Disney Springs vs City Walk, Comparing Restaurants and Things To Do

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A few years ago, my grandmother gave me a photo from 1979 at one of the restaurants at Fort Wilderness Campground. I was 5 years old and it remains one of my first and favorite memories. So my love of Disney runs deep. It is foundational. If I am asked to compare Disney theme parks to some other entertainment property – be it Universal Studios, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Cedar Point, Six Flags or Kings Island – It’s hard to say that I’m a fair judge. I value fairness and I certainly want to be fair. But deep down we all know there’s going to be some bias. But then, Disney Springs vs CityWalk? I’m torn. 

Which is better, Disney Springs or Universal CityWalk?

I love them both for different reasons. The answer? It’s complicated. 

Is Downtown Disney and Disney Springs the same?

Essentially, yes. Disney Springs began life as Downtown Disney. Then some retheming was done to make Disney Springs feel a bit more like an authentic Florida town. How authentic? Well, there are hot air balloon rides, cars that drive through the water and a restaurant with a volcano. You’re not getting all of that in over in Dunnellon. 

Disney Springs Shopping at Night
Disney Springs was built to look like a Florida town (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Is Disney Springs worth the trip?

Yeah. It’s fun to explore. But you should be warned – it’s not cheap. Therefore, if you have a short budget for the parks, you might be better off – from a temptation standpoint – saving your time and money. Instead, perhaps hang out at one of the Disney resorts that you’ve theoretically already paid for. However, if you have a decent travel budget and/or a strong sense of self-discipline, Disney Springs is fun and has a lot of cool shops, restaurants and things to do. We were in the area recently and didn’t have theme park tickets. We still went to Disney Springs to get a burst of Disney magic. It worked perfectly.

Is CityWalk worth the trip?

It is. CityWalk has a different vibe than Disney Springs – partially because it serves as the de facto entrance to both Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. There’s a little bit more of a buzz. Specifically, there’s a little bit more juice because you are either on the cusp or in the midst of just coming out of a classic Universal theme park experience. Mostly, Disney Springs is where you go when you’re not going to Disney parks. CityWalk is in the thick of it. 

CityWalk's Hollywood Drive-In Golf
Hollywood Drive-In Golf at Universal CityWalk (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Is Disney Springs better than CityWalk?

My friends. We have stumbled across one of the great philosophical questions of our time. Which is better? It’s Pepsi vs Coke. Or the Beatles vs Stones. Perhaps even Star Wars vs Star Trek. It’s all of those things, but harder. And it’s because there are clear-cut correct answers to the three questions above – see the end of the story for specifics. But I’m legitimately torn between CityWalk and Disney Springs. So, let’s put on our lab coats and break this thing down scientifically – shoutout to Nick Bakay – and go to a tale of the tape to compare.

1. Which is larger, CityWalk or Disney Springs?

We’re going to start by addressing the elephant in the room. That’s right, Disney Springs is the elephant in the room. It comes in at 120 acres and is significantly larger than CityWalk. I couldn’t find exact measurements for CityWalk, but in this particular matchup, Disney Springs is King Kong and CityWalk is Donkey Kong. In other words, Disney Springs is Godzilla and CityWalk is the guy in the Godzilla costume from the 60s. If this was Mike Tyson’s Punchout, Disney Springs would be Mike Tyson and CityWalk would be Soda Popinski.

Of course, size matters, but it’s not the only thing. So we’re bundling all the size issues into categories. Restaurants? Disney Springs has more. Shopping? Disney Springs has more. My search for shops turned up 99. Stuff to do? Again, Disney Springs has more. So what I’m saying is, that Disney Springs is almost the fifth Disney World theme park.

Point to Disney Springs.

Universal's CityWalk Red Coconut Club
CityWalk’s Red Coconut is just one of the cool places to visit (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

2. Which is the cooler place to visit?

My friends, I know it’s dangerous to base a category off of a hit 70s TV show that isn’t currently making a retro splash on any streaming service. I know names from “Happy Days” like Fonzie and Richie and Mr. and Mrs. C and Mork from Orc are just gibberish words to a certain percentage of our audience. In general, it’s good for your readers to be at least vaguely familiar with what you’re talking about. But it’s cool and so is Fonzie and that’s all you need to know. 

