How to plan a split stay between WDW and Universal?

I haven’t even gone on our first trip to WDW (we go late February for 7 nights, staying at POR), but am already thinking about the next! This forum and all my research is making crazy/obsessive with the planning. I do think next year Thanksgiving week, we’d like to go and experience Universal (kids are reading all the Harry Potter books now) and probably will want to also return to WDW. What is the best way to begin thinking about how to plan such a trip? Might it be better to only do Universal? Am looking for the best combination of good prices (moderate level resort), 2.5 days in Universal (want early entry/whatever makes those parks more manageable), and a way to make the trip feel enjoyable where we are not completely spent by the end of it. Thanks for whatever advice you can offer.

We did this over the summer and it was the best trip ever! 8 of us, Me, DH, DM, DD19, DD 12, DD10, DS12 & DNiece10. Chose to stay in 2 std rooms RPR (cheapest of deluxe for EP/EE-which were invaluable!) for 1st 2 nights. Loved RPR!
Flight arrived early, rented car at airport, stopped for groceries and were in park by mid-afternoon on arrival day. Spent arrival day, next full day and until around noon the 3rd day at UOR before visiting grandmother for lunch, replenishing groceries and then moving on to WDW (BWI 2 std connecting rooms- decent prices with AP discount) evening of 3rd day.
Returned car at Dolphin that night, saw MSEP & Wishes and then spent 6 full days plus departure morning in the parks.
It all worked great and because the kids are a little older, were able to fit a lot in with early mornings and late nights. But it was by no means a relaxing vacation, we were wiped out by the end.
My only wish was that we had more time at Universal (huge HP fans!)- had not been in 15 years, kids’ first time and I wish we could’ve taken our time instead of trying to fit everything in. We really could’ve done 3 or even 4 full days. Since you’re doing WDW in Feb. (we are also going late Feb POFQ/AKL!), I would spend less time there (but I would never skip WDW if in FL!) and really enjoy your time at Uni.

We are doing Uni after wdw next year. Its more relaxing and less stressful thsn disney. Point to note car parking is not included in your hotel rates. We are renting from hertz and returning hire car on check in day as they are onsite at uni. As we are staying 4 nights getting a cab to airport is cheaper than paying car parking for 4 nights.

Thanks so much for this information! Is RPR the Loew’s Hotel? It’s good to know that at least 3 days is needed to take in Universal. We already have our Feb/Mar trip planned out. I decided early on just to stick with WDW since this is our first time there. But, maybe, even though you say never to skip WDW, I should consider doing just a Universal trip next fall 2016. I don’t think we’d have enough time to give both parks the attention needed. I’m going to look into it more.

We are at Riverside the last week of Feb/first days of March! I am hoping to do a memory maker share with a couple of other families. Have you ever done that before and would you be interested?

Thanks for all the help!

This is great info about car rental issues/parking issues. Thanks a bunch for the heads up!

Everyone - this is a good thread and has helped me out a bit too. Due to a few factors - we are doing Univsal FIRST on our trip in April. Have been debating on 2 or 3 days. As we are getting in very late - we may be a it late to the park the first day (I know I know - but with little kids they need their sleep or no one is happy) But debating between 1 - 3/4 days or having that spill over to a 3rd day. Will be at Portafino - so get all those perks to help out with crowds - Kids are into Harry Potter - but the balance of the park isn’t HIGH on their radar - looking forward to it - but no MUST SEES. Was going to do late to part first day, 2nd day early and then go to the park morning of 3rd day and then get over to WDW by mid / late afternoon. Thoughts?

If you can spare the extra money- Universal has the unlimited express pass. We bought it. Expensive- almost $400 for my family of 4, but it was honestly some of the best money I have spent.
We stayed 10 nights at WDW (went value (POP) and during free dining so felt I could justify the express pass). We took a shuttle through Mears two days over to Universal. We did one whole day of nothing but Harry Potter (I highly recommend this). No touring plan, I just let the kids explore, cast spells, shop and rode all of the rides multiple times. Tip- Buy deluxe Harry Potter Robes on Amazon to surprise your kids. $25 on Amazon over $100 in the park. Let them experience Olivanders in the park and spend the $48 for interactive wands (worth every penny).
We went back to Universal for a second day and that day we bought the express pass. We went right to the front of every line all day long. We were able to do both parks in one day and still had time to go back and ride the Harry Potter ones again. Both of my kids (10 and 6) loved Universal and wished they had another day there.

It seems like most people say that you can’t/shouldn’t skip WDW if you’re doing Universal. Why is this? Is it mainly because people are just super die-hard fans of WDW or because of some other reason? Given we’re spending a small fortune this Feb/March to do WDW, I’m worried about dropping an equal amount to do WDW/Universal later in the year as well. What do we lose by only doing Universal this time around? It seems like the hotels/stay is cheaper at Universal compared to WDW.

