Are you planning a visit to Southern California and wondering which is better Disneyland vs. Universal Studios Hollywood? We are sharing what each theme park has to offer and advice for which park is best for your vacation.
We love visiting theme parks especially the Disney parks and the Universal parks. Over the years we have taken many trips to Walt Disney World resort and Universal Orlando, visiting the parks is a great way family vacation.
Last summer we decided to plan a big Southern California theme park vacation visiting the Disneyland Resort and the Universal Studios Hollywood park. Of course these are no ordinary amusement park visits.
Let’s dig into the differences between Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood to help decide which is the best theme park for your family.
What is the Difference between Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood?
Disneyland and Universal Studios are both theme parks on the Southern California west coast. They have familiar and beloved characters in their parks and they both have world-class entertainment and attractions.
Disneyland Resort has two theme parks: Disneyland and California Adventure. These parks include popular attractions based on Disney characters. There is also a dining and shopping area, Downtown Disney, as well as on-site Disney hotels.
Universal Studios Hollywood has one park and a dining and shopping area, CityWalk. There are not official on-site Universal hotels like the Universal Orlando resort.
Both parks offer popular rides for all ages, character meet and greets, as well as entertainment and shows.
Disneyland park has Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, classic dark rides, and Disney princesses. It is similar to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom park. Disney California Adventure park has Pixar Pier, Avenger’s Campus, and Cars Land.
Universal Studios Hollywood has The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Hogsmeade. Read our article on Universal Studios Orlando Tips for Harry Potter | Best Things to Do at Harry Potter Wizarding World. This covers the Orlando park but the Hogsmeade area is very comparable. USH does not have Diagon Alley like Universal Studios Florida.
Universal Studios Hollywood also has Despicable Me Land as well as the Studio Tour that tours an real-working studio.
Cost Comparison of Universal Studios Hollywood vs. Disneyland
Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood ticket prices are pretty comparable. They both start at around $80.00-$100.00+ a day and depend on the date of your visit.
They also offer “the more you play, the less you pay” pricing structure. This means you will pay less per day if you purchase multiple day tickets.
Extra Cost Add-Ons at Universal Studios Hollywood
Extra Cost Add-Ons at Disneyland
Guests wanting to skip the line at Disneyland can purchase the Disney Genie+, this is not the free Disney Genie on the My Disney Experience App. Genie+ is an upgraded paid pass to reserve ride times the day of your visit.
Genie+ starts at $25.00 a person/per day and gives you access to reserve ride times for specific attractions. There are also individual ride reservations that start at $15.00 per ride/per person. Learn more about Genie+ here.
Guests can also purchase a VIP tour at Disneyland. We experienced one at Disney World and you can read about it in this article: Is the Disney Private VIP Tours Experience at Disney World Worth It
Learn more about Disneyland pricing here.
Where to Stay Disneyland or Universal Studios Hollywood
If you are staying at Disneyland you have the option to stay on-site. The on-site hotels at Disneyland are within walking distance of the park.
The off-site hotels at Disneyland are also within walking distance making the cost of staying on-site not worth it for many people.
If you want to take advantage of early entry hours or you have room in your budget to stay on-site then feel free but it is not necessary. We stayed off-site at the Courtyard Marriott Anaheim Theme Park entrance and it was a 7-10 minutes walk from our room to park entrance.
There is no official on-site hotel at Universal Studios Hollywood. The closest hotels are Sheraton and the Hilton but they are not really an easy walk to the parks, especially if you have strollers and young children.
We stayed at Loews Hollywood and it was a short drive to and from the parks. It was also close to Hollywood Blvd if you are planning to visit during your visit.
How to Get Around Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood
Disneyland is fairly easy to get around. If you are staying at a hotel within walking distance you will walk to the Disneyland Resort and both park entrances and Downtown Disney are all there. They use the same bag check and parking lot.
Universal Studios Hollywood and CityWalk use the same parking garage. Then guests can walk to the entrance.
An important thing to note about visiting Universal Studios Hollywood is that it is on the Hollywood Hills. The park is divided into the upper and lower lot.
These are not small hills. There are multiple escalators to get from one section of the park to another. Keep this in mind if you have strollers or wheel chairs. Talk to guest services if you need assistance.
Crowds at Disneyland vs. Universal Studios Hollywood
Both parks can experience high crowds. Disneyland tends to get more visitors but Universal Studios Hollywood will get busy too. If you are visiting during spring breaks and other school holidays the parks will be busy.
Check the park website before your visit to see if there are any special events happening during your visit. Keep in mind Universal Studios Hollywood is opening Super Mario Land this January and will make the park very busy.
Typically the lowest crowd days are in September when kids are back to school and January when there are not special events happening.
As our kids schedules have gotten busier the best time to visit is when we can make it happen. We would rather deal with the crowds than not visit at all.
Can you visit Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood in One Day
Universal Studios Hollywood is located in the city of Los Angeles and Disneyland is 35 miles south in Anaheim. You could visit the parks in one day but I would not recommend it.
