The weekend of September 11 and 12 is one of the holiest in Orlando, and it has nothing to do with a religious holiday. That’s when, for the past 17 years, both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resorts conduct their dueling Christian music festivals, gathering some of the biggest names in the genre and having all sorts of youths flocking to their parks after hours in even bigger numbers than normal.
Disney started its Night of Joy event in 1983, while Universal jumped on the bandwagon with its Rock the Universe much later, in 1998. Despite that discrepancy in age, the two actually share a lot in common, and more than the identical dates: both festivals are hard-ticketed events (meaning you’ll need to purchase separate admission in order to get in) and typically feature musical acts that hop back and forth between the two.
That can make choosing one over the other something of a headscratcher, but don’t fret – that’s why we’re here to help. Below, find a complete comparison between the two on every important indicator, helping you to decide which will be more amenable to your family and your tastes (and, of course, your wallet).
Then, once you’ve made up your mind, be sure to let us know which way you’re going in the comments below.
As already mentioned, both Disney’s Night of Joy and Universal’s Rock the Universe take place on Friday, September 11 and Saturday, September 12, but there is a difference in their hours of operation: the former runs from 7:30 pm to 1:00 am, while the latter starts at 4:00 pm and closes at 1:00 am (though the bands don’t start performing until 6:00, once the park closes for day guests).
While Universal would seem to give you more bang for your money – at nine hours, its event lasts almost twice as long as Disney’s – tickets to Rock the Universe can easily be more expensive, depending on which option you choose (more on this in a moment). Be sure to take this into consideration when weighing the two.
Night of Joy: Magic Kingdom
The main festivities are held in front of Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom, but there are two additional stages at Tomorrowland and a New Talent Spotlight in Frontierland. The headliners play in front of the castle, while the smaller acts get the peripheral venues.
Rock the Universe: Universal Studios Florida
The main action takes place at Universal Music Plaza (the biggest stage at Universal Studios Florida), located in Production Central, with a secondary stage in Hollywood. There’s also the FanZone, which features “up-and-coming” artists, in the New York section of the park.
If purchased beforehand, a one-night ticket to Night of Joy costs $65 (plus tax, but of course), while a two-night combo goes for $115. If you decide to go at the last minute – or just hate being responsible and taking care of everything before arriving at the front gate – the one-night ticket goes up to $80, and the two-nighter disappears completely.
If that seems a little convoluted to you, wait until you see Rock the Universe’s array of ticketing options. While there are no different tiers for advance purchases and day-ofs, Universal does offer a day pass/Rock the Universe combo. When put together with the night-only passes, everything looks a little something like this:
- a one-night ticket will cost you $62; two-night, $100
- two-night, three-day, single-park (just Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure), $125
- two-night, three-day, park-to-park (both USF and IOA), $150.
And then there’s the Express Passes, which grant you front-of-line access at the theme park attractions. Standard Express Passes, which can be used just one time at participating attractions, can be purchased for $20 per night, while the Unlimited Express Pass retails for $30.
Disney’s packed a full house for this year’s event. Here’s who you can expect to see:
Friday, September 11:
- Jeremy Camp
- Colton Dixon
- Big Daddy Weave
- Francesca Battistelli
- Rend Collective
- I Am They
Saturday, September 12:
- For King & Country
- Matt Maher
- Jamie Grace
- Capital Kings
- Seventh Time Down
Meanwhile, over at Universal, the lineup looks like this:
- Kari Jobe
- Family Force 5
- Capital Kings
- All Things New
- Aaron Gillespie
- Finding Favour
- Katie Danielle
- Casting Crowns
- Jesus Culture
- Tenth Avenue North
- Building 429
- Any Mineo
- Nine Lashes
- Rapture Ruckus
- Katie Danielle
As is typical, both Disney and Universal never fail to remind you that the schedule can change at any moment without warning… so I guess that means we have to as well.
Beyond the live bands and all the normal theme park attractions, Disney doesn’t offer any additional Christian-flavored activities. Hey – after 32 years of doing this and already featuring some of the most legendary theme park experiences around, the company feels pretty confident that it’s gotten a good handle on everything.
Universal, however, has attempted to tip the scales in its favor by offering a plethora of extra goodies. On Saturday night, there’s the candlelighting ceremony, and, on Sunday morning, a “memorable” non-denominational worship service is held (in the Fear Factor Live stadium, which is somewhat humorous, given that Halloween Horror Nights’s Bill & Ted show has already moved in for the season, providing a nice contrast). Also, throughout the weekend is a string of inspirational guest speakers, and, over at the FanZone, there is the chance to nab autographs from the bands and to engage in Coca-Cola-sponsored karaoke.
In case you’re interested in attending Universal’s Sunday morning services, the times are 8:30 am, 9:45 am, and 10:45 am.
What about the attractions?
This is where things start to go back in Disney’s favor – all of Magic Kingdom’s attractions will be open and available to guests, with Disney itself taking pains to mention that they’re headlined by the still-brand-new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. What’s more, because of the lower traffic that the hard-ticketed nature of the event creates, wait times should be down pretty drastically across the board.
Universal, for its part, mostly keeps up – with the notable, gaping exception of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, which closes with the park at 6:00 (presumably because of the company’s contract with author J.K. Rowling and license holder Warner Bros.). To try and make up for it, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit is reprogrammed with Christian rock songs for the occasion, though how much of a consolation prize that is is up for debate.