How Universal Studios Hollywood Is Better Than Disneyland

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Going to Southern California doesn't have to mean Disney! Find out how Universal Studios Hollywood is a theme park contender especially for teenagers, thrill seekers, adults and of course, Harry Potter fans. Read how Universal Studios Hollywood is better than Disneyland in many ways and how to get discount tickets for this classic Los Angeles amusement park. #UniversalStudios #Hollywood #CaliforniaVacation #TravelwithKids | Family Travel | California Travel | Universal Hollywood
Find out how Universal Studios Hollywood is appealing for teens and adults. Photo credit: Julie Bigboy

How does Disneyland compare to Universal Studios Hollywood? This long-time Disneyland fan visited Universal Studios Hollywood for the very first time with her family. How do the two Southern California amusement parks match up? Get the scoop on this Los Angeles theme park in a detailed guide when measuring Disneyland vs. Universal Studios.

Disneyland vs. Universal Studios Hollywood

Is Universal Studios Hollywood better than Disneyland? How could anything be better than my favorite theme park? But yes, it’s true. I found there were things that I preferred at Universal Studios Hollywood than at Disneyland.

While Disneyland still holds a certain magic, find out what new magic we discovered at Universal Studios! Who needs princesses when you can have the Minions?! Here are a few of the ways that Universal Studios Hollywood is better than Disneyland.

Comparing Theme Parks: Universal Studios to Disneyland

Fountain at entrance to Universal Hollywood
In what ways is Universal Studios better than Disneyland? Photo credit: Masbebet on Pixabay

My first and only trip to Universal Studios Hollywood happened when I was about 15. I remember a bit of the Backlot Studio Tour, the now gone E.T. attraction and that’s about it. Naturally, much has changed in the park over the last 30+ years!

I knew that there would be a lot at Universal Studios Hollywood that my two teenagers would enjoy. Based on the height requirements (most are 40″+), I decided against bringing my toddler. My 7-year old son was tall enough for all the rides. We decided to skip Disneyland during this vacation and instead, took on Universal Studios for the first time.

Would Universal be as enjoyable as our other theme park vacations? Turns out there were a few ways that Universal Studios Hollywood actually beat Disneyland on this trip.

Universal Studios Hollywood Can Be a One Day Park

I’ve never been able to recommend a single day at any of the Disney parks. Three full days (or more) is the norm to experience at least most of the attractions at both Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park.

There is a lot to see and do and you’ll absolutely need more than one day to see it. This means multi-day tickets, Park Hoppers and overnight hotel stays in the Anaheim area or at the Disneyland Resort.

While all of Universal Studios Hollywood is over 400 acres, most of this area is part of the working studio. The actual theme park area is reasonably walkable. Attractions are located on two levels, divided by a series of long escalators.

There are currently 3 rides in the lower lot and 7 on the upper level. Additional attractions to round out your day include play areas, walk-through attractions and live action shows.

How to Maximize a Single Day at Universal

Visiting during off-peak season means you won’t have to spend extra money on additional days to make sure you fit everything in. We visited on a Saturday during the holiday season and the park was extremely busy, with most ride waits upwards of an hour. Ideally I’d have picked a non-peak season weekday.

However, in the 9 hours we spent inside the park, we were able to go on all the rides (except the Silly Swirly Fun Ride which is geared for very young children) and only skipped two of the shows. Universal Studios Hollywood has a ride focus so guests are less distracted by parades and other entertainment like they would be at Disneyland.

If you are in a time pinch and experiencing all the things is important to your family, there are some time-saving options to ensure the most bang for the buck.

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Front of the Line Pass

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. This is a controversial aspect of theme parks as those with the ability to pay a bit more can skip line ahead of others.

Only a limited number of these tickets are sold each day to maintain the perks for guests who purchase. But it can be worth it if you are limited on time and want to see as much as possible. There are actually two options for Universal Studios Hollywood guests to line jump.

