Kids Creative Chaos: Universal vs. Disney Orlando

Universal vs. Disney Orlando


Orlando, Florida Vacation Tips

Are you planning a trip to Orlando, Florida? Wondering which park to attend on limited funds? It can be quite a condundrum knowing that this could be your only family vacation to Orlando. Can you do both during the same vacation? Yes! In this Universal Studios Orlando Florida Review vs. Disney Orlando Florida Review, we share tips on the best rides, rides with the shortest lines, and which attractions to save for fast passes. Enjoy!

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.*

Georgia rest park, just before entering Florida, Spring 2016.

First of all, everything in Orlando is better. The roads are better, the weather is better, the McDonalds is better! Only one thing isn't better, the traffic on the freeway.

Orlando Largest Best McDonalds
Orlando Largest Best McDonalds.
If you can't afford an amusement park, but you drive through Orlando, visit the largest McDonalds. The Play Place is pretty cool, and the food isn't just burgers and nuggets. The menu will suprise you.

Orlando Hotels

Should you stay in an Orlando theme park hotel or a theme park friendly hotel? Yes. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

While we were visiting Universal Studios, we chose to stay at a nearby Kissimme hotel. Kissimme, FL is similar to Pigeon Forge, TN --- Orlando's little sister. There's lots to do here. Many of the hotels offer buses or trolleys to the theme parks for FREE.

While FREE always sounds good, it might not be what you expect. You'll have to stick to their schedules and battle other tourists for seats. If you miss the bus home, your stuck. That means, you will have to shell out money for a taxi. Nope, you can't walk back.

We were planning to take the bus, but when morning came, we chose to sleep in a little later than the bus schedule allowed. We ended up driving. Regular Parking at Universal is about $20. Those extra hours for refueling were priceless. I call it worth it!

We stayed at the Seralago. It is bright and cheerful with a fun atmosphere. You will find many mixed reviews online. This is an older hotel. Even so, we thought it was just fine.

Room at the Seralago Hotel Orlando Kissimmee
Room at the Seralago Hotel Orlando Kissimmee.
The room included a fridge, coffee maker, and mini- microwave. We went out and purchased mac and cheese for our Disney stay, but the Pop Century hotel didn't offer a microwave. Aside from the age, there wasn't much difference in the two hotels. One was further away (Seralago) and one was somewhat smaller (Pop Century). Yes, the price is significantly different.

The Seralago offered a cafe that was open late, swimming pools, a hot tub, and a play space with video games and the like.

The negative would be reservations. They are VERY busy. They don't get back to you in a timely fashion or ever. I emailed and left many telephone messages before finally letting the operator know that I would wait to speak to a live person.

The same thing happens upon arrival.

Guests who have already checked in know the drill. Several of them cut the line for various reasons. Frustrating. Two even cut the line to ask for an extended stay.

Hey, I was going to do that!

Tip: Don't go during Spring Break, especially the last week of March which is typically the busiest time.

Next to the Seralago is an amuseument park, a mini golf-course, and a nifty shopping center called Old Town. Grab a flyer from the hotel lobby for discounts at Pirate's Cove mini golf, a nearby Chick-fil-a, and lots more local attractions.

Insider Tip: There are two Old Town Theme parks. Do not follow the ferris wheel lights to get home! One is in Kissimme and one in Orlando. Yep, don't.

Frugal Alert: The older amusement park is $99 per day. If you aren't going to one of the major theme parks, great. Have all the fun you want, get a pass out, and come back in the evening for more. If you are visiting a major theme park, you will want to skip this one.

Florida Theme Parks

There are so many theme parks in Florida from which to choose. On our last visit, we visited Tampa parks. The Lowry Park Zoo is a win! Don't miss it. We also visited Busch Gardens. It is okay, especially if you want to skip the major crowds. Clearwater Marine Museum - eh. It is nice, if you don't buy into the hype. It is also very crowded!

Universal Studios Orlando Florida Review Tip

Gringott's Bank in Diagon Alley area of Universal Studios: Harry Potter.

So, as a blogger, I got media passes. It was difficult. Okay, I didn't exactly get Media passes because it was Spring Break. I had tried on several occasions to get the passes, and it was always during their "busy season."

I never called, that's a no-no, but I did email a few different contacts many times. I wasn't getting a timely reponse from the online contact page, and I needed to know if I had scored tickets.

