Tournament 2018: What is the best theme park in Orlando?

March 28, 2018, 10:09 AM · It's time to select the final theme park to make the top four in our 2018 Theme Park Insider Tournament. We've selected top parks in Asia and in Europe and from among America's regional parks. Now, it's time to pick a winner to represent the "big brands" in the United States — the parks from Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld.

Perhaps appropriately, given that Orlando is the world's biggest theme park market, both parks hail from Central Florida. Islands of Adventure got here by defeating sibling Universal Studios Florida then SeaWorld champion Busch Gardens Williamsburg. The Magic Kingdom beat its Walt Disney World siblings before taking out California's Disneyland.

As always, we invite you to rate and review the attractions and restaurants at the parks we cover here on Theme Park Insider, in addition to voting in the tournament.

Join us tomorrow for the first of our two tournament semifinals, as Tokyo DisneySea takes on Efteling in a battle of the two most recent Theme Park Insider Award winners for the World's Best Theme Park. Then our winner today takes on Cedar Point for the U.S. title on Friday.

Then those winners face on next Monday for the world's best theme park tournament title.

Replies (26)

March 28, 2018 at 10:21 AM ·

This is a tough one. There's a lot that I love about MK... But based simply on the fact that a visit to IOA is so much more relaxing due to the availability of unlimited express for some onsite hotels, and also the fact that I can walk into a restaurant in IOA on the spur of the moment vs. having to make reservations 6 months in advance, I gotta go with Universal for this one.

March 28, 2018 at 10:32 AM ·

Man, this is tough. I love Spider-Man, Potter and Jurassic and so very tempted to say Islands. But...it's hard to top the sheer pleasure MK brings. As much as I love the thrills of IOA, Pirates, Small World, Haunted Mansion, the Mountains and others push me to pick Magic Kingdom as Disney is still the one to beat.

March 28, 2018 at 10:37 AM ·

There are a lot of things that I like about MK but had to go with IOA here simply because there are more rides there that appeal to older children. Disney has the under 13 crowd locked up and I don't think anything is going to change that but Universal just seems to try harder to appeal to the whole family and not just the youngest.

I like that with Universal I don't have to plan my entire vacation down to the minute months in advance, some may enjoy having everything scheduled but to me a vacation is a time to relax and recharge. I don't count the success of my day based upon how much stuff I was able to do but how much fun I had with my family. I see some of these people stressed to the breaking point because they have a reserved time for this or that ride but one of the party wants to get a drink and relax and the make chuckle to myself.

March 28, 2018 at 10:41 AM ·

Personal Orlando theme park rankings? DAK, USF, IOA, MK, Epcot, SeaWorld, DHS.

Just in case anyone harbored suspicions of a fix. LOL.

March 28, 2018 at 11:04 AM ·

Former amazing theme park changed into a money grab vs a real vacation and amazing rides and no stress. IOA all the way.

March 28, 2018 at 11:10 AM ·


I always wished BGT was in the Orlando area..... Great park....

MK way too crowded, not any thrill rides, IOA > MK...

March 28, 2018 at 11:47 AM ·

Although I still prefer USO, IOA is incredible, including one of my favorite Orlando attractions ever (Forbidden Journey), and it changed the game for Universal and theme park industry as a whole with Harry Potter, finally taking Universal to the level of Disney (also, food there's amazing).
So, although I think Disney has a bigger chance of winning this poll, I gotta give my vote to Universal.

March 28, 2018 at 12:12 PM ·

Until the new goodies open at DHS, MK still rules in Orlando.

March 28, 2018 at 12:19 PM ·

I still haven't forgiven Universal for taking Dueling Dragons out of IOA, but compared to the sheer hell hole that MK is for most of the year, I'll still cast my vote for Islands ..... :) .... and I fully agree with Brian .... please bring BGT to Orlando ... !! My favourite Florida park by a big margin.

March 28, 2018 at 12:45 PM ·

If this was between Disneyland and Islands of Adventure, it would be a tough decision. Between Magic Kingdom and Islands of Adventure, however, the latter definitely wins. While both are undoubtedly excellent parks, Magic Kingdom is a bit more limited in the demographic it appeals to and most of the headliner attractions are somewhat dated. IOA has both a wider variety of offerings and more cutting-edge attractions, plus it is a much easier park to tour efficiently.

