Hollywood Studios vs Universal Studios 2023: Which is Best?

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By Erin
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Trying to decide Hollywood Studios vs Universal Studios? I’m here to help.

Florida is known for its theme parks. So much so that choosing which one to visit can be hard if you’re short on time. Between the four parks at Walt Disney World, Sea World, and Universal Studios, you could easily spend weeks just visiting theme parks.

But if you’ve ended up here, it’s probably because you’re torn between Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios or Universal Studios.

Luckily for you, I’ve been to both countless times, and I’m sharing all there is to know about each and which one I’d choose if I only had time for one.

Universal Studios vs Hollywood Studios collage of photos showing the parks best rides and entrances.

If you don’t have time to read the full article, you’ll want to look at the table of contents to find your verdict on each park quickly!

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What is Hollywood Studios?

Photo of one of the rides at Hollywood Studios called Mickey's Runaway Coaster.

The minute you step foot in Hollywood Studios, you enter a world of glitz, glamour, and blockbuster adventures. As you stroll down Hollywood Boulevard, you’ll experience iconic palm trees and art deco architecture, almost as if you were transported back into the golden era of California.

At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you can venture into a galaxy far, far away at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, journey back to your childhood with Toy Story Land, get in touch with your rock n’ roll side on Rock n’ Roller Coaster, or drop into action on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

What is Universal Studios?

Universal Studios Orlando showing ticket at the entrance of the park.

With two different theme parks sitting right next to one another, Universal and Islands of Adventure have a lot to offer. Universal Studios is perfect for all fans of Harry Potter, DC Comics, and most movie fans. Years ago, King Kong (Kongfrontation) and Jaws at Universal were two of the rides I loved! These days, more modern movies have replaced these rides.

From the spellbinding Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where you can sip butterbeer and cast spells with a brand new wand, to the heart-pounding rides like the Incredible Hulk Coaster and Revenge of the Mummy, a trip to Universal is the epitome of an adventure. There’s also the Jurassic Park dinosaurs, the wonders of Seuss Landing, and countless characters (like Spongebob) you can meet.

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Best Rides at Hollywood Studios vs. Universal Studios

Hollywood Studios 1

🏆 Verdict: Depends!

Best Rides at Hollywood Studios

  1. Rock n’ Roller Coaster
  • Suitable For: Kids (48” or taller), teens, and adults
  • Genie+ Attraction? Yes

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is a thrill ride that combines the excitement of a roller coaster with the energy of a rock concert. The minute you enter, you’ll find yourself immersed in the world of the rock band “Aerosmith.” The experience begins as you join the band’s entourage for a high-speed limousine ride to their concert. Once buckled into your “limo,” you’re catapulted from 0 to 60 miles per hour in just a few seconds, with loops, twists, and turns all set to some of Aerosmith’s greatest hits (including Sweet Emotion, Walk This Way, and Dude (Looks Like A Lady).

I’ve been riding the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster since I was a teenager – so it’s probably needless to say it’s an oldie but goodie! It was shut down for an extended period due to renovations that were long overdue. The ride prior often had shutdowns, and often, I would just skip it to avoid the delays. Aerosmith fans like myself can rejoice that the ride is back in stellar shape with new mechanics and a new paint job!

  1. Rise of the Resistance
Universal Studios 4
  • Suitable For: Kids, teens, and adults
  • Genie+ Attraction? No

Sitting in the heart of Galaxy’s Edge, this groundbreaking ride takes you on a journey to join the Resistance against the First Order. It’s truly unlike any other ride out there, blending state-of-the-art technology, lifelike animatronics, and jaw-dropping special effects to make you feel like you’ve been dropped into the heart of the Star Wars universe.

You’ll board a transport ship, only to be captured by Kylo Ren and his stormtroopers. You then embark on an escape mission that may or may not involve a harrowing encounter with a life-sized AT-AT walker, a lightsaber fight, and a dramatic rescue by the Resistance. Because of its attention to detail, this is by far one of my favorite rides in the park (and all of Walt Disney World, for that matter).

