Disneyland vs. Universal Studios: Which Is Better?

Choosing between Disneyland Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood can be a difficult decision for many theme park enthusiasts. Both parks are located in Southern California, with Disneyland in Anaheim, CA and Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles, CA.

Each park offers unique experiences, attractions, and entertainment options that cater to different preferences and age groups. And they’re both magical in their own way — in this post, we’ll dive into the specifics as to why that is!

Before making a decision on which park to visit, you’ll want to consider factors such as ticket pricing, accommodations around the area, park rides and attractions, and overall park atmospheres to ensure that you choose the best theme park for your personal preferences and budget.

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Disneyland vs. Universal Studios: Overview Of The Parks

Disneyland Resort

Disneyland, often referred to as the “Happiest Place on Earth,” is a beloved theme park complex made up of two massive theme parks, Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure. It is known for its family-friendly atmosphere, enchanting characters, and classic Disney attractions.

Disneyland Park: This is the original Disneyland theme park that opened its doors in 1955. It’s a dreamy place where dreams come true for kids (and adults!), featuring iconic attractions such as Sleeping Beauty Castle, Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain, and the Haunted Mansion. Visitors can meet Disney characters, enjoy parades, and experience the magic of Disney storytelling throughout the park.

Dumbo Fantasyland - Disneyland

Disney California Adventure Park: Located adjacent to Disneyland Park, Disney California Adventure offers a different but equally fun experience! It celebrates the diverse culture and history of California and includes attractions like Radiator Springs Racers (inspired by the movie “Cars”), Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!, and Pixar Pier with its thrilling rides and themed lands. The park also hosts events like the Food & Wine Festival and Lunar New Year celebrations.

Disneyland California Adventure

In addition to the theme parks, Disneyland Resort features the Downtown Disney District, a vibrant shopping, dining, and entertainment area. You’ll find all sorts of restaurants, dessert shops, and Disney-centric souvenir stores here.

Also on the Disneyland Resort property are a couple of official Disney hotels that, while quite pricey, make it a complete vacation destination!

Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios Hollywood, located in Universal City, California, is a dynamic entertainment complex centered around a single theme park. It’s renowned for its thrilling and immersive experiences that bring blockbuster movies and TV shows to life.

Universal Studios Hollywood

If you’ve ever seen a movie start with a “Universal Studios” reel, then you know what I’m talking about.

Universal is perhaps best known for its immersive experiences such as the heart-pounding adventures offered on rides like Jurassic World The Ride, The Mummy Ride, and Transformers: The Ride 3D.

And we can’t possibly forget to mention the two most iconic worlds here — The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Super Nintendo World!

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One of the park’s standout features is the Studio Tour, which takes guests behind the scenes of a real working movie studio. Visitors can see soundstages, backlots, and even encounter movie sets in use. It’s a unique opportunity to get a glimpse into the world of filmmaking.

The park is also known for its special effects shows and immersive experiences like The Walking Dead Attraction.

The park often hosts special events like Halloween Horror Nights (which I’d highly recommend), where it transforms into a terrifying haunted attraction in the evenings during the Halloween season. It’s so much fun — especially with a larger group!

Disneyland Resort: An In-Depth Look At The Park

In this section, we’re going to break “Disneyland” into two parts — Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure.

Lands At Disneyland Park

Disneyland is known for its meticulous attention to detail and immersive designs. Here are the different lands at Disneyland:

Main Street, U.S.A.: Designed to resemble a turn-of-the-century American town, Main Street, U.S.A. welcomes guests as they enter the park. It features quaint shops, dining options, and a view of Sleeping Beauty Castle at the end.

Disneyland Main Street

Adventureland: This land transports visitors to exotic locations with attractions like the Jungle Cruise and Indiana Jones Adventure.

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge: This land allows you to discover Star Wars experiences and rides like ‘Star Wars: Rise Of The Resistance’ and ‘Millenium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run’ that bring you closer to the epic saga than ever before.

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New Orleans Square: Inspired by the French Quarter of New Orleans, this area is home to the iconic Haunted Mansion and the high-energy Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

Critter Country: A woodland-themed area where you can find Splash Mountain and the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

Frontierland: Recreates the Wild West with attractions like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the Mark Twain Riverboat.

Fantasyland: Inspired by classic Disney fairy tales, Fantasyland is home to iconic attractions like It’s a Small World, Peter Pan’s Flight, and the Mad Tea Party.

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Tomorrowland: A futuristic-themed land featuring Space Mountain, Star Tours, and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters.

Mickey’s Toontown: Based on the cartoon world of Mickey Mouse, this land offers family-friendly attractions and character meet-and-greets.

Rides At Disneyland Park

Disneyland has a really good mix of both thrill rides and family-friendly rides, though personally speaking, the rides skew more towards calmer, more kid-appropriate ones. Here are some of the most popular rides you can look forward to

Thrill Rides:

  • Space Mountain
  • Indiana Jones Adventure
  • Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
  • Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds

Family-Friendly Rides:

  • It’s a Small World
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Peter Pan’s Flight
  • Haunted Mansion
  • Winnie the Pooh: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  • Dumbo the Flying Elephant
  • Mad Tea Party
  • Jungle Cruise
  • Enchanted Tiki Room
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters

Shows And Entertainment At Disneyland Park

First off, let me tell you that there are SOOO many opportunities to catch a show or parade at Disneyland! They literally happen all day throughout the park.

