Ask almost any regular Orlando visitor which has the best nightlife options–Universal Orlando’s CityWalk or Disney World’s Downtown Disney–and the majority will say: CityWalk. I would have also said this, even before I visited CityWalk for the first time (mainly because I’m still bitter about Disney shutting down the Adventurer’s Club). And yet if you look at it purely from the numbers, CityWalk offers almost nothing that Downtown Disney doesn’t:
|Restaurants (sit down and fast food)||24||22|
|Celebrity Chef Restaurants||1 (Wolfgang Puck – you can also count this as 3, since there are 3 different service areas)||1 (Emerils)|
|Fine Dining||3 (Fulton House, Portobello, Wolfgang Puck Dining Room||1 (Emerils)|
|Sports Bars||0 (ESPN is at the Boardwalk)||2 (NASCAR Sports Grill and NBA City)|
|Movie Theater||1 (AMC Downtown Disney 24)||1 (AMC Cineplex 20 with IMAX)|
|Retail Stores||A whopping 35||18|
|Nightlife Venues (excluding movies)||Approximately 7 give or take – House of Blues, Raglan Road, Paradiso 37, Disney Quest (video games), outdoor courtyard, stage, buskers. (Jellyrolls and Atlantic Dance Hall aren’t counted, because they’re at the Boardwalk.)||8 – Pat O’Briens, Red Coconut Club, Citywalk’s Rising Star, the groove, Fat Tuesday, Bob Marley – A Tribute to Freedom, Margaritaville, Hard Rock Live.|
|Headliner Show||Cirque du Soleil La Nouba||Blue Man Group|
|Quick/easy to get to from all onsite hotels?||no||yes|
|Quick/easy to get to from all on property parks?||no||yes|
|Attraction||1 – Characters in Flight balloon ride||0|
Disclaimer: Numbers are approximate; I may have missed some things.
Is this a case of “perception is reality”? Maybe it’s less about categories and more about specific offerings? Or perhaps it has more to do with the customer demographics at each place? For me, and for other adults traveling without children, CityWalk may be more appealing because it seems to offer a more adult-oriented experience at night than Downtown Disney does. That’s not to say you won’t see children in strollers at CityWalk or that there are no bars in Downtown Disney, but there seems to be a more adult atmosphere at CityWalk.
There is certainly nothing obvious about the retail experiences at each to suggest that one would appeal more to an adult crowd than the other. However, CityWalk does have more chain restaurants that may appeal to the masses (Hard Rock Cafe, Margaritaville, Bubba Gump, etc.) and nightlife options that project more of a “party” atmosphere (Hard Rock Live, Pat O’Briens, Fat Tuesdays, the groove, etc.). This explains why young adults looking for a club scene gravitate to CityWalk, not Disney World.
CityWalk wins hands-down in terms of ease in getting to it from anywhere else on Universal’s property and then getting around it. Because of how spread out Disney World is, it can take as long as 45 minutes to get to Downtown Disney from certain resorts and parks. Whereas Universal is so compact that CityWalk is a quick walk or boat ride away from any of the furthest points on property. CityWalk is also shaped like a ring, which makes getting around quicker and easier than getting from the far end of Disney’s West Side to the far end of Disney’s Marketplace.
If I thought Disney World executives actually gave a damn about its childless adult guests, I would suggest they made a strategic error by splitting the property’s nightlife options between two distinctly different areas–Downtown Disney and the Boardwalk–which are nowhere near each other. For guests stuck on site without a car, you have to make a choice about where you plan to spend the evening, either/or. It’s more difficult to move from say, a movie at Downtown Disney’s cineplex to dueling pianos at Jellyrolls on the Boardwalk; whereas it’s quite easy to go from CityWalk’s movie theater to Pat O’Brien’s dueling pianos–which is just up a set of stairs. But ultimately, I don’t think Disney execs care about offering adult-oriented nightlife.
Does this mean I’m going to switch my allegiance from Disney World to Universal? Er, no. What it means is that I can appreciate that each park does some things better than the other, which makes them both equally worth a visit. What Universal does very well is nightlife, and that’s mostly because of CityWalk. Now, your mileage may vary; if you’re a major Disney fan, you may prefer to be surrounded by everything Disney, all the time. But if you’re visiting Orlando and nightlife is very important to you, do yourself a favor and check out CityWalk.
Have you visited both CityWalk and Downtown Disney? Which did you prefer, and why?