Which is best? Universal Studios vs Disney World for adults?
How do you pick between two of the greatest theme park resorts in the world?
Years ago, the obvious choice was Disney World. Universal Studios was smaller and the attractions were arguably inferior to the ones at Disney World
However, in recent years, it has become much more difficult to answer this question.
All eyes went to Universal when they stepped up their game and opened the extremely popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2010.
Since then, Universal Orlando has come out with more and more groundbreaking attractions that many say stand toe-to-toe with Disney.
Plus, while they still have many fantastic attractions, some say the Disney World experience has declined recently. Increased ticket prices, long wait times, and the introduction of Lightning Lane have turned some away from Disney parks.
So which is better in the Disney World vs Universal Studios for adults comparison? Which attractions and experiences offer more to adults?
Here is a guide to all things Universal Studios and Disney World, so you can decide which is the better resort for adults.
We are just talking here about the theme parks and not the water parks. Whilst Disney has Typhoon Lagoon and Blizard Beach and Universal has Volcano Bay we will leave that comparison for another day!
Attractions For Adults At Disney World And Universal
We’ll compare attractions at both resorts and see which ones are better. We won’t focus so much on thrill rides until the next section.
In terms of quantity, Disney World has more rides. After all, they have four parks, while Universal Studios Florida only has two.
In terms of which has better rides, it mostly comes down to personal preference. Each of the parks offers very different experiences.
However, again I’d go for Disney World.
Yes, Universal Orlando Resort has many fantastic, immersive attractions like The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and The Forbidden Journey.
However, the only thing I’d say is too many of them rely on screens. Disney attractions usually have massive practical sets and don’t use screens unless absolutely necessary.
Universal Studios (the park, not the whole resort) doesn’t have a huge variety of attractions.
There are five big-budget attractions that are basically you just moving around a little in a car in front of an Imax screen. They have a few special effects besides that, but they aren’t that impressive by today’s standards.
It’s usually better to see something right there in front of your eyes rather than on a screen.
Islands of Adventure has much more variety on the other hand, so I always recommend that one rather than Universal.
Although Universal is still an amazing theme park it does have a less wide appeal than Islands of Adventure.
Keep in mind though, that Universal Orlando theme parks mostly consist of attractions targeted to adult audiences.
Disney World is a mix of kid’s rides and adult rides.
Some parks, like Magic Kingdom, even have a majority of kid’s rides, which adults will probably enjoy, but maybe not as much as some of the ones at Universal.
Universal has kid’s rides, but there’s no doubt that the target audience at Universal is teens and adults.
But, I’d still say the adult rides at Disney World are a little better.
Nothing quite matches up to Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance or Avatar: Flight of Passage.
Related Article: Is Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure the Best Park?
The Best Thrill Rides – Universal Studios vs Disney World
If you’re a thrill-seeker, go to Universal Studios.
Disney World has many great thrill rides, like Space Mountain and Expedition Everest, but Universal Studios Florida really has the upper hand here.
The thing is though, Disney only has two that are particularly intense: Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.
They’re great, but they don’t compare to something like the Incredible Hulk in terms of thrills.
Universal Studios has some of the craziest and best roller coasters in the world.
One of them is Velocicoaster, a Jurassic World-themed roller coaster that reaches 70 MPH, two high-speed launches, and a 140 ft near vertical drop.
Disney is catching up with new thrill rides such as TRON Lightcycle, but it still has a way to go to beat Universal Studios Orlando in this category.
Disney World is worth checking out one day for its thrill rides, but Universal takes a win here.
Harry Potter Or Star Wars?
For many, the main draws to Universal and Disney World are The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Universal) and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (Disney).
Both are massive, immersive-themed areas of the parks based on their respective movie franchises.
Galaxy’s Edge is located at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Wizarding World is split between the two parks. Islands of Adventures holds Hogsmeade and Hogwarts Castle, while Universal Studios Park has Diagon Alley.
