Amusement parks with the family are a time-honored tradition. Even the hottest, loudest, most crowded summers with your toddlers or preschoolers come with moments that last a lifetime. Because, while they might not remember everything, you will! When it comes to making memories in Orlando with little ones, the age-old Disney World vs Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure for toddlers debate is a hard one to tackle!
Lucky for you, we go over all the pros and cons below to make planning your trip and deciding which is better, Disney or Universal, Orlando for toddlers and preschoolers a piece of cake. Whichever you choose, you will always find fun things to do in Orlando with kids of any age!
Note this article has been recently updated as many of the toddler attractions (Curious George, Woody Woodpecker, Fievel’s Playground) have been permanently closed at Universal Studios since January 2023, to make way for a new area for that age group. All we know at the moment is it is not Minion, Trolls or Shrek themed but watch this space for updates whilst work is underway. We do know it will be amazing!
Disney World vs Universal Studios For Toddlers: The Parks
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If you’re heading out to “The City Beautiful” for your family vacation, there’s only one thing on everybody’s mind: Universal Orlando or Disney World?
Both amusement resorts feature unique themes, exciting attractions, and thrilling rides. Yet, there are a few things that set Disney World and Universal apart.
Disney World vs. Universal Resort Size
Does size really matter? When you’re traveling with a tiny escape artist, it sure can! The age of your little one and the duration of your stay can help you choose between Disney World vs Universal
To start with, Disney World is enormous! As big as San Francisco, Disney World spreads out over nearly 25,000 acres. The area includes 4 theme parks (Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios), 2 water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach), the Disney Springs complex, and over 25 Disney resorts.
Universal Orlando Resort, in comparison, is much more compact and spans just 840 acres. It comprises 2 theme parks (Universal Studios and the Islands of Adventure), a water park (Volcano Bay), the Universal CityWalk complex, and 8 Universal hotels.
Disney World vs Universal For Toddlers: The Better Experience?
Universal with toddlers is a fast-paced, action-packed, thrumming adventure. With an air that is packed with vibrant energy, it promises a great time for the entire family.
You will be hard-pressed to find a single dull moment at Universal Studios. Entertainment is the name of the game here, whether it be through edgy and immersive experiences with simulators; iconic live shows; or high-tech, cutting-edge animatronics. Home to the mysteries of the Wizarding World, you will constantly be in the awe of your surroundings
Islands of Adventure is a thrilling arena to explore the most innovative rides on the planet. Amble, ramble, and playfully squabble your way through an energetic day with your tiny adventurer, particularly in the fantastic Jurassic play area.
Universal says it best: “Let Yourself Woah!”
The Most Magical Place on Earth is where dreams come true, which is why visiting Disney World is truly an experience for the whole family. Children and adults alike are sure to be mesmerized by the enchanting and nostalgic sights here.
Where to even begin when there’s so much to see and do? To navigate Disney World with toddlers, the most important things to consider are their age and interests.
Stepping into the Magic Kingdom is simply put, magical. The atmosphere buzzes with spells and wonder, leaving tiny tots in awe. It’s also the perfect place to rediscover your inner child!
Animal Kingdom with toddlers embraces the glory of The Wild. Big, open, and calming, head here on a day with pleasant weather for some quiet time with your baby.
Here’s a little secret, Epcot isn’t just for the adults! While toddler-friendly rides may be few, there are splash pads, stunning fountains, and other attractions that make it the perfect refuge from the mad rush.
Lastly, where better to go for a photo shoot than the iconic Hollywood Studios? With elaborate shows and colorful characters, it’s like living in your own movie.
The Castles of Universal vs Disney World
Royalty, knights-in-shining-armor, magicians, and families looking to get cute family photos all need one thing: a majestic castle.
Disney World wins hands down when it comes to numbers, with five beautiful castles. Beast’s Castle, Prince Eric’s Castle, Shirasagilo Castle, Akershus Castle, and the grandest one of all, the Cinderella Castle are all absolute must-visits, as is a quick stop at Rapunzel’s Tower.