Parades: Disneyland is renowned for its festive parades, including the “Main Street Electrical Parade” with dazzling lights and music, “Magic Happens Parade” featuring beloved Disney characters, and “A Christmas Fantasy Parade” during the holiday season, showcasing festive floats and characters in holiday attire.

Fireworks Spectaculars: Disneyland offers stunning fireworks shows like “Disneyland Forever,” which combines fireworks, projections, and music to tell a magical story. “Remember… Dreams Come True” and “Fantasy in the Sky” are other beloved classics that light up the night sky.

World of Color: Located at Disney California Adventure Park, “World of Color” is a mesmerizing water, light, and music spectacular that tells Disney stories in a breathtaking aquatic display. You’ve gotta watch it at least once if you’ve never seen it before!

Live Shows and Performances: Disneyland features a variety of live entertainment options, including “Fantasmic!” with its mix of live actors, water screens, and special effects, as well as various Broadway-style musicals (previous shows include the retelling of the hit films Frozen, Captain America, and Aladdin.

And during certain holidays, look out for themed decor! Here’s a peek at what the Halloween / Dia de los Muertos decorations look like at the park:

Food At Disneyland Park

Eating at Disneyland is a whooooole activity in itself.

Both parks are known for their unique and iconic food items that are beloved by park-goers. In fact, some people buy season passes JUST to get the chance to try all the foods at Disneyland Resort!

Prime examples of classic must-try food items include the churros, Dole Whip, Mickey-shaped pretzels, and the Grey Stuff dessert. These treats are not just delicious; they become part of the Disney experience and are often sought after by guests.

Disney is also known for its seasonal and themed menus that tie into special events and holidays. During Halloween, you might find spooky-themed treats, and during Christmas, the parks offer festive holiday dishes and beverages.

At both parks, you can also expect character dining experiences, where you and the fam can enjoy a meal in the company of your favorite Disney characters. These interactions create unforgettable memories, especially for families with young children!

If you’ve got the time and the budget for it, be sure to make reservations at a themed sit-down restaurant. These restaurants are incredibly immersive — and the food is actually REALLY tasty.

Here is a sample of just some of the restaurants throughout the park:

  • Blue Bayou: Located within the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, this restaurant offers a unique dining experience in a romantic, candlelit setting with views of the ride’s bayou scene.
  • Galactic Grill: Star Wars fans will enjoy this restaurant in Tomorrowland, featuring themed dishes like the “Dark Side” chicken sandwich and “First Order” specialty burger.
  • Café Orleans: Known for its Monte Cristo sandwich and pommes frites, this New Orleans-style eatery offers a taste of the French Quarter.
  • Red Rose Tavern: Inspired by “Beauty and the Beast,” this Fantasyland restaurant serves French-inspired cuisine, including the Grey Stuff dessert.
  • Plaza Inn: Serving up some of the best fried chicken in Southern California!

Lands At Disney California Adventure

Disney California Adventure Park, located just right next to Disneyland, offers completely different thematic areas, some celebrating the culture, history, and natural beauty of California, some celebrating Pixar, and more.

Here’s a list of all the lands you can find at DCA:

Buena Vista Street: This is the park’s equivalent of Main Street, U.S.A., but with a California twist. It captures the ambiance of Los Angeles in the 1920s when Walt Disney first arrived in the state. The Carthay Circle Restaurant and Lounge (a great place to grab fancy cocktails) serves as the park’s iconic centerpiece.

Grizzly Peak: Themed after the High Sierras and national parks of California, this area is home to attractions like Grizzly River Run, a white-water rafting adventure, and the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail.

Pixar Pier: Featuring the super fun Incredicoaster, Toy Story Mania! carnival ride, and of course the Mickey-themed Ferris Wheel!

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Paradise Gardens Park: This seaside-themed area offers family-friendly attractions like the Golden Zephyr and the Jumpin’ Jellyfish ride. It also hosts live entertainment and character meet-and-greets.

San Fransokyo Square (previously Pacific Wharf): A food court area inspired by Walt Disney Animation Studios’ ‘Big Hero 6’.

San Fransokyo Square - Disney California Adventure

Hollywood Land: Celebrating the entertainment industry, Hollywood Land is where you’ll find attractions like Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout! (previously Tower of Terror) and the Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue! ride.

Cars Land: Based on the “Cars” movie franchise, Cars Land is a highly immersive area featuring attractions like Radiator Springs Racers, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, and Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters.

Avengers Campus: An area dedicated to Marvel superheroes, Avengers Campus offers thrilling experiences like WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure and Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!

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Rides At Disney California Adventure

The rides at DCA, while a bit more limited than the number you’ll find at Disneyland, are a ton of fun! Here are some of the most popular rides at DCA you can look forward to:

Thrill Rides:

  • Radiator Springs Racers (Cars Land)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout! (Avengers Campus)
  • Incredicoaster (Pixar Pier)
  • Grizzly River Run (Grizzly Peak)

Family-Friendly Rides:

  • The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure
  • Soarin’ Around The World (Grizzly Peak)
  • Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree (Cars Land)
  • Toy Story Midway Mania! (Pixar Pier)
  • Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind (Pixar Pier)
  • Jesse’s Critter Carousel (Pixar Pier)
  • Jumpin’ Jellyfish (Paradise Gardens Park)

Shows And Entertainment At Disney California Adventure

Similar to what you can find at Disneyland, you can expect a whole bunch of fun shows and parades at DCA. Some of the popular ones include:

