Central Florida is one of the premiere family vacation destinations in the United States and for good reason… it holds access to 4 of the top theme parks within about an hour of each other. Bush Gardens Tampa Bay, Sea World Orlando, Universal Studios Orlando and Islands of Adventure, and of course, the big cheese himself… Walt Disney World Resort. So when you’re planning your Central Florida vacation, you may be finding yourself in the middle of the daunting task of trying to figure out which park to spend your time at or is it worth it to split your vacation time between multiple parks.
Which theme park should you choose?
I am going to be taking a look at the two biggest competitors in the game… Universal Studios Orlando and Walt Disney World Resorts.
There are a lot of factors to keep in mind when trying to pick between these two parks. Each one is great and will provide an amazing vacation but depending on the ticket prices, family interests, ages, ride types, and wait times… you may find that you prefer one park over the other.
Both Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World are pretty expensive vacations to plan but thankfully both parks offer a verity of packages to choose from as well as fluctuations in prices depending on when you want to visit. My first recommendation would be to figure out what time of year you plan on visiting and then check the websites for packages and deals from there.
Walt Disney World
Disney World has started a flex pricing program for their daily tickets. The price of their tickets vary from day to day. Depending on if the day you are planning on visiting is considered to be a high capacity day, you may spend more money on a ticket for say a Friday or Saturday visit as opposed to a Tuesday or Wednesday ticket. Plus you will need to add an extra $65 or so onto the price of your single day ticket if you want to add the Park Hopper option on to your ticket for the day. This will give you the ability to visit multiple Disney Parks in a single day. So you can start your day at Epcot and finish your day with fireworks in the Magic Kingdom.
*Honestly, you really don’t need the Park Hopper pass unless you are planning a meal in a different park than you will be visiting that day or unless you plan on visiting Animal Kingdom.
Keep an eye out for special packages and ticket prices throughout the year because sometimes things like free dining with packages can pop up.
**Unpopular opinion alert- Animal Kingdom and Epcot you can see most of in a half day so these ones are great options for Park Hopper days.
Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure
Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure keep roughly the same ticket prices throughout each month which can make buying tickets a little easier since you don’t have to worry about peak days. Just like Disney, Universal has special offers and deals pop up that can end up saving you money on your stay.
Deals offered by both
When you stay at either a Universal Studios Resort or a Walt Disney World Resort, you will receive free transportation to the associated park. You will also receive fastpasses to the park that you are going to. These are free with your paid admission and hotel stay.
You don’t want to waste your time going to a park that you don’t know any of the characters or that you don’t particularly enjoy the movies of. So you want to make sure that you pick the park that holds the most interesting rides and characters for you and your family. If you and your family are really into princesses, Star Wars, Mickey Mouse and friends… Disney is probably going to be your best options. If you tend to be more of a Harry Potter, minions, super hero fan… You may prefer to head to Universal. You will find some Marvel related things at Disney World but Universal’s Island’s of Adventure still holds the most super hero rides and attractions.
Ages of the people in your party
One of the biggest decision making factors I would take into consideration would be age and height. Not all parks are created equally and you would be surprised at just how much younger kids are NOT able to do at Universal Studios. The starting height for rides at Universal studios is 34 inches and there are only a few rides that offer that height, plus many of their major rides require a much higher rider height than Disney World does. There are only a few rides at Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios that all ages and heights will be able to ride.
Disney, however, has a large number of rides that are friendly for all ages and heights. So if you are traveling with smaller kids, Disney is probably going to be a better option so that all people in your party are able to ride rides and enjoy their time at the parks.
Universal Studios Rider Height Requirements
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts- Must be at least 42″ (107cm). Children between 42″–48″ (107cm-122cm) must be accompanied by a supervising companion.
- Revenge of the Mummy- Must be at least 48″ (122cm).
- Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon- Must be at least 40″ (102cm). Children between 40″–48″ (102cm-122cm) must be accompanied by a supervising companion.
- MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack- Must be at least 42″ (107cm). Children between 42″–48″ (107cm-122cm) must be accompanied by a supervising companion.
- Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster- Must be at least 36″ (91cm). Children between 36″–48″ (91cm-122cm) must be accompanied by a supervising companion.
- The Simpsons Ride- Must be at least 40″ (102cm). Children between 40″–48″ (102cm-122cm) must be accompanied by a supervising companion.
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit- Must be at least 51″ (130cm) and no more than 79″ (200cm).
