This past week was Fall Break for my kids, so you know we had to road trip on out of Arizona. And we tried something new on this journey. Are you ready for this? We made a stop in Southern California and did not go to Disneyland. I repeat: we did not go to Disneyland. We turned our backs on the Mouse and went to Universal Studios Hollywood instead. Here are six ways that Universal Studios Hollywood beats Disneyland for my kids.
Disclosure: I was provided complimentary passes to visit Universal Studios Hollywood. However, all opinions and Potter love are my own.
Universal VS Disneyland
That’s right- I see you clutching your Mickey Mouse shaped pearls. Go ahead and take a moment to digest that. I did NOT go to Disneyland last week.
And even more shocking? I don’t regret that decision for a second! Universal Studios Hollywood won my kids over, and I’ll admit, me too.
Look, I’ve always said you are either a Disney person or you are wrong. There was just no middle ground.
And now I have to take allllll that back. You can be both a Disney lover and Universal lover, and I can give you six ways in which Universal Studios Hollywood comes out ahead of Disneyland.
6 Ways Universal Studios Hollywood Beats Disneyland
First a little history. My last trip to Universal happened when I was around 3-years-old, and Bruce the Shark left an indelible impression on my psyche. I can’t watch Jaws; I can’t visit shark encounters, and I certainly do not go into the water without pause. Yep, that fake plastic shark ensured I never became a marine biologist. Thanks, Universal Studios.
Disneyland never played me that way, so of course, I had a natural inclination to return there. And as you probably know, I love that park more than any other.
However, there are six ways that Universal Studios Hollywood beat Disneyland on this trip. Spoiler alert: my kids agreed that they would choose a one day trip here to a one day trip to Disney next time. Times are changing, my friends!
1. Low Height Requirements at Universal Studios Hollywood
My youngest is five and my oldest is 13.
That meant we had a lot of heights to work with and I was thrilled to see that Lucy was going to make the height requirement on most rides.
There were only three that she had to sit out, and she wasn’t ready for those anyway.
All of the simulator rides carried a 40-inch requirement except for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
The other two attractions she had to sit out was Jurassic Park and The Mummy.
2. Universal Studios Hollywood Is Better Than Disneyland because it’s a One Day Park
Something else we loved was the size and scope of the park. It was a one day park for us, and we felt we experienced almost everything Universal had to offer.
This meant we wouldn’t have to spend extra money on additional days to make sure we got it all in.
If you are in a time pinch like we were, there are some time-saving options to ensure your bang for the buck here.
First of all, there is a Child Switch program that I felt worked better than the Disney version for a family with a time issue.
Our party stayed together through the queue; then I stepped into the Child Switch waiting room with Lucy.
After the older kids had ridden, they waited with Lucy while I had a turn. The rooms are located right by the loading zones of the rides, so I didn’t have to go back through the line at all.
Disneyland forces the 2nd party to go back through the FastPass line and that can eat up valuable park moments.
The best option for maximizing your time in the park is an easy one if you have the cash: buy your way to the front with a Front of Line Pass (FOL).
This is a controversial aspect of theme parks as it obviously gives those with the ability to pay a bit more (ahem, almost twice the entry cost!) to skip ahead of others. The FOL don’t play.
But it can be worth it if you are limited on time and want to see as much as possible.
This is different from Disneyland’s FastPass because 1) you pay for it and 2) you get to skip the main lines once for every single attraction on property. Yes, even the Harry Potter ones.
For our family, we had limited time to ride everything- yet we managed to make it happen with those passes. Some things did get a second go-round since we had some spare time. If time is money, then this was worth it.
3. Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood Beats anything at Disneyland
Yes, I SAID what I SAID.
I’m a big ol’ Harry Potter nerd. I’m currently listening to the Audible books for the, oh, 20th time? Something like that anyway.
I love the stories, love the characters, and love the complex world that J.K. Rowling created.
And I love that Universal Studios Hollywood has created the village of Hogsmeade straight out of the book. The Harry Potter section at both Universal parks is hands down the best themed “lands” I’ve ever seen.
Yes, even better than Cars Land.
From Hogwarts to butterbeer; to the Three Broomsticks to chocolate frogs; Universal just nailed it!
It’s been popular, to say the least.
Universal even had to halt sales of tickets online for a bit when it first opened!
4. Characters at Universal Studios Hollywood
My kids know I’ve never seen a character that I didn’t want to take a picture with!
So when we rounded a corner and found Homer Simpson, well, we had to stop.
And literally- it was just a stop. No lines, no muss, no fuss.
We found the same experience throughout the park with the longest line for the Transformers.
Disneyland’s character stops can involve long queues or lines, which my kids just won’t indulge me in any longer. Well, Lucy will, but she’s the only one left!
I enjoyed the fact that every section seemed to have someone available and that most of the Universal park goers just didn’t appear to care.
5. Thrill Factor At Universal Studios Hollywood
This was the best surprise of all: the thrill factor was there for all of us, and it was just high enough to make everyone happy. I thought a few might push Lucy or Seth over the line, but nope, they loved each attraction.
The Studio Tour was the big hit- yes, even with that dang shark showing up!
Lucy decided the Transformers ride was her ultimate favorite at the end and I have to concur. It’s a lot like Spiderman at Universal Studios Orlando, which I also really enjoyed.
Claire loved the Jurassic Park ride; Luke picked The Mummy, and Seth had to give the Flight of the Hippogriff his thumbs up.
6. Get In Early At Universal Studios Hollywood (for free!)
Universal will give you what amounts to Extra Magic Hours if you simply buy tickets online.
I kept saying to myself, what’s the catch? There is no catch; it’s really that simple.
No extra cost for a hotel stay, no complicated rules or calendar to follow.
Buy in advance of your trip online, and you get in an hour before the park opens and enjoy access to everything.
Yep. It’s pretty sweet.
Bonus reasons Universal Studios Hollywood is better than Disneyland: check out the prices of the Annual Passes vs Disneyland’s Annual Passes. Holy wow, y’all! This park is a bargain when you put it into that perspective. And the Back Lot tour is phenomenal. There’s nothing like it at Disneyland, that’s for sure.
While I suspect we are always going to be a Disneyland family, I can confidently say that there is room in our hearts for more than one Southern California theme park.
And Universal Studios Hollywood did not disappoint.
The negatives of this park are not too many for me. I would love to see a few more attractions for the cost of the passes, and I wish the FOL option weren’t quite as pricey as it is.
The parking situation is not great: it confused me so much I threw my hands up and forked over $35 for the front of the lot parking as well.
I see how you do, Universal. You know some of us rookies will pay for all the things and add a little something to your pockets.
Well, it worked. I’ll admit it was worth paying a little more not to be confusedly driving in circles trying to understand the parking options. (Fix the signs, Universal; I beg of you!)
Universal Studios Hollywood
100 Universal City Plaza
Universal City, CA 91608
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Patty Holliday is a Marvel loving, Disney obsessed wife, and mother of four. She’s a travel agent specializing in Disney & Universal vacations- and loves a candid confession. Find her in Virginia (or anywhere frequent flyer miles or her trusty minivan takes her.)