Just Published: Theme Park Insider: 2016 Year in Review
I love Disney for being able to bring me into a magical place whether it's Disneyland, Epcot, the Magic Kingdom, or even just one attraction like the Haunted Mansion. Musical cues always set off memories, and of course the characters always make me smile. Such a family friendly place. And don't even get me started on how they do the Holidays in a way that no other theme park can seem to do! That "je ne sais quois" if you will.
Universal brings us closer to the movies and drops us into the shows, movies, etc. Sometimes keeping the magic and others, peeling back a layer to let us see how things work. A bit edgier than Disney, Universal is expected to do what Disney can't in terms of attitude.
Sea World has a special place in my heart as I love sea life. Animals are so crazy and have so much to learn about I love it. Top it off with us humans being awkward and not suited to water, it's very humbling (is that even a word?).
What do you love about different things at each park? I'll post again later about specific attractions and foods... and... and... and...
You nailed it when you said they have more "edge" than Disney. Hulk and Rip Ride Rockit and Mummy are great rushes. (Everest is great too.)
The Disney parks seem to be better for families. We took our kids last trip and did all 6 parks. In two months, we are going back and only doing UO/IOA and relaxing more. Maybe a trip to Gatorland.
Never been to Sea World Orlando, but we likely won;t be going this trip since the we love penguins and it looks like that exhibit will be closed for expansion/renovation.
Disney: Best employees (castmembers?) I've ever met. They are nice, friendly, and compliant; despite the verbal and (probably) physical abuse they go through everyday. You guys make me yearly vacation spectacular!
Universal: SO MUCH NOSTALGIA! Every time I go to Universal or Islands, I am swept up in sweet childhood memories. Especially in the New York sections, like Sting Alley and near the BttF train. Which is odd, because I don't live very close to New York, I just feel very nostalgic in that area. I have so much more to say here, but then I'd be showing favouritism towards something that is not my favourite. Which would be weird.
Seaworld: I like petting the dolphins. Shows, meh. The rides are fun, but the dolphin petting-- sign me up! I do it every year and they are always fun and playful and I get to throw fish at mammals, which I don't get to do very often in very day life. Ch'yeah!
Disneyland Park (Anaheim, CA): It just gives you that homey feeling and warm atmosphere of your own little world. It's not to large (doesn't call for long trips of walking to get to the next ride) and offers some excellent theming.
Disney's California Adventure (Anaheim, CA): The park is always under verbal retribution for its lack there of Disney level theming and quality, though the park is (and will soon be) quite nice. California Screamin' is quite possibly the best Disney coaster out there (or at least most thrilling), and Worlds of Color is simply beautiful.
Universal Studios Hollywood (Universal City, CA): The Studio Tour is what separates USH from all the others, and is one of the most interesting and fun things you can do in your theme park life. The amount of effort and work the tour guides put in and Universal put into its sets and experience makes for one amazing experience.
Knott's Berry Farm (Buena Park, CA): Knott's feels like my home park to me even though I live all the way in Salt Lake City because I have visited it near twelve times over a two year span. Knowing the ins and outs of this park, Knott's ability to give us thrilling new rides like Silver Bullet, Perilous Plunge, Xcelerator, and Supreme Scream almost parallels their ability to maintain classics like the Calico Mine Ride and Timber Mountain Log Ride which will be cherished forever.
Six Flags Magic Mountain (Valencia, CA): When I park packs together 18 roller coasters, it can be setting itself up for disaster when the theme and flat ride loving enthusiasts attack. Though to be honest, each and every one of SFMM's coasters provide a fun and thrilling experience, some of which (Tatsu, X2, Apocalypse, etc.) can compete as the top and most thrilling coasters in the world. The unique position on a large hill (sorry it's not really a mountain) provides the park with a beautiful setting with some excellent water features.
Lagoon Amusement Park (Farmington, UT): This little known amusement park by the world is the "talk-of-the-town" here in Utah. Being one of the largest family owned parks in the country, they do a good job to try and keep delivering special attractions to all of us who love to visit. Being the only theme park in a 500 mile radius, they don't have to be adding awesome roller coasters like Wicked or Bombora (Youtube these to fully appreciate their awesomeness) or thrill rides like Rocket (an S&S Tower). But they do, and deliver some pretty good theming while they are at it.