  • World of Color: A spectacular nighttime water and light show featuring music, animation, and fountains. It takes place on Paradise Bay and is a must-see.
  • Disney Junior Dance Party!: A lively show designed for younger children featuring characters from popular Disney Junior shows. Great for kids who love to dance!
  • Live at the Hyperion: Regardless of the movie featured, expect an extravagant Broadway-style show with impressive special effects, music, and live song-and-dance moments.
  • Tale of the Lion King: A vibrant, outdoor musical production that celebrates the music and characters of Disney’s “The Lion King.”
  • Mickey’s PhilharMagic: A 4D musical adventure starring Mickey Mouse, featuring classic Disney songs and memorable moments from beloved Disney films.
  • Red Car Trolley News Boys: A fun street show with a nostalgic Hollywood vibe, featuring singing newsboys and a vintage Red Car Trolley.
  • Pixarmonic Orchestra: A whimsical musical performance by a quirky group of animated Pixar characters playing well-known tunes in a humorous and entertaining style.
  • Five & Dime: A lively street performance by a jazzy band, featuring singing and dancing on Buena Vista Street.

Food At Disney California Adventure

Similar to the food at Disneyland, the dining experience at Disney California Adventure (DCA) is nothing short of amazing and can be considered an activity in itself.

Disneyland and DCA offer a wide range of culinary options, from international cuisine to classic American fare. Whether you’re in the mood for Mexican, French, Italian, or American comfort food, you’ll find it all within the parks.

There are also tons of opportunities to grab alcoholic drinks!

Here’s an example of some of the counter-service and sit-down restaurants you’ll find within the park:

  • Carthay Circle Restaurant: Located in Buena Vista Street, this upscale restaurant offers a fine dining experience with a menu inspired by California cuisine.
  • Lamplight Lounge: Overlooking Pixar Pier, this restaurant features a creative menu and even more creative cocktails, making it a great spot for both food and views!
  • Mendocino Terrace: If you’re looking for wine and craft beer, this outdoor lounge in Pacific Wharf is a great place to relax and enjoy some beverages.
  • Corn Dog Castle: A must if you like state fair-style jumbo corndogs!
  • Flo’s V8 Café: Transport yourself to the 1950s at this Route 66-inspired diner in Cars Land, known for its classic American comfort food.
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Ticket Costs At Disneyland Resort (Both Disney Parks)

Admission Fees:

Disneyland Resort and Disney California Adventure offers one-day tickets with variable pricing based on the date and season you visit, ranging from $104 to $164 for a single park.

There are also options for multi-day tickets. If you purchase multi-day tickets, the cost per day decreases — which means a opportunity to save on admission costs.

You can also choose from a One-Park-Per-Day ticket or a Park Hopper ticket.

A One-Park-Per-Day ticket is self-explanatory. You can either visit Disneyland Park or Disney California Adventure Park for one full day.

A Park Hopper Ticket allows guests to visit more than one park per day. Guests must make a theme park reservation for the first park they plan to visit. After entering that first park, guests will be able to visit the next park starting at 11:00 AM and go between the parks until each park’s regularly scheduled closure. 

One-Day Park Hoppers start at $169, but depending on the day and season, can go up to $244. You can get the latest ticket info/prices here.

Annual Pass and VIP Offers:

Disneyland offers various annual pass options, called Magic Key Passes. At the time of writing, they are not selling new passes for the lower key levels — most Magic Keys are only available for renewal.

The resort also provides VIP tours for an elevated experience, including guided tours with priority access and personalized itineraries.

Skip-The-Line Features At Disneyland Resort (Both Disney Parks)

Disneyland’s free FastPass system is sadly… no longer.

The Disney Genie+ service, available for a fee, has replaced the FastPass system. Prices start at $25 per day.

With the purchase of Disney Genie+ service, you can select the next available arrival window for Disney Genie+ Lightning Lane entrances at select attractions. You can make one selection at a time, after park entry on the day of your visit (attractions are subject to limited availability; limit one Lightning Lane selection per attraction per day).

Universal Studios Hollywood: An In-Depth Look At The Park

Lands At Universal Studios

Universal Studios Hollywood has a layout that centers around its Studio Tour, a unique behind-the-scenes experience. The park is divided into several themed areas:

Super Nintendo World: A themed area dedicated entirely to the iconic video game company, Nintendo. Much like the one in Japan, the land is inspired by classic Nintendo games like Mario Kart, Yoshi’s Adventure, and more.

Universal Studios Hollywood Super Nintendo World - Is It Worth Visiting?

Upper Lot: This area includes the park’s entrance, various shops, and dining options. It also hosts attractions like Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and Super Silly Fun Land.

Lower Lot: Located below the Upper Lot, this area offers more thrilling attractions like Jurassic World – The Ride, Transformers: The Ride 3D, and Revenge of the Mummy – The Ride.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: An immersive land that recreates iconic locations from the Harry Potter books and films. It includes Hogsmeade Village and Hogwarts Castle, providing an incredibly detailed and magical experience.

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Springfield, U.S.A.: Inspired by “The Simpsons,” this area recreates the fictional town of Springfield, complete with attractions like The Simpsons Ride and Springfield Dining.

Other Themed Areas: Universal Studios Hollywood also features one-off themed attractions dedicated to horror, special effects, and more.

