Tournament 2018: What's the best park at Universal Orlando?

March 8, 2018, 1:08 PM · Okay, Universal Orlando fans. Time to choose.

It's easy for theme park fans to rally around their favorite brand. Universal fans tease Disney lovers, and vice versa. But things get a lot more interesting when fans are asked to choose their favorite parks from within the brand. That's what we are going to do today, in the first round of our 2018 Theme Park Insider Tournament.

Today's winner will represent Universal Orlando in the semifinals of the "Big Brand" regional, which includes parks from Universal, Disney and SeaWorld. This match-up might be one of the toughest in the tournament, as both parks include a Wizarding World of Harry Potter land, as well as multiple other beloved franchises. Each park has won multiple Theme Park Insider Awards over the years. This one really does feel like asking a parent to pick his or her favorite child.

We've talked about and covered these parks so much over the years that I don't know where to begin, or that I need to provide introductions. Nevertheless, here are our listing pages, where we invite you to submit ratings and reviews:

I'm looking forward to the analysis in the comments in this one. (And, for the love of all that is good and holy, please let's not hear anyone clamoring to include CityWalk as a write-in vote.)

Let's vote, Universal fans!

Congratulations to Shanghai Disneyland, which defeated Hong Kong Disneyland to move on to the second round. Tomorrow, in continuing tournament action, we will start with "Which is the best theme park in Korea?" with Everland and Lotte World competing, followed by "Which is the best coaster park (east coast division)?" with Canada's Wonderland, Carowinds, Hersheypark, Kings Dominion, and Six Flags Great Adventure up for your consideration.

And before anyone freaks, by our breakdown, the "east coast" ends somewhere around the Ohio/Pennsylvania border. Chill, Cedar Point fans. Your day is coming.

Replies (27)

March 8, 2018 at 1:16 PM ·


IOA has something for everyone. Coasters, water rides, WWOHP, Kids rides, Jurassic river adventure....

Plus 1 vote for the parking garage theme park.....

March 8, 2018 at 1:39 PM ·

Are seasonal events part of the equation? If so, HHN puts USF ahead.

March 8, 2018 at 1:56 PM ·

Actually, I think USF is the most well rounded of the 2 parks. It lacks the water rides that IOA has, but in terms of something for everyone, it's a bit ahead. Also, some of the IOA attractions are starting to show their age, and it seems that Universal has invested more heavily in USF in recent years - Only Kong has been added to IOA since Hogsmeade debuted in 2010, while USF has added Despicable Me, Jimmy Fallon, Transformers, Diagon Alley, and will soon add F&F over the past 8 years.

March 8, 2018 at 1:59 PM ·

I have visited Universal Orlando ca. 10 times and have never went to only one "Park", I have always treated the two as one place. It never really occurred to me that someone would visit just one side. I am also a huge proponent of the Disney park-hopper ticket so maybe it is no surprise. Does anyone know what percentage of daily attendance at Universal Orlando is with a single park ticket?

March 8, 2018 at 2:15 PM ·

Without Dragon Challenge it has to be USF, but when the replacement ride opens it may go back to IOA. Don't care about F&F, Fallon is not a repeat ride and the T2 replacement does not get me excited. Agree about HHN though, that could tip the scale. A Ministry ride at USF would give them the an almost insurmountable lead.

March 8, 2018 at 2:26 PM ·

USF ... Diagon, Simpsons, MIB, Mummy, Rip Ride, Gringots ... Case closed

March 8, 2018 at 2:29 PM ·

I agree with Russell that USF has more good attractions. If they generally cancel each other out, take away Hogsmeade-Diagon Alley, Hulk-Rip Rocket, Kong-Fast & Furious, Spiderman-Transformers. Your essentially left with Mummy + MIB + 4 screen rides vs. Dr Doom and 3 (great) water rides.

March 8, 2018 at 2:44 PM ·

Giving it to IOA for Forbidden Journey, Jurassic Park and Spider-Man alone. But do enjoy some of Studios stuff like Simpsons, Mummy and Rip-Rocket so a hard choice but either way, great attractions at each.

March 8, 2018 at 2:47 PM ·

This may be a first, but I completely agree with TH on all counts about this one... As much as I love the water rides, Kong, Mythos and even Confiscos, USF has the edge for me.

But it will be interesting to see the final vote ... Despite the majority opinion in the comments, IOA seems to be running away with the main vote....

March 8, 2018 at 3:10 PM ·

At IoA You Ride the ride, mostly. There's a handful of exceptions
and USF you ride the movies

So USF.

March 8, 2018 at 3:21 PM ·

If I think about my top ten attractions at Universal Orlando, it's an even split between the two parks (five and five). If I restrict it to top five, however, only one is in USF (Mummy...MIB is 6th place). If I think about which park I'd rather hang out in without doing attractions, Diagon Alley > IOA > everywhere else in USF. For food, Mythos is my favorite in park restaurant at the whole resort (though Toothsome might just edge it out overall due to the desserts). And lastly, IOA feels like a more balanced park to me...while the attractions are a bit dated, there's a range of different types of experiences, while many (though not all) of USF's attractions are some variety of simulator.

