The Endless Question: Universal’s Endless Summer vs On-Site Disney

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This week Disney announced they are discontinuing Magical Express in January 2022. The complimentary service picked up guests at Orlando International Airport and brought them, and their belongings in the pre-COVID era, to their Walt Disney World Resort. Len estimated that roughly 40% of our users used the Magical Express system for travel to and from Walt Disney World.

In our Slack channel, Julia wondered if this made competing hotels look more attractive for guests on a budget. For example, Universal’s new Endless Summer resort rack room rates start at $30 less a day than similar Disney resorts. This question got us wondering, could a family save money staying at Universal and visiting Walt Disney World post-Magical Express?

The Scenario

Endless Summer

Disney removing Magical Express decreases the value proposition for their on-site resorts; now guests must pay for their transportation to the resort. Universal on the other hand offers equivalent rooms at a fraction of the cost of Disney.

Disney’s cheapest rack rates are (with tax):

  • All-Star Resorts at $112
  • Pop Century at $154
  • Art of Animation at $180

Universal’s Endless Summer rates (with tax) are:

  • Standard room at $89, four-night stay
  • Two-room, three-bed suite at $134, four-night stay

Our goal is to determine the different costs in transportation and then find if we can save money traveling to Walt Disney World over staying at Walt Disney World itself.

Rental Cars

Pop Century

We at TouringPlans love rental cars – they add flexibility and convenience to any vacation. According to trip booking site Kayak, the average price of a rental car in Orlando is $35 per day. Orlando International Airport charges a $2.50 per day fee for rental cars, plus a 6-7% sales tax, and other fees we approximate to around $7 per day. Assuming you get an intermediate car or similar we’re factoring in $5 of gas per day. Self-parking is $15 per day at Endless Summer and Disney’s value resorts.

Rental Car Per Day Average: $35
Rental Car Fees & Taxes: Approx $7
Gas: $5
Hotel Parking: $15
Total: $62

Additionally, parking at Disney and Universal theme parks is $25 per day. We will factor this in at the end of the article.

Pros

  • The flexibility to travel whenever you want and traveling to offsite restaurants
  • Bring and leave child seats, diapers, toys, snacks, change of clothes, and more in the car

Cons

  • Expensive, at least $62 per day plus theme park parking fees

Ridesharing

Endless Summer Standard Room

Ridesharing has boomed thanks to convenient mobile apps like Uber and Lyft. The gist is you enter a destination in the app and using your phone’s GPS a driver is sent to you. Ridesharing apps offer more flexibility than taxis and at a lower price point. Using Uber’s fare estimator tool we determined that the average cost of a trip from Endless Summer to the Magic Kingdom is $18 one way, $36 round trip. We also included a rounded up 20% tip.

Endless Summer to MK (avg) $18
MK to Endless Summer (avg) $18
Tips Total (round trip) $8
Total $44

We will also factor in ridesharing to and from the airport: $42 to Pop Century one way and $36 to Endless Summer one way, including taxes, fees, and 20% tip.

Pros

  • Biggest savings, half the price of a rental car
  • Skip having to park, can drop off closer to the park

Cons

  • “Stuck” at the park for the day unless you spend more to travel back
  • Have to wait for rideshare driver to show up
  • “Surge” pricing during park closure

Doing the Math

A room at Disney’s Pop Century Resort.

Let us use an example: a five day, four-night trip to Orlando at the end of this month, January 25 – 29, with three days in the parks. All rooms are standard rooms with standard views. I am including the 20% off discount Disney is currently running through early 2021. Here are how they add up (accurate as of January 14, 2021).

Pop Century (20% Off) Pop Century (Rack Rate) Endless Summer
Room (w/ tax) $523.88 $660.38 $367.88
Rental Car Total $310 $310 $385
Rideshare (MCO to Hotel) $84 $84 $72
Rideshare (Hotel to Parks) N/A N/A $132
Total w/ Rental $838.88 $970.38 $752.88
Total w/ Rideshare $607.88 $744.38 $571.88

If a rental car is a must, guests can save up to $220 by staying off-site! Disney’s 20% off rate makes the prices more competitive with a savings of $85. Once All-Star Resorts reopen we expect the price disparity to shrink even more. Renting a car is roughly the same as using rideshare to Disney with the standard rate, while the cheapest option is ridesharing from Endless Summer.

The question then becomes are the savings worth it. With Disney’s upcoming “early entry” to allow admission to on-site guests into Disney Parks 30 minutes early each day, the time saved by not driving from Disney to Universal each day (or not having to driving a rental car on I-4 during rush hour), and the overall vibe of staying in the Disney bubble, some people may feel it is worth $220.

Since we found savings in some scenarios we suggest you plug your room rates into the table above (while adjusting transportation based on length of stay) to see if you can save money. This spreadsheet also works for moderate and deluxe resorts!

Does this all seem too complicated? Need someone to help you through booking your vacation? Look no further than Touring Plans Travel Agency!

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Joseph Matt

Avid amusement park and video game fan. Enjoys picking up rare beers at breweries, exploring cities, cooking, and sports.

10 thoughts on “The Endless Question: Universal’s Endless Summer vs On-Site Disney

  • January 17, 2021 at 11:03 am
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    Why is there a ride sharing fee to get to the parks at Universal? I thought parks are walking distance from their resorts. Also, I didn’t see ticket information or prices. I think that’s where Universal will save a family quite a bit of money when spending 4 (or more) days in the park.

    Reply
  • January 17, 2021 at 11:09 am
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    Edit: I thought Universal offers transportation to the parks if you are staying at Endless Summer.

    Reply
  • January 17, 2021 at 11:22 am
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    This is for the ridesharing to Disney.

    Reply
  • January 17, 2021 at 12:37 pm
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    I thought since Pop is a value, it only gets 20% off. “up to 35%” is for deluxe, no?

    Reply
  • January 17, 2021 at 12:50 pm
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    You’re correct, I was pulling the wording from the Disney site. Article updated.

    Reply
  • January 18, 2021 at 6:32 am
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    Paying to park at hotel. No thanks your hard earned cash should be put to better use plenty of hotels dont charge you to park a car that you have booked a room in so universal and disney can wait for me until free parking in hotels is included just another way to get cash out of guests and the next question will be they will only increase room prices if they offer free parking
    stay in affordable accommodation with free parking its that simple

    Reply
  • January 18, 2021 at 1:04 pm
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    I think what people are forgetting is that at the same time that they made the announcement about Magical Express going away, they also announced that onsite guests would get 30 minutes of exclusive time at every park – every day. That gives a significant advantage to staying onsite – and a significant disadvantage to stay offsite. And its a whole bunch cheaper for Disney than running DME. Between the 60/30 day availability for Fast Passes (when they become available again), and now the 30 minute head start, staying offsite puts most at a huge disadvantage in park touring. As an offsite guest, popular attractions will almost be impossible to get on without an hour+ wait.

    Reply
  • January 19, 2021 at 3:56 pm
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    This is the content I am here for! I do these types of calculations for every vacation. Love seeing the professionals do it!

    Reply
  • January 19, 2021 at 4:55 pm
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    Oh, 110%. Now there’s no way to arrive without having queues preloaded for half an hour. As I said in the article, for some the price differences might not be worth it.

    Reply
  • January 19, 2021 at 4:55 pm
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    Thanks! I have another article coming up about AP discounts and hotels that is a similar set up.

    Reply

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