Rides At Universal Studios

Rides at Universal Studios are known for offering a good mix of family-friendly and thrilling experiences. The park strives to cater to a wide range of visitors, from young children to adrenaline seekers.

The Simpsons Ride - Universal Studios Hollywood

Thrill Rides:

  • Revenge of the Mummy – The Ride
  • Jurassic World – The Ride
  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
  • Transformers: The Ride-3D

Family-Friendly Rides:

  • MarioKart: Bowser’s Challenge
  • Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
  • The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash
  • The Simpsons Ride
  • King Kong 360 3D (Part of the Studio Tour)
  • Studio Tour

Universal Studios strikes a balance by offering something for everyone, making it an appealing destination for families, groups of friends, and visitors with varied preferences for entertainment and excitement.

Shows And Entertainment At Universal Studios

At Universal, you can expect a healthy mix of shows that appeal to an older audience. Here are some of the main ones park-goers love most.

Special Effects Show: This live show at Universal Studios Hollywood demonstrates the secrets behind Hollywood’s movie magic. It showcases how special effects are created in movies, providing an educational and entertaining experience.

WaterWorld: “WaterWorld” is a thrilling stunt show inspired by the movie of the same name. It features daring performances, explosions, and high-speed action on water. There is a chance to get wet if you choose to sit in the splash zone!

WaterWorld - Universal Studios Hollywood

Streetmosphere Performances: Universal Studios Hollywood offers streetmosphere performers who interact with visitors while dressed as various characters. You might encounter actors from classic films, superheroes, or quirky movie characters as you stroll through the park.

Seasonal Events: Universal Studios Hollywood hosts some truly epic seasonal events, such as Halloween Horror Nights, a highly popular Halloween event featuring haunted mazes, scare zones, and live entertainment designed to provide intense scares for older audiences. They also have holiday events like Grinchmas during the Christmas season, where you can meet the Grinch and enjoy festive decorations and shows.

Food At Universal Studios

Food at Universal Studios Hollywood offers a convenient and diverse range of options, with many of them falling under the category of counter-service or grab-and-go dining.

You can find a wide array of cuisines, from classic American comfort food to international dishes. For instance, you can savor burgers, pizza, and hot dogs, or explore options like Mexican, Asian, and Italian fare. This diversity caters to different tastes and preferences, making it easy for groups or families with varying culinary interests to find something satisfying.

Universal Studios also features themed dining experiences. For example, you can dine at The Three Broomsticks in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, enjoying British-inspired fare such as fish and chips. Additionally, the Krustyland Food Court in “The Simpsons” area offers a fun selection of Simpsons-themed dishes.

Here’s a list of some of the most popular restaurants:

  • The Three Broomsticks: Located in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, this cozy tavern serves British fare like fish and chips and Butterbeer, providing an immersive experience for fans of the series.
  • Mel’s Drive-In: Inspired by classic American diners of the 1950s, Mel’s serves burgers, fries, and milkshakes, making it a perfect spot for a nostalgic meal.
  • The Simpsons Fast Food Boulevard: This food court features various eateries inspired by “The Simpsons,” offering items like Krusty Burgers, Lard Lad Donuts, and Duff Beer.
  • Toadstool Cafe: In the heart of Super Nintendo World, this restaurant serves a variety of American dishes (not just ones related to mushrooms).
  • Krustyland Food Court: Another option in “The Simpsons” area, this food court offers pizza, sandwiches, and salads inspired by the animated series.

Ticket Costs At Universal Studios

Admission Fees:

Annual Pass and VIP Experiences:

  • Universal Studios Hollywood offers annual pass options with various benefits and blackout dates.
  • The VIP Experience includes front-of-line access to attractions and a guided studio tour.

Skip-The-Line Features At Universal Studios

Universal Studios Hollywood offers the Universal Express Pass, a paid add-on to regular tickets, allowing one-time front-of-line access to rides, shows, and attractions.

A 1-day ticket this skip-the-line perk starts from $189.

Disneyland vs. Universal Studios: Side-By-Side Comparison

In a nutshell: While Disneyland Resort emphasizes Disney’s timeless storytelling and family-friendly experiences, Universal Studios Hollywood caters to those seeking thrilling rides and a more cinematic, behind-the-scenes perspective on the entertainment industry.

Both destinations offer unforgettable entertainment options for visitors in Southern California, but let’s review them side-by-side a bit more.

Overall Atmosphere / Theme

At Disneyland, you’ll experience the quintessential ‘magical’ or storybook atmosphere that Disney is known for. Each section of the park is themed to various aspects of their popular films and characters, creating truly immersive environments. You’ll encounter classic Disney characters and beloved attractions, making you feel like a part of your favorite stories!

On the other hand, Universal Studios brings Hollywood to life with a working movie studio atmosphere. You’ll be immersed in the world of popular movies and television series, and even be able to interact with famous characters from those franchises.

All in all, we’d say younger kids and lifelong Disney fans tend to like Disneyland more, while older kids and adults tend to like Universal Studios more.

Rides and Attractions

When it comes to the number of rides each park has, Disneyland Park has the most rides among the three parks. You can expect a diverse range of experiences, from thrilling rides like Space Mountain and Indiana Jones Adventure to family-friendly attractions like It’s a Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean.

If you’re a huge Indiana Jones, Disney storybook, or Star Wars fan, this is going to be the park for you!

Disney California Adventure Park comes in second place in terms of the number of rides. While it offers several thrilling attractions, such as the Incredicoaster and Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!, it also provides a variety of family-friendly rides and shows.

