Universal Orlando or Walt Disney World: Which Is Right for You?

Universal Orlando or Walt Disney World: Which Is Right for You?

Growing up, Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando were standards for our family vacation. Usually, we would do four days at Walt Disney World, one for each park: Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, EPCOT, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Then, we’d do one rest day and one day at one of the Universal Orlando parks: Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida. 

But some families find that the opposite is a better option, opting for one Disney day and multiple Universal Orlando days. With Universal Orlando’s third non-waterpark theme park, Epic Universe, opening in 2025, I predict that even more families will be choosing more days at Universal Orlando soon.

Although I would always advocate trying to experience both theme parks on your Orlando vacation, sometimes you just have to pick one or the other. But which one is right for your family? This handy guide can help you decide if you’re more of a Disney or Universal family!

When to Go to Universal Orlando or Walt Disney World

Traveling With a Toddler: Walt Disney World

When to Go to Universal Orlando or Walt Disney World: Traveling with a Toddler

Universal Orlando definitely has kid-focused areas, like the Dr. Seuss-themed Seuss Landing at Islands of Adventure or the upcoming DreamWorks Animation-themed land coming to Universal Studios Florida. But Walt Disney World has so many more areas that little ones will love.

Over in Magic Kingdom, they can meet the princesses and watch spectacular parades filled with their favorite characters, as well as ride rides made just for them, like Dumbo the Flying Elephant. 

In Disney’s Hollywood Studios, they can meet their favorite Pixar pals and be dazzled by Fantasmic! Meanwhile, they can ride with Anna and Elsa or go under the sea with Nemo and Crush at EPCOT. Plus, Animal Kingdom lets them get up close to animals with experiences designed for little ones. 


Traveling With Elementary School-Aged Kids: Walt Disney World

Picking Between Universal Orlando or Walt Disney World: Traveling with Elementary School Aged Kids

While most of Universal Orlando’s rides have height requirements, the same can’t be said for Walt Disney World. Although Walt Disney World’s more thrilling rides, like The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, require guests to reach a certain height, there are plenty of rides at Walt Disney World with no height limits, especially if you’re looking at Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, or Animal Kingdom. 

If you’re traveling with elementary school-aged children, you’ll find that there are a litany of options for rides, which means less splitting up the family during your trip. 


Traveling With High School-Aged Kids: Universal Orlando

Choosing Between Universal Orlando or Walt Disney World: Traveling with High School Aged Kids

By the time kids hit high school, height requirements aren’t much of a concern anymore for most children. High schoolers, as long as they don’t get motion sickness, are often looking for the biggest thrills, which will be found in Universal Orlando. As soon as children are old enough to go on the “big kid rides,” they usually want to exercise that privilege. 

High school-aged kids are also often done with meeting Disney princesses and other costumed pals, so that part of Walt Disney World may not have the same draw it used to have when they were younger.


Traveling With All Adults: Walt Disney World

When to Go to Universal Orlando or Walt Disney World: Traveling with All Adults

I recently did a Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando trip with a group of friends, all in our twenties, and I noticed something. I’d always thought of Universal Orlando as the “big kids theme park,” but that wasn’t quite our experience.

Sure, Universal Orlando is a particularly great choice if you have a party of all ride fans. But going on ride after ride like I did as a teenager just doesn’t appeal to me as much anymore, and my friends agreed. 

We preferred our time at Walt Disney World more. During our adults-only Walt Disney World vacation, we dined around the world at EPCOT, watched the parades in a shady spot at Magic Kingdom, enjoyed a leisurely safari ride at Animal Kingdom, and got our thrill ride fix at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

As adults, we got more out of our days at Walt Disney World than we did at Universal Orlando, as Walt Disney World allowed us to relax more and recuperate from our busy lives in a way that Universal Orlando didn’t.


Traveling With a Harry Potter Fan: Universal Orlando

Picking Between Universal Orlando or Walt Disney World: Traveling with a Harry Potter Fan

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone ask a cast member where “Harry Potter World” is when they’re in Walt Disney World. If you’re traveling with a huge Harry Potter fan, please don’t make this mistake. “Harry Potter World,” which is actually called the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, exists in multiple forms in Universal Orlando, not Walt Disney World.

Over in Islands of Adventure, you’ll find the Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s Hogsmeade recreation, complete with the famous Hogwarts castle and rides like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the Flight of the Hippogriff, and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.

