Which is better: Disney or Universal theme parks?


Fact Box

  • Universal Studios Florida, thought to be the direct competition of Walt Disney World in Orlando, opened on June 7, 1990. 
  • In 2019, Walt Disney World had 20.96 million visitors, while Universal Studios Orlando had 10.92 million.
  • Disney theme parks include Magic Kingdom Park (Walt Disney World), Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park. 
  • Universal theme parks include Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood. 
  • Walt Disney World has 392,040 square feet of underground tunnels, or “utilidors,” that function as an underground logistical city managing the upper theme park through food preparation, cast member transportation, and lighting and security systems.

Matthew (Universal)

Without question, Disney is hard to beat, but Universal wins at the small distinctions that make big differences to a savvy traveler. Foremost among a tourist's hierarchy of needs is affordable lodging. Additionally, Universal edges out Disney on two other aspects: a hotel room on-property and a multiple-day visit.

Overall, the dining at Universal is better and more convenient whether you'd like to dine in or dine fast, and you don't have to book your reservation months in advance. Who can predict when the Goofy in your group will turn hangry? 

Both theme parks offer a ticketing system that promises shorter lines for rides. The Universal Express Pass, a complimentary offer at select property hotels, doesn't require a separate purchase. Simple. Plus, Universal has ten thrill rides with single-rider options, while Disney only has four. 

Both parks have child-switch programs for that difficult minute when a young rider doesn't meet the height requirements. The bigger kids get to ride twice, once with each parent, and no one has to go through the line twice. However, Universal has a better solution for the unfortunately short--comfortable and air-conditioned waiting rooms!  

Sometimes, less is more. At Universal, you can walk everywhere. Shuttle transportation is optional, so there's no undue lost time between points of interest. Remember this: Disney is twice as large as Manhattan.  

Finally, for the critical pre-teen age bracket, Universal has Harry Potter and the Marvel characters to appeal to those who've outgrown the charms of the Magic Kingdom, a competitive advantage Uncle Walt likely won't overcome

Maria (Disney)

When it comes to theme parks, bigger is better. Disney out-sizes Universal in both its respective locations, California and Orlando, with six theme parks and two water parks between the two. Disney World, Orlando, boasts an especially impressive footprint, being roughly the size of San Francisco with amenities, Disney Springs, and over twenty resorts included. 

Larger parks allow for more variety. Universal may have theme park rights to Marvel, but Disney owns Guardians of the Galaxy, Toy Story, and timeless favorite Star Wars, making it the happiest place on Earth for all generations. Franchises aside, Disney is known for more family-geared rides and rides just for kids than its competitor. Many of their rides aren't frightening, but thrill-seekers won't find themselves bored either, striking the perfect balance for all ages and preferences. 

At Universal, visitors need to pay extra for an Express Pass, but this is not the case for Disney guests. FastPass is a complementary addition to tickets at Disneyland that allows guests to reserve rides the day of riding. FastPass+ in Orlando works the same way, but with even more advantages, and in case it couldn't get more convenient, there's an app for that.

As for nostalgia, Universal just isn't in the same league as the magical mouse mascot that goes above and beyond to create an otherworldly atmosphere. For instance, Disney employees are considered 'cast members' within park gates, enchanting guests at every turn. As one reviewer said, 'The theme parks make it feel as if you've truly entered different lands and different worlds. I don't get the same feel at Universal.' Disney certainly knows how to make everyone want to be their guest.

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