Want some quick Disney World tips for toddlers? The Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at the Magic Kingdom reopens on August 25th. The swish of the Fairy Godmother’s magic wand will transform your ragamuffins into the beaus and belles of the ball!
A full-scale replica of the Hogwarts castle at the Islands of Adventure makes it the ultimate dream destination for Potterheads looking to introduce their little ones to the magical world of Harry Potter. Wrap your tiny witch or wizard in their house robes and take videos for your next family portrait.
Who to meet: Characters from Disney World or Universal?
It’s likely your toddler or preschooler is really excited to see their favorite characters come to life. What they might not be prepared for is how big they are in real life. 6 feet tall and unblinking, how could they be?
Help get them prepared by showing them videos of character encounters at Disney World and Universal before you get there so they have an idea of what to expect. Make sure to take it slow and check for your kid’s reaction to the characters from a distance first, and bring them closer only if they seem curious and eager. It’s also probably a good idea to give the “bad guy” characters a skip until your little ones are a bit older.
Now, picking between Disney vs Universal characters depends on just one thing: the fandom your kids belong to. As far as Disney goes, can you really say you’ve visited Disney World without a hi-five from Mickey? The eternal Disney family members like Mickey, Minnie, Donald Duck, and pals are sure to bring out a smile on everybody’s face.
But if your kiddo loves old-school bedtime stories, regale them with tales of Alice and Peter Pan before you visit, and then watch their jaws drop in amazement.
If nobility is the order of the day, say hi to one of Disney’s many princesses like Cinderella, Snow White, or Belle. Disney World with a 2-year-old girl is incomplete without the characters from Frozen. Meeting Elsa, Anna, and Olaf at the Frozen Sing-Along Celebration is sure to have your little one bouncing away in joy.
Character meets at Universal for toddlers include catching up with characters both old and new. They tend to appeal to families with siblings in different age groups.
While younger kids will love hanging out with characters from Minions, Dora, and Dr. Seuss, preschoolers and older kids might enjoy taking pictures with their favorite Marvel superheroes like ol’ Spidey.
Pro Tip: If you feel like you’re in need of some adult company, the Knight Bus driver or Shrek and Donkey will have you in splits!
The Rides in Disney World vs Universal For Toddlers
While most rides in amusement parks are fast and scary, we promise you that there’s always something for everyone. In terms of toddler-friendly rides, which is better: Disney or Universal? While most rides in amusement parks are fast and scary, we promise you that there’s something for everyone.
Nothing is as disappointing as a ride you can’t get on, especially when your older sibling can. Read on to see which amusement park fares better for the littler ones in the troop, Universal Studios or Disney World?
Universal and Islands of Adventure have several rides with no minimum height requirement (Storm Force Accelatron; One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish; Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl; Caro-Seuss-el, Camp Jurassic, Animal Actors on Location, Me Ship the Olive.) The remaining rides have specific height requirements ranging from 34-54″, but usually around 40-48″. This brings the number of toddler-friendly rides down to just 18. But there are plenty of attractions/non-rides which do not have a requirements.
Disney World does way better in this category with around 50 rides and attractions with no height restrictions across all 4 theme parks. And luckily, the rest of the rides usually have a toddler-friendly height requirement of 40″ or so. This means that Disney World offers you many more options for taking your tot on their first amusement park ride.
Dumbo The Flying Elephant and Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh at Magic Kingdom, Na’avi River Journey at Animal Kingdom, and The Seas With Nemo & Friends at Epcot are a few tried-and-true favorites among families with little ones.
Unexpected height restrictions can be a bummer for excited kids, so prevent meltdowns by checking your child’s height before you leave. This way you can plan ahead on which rides they can go on and prepare them for the rides they’ll need to sit out instead.
The Fear Factor
Nothing spells disaster like a ride that leaves your little one in tears. Motion sickness, heights, flashing lights, or loud sounds; there are many reasons a toddler might get upset on a ride.
While Disney World is known for being more family-oriented, Universal Studios has its fair share of rides for tiny humans too. Check out the multi-sensory E.T ride and Seuss Trolley Ride, two of the most gentle Universal rides for kids.
