There’s no question about it; Florida’s theme parks still share the crown. The resorts that line Interstate 4 are packed full of the best rides, attractions and shows the world has to offer. Of these, the most famous two are Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort.
Don’t be fooled – we aren’t talking about two theme parks here. You’ll find two separate parks at Universal Orlando Resort alone, and there’s a whopping four to choose from at Walt Disney World; a total of six between the two estates.
At Universal, you’ll find Universal Studios and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Both are packed full of immersive rides and incredible theming, including the spectacular Wizarding World of Harry Potter. If you choose Disney, your options include the fairytale-charm of the Magic Kingdom, the futuristic expo feel of Epcot, the show-stopping spectacle of Disney’s Hollywood Studios and a journey through nature at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
So whether you’re looking for white-knuckle thrills or to give the kids an experience they’ll never forget; here’s where to head to get the most from your theme park hopping in the sunshine state.
Walt Disney World vs Universal Orlando Resort: Which theme park to choose when on holiday in Florida
The biggest thrills:
Orlando is famed for its big-budget bigger-thrills attractions, so you’ll find a handful to buckle up on no matter which theme park you choose. But if you want to push the adrenaline to its limits, there’s a couple you can’t miss.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios is home to The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror. Enter the haunted hotel and rummage through its rooms, before taking the most frightening elevator ride of your life. It certainly isn’t for the faint hearted.
But for the biggest screams of all, head to Universal Studios and take your seat on Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. Once the restraints are down, pick your favourite from 30 tracks on a list in front of you. As you begin your 167ft vertical ascent, your song of choice will kick in before you race around the roofs of the studios; looping, twisting and turning as you go.
Verdict: Universal Studios should keep you screaming.
The best for young children:
The beauty of Florida’s theme parks is that there’s something for all ages at each and every one of them. Though as a rule of thumb, the Disney parks tend to pitch themselves at a slightly younger audience than the Universal parks.
That’s not to say your tots won’t love some of the attractions over at Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, though. The wacky and wonderful Seuss Landing at Islands of Adventure offers plenty for little ones to explore, while the Simpsons Ride at Universal Studios should have them giggling.
But Disney really do go above and beyond. If your kids happen to be Frozen fanatics, you can’t afford to miss the Frozen Ever After ride over at Epcot. You’ll all take a seat in a boat together, before you follow Queen Elsa and Princess Anna on a whole new adventure.
But overall, the best park for youngsters is Disney’s Magic Kingdom. Nothing matches up to the fairy-tale of walking down Main Street and catching your first glimpse of the Cinderella Castle together. They’ll meet some of their favourite Disney stars as they go, before hopping onto fun-yet-gentle rides like It’s a Small World and Splash Mountain.
Verdict: Disney’s The Magic Kingdom. Their day here is sure to live with them forever.
The greatest theming:
Another thing the Florida parks do better than the rest is theming. They pay attention to every little detail, meaning they offer some incredible and immersive experiences. One minute you’ll be on dinosaur safari, before bouncing through a cartoon world the next, then end the day on a wild west adventure.
You’ll be impressed with each of the six parks’ efforts, but there are some real highlights. Coming in a close second is the amazing new Pandora – The World of Avatar area at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Immaculately recreating the film’s jaw-dropping scenery, you’ll genuinely feel like you’re on a faraway planet.
But clinching it – of course – is Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Like something from a dream, it truly is the hit series brought to life. As you venture through Hogsmeade with Hogwarts looming up ahead, you won’t quite believe your eyes.
Verdict: With its Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal’s Islands of Adventure will leave you speechless.
The most incredible shows:
Orlando’s greatest like to give you more than just thrill rides to keep you entertained. Across the parks, you’ll find a host of spectacular shows. From fiery stunt performances to adventures on ice, you simply must leave time to catch a couple.
Universal boast a whole host of shows across their two parks. Highlights include the Eight Voyage of Sinbad, an electrifying stunt show, as well as Fear Factor Live – which claims to have the most extreme audience participation show ever.
But to experience the best of the best, head to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. You’ll find a show her to suit all ages and tastes; whether it’s a Frozen Sing-Along Celebration, the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular or the world-class projections and pyrotechnics of Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular.
Verdict: Disney’s Hollywood Studios, without a doubt.
Their first big ride:
We know how it is. You’ve come all the way to Florida to give the kids their first roller coaster experience, but they get to the front of the queue and they’re just not ready to take the plunge. If this does happen, you’ll be looking for somewhere you can ease them in gently.
Thankfully, all of the Disney and Universal parks cater for this in some regard. Universal has the splash-tastic Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, where you can all expect to get a little soggy, as well as the gentle-but-magical Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster.
But the standout park for your young beginners is Disney’s Animal Kingdom. There’s plenty of mini-thrills here, such as the raging waters of the Kali River Rapids. When they’re feeling a little braver, give Expedition Everest a try. Phenomenally themed within a manmade mountain, there’s plenty of drops and turns without ever going upside down!
Verdict: Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a great shout for junior thrill-seekers.
Whichever parks you choose, your adventures in Florida are sure to be unforgettable. Make them happen with Flights to Orlando from Manchester Airport.