We are what is referred to as Disney People. We love all things Disney. We love Disney World. We love the parks, the rides, the shows, the food, the shops, the characters, the music, the atmosphere. We love driving into Disney World and seeing the sign that welcomes us. We love parking in a themed parking lot. We love the ferry boat and the monorail and sometimes can’t decided which one to ride. We miss the sorcerers hat at Hollywood Studios, the robotic garbage can in Tomorrowland, Mickey and Minnie’s houses in Toon Town (Pluto’s house was Quinn’s favorite picture spot.) We miss the Back Lot Tour. We are sad that there were attractions we never got to experience like Maelstrom, which for some reason we chose not to when we went to Epcot or (for all but me) the 2000 Leagues Under the Sea Ride which was gone before Scott made his first trip to the Magic Kingdom. But we look forward to the new attractions, restaurants and shops that are coming. We can’t wait to ride through Arendelle and travel to Pandora.
That being said we also have some huge Harry Potter fans in the house and have been planning to go to Universal Orlando since the Wizarding World’s of Harry Potter have been added. So this year was the year. I had hoped to go to the Magic Kingdom as well, but since we like to only do a couple park days and since we couldn’t pick one Universal park over the other we put Disney off. (Yes I am counting down to the next visit.)
So the question is ‘Is Disney better than Universal?’
Better no, Different yes.
- Cost. We had heard over and over that Universal was more expensive than Disney. A 1 day ticket to Magic Kingdom was $105 when we went which is the same as a 1 day ticket to either Universal park. Disney includes 3 fast passes to begin your day with the cost of admission. Universal charges for their express pass, $39.99. This pass gets you unlimited express pass access to all rides that it is valid for for that day. It does not include the 2 big Harry Potter rides (one in each park) so we personally did not spend the extra. Food was similar in price. But Universal had a refill program that Disney does not. You could purchase a souvenir mug and refill it all day at one of the many Coca Cola Freestyle stations around the park (it uses the chip technology and you do need to wait 10 minutes between fills. You are also able to have the chip reactivated each day for about half price.) as well as refill your souvenir bucket of popcorn for a few dollars.
- Story Lines. At Disney most of the story lines for shows, rides and attractions put you into the current story you already know. On Peter Pan’s Flight you soar over London to Neverland and take in the sites of the story just as Wendy and the boys did. Indiana Jones gives you the feeling that you are on an adventure with Indy to find some lost gem. The attractions at Universal seem to tell a new story. You may be on a broomstick flying around Hogwarts but you are not living the same adventure you watched in the movie. In the Terminator you watch a new story unfold instead of just taking part of the one you already know. For some new is good and a new story is a great way to continue on, but I like to live the story that I already know and that brought me to the park in the first place.
- Attraction Format. Universal rides are a little different than those at Disney. They definitely shake you more and there seems to be more of an emphasis on motion. There are less shows and rides that just take you through the story. After a half day at Universal Studios I knew that I had enough and would have to sit any additional rides out. The Minion ride did have an option to sit in stationary seats and just watch the movie that played, this option also decreased wait time by well over an hour. ET was a simple ride that took you though the forest searching for ET but when the signs advise you that if you are pregnant, have back problems or motion sickness believe it. Islands of Adventure rides were a little easier going for me. Dr Seuss land was a great spot for all ages and adventure styles- not much shaking but you will get wet (as to be expected) on One Fish Two Fish. And beware that you will spin win fighting the villians in The Amazing Adventures of Spider Man and my eyes remained shut for most of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
- Meet and Greets. At Universal it was old school style. No fast passes for meet and greets. No cued lines. They characters just finish their street show, the MC makes an announcement and BOOM lines form. I LOVED this. For us it worked great in Dr. Seuss land. Kooper quickly made her decision we formed a line and since we were so fast the rest of the line formed behind us! Best way to meet the Grinch and Sam I Am EVER!!
- Harry Potter. Hogsmede and Diagon Alley were awesome. You don’t have to even be a fan to appreciate the coolness of these to areas. You also do not need to ride the major rides to enjoy the worlds created in the Harry Potter stories, all the detail in them makes them easy to enjoy on their own- the rides are just bonuses. The authenticness of the streets and shops was beyond amazing. You felt like you were actually there. The employees were well versed and knew their subject matter. The merchandise was great. The fire breathing dragon outside of Gringots was spot on. Hogwarts felt life size- wether you were looking at it from the street or walking though it on your way to the Forbidden Journey Ride. Interactive wands and wand choosing at Olivander’s. The train station, Hogwarts Express and 9 3/4 Platform at Kings Cross. Seeing the house elf peer out the window at #12 Grimmwald Place. Butter Beer (regular, frozen, and ice cream). It is something that can only be truly appreciated in person.
