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Disneyland vs Universal Studios – Which Park Is Best?

Disneyland California and Universal Studios Hollywood are both situated in California, just 40 miles from one another. However, while both locations are theme park based, they also offer very different experiences for guests to enjoy.

Disneyland California is actually a resort with two-theme parks (Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure) and three on-site hotels, while Universal Studios Hollywood is a stand-alone theme park with no on-site hotels (although there are some nearby).

If you’re travelling with young children then Disneyland is the better theme park since the rides & attractions are perfect for their height & interests. However, adults and teens will likely prefer either Universal Studios Hollywood or Disney’s California Adventure.

That’s because the themes, rides and attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood and Disney’s California Adventure are better suited to a slightly more mature audience.

Subsequently, if you’re travelling with two or more children then the Disneyland Resorts two theme parks typically cater to everyone with the little ones enjoying the magical atmosphere of Disneyland and the older kids enjoying the thrill rides at Disney’s California Adventure.

Similarities Between Disneyland & Universal Studios

There are very few similarities between Disneyland and Universal Studios aside from the fact that both locations are theme parks with rides, attractions and shows and are based in California.

As such we recommend theme park enthusiasts either visit both locations or thoroughly research which is likely to best suit their needs given that the two are so very different.

Differences Between Disneyland & Universal Studios

There are an extensive number of differences between Universal Hollywood and Disney California starting with the companies who own each theme park. Universal Hollywood, is owned by NBCUniversal while Disney California is owned by the Walt Disney Company.

Disneyland California is also a resort-based destination with two theme parks (Disneyland and Disney California Adventure) and three on-site hotels. As such, we highly recommend most people allocate two to three days to see everything this location has to offer.

Universal Studios Hollywood on the other hand is a single theme park, with no on-site hotels, although there are plenty of accommodation options nearby. As such most people only need one day at Universal Studios Hollywood to experience everything the theme park has to offer.

In terms of location, there’s just 40 miles distance between the two with Universal Studios Hollywood being situated between Burbank and Beverly Hills close to the Hollywood Sign and Disneyland California located in Anaheim which is just outside of the Los Angeles County border.

Meanwhile, Disneyland California is also significantly older (having opened on the 17th of July 1955) and subsequently more nostalgic than Universal Studios (which opened on the 15th of July 1964). Although Universal’s movie studio actually dates back to 1912.

Size Difference Between Disneyland & Universal Studios

Being that Disneyland California is a resort with two theme parks and three on-site hotels it’s no surprise that this location is significantly larger than Universal Studios Hollywood.

In fact, Universal Studios Hollywood was and is primarily a working film and TV studio. Adding the theme park element to this location was secondary, however, exploring this area of the park during The World Famous Studio Tour is also what makes this theme park so incredibly unique.

The size and number of attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood mean that even during the peak season, most visitors can see everything the theme park has to offer in a single day.

While it is possible to visit both Disneyland theme parks in a single day, or even spend one day at each of the parks it can often be a whirlwind and result in you missing selected rides or finer details – especially during the peak season. As such we often recommend budgeting two (one day at each park) or even three days for Disneyland California.

Who Has The Best Rides Disneyland or Universal Studios?

Disneyland has the largest number of rides and attractions of any of the three theme parks. Meanwhile, Universal Studios Hollywood has the least.

Theme Park# Rides & Attractions
Universal Hollywood12
Disneyland53
Disney California Adventure34

However, each location has some absolutely incredible rides for guests to choose from and if you were to choose between the three locations purely based on this factor then you’re probably going to want to consider the rides and subsequent lands theming.

Rides & Attractions At Universal Hollywood

Universal Hollywood is split into two areas; the Upper Lot and the Lower Lot. Within each lot, you’ll find a number of themed areas including Jurassic World and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The most popular rides at Universal Studios Hollywood include;

  • Backlot Tour – Perhaps the most unique ride at any theme park this one-hour guided tour takes you around the working film and TV studio lot. This tour also includes two attractions; King Kong 360 and Fast & Furious: Supercharged.
  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey – This ride isn’t a rollercoaster, instead, a robotic arm is used to transport you around different scenes from the Harry Potter film in near darkness.
  • Revenge Of The Mummy: The Ride – This enclosed rollercoaster is one of our personal favourites at Universal Studios Hollywood and see’s you reach speeds of 45mph.
  • Secret Life of Pets: Off The Leash – This is one of the newest rides at Universal Studios and is based around the Secret Life of Pets franchise. The ride experience sees guests transformed into puppies as they go on a journey through the streets of New York City in search of a new home.

Rides & Attractions At Disneyland

Disneyland is just one of the two theme parks at the Disneyland California Resort. This park is the oldest of the two and contains nine different themed areas including;

  1. Main Street USA
  2. Adventureland
  3. New Orleans Square
  4. Critter Country
  5. Frontierland
  6. Mickey’s Toontown
  7. Fantasyland
  8. Tomorrowland
  9. Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge

Meanwhile, some of the top attractions and rides inside this theme park include;

  • It’s A Small World – The inaugural version of this ride premiered at the 1964 New York World’s Fair before being moved to Disneyland as a permanent attraction in 1966.
  • Splash Mountain – Based on the 1946 Disney film Song of the South this iconic ride can be found in both Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland and Magic Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort.
  • Indiana Jones Adventure – This simulation ride sees guests board military troop transport vehicles and accompany Indiana Jones on a turbulent quest through a dangerous subterranean lost temple guarded by a supernatural power.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean – Situated in New Orleans Square, the Pirates of the Caribbean ride was opened in 1967 and was the last ride whose construction was envisioned and personally overseen by Walt Disney, who died three months before it opened.