March 28, 2018 at 1:01 PM ·

What's tough about this one? There is no greater themed park anywhere in the world to touch Magic Kingdom. Everything has a place, a backstory and a purpose. Islands of Adventure is absolutely my favourite park for pure fun, as I love the water rides, but as a "Theme" park, MK has no equal anywhere in the world let alone confined to purely Orlando.

March 28, 2018 at 1:56 PM ·

I went with IOA just for the goofy fun of it. I've been twice and it was just "pure fun" as ProfPlum notes but we could debate all day the difference between a theme park, amusement park and/or "fair".

March 28, 2018 at 2:09 PM ·

IOA has some great rides, but for me and mine, the Magic Kingdom offers better and more compelling IPs and a more immersive whole park experience, so it gets my vote. However, if Dueling Dragons was still operating in IOA, I might could be persuaded to alter my vote. Coasters mean a lot to the Rao Family.

March 28, 2018 at 2:51 PM ·

I do love the Magic Kingdom, but the crowds have gotten to the point that I really enjoy the day at Islands of adventure more.

That being said, Busch Gardens Tampa is even better because there are even fewer people.

March 28, 2018 at 4:04 PM ·

If Islands of Adventure had a couple more relaxing dark rides and better entertainment offerings, it'd get my vote. Thus, I went with Magic Kingdom for the more well-rounded experiences.

March 28, 2018 at 4:50 PM ·

MK ... Because the park is the platform.

March 28, 2018 at 7:12 PM ·

On a quieter day I like walking round magic kingdom , but for an enjoyable day at a theme park, with The Hulk, Spider-Man , getting wet on Popeyes .Islands of Adventure wins

March 28, 2018 at 7:25 PM ·

In my heart, and for my childhood it's Magic Kingdom. But right now, espcially at my age group, it's Islands Of Adventure!

March 28, 2018 at 8:53 PM ·

Ultimately I could flip a coin and be thrilled with either choice as winner but I had to vote for Magic Kingdom. I voted strictly based on what's in each park and overlooked pricing, planning and crowd level. I have visited Universal Orlando at least once a year for almost the past decade but only go to Disney World every 3 years. I normally lean toward Universal because of its great value but if I could squeeze several days at Magic Kingdom for the same price and smaller crowds I'd do that all day long! I was luckiy enough to experience 3 or 4 hours at night for extra Magic hours in 2015 and I had a blast!!! If I could relive that experience every time I visited I would. Sadly most days aren't like that and this spring when I go all the extra Magic hours are only one hour in the morning. It was a tough choice overall but Magic Kingdom it is!

March 29, 2018 at 5:58 AM ·

Had to go with Magic Kingdom on this one. Yea, the crowds are crazy, no matter what season, no matter what day, but Haunted Mansion and Pirates are still two of the best rides ever. Plus, there's something special about seeing Cinderella's Castle at the end of Main Street.

March 29, 2018 at 6:10 AM ·

I was waiting for my buddy - TH Creative to say - Disney Springs...

hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

March 29, 2018 at 7:52 AM ·

Sooo, Robert... what's the final verdict on this one?? Just how close are the actual votes?

March 29, 2018 at 8:19 AM ·

I know what I WANT to say. I want to say MK, but I cannot for all the reasons already mentioned. My family simply has more fun at IOA. The food is not as good as MK, it does not have as iconic attractions, but the FP+ system and the lack of spontaneity has tarnished MK horribly. If IOA did not have TWWoHP I might vote otherwise, but Potter has truly elevated that park to something magical, pun intended. Spider-Man is great. Hulk is great. They need to refurb Jurassic Park and pull a few things out, but it is a stressful chore to go to any Disney park in Orlando. Not so in California.

March 29, 2018 at 1:14 PM ·

IOA

We have kids who are way too old for Dr. Seuss, and way to young to know any of the characters in Toon Lagoon, but we all absolutely love those two silly parts of IOA. We of course love the Universal Express feature.

March 29, 2018 at 2:54 PM ·

When does the voting close? Asking for a friend....

March 30, 2018 at 5:48 AM ·

Robert, are people allowed to vote multiple times in a poll, even from the same IP address?

I wonder how much ballot stuffing goes on by die-hard followers of one camp or the other.

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Need Discount Tickets?

  Now open, or date announced:

  Still waiting on these:

Get Our Newsletter

Read Robert's Book

Stories from a Theme Park Insider