Is Disneyland truly the magical place on Earth? Or is Universal? Over thanksgiving break, I went to Disneyland and Universal Studios in California. To determine the winner, I divided my assessment into a few separate categories with a sub-winner for each, and of course, a final winner at the end.
Both Disneyland and Universal Studios are known for their live-action shows.
Universal Studios: I watched “Waterworld” which is based on the 1995 show under the same name. I found it entertaining, and I was intrigued and interested for the duration of the show. It was extremely interactive with the audience, with photo opportunities and “splash zone” areas – where actors would get you wet. There were also crazy special effects – with a plane that flew out of nowhere and landed in the water and fire EVERYWHERE. It was definitely one of the coolest live-action shows I have ever seen, and I was thoroughly impressed with the special effects. The acting was superb, featuring actors from shows such as the Walking Dead.
Disneyland: I watched “Frozen”. I am assuming most of us know the story of Elsa and Anna. Personally, I did not find this one nearly as entertaining as “Waterworld” but maybe a seven year old girl might think differently. No joke, there was this cute little girl sitting in the row in front of me, and for the entirety of the performance she was squealing and bouncing up and down in her seat. There were definitely some cool features, such as a staircase that swung out over the audience and snow that came down over the audience throughout the show. However, I didn’t find it nearly as entertaining. The actor playing Olaf was absolutely hilarious.
Who took the win? Universal Studios.
Of course, both Disneyland and Universal Studios had excellent decoration. I mean, we’re talking about the Holidays here.
Universal Studios: I found the decoration here very impressive, and honestly felt much more of a Christmas ‘feel’. However, it is worth mentioning that Universal Studios primarily catered to the Christmas holiday. There were wreaths, bows, and garlands EVERYWHERE. Each and every lamppost was wrapped perfectly in garlands, adorned with ornaments. There was a large Christmas tree, which was also perfectly decorated from top to bottom. The rooftops and some other park items were covered in snow. The prettiest buildings were the ones in Harry Potter world, which had snow all over them. However, I talked to a staff member at the park who clarified that the snow is always there, which is a little bit of a bummer. Popular Christmas music was also playing throughout the park. At night, at least in Harry Potter land, there were some things projected up on the castle, and then it snowed! Well, not real snow, but bubbles that look like snow. I don’t believe this happened in any areas other than Harry Potter land.
Disneyland: Disneyland’s decorations definitely weren’t as detail oriented as Universal’s. The only thing that made the holiday season apparent was the large tree and the castle, both located in only the Disneyland half of the park. California Adventure, however, did have a festival of holiday’s food celebration, but I’ll get to that in the food section. During the daytime, I wasn’t super impressed with the holiday decoration – except in Cars land, which is in the California Adventure park. There were themed decorations EVERYWHERE. There was tons of orange garland and tires decorated as wreaths. Obviously, a lot of thought was put into the decorations. Disney-themed and popular Christmas songs played throughout the park.When it turned night time, my whole opinion of the decorations at Disney changed. There were Christmas lights everywhere, even on the castle, which lit up too. Main Street USA in the Disneyland side was the prettiest. I watched the Christmas parade, which had light up floats and dancers. It was super cool, but the giant moving Christmas tree had some technical difficulties. Every night, Disneyland has a firework show at 9:30 PM. I wasn’t expecting what I got though. During the firework show, Christmas music was playing everywhere, and there were projections all over the buildings of main street. The projections matched the music which was really cool. The fireworks were Holiday themed, with lots of colors such as blue, white, red and green. However, right after the last firework ended, it snowed. Once again, not literally, but with bubbles. That smelled like gingerbread cookies. It was truly magical and amazing.
Who took the win? For daytime decoration, Universal. At night, Disneyland.
This category isn’t one of extreme importance, but hey, it still matters!
Universal Studios: Overall, there were a lot more bathrooms in Universal Studios than Disneyland. However, all the bathrooms were dark and they all had the same blue tile decoration. In each bathroom, there weren’t nearly as many stalls as the ones in Disney. The sink water was always warm.
Disneyland: I mean, you can only be so impressed with a bathroom, but Disneyland really hit it off. Each bathroom had tons of stalls which kept lines to a minimum. They were also themed to match the area they were in and the rides nearby. I only have two complaints. The hand-washing water was never warm in any of the bathrooms, and actually, was absolutely freezing cold. Also, there weren’t nearly enough bathroom locations to serve the size of the park.
Who took the win? Disneyland.
Universal is known for its Butterbeer, Disney is known for its churros. But which one is truly better?
Universal Studios: Ok, obviously Universal wins the drink game with it’s butterbeer. Hands down. Personally, my favorite were the hot butterbeer. However, I was rather unimpressed with its food. There wasn’t much for people with allergy/dietary restrictions. The food was also INSANELY expensive! I had this vegetable platter which was good, but I wasn’t impressed. As for the churros, they were good, but nothing like Disney.
Disneyland: Where do I even start? There were so many different kinds of food. Most of the restaurants cater to allergy/dietary restrictions, too! I ate multiple times throughout the park – everything from pasta to a rice bowl. It was delicious. Also, I didn’t personally try it myself, but in the California Adventure section, there was the Festival of Holidays which showcased tons of different types of food from all of the different holidays. But the churros? They were fantastic. In addition to normal churros, there were themed churros and holiday churros. I had a normal churro, a gingerbread churro, a birthday cake churro, and a peppermint churro. In my opinion, the peppermint churro was hands-down one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tried.