Universal Studios Hollywood – Express Ticket

Universal Studios Hollywood’s Express Ticket (formerly called the Front of Line Pass) allows guests to bypass the queue once for each ride, attraction and seated show in a single day. The additional cost (atop your ticket price) for this benefit is between about $80-220 (depending on the time period during peak seasons).

The Express Pass Ticket at Universal Studios Hollywood is different from the Disney Genie+ system (formerly called FASTPASS). At Universal Studios, guests will get to skip the main lines once for every single attraction on property. There are only a handful of attractions that offer Disney Genie+ at Disneyland so you’ll still have to stand in queue for everything else.

Read more about why you may not need the Universal Express Ticket if you’re going to Universal Studios in Orlando! 

Universal Studios Hollywood – VIP Experience

The second front of the line option for guests is the Universal Studios Hollywood VIP Experience. Guests who purchase the VIP Experience receive valet parking, unlimited express access to rides and the best seats at shows. In addition there are snacks and refreshments in the VIP lounge, a gourmet meal in a private VIP dining room, expert guided tour and exclusive backlot access.

At a cost of $349+ per person (plus the cost of the regular park ticket), it’s not cheap. But the Universal Studio Hollywood VIP Experience is still considerably more reasonable in price than Disneyland’s spendy VIP tours with a “Plaid.”

Security Gets You Into the Parks Faster

On a recent weekend trip to Disneyland, my family and I spent nearly 45 minutes waiting in line at security. Once there, we had to zip open each bag for a deep inspection as well as walk through a metal detector. While you’ll still see the metal detectors at Universal Studios Hollywood, you’ll also see X-ray machines.

This meant that we were able to place our bags on a conveyor belt, just like at the airport. Bags were still inspected but didn’t need to be opened, vastly expediting the security processing time. On our busy weekend visit to Universal Studios, we were through security in a quick 5 minutes…a time saver indeed!

Complimentary Locker Rental for Some Attractions

While the casual Disneyland guest is holding their belongings on each attraction, this can’t happen at Universal. The attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood can be intense, with lots of movement. Most of the attractions do not offer any on-ride storage. However, Universal has a helpful solution to this. They offer complimentary locker rental at certain attractions!

Guests who have backpacks, purses, cell phones or whatever will simply step inside the locker room before joining the queue. After a quick fingerprint scan, you’ll be assigned a locker where you can store your items for several hours. After riding, return to the room to retrieve your goods. No pricey locker payments, unless you want to store your items for longer. Then you can purchase more time.

Popular Movie Themes

Sure, Mickey Mouse is an iconic character. Pixar, Toy Story, Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Marvel are all represented at Disneyland. But Universal has popular themes too that guests can’t seem to get enough of.

From Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, Secret Life of Pets, Despicable Me and the Simpsons, these are beloved (albeit edgier) film franchises to rival Disney. And they are all featured within Universal Studios Hollywood.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood

Hogwarts castle at Universal Hollywood.
The towering Hogwarts castle holds the impressive Harry Potter & the Forbidden Journey attraction. Photo credit: runextreme on Pixabay

I’ve been a Harry Potter fan since the very first book. My kids are also Potter-heads, so walking into the immersive Wizarding World of Harry Potter was incredible. I will confess I had chills stepping foot into this truly magical land.

I love that Universal Studios Hollywood has created the village of Hogsmeade straight out of the book. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is definitely one of the best themed “lands” I’ve ever seen.

Yes, Cars Land at Disneyland is amazing. But there are so many intricate details in this themed area at Universal Studios Hollywood you could seriously spend all day here exploring. In fact, I’ve already told my kids we’ll need to plan a return visit just so we can spend more time here.

Exploring Harry Potter’s World

Cup of butterbeer in front of Hogwarts castle at Universal Hollywood.
Universal has Harry Potter (and Butterbeer!) Photo credit: runextreme on Pixabay

Wizarding World of Harry Potter captures all the story details from the impressive Hogwarts castle to creamy Butterbeer and the entertaining Frog Choir. Dine at Three Broomsticks, choose a wand at Ollivander’s and hop out of the shop with delicious chocolate frogs.

