Basically, I know my hotels. So, with all those hotel stays under my belt, you might be surprised to find that I have a bit of a controversial opinion about where you should stay for your next Orlando vacation. So, which is it? Disney World or Universal Orlando hotels?
Before we dive in, you can check out reviews of every single hotel I’ve stayed in over on our YouTube channel. Watch one of them right here!
But let’s get down to the controversy.
The Disney Magic
As a Disney fan, I know that there is a certain undeniable charm and magic to staying at a Disney World resort. From the Disney music you’ll hear around the lobbies to the Disney touches in the rooms, it’s hard to pass on all the nostalgic warm and fuzzies.
On top of that, every Disney hotel offers immersive theming, unbeatable proximity to the Disney World theme parks, and the legendary Disney service from the Cast Members.
Plus, Disney fans will tell you that there is something relaxing and special about being fully inside the Disney bubble. You can use Disney transportation, eat Disney food, and not have to worry about the outside world.
The Universal Appeal
On the other hand, Universal Orlando has some pretty stellar hotels too. Though there aren’t as many as there are in Disney World, there are still a wide variety of options and ALL of them are more affordable than the Disney World options — often with more amenities and perks.
Two of my most exciting stays really highlighted this. I stayed at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Hotel with the most amazing park view of Universal’s water park, and the room I was in had rates that could be cheaper than Disney World’s All-Star hotels. The difference? The All-Stars’ amenities are few and far between while Cabana Bay had a bowling alley, Starbucks, lazy river, and more.
The other was at one of the premier category hotels. These are Universal’s most expensive hotels — though still priced at the lower end of Disney’s most expensive deluxe category. The wow factor here is that a stay in a premier hotel nets you access to Universal’s Unlimited Express Pass for everyone in your room. That means skipping the lines at participating attractions as many times as you want for the duration of your stay — an add-on that can typically cost around $100 if you aren’t staying at the premier level.
And Universal has its own transportation too! There are buses that come almost constantly to ferry you between the hotels and the parks with boat and walking path options, as well.
The Controversial Standpoint
So, that brings me to my hot take. If you’re going to both Disney World and Universal Orlando on your trip, you should be staying in a Universal hotel.
I know, I know! To us Disney people that sounds totally wrong, but hear me out. Universal’s hotels have perks and amenities that far exceed Disney’s for the price point. If you plan to spend time at Universal, then that Express Pass could be a game changer, and you could even save versus staying at a deluxe Disney hotel.
For me (having stayed on property at both resorts plenty of times), if I was going to spend a day or two of my trip at the Universal parks, I’d book myself into a Universal hotel and Uber or rent a car to head to Disney World.
That said, there are drawbacks to this strategy. For one, renting a car or Ubering can get pricey if you haven’t driven to Orlando. It’s worth balancing if the commute to Disney World will make your hotel savings a moot point. Plus, even if you do have your own car, you’ll have to pay for parking at the Disney parks. Of course, if you’re staying in Disney and heading to Universal, you’ll have the same problems.
You’ll also miss out on that Disney immersion, so if that’s a major priority for you with an Orlando trip, then you’ll still want to treat Universal as an excursion rather than a home base. The choice ultimately depends on your individual preferences and priorities.
The Middle Ground
BUT…there is another option if you don’t want to have to choose. If you’ve got several days in Orlando, you could consider splitting your stay between a Universal and Disney hotel. This would allow you to get the Disney perks and enjoy the bubble while you’re enjoying Disney World then get the Universal perks and cost savings when you’re headed to the Universal parks. It’s the best of both worlds!
Combining stays can be tricky, but for longer trips it can absolutely make for the most cost-effective and enjoyable option. The only realy travel you’ll need to worry about is the one-time trip between Disney World and Universal and you can otherwise stick to transportation within the resorts.
I stand by my stance that staying at Universal provides more perks and amenities for cheaper prices and is therefor worth the stay. Regardless of the way you lean, you should weigh the options carefully based on your plan, preferences, priorities, and budget. Orlando has a lot to offer beyond the parks and Universal and Disney both bring tons of magic.