Aside from its California theme, this park is going to be great for you if you love Avengers, Pixar, or Cars the movie!

Universal Studios Hollywood, while offering a strong balance of rides and shows, has the fewest rides among the three parks. Universal Studios skews more toward thrill rides and immersive experiences based on popular movies, TV shows, and even video games.

It features iconic attractions like The Mummy Ride (my personal fave), Studio Tour, Jurassic World – The Ride, Transformers: The Ride-3D, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and Super Nintendo World.

While there are family-friendly options like Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash!, the park generally caters more to adults and older kids seeking excitement and thrill in their experiences.

Universal Studios Hollywood Super Nintendo World - Is It Worth Visiting?
Princess Peach’s Castle at Universal Studios

Restaurants and Food Options

At both Disneyland and Universal Studios, you’ll find a variety of dining options to suit your tastes and preferences.

Universal Studios has mostly counter-service food options, while Disneyland Resort turns the dining experience into a whole other category deserving both your time and attention!

At Universal Studios, you can choose from themed dining experiences, such as The Three Broomsticks in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Mel’s Drive-In, which is inspired by classic American diners.

Snack options are abundant in both parks, with items like the iconic Mickey Mouse-shaped ice cream bars and churros at Disneyland and delicious Butterbeer at Universal Studios.

But there is one clear winner in this category: Disneyland Resort. I think we need to really drive home how much effort Disney puts into the dining experience!

Disney parks are renowned for their attention to detail and immersive storytelling, and this extends to their dining establishments. Many of the restaurants in Disneyland and DCA are themed to match the surrounding area, making you feel like you’re part of the story.

For example, dining at the Blue Bayou in Disneyland, with its dimly lit ambiance and views of the Pirates of the Caribbean boats drifting along, transports you to the bayou of New Orleans. The more casual options of Galactic Grill or Oga’s Cantina are great for Star Wars fans.

Similarly, the Carthay Circle Restaurant in Disney California Adventure exudes the elegance of Hollywood’s golden age and is meant to take you back to the time when Snow White first premiered on screen! These immersive settings really do enhance the overall park experience.

Disneyland and DCA offer character dining experiences, where visitors can enjoy a meal in the company of their favorite Disney characters. These interactions create unforgettable memories, especially for families with young children!

Retail and Merchandise

Within both parks, you will find no shortage of souvenir shops.

At Disneyland, shopping can take up a few hours if you’re really in the market for some new Disneyland swag.

You can browse through all kinds of Mickey ears for your day in the park, build your own droid or lightsaber in the Star Wars land, buy some new Disney-branded clothing, pick up souvenirs from the many gift shops throughout the different lands, and so much more.

At Universal, some of the most iconic areas to shop include the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Super Nintendo World — both of which offer a range of themed food and merchandise options that allow visitors to take a piece of the magical worlds home with them!

Within the souvenir stores, you can find all kinds of goodies including keychains, pins, backpacks, t-shirts, wall decor, plushies, and more. You can even buy wands and robes to pretend like you’re a student at Hogwarts!

As for shopping outside of the theme parks, both Disneyland and Universal Studios offer an extensive selection of retail outlets for you to explore.

In Disneyland, Downtown Disney is an outdoor shopping and entertainment district that features stores like the World of Disney, where you can find a vast array of Disney-themed merchandise. Other shops include LEGO Store, Sephora, and CURL Surf, among others.

In Universal Studios, you can visit CityWalk, an entertainment and retail hub just outside the park gates. Here, you’ll find shops dedicated to popular franchises such as the Universal Studio Store and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter store. Additionally, there are unique stores like Voodoo Doughnut and the MINISO Japanese Lifestyle store.

Character Meet and Greets

At both Disneyland and Universal Studios, you’ll have the opportunity to meet and interact with various characters from their respective franchises.

At Disneyland, you can come face-to-face with classic Disney characters like Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Chip and Dale, and Goofy. You’ll also find characters from popular franchises such as Star Wars and Marvel. And let’s not forget about the whole list of Disney princesses you’ll be able to snap a pic with!

At Universal Studios, the character meet and greets feature characters such as Super Nintendo characters, the Grinch, the Despicable Me Minions, the Simpsons, and the Secret Life of Pets.

While both parks offer unique and enjoyable character experiences, the choice between the two depends on your personal preference and your familiarity with the movie characters offered in each park.

Live Shows and Performances

When it comes to live shows and performances, both Disneyland and Universal Studios offer boatloads of entertainment.

However, it’s important to note that Universal Studios’ shows may lean more toward a mature audience, whereas Disneyland caters to a wider age range.

At Disneyland, you can enjoy parades, fireworks, and live musical performances featuring your favorite Disney characters. Some of the popular shows include “Fantasmic!” and “World of Color.” And you can’t forget about all the seasonal shows and events Disney has depending on the time of year, bringing a fresh, seasonal experience to your visit.

Universal Studios also offers a range of live shows, including the WaterWorld stunt show, which features thrilling action scenes and stunts. Other shows in Universal Studios target various age groups and interests, such as the Special Effects Show, Animal Actors on Location, The Blues Brothers R&B Revue, Choir Frogs at Hogwarts, and Kung Fu Panda Adventure.

Your choice between the parks should ideally depend on your familiarity with the franchises and which entertainment experiences pique your interest the most.

Admission Fees

When it comes to admission fees, both Disneyland and Universal Studios offer similar price ranges for their one-day tickets.

