Orlando, Florida, is one of the most popular tourist destinations for those looking to get away. It is considered the “theme park capital of the world”, after all.
And while many guests are still flocking to Disney World to visit all four parks, Universal Orlando has continued to grow in popularity. We’re covering all the reasons our readers have shared on why some guests are choosing to split a stay, or go all in on a Universal vacation instead of a Disney trip.
Here’s Why Some People Are Choosing Universal Over Disney
It’s no secret that a Disney World vacation is costly, and when you break down the numbers, a family trip to Universal Orlando is generally cheaper. In fact, we laid out the price of a vacation for a family of four and found that you can save up to about $2,200 if you choose to plan a 5-day vacation to Universal over Disney World.
Yes, the tickets are cheaper (there are only two parks compared to four), but even the cost of hotels is less than staying on Disney property. For example, the price of a premier hotel at Universal is comparable to Disney’s larger Value Resorts like Disney’s Art of Animation. And when you stay at a premier hotel, you’ll also receive a free Express Pass per person, meaning you can skip the line on many attractions.
For those looking for a more budget-friendly vacation, Universal has Disney World beat.
Is a Universal Orlando Vacation Less Expensive Than Disney World? Learn More HERE!
Beyond the cost of the vacation, Universal Orlando also has many more thrill rides compared to Disney World. Disney is a family theme park so most of its rides are created for guests of all ages to enjoy, whereas at Universal you’ll find some bigger rides that are suited to an older audience.
Some of the thrill rides include The Incredible Hulk Coaster, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, and the newest addition, VelociCoaster.
Now, Disney World does have a few thrill rides in its parks, like Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but guests who want to spend their day screaming on coasters tend to head to Universal over Disney since there are far more.
Check Out Our Picks For The Top Ten Thrill Rides At Universal Orlando Resort (Plus Some Extras)!
Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Beyond thrill rides, one of the biggest things that Universal has over Disney World is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure have their own immersive Harry Potter land, and if you’re a big fan of the franchise then these are a must-see.
They are filled with lots of iconic moments from the movies and books that you can experience yourself, so you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into the story. You can ride through Hogwarts, drink Butterbeer, practice your magic skills with a wand, go through the wand choosing ceremony, and SO much more.
Plus, you can even ride the Hogwarts Express to get between Hogsmead and Diagon Alley so you never have to leave the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Check Out 10 Things You MUST Do If You Visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Ability to Skip Lines
For those who are looking to be able to do the most in one day without having to wait in long lines, Universal Orlando just might be the better option right now. Why? Well, after almost 18 months of no FastPass+, Disney World retired the program and introduced two new paid ways to “skip the line” at select popular attractions. And, while the ability to bypass the wait is back, Universal Orlando has Disney beat for some fans.
Disney’s new system is comparable to Universal’s Express Pass in that only select attractions are included in each of the two new services (Disney Genie+ and Individual Attraction Selection), but the prices and perks are pretty different.
The Express Pass at Universal isn’t free and can cost as little as $70 per person up to around $200 per person during peak times. But, if you’re staying at a Premier (at Royal Pacific Resort, Hard Rock Hotel, and Portofino Bay Hotel) Resort then the express pass is complimentary.
Disney Genie+ and Individual Attraction Selections on the other hand are two separate costs with Genie+ being $15 per person, per day and Individual Attraction Selections ranging from $7 to $15 or more depending on when you’re visiting. So, if you’re maximizing your chances of spending less time in line, then you can end up paying up to $45 per person at Disney World. And, there are no cases where you can get either for free like you do when staying at select Universal hotels.
Another Universal benefit is that there’s no specific return time for rides and there’s no limit on how many rides you can use it on (or how many times you use it on one ride). So you can spend less time waiting and more time riding when you visit Universal. Whereas at Disney World, guests can only “skip the line” once at each attraction and have a specific 1-hour return time. Just keep in mind that not all Universal rides have an Express Pass line.
Here’s Why Disney World Needs to Take Notes from Universal on FastPass
Beloved Franchises You Can’t Find Anywhere Else
And while Disney World is where you’ll find Mickey Mouse, princesses, and other Disney and Pixar characters, Universal Orlando is also home to some beloved franchises. Of course, there’s Harry Potter, but there’s also Seuss Landing, which is themed after Dr. Seuss books…
…attractions and meet and greets with characters from Jurassic Park…
…an entire area dedicated to The Simpsons (which, ironically, is a program that belongs to Disney)…
…and more! If you’re a fan of these other franchises, Universal is the better option because you won’t find them at Disney World!