This is coming from someone who is a huge fan of both franchises, and I’d say Wizarding World is a little better.
I have mixed feelings about Galaxy’s Edge.
Whereas Wizarding World features iconic locations straight from the movies, Galaxy’s Edge takes place on a planet we’ve never seen in Star Wars.
Galaxy’s Edge is impressive and does make you feel like you’ve landed in an alien world that’s lightyears away. But it has few references to the movies. Few locations are recognizable.
Wizarding World feels like you’ve stepped into the world of Harry Potter. Galaxy’s Edge feels like you’re in a spaceport inspired by Star Wars.
Which Has Better Attractions – Wizarding World or Galaxy’s Edge?
Wizarding World has more attractions than Galaxy’s Edge, some of which are considered the best in the world.
Wizarding World of Harry Potter Attractions
There are four standout attractions in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
In Diagon Alley, located at Universal Studios Park, there’s Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts.
It’s a roller coaster combined with 3D effects that are based on the opening of The Deathly Hallows Part 2 where Harry Potter and his friends try to steal a Horcrux from Gringotts Bank.
The Hogwarts Express takes you from park to park and simulates the experience of traveling to Hogwarts on the Hogwarts Express, just like in the movies.
Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure is in Hogsmeade. It’s a roller coaster that takes you through the Forbidden Forest on Hagrid’s iconic motorbike.
This is one of my favorite roller coasters, as it includes 7 catapult launches, a backward drop, and a freefall drop.
My personal favorite attraction though is Forbidden Journey in Hogsmeade, which takes on a flight over Hogwarts Castle.
Galaxy’s Edge Attractions
While Wizarding World has five attractions, Galaxy’s Edge has a mere two.
However, it’s hard to say if any of the attractions at Wizarding World beat Galaxy’s Edge’s trump card – Rise of the Resistance.
I won’t spoil anything, but I’ll say it pushes the boundaries of what you think is even possible in a theme park attraction.
I don’t think I’ve been on a ride so realistic and immersive. It feels like you’re in a Star Wars movie.
The Harry Potter rides are great, but they aren’t quite the same level as Rise of the Resistance.
Keep in mind also, Rise of the Resistance is much more likely to have a longer line than even the most popular Harry Potter attraction, and that line can easily reach two hours.
Millenium Falcon – Smuggler’s Run is the second attraction at Galaxy’s Edge and gives you the chance to pilot the Millenium Falcon for yourself.
I have mixed feelings about this one. It’s amazing to step into the Millenium Falcon, but this is one of those attractions where you have to be in the best seat to get the full experience.
It’s great if you get to steer the Millenium Falcon, but it’s not guaranteed you will with each ride. You might get stuck in the back where you can’t see very well and all you do is press a couple of buttons that don’t do anything exciting.
So would you rather go to the land with more rides that are great or the one that has fewer but one standout ride? It comes down to personal preference.
I prefer Wizarding World for attractions, seeing as there are more options. And even if they aren’t as good as Rise of the Resistance, they’re still an earth-shattering amount of fun.
Here in the Universal Studios vs Disney World for adults comparison, Universal really comes out the winner.
The Crowds – Which Park is Best?
This is where the light really shines on Universal Studios.
Don’t get me wrong – Universal has long lines and huge crowds. But Universal’s crowd levels are nothing compared to Disney World.
Unless there’s a new ride or it’s a school holiday, the lines rarely even touch 60 minutes at Universal.
There are a few that can get crazy, like Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike and Escape From Gringotts, but not as often as Disney World.
At Disney World, even the below-average rides can get huge waits. I can tolerate waiting 45 minutes for Expedition Everest, but not Alien Swirling Saucers! The last time I went to Hollywood Studios, there was one point where almost every attraction had a 60-minute wait…
I’d say none of the attractions in Universal quite reach the same level as Rise of the Resistance or Flight of Passage.
However, are they worth waiting 90 minutes for? Or potentially more?
Can You Beat The Crowds At Disney World?
Even in the slow seasons, the waits can still get crazy.