Also–given you stayed at POP and went on two day trips to Universal, were they back to back at Universal? How much time does it take to get between the resorts? Did it make the day super long/tiring? Do you think this is better than changing hotels mid-trip?

We did not do back to back days at Universal. We went on a Thursday and then again on a Sunday. I was trying to balance between going on nights there was not Hollywood horror nights going on. We chose to stay the entire 10 days at Walt Disney World instead of universal because we had free dining. For us the expense of getting to Florida is so much that we felt we needed to do everything while we were there because we don’t know if we will get back ever again. It took about an hour each way on our shuttle just because of multiple stops. While you’re on the road longer it seemed about the same as traveling between resorts on the Disney World bus. I think a taxi or Uber might be faster, my travel agent just arrange the shuttle and it worked fairly well. We were exhausted but we are exhausted the entire trip because we tried to cram so much in and just went went went. My kids are not of napping age and every time I try to go back for respwe ended up in the pool and did not get any rest no matter what I tried .

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I do have a friend that has older boys and she just made a trip there and only did universal for four days and loved it. She said if she were taking her younger kid she would do Disney World with teenager she would skip it and just do universal. I think it depends on the age is an heights of your child. My 10-year-old preferred universal. My six-year-old loved universal but there was a lot more there she couldn’t ride

FYI, you do not need the express pass if you’re just doing a Harry Potter day. The express pass only works on I think two of the Harry Potter rides. The rest have to wait in line for. But it works on almost the entire rest of the universal park.

One more thing, sorry I know I’m posting a lot but this was a decision I really struggled with as well. Part of my thinking and just staying at Disney and taking the shuttle back-and-forth was not having to pack up my room and move. Also I was able to take the magical express to and from the airport and not have to lug luggage around. If I were going to stay at Universal Hotel, I would fly in and do 2 to 3 days at Universal and then move over to Disney World. This would give you the express pass for the days you were at Universal and they do have a lot more food options around to Universal been Disney World does.

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Thanks for all of this! You are definitely not writing too much as it is so helpful. My kids will be 13 and 11 if I take them to universal in a year’s time. I definitely understand wanting to get everything in since it’s so expensive to get there. It’s pricey for us too. It’s good to know that your friend with teens said doing only universal worked well for them. I have the feeling my son will love uuniversal and the more crazy rides there. I also agree that changing hotels is difficult/time consuming. So I’m either going to stay the whole time at Disney and shuttle for universal or I’m going to only do universal. You make a good point about the luggage/transfers.

I wish we could go at a free dining time but that probably won’t work for us because we can’t take the kids out of school. We are taking them out this Feb and that’s enough for us (with the ages/stress/negotiating with school). So we have to go either thanksgiving or Christmas holidays. I really don’t want to be there in the heat of the summer with terrible crowds.

Any other thoughts are most welcome.

Did you do the memory maker? If so, was it worth it?

I did memory maker and it was very worth it. I think I had over 680 pics when I got back. Luckily, the disc went on sale for $19.99 right when I got back so I went ahead and ordered it and didn’t have to mess with downloading. I made my poor kids stop often but got amazing pictures and lots of magic shots.

My kids missed 9 days of school. 5th grade teacher was awesome, 1st grade teacher acted like I was committing a felony. I just couldn’t pass up the free dining. My husband was the one who made the express pass decision. He walked up and bought the express passes and turned to the kids and said “say thank you to your mom. She did a ton of research and saved us a ton of time and money and that’s why we can afford these.”

I am looking at this too for an upcoming trip. Am still not entirely sure what we will do, but am leaning toward 6 - 8 days at disney, and 2.5 days at Universal. We will switch hotels to stay onsite at Uni – I want the express pass and EE to harry potter attractions, and can only get EE staying onsite. with express pass also included, we think it makes sense for us to switch hotels and do it this way, rather than staying at disney and buying the express pass.

If you are doing WDW and UOR in the same year, I would say you can probably do an only UOR trip in good conscience, especially if you are into Harry Potter. I totally agree with @Suzukistacy and also recommend a whole day of Harry Potter. I went with DH and DSs 10, 7 and 4 and we LOVED the Wizarding Worlds and could have easily spent a couple days there. I went back with my sister and we probably spent about 5 hours just walking around Diagon Alley. I agree that with the cost of airfare, you want the most “bang for your buck”, but if you can get a good deal on the airfare and feel you got your fill of Disney earlier in the year, do just UOR. You will appreciate the laid-back, relaxing touring of UOR and it would be a whole different experience from Disney.

How super! Great that your husband showed such support!

Thanks. All these replies are giving me a lot of good things to consider.

Good points about maybe just doing Universal, given we’ll have been to WDW in the same year. I wish money wasn’t a factor in decisions, but it is. Why do people say UOR is simply more calm/relaxed compared to WDW? Are the crowds lower, overall? Is it that WDW has 4 separate parks compared to just 2 at UOR? Is UOR cheaper overall or is it comparable spending at the end of the day?