I did not, but rather than giving me another no, they offered fast passes and tickets to a Blue Man Group show. I took it! This saved us a considerable amount of money, however, I spent a considerable amount more.

Would I do this again? Probably not. At least, not if I didn't get regular passes. After going through a security check, we went to the reserved tickets kiosks. That took a minute, but it was faster than the ticket lines. Then, I had to go to guest services to get our fast passes. That took way longer than a minute.

Tip: Don't go to the first guest services you see upon entry. Find one less busy further into the park.

Then, I had to go to the Blue Man ticket office to pick up those tickets. That was a no. I saved it for the next day.

After all the waiting in line, I asked the kiddos what they wanted to do first. We hadn't eaten! What did they want to do? Of course, they wanted to visit Harry Potter Hogsmeade.

Universal Studios Florida Rides

This is the line for Gringott's Bank. It is long, but there is lots to see.

We waited in line: tired, thristy, hungry, and eventually needing to go to the restroom. It was not pleasant. May I suggest finding a ride that is less popular for your first attraction so that you may have time to regroup after all of the rushing to get inside the park. I was too stressed to get pictures of this line.


Gringott's Bank. Sorry, it was dark and everything moves. My camera didn't like it.

Still in line at Gringott's Bank.

Be prepared. The line didn't seem super awful. But, there are major issues with this one. Heed those claustrophoic warnings. Watch out for the lockers. Everyone is rushing to get a locker, others are rushing to retrieve their belongings in a very tiny cramped space. They ask you to send only one person to the lockers, the others are directed down the corridor. My others were my kids, 9 and 11.

I panicked. I rushed. I have allergies and claustrophobia. I smelled something. Maybe someone's perfume or deodorant? I was starting to react to the scent when I  saw a tiny corridor coming up. After the locker experience, I wasn't sure I could handle it. How would I escape? Then, I realized that I had followed their instructions and locked up everything in the locker.


Everything for me was an Epi-pen, an inhaler, and liquid Benadryl in case of an ashthma attack or anaphalaxis. There was a lot of perfume, deodorant, and who knows what else. I have no idea if I was having a panic attack or an allergic reaction... One came on quickly after the locker escapade.

I didn't want to go back there until I had to.

I didn't want to leave my kids alone again. I tried taking many deep breaths. I was terrified and then we were outside in line again. The corridor was very short.


The kids didn't like this turn of events. They both wanted to get out of line and do something else.

Are you kidding me. No way! And then, they announced that the ride was shut down but we were welcome to wait.

So, we waited.

Kids were not happy. I was not healthy, nevertheless, we waited.

Finally, as we got to the top of the platform, we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. It was all slow going and then boom, get on this seat quickly, pull this bar down.

Hey, why is that strange man between me and my little girl? Hey, switch seats. What is happening. I think I want out of here. I feel like I can't breathe. I'm not scared, but I am terrified that I am having some sort of attack. Hey, can we lift this for a minute. I think it is too tight. Hey, If I could just get my hair out of my face. I- I-I think I need a med-

We went flying into the air. I couldn't catch my breath. I kept my eyes shut while counting and breathing. I didn't want to die on the ride with my kids locked in beside me. I thought happy thoughts. It seemed like eternity before I opened my eyes.

Then, I opened them and tried to concentrate on the scenery rather than the contraption I was locked into. Pretty cool. Worth seeing. Worth the panic? Not sure. Would I do it again, not sure. Not with just myself and two kids.

I needed another adult.

I was so glad it was over but the worst part wasn't. Now, I had to leave my kids in the gift shop while I retrieved our things from the lockers.

I wanted to hurry.

I didn't want to leave them alone. I had no choice. And now, people boarding the ride were in a frantic rush to find a locker. They wouldn't let me in. I finally explained to someone that if you let me use the screen first, I can get my things and then you can have my locker.

People weren't happy to see me "cutting in line."

People, this is how it has to work. Universal, you need a redo on the locker situation. There were lots of panicked parents.

Once you've ridden the ride and know what to expect, it isn't so bad.

My mother took my niece, she shared a similar story. She refused to leave my niece alone. The reason they do this is to keep the crowd out of the lockers, but it ISN'T WORKING!

What can you do to avoid the fright? Don't take anything that needs stored in a locker. Hide a fanny pack under your shirt. Don't leave your life saving devices in the locker!! Eat and pee first.