- City Walk vs Disney Springs. Disney Springs has free parking. City Walk shares a parking ramp with the 2 parks so parking is currently $20 before 6 pm (discounted after that.) Both have restaurants, street shows and night life. Disney Springs, however is much bigger and has more of everything. I would be able to spend a lot more time walking around Disney Springs than I could around City Walk. City Walk seemed to be more about a destination that you would need to spend money at, I could easily just walk around Disney Springs for hours looking at things and watching the street shows. That being said I have really only eaten at City Walk once, 15 years ago and walked through it on my way in and out of the parks. We did try to go there last year but couldn’t rationalize paying to park to just walk around and eat dinner (although it does have some amazing restaurants!)
- Rides that didn’t allow you to take anything on with you. Many rides at Universal made you completely empty your pockets before getting in line (or going beyond a certain point.) I have never experienced this at Disney. You would get to a certain point and have to put ALL your belongings into a locker that was access by thumb print. When I say all ALL I mean it- cell phones, sunglasses, hats, bags, wallets, change from your pocket. When getting in line for Rip Ride Rocket we even had to go thru a metal detector to make sure we didn’t have anything on us still (and I was just walking thru the line- I didn’t ride the ride.) I guess I can understand this for a ride like that it was a pretty crazy coaster and they could be concerned about stuff falling out but we had to use the lockers for the Men In Black Ride as well. If you have never been on it but are familiar with Disney it is similar to the Toy Story Rides- you just spin more. I found it quite annoying having to find an empty locker, shove all my stuff into it (which really meant finding at least 2 lockers), going thru the process of opening and locking it, and having to remember the locker number(s). Then get back into line without my drink or snacks for another 30-40 minutes. Seriously this locker thing was probably the biggest annoyance of the day.
- Food. Although the food was somewhat themed Mel’s Drive Inn in Hollywood Boulevard, Krusty Burger and Moe’s Tavern in Springfield, Wimpy’s in Toon Lagoon the only thing that could really compare to Disney iconic Mickey Mouse Ice Cream Bars, Mickey shaped soft pretzels, and dole whip (as well as the food served at the many quick service and full service restaurants) was the Butter Beer and Gilly Water in Diagon Alley and the french fries and atmosphere at Mel’s were fabulous! And again I must give props to that refill program. For us being able to refill our soda and popcorn bucket is huge. And since it was a freestyle machine there were tons of non soda options as well. You could also use the machines for ice and water free of charge.
These are just some of the big difference I picked up between the two. Lots of things were similar. I have heard many times that the service isn’t as good at Universal as it is at Disney. I did not find this to be the case at all. I listened to the gentleman outside Olivander’s tell countless numbers of people that the line was for the wand choosing experience not to purchase a wand. He did it with a smile every time. He also talked to my kids while we waited and was never annoyed. The park was clean, there was no garbage lying around. Lines moved as quick as they could. There was rider swap and single rider lines. Questions were asked and answered just as they would be at Disney. The displays were fantastic and there was fun to be had around every corner. There were character meet and greets happening all the time. Tradition was still upheld. And yes both Universal and Disney have Starbucks.
Is Disney World better than Universal Orlando. No it is not. Is it different? Yes, there are some similarities but they are two very different theme parks. I am glad we finally went to Universal but I am glad we waited for all of the kids to be older. Kooper may not love Harry Potter, but she was able to appreciate it. She did love Dr Seuss Land, the Woody Woodpecker Coaster, The Barney Live Show, Fieval’s Playground, Kang and Kudos Twirl and Hurl and the Minion Mayhem.
Would we go again? Yes. Honestly we could spend most of the day just walking around the Harry Potter Worlds. The other attractions we hit would just be a bonus. I would probably do both parks in 1 day though. I think with the park hopper we would have been able to still do everything we wanted to do as well as ride The Hogwarts Express- which we unfortunately did not get to do since we didn’t have the park hopper. There’s always next time.