The Best Reasons to Visit Universal Orlando Over Walt Disney World

When making a decision on which Orlando theme parks to visit in 2024, there are a number of factors to consider. One of the most important is trying to determine where do you and your family / traveling party want to see and what does everyone like to do.  And since travel costs have substantially increased over the past year, you will want to get the most out of your theme park vacation.

Both the Universal Orlando Resort and Walt Disney World have just about everything a visitor can ask for including world-renowned theme parks with amazing rides & attractions, major resort hotels with all the amenities one can wish for, and extensive dining & entertainment options. 

Living just a couple hours from Orlando, the Endless Summer family has been frequent visitors and annual passholders to both Universal and to Disney (and SeaWorld Orlando as well).   We find it an easy and enjoyable escape that’s just a short distance from our home.  So based on our experiences, we have some thoughts to help you make the best decision possible to determine which park to visit.

Guests should be aware that  to get the most enjoyment out of a visit to Walt Disney World, it requires a fair amount of advance planning.  While some may find this enjoyable, guests visiting Universal Orlando do not have to make an extensive plan.  They just show up and enjoy all the rides and attractions it has to offer.

From our prospective, Disney will always be the leading theme park operator having four established theme parks and decades of history.   However within the past few years, we’re finding ourselves spending more and more time at Universal Orlando because it’s just easier.

In this article you will find five reasons to visit the Universal Orlando Resort over the Walt Disney World theme parks during 2023.

The 5 Reasons to Visit Universal Orlando Over Walt Disney World

  • No Theme Park Reservations Needed
  • Universal Express Pass
  • Superior Thrill Rides
  • Smaller and More Manageable
  • Better Special Events

No Theme Park Reservations Needed

Due to the pandemic, a reservation system was enacted across a number of theme parks across the county including those at The Walt Disney World Resort. As of January 2024, annual passholders and other admission types require a reservation.  Only “date-based tickets” do not require reservations.

While most theme park operators have rescinded those restrictions, Disney has kept their reservation system in an effort to try better manage visitor capacity and staffing levels. As a frequent visitor and annual passholder to the Walt Disney World parks, it’s hard to determine if this strategy has been effective as crowd levels appear to be similar to that which we experienced during pre-pandemic times.

The theme parks at the Universal Orlando Resort do not require a reservation.  Anyone with a valid admission ticket or annual pass (that’s not subject to a blackout date).  So if you have a ticket or annual pass and at 5:00 PM you feel like heading over to Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure, you will not have to check to make sure that there still are reservations available.

If you can’t get into the parks, what good is having an admission ticket to expensive annual pass?

Click here to learn more about on-site hotels and resorts at Universal Orlando

Universal Express Pass (No Disney Genie)

Disney Genie is a new smart phone app that assists Walt Disney World guests navigate their day at the theme parks by providing tips & recommendations, information on attraction wait times, dining reservations / mobile food orders and the ability to sign up for Lightning Lane entrances.  Unfortunately, this free digital service has experienced mixed reviews since it’s inception in December 2021.

See our review and Complete Guide to Disney Genie service.

When on a theme park vacation we prefer to be spontaneous and take our day as it comes.  Having to make ride reservations at certain times (even using the old Disney FastPass+ system) doesn’t really allow for any flexibility.  As a result, we are huge fans of the Universal Express Pass and feel it is the best theme park benefit available in any Orlando area park.

The Universal Express Pass allows guests to skip the traditional “stand-by” lines, bypassing the main queue, and enter through a completely different queue.  Wait times are considerable shorter when using Universal Express and are limited to the following guests:

  • Universal Premier category resort guests (complimentary with your stay)
  • Direct purchase of a Universal Express Pass (prices range from $79.99 to $199.99 per day depending on the type of pass)
  • Own a Universal Orlando Premier Annual Pass (allows for express after 4:PM)

Universal Express is offered for almost all theme park attractions including Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.  Even on the busiest of days, wait times are no longer than 20 to 30 minutes when using the express queues.  

Click here to learn more about the Universal Express Pass 

Superior Thrill Rides

While this may change in the future as Walt Disney World continues to up it’s game bringing two new “thrill rides” on-line which include Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind and Tron Lightcycle Power Run, Universal Orlando is still tops when it comes to thrill rides.

Some of the amazing thrill rides at the Universal Orlando theme parks include:

  • The Jurassic World VelociCoaster
  • Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
  • The Incredible Hulk Coaster
  • Doctor Doom’s Fearfall
  • Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
  • Revenge of the Mummy

Let’s not forget the two Harry Potter rides – Escape from Gringotts and Forbidden Journey.  While these are not as intense as the VelociCoaster or The Hulk, they still rate fairly high on the “thrill ride” meter.