  1. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Twilight Zone Tower of Terror shown at night. Rides at Hollywood Studios vs Universal Studios
  • Suitable For: Kids, teens, and adults
  • Genie+ Attraction? Yes

Nestled in an “abandoned” Hollywood hotel, Tower of Terror is an adrenaline junkie’s dream come true. Once you enter the spiderweb-covered lobby, you’re guided onto an elevator that suddenly plunges into the dark. Complete with random drop sequences and 180º views of the park, this one is sure to give you the stomach-in-your-mouth feeling. If you’re not afraid of a little free-fall, this one should be at the top of your list when visiting Hollywood Studios. The music and ambiance alone are unmatched.

  1. Toy Story Mania
Toy Story Mania
  • Suitable For: Toddlers, kids, teens, and adults
  • Genie+ Attraction? Yes
Erin and son wearing 3d glasses at Toy Story Mania.

Toy Story Mania at Hollywood Studios is an interactive 4D ride perfect for the whole family. Just be careful–it will bring out your competitive side as you try to get the highest score. With carnival-styled games hosted by Toy Story characters, you launch virtual darts, toss rings, and pop balloons to rack up as many points as possible.

Whether you grew up watching Toy Story or you have little ones who aspire to have their own version of Andy’s toys, everyone is going to love this one. Be wary, however, because it is one of the few rides for little ones at the park, the line can get pretty long depending on the season. If you qualify for eary park access, this is one of the rides I like to do first with my son. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s close by to Star Wars and Slinky Dog Dash if you’re using a Fast Pass.

  1. Slinky Dog Dash
Slinky Dog Dash in Orlando, Florida
  • Suitable For: Children (over 38”), teens, and adults
  • Genie+ Attraction? Yes

Speaking of Toy Story, this list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Slinky Dog Dash, one of Hollywood Studio’s newest rides. This family-friendly rollercoaster is a fun way to get a little thrill in without scaring the kids too much. With twists and turns (but no loops or crazy drops), it’s a fun ride for those who have older children who aren’t quite ready for the big rides that I mentioned earlier. Because it is so new, you can expect long waits. This is where I’d argue Genie+ is worth the buy. But if you’re not in the mood to purchase it (it’s expensive, I get it), make this your first ride in the park first thing in the morning.

  1. Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway sign at Hollywood Studios
  • Suitable For: Toddlers, kids, teens, and adults
  • Genie+ Attraction? Yes

With the same technology used in Rise of the Resistance, this trackless ride is another family-friendly ride that everyone, regardless of age, will have fun on. You start on what appears to be a simple train ride led by Goofy, but it quickly becomes chaotic once he loses you, and you enter a wild ride through tornados, dance classes, and more. It’s got the classic animation and humor you grew to know and love from Disney, along with some seriously cool technology you can only find at Disney.

Best Rides at Universal Studios

showing the harry potter ride at Universal Studios
  1. Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
  • Suitable For: Kids (48” or tall), teens, and adults
  • Eligible for Express Pass? No

Embark on a journey through the Forbidden Forest and encounter magical creatures and even Hagrid himself (who happens to be Universal’s first human-like animated figure). That’s not even the best part, either. The ride features motorbike and sidecar seats, allowing you to choose what kind of adventure you have, heart-pounding twists, drops, and countless surprises.

As Florida’s longest roller coaster, I can’t recommend it enough–even if you’re not a Harry Potter fan.

Harry Potter photos of Universal Orlando vs Hollywood Studios
  1. The Incredible Hulk Coaster
  • Suitable For: Teens and adults
  • Eligible for Express Pass? Yes

This high-speed coater is known for its thrilling launch from 0 to 40 mph in just two seconds, immediately sending you into a series of intense loops, corkscrews, and inversions. As you reach up to 67 mph, this one is not for those with sensitive stomachs. However, this is the perfect choice if you love Marvel or are just searching for an intense ride that will give you a rush.

