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  • Writer's pictureTina Hill

Disney vs. Universal

Star Wars themed area at Hollywood Studios is out of this world!

A surprise Valentine's Day gift turned into a whirlwind weekend visiting the theme parks in Orlando. I was able to use FAM time thru work and even better, the girls joined in on the fun with Megan flying in from Ohio and Fiona flying in from Colorado. Dave had a business trip

at the Orlando Convention Center for the week and rented a VRBO that accommodated all of us, with room to spare. I really want to add here that if you are planning a larger family vacation in this area, a house rental with three or four bedrooms is a good bet. They are almost always more cost effective than booking a hotel and give everyone the space they need after a long and exhausting day at the parks. For a small family and the convenience of of being closer to the parks, booking a hotel at any of the theme park properties is the way to go. You are onsite, have earlier access to the parks, and you have a shuttle to get you around. And do not overlook properties that are directly across the street and walking distance to Disney Springs, where you'll also have access to park shuttles, dining, and entertainment. #disney #disneyweekend #universal #universalStudios #disneyorlando #universalorlando #familyweekend #hulkorlando #hulkuniversal

The first ride of the day at Universal Studio ~ The Incredible Hulk Coaster

While Dave makes it to Orlando at least twice a year due to business, I was excited to visit and try out Disney's Genie, Virtual Queue, Lightening Lanes, and experience the rides at both Disney and Universal theme parks. I haven't visited the parks in a looooong time, and a lot has changed. Smart phones and DisneyBands are now an integral part of your park experience. By the end of our weekend, I would ask all four in our party which was their favorite destination. Our days went something like this...

Friday ~

Dave had a red eye from Vegas and was meeting Megan and I at the airport at roughly 9:30 am on Friday. Fiona would be coming in the following morning on a red eye as well (crazy people). I was landing in Terminal C (separate building), and they were both in Terminal A/B. The Orlando Airport (MCO) is huge. I had to walk across buildings and then take an airport train to get to the other terminal. It is big but signage makes it easy to get from one place to another, and we all met up in Terminal B (Spirit Airlines) baggage claim without a hitch. #MCO #orlandoairport #travelorlando

Welcome to Orlando International Airport

**If you are meeting family/friends at MCO and will be landing in different terminals, plan to meet in one place.

None of our flights suffered air delays, so it all went smoothly. If you're a frequent flyer, you know that air delays are now commonplace. So, with very little sleep we were on our way to our first stop: Universal.

After picking up our car rental, we were on our way, arriving at roughly 10:30 am. Standard parking costs $30 and Preferred is $50. We purchased our park to park theme park tickets online at the AAA Northeast theme park site, so we wouldn't have to wait to purchase tickets at the entrance. On both Friday & Saturday, we enjoyed Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. After going on a few rides, we had a quick lunch at Thunder Falls Terrace. Even tho we got a late start, wait lines were short and there was plenty of available seating. If possible, I always recommend lunch between 11-11:30a before crowds set in. As this was a later start to the day, we did not spend the extra money on the express pass. That was a mistake. The attraction lines/wait times were very long: 60 - 90 minutes; it makes sense to spend the $$ and get the Express Pass. We packed in as much as possible and then had dinner at Margaritaville in Citywalk. #universalexpressPass #universalexpress #universalparking #margaritavilleuniversal #universalcitywalk

Spiderman is still Amazing and dinner at Margaritaville was a great end to our nite

**At both Universal & Disney parks, lockers are outside every ride that requires you to leave personal items behind.

**Look ahead at dining options near the rides/themed areas you'll be engaging in. Use your app and make applicable reservations. Avoid wait times/lines to get the most of your time.

The following is my own personal rating system for areas/rides throught the Universal Orlando Theme Parks.