Universal Studios Florida (Orlando, FL): Islands of Adventure can sometimes overshadow this gem of a park. Each of its attractions provide a unique and highly themed experience, and the top contenders lie Mummy, Men In Black, the Simpsons, and Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit top it off with a cherry on top.
Islands of Adventure (Orlando, FL): Beautiful. That's all that really need be said. This park is the most beautifully designed park I've ever visited, and when you add some top notch attractions like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey or Amazing Adventures of Spiderman, you've got yourself one of the best theme parks in the world.
Sea World Orlando (Orlando, FL): This park is far better than what its critics have to say. Both Kraken and Manta deliver some thrilling experiences, and its entertainment never fails to disappoint, with shows from the famous Clyde and Seamore, Shamu, and the spectacular nighttime firework show.
Busch Gardens Africa (Tampa, FL): Too often compared to its sister park Busch Gardens Europe and then degraded for lack of theming, BGT is truly a great park. Its roller coasters offer the most thrilling experiences in Florida, SheiKra and Montu battling for best roller coasters in the world, and its unique animal experiences and theming provide for a wonderful day of adventure.
Magic Kingdom (Buena Vista, FL): Magic Kingdom may always be packed full to the brim, but its atmosphere matches part of what Disneyland has to offer with its transportation to a new world of fantasy and adventure you just can't beat.
EPCOT (Buena Vista, FL): A great escape for adults, its amazing theming in World Showcase and innovative attractions in Future World are added to by an amazing nighttime show in IllumiNations.
Disney Hollywood Studios (Buena Vista, FL): Little noticed for its theming, DHS actually provides some magnificent theming of its streets and attractions, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Rock n' Roller Coaster, Star Tours 2, and Toy Story Mania relics of that. Add in the awesome daytime show in Lights, Motors, action and my personal favorite nighttime show in Fantasmic! and DHS definitely fulfills that Disney quality you can't get anywhere else.
Disney's Animal Kingdom: The natural scenery here is truly remarkable. Quite possibly the "Greenist" park in the world (the color not the fuel efficiency), Animal Kingdom provides some great attractions in the Kilaminjaro Safaris, Kali River Rapids, Expedition Everest, and Dinosaur. The Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo The Musical are two top notch entertainment options as well.
Great post. I'm glad you typed all that so I didn't have to.... I think you hit it spot on with regard to the Orlando parks.
I haven't been to some of the parks you mentioned simply because we only go to Florida for our vacations.
I know Discovery Cove is not considered a theme park as it is more of an extention of Sea World, but I think it deserves a mention. Even if you don't do the dolphin swim, it's still a great place to unwind in the middle of a week stay. The lazy river, snorkeling, bird sancuary and all inclusive food / drink is a nice break from hours of walking and huge crowds.
You also receive free unlimited 14 day tickets to Sea World, Aquatica or Busch Gardens. I think they offer an upgrade for $50 that gives you unlimited 14 day tickets for all three. They also offer discounted tickets for the Disney parks as well. It is one of the few places that doesn't charge you to park.
I look forward to a day of sun, sand, unlimited cocktails and swimming with the rays every year. You are usually done by 5PM and they cap the capacity to 1,000 guests a day. It sounds like a lot, but the property is pretty big so it never seems that crowded.
If you are up for it, you still have time to hit your favorite Orlando theme park until close.
That kind of sounds like a "my theme park is best" post..... I had never experienced anything like that in all our WDW visits. I'm not saying it doesn't happen there, I just never noticed anything like that until we started going to the "other" major Orlando resort.
Trepidation? A nervous feeling of uncertain agitation....? Not sure what to make of that. I can't figure out if you are a high school English teacher or an employee of ABC / Disney.
