As an official Floridian, I get emails all the time from people with questions about their upcoming Orlando vacations. Apparently, a Florida driver’s license makes me an expert on tourism. Well, that and my awesome habit of usually being right and knowing everything.
My expert opinion is that it depends.
Universal Studios vs. Disney World
Questions to ask when deciding which theme park is right for your vacation.
How old are your kids?
Both of the mega theme parks in Orlando cater to children. Obviously. But the age of your children will make a big difference in what they’ll get out of each.
Walt Disney World is perfect for toddlers and preschool age children. My 4 year old daughter thinks that Disney World is heaven and Mickey Mouse just might be the Messiah. Which is a testament to Disney’s marketing and not at all a reflection of my poor parenting.
There is a limitless supply of things for her to look at it. From parades to musical shows, we could easily spend days and days just sitting and watching stuff at Disney World and she would never be bored. My 9 year old son? His eyes were in danger of rolling out of his head after the first 5 minutes of the Mickey Club House sing-a-long show.
Disney World also has tons of rides and attractions that are suited to a younger child. A Small World doesn’t scare the crap out of my daughter, and she is more than happy to stand in line for yet another ride on a carousel.
However, a trip to Universal Studios requires at least one adult willing to spend a lot of time sitting with a toddler and a stroller while everyone else goes on the big kid rides. While Universal’s Islands of Adventure offers Dr. Seuss land, the overwhelming majority of rides and attractions are better suited for older children.
How much of your vacation is dedicated to theme parks?
Disney is best experienced in big, huge chunks. Our very first trip to Disney World was for an evening event. We spent 4 hours at the Magic Kingdom and came home stressed out and exhausted from trying to squeeze as much in as we could in a short amount of time. Our second trip to Disney World was for a long weekend and we stayed at a Disney World hotel. We visited 3 of the 4 parks and everyone had a chance to do (or see) at least one thing on their Disney Must Do List.
If you’re going to do Disney, then do Disney. Give yourself plenty of time to soak it all in and understand why it’s called the happiest place on Earth. You’ll also save a ton of money by buying a multi-day ticket.
Universal Studios is perfect if you want to do something besides amusement parks during your Orlando vacation. You can spend one or two days and get the most out of both Universal parks.
If you’re trying to get as much into your vacation itinerary as possible on the lowest budget, spend the big bucks on Universal and then go for some of the cheaper things to do in Orlando (like a trip to the beach). Central Florida offers so much more than roller coasters and cartoon characters.
How much money do you want to spend?
While the ticket prices for single day admission are comparable, I always find we spend more money when we go to Disney World than when we visit Universal Studios.
Of course Universal Studios has theme restaurants with overpriced hamburgers, souvenir shops, face painting and a dozen chances to have your family vacation immortalized in a caricature drawing. But Disney is the master of the upsell.
You can’t walk three feet in Disney World without someone trying to convince your kids to ask you for money. Vendors walk the streets hawking $10 balloons, neon necklaces, gourmet cookies and of course you have to buy the ears. And don’t forget all of the extra experiences you can buy! You can have lunch with a character or giver your little girl a princess makeover – but don’t expect that to be included in your price of admission.
The biggest difference between the two parks is that Disney is an experience, while Universal Studios is an attraction. You need to decide if you’re planning a Disney Vacation or a vacation to Florida.
(All photos by Britt Reints. Obviously. Or this would just be creepy.)