A single scary ride can ruin a family trip, so here are our Universal and Disney World with toddlers tips for preventing terrified little ones:
Start small, with gentle rides that move slowly. A first ride should be calming and relaxing to prepare your kids. Once you gauge their level of comfort, you can move on to more thrilling rides.
No means no. If your kid changes their mind when in the queue, pack it up – frustrating but in our experience the best option.
Talk to them, answer questions and explore options ahead of your trip. Watching YouTube videos of the rides might help them better understand what to expect.
Wait times can vary from a couple of minutes to more than an hour. How long a queue depends on the popularity of the attraction, time of day, weather, time of year, and crowds. And while virtual queueing is an option made available through Disney’s and Universal’s mobile apps, they are available only for a select few attractions.
Jump the Queue
Nothing is worse than waiting in line with an impatient toddler. So why not skip the line instead? The key differences in the Universal vs Disney battle when it comes to express passes is the cost and number of rides and times that they each offer.
The Universal Express Pass is a bit more pricey, but lets you get ahead once per attraction for a number of attractions. While the cost does tend to vary, it’s best to think ahead and buy it early on as the number of Express Passes available per day is limited.
The other option is to risk unavailability and purchase it at the park itself. Note that this does not apply to those staying at the Universal Premier resorts, as the pass comes free with check-in.
The Lightning Lane Genie+ Pass is the jump-ahead option offered at Disney World, although the less-expensive Individual Lightning Lane entry is also available for up to 2 experiences a day, one after another.
Child Exchange Options
What happens when your toddler is too small or too nervous to get on a ride? The child exchange program offers is a unique plan which ensures that everybody gets a chance to ride an attraction, while those who cannot, remain firmly planted on the ground!
It’s fairly simple, caregivers wait in line and then swap places with their partners when the ride is complete. This way, the entire family can participate in rides together without having to rejoin the queue all the way at the end.
Disney World has the Rider Switch option for those with kids that are too small. Set up a rider switch on the My Disney Experience app and brief a Cast Member before getting in line, and you’re set. All you need to do is wait till the ride is done, switch places, and you’re ready to have the time of your life.
Say no to FOMO with the Child Swap system adopted in Universal Studios rides for toddlers. A family room at the front of the line has toys and movies to keep your baby busy while you wait for your partner to return. Just hand them over once your partner is back and get on the ride.
The Shows: Which is better, Universal or Disney?
Visiting Universal Studios with toddlers has to include a visit to Harry Potter-themed shows like the puppetry enactment of The Tales of Beedle the Bard or the musical genius that is the Frog Choir.
But if you want a change of pace, saunter up and settle in for a fun show with Let Loose the Wacky Wonder of Seuss, or watch a menagerie perform at Animal Actors On Location!
If you’re at the Cinderella Castle, keep on the lookout for Mickey’s Magical Friendship Faire, a grand parade you do not want to miss.
If your kiddo loves being dramatic, the Festival of the Lion King and the Beauty & The Beast Live on Stage are must-sees! Or sing along loudly at the Country Bear Jamboree.
Disney tips for toddlers are incomplete without mentioning the brand new Harmonious fireworks show at Epcot. The light and fireworks display is undoubtedly the most magical part of Disney. Just bring along some ear muffs to avoid unnecessary tears!
Disney World vs Universal For Toddlers: The Play Areas
When it comes to play areas for toddlers, is Disney or Universal better?
Kids high on sugar and full of energy to burn need a place to interact with other littles in the same boat, which is why play areas are a huge bonus for families with toddlers.
If you want some quiet, visit Epcot with toddlers. You’ll find the Green Landing Play Zone, Space Base, a Seasonal Festival Playground, and a Play Space at the end of The Seas with Nemo and Friends.
Magic Kingdom offers two main play areas: the indoor Dumbo Playground and the outdoor Tom Sawyer’s Island. But if you need a quick second to cool off, drop into the Casey Jr Splash ‘n’ soak station.
Animal Kingdom has The Boneyard, a sprawling playground for your tiny demon to loudly run amok. If you’re visiting Hollywood Studios with toddlers, be warned! There are no play areas for them to wander around, so you’ll need to keep an eye out for free, safe spaces.
