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4 Universal Attractions More Whimsical Than Anything Than Disney

Seuss Trolley Image (c) Universal Orlando

Theme park fans love to debate the relative merits of Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World. Located close together in Central Florida, these top contenders have been vying for supremacy since the early 1990s. Yet most people have the general impression that WDW is light, airy, and designed for little kids, while Universal Orlando is dark, edgy, and aimed at teens. These reputations are unfair to both resorts.

Last month, I talked about Walt Disney World attractions that are inherently darker than anything Universal has to offer. In the spirit of fair play, here’s a look at 4 attractions at Universal Orlando that are even lighter and more child-friendly than most of what Disney has to offer. Even better, these attractions follow Walt’s original idea of appealing to everyone regardless of age—something Disney has fallen woefully short on during the past several years.

1. High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride

Seuss Trolley Image (c) Universal Orlando

It was a long time in coming. “Sylvester McMonkey McBean’s Highly Unusual Driving Machines” was supposed to open with Islands of Adventure in 1999, but problems with the ride system left the overhead tracks in Seuss Landing empty for many years. During the early 2000s, Seuss characters made an endless loop around the tracks, but it looked like the ride itself was doomed. Finally, after a major redesign, the High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride opened in 2006. Many Seuss fans of all ages feel the ride was well worth the wait.

Soaring high above Seuss Landing on twin tracks, riders not only get an excellent aerial view of that land’s incredible curved design, but an incredible journey through the story of the Sneetches, some of Dr. Seuss’ most instantly recognizable characters. Whether you are a toddler or a grandparent, the bright visuals, the ride through the Circus McGurkus restaurant, and the light-hearted retelling of a beloved story make this a true must-ride.

2. The Cat in the Hat

Walt Disney World might be known for its dark rides, but Seuss Landing’s The Cat in the Hat easily beats Disney at its own game. The ride vehicles bounce and spin and interact in novel ways, yet all the movements are so well-integrated into the storyline that each one feels like the only possible choice at that moment. The story is familiar and fun, and is told through a highly dynamic series of voiceovers, audio-animatronics, printed words, and even a few surprises. The ride never tries to be anything other than what it is—a light-hearted, family-friendly journey that will put smiles on the faces of everyone in your group.

3. Pteranodon Flyers

Elegantly simple in both concept and execution, Camp Jurassic’s Pteranodon Flyers is a surprisingly big draw. The idea is that you are seated in a flying swing that is carried through the air by a massive pteranodon, a flying reptile believed to be an ancestor of the birds. Gentle yet full of motion, this ride captures the feeling of flight in a way that suspended roller coasters and even Disney’s Soarin’ simply do not. The ride is pure fun for all ages. Unfortunately, adults must be accompanied by a child between 36 and 56 inches tall in order to ride.

4. Animal Actors on Location

This stage show, located in Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone at Universal Studios Florida, combines two of the greatest draws for family fun—animals and behind the scenes magic. A few kids are chosen to be part of the show, but even if yours are not, the audience consistently feels like part of the action.

You will learn how professional trainers work with animals in the movies and, since the show is live, you’ll also learn what can go wrong! I have seen a bird fly to an audience member and refuse to return to the stage, a dog who would rather jump up than play dead, and a skunk who just wanted to play to the audience even when it wasn’t his turn.

Light-hearted, endlessly amusing, and never quite the same show twice, Animal Actors on Location rivals anything Disney has to offer for sheer family fun. Make sure to catch this one, no matter what the age and interest makeup of your group.

While it is true that Universal Orlando offers many thrilling attractions and Walt Disney World provides plenty of child-friendly things to do, drawing hard lines in the sand is unfair to both companies. Both work hard to provide a balanced mix of attractions that allow families of all ages and interests to find something that appeals to them.