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Universal vs Disney: A Guide To The Similarities and Differences

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The most vexed discussion in the world of amusement parks is hands-down the debate for the crown: Universal Vs Disney. Today, amusement parks have become more than just rides and attractions. While adrenaline rushes and relaxing joy rides are still worthy factors, park visits are valued on the overall experience, amenities, services, and perks provided. 

Universal Vs Disney: A guide to the similarities and differences

Be it with friends or family, a visit to a theme park is one of the best ways to spend a day off together, and if you’re in Orlando with kids, it seems like the obvious choice for a fun getaway. However, what might NOT be obvious is which park to choose. 

Not to worry, we’ve tried to simplify this age-old debate to help you make up your mind. From similarities and differences to tips and tricks for each park, we cover everything. Keep reading for a run-through on this battle royale!

Mickey donut from Main Street bakery ( Starbucks) at Magic Kingdom, Disney World

Universal Vs Disney: Reaching The Parks

So you want to make the most of your vacation by visiting both and you want to know the answer to the question: “how far is Universal Studios from Disney World?” By road, the distance from Universal Studios to Disney World is only a little more than 8 and a half miles. If you want to hit the road in your own car, the drive should take you about 15 minutes.

Don’t want the hassle of taking your car all the way out? There are paid shuttle services available that transport passengers between Disney and Universal. The most popular options are the Mears Transportation Service and Starline Tours, so check those out. Or, take a cab or a taxi if you need a little privacy.

Family meeting Felonious Gru Minion's character Universal's Cabana Bay, Orlando, Florida

Universal Vs Disney: About The Parks

The Universal Orlando Resort, more commonly known as just Universal, is an entertainment resort and theme park in Orlando. Is Universal Studios owned by Disney? No. It is often mistaken for being a part of Disney but this is not the case. The Universal Orlando Resort comes under the parent organization of Universal Parks & Resorts.

Sprawling over 500 acres, Universal is home to 3 theme parks (Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and their very own water theme park, Volcano Bay), 8 hotels, and countless fun activities for everyone in your crew. The park was set up in 1990 and fun additions were made over the years to make the spot one of the most popular hubs for entertainment. 

All Star Movies hotel Buzz lightyear

Walt Disney World Resort, or Disney World, is maintained and developed under the Walt Disney Company and has been welcoming guests for more than half a century.

Disney World has four main parks, namely Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and EPCOT. 

Meet your favorite characters, experience thrills in enchanting rides, and stay in the comfort of world-class facilities. Just when you start to think it can’t get any better, you’ll be charmed by the magic in the air. This wonderful place is likely the closest you will ever get to living in a fairytale!

Universal Vs Disney: Inside The Parks

The answer to “is Disney or Universal better?” is a personal one and primarily depends on what your idea of fun is. While both offer enough for both the adrenaline junkies and those looking to kick back on a zen vacation, you’ll have to learn a little about each and plan ahead to make the best of your visit.

universal studios sign

Universal Orlando Resort

Universal Studios Florida

The Universal Studios theme park is your one-stop destination for living inside your favorite movies. Feel like you are exploring the real Diagon Alley, give a big squishy hug to Spongebob,.

You’ll spot Character Encounter pavilions all over the theme park so make the time to stop by for the Transformers and the Minions!

Potterheads, brace yourselves because the highlight of the park is one of the most popular spots from the Wizarding World – Diagon Alley. From its very own Leaky Cauldron (complete with Butterbeer) to a larger-than-life, fire-spewing dragon atop Gringotts, Universal has got it all. Don your robes and grab your brooms as you make your way through the fantastical set. 

Hogwarts Castle at Islands of Adventure Universal Orlando (1)

Islands Of Adventure

Islands of Adventure is home to even more hair-raising attractions and rides. If you’ve got a Park-to-Park admission ticket, getting to Islands of Adventure is easy. Board the Hogwarts Express from King’s Cross Station in Universal Studios and get transported to Hogsmeade, in Islands of Adventure!

Here, young paleontologists will get to enjoy Jurassic Park-themed rides and attractions. Visit the raptor roller coasters and the dino egg nursery and meet Blue. Don’t forget to take home your favorite souvenirs amid all the fun.

Meeting Blue the velociraptor dinosaur at islands of adventurem Universal

To satisfy your hunger, choose from a list of creatively-designed restaurants, complete with props and characters. A Fantastic Four-themed Italian restaurant, an all-American grub spot named (appropriately) after Captain America, and so on. For the more modern cuisine seekers, check out the award-winning restaurant, Mythos.

Volcano Bay Waturi

Volcano Bay

Grab your swimsuits and floats before you visit this amazing water park at Universal. Volcano Bay is themed in likeness to a Polynesian island, complete with a volcano as its centerpiece. With over 15 rides and a handful of dining options, it makes the perfect place to beat the summer heat.

