Wondering if a visit to Universal Studios Hollywood is worth your time when in the Los Angeles area? Our Day Trips Traveling Mom is a long-time Disneyland visitor. She recently took her family to Universal Studios Hollywood for the very first time. And while Disneyland still holds a certain magic, find out what new magic they discovered at Universal Studios! Here are a few of the ways that Universal Studios Hollywood is better than Disneyland.
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How Universal Studios Hollywood Is Better Than Disneyland
Universal Studios Hollywood is 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.
My first and only trip to Universal Studios Hollywood happened when I was about 15-years-old. I remember a bit of the Backlot Studio Tour, the now gone E.T. attraction and that’s about it. Naturally, tons 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 this time and take on Universal Studios for the first time.
Would Universal be as enjoyable as our other theme park trips? 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 Disneyland. Three 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 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 two rides in the lower lot (with a third being refurbished) and 6 rides on the upper level. Additional attractions to round out your day include play areas, walk-through attractions and live action shows.
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. 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. 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.
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.
TravelingMom recommends our affiliate Undercover Tourist for purchasing discounted Universal Studios Hollywood park tickets, including the Express Ticket and VIP Experience.
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 $70-130 (depending on if the time period is during peak season).
The Express Ticket at Universal Studios Hollywood is different from Disneyland’s FASTPASS. First off, you’ll pay for the perk at Universal, while FASTPASS at Disneyland is free. However, you will get to skip the main lines once for every single attraction on property at Universal Studios Hollywood. There are only a handful of attractions that offer FASTPASS 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 receive valet parking and VIP entry to the park, unlimited express access to rides, the best seats at shows, 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+, it’s not cheap. But the Universal Studio Hollywood VIP Experience is still considerably more reasonable in price to 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 her belongings on the 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 by offering 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 the ride, you’ll 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.
Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood
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.
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.
TravelingMom 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-head 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.
Child-Switch waiting rooms are located right by the loading zones of the rides. One guest will simply step into the room with the child while the rest of the party rides. Then that guest will switch places with another adult after the ride so that 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 to go back through the FASTPASS 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 room 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.
Appealing to Teens
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. I know they’d 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. 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.
Fortunately 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. We had him 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.
TravelingMom 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.
More for Teens and Adults
Several rides also offer single rider, 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!).
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 younger kids and teens.
TravelingMom 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 donut from Lard Lad Donuts or a frozen Squishee at Krusty Burger before getting in line.
Get In Early At Universal Studios Hollywood at No Additional Charge
Guests who purchase a ticket or Preferred Hotel Package online directly from Universal Studios Hollywood will receive early park admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Guests who take advantage of this are allowed to enter the park 30 minutes prior to the posted opening time.
If spending 30 extra minutes in Harry Potter’s world is important to you, this is a decent offer. But if saving money is more ideal, TravelingMom still recommends purchasing your tickets through our affiliate Undercover Tourist for the best pricing on Universal Studios Hollywood tickets.
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. The space can also 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 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 Disneyland character dining experiences where guest can meet Mickey without lines but the price is often prohibitive.
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.
LOOKING FOR DISCOUNT UNIVERSAL STUDIOS HOLLYWOOD TICKETS?
TravelingMom recommends purchasing your tickets through our affiliate Undercover Tourist for the best pricing on Universal Studios Hollywood tickets. For Disneyland and other Southern California attractions, you’ll find the best pricing on tickets and vacation packages through Get Away Today.