By comparison, the corporate culture of the Universal parks (Is it still "Universal Escape" or did they change the name again?) has a far more transitory character. How many corporate benefactors have held the purse strings at Universal Orlando (MCA? Blackwell? Seagrams? Rank? Comcast?) since its opening?
While (as I have posted here on multiple occasions) the team at Universal Creative has developed Orlando attractions that consistently outpace (on both technical and entertainment levels) the work of their contemporaries at Walt Disney Imagineering, there should be little surprise if the front line Universal employees at the Florida parks occasionally fall short of the standard of service demonstrated by Walt Disney World's cast members. After all, Universal's employees' commitment to the company's business model should be no greater than that of the benevolent executive overlords who always seem have a eye out for the next buyer pulling up to their corporate garage sale.
Sorry to say, all of our best vacations have been at USF.... that is a fact based on ten years of vacation experience at both resorts (WDW and USF).
I Respond: Why would you apologize?
Specifically regarding NB's comment, my experience has been based upon hundreds of park visits to Walt Disney World and Disneyland and Sea World and Universal Florida (dating to 1973) as well as employment at BOTH Universal Orlando (as an operator and as a member of the teams building the attractions) and Walt Disney World (as an operator and as a member of the teams building the attractions).
But then we are all entitled to our informed opinions. And NB's is certainly as qualified and valid as any offered by yours truly.
You have certainly been vacationing in Florida longer than I have, and you are absolutely entitled to your opinion. I just wish I could have experienced some of what you are describing in our four (2001-2004 consecutive) one week stays at the WDW resorts.
I Respond: I certainly appreciate the generosity of your extending such an entitlement. This is an exceptional gesture, advanced with and supported by, a personality of (let's call it) integrity boasting (from my perspective) a healthy level self-confidence.
(Blush ... From a guy who has been wrong before).
I'll start off with my national theme parks:
Alton Towers, UK - Plenty for rollercoaster lovers. Oblivion was the first 90 degree dive coaster, no longer the tallest but still marked Alton Towers on the map. The gardens are beautiful and the castle, a REAL castle has its own kind of charm and is very impressive.
Thorpe Park, UK - Again another good one for rollercoaster enthusiasts and its proximity to London makes this a must-do for any theme park lovers that are in the area.
Just a few comments to the much discussed Orlando parks:
Magic Kingdom, FL - Main Street USA hasn't changed much since my first, for that reason alone I absolutely adore it. Nothing quite beats walking down Main Street, seeing the dancers and the wonderfully created shops. In recent years my reading about the parks' design has only heightened this experience.
Disney's Hollywood Studios, FL - As a film lover, this park appeals to me in so many ways. There is so much potential in this park's future - I hope that Disney will one day perhaps realise this.
Universal Studios, FL - I love the feeling that I am walking around a studio lot. This park has that special something to me, some 'magic' if you will. Riding Jaws at Universal has the same effect as riding IASW at Magic Kingdom - bizarre!
Islands of Adventure, FL - A beautiful park with some rides that are often overlooked. Like a lot of theme parks, the music in the park is something which creates that "Omg - I can't believe I'm here" feeling. A park that was ahead of its time, I hope it has big plans for the future as again, there's so much potential for this park. (A night-time show would be excellent ;) )
I love this particular thread. I love all the parks we've visited so far and never find the need to compare or go the route of Disney vs Universal. I love the way you walk through any of the park entrances and you are in a completely different world, with no thoughts of the outside. They all do an excellent job of this, and that is the very reason why we always stay on-site. This is our first time staying on-site at a Universal property and we can't wait!
Aladdin & Water World will always be my favorite two live action shows at theme parks until something else tops those two!
You should love Discovery Cove. I am just trying to figure out what the temperature will be in mid December (I would imagine the mid 70's). Every Orlando vacation we take is late June / early July, so it's 95+ every day.
The water in the Stingray cove is about 70 degrees, so it's like an ice bath when it's pushing 100 in the shade...
I just found out that my ex-boss wants me to subcontract some work for him and I need to come down to Ft Lauderdale. I may drive out to Universal for a day. No Express, but I can fly through single rider lines.....
Walt Disney World
Tokyo Disney Resort