So where would Fonzie go? He’d go to CityWalk every night of the week. I could come up with a lot of words to describe Disney Springs. Cool wouldn’t make the top 50. Why is CityWalk so cool? Well, I do think a lot of it is the vibe. It’s frenetic. It has a palpable energy from the proximity to the parks and the action. It raises the bar like a Black Eyed Peas song but in a positive way. But it’s not all cool. There is a Bubba Gump Seafood place that hurts the old street cred but overall, let’s just put this down here. CityWalk has a restaurant that sells burgers and sushi. *Drops mic.* 

Point to CityWalk. 

Disney Springs Star Wars Galactic Outpost Store Exterior
The Star Wars Galactic Outpost at Disney Springs (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

3. Where can you find the best souvenir shopping?

And the avarice! The avarice never ends!  I’m paraphrasing our good friend and Universal Orlando icon The Grinch for our shopping categories.

First, we have shopping for theme park merchandise and souvenirs. Both the Universal Studios Store and World of Disney are great places to shop for merch, gifts and souvenirs without having to run all over the place. But Disney Springs has The LEGO Store for Disney LEGO merch, a Star Wars-themed store and an outlet for socks. There’s a store selling Christmas-themed merch only as well as a store that only sells stuff for lefthanded people. CityWalk Orlando? There are the Universal Legacy stores, a Hard Rock store and also a Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville-themed store. 

Point to Disney Springs.

Disney Springs Coco Cola Store Merchandise
The Coca-Cola Store’s selection is vast and it can be found at Disney Springs (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

4. What about shopping like it was an event at the Olympics?

Universal is just blown out of the water. I know we already accounted for size, but at Disney, you can pick up a Coach purse, some Harley Davidson gear and a nice piece of art. There are two different stores dedicated to selling pet stuff. The Coca-Cola Store sells Coca-Cola stuff. It’s just a different planet than CityWalk. 

Point to Disney Springs. 

Aerophile Hot Air Balloon Disney Springs
The Disney Springs Aerophile Hot Air Balloon (photo by Morgan Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

5. Which has the best attractions and things to do?

Let’s start this off simply. They both have movie theaters. It may seem strange to some to have a theater at Disney Springs or CityWalk. After all, why would you travel hundreds of miles to see the latest movie? I, however, once got incredibly sunburned on a trip to the Gulf and wanted no part of the sun for a little while. What did we do? We went to the movies. I regret nothing. We’ll call the movie theatres a push. 

In the realm of athletic activities, Universal Studios Orlando has a pair of mini-golf courses – Hollywood Drive-in Golf and Invaders from Planet Putt Putt. As something of a mini-golf aficionado, neither is fantastic but they were quite serviceable. Disney Springs counters with Splitsville Luxury Lanes which is a bowling alley. As someone who got an A in bowling in college, I can tell you the lanes are pretty good. 

Both have spots for live entertainment. Both CityWalk and Disney Springs operate as large entertainment complexes. There’s Hard Rock Live versus the House of Blues, for instance. Disney Springs also has the Raglan Road Live Music Patio Stage versus CityWalk’s Margaritaville. Ultimately, Disney Springs has the Aerophile World Leader in Balloon Flight, the Vintage Amphicars and Drawn to Life presented by Cirque Du Soliel and Disney. I’m a sucker for Quebecois Circus performers. 

Point to Disney Springs.

6. Which has the best dining?

Look, we’re going to have to break dining up into mini categories or it’s just too hard to get into otherwise. 

Cowfish Burger Universal City Walk
Cowfish’s burger at CityWalk is top-notch (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Which has the best burger? 

There are some good burgers at Disney Springs but Cowfish in CityWalk has the best burger I’ve ever had in my life. 

Point to CityWalk.

Disney Springs Morimoto Asia
Morimoto Asia at Disney Springs brings sushi to a new level (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Which has the best sushi? 

I’m not sure I’m qualified to make this call. I love CowFish’s sushi. But Morimoto Asia in Disney Springs is on another level. 

Point to Disney Springs. 

Universal's CityWalk's Hard Rock Cafe
CityWalk has a Hard Rock Cafe (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Which one has the Hard Rock Cafe? 