A 1-day general admission ticket at Disneyland Resort or Disney California Adventure starts at $104 (weekdays) and can increase to up to $164 (for weekend visits), depending on the date and season.

On the other hand, a 1-day ticket at Universal Studios Hollywood costs between $109 and $134.

Considering that most people who opt to go to Disneyland Resort for one day only typically get a Park Hopper ticket (which costs $169 – $250 USD depending on when you go), a day at Universal Studios is a better deal.

If you stick to comparing a One-Day-One-Park Disney ticket to a 1-day Universal Studios ticket without any discounts or ticket deals, then the costs are about the same.

Annual Pass and VIP Offers

Annual Passes

If you’re considering frequent visits to either theme park, an annual pass might be a worthwhile investment. Disneyland typically offers several annual pass options (called Magic Keys) with different benefits, while Universal Studios Hollywood has a selection of annual pass tiers to choose from as well.

I won’t cover them all here, but here’s the gist. For non-California residents:

  • The cheapest Magic Key option for Disneyland is the Enchant Key: $699.
  • The cheapest season pass for Universal Studios is the Silver Annual Pass: $239.
  • I say non-California residents because both parks offer lower-priced season passes specifically for CA peoples.

At the time of writing, it’s way easier — and cheaper — to get an annual pass for Universal than it is for Disneyland (for the most part, Disney is only offering pass renewals for existing members).

In addition to annual passes, both theme parks provide VIP experiences for a more exclusive experience.

VIP Experiences

Disneyland offers VIP tours, providing guests with priority access, private-themed transportation, and a knowledgeable guide.

At Universal Studios Hollywood, a VIP Experience is available, which includes front-of-line access to attractions and shows, a guided behind-the-scenes studio tour, and more.

Skip-The-Line Features: Express Pass and Genie+

Both Disneyland and Universal Studios offer options to shorten wait times for attractions. Both have an additional cost.

Disneyland’s Genie+ system is pretty much the new version of FastPass, where you get to reserve one attraction at a time and return during a specified window to experience it with a shorter wait. Disney Genie+ service starts at $25 per person.

Universal Studios Hollywood offers the Express Pass, which is a paid add-on to a regular park ticket that allows one-time front-of-line access to each ride, attraction, and show. Express Pass costs $90 per person.

In summary, the skip-the-line feature offered by Disneyland and DCA is cheaper than the one offered by Universal Studios.

Disneyland vs. Universal Studios: Which Is Better For You?

The park that is ‘better’ for you will really depend on which park offers themes, lands, foods, and rides you’re more interested in.

If you were to ask me to pick one, I’d personally go with Disneyland Resort. And that’s because of two personal reasons — (1) nostalgia and (2) our love of the food offered at all the Disney parks worldwide!

Firstly, my partner and I (as well as all of my siblings and cousins and friends) grew up on Disney movies, so there will always be a special place in our hearts for Disney songs, Disney characters, Disney Channel, etc. The rides are always more fun if you’re familiar with the storylines of them!

Secondly, we LOVE the massive assortment of food options offered at the park. Not only are there quick grab-and-go food options like churros, turkey legs, jumbo corndogs, and funnel cake fries that we try to get every time we’re there, but there’s also a ton of counter-service and sit-down restaurants that we like to rotate through.

Plus, the fact that they introduce new menu items ALL the time does not make the job of trying out the foods easier for us! Seriously, the amount of good food you can get there is endless. ENDLESS, I tell ya!

But that’s just me. Not everyone shares the same love for Disney, and I get that. Here’s my unbiased recommendation to you:

If you have the time and the money for both Disneyland Resort and Universal Studios, I’d say you should definitely try to fit in both — simply because they are SO different!

Harry Potter! Despicable Me! The Simpsons! Super Nintendo World! Avengers! Star Wars! Disney Princesses! Pirates of the Caribbean! Pixar movies! It’s an overload of fun and madness at the same time!

With all these worlds wrapped up perfectly into three parks, you are sure to have an extra fun and immersive vacation.

Okay but for those of you who still need to choose just ONE… I’ve created a helpful little guide for you (that will help you pick between the Disney parks too):

Disneyland is for you if…

  • You have a deep love for classic Disney characters and stories.
  • You want the quintessential Disney experience, including wearing mouse ears, meeting Mickey and Minnie (and all your favorite princes and princesses), taking photos by the magical castle, and catching the nighttime fireworks.
  • You have younger children who enjoy gentle rides and character interactions.
  • You appreciate immersive storytelling and highly themed attractions.
  • You have little ones who would enjoy exploring the charming and nostalgic Toontown.
  • You’re interested in princess makeovers at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.
  • You enjoy timeless attractions like It’s a Small World, Haunted Mansion, and Pirates of the Caribbean.
  • Star Wars, Adventureland, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, etc. are must-see areas for you.
  • You’re a fan of parades, fireworks, and nighttime spectaculars.
  • You plan to buy a lot of souvenirs (Main Street USA is the place where you’ll find everything)

Disney California Adventure is for you if…

  • You seek a more diverse range of experiences beyond traditional Disney tales.
  • You love Pixar movies like The Incredibles, Cars, Coco, Toy Story, and Big Hero Six
  • You’re a thrill-seeker who enjoys high-speed rides like the Incredicoaster and Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!
  • You’re interested in exploring the California theme and experiencing the Golden State’s culture.
  • Avengers Campus or Cars Land is high on your list of areas to experience.
  • You appreciate food at Disney and more upscale experiences, such as Gaslamp Lounge or Carthay Circle Restaurant.
  • You want to mix in a Broadway-style musical during your time at the park.
  • You’re intrigued by the Hollywood and movie-themed attractions and entertainment.
  • You want to experience World of Color, the epic nighttime show.