Did You Know These 11 HUGE Movies Have Rides at Universal Orlando?
Universal also hosts a variety of special events throughout the year that are much different than the ones you can experience at Disney World. For example, in the springtime, Mardi Gras kicks off in Universal Studios and you can find special parades that guests can be part of, specialty food, and even live performances from bands (much like EPCOT’s Eat to the Beat series for the Food & Wine Festival).
For Halloween, Universal Orlando is well known for its Halloween Horror Nights which are the complete opposite of Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party in Disney World.
The event is filled with haunted houses, scare zones, and more, so you’ll likely find yourself scared at this one!
Check Out 13 of the BEST Halloween Horror Nights Houses of All Time at Universal Orlando
Earlier we talked about many of the different franchises you can find in Universal Orlando, and one of the bigger ones that draw fans’ attention is Marvel!
Before Disney owned Marvel they were in a partnership with Universal so you can find an entire island dedicated to your favorite comic superheroes. There are attractions, meet and greets, shows, and even dining with some of the characters.
And you won’t be able to experience Marvel like this at Disney World (even though Disney now owns the franchise) because there’s a contract between Universal and Disney that makes it so the characters that are in Universal cannot appear in a park east of the Mississippi. Yup, that’s right.
Here’s Why Disney World Will Never Get Its Own Avengers Campus
You Can See Everything in a Day
Universal is also a great option for families who are planning a shorter vacation because it’s much smaller with only two parks (and one water park). Plus, you can easily walk between the two dry parks or take the Hogwarts Express so you usually can get everything that you want to get done in one day.
And Universal tends to have lower crowds than Disney, so lines can be shorter, and the parks can be quicker to navigate.
Learn The Secret to Having the Best Day in Universal Studios!
Lastly, Universal Orlando has its own area that is comparable to Disney Springs called CityWalk. However, it is much more geared toward adults, so many people may opt to head there instead of Disney.
CityWalk is open until 2AM daily, and you’ll find things like a piano bar, an Irish pub, Margaritaville, and more late-night entertainment. Plus, if you need more evidence that the goal is to attract an adult crowd here, there’s even a tattoo parlor!
For those with a sweet tooth, you can find the popular VooDoo Donut shop here, which draws a lot of attention from fans looking for crazy over-the-top donut flavors.
Check Out What You Should Eat for Every Meal at Universal CityWalk!
There are a lot of different reasons that park-goers may opt to visit Universal Orlando over Disney World and if you need help deciding which one is best for you, you can watch our video below!
Check out Six Ways Universal Studios Beats Disney’s Hollywood Studios Hands Down!
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Which do you prefer — Disney World or Universal Orlando? Let us know in the comments!
32 Replies to “Why People Are Leaving Disney World for Universal”
I dropped Disney in the last couple years and am ecstatic about how Universal Studios is remaining true to itself! So – Universal Hands Down! I’m a nut for Harry Potter.
Despite the reasons well displayed in tbis article, I prefer Disney World anytime
I will stick to Discovery Cove multipark pass SEAWORLD/BUSCH GARDENS vacation with a local time share or vacation resort…best bang for the buck…just hate that bleeding hearts have taken away from the SEAWORLD magic
Will not be returning to Disney until they reinstate all the old perk -free Fastpass, unlimited park hopping, Magic Express busses, etc. So sad my grandchildren will not be going there anytime soon.
Every time I check Universal it’s way more expensive to go. So I guess to bring the price down you can use their hotel except I’m a DVC member so that’s just and extra expense for me. But even if it wasn’t, you have to have extra people in your party before this becomes cheaper and the room is not great either- just a normal hotel room, unlike resorts – so again, I don’t get the draw. Sure both have things you can’t find at the other but unless you are a super fan of something, I dont’t think that matters. I always find new things to see and do at Disney even visiting 2-3 times every year, but US is one and done from what I understand. I don’t know— I still can’t bring myself to pay the price fir US. I’ve tried but never wind up feeling like it’s worth it.
We just went to Universal yesterday and found it to be more expensive overall for a much lesser product than Disney (where we currently are). We got the Express pass and could barely use it. Half the rides were the same motion sickness inducing sit in one place garbage with ridiculously long preshows. The people working there were miserable and unpleasant to deal with, and the lands that weren’t new were dilapidated and in need of refurbishment. The tickets with the express pass cost $800 for two people and we found that it was entirely a waste of money. There’s a reason we will ALWAYS choose Disney.
