Share on Facebook

The 10 Key Differences Between Disney World and Universal Studios

Which Orlando park is right for your family?

Disney WorldJerome LABOUYRIE/Shutterstock

The size

The 43-square-mile Disney World is vastly bigger than Universal Studios, and you’d need several days to hit all six parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, and two water parks. Universal is a bit smaller, using 840 acres for its three parks: Universal Studios (which includes the Wizarding World of Harry Potter), Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay water park. Make sure you know these 23 secrets Disney employees won’t tell you.

Universal studioAllen.G/Shutterstock

The age groups

It would be a vast oversimplification to say that Disney is better for little kids and Universal is better for teens, but their target audiences do seem to skew that way. Both of the parks are buzzing, but each has its own flavor of energy. Disney World’s energy feels magical and theme-heavy, while Universal Studios is all about toned-up excitement, with massive Transformers and the angry Hulk being some of its main attractions.

Hulk rollercoasterMia2you/Shutterstock

Height requirements

Young children might have more options at Disney World, where most rides don’t have a height requirement, and the tallest height minimums are 48 inches—and some even have height maximums. At Universal Studios, many of the main rides won’t let anyone on who’s shorter than 40 inches, and the Incredible Hulk roller coaster will only let in guests who are at least 54 inches tall.

Epcot Disney parkEye Ubiquitous/Shutterstock

The themes

Disney World puts the “theme” in “theme park” Your park choice defines the types of rides you’ll see, from the cultural exploration in Epcot to the zoological attractions in the Animal Kingdom. Magic Kingdom has mini themed lands, such as Tomorrowland and Fantasyland, which is closer to the setup of Universal Studios. Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida don’t have any strong overarching themes, but you can find more immersive areas in them, like Harry Potter World and Springfield from The Simpsons. Here are more wacky theme parks you should put on your bucket list.

Hogwarts express disneyMia2you/Shutterstock

Harry Potter

With two major theme parks so close together, it’s easy to mix up which one has the crowd favorite Harry Potter World. Potterheads who want to escape the muggle life should visit Universal Studios to explore Diagon Alley and Hogwarts.

Marvel character spidermanSolarisys/Shutterstock

Marvel characters

Disney owns Marvel, so you’d think the superheroes would call Disney World home—but a contract with Universal Studios has gotten in the way. Marvel heroes are slowly making their way into Disneyland in California, but Disney World isn’t allowed to steal Marvel characters that are already featured at Universal Orlando Resort. You’ll need to go to Universal to see Spider-Man and The Hulk, but head to Disney World for an upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster. Check out these secret spots you didn’t know you could find in Disney parks.

Mickey mouse characterimageBROKER/Shutterstock

Other characters

You know you can expect Mickey and the princesses at Disney World, but other fan favorites include Buzz Lightyear, Woody, Tinkerbelle, Mary Poppins, and Rafiki. At Universal Studios, expect run-ins with SpongeBob, the Minions, Optimus Prime, Shrek, Scooby-Doo, and more. Try not to get too star struck! But don’t bother looking for these 9 Disney characters you can’t meet in the parks anymore.

Fast pass lines toon landMia2you/Shutterstock

The fast lane passes

Both parks have options that let you jump to the front of the line, but they work slightly differently. At Disney World, the FastPass+ comes with the price of your ticket, and you can use it up to three times. You book a slot for an attraction, then line up in a short queue. At Universal, the Express pass costs extra but isn’t limited to just three line-jumps. You can spend $69 to get access to the shorter line once per ride, in just one park, or shell out $99 to skip ahead as many times as you’d like and at either of the two major Universal parks. Don’t miss these 14 insider secrets from a Disney World super fan.

Disney hotelMia2you/Shutterstock

Hotel perks

Depending on which park you plan to visit, the on-site hotels have different perks. At Disney World resorts, guests can take advantage of free transportation and parking, book their FastPass+ choices a month or more before other guests, and get into parks early and/or stay late. Universal hotel guests get early entry to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Volcano Bay, plus a free Universal Express Unlimited pass.

Universal city walk shopping disneySolarisys/Shutterstock

The shopping areas

Disney Springs and CityWalk Orlando are the shopping areas leading up to Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort, respectively. Both are buzzing with shopping, restaurants, and entertainment. Disney Springs is much larger and has a bigger emphasis on shopping, and could easily be a destination in and of itself. CityWalk is smaller and more geared toward people heading out of the park. After sundown, CityWalk the nightlife picks up, and adults-only nightclubs open their doors. Next, learn the key differences between Disney World and Disneyland.

Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s Medscape.com and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.