Universal Studios is for you if…

  • You’re a fan of blockbuster movies and TV shows, including Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, and The Simpsons.
  • You enjoy thrilling rides and immersive experiences based on popular films.
  • You want to explore behind-the-scenes aspects of the entertainment industry.
  • You’re interested in experiencing attractions with cutting-edge technology, such as Transformers: The Ride-3D, the King Kong section of the Studio Tour, etc.
  • You’re okay with fewer rides and appreciate live-action shows, stunts, and special effects demonstrations.
  • You’re looking for a more adult-oriented theme park experience, with an emphasis on thrill rides.
  • Super Nintendo World or The Wizarding World of Harry Potter are must-see areas for you.
  • You happen to be visiting during the Halloween season and can make it to their Horror Nights event — the production value and quality of the event is AMAZING! Truly unmatched statewide!

How To Visit Both Parks On Your Vacation

If you want to visit both Disneyland and Universal Studios during your vacation, you’ll want to be smart with your planning.

Considering the parks are located in different cities (Disneyland/California Adventure in Anaheim and Universal Studios in Los Angeles), it’s essential to allocate at least one full day for each park with an overnight stay in each city to truly enjoy the parks without feeling like you’re rushing through your trip!

Best Time to Visit

To avoid heavy crowds and long lines, it’s best to schedule a visit to both parks during their off-peak seasons.

Generally, the slowest periods at both Disneyland and Universal Studios are from January through early February, and September through early November. If you can, try to schedule your visits on weekdays, as weekends tend to see much higher traffic.

We personally never attempt either park on weekends (Fridays to Sundays). We’ll always try to aim for a visit on a weekday (Mondays to Thursdays) because we really don’t enjoy standing in ride lines for any more than 30 minutes!

Accessibility by Airports

When visiting both Disneyland and Universal Studios, you’ll need to consider their locations and proximity to airports. Disneyland is located in Anaheim, California, which is about an hour’s drive south of Los Angeles.

From Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), it takes approximately 40 minutes to reach Disneyland without traffic. Having said that, there will almost ALWAYS be traffic, making the drive more like 50 – 70 minutes long (on average).

An alternative for Disneyland would be to fly into John Wayne Airport (SNA), which is a smaller airport located just 20 minutes away from Anaheim.

Meanwhile, Universal Studios is situated in Hollywood, closer to the heart of Los Angeles. If you’re flying into Burbank (BUR), the commute to Universal Studios is a short 15-minute drive.

If you’re flying into Southern California for just these amusement parks, choose the airport that’s in close proximity to the theme park you plan to visit. If the price is right, you could do multi-city combos such as:

  • Multi-Airport Route: Fly into LAX or BUR – visit Universal Studios first – drive to Anaheim for Disneyland and Disney California Adventure – fly out of SNA
  • Roundtrip Flight Route: Fly into LAX or BUR – visit Universal Studios first – drive to Anaheim for Disneyland and Disney California Adventure – drive back to Los Angeles – Fly home out of LAX or BUR
  • Multi-Airport Route: Fly into SNA – visit Disneyland and Disney California Adventure first – drive to Los Angeles for Universal Studios – Fly home out of LAX or BUR
  • Roundtrip Flight Route: Fly into SNA – visit Disneyland and Disney California Adventure first – drive to Los Angeles for Universal Studios – drive back to Anaheim to fly home out of SNA

Hotels Near The Parks

Both Disneyland Resort and Universal Studios offer loads of accommodation options to suit all kinds of budgets and living styles.

What you’ll find is that a lot of the hotels near these theme parks offer family-friendly suites with kitchenettes, multiple beds, outdoor pools, and maybe even kids’ splash zones!

Planning your trip to SoCal? Save on travel costs by booking your accommodations through this platform! Their ‘no prepayment’ and ‘free cancellation’ features are unbeatable. This is my #1 favorite way to book hotels!

Disneyland Resort:

  • On-site Hotels: Disneyland has three on-site hotels: Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, Disneyland Hotel, and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel. All of them provide easy foot access to the theme parks and Downtown Disney. These hotels are usually quite expensive compared to hotels surrounding the park!
  • Neighboring Hotels: You can also choose from a variety of Good Neighbor Hotels that are close to the Disneyland Resort, including options like the Sheraton, Hilton, and many more. We usually stay at one of these off-site hotels and walk over to the parks. Many of the hotels are just 7-15 minutes away from the park entrances by foot! They’re a lot cheaper, and many also offer free breakfast too.
Element By Westin - Best Hotels Near Disneyland With Free Breakfast
During my last Disneyland trip, I truly enjoyed Element By Westin’s FREE breakfast spread!

Universal Studios:

  • On-site Hotels: At Universal Studios, you will find the Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City and Sheraton Universal Hotel, both within walking distance to the theme park.
  • Nearby Accommodations: Additionally, there are numerous off-site hotels situated in the surrounding Hollywood or Burbank area that cater to ranging budgets and preferences.