Universal Orlando with kids can get exhausting but wait for the new kids area for 2024 at Universal Studios. Over at Islands of Adventure, the multi-level Camp Jurassic is sure to keep them happy as a bee and the Suess Land area has several rides for younger ones.
Disney World vs Universal Studios For Toddlers: Strollers
Strollers are a lifesaver when it comes to navigating a crowded amusement park in the hot sun. Tiny feet get tired easily, so use a stroller to cover more distance and avoid your toddler getting weary before they even get to the main attractions.
Strollers have the advantage of doubling as storage space for your belongings. Stroller toys can keep your tiny tot busy while on the move, potentially avoiding, or at least putting off a meltdown. But the best part is that they ensure your slippery toddler stays put in one place.
BYOS (Bring your own stroller) or rent them at the theme parks. Universal Studios Stroller Policy lets you rent only double strollers, whereas Disney World has both single and double strollers for rent.
You may also look into renting one from an off-site rental company if Disney’s and Universal’s strollers are too uncomfortable for your little one. ScooterBug is one that Disney recommends to its guests. Kingdom Strollers is another that operates out of Orlando.
Disney Strollers can be for a single day or more and advance rentals can help you save a little. Keep in mind that if you choose to rent strollers at the parks, you’ll have to leave them behind when you leave for your resort or the other attractions in Orlando.
Disney Springs vs City Walk: what can toddlers do?
Accessibility to Disney Springs from the Disney Parks varies from 2.5–6 miles, so you’ll need to drive about 10-20 minutes to get there.
A view from the World’s largest painted helium balloon, a train ride through the Marketplace, a waterfront stage, and an amphicar cruise of Lake Buena Vista are the highlights here when it comes to entertainment.
Next is Disney merchandise, so pick up memorabilia from your trip and souvenirs for loved ones back home.
And when you’re done, you’ll have an extensive choice in dining. From a snack at a quick service to a feast at a fancy restaurant, Disney Springs has it all.
CityWalk is Universal’s counter to Disney Springs. Entry to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure is through CityWalk, making it super close to visit.
While the entertainment for toddlers is limited to drive-in golf and a cinematic experience, one must-see for candy-crazy little ones and chocoholics is The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen.
Shop around for Universal merch that shows off your kid’s favorite characters, and when it’s time to refuel, pick one of the many restaurants available.
Disney World vs Universal Studios For Toddlers: FAQs
What is the distance from Disneyworld to Universal studios?
Disney World and Universal Studios are separated by only about 10 miles, which is why it makes sense that so many guests prefer to go to both parks during their Orlando vacations.
How long do you need to see Universal vs Disney World?
Disney World’s larger sizer means you’ll probably need a couple of extra days to cover everything. Universal Orlando is much more compact and easy to cover if you’re on a short visit.
What are the best Disney parks for toddlers?
Nothing beats Magic Kingdom with toddlers when it comes to the number of rides, shows, and character encounters they can attend and take part in.
Which is better: Disney World or Universal Studios for ticket fees?
Both amusement parks have similar pricing and are free for children below three years of age.
Are the lockers in Universal better than Disney?
While locker services are more or less comparable between the two both in terms of quality and cost ($10 and $15 per day with a refundable deposit, depending on size), where Disney has an edge is the flexibility it offers. Disney World lets you stash your bags by your feet while on a ride, whereas Universal rides usually do not let you carry any personal belongings (including backpacks).
What is the best time to visit Disney Parks and Universal Studios Orlando for kids?
Factoring in crowds and weather, the ideal times are in the fall months (September, October, November) or during the springtime (March, April, and May).
What kind of care centers are found in Universal Studios vs Disney?
Universal has diaper-changing stations in all restrooms, but family restrooms are available only at select locations.
Each of the 4 Disney World theme parks has a Baby Care Center. They include facilities and features like changing tables, electric outlets for pumping and comfortable seating for breastfeeding, a waiting area for family members, and kitchen supplies for warming up food and bottles. The centers are also stocked with food supplies like formula and other essentials like diapers.
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