Home » 5 Things Disney Still Does Better Than Universal

5 Things Disney Still Does Better Than Universal

dawnashley, Flickr (license)

The friendly competition between Disney and Universal for tourist dollars in Orlando has given us some truly amazing gifts as consumers. We’ve gotten incredible rides like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Avatar: Flight of Passage. We’ve seen amazing water parks like Volcano Bay get built, and massive shopping destinations like Disney Springs come into existence.

And, because of their newfound commitment to taking on Disney, Universal has managed to outclass its local competition with bigger thrills, more technological innovation, and better value resorts. It really is harder to say no to a spending a day or two at Universal than it ever has been. 

That said, Disney is still king for a reason. As much as Universal may try, here are five things that Disney still does much better.

Background Music

 dawnashley, Flickr (license)

Image: dawnashley, Flickr (license)

When it comes to areas like Hogwarts Castle or the queue for Skull Island: Reign of Kong, Universal created immersive environment with the sights and sounds of the source material. Hogwarts doesn’t just look exactly like it does on screen, it also features the music you hear when you visit those locations on film. 

When Universal has to fill its less-well-themed areas with music, the effect is much less transporting. Areas like New York or World Expo lack the same sense of musical specificity that you find in Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley. They play film scores and things you’d recognize if you listen closely, but it doesn’t quite make you feel the same way.

Compare this to Disney: Every inch of Walt Disney World property has its own audio soundscape designed specifically for that place. The lobby of the Animal Kingdom Lodge sounds exactly like you think it would, and also very different than the area outside Mouse Gear at Epcot. 

Disney’s background music is so beloved and iconic, Spotify playlists and bootleg soundtracks are regularly shared online — with the hopes of making fans feel like they’re back in their favorite place.

Universal does a lot right — but background music is one place where Disney still has an edge. 


 chad_sparkes, Flickr (license)

Image: chad_sparkes, Flickr (license)

Sure, it might seem unfair to compare the two. Disney has hundreds of acres through which it must transport guests from resort to park to resort to park. Meanwhile, Universal is fairly self-contained — with resorts and theme parks broadly within walking distance.

Still, Disney does manage to make Walt Disney World feel more like its own city — featuring its own magical methods of public transit that far outclass Universal’s. 

From monorails to ferries to gondolas to trains, Disney has every form of transportation imaginable outside of light aircraft. You can take the Skyliner from Disney’s Hollywood Studios to Epcot, walk to the entrance and take the monorail to the Magic Kingdom, then take a ferry to Fort Wilderness — all without ever taking a bus. Moreover, the adventure feels like an attraction unto itself.

Universal does have a small ferry system, and importantly, it features the single best transportation system of any Orlando Park — the Hogwarts Express — but that alone does not make up for the fact that Disney has a way of moving thousands of more people through its property efficiently and entertainingly.


 williamsdb, Flickr (license)

Image: williamsdb, Flickr (license)

When Walt Disney announced his Florida Project, he said that one thing this new property would have is “the blessing of size.” What he meant by that was that Disney could use its massive footprint in Central Florida in ways that other theme parks and companies simply couldn’t. 

One of the ways that ultimately manifested itself was with Walt Disney World’s commitment to horticulture — a seemingly peripheral concern that somehow manages to capture the Disney feeling better than just about anything else. 

Think of it this way: When you picture walking around a Disney resort, whether it’s Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort or even Disney’s All-Star Sports, isn’t nature as much a part of that experience as the hotel itself? Can’t you just imagine the lush trees, the green grass, the beautiful flowers, and the gorgeous lakes and streams? Can’t you feel the clean air in your lungs?

When you picture Disney’s Animal Kingdom, doesn’t it feel almost carved from a deep and untouched forest, full of greenery and life that you’ve never seen before? Can’t you tell which part of the park you’re in based on little more than the vegetation that surrounds you?

Disney’s size allows the resort to let nature play a far more important role than it would in a more compact area. Universal is itself a testament to that fact. When you have less space to operate within, the first thing that tends to go is the green stuff. There isn’t the same ability to maintain large grass fields and lush forests when you need to squeeze a new ride in somewhere.

Disney brings in thousands of people each year to celebrate its horticulture at the annual Epcot Flower and Garden Festival. Universal could never host such an event — it simply can’t afford to give over that much space.

Non-IP Souvenirs

 aloha75, Flickr (license)

Image: aloha75, Flickr (license)

There are few things that light up a kid’s eyes quite like the moment their wand chooses them in the Ollivanders Wand Shop experience. For a parent, it’s a bit of emotional blackmail: There’s no way you can’t buy a wand for a child who goes through that experience.

But while Universal is able to print money with its incredible and authentic Harry Potter merchandise, everything it sells outside of that property feels just a tiny bit downscale.

Compare this to Disney, who lacks the kind of top-end must-have options like the Harry Potter merchandise (although they believe lightsabers and droids are changing that equation slightly), but who more than makes up for it with charming offerings like mouse ears and attraction pins.

Even beyond these basic items, Disney’s more generalized resort merchandise tends to look and feel more luxurious and valuable than Universal’s — offering more varied and stylish designs, as well as boutique offerings through limited run labels. Universal lacks anything even approaching the eclectic charm of the items you can find in Disney Springs’ Marketplace Co-Op store.

And, when you add to that the proliferation of resort-specific merchandise, as well as limited edition Disney art from shops like Wonderground Gallery and ARt of Disney, you find that Disney offers so much more for guests to take with them no matter their particular taste.

Yes, Hogwarts robes and magic wands are great, but mouse ears are forever.


 steven van, Flickr (license)

Image: steven van, Flickr (license)

Try as they might, Universal has never come close to matching the offerings Disney has created for its nighttime spectaculars.

For a variety of reasons, from political concerns to spacial concerns to simple guest interest, Universal just has never been able to put together a must-see evening show at its parks. It has come close in recent years, with Hogwarts Castle projection shows earning a place in repeat guests’ hearts. But, there is no Happily Ever After on Universal property.

Meanwhile, Disney has established a lead in this category over not just Universal, but nearly every other purveyor of fireworks shows on earth. It is, at this point, a meme among Disney fans that even the biggest cities’ Fourth of July celebrations can barely come close to what Disney manages to stage every single night of every single year. 

There are a lot of things that Universal can do better than Disney, and there are a lot of other areas in which Universal is attempting to close the gap. But when it comes to fireworks, Disney’s lead is so laughably, hilariously big, no one will ever catch them.

It’s not even worth trying.