  1. Revenge of the Mummy
  • Suitable For: Teens and adults
  • Eligible for Express Pass? Yes

Like with many of the other rides at Universal, Revenge of the Mummy follows the storyline of a classic Hollywood film. The ride itself is based on the set of the movie for the “sequel” of the very real film. Unfortunately, the curse mentioned in the movie is real, sending you through a wild ride full of high speeds, dark tunnels, and thick bouts of fog. There may also be mummy soldiers, ancient scarab beetles, and fire… Sound exciting? It is!

  1. Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
  • Suitable For: Teens and adults
  • Eligible for Express Pass? Yes

Peaking over 17 stories over Universal Studios, this coaster may be a hard pill to swallow for those with a fear of heights. You tackle 3,800 feet of track in less than two minutes, a 167-foot drop, and even go through the world’s first non-inversion loop–all while playing the song you picked out at the beginning of the ride. That’s right; you can completely customize your experience on the ride based on the music you choose. Though this ride may not be for everyone, it’s unlike any other coaster you’ll find in the world.

  1. Jurassic World VelociCoaster
Universal Studios dinosaur
  • Suitable For: Teens and adults
  • Eligible for Express Pass? Yes

Listed as one of USAToday’s Best New Theme Park Attractions in 2021, the VelociCoaster is getting the recognition it deserves. As the newest (and fastest) rollercoaster in Universal, it’s not hard to see why guests love it so much. It takes you into Jurassic World, where dinosaurs roam free. As you “run” from all the raptors that have been let loose, you hit speeds up to 70 mph in less than three seconds, making this one truly terrifying.

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Best Restaurants in Hollywood Studios vs Universal Studios

Photo of the Hollywood Brown Derby

🏆 Verdict: Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Best Hollywood Studios Restaurants

Hollywood Brown Derby

Hollywood Brown Derby is easily my favorite restaurant in Hollywood Studios. The Old Hollywood-inspired eatery offers lunch and dinner dishes like cobb salad, filet mignon, chicken and dumplings, and creme brulee. Though the food is good, I can’t say enough positive things about the atmosphere. It truly feels like you’ve stepped back in time.

Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater

While I’m on the subject of incredible theming, Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater is yet another restaurant that hit it out of the park. Do dinner and a show 50s styles as you sit down and grub on classics like burgers, onion rings, and milkshakes, and watch sci-fi movie clips on a big screen.

The atmosphere gets a 10/10 from me with its old school aesthetics. However, it’s worth noting that this isn’t the kind of place you come to sit and chat while you eat. You sit shoulder to shoulder with whoever you’re with, and most people stay pretty quiet to watch the films being shown. Because this one is so unique, it does book up quickly, so you will want to make reservations as early as possible.

Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano

Erin outside of Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano in Hollywood Studios

While I love the consistent Old Hollywood theming throughout most of Hollywood Studio’s restaurants, sometimes you just want something a little different. That’s where Mama Melrose comes in. Serving up home-style Italian dishes like chicken parm, fettuccine, and spaghetti, this is a great spot to come if you have picky eaters. Dishes run anywhere from $25-$30, making it on the more expensive (though not compared to Hollywood Brown Derby) side. But with options like pizza and spaghetti for kids, your little ones won’t have a hard time finding something they like.

Best Restaurants Universal Studios

Leaky Cauldron

While it may not be eating in the great dining hall of Hogwarts, eating at the Leaky Cauldron is one of the closest meals you can get to immersing yourself in the world of Harry Potter. Here, you can enjoy traditional British fare like bangers and mash, fisherman’s pie, and fish & chips. While this is very different than the meals typically enjoyed here in the US, if you aren’t afraid to switch things up, this is a great spot to enjoy a meal. They also serve butterbeer.

Mythos Restaurant

Not up to British food? How about Mediterranean, Japanese, or American? You can get all of the above and then some at Mythos Restaurant in Islands of Adventure. Dishes include pad thai, grilled cheese, a cheeseburger, bolognese, and more. They also have a wide selection of beer, wine, and cocktails, so it’s a great spot to stop by if you’re on the hunt for a drink and a light bite. If you sit on the patio, you also get an incredible view of the park.