So, the kids felt like we were running out of time. They wanted to see the rest of Harry Potter and Hogwarts.

We must eat.

She passed on the Butterbeer at Three Broomsticks, but you shouldn't!
We had dining passes. We got in line at Three Broomsticks and waited for a good while and then decided that the restaurant wouldn't take our passes.

There wasn't anything else nearby. We went back and asked; they do take the dining plan. This was the one place that makes the dining plan worth purchasing. The food is expensive, but you get a lot. Our meal cost more than our dining plan, and we still had snacks left.

Turkey leg at Three Broomstick's in the Hogmeade area.

Jake got a turkey leg the size of his head.

Be sure to use the restroom next door to get the full Harry Potter experience.

After filling up on food, we got our drinks. Worth it. If you don't do a food plan, be sure to do a drink plan. Some places have long lines; some have none. Down point, you have to carry that cup. You have to put those cups in the lockers. If it is full it might spill all over your $50 wand bag. Dump it before you ride the next ride requiring a locker.

Boy, do I have another locker story. I'll save it for later. Best tip I can give - find a way to avoid the lockers and avoid the STRESS!

Best thing better about Disney - they don't make you use lockers!!!

So, the train was a 40 minute wait. I coaxed the kids into seeing a show. Sinbad! It was a nice way to relax, regain composure, and enjoy the park. It was a very hot day.

My kids wanted to go to Gringott's Bank and then leave.

Are you kidding me? No, way. This was hardwork to get here. I have things I want to see! Like, Shrek 4D, Minions, Simpsons, and MIB.

It was going to rain. The park closed at 9. We had to hurry to do everything.

I know what you are thinking- just use those express passes to save time. Guess what, you can't use them in any Harry Potter areas!

So, we tried out Jurassic Park. Great place to rest and eat. My kids weren't so impressed. My son is a huge fan, but we are TWEENS now. This was more for younger kids. Plus, we have the world's greatest children's museum in Indy. So, we felt like, been there, done that.

This is a giant puppet! You control the movements.

Once we did have the opportunity to use the passes, it was AMAZING. They are worth the extra cost. We used them on the SIMPSONS ride, which was my favorite part of the park. I think I felt about the Simpsons area the way the kids felt about the Harry Potter areas.

We ate there.

We ate chicken and waffles here. So good!

We photoed there.

Simpsons Universal
Jebediah Springfield statue at Universal.

We had fun there.

We didn't make it to MIB. Kids vetoed it!

We ran to Shrek 4D - which was okay. It was a nice place to cool off. There was a short line. The Minions line went on forever. We skipped that and went straight to the Transformers ride. With our express passes we felt like VIPS.

A lot of people left due to the rain. Anyone who had to catch a bus left early too. So, we saw more in the last two hours than we had the whole rest of the day. We buzzed through The Cat in the Hat and Spiderman.

I had to con the kids. Once they got their $50 wand and Butterbeer ice cream- they were done. We were soaked and their feet were covered in blisters.

I was not done.

This day, even with passes, had cost me nearly $1000. I don't have that kind of money to spare. We were going to ride as many rides as we could.

All the kids cared about was Harry Potter and Diagon Alley. Yes, it is extememly cool. The $50 wands (there are less expensive ones) interact with the store windows. The wand shop is like the real thing. You are there. It is awesome, but everything costs a lot!

We got chocolate frogs for the train ride. Get your frog, before you get on the train!

Eating Chocolate Frogs on the train. Magical.

Hey, can I just say that the train ride, despite the incredibly long wait and the creepy guy eyeing my kid, was the best part. On the way back there was no line. It was so very awesome.

Yes, creepy guy. I told him that I saw what he was doing. He wasn't the kind of guy I should have been interacting with, but he wouldn't stop. Be aware of your surroundings. Don't let your kids go to the restroom alone. He never said a word, never looked away, but looked guilty every time we made eye contact.

Never mind that, I didn't let the rain rain on my parade. No creep was going to ruin it for us.

Later that night, my son had to go to the restroom. He asked someone where the nearest restroom was and took off! Grr... I was waiting for an order and couldn't make chase. Luckily, he couldn't find it on his own, but found his way back. Yep, he got a talking to!

Don't give me a heart attack.

