Is Universal Studios Part of Disney? The Difference Between the Parks

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I should have been a travel agent. 

Ever since the internet made it possible for Joe Q. Public to plan their own trips, I’ve enjoyed planning trips for myself and my family.

Planning trips for yourself is fun, but I do enjoy living vicariously through vacation planning.  

In fact, just last week I spent a good 30 minutes helping a friend price a quick London vacation to catch a St. Louis Cardinals game across the pond. That was quickly followed by several minutes of pricing seaside rentals in Southern Italy. I found some really good deals, by the way. 


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Lately, I’ve been pricing various family vacations usually to Central Florida, the theme park capital of the world.

The other day I got a new offer for a 5-night stay in Universal and on a whim priced it out. We were just in Universal a couple of months ago, but I did it anyway.

I found the price shockingly good. 

In fact, I think the biggest shocker in Gullion family vacation pricing – other than how affordable it is to rent a castle in Southern Italy – is how much more reasonable pricing is for Universal than it is for Disney. 

Part of it is simply that the Disney property does not have great value options for staying on property for a family of five. Conversely, Universal has several exceptionally priced value suites that allow larger families to stay at a reasonable price. 

The fact is, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to justify staying at an on-park resort during a Disney World vacation. There are so many better-priced options just off the park. 


Entrance Universal Orlando
Universal Studios and Disney are both in Orlando, but they are entirely different parks (photo by Daniel Munson/

Is Universal Studios owned by Disney? 

No. They are the chief competitors in the great Orlando theme parks battle.

In fact, Universal – with its advantages in thrill rides and a new park under construction – is the only real challenger to the dominance of Mickey Mouse. 

Read Also: Universal Studios vs Islands of Adventure in Orlando, which is better?

Magic Kingdom Entrance
Guests stand in line to enter Disney’s Magic Kingdom (photo by Morgan Overholt/

What’s the difference between Disney World and Universal Studios?

With Universal’s Epic Universe under construction, there are several differences between the two parks that go beyond who is available at the character meet and greets. 

On a macro level, I would say this: Disney is often considered the better vacation experience. This is mainly due to superior investment, technology and planning as well as mostly superior IP. 

Diagon Alley at Universal Studios
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is one of the most popular features at Universal’s Diagon Alley (photo by RichartPhotos/

What is IP? 

Intellectual property. Disney has Star Wars, all the Disney and Pixar characters, the Muppets and Avatar (which is better than most people think) and Indiana Jones.

Universal’s best IP – by a massive distance – is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But it also owns the theme park rights to Jurassic Park, King Kong, Hello Kitty, Men in Black, the Minions and Shrek. Additionally, they own the Universal Monsters. This is why Halloween is the only holiday in which Universal kicks Disney’s behind.

Interestingly, a handful of major Hollywood deals have led to the awkward situation in which Universal has theme park rights to characters otherwise owned by Disney.

For example, Marvel’s Super Hero Island at Universal features Marvel Characters like Spider-Man and Captain America, who have been major players in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

That’s why when you ride the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man or the Incredible Hulk Coaster, you won’t see Tom Holland or Mark Ruffalo help promote it. 

Disney also owns the Simpsons. But Universal Studios Florida maintains the rights to Springfield, home of the Simpsons Ride.

Star Wars Galaxy's Edge at Disney World
Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge at Disney World opened in 2019 (photo by Martin/

Wait, Universal is building a new park?

The pendulum may swing back to Universal in a few years with the park Epic Universe, expected to open in 2025.

Meanwhile at Disney, once the Tron ride opens in the Magic Kingdom, the major multi-phase upgrade across the Disney Parks will be mostly spent.  

There is evidence of major work on the horizon at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. However, over the last decade, Walt Disney World Resort has launched the massive Star Wars experience at Disney’s Hollywood Studios as well as Toy Story Land in the same park. Major upgrades at EPCOT include the Ratatouille Ride and the Guardians of the Galaxy ride. 

Universal has countered with Jurassic World’s Velocicoaster and Hogsmeade’s Hagrid’s ride – both at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. 

Still, if you throw in Disney’s Genie+ and Magic Band+ compared to Universal’s Express Pass and paper ticket system, it just feels like Disney has put more into its parks recently. 

Read Also: Why are people mad at Disney? What you need to know [2022]

Disney does a great job with character experience (photo by James Overholt/

What is another major difference between the parks? 

Again, on a macro level, what they’re selling for your vacation time. 

Disney is selling nostalgia, experiences that span generations, characters that feel like part of the family and attention to detail. 

It’s the most magical place on Earth not because of any ride or single experience. It’s because when you take a Disney World vacation, they do their best to make you feel like a part of Disney World. 

I do wonder, however, if that feeling is fading with all the additional cost Disney is layering into the process. We love Disney. We prefer Disney. When we go back to Orlando? We’re likely to go back to Universal. 

Why? Universal is selling fun. With heavy reliance on indoor thrill rides and roller coasters like the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, Universal isn’t worried about making it magical. The exception is the fantastic Wizarding World – it’s just fun. 

Also, in my opinion, Disney does a better job of training cast members. I can’t remember the last time I had a bad interaction with a Disney cast member.

In Universal in June, I had several less-than-pleasant encounters in the course of a single week’s stay. 

Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance Hologram
Rise of the Resistance in Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a great experience (photo by James Overholt/

If Universal has the best coasters, is it the better option? 

Depends on what you want, but I think overall Disney has the best rides.

Universal wins the coaster war – although Expedition Everest is pretty fun. Still, Disney has the best two rides in Orlando and maybe the United States.

The Rise of the Resistance ride in the Star Wars section of Hollywood Studios is one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life. Avatar Flight of Passage in Animal Kingdom is almost in the same ballpark. 

And Universal doesn’t have anything really to compete with the generational connection of Small World, Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion or Pirates of the Caribbean.

Sure, the Dumbo ride is nothing more than riding a flying elephant in a small circle. But Universal’s only answer in Seussland just doesn’t have the same impact. 

ET Adventure Ride Entrance Universal Studios
The E.T. Adventure ride in Universal is a conceptual cousin of the Peter Pan ride in the Magic Kingdom (photo by James Overholt/

So, are Universal and Disney completely different experiences? 

Yes and no. They are different parks. But ultimately, they have more in common than they do apart. 

Disney Springs and Universal City Walk are roughly comparable experiences although City Walk’s proximity to the parks can be a blessing and a curse. 

The on-park resorts are also pretty awesome for each. The Hard Rock Hotel and Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal do a similar job as the Disney Resort hotels of transporting you to another place or time for the length of your stay. 

Both Universal and Disney have a way to travel the world without leaving Orlando. Mini sections of Universal Studios include San Francisco and New York and London while EPCOT’s pavilions go from the Far East to Mexico, Canada and Europe. 

Ultimately many of the rides, the dining experiences and even the shows have mirrors in the other resorts.

For example, the E.T. Adventure ride in Universal is a conceptual cousin of the Peter Pan ride in the Magic Kingdom. Storm’s ride in Islands of Adventure is essentially the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups and the comparisons go on and on that way. 

Betty Boop
The Betty Boop store at Universal in Orlando (photo by Morgan Overholt/

So what’s the difference between Disney World and Universal Studios?

Ultimately, for now, the differences are really everything and nothing. If you pull back far enough, the experiences are essentially the same – a quintessential American theme park experience.

If you zoom in close enough to notice that one park allows you to meet Mickey Mouse and the other offer Popeye and Betty Boop, then maybe they’re not much alike at all. 

Have you been to both theme parks? Tell us in the comments.

Photo of author


John Gullion

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

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