Every corner of the park is well designed to go with the tropical getaway theme but if serene lazy rivers are not to your taste, there’s more. For solo riders, the Ko’okiri Body Plunge will be the height of your adrenaline rush. With nothing to hold on to, prepare to be dropped 125 feet high from the volcano, right into a white frothing pool below. 

For the average water park visitor, there are also tons of slides and rapids. The Krakatau Aqua Coaster takes you and your family on a canoe through rapids and waterfalls inside the volcano. Competitive groups should try out the Serpentine Slides where you can race your friends and family through terrifying twists and turns.

magic kingdom castle

Disney World

Magic Kingdom

Much like Universal’s Islands Of Adventure, Magic Kingdom is where the Disney magic actually comes alive. Set around the enchanted Cinderella’s Castle, the park is home to character greet ‘n’ meets, themed rides, and hands-on interactive attractions.

Aside from the enthralling castle, your little princes and princesses will spot other exciting activities around the corner, including a musical tour of Little Mermaid, a mine train with the seven dwarves, and a ride on Aladdin’s magic carpet! If that’s not enough, you’ll also get to meet your favorite animated characters throughout the park so remember to keep your cameras ready.

Come nightfall, stick around for Disney’s Enchantment as the sky lights up with fireworks that are synchronized to music and appearances made by your favorite characters.

Tower of terror at Hollywood Studios

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

The long-standing competitor to Universal Studios theme park, Hollywood Studios takes you on a journey through the cinematic world of Disney. Movieholics are bound to lose track of time here as they make their way through immersive cinematic universes.

Star Wars fans, stop by the outfit shop and grab your Jedi cloaks as you traverse through actual locations from the franchise. Want to add to the experience? Custom build your lightsaber and join immersive rides as you battle droids and other fighter pilots in this amazingly themed dimension. Quick bites can also be enjoyed, some even from a galaxy far, far away.

The “younglings” may prefer their animated buddies from their favorite movies. From live shows to parades, you can find all of them here. Elsa, Olaf, Lightning McQueen, The Incredibles, Buzz Lightyear – you’re going to lose count and maybe even yourself in this amazing lineup.

Tree of Life At Animal Kingdom hidden mickeys

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom is a one-of-a-kind experience that combines entertainment with education, using artificial models and even actual live animals! The little explorers in your bunch are sure to love this so don’t miss this amazing park that takes you on a journey through the wild – literally.

Go on a safari on foot across bridges and under waterfalls through a fairytale forest, complete with live animals from gorillas, elephants, and even Asian tigers, in all their majestic glory. If taking on the jungle makes the little ones a little uneasy, there’s also a savanna safari where you can spot the King of The Jungle. Disney takes particular care in the conservation and enrichment of the animals in their facilities, ensuring there is no animal cruelty for the sake of entertainment.

For a more colorful “King of The Jungle” sighting, there is also a Lion King-inspired stage musical in the park to check out. Later, dive into the world of Avatar, complete with a ride on wings across Pandora and a family adventure on a cruise through the bioluminescent Na’vi River.

epcot

EPCOT

EPCOT will be most appealing to the older kids and adults in the family. Designed with the aim of bringing diverse cultures and technological advancements closer to you, EPCOT is where you want to be to experience “the tomorrow” of the world.

The most titular attraction at the park is the Spaceship Earth installment, complete with its amazing LED shows at night. High octane car designing for gearheads, a space shuttle journey for the budding astronauts, and a gigantic aquarium with quirky activities for the marine life maniacs – there’s something for everyone.

Guardians of the galaxy

Of course, Guardians of the Galaxy is the first rollerocaster at Epcot and a huge hit for thrill seekers!

The park is also famous for its seasonal fests around food, wine, and international holidays. Be sure to check out the year-round culinary options sampled from cuisines from almost a dozen countries around the world. Spicy Mexican, cheesy Italian, or even flavorful German, the park has it all, some even with mind-blowing props and settings to add to the ambiance and experience.

Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon

Want to beat the summer heat? Disney has you covered. Much like Universal, Disney World has not one, but two water parks on its premises.

Blizzard Beach is modeled after a frosty ski hill that has opened up in the summer, with ski ramps as slides and melted lakes as pools! For a more tropical feel, visit Typhoon Lagoon, an island paradise left in the aftermath of a typhoon, complete with strewn wreckage, debris, and a colossal wave pool.

Both parks have their share of plummeting drops, twisted tunnels that land in pools, and slow, smooth slides for the whole family.

When in Blizzard Beach, check out Summit Plummet, as you drop down Mount Gushmore at terrifying speeds into a pool below. Typhoon Lagoon boasts one of the largest wave pools in the world, with waves high enough to surf! The park has designated slots for surfing so book early if you crave some wind in your hair.