Universal totally captured Harry Potter’s wizarding world. If you’re a Potter fan, you’ll definitely want to head here first thing in the morning to experience the amazing Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction, located inside the towering Hogwarts castle.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Purchase a special interactive wand at Ollivander’s. Guests can cast spells at various locations by repeating specific incantations. With a precise wave of the wand, magic will happen right before your eyes! It’s a Potter fan’s must-do.

Child-Switch Waiting Rooms

Based on the height requirements of the rides at Universal Studios Hollywood, I’d decided not to bring my toddler with us on the trip. However, it’s nice to know that if she’d been with us, Universal has an awesome Child-Switch program available. After looking into how the Universal Studios Hollywood Child-Switch program works, I can see what a convenient time saver it would be.

First off, your party stays together through the queue. This means you can bring your child with you in line and not have to split up the family. No more having to work out the details of where everyone is going to meet after the ride or trying to estimate the wait time.

How Child Switch Works at Universal Studios

Child-Switch waiting rooms are located right by the loading zones of the rides. One guest simply steps into the room with the child while the rest of the party rides. Then that guest switches places with another adult after the ride so the second person can have their turn.

Guests at Universal Studios Hollywood don’t have to go back through the line at all. Disneyland will make the second party go back through the Lightning Lane line to wait again. This can certainly eat up valuable park time.

Attractions that offer Child-Switch are indicated on the park map. While I didn’t use the waiting rooms on this trip, I did look inside at them. The waiting area for Transformers: The Ride – 3D was roomy and featured plenty of benches for parents and kids. There was also a large window so families could see out.

The Universal Studios Hollywood child-switch waiting rooms would really make the trip more enjoyable for those traveling with babies. They can also be used for family members who simply don’t want to ride.

Need help planning your Universal trip? Join our Universal Orlando Tips & Planning Facebook Group!

Appealing to Teens

Large primary colored Simpsons statue at Universal Hollywood.
Teens will love to explore The Simpson’s Springfield area. Photo credit: ff16 on Pixabay

I totally get that many teenagers and adults aren’t as delighted by the “Disney magic” as I am. While my toddler and I are singing along to “it’s a small world,” my teens are usually silently riding along in the back of the boat.

Recent additions of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and the Marvel-themed Avengers Campus give Disneyland more teen edge. But I know my older kids prefer a bit more thrill factor than the typical Disneyland day can offer.

The thrill factor is definitely there at Universal Studios Hollywood! Rides are exciting with hi-tech flight simulation, special effects and they feature characters that teens enjoy. Jurassic World will terrify with realistic graphics (and still get just as wet in a drop that rivals Splash Mountain!).

I’d intentionally not watched any online videos or done much research about the attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood. We stepped onto the rides not knowing what any of them would be like! Universal did not disappoint.

The thrills were appealing for all, from my 7-year old son up to my mother-in-law. I was a little worried that some of the themes might be too intense for my youngest son but he enjoyed them all, including Revenge of the Mummy, a high-speed indoor roller coaster.

Thrills for Older Kids and Grown Ups

Flume ride at Universal Hollywood.
Guests are chased by dinosaurs in Jurassic World – The Ride. Photo credit: Monica Volpin on Pixabay

Several rides also offer single rider option, which is appealing to teens and adults who don’t mind riding apart from their group. We used single rider for Transformers: The Ride – 3D and the wait time was only ten minutes versus the posted 70 minute wait in the regular queue.

Naturally the snarky world of The Simpsons in the Springfield area is highly appealing to adults, who can grab a cold Duff beer inside Moe’s Tavern or kick back in the Duff Brewery Beer Garden.

Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights is a seasonal offering that is highly appealing for teens and adults (but not by scaredy cats, like me!). This special event is offered each fall.

We had our youngest kid skip the Walking Dead Attraction (as did I!). This scary walk-through features live actors who frighten guests. Naturally this was my 15-year old son’s favorite part of the trip.

SheBuysTravel Tip: If you have a younger child or someone who is skittish about thrill rides, consider watching YouTube videos of the attractions pre-trip to see if you’ll want to ride. Or you can take advantage of the Child-Switch rooms.

