We love Walt Disney World. We really do. Obviously, we love it enough to create an entire blog about it and travel there multiple times a year. But even as big fans, we know when things are not as good as they could be. And while we’ve never been nearly as big of Universal Studios fans, we have to admit there are definitely some things that Universal is doing much better than Disney right now.
- 1 Everything Universal is doing better than Disney right now
- 2 Walt Disney World vs Universal Studios
- 3 Planning a Trip: Walt Disney World vs Universal Studios
- 4 Express Pass vs Genie+ and Lightning Lane
- 5 Annual Passes: Universal vs Disney
- 6 Park Pass Reservation System
- 7 Park Hopping: Universal vs Walt Disney World
- 8 Last Minute Trips: Universal vs Disney
- 9 Prices: Walt Disney World vs Universal Studios
- 10 Is Universal Studios better than Walt Disney World?
Everything Universal is doing better than Disney right now
We’ve been traveling to Walt Disney World pretty consistently for a little over a decade. So we’ve seen the slow roll of changes that have come to the Parks. Are they always good? No. Are they always bad? Of course not. But there is a definite difference between how planning a trip used to be and how it is now. Some of these changes came about during the pandemic, but I think it’s safe to say that since Walt Disney World currently has no pandemic restrictions anywhere else in the Parks, we can’t keep blaming Covid for everything, right? Many of these changes have left guests confused, angry, and finding a lot less value in their trips.
Talking about how something is better than something else often implies an opinion. And this is our blog, so of course, we share our opinions here. We’ve already talked about why you probably Shouldn’t Visit Walt Disney World Right Now. But there are also things that are just objectively better, no opinion required. Universal is just doing a lot of things better than Disney World right now!
Walt Disney World vs Universal Studios
There’s not really much comparison between the two, right? I mean Universal Studios in Orlando only has two parks and a water park. Walt Disney World has four parks, two(sometimes operating) water parks, and really is a destination all in itself. But Universal has already shown it can play the game with its Volcano Bay water park, which many Disney fans agree is by far the better water park in Orlando. And with Universal planning to open Epic Universe in the coming years….could a third park really put them in serious competition with Walt Disney World? It’s hard to say, but it does make us wonder what Walt Disney World is planning to do to keep the edge on the competition.
Overall, Universal is just doing a lot of things better than Disney right now. Let’s take a look!
Planning a Trip: Walt Disney World vs Universal Studios
As someone who loves planning trips, I can say Walt Disney World has become increasingly frustrating to plan a trip to. Universal? Easy! Pick your resort, whether on or off property, choose how many days you want to go, and come up with a plan.
Walt Disney World used to be slightly complicated to plan a trip for. And now it’s just even more complicated. Figuring out park passes, deciding what days you’ll need to buy Lightning Lane or Genie+, planning around their always changing park hours(why do they keep changing them? Who knows). Add on the fact that many of their changes are implemented quickly and can completely disrupt many of those who are in the last stages of planning. It’s enough to make your head spin. Especially if you are a Walt Disney World beginner.
Express Pass vs Genie+ and Lightning Lane
Express Pass at Universal Studios has been around for a while. So the idea of paying for lower lines is not a new one. It can be quite expensive, but at least it’s easy to use. And it’s one set price that includes all rides that offer an express pass lane. And if you’re staying at a deluxe resort on Universal Property, it’s free for everyone in your party. Or rather included in the price. But anyway, you don’t have to pay extra for it. To use Express Pass, you just have to get in the line that says Express Pass, and that’s it. We have seen the rare occasion that Express Pass gets closed, but that’s very rare. There’s no extra planning required, no waking up at 7 am to make sure you get what you want, and no staring at your phone all day long when you’re supposed to be enjoying your vacation.
Genie+ and Lightning Lane not only change their rules every 5 seconds (ok, ok, maybe more like 10 seconds) but they require a lot of strategizing beforehand, as well as a lot of staring into the abyss that is your phone for much of the day. Are they useful? Of course. But not at every park and not in every situation. And some of the Lightning Lane selections go so quickly that you need to be up and ready to get those reservations at 7 am. So much for getting any sleep on your vacation. Not that we are generally late sleepers at Walt Disney World, but we did like the option. FastPasses are not coming back. And Genie+ is apparently making Walt Disney World loads of money, so we doubt it’s going away. But Universal wins this one.
Annual Passes: Universal vs Disney
Ahhhh Annual Passes. As annual pass holders to both Theme Parks, this has been an interesting one to see pan out.
Let’s start with Walt Disney World. Well, first of all, they’re not even currently selling them, unless you’re a Florida resident who wants loads of blackout dates. Bob Chapek has made it absolutely clear that he is not a fan of Disney Annual Passholders. This has never been a secret for him. With all of the drama that has been going on with Disneyland Magic Key holders, there is some speculation that Walt Disney World may eventually get rid of annual passes. Keep in mind, that this is purely speculation. But if Bob had his way, I feel like that would be an accurate assumption. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen, but anything is possible. Besides the fact that they’re not even selling passes, it’s been very evident that annual pass holder benefits have really died down at Walt Disney World. Annual Passholder discounts for rooms have been few and far between in 2022. Little extras like passholder magnets have been extremely limited. And even the pass holder preview of Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind was so limited that many pass holders missed out.