Don't miss the Hogwart's Express in Universal Studios.
Train ride back, awesome, even though walking to the gate was closer. No one cared, until we had to walk to the gate from the train. Their feet stopped working.

My son actually laid on the ground, "You just don't know how my feet hurt. Your feet have never hurt this way."

Yes they have! They do right now!

"No, they don't or you couldn't walk!"

Yes, they do. I have no choice. I have to walk, and so do you!

Oh my... how will we possibly visit the happiest place on Earth tomorrow?

We won't. We couldn't. We took a chill pill. We played golf, ate at Chick-fil-a, bought souvenirs, watched television, and then we went to the Blue Man Group.

I had to trick my son.

He didn't want to go back to Universal Studios...

After a relaxing day, he was okay with it. After the security check (where my daughter had to hand over her toothpicks), we rushed to the Blue Man ticket booth.

Hard Rock Cafe, Universal Studios, Florida.

Michael Jackson's jacket!

We were hungry, we had wanted to eat somewhere else on the main strip (which by the way you don't need a ticket to visit), but we ate at the Hard Rock Cafe next door to the studio.

We rushed back to our seats. It was air-conditioned. I had to pee again. The kids didn't want to go. I didn't want to leave them. I thought I'd wait until the show started. DON'T. JUST DON'T. LOL.

Luckily, I didn't.

Blue Man Group- Worth it! Totally awesome, best show ever! The kids loved it. There were ZERO complaints. They both THANKED me. Hear me? They both THANKED their mother!!!

Best night ever.

We thought we'd go to Disney the next day, but there weren't any hotel rooms available anywhere in Orlando or Kissimme under $400.

So, we went to Grandma and Grandpa's house. It was only an hour a way but we still hadn't regenerated. Going from winter to hot summer-like heat takes a lot out of you.

We recuperated at the beach.

I also had free media passes from Disney. I didn't think we were going to be able to do it. We were just so worn out after all of the rushing.

Universal Tip: Even though it might be possible to do everything you want to do in one day, don't do it. Especially, not on Spring Break, the lines are too long. Get two day passes. Take it slow. Stop and enjoy the Butterbeer! We missed a whole section of the park and many rides.

Will we go back? Probably some day. It was raining. We didn't get to use our $50 wands. They don't do anything special once you leave the park. Did I mention that our wands cost $50. I want you to know, because there aren't any prices anywhere. Once you pick out your wand- I mean, once your wand picks out you, you head to the cash register. It took my kids a good half hour to decide. They were looking for a particular wand!

ASK THE STAFF--- whisper if you have to, but ask! Time's a wastin'.

Jest aside, I was surprised how much visiting the wand shop in Diagon Alley meant to my son. It was really special to him. It was truly magical. He exclaimed that it was the best thing he's EVER done.

At eleven, he is at that stage where nothing is cool. Everything is dumb or boring. This was a special moment.

A memory that is truly priceless.

That is why, even though I hadn't budgeted for $50 wands, I charged them anyway! Being my son, he was concerned when he saw the price. He offered to get a $30 wand. It was plastic. It did nothing but cost $30. I said, no way, you only live once! Besides, where were you when I bought two, eleven dollar chocolate frogs?

"The frog cost that much?"

It sure did.

Yep, I had qualms at buying the frog. I was sure my money was going to run out, but how many times do you get to buy a magical, chocolate frog and eat it on the train to Hogwarts? This epitomizes the meaning of the word priceless.

Even if it takes me all year to pay off the credit cards.

Should you go. Yes. Should you go if you have to choose between Disney and Universal?

That depends.

How old are your kids? Are they Harry Potter fans? Harry Potter is a must see. I feel like, in general, Universal is better for older kids. If you have little kids, go to Disney first. Universal can wait.

Eventually, we felt like we could do it. We headed to Disney World. My parents told us to come back to their house to spend the night. It was only an hour drive, but it was an hour drive in the wrong direction. I wanted to keep moving forward and make the best use of my time.

There were still no hotels available. We even had an in at the Seralago, but no luck.

I downloaded the DISNEY APP ---- Best tip ever!

Don't go to Disney without the APP.

How was Disney vs. Universal Orlando? Find out here: Disney Trip Tips and Tricks.


Easy Shepherd's Pie

Things to do in Tampa

Harry Potter Wand*

Clearwater Marine Museum

Butterbeer Recipe

Lowry Park Zoo

Busch Gardens

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