Universal parks are among the most visited amusement parks in the world, with five locations in four different countries. These parks hold the rights to some of the most sought-after IP, from Nintendo to Jurassic Park to Harry Potter, and back them up with theming just as spellbinding. Universal puts their all into their rides, walkways, and queue lines to craft a truly immersive park experience, somehow balancing consistency between parks while finding ways to set each location apart.
For today's park duel, we'll be putting the two stateside parks to the test, ranking Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood in four categories—rides, non-ride attractions, events, and overall experience—to find which American Universal park takes the cake.
The rides at Universal parks feature intricate theming without sacrificing thrills. The parks take full advantage of their somewhat longer wait times by making the queues part of the story, not unlike Disney parks.
It's not a secret that Universal Hollywood is significantly smaller than its East coast counterpart. And while it makes up for a lack of space with particularly unique charms (we'll get to that later), Universal Hollywood offers very few rides that are not also available in Orlando. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Flight of the Hippogriff, Revenge of the Mummy, and The Simpsons Ride are among the rides found at both parks, some with only slight differences, others exact clones. Consider Hollywood a sampling platter of the most classic rides you can find in Orlando. Universal Studios Hollywood's exclusive rides include Secret Life of Pets and Jurassic World - The Ride, a new version of Orlando's River Adventure Ride updated to the more recent trilogy of films.
Universal Orlando Resort, which includes two separate parks in Universal Studios and Universal's Islands of Adventure, has some world-class rides you can only find in Florida. The newest addition to the park, VelociCoaster, quickly climbed to many coast enthusiasts' number one spot, if not firmly in the top three. This Intamin launch coaster features speeds of 70mph, a near-vertical top hat element, and a barrel roll over the lake. Other notable attractions found strictly in Florida include Escape from Gringotts, Rip Ride Rockit, Incredible Hulk Coaster, and Hagrid's Magical Creature Motorbike Adventure.
Due to the sheer quantity of rides, Universal Orlando Resort wins this round.
Though I'm the first to say that you go to an amusement park primarily for the rides, the effort and creativity put forth by Universal creative teams makes the non-ride attractions just as iconic and exciting as the twists and turns of VelociCoaster.
Universal Orlando offers a variety of shows and experiences. One of my personal favorites is the Horror Make-Up Show. This show takes you behind the scenes of classic movie monsters with interactive demonstrations, jokes, and industry secrets. Also available are Poseidon's Fury, Bourne Spectacular, and outdoor interactions including The Tales of Beedle the Bard.
Shows found at both parks include Animal Actors, Triwizard Spirit Rally, Raptor Encounter, and the Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle.
Universal Studios Hollywood, however, has a trick up its sleeve in its iconic studio tour. A working movie studio, this lot boasts 400 acres of both iconic and brand-new movie sets. This tour is a hybrid experience, blending a conventional tour with ride elements—Jaws, Fast and Furious Supercharged, and King Kong, to name a few. In 2022, park guests could even experience the real movie set from Jordan Peele's film NOPE. This wholly unique experience boosts Universal Hollywood into the number one spot for non-ride attractions.
Both of these parks, unlike many parks in the States, are open year round, offering a variety of holiday-themed events.
The most iconic Universal event, found at both parks in the Fall, is unarguably Halloween Horror Nights. Florida had ten houses in 2022 for Hollywood's eight, but that's not accounting for Hollywood's Terror Tram, which has no counterpart in Orlando.
Christmas events can be found at both parks with slight variations. While Hollywood has Hollywood at Universal Studios and Eve, a New Year's Eve party, Orlando has Grinchmas and Christmas in the Wizarding World. Universal Orlando also annually hosts Rock the Universe, a Christian music festival.
Because these parks have many of the same offerings and go all-out for events, this category is a tie.
Overall experience is where these two parks differ the most. As previously mentioned, Universal Studios Hollywood is significantly smaller than Universal Orlando Resort, and that's because Universal Orlando is just that—a resort. Universal Orlando has onsite resorts like Cabana Bay, Aventura, and Loews Sapphire Falls that all offer shuttle/ferry service and early admission into the parks. At the park itself, Orlando has its two main parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, as well as a water park in Volcano Bay. This park, to be enjoyed in its entirety, is a multi-day experience, made to transport you out of Orlando, Florida, into a world of movies and magic.
Hollywood, on the other hand, capitalizes off its location in the center of an already packed city center. This park isn't trying to transport you elsewhere, but plays up the glow of L.A. The sights, sounds, and attractions are meant to remind you where you are, right in the middle of movie history. This park can be enjoyed in a single day.
Universal Studios Hollywood truly offers an experience unique from any other park in the world, a fully-functioning theme park sitting on top of a fully-functioning movie studio, right in the middle of a major city. It's a must-do for any movie lover or theme park lover. Regardless, when it comes to all-around park experience, it's hard to beat Universal Orlando Resort.
After a tie in the third round, the points tally out to 3-2 in favor of Universal Orlando Resort. This park is an all-rounder. It's got the world-class rides, the shows, the wall-to-wall theming, and now, according to Theme Park Tourist, the title of best stateside Universal park.
Universal Orlando Resort Vs. Universal Studios Hollywood, which gets your vote? Let us know in our poll or by leaving us a comment below or on our Facebook page.