Click here to learn more about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando

Smaller and More Manageable

At more than 25,000 acres in size, the Walt Disney World Resort is absolutely enormous.  For those of us that have been coming here for years, getting around is not particularly difficult .  For newcomers and those that don’t visit often, getting around could be a bit challenging – even when using Disney’s transportation.

Depending on which park guests are visiting, it can be a little daunting from an off-site hotel or from the Orlando International Airport.  Certain on-site hotels help the matter but it still can take quite a while to get from the hotel room to the theme park entrance.

Easy Access

The Universal Orlando Resort sits on a little more than 800 acres and is just adjacent to Interstate 4 and the Florida Turnpike.  Access to the parking garages or any of the on-site hotels is fairly easy from both Universal Boulevard and Kirkman Road.

While traffic can get a little busy at peak times, it’s fairly easy to navigate from off-site hotels and the airport. 

Pedestrian Friendly

Due to it’s size, Disney World is not pedestrian friendly.  The Epcot Resorts area is the closest they have to a pedestrian friendly area but you can’t walk to the Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Animal Kingdom or Disney Springs from this area.

During your visit to Universal, it is possible to walk (or use Universal transportation) to just about everywhere in the resort.  Universal’s CityWalk (dining and entertainment district) and the theme parks are all adjacent to one another.  The two massive parking garages feature moving walkways to make the trip from your car to the entrance a little easier.

Most of the on-site hotels have walking paths to CityWalk and the Hard Rock Hotel is little just steps from the entrance to Universal Studios Florida.  Four of the on-site hotels offer a short water taxi ride to CityWalk which is a very pleasant experience.

While the two Endless Summer Resort’s (not to be confused with our web site) are just on the other side of Interstate 4, we have seen guests make the 20 minute trek to CityWalk.  If that’s a bit much, Universal’s bus transportation run continuously and it is less than 5 minutes from hotel to the bus stop.

Parking Hopping

Park hopping at Disney World is not convenient.  With the exception of Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios (which are still not close), park hopping requires some type of transportation and can take quite a while which eats into your quality vacation time.

Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure are right next to one another so park hopping is easy.  It’s less than 10 minutes from entrance to entrance and guests with a park-to-park ticket can take the Hogwarts Express train from Kings Cross Station in Universal Studios to Hogsmeade Station in Islands of Adventure.

Even Universal’s Volcano Bay theme park is fairly easy to get to from the parking garage.  It requires a short bus ride from the first floor of the garage and there are direct entrances from Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, the Aventura Hotel and the Loews Sapphire Falls Resort.

Better Special Events

While there is no doubt that we enjoy the International Food & Wine Festival at Epcot and Star Wars Weekends (which may be discontinued) at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the special events at Universal Orlando are just a notch above those offered at Walt Disney World.

Universal hosts two of the most spectacular theme parks events – one during the winter/spring and the other during fall/winter.  Mardi Gars at Universal Orlando is free with your theme park admission and includes live concerts on weekends, a nightly parade and a host of themed food & beverage offerings.

Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights is the premier Halloween event across the state.  This event requires a separate ticket but if you enjoy being scared, there is no doubt Universal is the place to be.

Check our our Universal Orlando special event guides below.

It can be argued that Walt Disney World offers a better Christmas holiday experience with the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays and Disney Very Merriest After Hours event, we feel that this is just too close to call.  But check it out for yourself in our theme park holidays guides.

About the Universal Orlando Resort

The Universal Orlando Resort in Orlando, Florida features two theme parks, an outstanding water park, eight resort hotels that hold approximately 9,000 hotel rooms, and a massive shopping, dining & entertainment complex in Universal’s CityWalk.  

Learn more about all there is to do at the Universal Orlando Resort with our regularly updated theme park guides, articles and videos.

Where Should We Stay When Visiting the Universal Orlando Resort?

The Universal Resort has a number of great on-site hotels and each and every one of them have their own benefits, characteristics and price points.

There are multiple “categories” of hotels but the highest quality on-site hotels are the Premier Hotels.  Premier hotels are Universal’s premium hotels that have the highest quality amenities & accommodations, the closest locations to the theme parks and largest amount of on-site hotel benefits. 

What sets Premier hotels apart is that they provide a free Universal Express pass to every guest staying in the room.  Universal Express allows guests to skip the regular lines and ride the most popular rides as many times as they would like.  Once you get used to Universal Express, you will never want to visit a theme park without one.

In addition Universal’s Premier hotels and resorts, there are a number of other on-site and off-site hotels options. 

Click here to learn more about on-site hotels and resorts at Universal Orlando

Jerry Joyce

Jerry Joyce has been a Florida resident since 1988 and has lived in a variety of places in the South Florida area. Jerry is an avid boater & water sports enthusiast, beach aficionado, a lover of great food, muscle car fan and a theme park annual passholder for many years. Some of his favorite places in Florida include the Florida Keys, Walt Disney World, Cedar Key, the Loxahatchee River, St. Augustine and Ten Thousand islands.

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