've been impressed with the new attention to detail at Universal-- not just Harry Potter. While I could take or leave the Jimmy Fallon/Tonight Show "ride," I re-visit it because of the amazing detail in the lobby and the pre-show area. I do wish there were a few more "family" attractions that we could all ride together (my wife no longer rides roller coasters). As stated a post a few days ago, the restaurants, while not cheap, leave me pleasantly surprised at the "value." I am NOT a water park fan-- but I LOVE Volcano Bay.

So my vote was Universal because I think it's on the upswing and I believe it will only become a better and a stronger competitor.

May 14, 2020 at 3:47 PM

Speaking of, my mom just got the official e-mail from Disney on her June 1st trip canceled by them. She's shooting for August while up in the air and noting how a few good deals on Disney resorts. As a nurse in her 70's, she's concerned about it and such but still hoping to go with her grandkids.

May 14, 2020 at 5:30 PM

The people who are choosing Universal over WDW because the lesser need for planning are the same people who are buying Universal Express passes (and don’t tell me you get them for free staying at Universal’s deluxe resorts. If you are paying deluxe prices, you aren’t getting them for free!)

WDW is better than Universal overall, but I would happily visit one or the other if I had to choose because I love the theme parks at both companies!

May 15, 2020 at 5:14 PM

We stopped going to Disney and started staying on site at universal quite a while ago. We just found it to be a more relaxing and enjoyable experience. That said, staying on site is absolutely critical. Disney will always be special, but for me it's universal

May 17, 2020 at 2:06 PM

Size matters!
Disney beats Universal hands down, in Florida, in California and in Japan.
I believe that an even comparison would be between Universal Orlando X Disneyland California or Disneyland Tokyo or Disneyland Paris.

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