I, like so many others, have been Disney loyal, but the feeling is clearly not mutual. Our last trip, in January 2021, was the breaking point. We were treated like contaminants rather than princes and princesses, children included. Only one rather old school cast member wished us a magical day in an 8 day trip. The cast members everywhere were constantly harping at everyone to keep on a mask. It was pure tedium, and so very little magic. Add the cost changes and the anti-family, anti-Christian sentiment sweeping their movies, television, and now parks and cruises, I will take my many thousands elsewhere, and get far more for it. I also echo the sentiment about the phones. I requested paper menus everywhere. The QR code for a menu is absurd. When paying $200 for a “fine dining” experience, it is ridiculous to expect me to use my phone to figure out what to eat. So, off to Universal.
After reading all the comments left here, I sadly have to agree with all of them. I started going to Disney World in 1970 and have visited at least once a year ever since (usually more). Sometimes, I would go with one of my children or grandchildren, but most trips were by myself. Disney was my second home. I am now 85 years old and will still make my annual visit; but now, I have to take a young person with me because the technology is way ahead of my understanding. I hate the fact that now I must have a phone to get something to eat. Jeez! Disney has gone down hill every year in it’s quality, quantity and pricing. I remember how impressed I was with “Small World” on my first trip. Today, there is probably 1/3rd the number of dolls that were there originally. I’m not much of a coaster rider anymore, but Universal still has a lot of attractions I enjoy, so maybe I’ll have to “jump ship” with many of you.
Lots of interesting reasons for frustration with Disney here, many of which I agree with. For me, the over-planning necessary for a Disney trip has become a major negative…things like advance park reservations (apparently brought in permanently under the convenient excuse of COVID) and mobile order requirements take away much of the fun, spontaneous nature of vacation. I join others in hating the idea of being chained to my phone while I’m on vacation.
All of this combined just makes Universal feel much more relaxed to me, and with each visit I find myself enjoying my Universal days more and more, and my Disney days less and less.
I don’t know why you can’t just put your phone away and do Disney just as you like. Paging Mr Morrow did a video doing just that and he had a great time. Just do it exactly as you like. I’m sure if you want a regular menu they still have them.
Disney has been playing catch-up with Universal. They also are just copying them. Wait until Super Nintendo World comes to Universal Orlando. It is way better than anything Disney is currently building.
Disney needs a overhaul. It is dirty plane and simple. Look at the monorail. Hasn’t been power washed and cleaned in 35 years. Their upper management is a joke as well
Also the food in Disney is beyond unhealthy.
Disney has largely been completely updated for the 50th. It looks amazing. I’ve never seen it look dirty. Of course it’s a constant endeavor to keep it clean but I think they do a great job. I’ve never visited where they weren’t working on updating and maintaining parks and resorts.
While a Disney fan I am both upset and angry at many of the changes at Disney….not interested in mobile ordering or the problem of needing to be on a phone all day when trying to be on vacation. Not a roller coaster fan though so Universal is a problem for me. Also while I know about Harry
Potter, not really interested in that either which leaves me to think that despite being cheaper, Universal is not for me.
I hear this line year after year, but why is it the crowds never lighten up at WDW?? Why is it’s still near impossible to get on ROTR, or Soaring, or TT, or Minetrain?! I hope your right, that people will start going to Universal instead.
Three words – Value For Money. Universal Resorts are much more realistically priced, especially the Premium Resorts.
Once the 50th Anniversary diversion is over, I can see Disney being left with a lot of empty rooms unless they rethink their value proposition
In the beginning, Disney was the leader. Universal, and others, watched and learned. They learned how to become the innovator, they learned by reading books about the Disney theory of theme park operation. Mr. Chapek had been reading operations manuals for Universal. The shine is off Disney, they no longer see the value in leadership, both in the industry or management. Building flasher, big rides will not replace the magic originally visioned by Walt Disney. #just another amusement park.
We saw this coming 4 years ago. A traditional Disney hotel resort vacation was for 2 weeks…in 2019 cut into the vacation trip by staying at Margaritaville/Orlando for a few days, nice relaxing pace.
Fast forward to November 2021,a week at Universal..1 week at Port Orleans though we should have flipped the locations around so we can enjoy our vacation after a stressful week at Disney…what a way to celebrate the 50th..
Easy, Disney does not care about their repeat customers which is there bread and butter! So many cuts over the last 5 yrs which has made the transition to do other things like Universal much easier.