Back Scenes Tour Included in the Park Ticket

Wreckage from a scene in the movie War of the Worlds at Universal in California.
Wreckage from a scene in the movie War of the Worlds. Photo credit: Murati on Pixabay

No need to pay extra for a behind-the-scenes sneak. The cornerstone of Universal Studios Hollywood is their classic Studio Tour. I enjoyed the historical aspect of the Studio Tour that is combined with amazing experiences like King Kong 360 3-D that thrill older kids and teens.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Guests can bring snacks on the hour-long Studio Tour. The Springfield area is near the tour entrance so you can grab a giant doughnut from Lard Lad Donuts or a frozen Squishee at Krusty Burger before getting in line.

Where to Buy Discounted Universal Tickets

If saving money is ideal, SheBuysTravel recommends buying Universal tickets through Get Away Today. Not only does the company have the lowest prices, it offers a best price guarantee. If you ever find park tickets cheaper, Get Away Today won’t just match the price, the company will beat it. If you call to make your purchase be sure to mention SheBuysTravel!

Family Quiet Rooms

Theme parks can be overwhelming for anyone, let alone someone with special needs. Universal Studios Hollywood offers a Family Center with quiet rooms that theme park guests with autism and their families can rest in. Private lockable rooms can be used for nursing mothers.

Disneyland does have the Baby Care Centers for breastfeeding. However, there isn’t much in the way of quiet places inside the park where those on the autism spectrum can decompress. The Family Center at Universal allows families to take a break as needed, without having to leave or return to the hotel.

Shorter Character Lines at Universal Studios Hollywood

I love Disney character greetings, especially when traveling with my two youngest. Disneyland character meet n’ greets usually involve long queues or lines, so we often skip them. Sure, there are dining experiences with Disneyland characters where guests can meet Mickey without lines at a premium price.

We spotted many character greetings at Universal Studios Hollywood. Lines were never longer than a few people, except for the Transformers, which was about 15 people deep. We met a Mummy outside of his namesake ride without any wait. There are also many figures to pose with around the park.

If having your picture taken with Krusty in Springfield is important, know that your wait time will be minimal. Want to greet with Bumblebee, Optimus Prime or Megatron? You might be waiting a few additional minutes. Naturally you’ll need your own camera, as there isn’t any system available like Disney’s PhotoPass.

Expanded Shopping and Dining

Universal CityWalk is similar to the Downtown Disney District at the Disney Resort in that they both offer restaurant dining and shopping. Both have some live entertainment as well. But Universal CityWalk takes it a touch further by including more extensive offerings. Find an AMC movie theater, concert venue, iFLY and more options for both full service and quick service dining.

Where to Buy Discounted Universal Tickets

SheBuysTravel recommends purchasing your Universal and Disneyland tickets through Get Away Today. Not only does the company have the lowest prices, it offers a best price guarantee. If you ever find park tickets cheaper, Get Away Today won’t just match the price, the company will beat it. If you call to make your purchase be sure to mention SheBuysTravel! Get Away Today also offers Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort ticket packages for Florida vacations.

3 responses

  1. Thank You for Sharing, you answered a lot of the questions I had regarding the parks and which one I should choose and why! I’m also going to check the pricing with Get Away Today/ and SheBuysTravels, as opposed to Universal Studios. Thanks Again for the Heads Up!

  2. While I do love the chocolate frogs for the collectible cards and really cool looking boxes, I must say I was disappointed with the actual chocolate itself. Low quality, not very good tasting. It’s the same with ALL chocolate offerings in Honeydukes. I wonder why they decided to go so big everywhere, put so much detail into every little thing, and then skimp on the good chocolate. It could have been fabulous! Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a chocolate frog made of Hershey’s or another, quality brand. Neat for card collecting though. I got Dumbledore the first time I bought one, it’s pinned up on my wall.

  3. Just been to disneyland Anaheim and my kids of 12 and 15 agreed that they thought disneyland Paris was similar but better.
    So if you have been to eurodisney then skip anaheim and do the studio tour instead

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