There are so many theme parks in Orlando that it’s pretty tricky to know where to begin (unless you’re me and have had your heart set on Disney World for years and years). However, there are two major players in the theme park game, Disney World and Universal, so with only four days there, we limited ourselves to these two. But which really is the best theme park in Orlando?

Despite not going to any of the other theme parks, I managed to work out some information that may help you make a decision:

  • SeaWorld has pretty good rides as well as the animal shows. Also as we drove past I half expected it to look like an evil dungeon but it just looked like all the other parks to be honest.
  • Discovery Cove is the place to swim with dolphins however I’m not sure there’s much else there yet non-swim tickets are still three figures.
  • No one cares about LegoLand. Poor LegoLand.

UNIVERSAL

Let’s start with the underdog in this race, Universal is made up of two separate parks on the main site, connected by City Walk, an area filled with restaurants, shops, a cinema and crazy golf.

Pros

  • Its definitely cheaper than Disney to get tickets that allow you to chop and change between parks as much as you like.
  • Their resort hotels are also cheaper. They’ve even just opened a budget hotel on the grounds although I have no idea of the quality or what they think of as “budget”.
  • The best rollercoaster is definitely at Universal. The Hulk at the Islands of Adventure park is one of the only rides that would be at home somewhere like Alton Towers while most of the other rides across all of the parks are just trying to appeal to kids.
  • The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is simply incredible. I like Harry Potter as much as the next guy but I wasn’t expecting to be so taken aback by the replicas of Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade and Hogwarts. You could tell that some people had come specifically to spend their entire trip in this area of the park. We tried to avoid them.
  • They served giant turkey legs. That is all.
  • Queuing wasn’t too horrendous as they often played clips from films and had interactive games throughout the queues.
  • You can add entry to Wet n Wild to your ticket for only a tad extra although we didn’t get to go as it thundered whenever we tried to.

Cons

  • It simply isn’t as iconic as Disney. I truly realized this when I was standing watching a parade that featured Minions and Dora the Explorer. This isn’t a magical place where dreams come true, it’s a theme park with characters in. There’s no consistency as Universal makes any old film while Disney has a distinct style.
  • The variety of food was pretty poor. It was pretty much turkey leg or nothing.
  • 90% of the rides where simulators. I think they’ve assumed that people want to feel as though they’re in a movie so you just get put in front of a screen in a moving box rather than on a real rollercoaster.
  • You couldn’t just go into Hogwarts. The only way in, as far as I could tell, was during the queue for the Harry Potter (simulator) ride. They didn’t even have a great hall.

DISNEY WORLD

Disney World is quite possibly the most famous theme park in the world. It consists of four separate parks as well as two water parks and a downtown area.

Pros

  • The Disney factor. Everything is just so magical. It’s completely cut off from the outside world making it the perfect place to escape.
  • The parades and characters are iconic and they don’t shy away from reminding you. They have a light show before the fireworks every night that runs through some of their best achievements and it really is awe-inspiring to see what one company has achieved.
  • They had a few shows such as Monsters Inc Laughing Floor which we went in to rest our feet and actually found really entertaining but it’s the musical shows throughout the day such as the Lion King that are truly something special.
  • The Animal Kingdom park was fantastic. I’ve only experienced safari-theme park hybrids in the form of Flamingo Land so I wasn’t optimistic but they combined the two so well. The park featured a fantastic rollercoaster and a 20 minute safari featuring rhinos, elephants, lions and more.
  • The variety of food is so much better, especially outside of the Magic Kingdom.
  • I got to wear Minnie Mouse ears without seeming weird.
  • The Magic Kingdom is open till 12am every night so there’s plenty of time to squeeze everything in.

Cons

  • It’s crazy expensive. The two day ticket didn’t allow park hopping cost.
  • Everything is so spread out. You definitely need to drive between parks and the downtown area (which has free parking, thank god).
  • The rides are all for children so don’t expect anything too high adrenaline.
  • The kids are more irritating because they’re dressed like princesses and act like they own the place.

THE VERDICT

On paper, Universal comes out on top but I really can’t ignore the magical Disney factor. Disney World will always be my spiritual home. If you’re looking for high quality thrill rides then neither are really going to satisfy you. Universal is for film lovers and Disney is for big kids, but I’d definitely recommend going to both of you can.

SOME TIPS FOR VISITING ORLANDO THEME PARKS

Every kid has dreamed about going to Orlando, and quite a lot of them get their wish granted judging by the amount of little terrors running around the place. However in all my Disney fueled excitement, I totally forgot that this wasn’t a magical dreamland and that things might not go exactly according to plan. Basically, I wasn’t prepared. Here are my hints and tips for surviving Orlando in the most painless way possible.

Be Prepared for Rain

If you go to Orlando in the summer it WILL rain. And I don’t mean a few showers, I mean a tropical storm every day. Make sure you pack ponchos or raincoats as buying one there is stupidly expensive. Lucky enough to avoid the rain? You’ll get wet on a lot of the rides anyway.

The Temperature is Never Right

As you leave the hotel in the morning you’ll be greeted by temperatures of around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so naturally, you assume minimal clothing is a good way to go. However, the theme parks know it’s cold so provide lovely air conditioning in many of the queues, restaurants and shops. This is delightful for the first 10 second until you realize you’re standing in a freezing cold room wearing shorts and a vest. Also, the heat very rarely recovers back to its previous temperature after the rain storms so adding some light layers to your rucksack are a good way to go. That brings me on to…

Take a Rucksack

I don’t care if it doesn’t match your outfit you’re not going to want to be carrying around a handbag for 14 hours. Put everyone’s stuff in one rucksack and take turns carrying it throughout the day. Your backs and shoulders will thank you.

Arrive at Opening Time

Of all people, I know that waking up is hard. But in this case, it’s worth it. Getting there at opening time means you avoid the huge queues to get in and can jump on at least two big rides before the masses descend. Another tips would be to start from the back of the park in the morning as the queue times will be way shorter.

Budget for Parking

The parking prices at both Disney and Universal are $17 a day so be aware of that, or find somewhere else to park your car. If you’re staying in a Disney resort then you can get the free bus to the Disney parks but it’s very hard to get to any other parks without a car, although if you can afford a Disney resort, you can afford $17 in parking, let’s be honest.

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Author: I’m Katie, a blogger and professional gallivanter from the UK. I recent embarked on a 5 week USA road trip as well as visiting the States for various holidays throughout my life so I’m excited to share my experiences with you all! Find my full story over at http://realworldrunaway.com.

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