Rating System

- Disappointed and didn't think it was worth the wait

★★ - Okay. As long as lines aren't too long

★★★ - Top Favorite and totally worth the hype

Universal Studios

  • Revenge of the Mummy ★★★ - Coaster

  • Despicable Me ★ - Crazy long line

  • Men in Black ★★★

  • Transformers ★★★ - Immersive Experience

  • Hollywood Rip Ride RockIt ★★

  • Hogwarts Express ★★★

  • Diagon Alley ★★★

  • Escape Fom Gringotts ★★★ - Immersive Experience

  • ET ★★★ - This ride is a classic

Islands of Adventure

  • The Incredible Hulk Coaster ★★★

  • Jurassic World VelociCoaster ★★★

  • The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman ★★★

  • Dr. Doom's Fearfall ★

  • Skull Island ★★

  • Jurassic Park: The Ride ★★★

  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ★★★ - Not good for motion sickness (immersive 3D experience with animatronics)

  • Haggrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure ★★★ - No Express - 90m wait

  • The Wizarding World of Harry Potter ★★★

Fiona just got in from her red eye!

Saturday ~

Fiona arrived from Denver on the red eye this morning, and after we all had breakfast (bagels & creamcheese), we were on our way to day two at Universal. We purchased the Express Pass and took advantage of going thru lines quickly. Sometimes, the single rider line moves faster than the Express Pass line, so don't overlook that. This was a full day at both parks, with lunch at Bumblee Man's Tacos, which offered healthy chicken tacos and plenty of outdoor seating. #bumbleemanstacos #universalrides #universaldiagonAlley #universalhogsmeade #universalrollercoasters

Fiona was craving a turkey leg and treated herself at one of the many turkey leg stands. We couldn't resist dessert from Lard Lad Donuts and the four of us split the biggest, sweetest, most delicious - PUT ON YOUR FOOD BUCKET LIST - donut ever! At the end of the day we headed back to our condo, met up with great friends (shoutout to Janine & John) in the area, and ordered a ton of take out sushi. The entire day and nite couldn't have been better.

A little strange...but turkey leg stands are everywhere at Universal

The Harry Potter books are transformed into magical and immersive themed areas.

The highlight of the day, naturally, was The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Even having experienced this before, it's simply so magical that you never tire of this wondrous land. It is a fantastical immersive experience...even if you're not a fan. We were able to get to both parks easily with our park to park pass. This allowed us to ride on the Hogwarts Express, which enables you to get to both King's Cross Station, Universal Studios, and Hogsmeade Station, Islands of Adventure, in one themed experience. The Express is a relaxing, family experience with storytelling along the way. #universalsharrypotter #hogwartsexpress #universalhogwartsexpress #kingscrossstationUniversal #hogsmeadeUniversal #butterbeer

Drinking butterbeer and enjoying the animatronics was a highlight

**And stay tuned as 2025 brings us Universal's newest theme park, EPIC UNIVERSE!!

Sunday ~

Our last day at the parks would include three of the four Disney theme parks: Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom, and Animal Kingdom. This was an aggressive day. Genie passes and Lightening Lane ($$) passes were purchased. Our mission was to experience the newer themed areas/rides and this started with the Star Wars themed area. #disneystarwars

This is a Star Wars lover's dream, but even if you're not a follower, it's a must see.

Hollywood Studios: The Star Wars area took up our morning as we not only went on rides but thoroughly expored this themed area, which like Harry Potter, is one of the most recognized fandoms on the planet. When you walk thru Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, there is no doubt you have entered another world. Their star attraction rides live up to the hype. Millenium Falcon and Rise of the Resistance offer 3D/animatronics, animation, and an otherworldly experience that you will long remember. The Star Wars area is a remarkable tribute to the Star Wars franchise that fans will embrace and want to return to. #universaldiagonqlley #milleniumfalcon #riseoftheresistance #universalanimation #universalanimatronics #starwarsanimatronics

  • Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance - ★★★ Lightening Lane Pass $$ - Immersive & Interactive attraction (yes...this is more than a ride!!)

  • Milleninum Falcon: Smugglers Run ★★★

  • Tower of Terror ★★★ - Fast moving line

  • Toystory Land ★★★

  • Lunch at Backlot Express Restaurant - small selection that's perfectly fine, which included burgers, chicken tenders, and rice bowls with chicken. There was plenty of seating.