Disney conducts maintenance for these parks throughout the year, but it is always guaranteed that one remains open when the other is being worked on. It’s a good idea to check in advance before you visit the park.

Crowds and Wait-Times: Universal Studios vs. Disney World

If you’re visiting during peak season, then the rush of crowds goes without saying. Summers in Universal and the holiday seasons in Disney World are when there is a maximum influx of visitors. Getting around the park to your favorite rides and attractions can be a struggle during these periods so remember to do your research on the locations of rides in the parks and plan ahead.

Skip-the-line services are available at both parks under different names. Universal provides what is called the Express Pass. Use the pass to skip the long lines for most rides across all the parks in Universal Orlando and cover more during your visit.

Disney has replaced its Fastpass system with Genie+. Much cheaper than its counterpart in Universal, Genie+ gives you access to Lightning Lanes, which is essentially a smaller wait line for your favorite rides. Genie+ Lightning Lanes can be availed on selected rides whereas there are normal Lightning Lanes that can be purchased individually too.

Universal Vs Disney: Services In The Park

Universal Orlando has come up with a very interesting logistics system in Volcano Bay. The Tapu Tapu system allows you to join a virtual queue for your favorite rides instead of an actual one, saving you a lot of time and energy. 

Tapu Tapu watch at Volcano Bay

Visitors are given a free wristband a.k.a the Tapu Tapu upon entry. Don’t want to wait in the sun to go on your ride? Head to the totem pole at the entrance of your ride, tap your band on it, and your Tapu Tapu will show you a designated time.

Come back during your slot to walk right into your ride! However, note that all visitors are given a Tapu Tapu and so, the waiting time on your virtual lines can be just as high as an actual line. Its main purpose is to allow guests to make better use of their time as they wait.

Otherwise, in the dry parks Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, it’s a normal standby system, unless you have purchased the Express pass – which allows you to head to the Express Pass lane for every particpating ride, whenever you want – no pre-booking required.

While Disney World also has its own virtual line system for certain rides made accessible through the My Disney Experience app, when it comes to wearable gizmos, the Disney Magic Bands take the cake. The Magic Band and Magic Band Plus Plus wristbands come with an intelligent, removable “fob” that makes them the definition of multipurpose.

The bands serve as your room key card, your park entry pass, your Genie+ Lightning Lane reservation, your mode of payment for merchandise and food, and of course, a fashion statement that is totally customizable according to age and style preferences. The Plus bands are interactive around the parks and light up etc. Magic Bands are available to purchase online and can be taken home and reused, unlike the Tapu Tapu that needs to be returned.

Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane Queue Cheat Sheet
Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane Queue Cheat Sheet

You don’t need either of the bands as you can also use cards given to you by Disney or your phone. If you purchase Genie+ then this means you can skip the line, but for this you need to currently prebook and. leave a two gap in between each selection of eligible rides. More information here: Genie+

Universal Vs Disney: FAQ

  1. Which is better, Disney or Universal?

While Disney World is much larger, with a wide variety of theme parks and immersive rides and experiences, Universal Resort contests Disney with some of the most thrilling rides and cutting-edge technology. Equally stimulating, fun, and thrilling, each is special for its own reasons! So the answer to this million-dollar question of Universal Vs Disney lies in your taste and preferences for fun.

  1. Is Universal part of Disney?

No, Universal Orlando Resort comes under the parent organization of Universal Parks and Resorts. The Walt Disney Company owns and maintains the Disney World Resort.

  1. How many acres is Disney World?

When it comes to size, Disney World wins by a landslide. With the record of being the largest theme park in the world, Disney World Resort sprawls out over 27,000 acres. How big is Universal Studios? Universal Orlando covers a total of 840 acres.

  1. How to get from Disney World to Universal Studios?

By road, the journey between the two gates of the park should take you only 25 minutes depending on traffic. Of course this varies depending on exactly which Disney park you are traveling to. You can take your own car, go by cab, or make the journey by one of the paid shuttle services that are available between the two parks. 

5. How is self-parking different at Universal Studios vs. Disney World?

Each of the four parks at Disney World has its own gigantic outdoor parking lot with its separate entrance. The parking fee is $25 per day or more, depending on if you want additional perks or preferred parking, and is transferable between the parks.

Getting to the park entrances from the parking lots takes between 5 and 15 minutes on foot, or you can choose to take one of the trams that you’ll find making their way through the lots. 

Universal Studios has one huge covered parking complex for all of its guests, regardless of whether they are visiting Universal Studios, Volcano Bay, Islands of Adventure, or all of them. Park your car for $26 a day and make your way to Universal’s transportation hub by using the escalators and moving walkways. Each of the park entrances is situated about 15 minutes away by foot from here. Parking is free after 6pm.

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