Compare Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood For Your SoCal Vacation

Imagine you’re taking a vacation to Southern California and realize you don’t have enough time to visit all of the seven world-class theme parks. What do you do? Given how much there is to see and experience in So Cal, this is not such a far-fetched dilemma.

First of all, can you name the major theme parks? It’s like naming the Seven Dwarves or Santa’s reindeer. There’s Disneyland (plus California Adventure, a worthy park in its own right), Knott’s Berry Farm (the oldest of the parks), Universal Studios Hollywood, Six Flags Magic Mountain, Sea World and Legoland (for the little ones).

The first thought would be to hit Disneyland Resort; after all, who doesn’t want to visit the original Magic Kingdom? But there’s a good chance that you’ve already been to Disneyland and maybe you should broaden your horizons-try something new. So let us do a brief comparison between Disneyland and one of the most likely alternatives, say Universal Studios Hollywood (USH).

USH has a distinct personality and offers an experience you won’t find in Anaheim. The theme park was built around a working studio and one of the defining features is the Studio Tour. You can also purchase a VIP tour that really immerses you in the movie-making process. Disney offers nothing comparable to this.

In fact Disney is all about carefully creating and maintaining that fantasy façade-a wonderful pretend world where backstage activities are hidden from the “guests.” Universal Studios revels in showing you the magic behind the scenes. The Studio Tour, Waterworld Stunt Show and other smaller shows let you see back stage very clearly.

Both parks employ lovable characters in the public relations department. Disneyland has the Seven Dwarfs; USH has Ghostbusters. Anaheim has Goofy; Hollywood has Homer Simpson. Disneyland puts up Minnie Mouse and it’s answered by Betty Boop. Disney movies vs. Universal Pictures. There’s Indiana Jones vs. The Mummy’s Revenge.

In Anaheim you’ll catch the evening fireworks and the Fantasmic show; in Hollywood you’ll catch the Blues Brothers tribute show. For shopping, dining and street entertainment there’s Downtown Disney…or there’s Universal City Walk. Overall, Disney probably wins but Universal Studios does give them a run for their money.

Your vacation schedule could affect your decision. You probably need the better part of two days to really see Disneyland. A single long day at USH will most likely do the job unless the lines are really long. You might be frustrated with a single day in Anaheim-especially with Disney’s California Adventure next door (which we aren’t even talking about here). Bottom line: if you really don’t have enough time to do the Magic Kingdom justice, it may be a better call to have a great single day at Universal Studios.

Both parks offer fun for visitors of all ages. But, you’ll not find quite as much at USH for very small children. On a hot summer day, Universal could be tough on toddlers in strollers. They won’t appreciate spending as much time on the tour or shows as your older children. On the other hand, Disneyland is more expensive overall. If the budget is a significant issue, Universal Studios could save you a bit of money.