- E.T. Adventure- Must be at least 34″ (86cm). Children between 34″–48″ (86cm-122cm) must be accompanied by a supervising companion.
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem- Must be at least 40″ (102cm). Children between 40″–48″ (102cm-122cm) must be accompanied by a supervising companion. Persons under 40″ (102cm) must experience this attraction from an adjacent stationary seat.
- TRANSFORMERS: The Ride-3D- Must be at least 40″ (102cm). Children between 40″–48″ (102cm-122cm) must be accompanied by a supervising companion.
- Fast & Furious – Supercharged- Must be at least 40″ (102cm). Children between 40″–48″ (102cm-122cm) must be accompanied by a supervising companion.
- Curious George Goes to Town- Any Height
- Fievel’s Playground- Any height
- Kang & Kodo’s Twirl ‘n’ Hurl- Anyone under 48″ (121.9cm) must have a supervising companion to ride with them.
- Hogwarts Express King’s Cross Station- any height
- Shrek 4-D- Any Height * small children may be scared by the loud sounds and 4D effects.
Islands of Adventure Rider Height Requirements
- Cat in the Hat- Must be at least 36″ (91cm). Children between 36″–48″ (91cm-122cm) must be accompanied by a supervising companion.
- Flight of the Hippogriff- Must be at least 36″ (91cm). Children between 36″–48″ (91cm-122cm) must be accompanied by a supervising companion.
- The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride!- Must be at least 36″ (91cm).- Children between 36″–48″ (91cm-122cm) must be accompanied by a supervising companion.
- Skull Island: Reign of Kong- Must be at least 36″ (91cm). Children between 36″–48″ (91cm-122cm) must be accompanied by a supervising companion.
- Pteranodon Flyers- Please note that Pteranodon Flyers is designed for children 36″–56″ (91cm-142cm) tall. A child meeting this requirement must accompany guests over 56″ (142cm) tall. Children between 36″–48″ (91cm-122cm) must be accompanied by a supervising companion.
- The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man- Must be at least 40″ (102cm). Children between 40″–48″ (102cm-122cm) must be accompanied by a supervising companion.
- Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges- Must be at least 42″ (107cm). Children between 42″–48″ (107cm-122cm) must be accompanied by a supervising companion.
- Jurassic Park River Adventure- Must be at least 42″ (107cm). Children between 42″–48″ (107cm-122cm) must be accompanied by a supervising companion.
- Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls- Must be at least 44″ (112cm). Children between 44″–48″ (112cm-122cm) must be accompanied by a supervising companion.
- Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure-Minimum Height 48″ (122 cm).
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey- Must be 48″ (122cm).
- Doctor Doom’s Fearfall- Must be at least 52″ (132cm).
- The Incredible Hulk Coaster-Must be at least 54″ (137cm).
- One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish-Riders under 49″(121.9cm) must be accompanied by a supervising companion.
- If I Ran the Zoo- Any height
- Caro-Seuss-El- Any height
- Hogwarts Express Hogsnmeade Station- Any height
- Poseidon’s Fury– Any Height- this is a walk through tour/show and you cannot take a stroller into the show. Make sure that children are able to walk and stand for long periods of time or that you have something to carry them in.
- Camp Jurassic- Any Height
- Me Ship, The Olive– Any height
- Storm Force Accelatron- Any height
**Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure both offer in ride rider swaps to allow the whole family to go through the line together and then swap out parents or riders so someone can watch smaller children while others ride.
