Universal Studios Hollywood offers a studio tour with production staff and is meant to offer an “L.A. experience” for clients. // © 2016 Universal Studios Hollywood
Feature image (above): Harry Potter fans should visit Universal Orlando, where they can walk down Diagon Alley. // © 2016 Universal Orlando
Just as there are similarities and differences between Walt Disney World in Florida and Disneyland Resort in California, there are similarities and differences between the Universal theme parks in Orlando, Fla., and Hollywood, Calif.
Sometimes choosing which one is right for clients may be as simple as asking what they are looking for.
“It is amazing how many people think the parks are exactly the same until you start talking to them,” said Meredith Wallace of Minnie Memories Travel in Bedford, New York. “So, I always start with three questions: Are you hoping to visit Diagon Alley? You have to go to Orlando. Do you want to see active movie sets and maybe a star or two? You need to go to Hollywood. Are rollercoasters a must? You want to go to Orlando.”
Dennis Quinn, vice president of destination sales for Universal Orlando Resort notes 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.
One key component to that L.A. experience is certainly the fact that Universal Studios Hollywood is located within a real working movie studio. Because of this unique situation, park-goers have the opportunity to tour the studio, and not only see how and where some of their favorite movies and television shows were made, but also possibly see current projects being filmed on the back lot. 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 right into the very center of the action.
Another noticeable difference is the way the parks are constructed. In Hollywood, the theme park is built on multiple levels. The upper lot is where many family-friendly attractions are located, including Despicable Me Minion Mayhem (and the adjacent Super Silly Fun Land), as well as The Simpsons Ride and surrounding Springfield area.
This is also where guests can step right 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 (at the bottom of a series of escalators) is where more adventurous attractions can be found, including Jurassic Park: The Ride, Transformers: The Ride-3D and Revenge of the Mummy - The Ride.
But if you’re looking for big coasters, you’ll have to fly to Florida. There, two full parks — Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure — sit side by side, each with thrill rides and kid-friendly attractions. Islands of Adventure is home to the Incredible Hulk Coaster, as well as Seuss Landing with The Cat in the Hat ride. Universal Studios Florida is where guests can ride the 65-mph Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit coaster, the innovative Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon — including its revolutionary virtual queue system — and the charming E.T. Adventure. This summer, Universal Orlando Resort added Volcano Bay, a highly themed water theme park.
While Universal Studios Hollywood can easily be experienced in one day, guests would be hard-pressed to do everything in the Orlando parks in a single day. One important fact for travel agents to point out to clients who may only be familiar with the California park: While most of their favorite Hollywood attractions can be found in Florida, they are not all located in the same Orlando park, so a multipark ticket is the only way to experience them all. Additionally, for Harry Potter fans, Hogsmeade Village is in Islands of Adventure, and Diagon Alley is in Universal Studios, so to enjoy both (and the Hogwarts Express train between them), a park-to-park ticket is a must.
“The Universal Studios Hollywood experience began as being inherently different than the Universal Orlando experience,” said Tom Schroder, vice president of corporate communications for Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Parks & Resorts. “But from a Universal parks perspective … exciting growth is happening across all our destinations.”
Apples to Apples: Comparing Crossover Attractions
Transformers: The Ride-3D Orlando riders are transported up to a second level during the ride (though it’s virtually impossible to tell when it takes place).
Despicable Me Minion Mayhem: The exterior facade is larger in Hollywood (don’t miss the interactive doorbells), and Super Silly Fun Land, with its kid’s Wet Zone, is not available in Orlando.
The Simpsons Ride: The Springfield area is different in Hollywood than in Orlando, but, thankfully, the giant pink Lard Lad donuts are available at both locations.
Jurassic Park: The Ride: The attractions are similar in both parks (though I always seem to get wetter in Hollywood).
Revenge of the Mummy - The Ride: At both parks, the rides are indoor rollercoasters, but the tracks and special effects are different depending on location. (Check out the cool ceiling of fire in Orlando, and watch out for the crawling bugs in Hollywood.)
King Kong: 360 3-D: In Hollywood, this is a “drive-through” attraction on the back-lot tram tour. But, in Orlando, Skull Island: Rein of Kong is an immersive stand-alone experience.
Fast & Furious – Supercharged: Like King Kong, this is part of the Hollywood tram tour. However, in Orlando, it will be a freestanding attraction with a virtual queue experience when it opens in Universal Studios Florida later this year.
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 Butterbeer, of course).