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My kids call me Mrs. Disney. I carry a Dooney & Bourke Disney Cruise Line handbag. I used to work for Disney. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve visited Disney World (over 20) and Disneyland (over 50). My kids have grown up visiting the Disney parks.
So, it is shocking news to all of us that everyone in my family preferred Universal Orlando Resort over Disney World on our recent trip. I’m just as surprised as you are. There are several reasons why the scale tipped in favor of Universal for my family.
Disney World has temporarily suspended its FastPass+ system due to the pandemic. My family had become so accustomed to using that tool to plan our day and avoid long lines. Unfortunately, we had to wait in long lines at Disney World (45-60 minutes) for several rides on this trip. Since most of the interactive queue features were also temporarily disabled, waiting in those long lines was very boring.
In contrast, at Universal we had the Express Pass due to staying at the Hard Rock hotel. This pass was basically like having a fast pass for every ride (except for 2 rides) in the entire park. Lines were much, much shorter.
Most of the entertainment and shows at Disney World are on “pause” right now. We only saw one character out in the parks (distanced, of course).
However, Universal’s shows were still happening, and they were plentiful. We enjoyed entertainers in Harry Potter World as well as several other character interactions throughout the Universal parks. My daughter and I also enjoyed an animal show, and we all loved the Bourne Stuntacular show.
Since we stayed at the on-site Hard Rock hotel, we were within short walking distance to both Universal parks. We had the option to take a boat, but for us it seemed easier to walk. Unlike at Disney, we never had to wait for busses to take us to and from the parks. This saved us a lot of time and energy.
More Age Appropriate Rides/Merchandise
My two boys are 13 and 17 now, and they are into thrill rides. Disney World doesn’t have an overabundance of those like Universal does. They thought many of the rides at Disney were too “kiddy”. Even my 10-year-old daughter was really into the Harry Potter lands in a big way.
We ended up spending more money on merchandise at Universal for two reasons: they had cooler stuff, and there were no queues to get into the stores! At Disney, the lines to get into some stores were 30 minutes long!
The Wow/Newness Factor
Admittedly, part of the reason why we liked Universal more is probably because of the wow factor and the fact that everything was new to us. With a few exceptions, we had already been on every ride at Disney World. But Universal rides were all new to us, so our park experience was just a little more special.
While Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Hollywood Studios was pretty cool, I think Harry Potter World was themed even better. There are still nooks and crannies at Hogsmeade and Diagon Ally that we didn’t get to explore.
I’m still a big fan of Disney, don’t get me wrong. I’m sure I will return to the parks again. But in this stage of life with my kids’ ages, we are all looking forward to another trip to Universal in the next 1-2 years. I’m hoping we can return next year when my oldest is a senior in high school.
Have you been to both Disney and Universal in Florida? Do you have a preference for one over the other?
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.