I stayed at the cheapest hotels onsite at Disney World and Universal Orlando earlier this year.
While I really enjoy the value resorts at both theme parks, I think Universal has better rooms.
They're bigger, brighter, and sometimes priced cheaper, in my experience.
I've spent years telling friends, family, and readers that it's worth splurging on hotel rooms at Disney World's value resorts if you find yourself visiting Orlando, Florida.
After all, Disney has set the gold standard for all tourist attractions in the area, right?
That's what I thought until one trip to a Universal Orlando value hotel.
In October, I spent one day and one night at the Universal Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn and Suites, and the following day at Disney World's All-Star Sports Resort.
I enjoyed my stays at both locations and would recommend them to other travelers — but only one hotel truly blew me away.
Disney vs. Universal: what's the difference?
Disney World and Universal Orlando are two totally separate parks with drastically different offerings.
At Disney, you'll find four theme parks (Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and EPCOT), two water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach), a shopping center, and a sporting complex alongside other attractions. Universal, on the other hand, lists two theme parks (Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure), one water park (Volcano Bay), and a shopping center among its list of activities.
Both theme parks cater to travelers of all ages, though Disney World is generally seen as the best option for children and Universal Orlando is considered a fun spot for adults.
And the characters you'll find at the two theme parks are different. While Disney World is home to princesses, Star Wars characters, Marvel superheroes, and Pixar cartoons, Universal Orlando boasts Harry Potter, Minions, and Transformers.
Where Universal may have Disney beat: value hotel rooms
I've stayed at Disney World's value resorts on multiple occasions throughout my life. I spent family vacations at the Pop Century Resort during my childhood, and recent weekend trips at the various All-Star Resorts.
Generally, I love staying at these hotels.
The staff is friendly, the rooms are clean, the Disney theming is incredible, and you can't beat the convenience of an onsite food court, gift shop, and free transportation to Disney World sites.
Of course, Disney's version of "affordable" isn't always cheap — costing around $150 per night to stay at its All-Star Resorts. But it's a price I'm usually willing to pay.
In fact, I've stayed at the All-Star Resorts at least once a year since 2021, with my most-recent visit being in October.
But I also stayed at the Universal Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn and Suites during my October trip.
In many ways, the Universal spot was similar to Disney's. There was a food court, gift shop, and free transportation to the Universal theme parks, as well as friendly staff members and surf-inspired theming that extended from the lobby to the individual rooms.
I was also impressed by the onsite Starbucks and fitness center — two things Disney doesn't offer at its All-Star hotels.
But nothing could have prepared me for the room. My traveling party of three spent about $135 for our one-night stay and expected to stay in a room like the one we had at Disney — a space that was nice and met our needs, but ultimately felt a little small and cramped.
Instead, we walked into a brightly-lit room with high ceilings, giant windows, a relatively large dining table, and two bedrooms. It wasn't a luxurious suite by any means, but it felt like one compared to Disney's value rooms.
The only issue I faced was my bed. I found it a bit too firm to be comfortable, but my fellow travelers had no issue with theirs.
Weeks after my vacation, I'm still torn on which theme park offers a better value resort. But I think my lasting impression of Universal Orlando's offering says a lot.
I love staying at Disney World's value resorts overall, but based on this experience, I think Universal Orlando offers better rooms. They're bigger, brighter, and often priced slightly cheaper.
So while I'm not ready to give up staying at Disney World entirely — I'll be there any time I go on a Disney vacation — I see a lot more Universal stays for quick weekend trips in my future.
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