There is one way around the crowds which is to use Genie+ and Lightning Lane. It replaced Fastpass Plus and works pretty much the same, except you have to pay for Fastpasses (or as they’re called now: Lightning Lanes).
Genie+ costs from $17 per person per day and excludes 2 rides per park that are individual Lightning Lanes.
It can be as high as $35 per day as it changes price according to the park and date you are visiting. This chart-topping eye wateringly ridiculously high amount was around Spring Break of 2023.
Hopefully, the lower crowds at Disney World are going to mean that we do not see this price again for a very long time.
If you are Park Hopping the “most usual” cost is $27 per day. For a family of 4, this $108 to the already high price of tickets.
The attractions which are Lightning Lane rides are not included in Genie+ so you have to spend additional money if you want to experience a shorter wait for these.
The individual Lighting Lane prices vary each day. The range we have seen has started at $12 per person and topped out at $25 (which was for Rise of the Resistance).
Who says money doesn’t buy you happiness? Well, at least it buys you the chance to spend less time in line for a popular attraction at Disney World.
Attractions such as Rise of the Resistance and Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind have individual Lightning Lanes.
Now here’s the problem: part of the reason why all the rides have such a ridiculous wait time is because of Lightning Lane. Fastpasses were great, but they did increase the standby wait times significantly.
Now, pretty much every attraction at Disney World has Lightning Lane, meaning even some of the weaker attractions have a long wait.
There are some quiet days, but it can be hard to figure out when those are.
So to sum up, the only way to beat the crowds is to spend even more money than you’re already spent and purchase Lightning Lane…
Does Universal Have A Fastpass?
They have something similar to a Fastpass at Universal Studios – the Express Pass.
You do have to pay for Express Pass on a per-person basis and it is much more pricey than Lightning Lane (prices vary – click here to see up-to-date prices).
To be fair though, they are worth the price. For the lowest tier, you get to skip the line of pretty much any attraction one time (there are a few exceptions, so double-check here to see if your favorite attraction is listed).
If you want to see a detailed guide to help you choose whether or not Express Pass is the right thing for you then go to!
But here’s the thing: depending on the day, you don’t need to pay for Express Pass to get on a decent number of attractions at Universal.
Some rides like Skull Island: Reign of Kong will pretty always have a long line, but many of the other fantastic attractions will have a short wait.
And if you’re there at the right time, you can even ride a popular ride like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey a number of times within an hour.
It’s pretty rare to find a popular attraction at Disney World with a wait like that.
It has happened.
I managed to ride Expedition Everest a few times in an hour last time I visited Animal Kingdom. But that was pure luck…
Is Universal Studios Cheaper than Disney World?
For some, this is the deciding factor. Both are amazing resorts, but both can get very pricey.
Universal Studios and Disney World actually have similar single-day for one-park ticket prices. Keep in mind they vary from day to day and they’re usually cheaper on weekdays and in the slow seasons (i.e. when schools go back).
The more days you spend at both Universal and Disney World, the cheaper the tickets get.
Again, the ticket prices vary from day to day.
But for example, at Disney World, they start at $116 for just one park one day.
But if you went for 10 days, they’d go down to $64 per day. Meaning if you wanted to go for a few days, you wouldn’t spend $116 each day.
However, Universal’s one-day one-park tickets get cheaper much faster.
Currently, you have to get a 10-day ticket at Walt Disney World to get to the $64 range, whereas, at Universal, you only need a 5-day ticket to get it that low.
If you’re just going to one park for a day, the prices are comparable. But if you’re staying for a few days, Universal ticket prices are a lot cheaper.
Universal Studios’ one-day tickets start at $109 per person. But you can often get deals which right now (July 2023) include an offer for a 5-day 2-park ticket for $275.
Something I also like about Universal Studios is they still sell annual passes at a decent price. And they have four options depending upon which block-out dates and benefits you opt for.
Whereas, Disney World only has the option for one Annual Pass now (unless you are a Florida Resident and then you will get a discount).