With the everyday traffic and the cost to visit the parks it would not be beneficial. If you are an annual pass holder at both parks you may want to do this but if you are visiting on vacation, set aside a day or more to visit each of the parks.
How many days do you need to visit Universal Studios Hollywood and Disneyland?
Universal Hollywood can be done in one day. Disneyland has two parks and I suggest planning at least a day at each. If you want to take your time and explore a more in-depth visit of the parks you could visit 2 days at USH and 4 days at DL.
This is for big theme park fans not the casual visitor. 3 days total should be enough to spend one day at each park.
There are more rides at Disneyland and California Adventure than Universal Studios Hollywood. It will take more time at the Disney parks to get all the attractions done. Universal Studios Hollywood is easier to get everything done in one day.
We did 1 day at Universal Studios Hollywood and 4 days at Disneyland (2 at each park). This was enough time for us to get everything we wanted done. We also had time to ride our favorite attractions multiple times.
Thrill Rides at Disneyland vs. Universal Studios Hollywood
Both Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood have thrill rides that are really great. From roller coasters to simulators the most popular rides at the parks are often the most thrilling.
Disneyland and Disney California Adventure (DCA) Thrill Rides
- Big Thunder Mountain
- Space Mountain
- Rise of the Resistance
- Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run
- Splash Mountain
- Indiana Jones Adventure
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- WEB Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure (DCA)
- Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout (DCA)
- Incredicoaster (DCA)
- Goofy’s Sky School (DCA)
Universal Studios Hollywood Thrill Rides
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- Revenge of the Mummy-Ride
- Transformer’s The Ride
- Jurassic World-The Ride (Jurassic Park)
- Studio Tour (some thrilling moments but usually okay for all ages)
Kids Rides at Universal Studios Hollywood vs. Kids Rides at Disneyland
Disneyland and California Adventure Most Popular Kids Rides
- Alice in Wonderland
- Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant
- Haunted Mansion
- “it’s a small world”
- Jungle Cruise
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Radiator Springs Racers (DCA)
- Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough
- Snow White’s Enchanted Wish
- The Little Mermaid-Ariel’s Undersea Adventure (DCA)
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
- Monster’s Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue (DCA)
- Toy Story Midway Mania! (DCA)
Universal Studios Hollywood Most Popular Kids Rides
- The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
- Flight of the Hippogriff
- Kung Fu Panda Adventure (Simulator Show)
- Studio Tour
Must Ride at Universal Studios and Disneyland
I go into full details of how we plan our day at Disneyland and Universal that includes the most popular rides and our favorites. Check them out if you want more information on the best rides and touring plans.
- One Day at Disneyland Itinerary
- One Day California Adventure Itinerary
- One Day Universal Studios Hollywood Itinerary
There are rides at each park that I rank highest on our list. They are:
- Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge(Explore the entire land, ride both Rise of the Resistance and Smuggler’s Run)
- Big Thunder Mountain
- Haunted Mansion
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Classic Dark Rides in Fantasyland
- Disney’s California Adventure:
- Guardian’s of the Galaxy-Mission BREAKOUT!
- Radiator Springs
- Web Slingers: Spider-Man
- Universal Studios Hollywood
- Studio Tour
- The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash
- Jurassic World
- Mario Kart (Open February 2023 and will be very popular)
Downtown Disney vs. Universal CityWalk
Downtown Disney is the shopping and dining area that is at the Disneyland Resort. It offers sit-down restaurants and The World of Disney store. It is much smaller than the Walt Disney World Disney Springs area.
Which is Better Universal Studios Hollywood or Disneyland
I am not going to tell you which park I think is better for you because your priorities and family needs are different than mine. Some things to think about to decided which park is best for you:
- Are you a big Star Wars fan? Visit Disneyland!
- Are you a big Harry Potter fan? Visit Universal Studios Hollywood!
- Love Marvel? Visit Disney’s California Adventure!
- Love Mario? Visit Universal Studios Hollywood after Mario Land opens in February 2023!
- Are you visiting with older kids and teens? Universal Studios Hollywood may be a better fit.
- Are you visiting with young children and toddlers? Disneyland and California Adventure will have more options.
Can you do all three? We planned our trip around visiting both theme parks because we knew we love them all. A lot of people mentioned we would be disappointed with Universal Studios Hollywood because it is not as big at Universal Orlando but we really loved the differences, despite the size.
There are also bundle ticket deal offers that may off-set the costs and should be researched before you finalize your plans. You can find the latest deals ticket deals with our partner Undercover Tourist .
Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood have a lot to offer for your theme park vacation. Whatever is best for your family is going to be the better park.
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Leah has been traveling with her family of 5 since 2012 and sharing her expertise on planning family vacations and visiting theme parks since 2016. Leah has been featured in Visit Rochester, Undercover Tourist, and Home Publications. She has worked with brands like Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, Hersheypark, Toyota, and various Tourism boards and destinations. Leah creates family travel itineraries based on real trip experiences with her family. Her guides and tips help others plan great family vacations. Learn more about Leah and Five for the Road.