Universal, Disney, or Both? Where do you stand in the biggest theme park debate?
I fall undeniably in the Disney camp. I will give it to Universal that they have far better thrill rides. I would even venture to say that they still have Disney beat on immersive ride technology. I am not really a Harry Potter fan, but I have to say that Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is one of the most insanely immersive rides I have ever experienced. The technology is absolutely mind-blowing, and I personally feel like it leaves Avatar: Flight of Passage in the dust. The theming of the two Harry Potter lands is spectacular. Universal also has the market cornered on teenagers.
However, for me, Disney wins overall. Whenever I visit Universal - even Islands of Adventure - the experience feels extremely disjointed, particularly at Universal Studios Orlando park. It feels like a hodge-podge of rides pieced together to make a theme park. Islands of Adventure is an amazing park that does a little better, but I still have to give it to Disney. With the exception of the Harry Potter areas, The Lost Continent, and perhaps the Jurassic Park section, the theming still misses the mark for me. Disney's parks feel much more seamless to me, and the stories make more sense.
the Mythos restaurant, too much of Universal's food choices are the same variations on classic American food, whereas Disney has so many more choices, and many of those dining experiences are very immersive in themselves. In most cases, I also find Disney's cast members more helpful and friendly. My other points against Universal are poor crowd control (the locker areas are particularly bad), lack of air conditioning at too many locations, and too many ride breakdowns.I also think that Disney has Universal absolutely trounced on food. With the exception of
BOTH. I love Disney for the history and classic rides like Space Mountain, the Haunted Mansion, and the Tower of Terror. Disney parks are also very easy to just show up to and walk around for a few hours. Bored on a Wednesday? Stop by Disney's Animal Kingdom, grab a drink at the Dawa bar, take a spin on the Safaris, and then head home before the afternoon rain comes in. Disney also always has something "new" going on thanks largely to Epcot's year round festivals.
HOWEVER, Universal has Disney beat in some big ways. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter continues to impress with every new attraction they open, and rides like The Mummy and The Adventures of Spider-Man are undeniably modern classics. Though Universal has made some big fumbles lately (Chopping up the USH Studios tour and making it into Skull Island: Reign of Kong and The Fast and the Furious: Supercharged has been a real misstep), Universal is still an amazing destination, and with special events like HHN and Mardi Gras getting better every year, the repeat visit factor continues to grow for Universal, even if it’s not quite as high as Disney (at least for me) right now.
If I'm heading to Orlando, Universal is always my primary destination. After falling in love with Disneyland, I love that Universal Orlando's scale is so similar – stay on International Drive, walk beautifully landscaped paths, end up in a plaza between parks so you can easily go back and forth between them...
I like that both Disneyland and Universal Orlando feel like they were "master-planned" as a resort (which, of course, they were... in 2001 and 1999 respectively) with all of the components fitting together in a really thoughtful and modern way. I definitely know Universal has problems (Customer service. "Attitude." Screens!) but I appreciate its push to keep up, and I *love* Islands of Adventure. The Wizarding World only reinforced that Universal should be a destination.
As someone who grew up at Walt Disney World before "discovering" Disneyland at the age of 10, any Disney-focused vacation for me now heads to California. And thanks to being "spoiled" by Disneyland's ride lineup, chill atmosphere, paper Fastpass, relaxed locals, walkability, and California Adventure, I'm fully in that camp now.
Because of that, I just... don't love Magic Kingdom. I don't think it has a standout anchor attraction that makes it a must-visit (it's basically Disneyland without U, V, W, X, Y, and Z in that regard) and I prefer Disneyland's '50s charm and scale over Magic Kingdom's monumental '70s one. Epcot is currently meh. Hollywood Studios... well, you know.
I appreciate Walt Disney World as a monolithic international destination, and every time I make it to Orlando (maybe every 5 years), I definitely jump over to Disney World to see the new "thing" at each park (I still haven't seen Pandora... oops...), but since that really needs at LEAST a three-day Parkhopper, that's not cheap... I can't picture myself planning a vacation *for* Disney World...