Editor’s Note: This story from Sept. 27, 2017, was updated on June 29, 2021.
Just as there are similarities and differences between Walt Disney World in Florida and Disneyland Resort in California, there are parallels and variations between the Universal theme parks in Orlando, Fla., and Hollywood, Calif.
Sometimes, it is as easy as asking clients what they want.
” It’s amazing how many people believe the parks are the same until they start talking to them,” stated Meredith Wallace, of Minnie Memories Travel in Bedford. So, I always ask three questions: Do you want to visit Diagon Alley?” Orlando is the place to be. Are you looking to see stars and active film sets? Hollywood is the place to be. Are rollercoasters necessary? You want to go to Orlando.”
Dennis Quinn, senior vice president of sales for Universal Studios Hollywood, noted that the biggest distinction between Orlando and Hollywood is not necessarily found in the qualitative difference between the parks, but rather that Orlando is a family theme park destination, whereas Hollywood is more about an L.A. Experience.
The key to the L.A. experience lies in Universal Studios Hollywood, which is located inside a working movie studio. This unique location allows park-goers to visit the studio to see where and how their favorite films were made, as well as current projects being shot on the backlot. In addition, two of the park’s most impressive technological attractions — King Kong: 360 3-D and Fast & Furious: Supercharged — are incorporated into the studio tour, with the tram literally transporting visitors into the center of the action.
Another noticeable difference is the way the parks are constructed. The Hollywood theme park is constructed on several levels. The park’s new attraction Secret Life of Pets is located on the upper lot.
This is also where guests can step into the magical Wizarding World of Harry Potter and experience the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction as well as the park’s only outdoor rollercoaster, Flight of the Hippogriff. The lower lot, located at the bottom of several escalators, is where you will find more thrilling attractions, such as Transformers: The Ride-3D and Revenge of the Mummy-The Ride. A highly anticipated Nintendo-themed land is currently being constructed on the lower lot.
But clients who are looking for large coasters will have to travel to Florida. Two parks, Universal Studios Florida and Universal Islands of Adventure, are located side-by-side. Islands of Adventure houses the Incredible Hulk Coaster, the Jurassic World VelociCoaster and other new roller coasters. There is also a Seuss Landing area for children and The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. Universal Studios Florida is where guests can ride the 65-mph Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit coaster, Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon and the charming E.T. Adventure. A third gate, the highly themed Volcano Bay water park, offers 20 attractions, from the relaxing Kopiko Wai Winding River to the exhilarating Krakatau Aqua Coaster.
Though Universal Studios Hollywood can easily be experienced in one day, clients would be hard-pressed to do everything in the Orlando parks in a single day. Agents should remind clients that although most Hollywood attractions are located in Florida, not all of them are in the same Orlando park. This is why multi-park tickets are the best way to see all of the Orlando parks. For Harry Potter fans, Hogsmeade Village can be found in Islands of Adventure. Diagon Alley can be found in Universal Studios. A park-to-park ticket allows you to experience both. The Universal Studios Hollywood experience started as being inherently more different than the Universal Orlando experience,” stated Tom Schroder (Vice President of Corporate Communications for Universal Parks & Resorts). “But from a Universal parks perspective … exciting growth is happening across all our destinations.”
Hotels at and Near Universal Parks
A significant difference between the destinations is that Universal Orlando Resort operates eight on-site hotels, while Universal Studios Hollywood doesn’t have any — although the AAA Four Diamond Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City and the Sheraton Universal Hotel are both within walking distance.
“One thing about the experience in Orlando, as opposed to Hollywood, is that your day doesn’t end at the parks,” said Russ Dagon, vice president and executive project director for Universal Creative. “In Hollywood, when you finish at the theme park, you get in your car and move on to a separate experience at your hotel — even if it’s one of the hotels close to the park.”
Clients who stay on-site at Universal Orlando can choose from themed properties that suit any budget, from the retro Cabana Bay Beach Resort to the Caribbean-themed Loews Sapphire Falls Resort to the modern Aventura Hotel, all with early park admission and complimentary transportation to and from the parks. Plus, guests at premier hotels — Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort, Hard Rock Hotel Universal Orlando, and Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando Resort — also receive complimentary Universal Express unlimited ride access. Quinn stated that
“[Universal Orlando’s] has had a significant relationship with the travel industry. Quinn stated that one of the main drivers was the expansion in hotel inventory. Hotels are such an important part of a family vacation, which makes us a great partner for agents selling the Orlando experience — and let’s face it, that’s what travel agents really start with when they’re selling a destination.”
While the California park doesn’t offer on-site hotels, clients can select one of the Universal Studios Hollywood preferred hotels, all less than 10 miles from the park, many of which offer complimentary shuttle service.
“Family and exceptional guest service are woven in the hotel’s fabric, and guests are treated like family,” said Scott A. Mills, general manager for The Garland, a Universal preferred hotel located 1.5 miles from the park. “With our close proximity to Universal Studios, we ensure that guests — and especially families — have a memorable experience, with family-friendly accommodations including family suites with bunk beds.”
Similarly, Cynthia Ordyke, vice president of sales and marketing for Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City, notes that the hotel’s proximity to the park ensures a memorable vacation.
” Our hotel offers amazing views from every guestroom, but the most popular is the view at Universal Studios, which includes Harry Potter’s castle. The added benefit of booking Universal Studios-view rooms is that you never miss the evening light show and fireworks. “
Comparing Crossover Attractions
Despicable Me Minion Mayhem:
The exterior facade is larger in Hollywood (don’t miss the interactive doorbells), and Super Silly Fun Land, with its kids’ Wet Zone, is not available in Orlando.
Jurassic Park/Jurassic World Rides:
While the 85-foot-drop is the same on both attractions, Florida still has the original Jurassic Park River Adventure attraction, while Hollywood updated the ride (and surrounding area) in 2019, themed around the Jurassic World sequel franchise.
Revenge of the Mummy – The Ride:
The rides are indoor rollercoasters at both parks, but the tracks and special effects are different depending on location (check out the cool ceiling of fire in Orlando, and prepare to ride backward in Hollywood).
King Kong Attractions:
In Hollywood, King Kong: 360 3-D is a “drive-through” attraction on the backlot tram tour. Skull Island: Reign of Kong in Orlando is an immersive, stand-alone experience.
Fast & Furious – Supercharged:
Like King Kong, this is part of the Hollywood tram tour. It’s an extension of Universal Studios Florida’s freestanding attraction. The action in Hollywood takes place in L.A. but in Orlando the cityscape is San Francisco.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter:
Orlando has two Wizarding World lands — Hogsmeade Village and Diagon Alley — connected by the Hogwarts Express train, while Hollywood has only Hogsmeade with the iconic Hogwarts castle (and plenty of Butterbeer, of course). Harry Potter fans can also ride five Wizarding World attractions in Florida (compared to two in California), including Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.
Universal Studios Hollywood
I’m Michelle, and I love to travel. As a former hotel expert for one of the world’s largest hotel chains, I’ve stayed in nearly every type of room imaginable (including many that were not so desirable!). Nowadays, I am fortunate enough to be able to explore the world on my own terms. From international flights to learning different languages, there is nothing too far out of reach!