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Best Day Ever Battle: Disney vs. Universal

Image: Flickr, guldem

For some, a visit to Central Florida is a weeks-long vacation extravaganza. It’s something they’ve planned for months, if not years, and the central purpose is to see and do everything the area has to offer. Others prefer a more surgical approach — stopping in for a few days to experience only the best attractions before returning to their daily lives a bit happier and a lot poorer.

But there are some who, for whatever reason, find themselves in Orlando and the surrounding areas for purposes beyond rest and relaxation. Maybe they’re visiting for work or staying with relatives. Maybe they’re just passing through on a larger road trip, or maybe they needed a theme park fix and couldn’t get any days off.

Whatever the reason, it’s a surprisingly common thing to find yourself with one day — and one day only — free to explore either Disney or Universal, but not both. In such a case, which park makes the most sense? Would Disney or Universal give you the best bang for the single-day buck?

While it’s technically possible to experience both resorts in the same day, in an abridged manner, the travel time and expense make that an undesirable experience for all but the most niche visitors. Really, the experience you’d want to have is the best day you can on a single resort’s property.

So, which is it? Disney or Universal? Sure, if you’re a massive fan of, say, Harry Potter or Star Wars, your decision is already made for you. For everyone else, let’s break down the factors:

Value

Image: Disney

The idea of spending the money it costs to visit either Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando for a single day can seem a bit silly. After all, both companies have explicitly designed their ticketing systems to incentivize lengthier stays — with the cost of a one-day ticket being a large upfront cost, but then charging far less for each subsequent day. 

Disney, sensing the lost opportunity for some revenue on that front, actually has been rather creative at coming up with ways to give single-day guests reasons to visit without compromising that inherent we-want-guests-to-stay-longer ethos. Hard-ticket party events that grant admission for fewer hours, but with increased benefits, have cleverly helped bridge this gap. Universal has started to dip its toe in the water as well, but Disney clearly remains ahead.

But, those types of tickets are slightly secondary to the real core of the question at hand: that is, which park is a better value to visit in a single day?

As of 2019, Disney’s tickets start at $109 for a single day, but can rise at as much as $159 for peak days. If you wish to visit more than one park in a day, a park hopper ticket will cost you $169 at minimum, and can go up to $219 at peak. 

Universal, on the other hand, actually charges more for its basic one-day ticket at $115, but it only goes up to $135 at peak. A park hopper also starts at $170 for Universal, but it only goes up to $190 at the high season.

In terms of pure cost, Disney gets the edge at slower times of year — generally when school is in session or holidays have just passed. If you’re around for busier times, Universal makes more sense.

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