Staying at a Disney or Universal Studios Hotel Resort
Whilst Disney World may have a lot more choices of hotel resorts for your vacation, Universal has some excellent places to stay as well.
This is a difficult one to compare as the Disney World resort is so much larger than Universal and there are many more hotels.
However, the hotels at Disney World Resort tend to be higher priced than comparable hotels in Universal.
The Disney World hotels do offer some perks such as early entry to the parks on some days. However, Universal really wins in handing out perks.
All of the Universal Orlando Hotels offer guests the chance to enter the Wizarding World of Harry Potter one hour early. This is a huge advantage to getting ahead in the lines for the major attractions. Being a guest of one of the premier Universal Resorts is something you really should look at to see if it is within your vacation budget.
A huge perk, if you are staying at Lowes Portofino Bay Hotel, Lowes Royal Pacific Resort, or the Hard Rock Hotel, is that you get a Universal Express Pass included in your stay. This is valid from the day you check in until the day you check out.
This is a huge value and advantage as the Universal Express Pass really does save you a lot of time standing in line. Getting that as part of your hotel really is an excellent perk.
Universal Orlando is expanding it’s hotel collection and now includes 8 Resort Hotels. One of my favorites is Universal Orlando Cabana Bay Beach Resort.
Parking at Disney World and Universal Studios
To park at a Disney World theme park it’s $25 for standard parking and $45 for preferred parking per day (car or motorcycle). Shuttles, limos, camper trailers, RVs, buses, and tractor-trailers go for $30 a day.
When Disney World introduced parking fees for Resort Hotels there was one of the loudest protests of any of the many changes and price increases there have been in recent years. Fortunately, the return of Bob Iger as CEO also meant that this charge was discontinued and Disney Resort Hotel parking is now free.
Universal Studios parking is even higher than Disney at $30. Preferred parking is a whopping $60. Select annual passes do offer free parking or discounts on upgraded parking though.
Parking at resorts ranges from $15-$30 depending on the resort.
Food Prices at Universal Studios vs Disney World for Adults
We’ll keep it basic and only keep it to dining IN the theme parks, not the resorts, City Walk, or Disney Springs.
Both have comparable food prices, especially when it comes to quick-service restaurants. However, the sit-down restaurants are a little more expensive at Disney World.
I didn’t look too much into the really expensive restaurants at Disney World because Universal Park doesn’t really have any, and some of the prices at the “moderately” priced sit-down restaurants made my jaw drop!
Here Disney World wins hands down – sort of.
Disney has a bus transportation system, boat transportation, the Skyliner, and the Monorail. There are many options, but there have to be.
Disney World is huge and it covers a lot bigger area than Universal. Disney World covers approximately 43 square miles.
You can even walk to the Universal Parks from many of the hotels.
Universal Studios vs Disney World for Adults – Which is Better?
Ultimately it comes down to personal preference.
In general, Universal is cheaper.
Disney World has more attractions, some of which are arguably better than any of the rides at Universal. Though again, that’s down to personal preference.
Disney World is more crowded, and that can significantly detract from the experience (unless you have infinite patience).
This might be changing. Attendance at Disney World is declining and Universal may be picking up. It will be interesting to see what happens over the current year as Universal seems to be gaining market share.
I still like Disney World a little more because I think the attractions are better.
No matter what though, you’re going to get something out of either resort. One might be better suited for you, but you’ll still find something amazing in the other.
What do you think of the Universal Studios vs Disney World for Adults comparison?
Alison Meacham is the founder of EverythingMouse Disney Blog. For over 15 years she has shared her love of Disney Parks, Disney Cruises and Universal Orlando. In over 30 years of Disney Travel she has spent countless months in Disney Parks and has sailed on over 45 cruises. A British native and now a United States resident she splits her time between California, Florida and the UK. And spends a serious amount of time sailing the seven seas. She helps over 200,000 people per month follow their Disney travel dreams.