So as you can probably tell, I’m completely obsessed with Disney World. It’s one of my dreams to work there in entertainment, and I never get tired of going. Universal is fun, but I don’t feel the need to spend more than a day or so there when I go. (except for maybe to see Harry Potter world again) But I know that for a lot of people (myself included), it’s extremely expensive to go to both, so you need to weigh pros and cons.
Here are a few of the biggest differences that I see between the two parks.
- Disney World is about an experience. When you cross under that giant archway that says “Walt Disney World: Where Dreams Come True”, you are passing into a different world. This is especially true if you are staying in a Disney Resort (Which I strongly recommend, and YES you can do it for cheap if you do it right). Everything about the parks and the resorts are meant to be magical, to be happy and beautiful and fun: the music, the shows, street entertainers, decorations, even the queue lines that, yes, you sometimes have to wait for a while in. The cast members are always friendly, always have a smile. Everyone there has drunk the proverbial kool-aid. They believe in the magic as much as your kids do, and they want you to as well.
- On the other hand, Universal is a theme park. That doesn’t make it less fun. It just makes it less magical. The exception to this is the Harry Potter section. I would definitely say Diagon Alley especially took a page from Disney’s book, and it is a magical and unforgettable experience. But the general aura and feel of Universal is less “We’re here to make sure you have a magical adventure into a fairy tale land of happiness” and more “Enjoy your roller coaster and hot dog”.
- Disney relies on it’s movies and long history to provide entertaining shows and rides and exhibits, and many of these may be a bit juvenile for many park-goers. I am not one of them obviously; I love almost everything I’ve ever done at Disney. And a plus to this is that most people get a lovely wave of nostalgia because they grew up with Disney. But Universal definitely has more thrill rides, more roller coasters. If you’re looking for your standard amusement park, I would recommend going to Universal. They have a plethora of great rides, most based on movies (or some specific theme, like the Dr. Seuss section of Islands of Adventure) and are great fun. I know they have a few shows, but I haven’t been able to see any of them.
- The actual people visiting the parks at Disney are way more kid-friendly. I know this is probably because of all the kids, but the guests at Disney seem to always be so much nicer and less foul. That’s not to say that the guests at Universal are horrible, mean, disgusting people, but I did see a difference between them and the Disney –ites.
- Fast-pass at Disney is free. You can reserve fast passes on line or at fast pass kiosks in the park and skip the lines for rides or shows. At Universal, you have to pay $70 extra (on top of a $100+ ticket) to skip those pesky lines.
- Disney is much more than a park; they have a huge number of resorts (most of which have their own restaurants and shows that are open to the public), not to mention Downtown Disney, which is a extensive shopping area that doesn’t require a ticket for entry, with a Cirque de Soleil show and plenty of restaurants as well. I know Universal has resorts and hotels, but they don’t seem as interconnected as Disney ones do.
- One of the really cool things about Universal is that it has chain restaurants in its City Walk area near the front gate. Finding lunch or dinner is easy, when you can skip over to Hard Rock Cafe, and you know you’ll get good food (not gonna lie, sometimes the park food –counter service– at Disney can be a little less than desirable).
- Disney has extra magic hours. This means that if you stay on property, you get to go into the parks either before they officially open in the mornings, or you get to stay late after they officially close. All the rides are open, and this means there are little to no lines. This is one of the best reasons to stay on property. It’s amazing.
In the end, I, of course, will always choose Disney. But like I said, if you want fast and scary roller coasters, I recommend going to Universal. It’s an awesome theme park with a ridiculous amount of stuff to do. Going to Disney is like visiting an island. You can leave your car at home and if you stay on resort, the only thing you need to worry about is your wallet. They’ll get you from the airport to the hotel (on Disney’s Magical Express!) to anywhere else on property for free (via bus, ferry, or monorail). They truly want you to have the best experience possible.
There’s so much more information out there concerning both parks, especially when it comes to the perks of staying on property at Disney. It all comes down to what type of trip you’re looking for.