Walt Disney World Parks Rider Heights
Magic Kingdom Park
- Astro Orbiter – Any height
- The Barnstormer – Must be 35 inches (89 centimeters) or taller
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – Must be 40 inches (102 centimeters) or taller
- Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin – Any height
- Casey Jr. Splash ‘N’ Soak Station – Any height
- Country Bear Jamboree – Any height
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant – Any height
- Enchanted Tales with Belle – Any height
- Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade – Any height
- The Hall of Presidents – Any height
- Haunted Mansion – Any height
- “it’s a small world” – Any height
- Jungle Cruise – Any height
- Liberty Square Riverboat – Any height
- Mad Tea Party – Any height
- The Magic Carpets of Aladdin – Any height
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – Any height
- Mickey’s PhilharMagic – Any height
- Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor – Any height
- Peter Pan’s Flight – Any height
- A Pirate’s Adventure ~ Treasures of the Seven Seas – Any height
- Pirates of the Caribbean – Any height
- Prince Charming Regal Carrousel – Any height
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train – Must be 38 inches (97 centimeters) or taller
- Space Mountain – Must be 44 inches (113 centimeters) or taller
- Splash Mountain – Must be 40 inches (102 centimeters) or taller
- Swiss Family Treehouse – Any height
- Tomorrowland Speedway – Must be 32 inches (82 centimeters) or taller
- Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover – Any height
- Tom Sawyer Island – Any height
- Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid – Any height
- Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress – Any height
- Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room – Any height
- Walt Disney World Railroad – Any height
- Advanced Training Lab – Any height
- The American Adventure – Any height
- Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival – Any height
- Frozen Ever After – Any height
- Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros – Any height
- Impressions de France – Any height
- Journey Into Imagination With Figment – Any height
- Living with the Land – Any height
- Mission: SPACE – Must be 40 inches (102 centimeters) or taller
- O Canada! – Any height
- Reflections of China – Any height
- The Seas with Nemo & Friends – Any height
- Soarin’ Around the World – Must be 40 inches (102 centimeters) or taller
- Spaceship Earth – Any height
- Test Track – Must be 40 inches (102 centimeters) or taller
- Turtle Talk With Crush – Any height
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Alien Swirling Saucers – Must be 32 inches (81 centimeters) or taller
- Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run – Must be 38″ (97 cm) or taller
- Muppet*Vision 3D – Any height
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith – Must be 48 inches (122 centimeters) or taller
- Slinky Dog Dash – Must be 38 inches (97 centimeters) or taller
- Star Tours – The Adventures Continue – Must be 40 inches (102 centimeters) or taller
- Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance – Must be 40″ (102 cm) or taller
- Toy Story Mania! – Any height
- The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror – Must be 40 inches (102 centimeters) or taller
- Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway– Any height
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park
- Affection Section – Any height
- Avatar Flight of Passage – Must be 44 inches (112 centimeters) or taller
- The Boneyard – Any height
- Conservation Station – Any height
- DINOSAUR – Must be 40 inches (102 centimeters) or taller
- Discovery Island Trails – Any height
- Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain – Must be 44 inches (113 centimeters) or taller
- Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail – Any height
- It’s Tough to be a Bug! – Any height
- Kali River Rapids – Must be 38 inches (97 centimeters) or taller
- Kilimanjaro Safaris – Any height
- Maharajah Jungle Trek – Any height
- Na’vi River Journey – Any height
- Primeval Whirl – Must be 48 inches (122 centimeters) or taller
- Tree of Life – Any height
- TriceraTop Spin – Any height
- Wildlife Express Train – Any height
** Walt Disney World Parks offers Rider Switch, but theirs is outside of the ride. So one parent will have to wait outside with the child (children) that are not going to be riding while the rest of the party is in line and on the ride.
Walt Disney World is an extremely busy theme park system to visit. Each one of the parks can end up having long wait times for even smaller rides like the Peoplemover or Small World depending on the day. So unfortunately, if you’re hoping to be able to get a lot of rides done in a short period of time, this may not be the best option for you. There is an option for Fastpasses that can help you get into rides faster there are some limitations with their system. You are only able to book 3 fastpasses at a time and you can only book 1 fastpass per hour. This can limit the number of fastpasses you can get in a day. Also, you are only able to book 1 tier 1 fastpass at a time. So if you are at Hollywood Studios and want to ride Slinky Dog Dash and Millinium Falcon in the same day, you’ll have to pick which one is more important for you to ride and book that in your first set of fast passes for the day and hope you can get fastpasses later for the other one.
Universal Studios seems to have shorter wait times and actual “off seasons” so you may be able to book trips in certain time of the year which will allow you to ride with little to no wait times. They also offer a paid per day Express Pass option which will give you unlimited Express Pass. So if you go during busier times, you will be able to skip the wait times and hop into the Express Pass line for any ride you want.
Both Universal Studios and Walt Disney World offer a lot of great options. No matter which park you choose, you’re going to end up having a pretty amazing trip and I highly recommend eventually going to both parks so you can make the decision for yourself, which park you happen to like more. That being said, each park has it’s advantages and disadvantages so to make the most out of your family vacation, I highly recommend evaluating the ticket prices, ride types, and wait times for each park as well as family interests, ages before booking those theme park tickets.
I hope that this helps you to make the most out of your Central Florida vacation. If you’ve been to both Universal Studios and Disney World, let me know which park you prefer in the comments down below.
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