Disney or Universal? It’s an age old dilemma, especially if you’re a Disney family like we are. If we’re going to Orlando, it’s probably going to be for one purpose: to visit Disney World. Well, that and maybe visit my dad who lives about an hour away from there.
A lot of time we’re simply piggybacking on another trip and we turn it into a mini-vacation. It’s easy for us to do that because we’re members of the Disney Vacation Club and we also buy highly discounted annual passes. Add in frequent flyer miles for a flight down and we know how to do Disney on the cheap (relatively speaking).
But usually in February, we plan an all-out vacation. It’s one week devoted to staying at our home resort, the Animal Kingdom Lodge, and hopping our way through the four parks and spending time at Downtown Disney. This year was no exception. Except for our itinerary.
We traveled with another family who loves Disney but probably love Universal even more. And with all of the Harry Potter attractions, I figured it was time to take my Harry Potter-Loving boy (and self) to Universal Studios.
Looking for a thrill?
It’s full of thrill rides. You want coasters? YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE COASTERS. Or maybe you can. These are true coasters that are made to make you wet your pants.
- The Incredible Hulk Coaster® I skipped this one. Too scary.
- Dragon Challenge™ I skipped this one too. Too scary. (Update: this ride closed in 2017 to make way for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure™)
- Revenge of the Mummy® We love, love, loved this ride. So much that I went on it THREE times. So much fun. My favorite ride.
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit® At the last second, I decided to live on the edge and jumped in the single ride line. It wasn’t nearly as scary as it looked but it gave me a headache.
- Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster® This was definitely my speed. But waiting in a 20 minute line for a 30 second ride was a bit anti-climactic.
- Flight of the Hippogriff™ I could handle this coaster as well. But a 45 minute wait? Let’s just say that the FastPass system has spoiled me.
If you love the Simpsons, you’ll feel right at home having Duff’s beer or hanging out at Moe’s. You’ll even see a statue of Jebediah Springfield.
If you love Dr. Seuss, you and your littles may love the whimsical world come to life. I forced the boys to go on just about every sort of lame ride here but I still think they had a good time.
And then there’s Harry Potter. Worth it’s very own section.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
If you’re wondering if it’s worth the time and money to divert to Universal, I’d say maybe, if it weren’t for Harry Potter. But if you’ve read the books or seen the movies, you have to go experience the world of Harry Potter.
Slip into the train station and find platform 9 3/4. Ride the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade and catch a glimpse of Hogwarts School. Sample Butterbeer (hot, cold, or frozen).
Stroll through Diagon Alley and watch the fire-breathing dragon atop Gringotts bank. Stop in Ollivander’s and purchase a wand.
And even when you stop in the loo, you’ll hear Moaning Myrtle wailing. No detail went unnoticed. It is an experience unto itself.
Prepare for nausea
If simulator rides are your thing, you’re in luck. There are plenty to be found. This is a park filled with special effects. And unfortunately those special effects do not agree with me. I’ve learned that I cannot go on even the simplest of simulator rides because they make me feel nauseous. If that’s not you, you’ll probably enjoy some of the following.
- The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man® I love me some Spider-Man and if I wasn’t feeling nauseous, this would have been an awesome ride.
- The Simpsons Ride™ Perfect for the Simpsons fan. Even waiting in line was fun. But still – nausea.
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™ And then there was this ride. That was so nausea-inducing I had to close my eyes and try to have an out-of-body experience so that I could make it to the end.
It’s NOT Disney. I know, I know. It’s not trying to be Disney. It’s different but I just can’t help but compare.
The food… is so much better. In the parks, that is. It’s better quality and cheaper and the Universal folks seem to have seating down to a science. I even got to eat UK-style food in Diagon Alley!
The crowds… are so much worse. I’m sure it would have been a different experience if I had paid extra for the fastpass-type experience but the lines seemed to be so slow. And the people were just more annoying. And they smoked EVERYWHERE (even though there are designated smoking areas).
The experience… just can’t compare. If you’re looking for thrill rides, you’ll find them at Universal. If you’re looking for something experiential, you’ll find some of that too. But overall, I still love the Disney bubble and all the cast members that make you feel at home.
If you’re a Disney fan, I’d love to hear what you think of Universal if you’ve been. Or if you’re just a super Universal fan, I’d love to hear why!