Cowfish Burger and Sushi Bar

While this one isn’t technically in Universal Studios, it’s in CityWalk, which is walking distance from the park., In fact, you have to park in the garage that connects to CityWalk to even get to the entrance of the park, so I had to include it. Here, you’ll find everything from parmesan truffle fries to sushi rolls to burgers to burgushi (that’s right, a burger/sushi combo).

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Hollywood Studios vs Universal Studios: Best Nighttime Events

Best Nighttime Events showing Hollywood Studios at night.

🏆 Verdict: Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Studios Night Events

Although Hollywood Studios doesn’t have a fireworks show like the other Disney parks, it does have one show that is arguably one of the best in all of the parks–Fantasmic. All of your favorite Disney characters come out to perform to a catchy original soundtrack, creating a show that will give you all of the nostalgic feels.

To keep the nostalgia going, you can also watch the Wonderful World of Animation projection show that takes place on the facade of the Chinese Theater. The 12-minute show takes you through 90 years of Disney and Pixar animation, brought to life with clips from films like Coco, The Incredibles, Sleeping Beauty, and more.

Universal Studios Night Events

Universal Studios is not big on evening shows, with its biggest show that would rival Hollywood Studios–Universal Studios Cinematic Spectacular Show–ending earlier this year. Because there is no replacement as of right now (though there will be in the future), the only nighttime event that stands out is the nighttime lights at Hogwarts Castle. Beginning at dusk (and taking place every 20 minutes after that), you can watch as the wizarding school is lit up with lights, lasers, and projections, celebrating the four houses.

Before you run to Hogwarts, I should tell you that this doesn’t occur every night, so be sure to check the calendar before you get your hopes up.

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Hollywood Studios vs. Universal Studios Festivals

Ariel photo of Universal Studios Orlando
Universal Studios

🏆 Verdict: Hollywood Studios

Unfortunately, at Hollywood Studios, you aren’t going to find any special events or festivals aside from the holidays. During Disney Jollywood Nights, you’ll find themed entertainment and snacks, a seasonal nighttime projection, Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!, and special meet-and-greets with characters.

Disney’s special event takes place throughout November and December and requires a separate ticket from your park entrance. Although I won’t be the one to tell you whether or not it’s worth the money if you’re searching for shorter lines and just want to get in the spirit of the season at Disney, this just might be worth the visit.

As for Universal Studios, its shining star is Halloween Horror Nights. The park is taken over by ten frightfully themed haunted houses (some include Stranger Things, The Exorcist, and Chucky), where you’ll get spooked every direction you look. When you don’t want to go through the houses, you can watch some of the live entertainment that takes place or go on some of the park’s most thrilling rides, which remain open. This, too, is a separately ticked event, so I highly recommend going online, looking at available dates, and booking your visit ahead of time.

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Best Hotels Nearby Hollywood Studios vs Universal Studios

Hollywood Studios Hotels

Hollywood Studios Hotels showing the Disney Yacht Club pool photo

Disney’s Yacht Club Resort

Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, the sister hotel to Disney’s Beach Club Resort, gives you easy access to Hollywood Studios, making it one of the best hotels to stay at if you’re looking for accessibility. There are free boat rides that drop you off at the park, so you don’t have to worry about driving or taking one of the shuttles that can get very busy during peak hours of the day.

Stormalong Bay at Disney World

As for the hotel itself, it’s arguably one of the nicest on Disney property. The well-decorated rooms and nautical lobby will have you feeling as if you’ve stepped into a boating club of the elite. With incredible food options, like the Yachtsman Steakhouse and Ale & Compass, and numerous pools, this is one the entire family is sure to love.

I’ve repeatedly stayed at the Disney Yacht Club & Beach Club Resort and can’t recommend it enough! They also have the best pool in Disney, called Stormalong Bay.