I am in this group, 19 visits to Disney over the last 10 years (staying on property and 10 days each time) but not anymore.
Coming in October staying at Margaretaville and only visiting Disney 2 days, in our 10 day stay.
Disney is just a money grab business anymore.
If Universal was as size friendly as Disney World, we would be going there at least once a year if not twice…we currently make it to Disney 3 times a year.
Can you ride FoP, and did you try the Tron ride cars the last time you went to MK?
When I booked our two-week vacation at a Lake Buena Vista timeshare back in March, I assumed we would buy annual passes and have two weeks of casually visiting various WDW parks at our leisure. When I found out in August that annual passes still weren’t being sold for my September vacation, I turned my thoughts to Universal. We got annual passes to Universal, and they will pay for themselves in free parking and discounts on most food and merchandise, plus we got a free admission to one night of Horror Nights. This vacation isn’t near as stressful as a Disney vacation would have been.
Have been a Disney annual pass holder for over 20 years. Due to Disney requiring reservations and their mask policy I bought a Universal annual pass. We can go when we want (don’t have to make a reservation) and don’t have to wear a mask. So I choose freedom.
It’s interesting that what I notice as the biggest difference is the beauty of Disney. And also just looking at the people who walk around, there aren’t as many smiles on the faces of people at Universal as there is at Disney.
Universal seems to aim for stimulation … louder, more motion, etc.
Just what I’ve noticed in my first few trips to Universal.
And the food is cheaper. Actually, as noted in this article, it seems everything is cheaper.
I also kept my Disney pass for the record. I still love Disney. I feel like they are leaving me though, more and more. The Photpass change for passholders is another disappointment. Seems like they are trying to disappoint me as much as possible.
My grand kids are at the age where the “thrill rides” at Universal are more attractive than Disney. Their generation did not grow up with Disney, we were last there in September 2018, and it looks like we won’t be taking them back. All they wanted to do is ride the coasters and go back to Pop Century and swim. We will still take the occasional “adult” trip but our days of regular trips to WDW are done. We can rent a 5 bedroom house for a week and still do 2-3 days at Universal for less than the last WDW trip cost
Bet if Universal buses guests from MCO,they could double their hotel bookings. Disney parks are for OLD people.
LOL. If you say so! So funny!
Six months ago I would have said I love Walt Disney World and it will always be my favorite. But with park passes still staying and Genie plus, I am a long time Disney fan who is beginning to switch her allegiance. I love that I can stay at an extremely nice hotel at Universal Orlando, wake up in the morning and decide what I want do. As a long time Disney fan, I hate the fact I need to plan everything ahead. I’ve already seen it all. I’m not trying to cram a bunch in. I don’t need to plan everything. I don’t need or want to figure out which park I want to go to when I make my hotel reservation. At Universal, I can ride the Hogwarts express back-and-forth between the two parks as many times as I’m willing to wait in line. I don’t need to spend every moment at the park looking at my phone trying to plot the best way to use genie+ or get in virtual queues at the crack of dawn. I can have fun and chat with my family in line instead of worrying about my restaurant for lunch not having any mobile order windows till 4 PM. I want to spend my vacation time with my kids not my phone. I realize that it’s hard to compare prices, but we can stay at a Universal “deluxe” hotel with park passes for both parks … park to park. For the price of just the hotel at Disney. For the first time in a number of years after much discussion, we are not getting Disney annual passes. We will get a one day ticket to ride Remy and spend our fall vacation at Universal.
Could not have said it better. After 35 years devoted to Disney, we feel the magic is gone. We went to Universal 3 times this past year with park hoppers for all 3 parks, and stayed in a beautiful hotel for the same price as one Disney trip with one day passes and no water parks would have cost. Universal stepped up its game and their service was great each visit. No phone needed for anything. Just go in and enjoy yourself at your own pace. Amen Michelle!
Michelle, thanks for confirming what I have been wondering. I’m right there with you about not wanting to be tied to my phone during vacation. We have been loyal (40+ WDW family trips) WDW fans and always told people we would never go to “The Dark Side”, but as things stand now, our next family trip will be our first visit to The Dark Side. We have many fond memories with the Mouse, but it’s just not worth the hassle anymore, even if the money were the same.
Completely agree! It makes me sad, but it’s the truth.
Never been to Universal, but have done Disney a few times.
However, due to the recent changes announced by Disney, our next holiday (vacation to our American cousins) will probably be Universal as it seems much better value.