A ride aboard the Hogwarts Express (provided you have a ticket that allows you to go between two parks) will take you to Universal Studios Florida’s extension of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley. Here, you’ll find Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and an incredible fire-breathing dragon. 

Come 2025, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter will extend into Universal Orlando’s newest land, Epic Universe, where you’ll find the Ministry of Magic and a look further into the Fantastic Beasts world. 


Traveling With Foodies: Walt Disney World

Choosing Between Universal Orlando or Walt Disney World: Traveling with Foodies

You would be hard-pressed to find someone who says Universal Orlando’s food is better than Walt Disney World’s. One thing that Universal Orlando severely lacks is sit-down restaurants, whereas there are at least a few options at every Walt Disney World park. Even when it comes to quick service, Walt Disney World really has Universal Orlando beat. 

The same can be said for their shopping and dining complexes. Universal Orlando has CityWalk, but Walt Disney World has Disney Springs. CityWalk has many chain restaurants that are pretty mediocre, as well as a few original locations that are worth a visit, like the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium. But Disney Springs has upscale and casual dining alike, so you have plenty of options for pleasing the foodies in your party.

Walt Disney World also has the Food & Wine Festival over in EPCOT. If you’re traveling with a foodie, definitely try to plan your trip between August and November, which is usually when this food festival runs. 

With this festival, you’ll dine around the World Showcase and even enjoy foods from countries beyond those in EPCOT. You could easily spend the whole day eating and drinking around the park.


Traveling With Thrill Ride Fans: Universal Orlando

When to Go to Universal Orlando or Walt Disney World: Traveling with Thrill Ride Fans

One of the best things about Walt Disney World is that there are four parks, each with very different vibes. Magic Kingdom is great for people who want a “quintessential Disney experience,” complete with fireworks above Cinderella Castle and meet-and-greet opportunities with Mickey, his friends, and the Disney princesses. 

Meanwhile, EPCOT is a foodie haven with great rides and historical journeys sprinkled in. Animal Kingdom is for animal lovers and fantasy fans, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios is where to go if you’re a Star Wars or Pixar fan. 

While most of these parks have a few thrill rides apiece, overall, you’re going to find more thrill rides over at Universal Orlando. From the Rip Ride Rockit at Universal Studios Florida to the stomach-churning Incredible Hulk Coaster at Islands of Adventure, both of Universal Orlando’s parks do a great job of bringing the thrills.


Traveling With People Prone to Motion Sickness: Walt Disney World

Picking Between Universal Orlando or Walt Disney World: Traveling with People Prone to Motion Sickness

One thing I’ve noticed about Universal Orlando’s rides from the past two decades is that a lot of them rely on screens. On the surface, that’s probably more practical, as it saves a lot of money and maintenance issues that come with practical effects and massive animatronics. 

And don’t get me wrong. Walt Disney World is also heading in that direction, with recent rides like Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway relying heavily on screens. It’s not necessarily a brand-new trend, but it’s definitely a trend nonetheless. Unfortunately, this trend may not be great for those who get motion sickness.

All of my friends who get motion sickness have a much harder time with Universal Orlando than they do with Walt Disney World, and most of that has to do with screens. Despite the fact that my partner is predominantly good with most rides, including all rides at Walt Disney World, hopping on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey will put him out of commission for the whole day. 

Overall, with screens or without, Universal Orlando rides tend to be a little harsher on the heads and stomachs of people who tend to get motion sickness. Many rides feature high speeds, loops, launches, or drops, even if they don’t have screens. It’s a lot easier to avoid rides that cause a rough reaction at Walt Disney World.

There you have it! Your guide to when to choose between Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando. What is your favorite park? Let us know in the comments!


Author

  • Jacqueline Gualtieri

    Jacqueline is a writer and editor pursuing the freelance life to explore the world. Born and raised in New Jersey, she spent her college years in Boston before settling down with her partner and puppy in Monterey, California.

    When she’s not writing, you can often find her planning her next trip. Road trips are her favorite, whether it’s driving across the country or simply exploring a new city in her own backyard. She loves uncovering the history of every new place she goes.

    Jacqueline has a restless passion for learning and makes it a goal to pick up a new skill every year. She’s picked up embroidery, crocheting, knitting, and cross-stitching, but she’s hoping to master more languages to help her in her travels. She’s also a published author, with short stories and poetry appearing in several anthologies.

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