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Suite Showdown: Universal vs. Disney

Disney’s Contemporary Resort

Image: Disney

No direct comparison exists for the Hard Rock Hotel Orlando. It’s unique due to its pre-Universal heritage. I’m choosing the Contemporary Resort as a parallel for two reasons. The first is proximity. What both hotels offer is the most convenient access to the primary theme park gates. Hard Rock Hotel is only a rickshaw ride away from Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. The Contemporary Resort is less than a thousand steps away from Magic Kingdom, the most trafficked theme park on Earth. So, the two resorts share similarities in terms of logistics. The second point is novelty. Like Hard Rock Hotel, nothing else at Walt Disney World has anything like the monorail station inside the Contemporary. So, the pieces fit well enough.

Image: Disney

Perhaps no resort is more inexorably linked with Walt Disney than the Contemporary Resort. While you might reflexively counter with Disneyland Hotel, remember that Uncle Walt didn’t build that one. For that matter, Disney didn’t buy it until long after his death. The Contemporary Resort, on the other hand, was something he’d always wanted, even if he didn’t live long enough to watch its amazing construction.

Guests seeking an unforgettable stay at the Contemporary will have plenty of choices with regards to suites. One- and two-bedroom suites are plentiful enough that their prices are reasonable, at least compared to some of the other options listed here. For $1,500 a night, you can stay in a gorgeous 844-square foot villa, highlighted by an inimitable view of Magic Kingdom. Every suite at the Contemporary rests on the 14th floor, guaranteeing a panoramic view of the park. You’ll want to rush back to your room in time for the fireworks display rather than watch it from Main Street U.S.A. The view is that spectacular.

The best room at the hotel is one I’ve previously covered. That’s the Presidential Suite, and it’s where Richard Nixon was staying in the moments before his stubborn declaration, “I am not a crook.” So, you’re taking a journey into American history when you spend the $2,500 to book this particular room. It includes two bedrooms and three baths, with total space of just over 2,000 square feet. The amazing aspect of this particular suite is that there are five, count them, FIVE different balconies. All of your guests will get to watch Magic Kingdom…and at every possible angle.

Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

Image: Disney

Since Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is a counter to the elegance and grace of Disney’s most expensive resort, contrasting the two is the obvious choice. Like the other monorail resorts above, I’ve covered the suites at Grand Floridian before. What I find interesting about this debate, however, is that Universal, unintentionally or not, mimicked Disney quite dramatically at the start of their theme park hotel empire. Their first three entries each followed the path laid out at Walt Disney World. They offer the perfect combination of luxury and logistics, gorgeous facilities only minutes away from the theme park.

Disney started this trend with their 1971 properties, the Polynesian and the Contemporary. The Grand Floridian wouldn’t arrive until 17 years later in 1988, but even as the youngest of the monorail resorts, it’s still 11 years older than the oldest Universal hotel. This statement explains why rumors of a new Walt Disney World hotel property won’t go away. Their newest facility is roughly three decades old.

Image: Disney

Still, the Grand Floridian has become the flagship of the impeccable Disney resorts fleet. With 18 current properties onsite, earning the title of the best of the best is an amazing feat. Grand Floridian deserves the hype for its masterful Victorian era themes and décor. The Grand Suite here is the most expensive on this list, costing roughly $3,500 a night during peak season.

What does a patrician get for their money? Well, if you thought the idea of staying in the same room where Nixon collapsed under the weight of Watergate was cool, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The Grand Floridian has a special history with royals. Princess Diana famously stayed here in the early ‘90s. Yes, she was the most famous royal in the world at the time, but she was also the mother of two young boys who wanted nothing more in life than to ride Splash Mountain. Diana is one of countless bluebloods, billionaires, and celebrities who have spent a few nights Grand Suite at the Grand Floridian.

This 2,220 square foot space is a two-bedroom exercise in refinement and taste. It’s like Tim Gunn as a hotel suite. Located on the fifth floor of the Grand Floridian, it too offers five balconies, providing guests with an above-it-all view of the little people down below. Whether your eye tends toward the Contemporary, the Polynesian, Seven Seas Lagoon, Cinderella Castle, or Space Mountain, you can see it all from your room. In fact, you can even catch a glimpse of Spaceship Earth at Epcot from one of the balconies. Lots of hotels on this list have wonderful views, but the Contemporary and the Grand Floridian are clearly the best two.

In terms of appointments and amenities, the Grand Suite should only be described via narration by Robin Leach of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. The suite’s hardwood flooring, crystal chandeliers, and elegant furnishings are all worthy of royal estates. You’ll never feel more like a peasant than when you look at these pictures and see how the other half lives. Spending a night in the Grand Suite is like discovering that you’re heir to the throne a la The Princess Diaries. It’ll change your life forever.

Image: Disney

So, there you have it. These are the best suites of any onsite hotel property at Universal Resort Orlando or Walt Disney World. While Disney had a head start on Universal, the latter company was able to learn from the best, adapting and evolving those construction principles into new undertakings. Over time, Universal altered their strategy somewhat, introducing a pair of mid-tier hotels to their line. They match up quite well with the longstanding Disney properties of similar pricing and amenities. Take a look at all the pictures and videos to decide which one is your dream vacation suite. Then, ponder which corporation is doing the better job of complimenting their theme park with upscale hotel rooms. It’s not easy to pick a winner, is it?

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