Hollywood Studios Tower of Terror and Toy Story Land

Magic Kindom: We specifically came here to experience Tron. This ride is a futuristic, state of the art, high speed rollercoaster. Every driver has his own lightcycle, which accelerates in a race against The Grid. This is the fastest rollercoaster in any Disney theme park, and we purchased a Lightening Pass $$ for this ride. Hands down, this was a weekend favorite and totally lives up to the hype. #backlotexpress #disneydining #disneysToyStory #toystoryland #disneystron #tronride

  • Tron ★★★

  • Seven Dwarf's Mine Train ★


Before Tron, we made a detour to the Seven Dwarf's Mine Train. We had extra time and because this was another Lightening Lane Pass ride, we assumed it was a winner. We went into this one blind tho. The line meter said it was a 65 minute wait, but it was very wrong. The organization of the lines was poorly managed, and THIS RIDE OFFERS NO single rider lines. There were empty seats, which should not have been the case. The wait was easily 90 minutes, and all four of us agreed this was NOT WORTH THE WAIT. Time would have been better spent going on the Haunted Mansion (classic) or Buzz Lightyear, another park favorite. Because of the light drizzle throughout the day and our clothing being wet, I wasn't a fan of going into Pirates of the Caribbean (as it's really cool in there...better for a hot day). Another great classic tho.

Animal Kingdom:

The last of our theme park visits did not disappoint. Witnessing the tree of life is extraordinary and Avatar was spectacular. Just like Harry Potter and Star Wars, Disney has recreated a world that comes to life with exotic plants, floating mountains, and a glowing bioluminescent rainforest. We paid for our Lightening Lane Pass for Avatar Flight of Passage, a 4D flight that soars over Pandora's landscape, and we used our Genie Pass for Na'vi River Journey, another enchanting and breathtaking experience where you float through a magical and visually stunning rainforest. Both captured the wonder and amazement of Pandora. You truly become immersed in the world of Avatar on each ride. These are a don't miss. #avatorflightofpassage #disneyspandora #pandoraanimalkingdom #naviriverjourney #cisneysnaviriverjourney

Ending the day at twilight was perfect because everything in Avatar's themed area is glowing! The Tree of Life is beautiful and had a huge audience.

We enjoyed the wonderful and relaxing Kilimanjaro Safari and got to enjoy an impressive array of animals in Disney's wildlife reserve. Our day ended with Expedition Everest, in the dark, which was way scarier and 10x more fun! (No line..we were the last riders of the nite). #disneyseveret #kilimanjarosafariride #disneyskilimanjarosafari

Beautiful animals and Everest all lit up

  • Avatar Flight of Passage ★★★

  • Na'vi River Journey ★★★

  • Valley of Mo'ara ★★★

  • Kilimanjaro Safari ★★★

  • Expedition Everest ★★★

Monday ~

Our last day in Orlando was wind down. We all had flights at different times of the day. As I was on a late afternoon departure, I was able to outline my blog post & get some travel work done. Yay me. So, the big question remains...which was our favorite, Disney or Universal?

For Immersive rides that cross all ages, Disney is the winner. Each of Disney's parks provide unique attractions that bring stories, movies, and imagination to life. It's nothing short of a magical experience. Disney's Star Wars and Avatar attractions are examples of interactive rides with cutting edge technology and special effects. If you really want to get the most of your Disney visit, I recommend one park per day, with or without a hopper pass. There is so much to do and see!

For thrill rides that are more geared to older kids thru adults, Universal is the winner and also renders the iconic and immersive world of Harry Potter in two magical lands. Whether you're walking thru Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade, you will find yourself in a spellbinding journey. With two parks connected to one another with the Hogwarts Express, you can easily visit both in one day, but two days gives you more time to see everything!

Overall, I think Universal might hold a slight edge over Disney due to the efficiency of their line wait times. There are no $$ Lightening Lane and Virtual Queue lines at Universal...just an Express Pass that moves quickly. GET THE EXPRESS PASS. Could it be that there are just more people at Disney than Universal, slowing rides down...possbily. I really don't know, but Universal does offer single rider lines on almost all rides, utilizing every seat, and they just seem to have a more accurate timer on line queues.

I hope you've enjoyed my post, and if you have any additional questions, don't hesitate to reach out to me. If you would like to book a vacation, I can be reached at I am a travel agent with AAA Northeast and have extensive experience in both international and domestic travel. #aaanortheast #aaatravelagent #disneytravel #universaltravel #orlandovacation #travelplanning

Live your best life! Tina

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