Essential Tips For Your SoCal Amusement Park Visit

  • For discounted Disneyland tickets (steep discounts are nearly impossible unless you know someone who works at Disney) — we like to buy from Undercover Tourist.
  • For a great deal on Universal Studios tickets, consider getting the Go City Los Angeles All-Inclusive attraction pass. Park admission is included if you get a 3+ day Go City pass!
  • Pack a pair of stylish yet comfortable walking shoes. You’re likely going to be doing 10+ miles of walking on your feet!
  • Arrive early: Arriving early (like when the park opens) ensures that you’re able to capitalize on shorter lines, especially for popular attractions where lines can get up to 2 hours long.
  • Use park apps: Both Disneyland and Universal Studios have official apps with features such as wait times, showtimes, and park maps, which can help you strategize your day better.
  • Want to avoid crowds at all costs? Before your visit, check to see if any nearby school districts are on break. You’ll want to visit on a weekday when all the schools within ALL the nearby school districts are in session.
  • You can also use Is It Packed’s crowd calendar predictor, but sometimes it drops the ball — like it did during my last visit to Universal Studios for the grand opening of Super Nintendo World!
  • Genie+ and Express Pass: Upgrading to Genie+ at Disneyland and opting for the Express Pass at Universal Studios can be totally worth the money, depending on how much you value your time. If you plan to attend these parks for multiple days, you may not need a skip-the-line pass. But if you’ve only got 1 day to experience it all, these passes dramatically reduce wait times for popular attractions!
  • Plan your meal times strategically: To avoid long lines at restaurants and food stalls, consider eating during non-peak hours, like preparing to eat a little earlier or later than traditional meal times.
  • If you want to experience character dining or a sit-down restaurant at any of the Disney parks, you’ll want to make reservations 60 days in advance! Really, these reservations book up QUICK.
  • Both parts are in Southern California — it’s HOT here, especially in the summertime. Do not forget the hot weather essentials: a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and a water bottle!
  • You’re allowed to bring snacks, so be sure to pack a few things to munch on if you’re looking to save money.
  • Before getting to the parks, make sure you’re aware of the various facilities and services offered to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable visit. Look for info on things like First Aid, Baby Care Centers, Wheelchair and Stroller Rentals, and how security checks work.

Disneyland vs. Universal Studios: Frequently Asked Questions

Which park is more budget-friendly?

Both Disneyland and Universal Studios can be quite expensive, especially if you’re opting for 1-day admission. Both parks offer discounts for multi-day tickets.

However, considering all the crazy seasonal pricing Disneyland has (such as during times when the Halloween or Christmas decorations are up), Universal Studios generally offers lower ticket prices than Disneyland. Additionally, you can often find deals and discounts for Universal Studios, making it a more budget-friendly option.

Between Universal Studios and Disneyland, which park is better for adult visitors?

While both parks cater to visitors of all ages, Universal Studios tends to have more attractions, entertainment, and dining options geared toward adults. Conversely, Disneyland offers a larger focus on family-oriented rides and attractions, appealing primarily to children and families.

Between Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, which park is better for younger children?

Between Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, Disneyland is generally considered the better choice for younger children, primarily for the following reasons:

Toontown: Disneyland features Mickey’s Toontown, a dedicated area designed specifically for younger kids. The kiddos can explore cartoon-style houses, meet beloved characters like Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and enjoy interactive play areas. It offers age-appropriate attractions like Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, Gadget’s Go Coaster, and Chip ‘n’ Dale Treehouse.

“It’s a Small World”: This classic ride in Disneyland, “It’s a Small World,” is a gentle boat ride that showcases diverse cultures and regions through animatronic dolls. It’s known for its catchy theme song and colorful scenes, which little kids cannot get enough of!

Storybook Theme: Disneyland’s overall theme revolves around classic Disney stories and fairy tales, which strongly resonate with young children. Attractions like Peter Pan’s Flight, Snow White’s Enchanted Wish, and Alice in Wonderland bring these beloved stories to life in a kid-friendly way.

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique: Disneyland offers the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, where young guests can be transformed into princes and princesses by experienced Fairy Godmothers-in-Training! This magical makeover experience allows children to dress up as their favorite Disney characters, making their visit even more enchanting.

For Universal Studios and Disneyland, what multi-day ticket options are there?

There are various multi-day ticket options available to help you save money when visiting these parks.

Universal Studios: You can choose between 1- to 2-day tickets.
Disneyland and Disney California Adventure
: You can choose between 1- to 5-day tickets. For these tickets, you can also choose between One Park Per Day or Park Hopper.

Which park has more worldwide locations?

Disneyland has more worldwide locations than Universal Studios.

There are currently six Disney parks located around the world, including in California, Florida, France, Japan, China, and Hong Kong.

Universal Studios has fewer locations with parks in California, Florida, Japan, and Singapore.

Looking for more travel tips? You may also like:

What To Pack For A Disneyland Trip: 41 Essentials To Bring (+Free Printable!)

7 Best Disneyland Hotels With Free Breakfasts (That Don’t Suck)

15 Best Disneyland Souvenirs To Buy

175 Bucket List Things To Do In Los Angeles, California (From A Local’s Perspective)

40+ Things To Do In Anaheim Other Than Disneyland

45 Cute Date Night Ideas In Orange County, California

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Elle Leung

My name is Elle and I'm a travel blogger and adventurer based in California. I love helping people plan trips and create unique itineraries based on their interests and their budgets. I'm a huge fan of outdoor adventures and doing off-the-beaten-path things in my state (and all around the world too)!

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