Who took the win? Disneyland. (Except for Universal Studios’ butterbeer)
They are both amusement parks, after all.
Universal Studios: According to one of the workers, there are only 6 rides in the entirety of the park. I wasn’t too impressed. The vast majority of the rides were virtual. Most of them were just little seat sections that shook you around in front of a screen. As someone who gets motion sickness, I can say that it wasn’t the best combination. Especially the main Harry Potter ride. It was cool, but I felt nauseated afterwards. I heard dozens of conversations throughout the park, both from visitors and staff, about how sickening that ride is. My favorite ride was definitely the studio tour, which takes you around bits and pieces of the actual studio.
Disneyland: Of course, Disneyland is known for its rides. I was impressed with the quality of all the rides and I was entertained throughout all of them. Whether it be “It’s a Small World” or “The Incredicoaster” there is a ride for everyone. I think it’s also important to mention that some of the rides in Disneyland were themed for the holidays. “It’s a Small World” became a ride celebrating holiday traditions around the world, and “The Haunted Mansion” turned into a ride about The Nightmare Before Christmas. According to Disneyland’s website, there are 88 different attractions. Personally, my favorites were The Incredicoaster, Big Thunder Mountain railroad, and the Nightmare Before Christmas themed “The Haunted Mansion”. However, one thing I did notice was the lack of rides catered towards teens and adults. The vast majority of rides were aimed towards kids and families, which I guess makes sense. However, as someone that has been to Disney World, it seems as if rides such as Space Mountain and Big Thunder Railroad are just watered down versions of their namesake. If you’re into rollercoasters and big drops, the main ride for you is “The Incredicoaster”. With all the virtual rides Universal had, I was glad to see that most of the rides were ‘real’.
Who took the win? Disneyland.
You’ve got a friend in me… or do you? Who has the better staff and customer service?
Universal Studios: One thing I noticed right away upon entering the park was the lack of staff. There were very few people walking around, unlike Disney, where literally every 10th person you see is a staff member.
Disneyland: For the majority of staff, it definitely seems as if they love what they do. There’s people everywhere to help you out, and it made navigating the park so much easier. All you have to do is ask and they’ll tell you where to go! They were helpful in other ways too – I lost my physical ticket and they gladly printed a new one out for me without hesitation. My mom also lost her ID, and the staff members were very helpful to us, even riding rides to make sure nothing fell out.
Who took the win? Disneyland.
When it comes down to it, you’re probably going to be walking out of either park nearly broke with all the options for shopping.
Universal Studios: If you’re looking for fun, themed shopping, the main area in Universal you’d want to visit is Harry Potter land. It has tons of shops such as Honeydukes Candy Shop and Ollivander’s wand shop.While the shopping inside of Universal Studios isn’t fantastic, CityWalk, located at the entrance of the park, had tons of great shops. There was everything from clothing stores to donut shops. It was truly a shopping experience for the entire family.
Disneyland: Disneyland has stores EVERYWHERE. They are all themed to the park and rides they are near, so each shop you go in has something a little bit different. There was also lots of different options in these stores, everything from toys to jewelry to clothes. However, in Downtown Disney, which is located outside of the park, I wasn’t too impressed. There was a few cool and unique stores, most namedly “World of Disney”, but overall I liked CityWalk much better for shopping outside of the park.
Who took the win? For shopping in the park, Disneyland. For shopping outside of the park, Universal.
You can view the Disneyland ticket pricing here: https://disneyland.disney.go.com/tickets/
You can view the Universal ticket pricing here: https://store.universalstudioshollywood.com/PurchaseTickets.aspx
I decided to put this one at the end because when it comes down to it, admission pricing is subjective to what you’re getting from what your paying.
Universal Studios: For a one-day general admission, it’s between $109 and $124 per person. However, this doesn’t include fastpasses, and if you want those, you’ll have to pay between $179 and $296. However, that price is for one fast pass per ride. And there’s 6 rides. You do the math. That’s super expensive! I didn’t particularly love the rides in the first place, so for me, the price isn’t appropriate.
Disneyland: For a one day, one park ticket, you’ll be paying between $97 and $134 depending on how popular the day is. However, in my opinion, it is more cost effective to purchase a park hopper pass so you can go between the two parks. A 2-day park hopper ticket is $260, but keep in mind that’s for 88 attractions, 2 sub-parks, and 2 days. If you want fastpasses, it’s $10 dollars per person, which is TOTALLY worth it. You can get a new fastpass every so often, so unlike Universal, you are not only limited to one fastpass per ride. The fastpass purchase also includes access to ALL the photos taken of you during your trip.
Who took the win? Disneyland. 100% all the way.
While I really liked the daytime decorations and the butterbeer at Universal, I have to say Disneyland won this one. With tons of rides, delicious food and churros, nighttime decorations, and magical feeling. I think Disneyland is truly “the most magical place on Earth” and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Who took the win? Disneyland.