Overall, I have to give it to IOA, but I'm going to include a little bit of a caveat: USF is the better Universal park in that it's attractions do a better job of putting guests directly into the worlds of movies, and for those who want an immersive experience in their favorite IPs it is probably more enjoyable. However, if you just want a really good theme park and don't require full immersion, I think IOA provides a better overall experience.

March 8, 2018 at 3:43 PM ·

Yes Robert you sure are asking a lot with this one... do I cut off my right arm or my right leg??? After long consideration I'm going with IOA. Now this is strictly based off the current state of each park. With Fast and Furious not open yet and I haven't experienced it and T2 no longer around I just can't vote for USF. Usually I always would put the original on top but with the recent overhaul of USF it feels like IOA has more "original" feeling Universal rides and that plays to my nystalgia as well. Mummy, Gringotts, and MIB are some of my top attractions but they can't sway me to chose USF. One of these years I'm going to experience HHN and that would have to factor in as well. But if the new F&F ride is more Fallon like than it is Skull Island then it will only be ride it once a trip and not multiple times. If Twister or Disaster were still there that would probably have been enough to put that back on top for me too. Also if the T2 replacement is Jason Bourne and not Pitch Perfect I could be persuaded as well! IOA for me!

March 8, 2018 at 3:57 PM ·

Rip Ride is a plus?? I consider it a minus...

March 8, 2018 at 4:31 PM ·

Snidley Whiplash! Game over!!

March 8, 2018 at 4:45 PM ·

Well...the deciding factor for me was Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour. That sticky toffee pudding brings tears to my eyes. I also agree with the other post, with no Dragon Challenge its a given.

March 8, 2018 at 5:51 PM ·

Both, only go for the Harry Potter stuff and then go thru both parks for the rides.

March 8, 2018 at 7:19 PM ·

IOA just edges it for me, but it’s close. The gap would have been wider if dueling dragons had still been a ride option, but the movie bias of USF is not my proverbial cup of tea, so I went for Hulk and Spidey at IOA.

March 8, 2018 at 8:47 PM ·

Spider-Man and Mythos are at IOA....so IOA. Easy.

March 9, 2018 at 12:28 AM ·

This is difficult and over the years my opinion has gone back and forth but right now my favourites are Gringotts and MiB which is why I’ve gone for USF. Dragon challenge replacement may change that though, the new Universal rides don’t really excite me.

March 9, 2018 at 3:35 AM ·

I have a hard time choosing. I love so many things in each park and with the Hogwarts express and CityWalk between them I always perceive it as one huge park with excellent rides and themed areas on both sides and some amazing restaurants in between.

March 9, 2018 at 7:40 AM ·

My top 5 rides are as follows: 1. Forbidden Journey, 2. Spiderman 3. The Mummy 4. Gringotts 5. Jurrassic Park, so IOA wins for me...Just.

March 9, 2018 at 7:42 AM ·

IOA is a solid park with some great attractions and theming. Although there is a big void without the Dragons i'm sure the new ride will make up for it. Hulk and Spiderman are iconic and I think the recent upgrades to both attractions were outstanding. Although i'm not a huge fan of FJ (the ride itself) the Hogsmeade area and castle/queue are very well done. I'd put the three water rides as well above average as well.

USF has always been kind of underwhelming to me. Other than Mummy there's not any other attractions there that I really like (much like FJ and Transformers, the constant changes in screens and speeds on Gringotts gives me a headache). So IOA gets my vote.

March 9, 2018 at 8:50 AM ·

I will never forget the feels I got walking into Diagon Alley for the first time. For that alone, USF wins

March 9, 2018 at 9:30 AM ·

The best Universal Orlando park is the Wizarding World. I occasionally ride other attractions in both IOA and US, but really I'm just there for the Harry Potter magic. I treat the Wizarding World as one park with 2 sections connected by the Hogwarts Express, and so does anyone else I've ever visited the parks with.

That said, I rank Diagon Alley higher than Hogsmeade, partly because it is shadier and therefore easier to "linger" in, which is why I am voting for US as best park...at least until the new Wizarding World expansion is added to IoA.

March 9, 2018 at 10:09 AM ·

I voted USF. IOA may have more well-rounded experiences, but USF is a better option if there's lightning or cold weather.

March 10, 2018 at 1:30 PM ·

USF used to be my favorite. But on our last trip, I realized that it just has too many simulators. IOA has a much greater variety and mix of attractions. Although Diagon Alley is the best land at Universal, Forbidden Journey and Spider-Man are still the best rides. And we adored the Raptor Encounter. So IOA it is.

March 11, 2018 at 7:54 AM ·

Much like everyone else, this is a TOUGH one. I’d rather go to USF because I do more rides there, however my favorite two rides are at IOA. I think I knew hit choose Universal even though there are too many simulators, but I’ll choose USF because I can like the options better at Universal. I can’t really do roller coasters or water rides. I’d rather do Mummy, Simpsons, Gringotts, Men In Black, ET, Transformers, and every other simulator there. whereas Spidey, Forbidden Journey, Cat In The Hat, Hippogiff, Suess Trolley, and Kong at IOA but I can’t do any other headlining rides so I guess I’ll choose US. Both are super close though!

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