Universal Orlando Resort

Universal Orlando for Walt Disney World Fans

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Whether you are a long-time Walt Disney World guest looking to switch your vacation up or you are visiting Orlando for the first time, planning a visit to Universal Orlando Resort poses a lot of questions. In this article, we will cover the similarities and differences between Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World. Consider this a sort of Rosetta Stone for your trip planning.


Universal Orlando is located in the Doctor Phillips suburb of Orlando, located off of I-4 at the north end of International Drive. It is a 15-minute drive north of Walt Disney World and a 14-minute drive south of downtown Orlando. Orlando International Airport is a 20-minute drive to the east of the resort.

Resort Size, Layout, & Counts

Universal Orlando is 840 acres in size, considerably smaller than Walt Disney World’s 25,000 acres. Universal also has 2/3 the number of attractions at Walt Disney World, 1/4 the hotels, and a fraction of the sit-down restaurants. While this might seem laughable on paper, it actually puts Universal more in line with Disney’s other resort: Disneyland.

Disneyland Resort’s 500 acres makes it comparable to Universal Orlando in scope and size. Universal and Disneyland’s layouts feature a core of two theme parks and an entertainment district surrounded by on-site hotels. Nearly everything is walkable at both resorts, including some off-site hotels. Universal Orlando blends the epicness of Walt Disney World with the compact walkability of Disneyland.


Universal’s attractions aim for a pre-teen to the young adult market, focusing on more thrilling and intense attractions than Disney. You will expect to find large rollercoasters, dynamic simulators, darker themes, and more dramatic irony at Universal. While the Disney parks offer a G to PG experience, Universal’s is more PG to PG-13.

A large number of Universal’s attractions are under a decade old or have received major refurbishments since opening. These new attractions debut state-of-the-art technology like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey’s Kuka arms or the trackless moving sets in The Bourne Stuntacular. Other attractions like The Incredible Hulk Coaster received complete reimaginings. This keeps everything at the resort feeling fresh and modern.

Universal is also more willing to bring in new pop-culture properties or franchises. For example, in the summer of 2014 Disney build a rollercoaster for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, at that time 77 years since the movie debuted. That same summer Universal opened Diagon Alley, the second expansion based on the lava hot Harry Potter property.

This might sound wonderful but Universal’s propensity towards removing, replacing, and upgrading has its downsides. First, the Universal “classics” are all gone, the only opening day attraction remaining is E.T. Adventure. Jaws, Back to the Future, Kongfrontation, and Ghostbusters are all gone. The thrill ride nature of the park also causes issues for guests with small children, pregnant guests, guests with motion sickness, or guests of a larger size.

The Cowfish and Vivo at Universal Orlando Resort’s CityWalk.


Universal has 18 full-service and dozens more counter-service dining locations throughout the parks, hotels, and CityWalk. The food at Universals has seen a renaissance since the Wizarding World opened in 2010 with improvements in quality and variety. The executive chef team goes from restaurant to restaurant updating menu options, refreshing concepts, and even replacing whole restaurants. Food is acceptable to very good, with fewer poor options than Disney. If you are looking for fine dining though, Universal will leave you wanting as they do not have the same lineup of California Grill, Victoria & Alberts, Jiko, and more that are at Disney.

For the best guide to Universal’s restaurants check Touring Plans’ Universal Orlando Dining Ratings table.

Acquiring dining reservations is easier at Universal than at the mouse house. Dining reservations are not based on your trip date, can be booked farther from your vacation start, and have greater availability days and even weeks before your trip. Universal dining reservations are booked online.

(photo by Mike Sperduto)


Similar to Disney, Univeral’s eight hotels are broken into four categories: Premier, Preferred, Prime Value, and Value. Pricing ranges from $90 to well over $600 a night for a standard hotel room depending on the season. The hotels are well themed but lack some of the whimsy or varying architectural styles at Disney. While some hotel themes seem similar, Royal Pacific and the Polynesian are frequently compared, the Universal hotels lean towards modern designs.

Universal’s standard hotel rooms are also more affordable than comparable Disney rooms:

Guests staying at a Premier hotel receive complimentary Universal Express Passes which grants them unlimited access to the front of the line on select attractions. This benefit starts at over $100 per person per night in value, which means it is frequently cheaper to stay at a Premier hotel than buy an Express Pass separately. All resort guests receive complimentary Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, transportation to the parks, and room key charging privileges.

It is not all good news, Universal lacks the true two-bedroom family suites at the Art of Animation, rooms with full kitchens, Disney Vacation Club multiroom suites, campsites, and more. If you need anything more than a standard room or a suite with a wet bar, you might be better off staying at Disney or an off-site hotel.

Apps, Technology, & Reservations

I will call a spade a spade: Universal is behind Walt Disney World when it comes to mobile apps and technology. Disney’s sprawling account-based system is eschewed for a simple Universal Orlando mobile app. While set-up and troubleshooting are easier, offerings like MagicBands are not possible. A MagicBand at Disney tracks your park admission, hotel room key, FastPass/Lightning Lane, and photo card; at Universal, each of those four things would be a separate card. You will spend more time juggling tickets, passes, and cards at Universal than at Disney.

Universal’s app is still valuable and features attraction wait times, showtimes, mobile ordering, and Virtual Line pass (when offered). The app does not require a log-in, but we suggest setting up the app with your credit card information to use Mobile Order in the parks (do not worry, you can delete the information after your trip).

Touring Plans also offers a Universal Orlando Lines app! This app gets you to access to customized touring plans, wait times estimated based on Touring Plans data, and more.

Finally, the best news is Universal Orlando does not require park reservations to visit.


While Disney and Universal share similar theme park jargon, there are a few differences:

When Disney Says… Universal Says…
Cast Member Team Member
Early Theme Park Entry Early Park Admission
Park Hopper Ticket Park-to-Park Ticket
Soft Opening Technical Rehearsal
Advance Dining Reservation Dining Reservation

Do not worry if you slip and call a Team Member a Cast Member, they will understand what you mean (and are likely both).

New to Universal Orlando and have questions? Leave them in the comments below!

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Joseph Matt

Joe covers theme parks through the lens of his quality engineering day job. He has over five years of writing experience at Touring Plans and has gone on dozens of trips to Orlando over his life. When not at amusement parks you can find Joe at breweries, enjoying live theater, playing video games, and cooking.

5 thoughts on “Universal Orlando for Walt Disney World Fans

  • I’m not an expert but I was just there, and my advice would be to just plan to rope drop IOA on one of the mornings of your visit and to head directly to Hagrid’s. I don’t think you can count on the Hogwarts Express to get you there before the line for Hagrid’s has formed from the rope droppers at IOA.

    • Thank you! When we went in April last year both IOA and universal studios had early admission so we lined up at IOA and made a beeline for Hagrids, but this year with early admission not available at IOA in August I wasn’t sure the best strategy. Sounds like I will have a better opportunity rope dropping IOA with the non-early admission crowd. We will still plan on getting there 30 minutes before scheduled opening. Appreciate your advice!

  • We have a trip to Universal planned for late August. Early park admission is supposed to be at Universal Studios. What is the best way to get to Islands of Adventure right when they open that side of the park at 9? We want to get in line for Hagrids ASAP. Hogwart’s Express so that we can avoid the crowds without early admission at the gates of IOA? If so what time should we get in line for the train? Thank you so much for any advice!

    • Hogwarts Express is not going to get you there earlier than people walking from the front of the park at opening. Your best bet is to arrive at least 30 to 45 minutes before park opening and be one of the first ones let into the park.

      • Thank you! And thanks for all the other great advice. Can hardly wait!

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