Rides & Attractions At Disney California Adventure

Disney California Adventure is the second theme park at the Disneyland Resort in California. Much like Disneyland, this park is split into different themed areas, these include;

  1. Buena Vista Street
  2. Paradise Gardens
  3. Avengers Campus
  4. Pixar Pier
  5. Cars Land
  6. Pacific Wharf
  7. Hollywood Land
  8. Grizzly Peak

Meanwhile, some of the most popular attractions at this theme park include;

  • Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! – This ride replaces the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and features the same format (dark accelerated drop tower) albeit with Guardians of the Galaxy theming.
  • The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure – This ride is fantastic for young children given that it has no height requirement and despite being in relative darkness isn’t very scary.
  • Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters – This is one of three attractions inside Cars Land, and see’s guests ride in a trackless dancing car with a similar facade to those featured in the Cars films.
  • Pixar Pal-A-Round – Formerly known as the Sun Wheel and Mickey’s Fun Wheel, this 150-foot-tall wheel is an icon within the Disney California Adventure Park. Each gondola is themed to a Pixar character while the wheel itself has a pie-eyed Mickey Mouse face at its centrepiece.

Which Is Cheaper Disneyland or Universal Studios?

If you’re travelling on a budget then you’ll likely want to be conscious as to how much it costs to visit each of these theme parks, and one of the largest cost factors is the park tickets themselves.

The cost of a ticket to both Universal Studios and Disneyland depends on a number of factors including;

  • Time of year
  • Day of the week
  • Number of days
  • Guests age(s)
  • California residents

For example, park tickets for mid-week in the off-season are often $10 to $30 cheaper per person, per day when compared to weekends in the peak season.

Universal Studios Hollywood

Since Universal Studios Hollywood is a single park (unlike the two theme parks at the Disneyland Resort) the ticketing system is significantly more straightforward. A one-day park ticket generally costs between $109 and $129 per person, plus tax.

Meanwhile, a two-day park ticket costs between $149 and $169 per person, plus tax – although, given the size of the park we think a two-day ticket is an overkill for most people.

Disneyland

Given that Disney California is a resort with two theme parks it’s no surprise that the variety of park tickets is more extensive and complex.

A one-day park ticket generally costs between $104 and $154 per person, plus tax. However, this increases to between $159 and $209 if you’re looking to park-hop between both Disney California and Disney California Adventure.

Meanwhile, a two-day ticket generally costs around $235 per person, plus tax increasing to around $290 for the addition of a park-hopper.

For those looking to extend to three days, you’ll generally be looking at around $310 per person, plus tax increasing to around $365 per person, plus tax for a park-hopper. Four and five-day tickets are also available, however, based on our experience (even when travelling with kids) three days is generally enough to cover both parks.

‘FastPass’ Upgrades

Both Disneyland and Universal provide a ticket enhancement which allows you to skip the standby line on numerous rides within the park.

At Universal Studios Hollywood this is known as the Universal Studios Express Pass and typically costs between $90 and $120 in addition to your one-day theme park entry. This ticket includes one-time express access to each ride, attraction, and seated show within Universal Studios Hollywood, excluding the newly opened Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge.

Over at Disneyland the ‘skip the line’ ticket upgrade is known as Disney Genie+. This add-on starts at $25 per person, per day plus tax and is to be purchased in addition to your park admission using the Disneyland mobile application.

Disney Genie+ allows you to use Lightning Lane entrances on selected rides by reserving your slot using the Disneyland mobile application. The process is significantly more limited and complex than the Express Pass at Universal Studios but may be worthwhile if you find yourself visiting Disney California and not wanting to spend hours waiting in line.

VIP Experiences

At Universal Studios you’ll find a VIP Experience Ticket which costs upwards of $369 per person, plus tax. This ticket allows you to go behind the scenes with an expert tour guide and includes the benefits of an Express Pass allowing you to skip the line on a number of rides within the park.

Meanwhile, over at Disney California, guests can purchase Disneyland Resort VIP Tours which cost upwards of $3,500 plus tax in addition to your park ticket. The VIP Tour is private and allows you and nine others to enjoy a customisable VIP Tour lasting between 7 and 10 hours in total.

If you decide that Disneyland is the right park for you, then after purchasing your ticket to the park you’ll need to use the Disney reservation system to reserve your entry into the park. Without both a park ticket and a reservation you will be denied entry.

Visiting Both Disneyland & Universal Studios Hollywood

Given the differences between Disneyland California and Universal Studios Hollywood, some families and theme park enthusiasts see value in visiting both locations. However, while both Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood are located within Los Angeles County there’s still a difference of around 35 miles between the two which thanks to LA traffic means a commute of between 60 and 90 minutes each way.

For that reason, many visitors looking to visit both Disneyland California and Universal Studios Hollywood opt to do a split stay. This is where you spend so many nights in Anaheim for Disneyland California and then move hotels over to Hollywood to visit Universal Studios and other Hollywood / LA attractions.

However, for some people, the idea of moving hotels halfway through a vacation is a nightmare and in that case, I’d recommend staying in one of the hotels between Disneyland and Universal Studios as this way you have a short drive to all the theme park locations instead.

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