CityWalk has a Hard Rock. Disney Springs has none. I am a child of Generation X. There’s a good chance I’ll have the Hard Rock logo on my tombstone. 

Point to CityWalk.

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Universal CityWalk
Disney Springs gets a point for not having a Bubba Gump on principle alone (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Which one has Bubba Gump?

CityWalk has a Bubba Gump. Disney Springs has none. And I remain angry that the world has allowed the Bubba Gump Shrimp brand to live. 

Point to Disney Springs.

City Walk's Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast
CityWalk’s Toothsome Chocolate Emporium wins the bizarre theme category (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Which has the best bizarrely themed restaurant? 

CityWalk has the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen. It is a strange concoction of Willy Wonka-esque steampunk dining with lots of desserts. Disney Springs has a T-Rex Cafe where you dine with Dinos. Oddly, I feel like these two should trade, but for now? I am going with Willy Wonka steampunk Savory Feasts for everyone! 

Point to CityWalk.

lobster roll from the boathouse
The Boathouse at Disney Springs has excellent lobster rolls (photo by Morgan Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Which has the best seafood?

Disney Springs has Paddlefish, which is not the best seafood restaurant at Disney Springs but is a family tradition. We love it. The Boathouse is the best seafood restaurant at Disney Springs. Either of the two is better than any seafood offerings at CityWalk. 

Point to Disney Springs. 

STK Disney Springs at Night
STK Steakhouse is great, but it is on the expensive side (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Which has the best steak? 

STK Steakhouse has the word “swanky” in its Google description. I don’t think any of the places in CityWalk could spell Swanky. Even if you spotted them the “s”, the “w” and also the “a”. Look, I like simple things. Simple meals. Give me some good Mexican food. I’m not a swanky guy. But when it comes to steak, cut matters. Preparation matters. Swank – for lack of a better term – also matters. However, do be prepared to pay dearly for it. 

Point to Disney Springs. 

Croquetas de Pollo at Jaleo Disney Springs
We enjoyed the Croquetas de Pollo (chicken croquettes) at Jaleo, Disney Springs (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Which has the best specialty food? 

CityWalk has Vivo Italian Kitchen and Buca di Beppo Italian restaurants. But neither is the best Italian food on the Universal property. That honor goes to Mama Della’s Ristorante at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. Disney Springs has a couple of Italian options that aren’t as good as those at Universal. However, it has Jaleo by famed chef Jose Andres. It’s Spanish tapas and paella and croquetas de pollo. And it’s also heaven. 

Point to Disney Springs. 

Antojitos Empanadas in CityWalk
Antojitos’ empanadas helped CityWalk earn a point in our competition (photo by Morgan Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Which has the best Mexican Food?

Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food at CityWalk is probably the best restaurant in CityWalk not named Cowfish. Frontera Cocina at Disney Springs is good but it doesn’t compete. 

Point to CityWalk. 

And the winner is …

So there you have it. It’s so easy when you break things down scientifically. Disney Springs wins in a landslide. Or does it? Look, it all depends on what you want. Both places offer very different experiences. The dining at Disney Springs can be fancier, but they also have an Earl of Sandwich. In fact, I should have given a point to CityWalk for Voodoo Donuts but maybe I should have taken off a point for Cinnabon

There are a lot of reasons why I might go to Disney Springs. But there are also a lot of reasons I’d go to CityWalk. Tell you what. Maybe the best thing to do is to check them both out during your next vacation. It will be worth it. And finally, my answer to the above battles? Coke. Beatles. Star Wars. No arguments to the contrary will be accepted. 

Do you prefer CityWalk or Disney Springs? Let us know in the comments!

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John Gullion

John Gullion, Managing Editor at the Citizen Tribune, is a freelance contributor for TheSmokies.com LLC – the parent company of TheSmokies.com and HeyOrlando.com.

1 thought on “Disney Springs vs City Walk, Comparing Restaurants and Things To Do”

  1. Disney Says rings is less like Disney than the old Downtown Disney. I don’t come on vacation to go to Sephora or Coach. It’s terrible now. Mostly high end shopping. Not much Disney about it anymore. I’m going to City Walk.


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