Universal Studios Orlando, however, loves their pass holders. I actually got my annual pass with them because with the cost of a 2-day ticket, and the savings on a deluxe room, along with the free express pass, it actually paid for itself and even saved me some. And they’re actually selling them, which is always helpful. Not only do Universal Studios Annual Passholders get great rates on rooms (sometimes up to 40% off), but they get pretty good discounts throughout the parks too. There are plenty of opportunities to get little goodies, like buttons throughout the year. And they also have Passholder Appreciation Days, which are a great time to save on resorts, food, merch, and more. You can read about Passholder Appreciation Days at Universal Studios here. Universal is better than Disney on this one.
Park Pass Reservation System
Want to go to a Disney Park? Then you’ll need a Park Pass Reservation. Of all of the things Walt Disney World has done in the past few years, this tops the list of things that just need to go. The Park Pass Reservation system is a sham. When they first reopened the Parks in July 2020, I saw the value. But now here we are, in late 2022, with absolutely no covid restrictions in place and we are still using this system…why? Oh right, it has nothing to do with managing crowds, or with the guest experience. It’s all about scheduling their cast members. Which I would be completely behind if it actually benefitted either cast members or guests or both. But it doesn’t. Guest experience and service at Walt Disney World Parks are currently at a low, and the Park Pass System has not helped improve that whatsoever. And since it doesn’t really benefit anyone but those who benefit from Disney’s profit margins, this one is a big no for me.
Not only does it add another layer of complexity to your trip, but it also limits flexibility in your plans. For example, if you’re staying at a Boardwalk Area resort and want to take advantage of the monorail to get to a monorail resort, not only do you need a Park Pass to get into EPCOT to get to the monorail, but you also can’t visit another Park until after 2 pm thanks to the Park Hopper rules, which we’ll talk more about later.
Want to go to a Universal Park? Then make sure you have a ticket and show up. That’s it. No reason to announce your arrival or departure. Come and go as you please, no reservation necessary. Universal wins this one.
Park Hopping: Universal vs Walt Disney World
Park Hopping at Walt Disney World used to be a great way to see and do a lot within a shorter amount of time. Aside from being able to accomplish a lot, it just made life easier. Want to rope drop Magic Kingdom but eat lunch in France at EPCOT? Park Hop! Not anymore. Now you have to wait until after 2 pm to get into another Park. Why? We have no idea. Again, it’s just another rule that has made Walt Disney World a lot more complicated than it needs to be.
Want to go from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios? As long as you have a Park to Park Pass, then you can just jump on the Hogwarts Express and head over there. Whenever you want. Sounds like a dream, right? I promise you, it’s not. Universal is better than Disney in this one.
Last Minute Trips: Universal vs Disney
We used to love last-minute trips to Walt Disney World. You could grab a great deal, and spend a few days there and it was great. Travel has definitely changed since that time. But for some people, last-minute trips are the only ones they can plan. With more people traveling now than in the last few years, it’s understandable that rooms would be more difficult to find. That’s not really Walt Disney World’s fault, but it does make it harder to plan a last-minute trip. Especially with the Park Pass Reservation System, considerably fewer dining reservations are available and more strategies to deal with the crowds. You used to be able to pack up and go, and now there’s just a lot more to think about.
Want a last-minute trip to Universal Studios? Then plan one. It’s really pretty simple, and often less crowded.
Prices: Walt Disney World vs Universal Studios
The cost of everything is going up these days, so of course, the cost would go up for vacations. It makes sense, so I get it. In the past, we’ve always thought that Universal was a little pricey on the side. Mostly because the tickets are a little more than Walt Disney Worlds. But when you look at the full cost of a Walt Disney World trip vs Universal Studios trip, I bet you’ll find that Universal’s prices can actually be a little better than Walt Disney World’s. Their on-property rooms can be quite reasonable, with deals for both annual pass holders and the general public at certain times of the year. And they have a huge selection of good neighbor hotels, some of which even offer benefits when staying for a certain period of time. And if you see you’ll be going more than 3 days, it could be useful to look into getting an annual pass, which may save you money in the long run.
Walt Disney World also has a great selection of good neighbor hotels, and you can definitely use this to your advantage budget-wise. But if you’re hoping to stay on Walt Disney World property, even their value resorts have really gone up in price, especially when you take a look at 2023 pricing. And with fewer and fewer perks of staying at a Walt Disney World resort, it can be argued that the value of a Disney vacation has really gone down.
This one is kind of a draw for us because there are a lot of things that can affect the price of your trip, many of which you ultimately get to choose.
Is Universal Studios better than Walt Disney World?
Back to what was previously stated, “better” is a very subjective word. What I might think is better, you might think is much worse. So it’s difficult to say if Universal as a whole is better than Walt Disney World, as that is a very personal matter of opinion. But add in the fact that Universal makes your trip planning and experience easier, and they are always adding fun activities like Mardi Gras and Halloween Horror Nights, it definitely makes it more tempting to book a Universal vacation just to avoid all the headaches that Walt Disney World is currently serving up. Or at least shorten your Disney trip to add on a few nights at Universal.
Universal is also a very different experience than Disney. The rides are generally better for thrill seekers and overall, there is a bigger variety of things to do. The atmosphere itself is less magical unless you’re in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, so it really depends on what your priorities are. I’ll more definitively be able to answer the better question once they open Epic Universe.
Of course, we still love Walt Disney World and will continue to go there and write about all of the things! And I’m sure there is plenty that Walt Disney World is doing better too. But that doesn’t change the fact that Disney really needs to step up their game once this current phase of revenge travel has finished. What do you think Universal is doing better than Disney? We’d love to know your thoughts!
Melanie Renee is a photographer, writer, designer and mom. Visiting Disney destinations since 2010, she is also an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. When she's not creating her next coffee recipe, or designing apparel at Polka Dot Pixie Shop, she's seeking beautiful sunsets and planning her next trip .