Hello again everyone! Today I’ll be tackling a topic I haven’t yet covered on my blog – Universal Studios Orlando! I have been to Universal about 2-3 times, not nearly as many times as I have been to Disney. However, I am a huge theme park fan so I still admire it – just in a different way!
Lots of people ask which is better – Universal or Disney? While it’s obvious that they’re the biggest competitors of each other in the Orlando area, they’re also a bit hard to compare. When it comes down to it, they’re both amazing theme parks and I recommend BOTH of them to people going to Florida. So really, it’s not Universal Orlando Vs. Walt Disney World. It’s more like…what can Universal Studios offer that Disney cannot?
So what will you find in Universal Studios that you won’t find in Walt Disney World? Let’s find out!
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What is Universal Studios Orlando?
Universal Studios is actually TWO theme parks, as well as numerous hotels, a “city walk” shopping and dining district, and a water park. Sounds very similar to Disney, doesn’t it?! You can’t blame them – Disney proved that model works, so naturally their competitors followed suit! Universal Orlando also recently announced they will be adding a THIRD theme park to their resort.
Right now, the two theme parks are Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Despite the fact that they’re two separate parks, they’re actually pretty similar. There is no overarching theme to each park like there is at Disney, but there are numerous themed lands in both parks. There is no rhyme or reason to why they’re included in one park over the other. The idea is that the Studios attractions are more “movie” based whereas the Islands of Adventure rides are more…well, adventurous. That is true in some cases, and not so much in other cases. For example, why is Seuss Landing included in Islands of Adventure as opposed to Studios? Why is the Mummy attraction not considered an “adventure” themed ride?
Either way, because there are so many great attractions at both parks, I always recommend the 2 park ticket if you’re going to make a day out of it. It’s very easy to bounce between parks, and you can definitely do both parks in one day. Unlike Disney, both parks are located right next to each other, literally within walking distance.
Naturally, the biggest draw to Universal over the past decade as been the inclusion of Harry Potter themed worlds to the parks. There are TWO Harry Potter themed areas in the parks. In Islands of Adventure, you’ll find the original Hogsmeade themed land. In Studios, Diagon Alley is a much larger expansion, including Kings Cross Station, Knockturn Alley and Number 12 Grimmauld Place. If this all sounds like mumbo jumbo to you since you’re not a Harry Potter fan, don’t worry! You really don’t have to know all the ins and outs of the books to enjoy it!
Both sections are joined via the Hogwarts Express, which is an absolute delight and something I definitely recommend to everyone. The windows play footage that make you feel like you’re traveling the English countryside, and special screens on the doors make it look like students are passing by! The only downside? Because you’re moving between theme parks, you have to have a 2 park ticket to ride it. Nice little way to get you to buy the 2 park ticket, right?
Universal has their own system of ride reservations, similar to Fastpass. The Universal Express pass is an actual tech gadget you get at the park that allows you to select the ride you’d like to reserve, and it’ll give you a time to return. The downside? Unlike Disney, which includes Fastpass+ in their park admission, Universal makes you pay for it.
Additionally, there are different levels of Universal Express pass. The most basic pass, which retails at $69, only allows one reservation per ride per day. For 20 bucks more you can have unlimited rides per day, so it’s up to you to judge how worth it the pass is. Luckily, many of the big ticket attractions – mostly Harry Potter rides – have been added in recent years, which was not originally the case.
Proximity to Disney
It takes about 20 minutes (depending on traffic) to reach Universal from Walt Disney World. Because it’s so close it’s very easy to work in to your travel plans! My sister and I went to the Universal parks as soon as they opened during our March 2015 trip and we were able to ride all the rides we wanted at BOTH parks (we did purchase the basic Universal Express pass) and we were back at the hotel swimming by 3 PM. We took a cab, which were plentiful in the area, so it was very easy to set up transportation to and from the area.
If you’re a big thrill ride junkie, Universal Orlando HAS to be on your to-do list. The biggest thrills at Disney are Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror, which are still relatively tame compared to many of the coasters at Universal Orlando. The Incredible Hulk Coaster and the Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket are just two examples of rides that will satisfy your need for adrenaline pumping thrills that you just might not find at Disney World. Even the water park as more “adult” water slides than the two water parks at Disney, like drop slides, water coasters and more.
Unlike at Disney, a lot of the rides don’t have repeatability, in my opinion. There’s not much theming to the two roller coasters I mentioned above, although Universal does some seem to be working on this. For example, all the Harry Potter rides have tons of detail worked in to them that really tell a “story” like many Disney attractions. Perhaps we’ll be seeing changes to existing rides in the future at Universal to reflect that storytelling aspect!
Additionally, they have great thrills at Halloween. Halloween Horror Nights is their annual event hosting numerous themed haunted houses, and has really exploded in popularity in the last few years. If you’re a Halloween fan, you HAVE to make it down there to experience this at some point. Houses change every year, and are themed after some of the most popular thrill/horror movies and shows, like Stranger Things!
So Do I Recommend It?
Absolutely! I don’t think I would ever plan a vacation where I stayed on Universal property, but if it makes sense to fit it in to my Disney plans, I definitely will. In fact, I’m planning to swing over there in April 2020 when I go to the Star Wars 5K run weekend! Due to the ease of traveling to the parks from Disney and the unique attractions you can find here, it’s a fun addition to any Orlando vacation.
Looking to make Universal part of your vacation plans? My favorite Unofficial Guides not only sells Walt Disney World guides, but Universal Guides as well! They’ll give you the rundown on all attractions, upcoming events, shows, dining and more!
What’s your favorite Universal Orlando attraction? I love all the Harry Potter stuff, of course – but I am also a HUGE fan of Revenge of the Mummy! Let me know in the comments below!
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I’ve only been to Universal one time! Back when I was like 10 I believe haha but I’ve been wanting to go back just cause I want to see the Harry Potter world.
It has changed SO much! I love it!