🌴 Read More: Disney Beach Club Resort Review

Disney’s Art of Animation Resort

I know how expensive Disney trips can be. I also understand that the Yacht Club Resort can be a little steep in pricing. That’s why I recommend Disney’s Art of Animation Resort as a cheaper alternative for those still looking to stay on the property.

Here, you’ll be surrounded by some of your favorite characters and movie scenes from classics like Finding Nemo, Cars, Lion King, and more. Although it doesn’t have nicer dining options like some of the other resorts, there are Diseny-themed dining areas where you can get breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There are also three different pools, and they offer s’mores and movies under the stars.

Universal Studios Hotels

Loews Portofino Bay Resort Orlando showing the boats and water views next to the hotel
Loews Portofino Bay Resort

Loews Portofino Bay Resort at Universal Orlando

While you may not actually be in Italy, it will sure feel like it when you step inside Loews Portofino Resort. Sitting on the Universal Studios Orlando property, it doesn’t get much more convenient than this, either.

A stay here gets you early access to the parks (an hour earlier than guests with Early Park Admission), free and easy boat or shuttle rides to the parks, and you’re close to CityWalk.

Erin and her husband at Loews Portofino Bay Resort

You can also connect your debit or credit card to your room key and charge all of your purchases across the resort to the key. Oh, and I can’t forget that you also get Universal Express Unlimited ride access totally free. That means no waiting in line.

I usually book in October or November once the weather cools down in Florida, and there are still some great hotel room deals!

Cabana Bay

As yet another one of Universal’s on-site stays, Cabana Bay is the perfect stay for those who don’t want to break the bank. The retro hotel was inspired by the architecture of Florida beach resorts in the 50s and 60s. It has two big pools, a lazy river, and a bowling alley, so there’s no shortage of fun to be had when you’re not spending your time on the thrilling coasters of Universal. Much like Loews, you get benefits such as free early entry, a complimentary shuttle bus, resort-wide charging privileges, and even character appearances. 

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Hollywood Studios vs Universal Studios Transportation

Cruz Rameriez Cars show showing it at Hollywood Studios vs Universal Studios

If there’s one thing that Disney has figured out, it’s transportation. From free shuttles to boat rides to the Skyliner, there are countless ways to get from other Disney parks or hotels to Hollywood Studios. While you won’t be getting a ride from Cruz Ramirez anytime soon, Disney has made it super easy to get around Walt Disney World without too much hassle (especially if you’re staying at a Disney Hotel).

Showing the monorail photo

Universal also offers shuttles and water taxis, though getting from CityWalk to Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure is super easy if you park in the garage, so chances are, unless you’re staying on property, you won’t need to use these options.

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Nearby Things to Do at Universal Studios or Hollywood Studios

Erin's Disney Boardwalk photo of couple riding their bike on the wood walkway.

Whether you’ve been to Disney World countless times or it’s your first time, you’ll find that you will never be bored. You won’t ever have to leave the property either. Between Disney’s Boardwalk, which has countless restaurants and bars, the endless resorts where you can bar hop (or just explore if that’s more your scene), and Disney Springs, there is plenty to do.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about Universal Studios. Aside from the shopping and dining at CityWalk, if you’re looking for other entertainment outside of the parks, you will most likely want to leave the property and explore the surrounding Orlando area.

Final Thoughts on Hollywood Studios vs Universal Studios

You’re in for a treat no matter which park you decide on. While both Hollywood Studios vs Universal Studios are themed around movies and TV shows, drastic aspects differentiate the two. I can’t recommend Universal enough if you’re looking for a vacation for teens or adults. If you prefer a family vacation that even the littles will enjoy, Hollywood Studios is for you.

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Authored By: Erin
Welcome to Erin’s Travel Tips, a Florida Travel Website. I specialize in unique family travel destinations, outdoor getaways in Florida and beyond! I’m a proud Floridian who loves a good cup of coffee, boating, and of course, traveling with my family to some of the most interesting places in the world.

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