SPOTLIGHT: Like This at Walt Disney World? Try That at Universal Orlando.

A big criticism Disney fans have towards Universal is that the park down the street has nothing interesting enough to make them want to make the trip across town. Yes, Universal Orlando is known for thrill rides and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but there is a lot more happening at the resort than just those two things. A lot of attractions at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure are very similar to attractions at Walt Disney World, but there are differences, which sometimes make Universal rides potentially better and should warrant a trip to the competition. Here is our list of what to try at Universal Orlando based on select rides at Walt Disney World.

1) Like Peter Pan’s Flight? Try E.T. Adventure.


Peter Pan’s Flight is considered a classic ride at WDW and Disneyland and will most likely never leave either park. E.T. Adventure may be on the chopping block, because Universal is okay with replacing the original opening day attractions, but it should be considered a classic along the same lines as Peter Pan’s Flight. Both attractions use the same overhead track system to fly guests over the films and are must-dos when in Orlando.

2) Like Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin or Toy Story Midway Mania? Try MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack.

Disney has always been on the cutting edge of interactive attractions and 1998’s Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and 2005’s Toy Story Midway Mania are proof of that. In 2000, Universal opened MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack which borrowed the same track system used on Islands of Adventure’s Cat in the Hat, but added the interactive shooting element which could be found on Buzz Lightyear. MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack might not be as good as either shooting game at WDW, but riding through the attraction without touching the gun once can still prove to be a fun time.

3) Like Star Tours? Try The Simpsons Ride or Despicable Me Minion Mayhem.

Motion simulators are not the most complex attractions in the world, but they have the ability to make you feel like you are doing extraordinary things you’re not. Star Tours puts you in a StarSpeeder and sends you off in the worlds of Star Wars, but The Simpsons Ride and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem are completely different. The Simpsons Ride takes multiple cars on multiple levels and puts them in front of giant IMAX screens, similar to those used in Soarin’. Despicable Me Minion Mayhem takes the same idea, but the screen you watch in that attraction is nowhere near IMAX size. Still, the open air aspects of Universal’s motion simulators could be a lot more enjoyable for some who don’t enjoy being put in a box and moved around like at WDW.

4) Like Kali River Rapids? Try Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges.

Kali River Rapids brought a raft attraction to WDW, something that was completely necessary to cool down on a summer day, but the main issue with the ride is typically only two people walk off soaking wet. This might be a good thing for those that want to experience the attraction and the conservation message, but if you’re looking to get soaked then head over to Islands of Adventure and ride Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges. Most adults should know who Popeye actually is (most kids probably won’t), but knowing the characters is not at all necessary to enjoy this attraction. The ride is not short by any means and every single person that gets on will walk away from it completely drenched, the way it should be.

5) Like Splash Mountain? Try Jurassic Park River Adventure or Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls.

Splash Mountain was not the first themed log flume ride to exist. In fact, if Disney Imagineer Tony Baxter wasn’t such a fan of Knott’s Berry Farm’s Timber Mountain Log Ride then Splash Mountain would’ve probably never made it to a Disney theme park. Splash Mountain may be a classic Disney attraction, but Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls takes the concept and adds in way more water – almost on the same level as Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges. Jurassic Park River Adventure goes even bigger with a massive drop and a lot more thrills due to out of control dinosaurs. Splash Mountain is a classic, but for more thrills and water look towards Islands of Adventure.

There are a lot of other attractions at Walt Disney World and Universal that are similar and our list doesn’t end here. To find out our complete list, check out episode 12 of the DIS Unplugged: Universal Edition where we discuss which other rides you should try at Universal Orlando depending on what you enjoy at Walt Disney World!

Watch episode 12 of the DIS Unplugged: Universal Edition here:

Listen to episode 12 of the DIS Unplugged: Universal Edition here:

  • SomeDude

    Like Harry Potter & the Forbidden Journey, Harry Potter & the Escape From Gringotts, Hulk, Dragon Challenge Transformers, & The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman at Universal? Try *crickets* at Disney.

    • Craig Williams

      Exactly. That’s a whole different blog in itself about the unique attractions that Disney doesn’t have and probably never will.

      • Esther

        I disagree with that statement. I think with the Avatar Land expansion and a possible Star Wars expansion as well, Disney is starting to create these uniquely themed attractions to compete with Universal. I also hope they do something Marvel related as well now that they own Marvel!

        • Craig Williams

          They have media to base attractions off of but that doesn’t mean they are going to build attractions using new technology developed by imagineering. The last great ride they engineered in the states in my opinion is Soarin’.

          • David

            Soarin’? Try Mission Space. Soarin’ is just a Movie with a swing that moves ever so slightly. We used to have that at Six Flags over Georgia 30 years ago; albeit we sat on a bench but still had the same effect – it was called the Chevy Show back then.

          • Craig Williams

            True, but the technology to move the ride vehicles into the show plus the smell and wind cues make for a technologically advanced attraction. Mission Space is too, but I could argue that Mission Space is a basic centrifuge ride in carnivals like the scrambler but just on a complete different level. Technically, Mission Space is the same but it goes a lot faster and you’re sitting in boxes with some more added effects. The point is both are advanced, but Mission Space is a powerful carnival ride at its heart and that’s why I don’t place it on the same level as Soarin’.

    • Penny Lynch

      If everything was a copy of something else, what a ring world it would be.

  • Annette

    Great article Craig.

    • Craig Williams

      Thank you for reading!

  • Jaxon0619 .

    I know this has been argued in many shapes and forms, but if everything is so much better at Universal, why do their attendance figures not even come close to those of any of the Disney parks?

    • Ladarr

      Because Disney has better name recognition. Disney theme parks are currently coasting by on their past glory. The only thing Disney does better than anyone else is customer service. When it comes to theming Universal has matched them. And let’s not talk about ride technology because then it just gets depressing to think how low Disney has fallen. The “new” rides at Magic Kingdom are really just sad rehashes of other old rides.

      • Jaxon0619 .

        Great response, good explanation, but how long can you coast. I mean Disney’s Hollywood Studios had higher attendance figures last year and has for at least the last 5 years. That is a really long coast.

    • Craig Williams

      Also, Disney has more space and hotel rooms. Universal is working to catch up but they will never be able to hold the same attendance as Disney so attendance shouldn’t be a true factor.

      • Jaxon0619 .

        Again, another good explanation, but several times I have gone to Florida I have stayed off Disney property. There are a lot of hotels in the Orlando area. Unfortunately, attendance is significant, it is the number of people going to the parks. If it is so better, there would be a shift in attendance and there just hasn’t been.

        • Craig Williams

          A lot of people do go to Orlando and stay off property, but if they do stay off property then usually there is also shuttle transportation if you’re at a hotel or if you’re in a condo/townhouse/rental unit then most likely you’re in Kissimmee, Clermont or Davenport and significantly further away from Universal. Yes, there are hotels close to Universal, but a lot of them are on International Drive and only attraction international tourists who do make up a great amount of the attendance at Disney and Universal.

          More hotels will make a difference, but as Ladarr also said, Disney has better name recognition. Disney makes an attempt to appeal to every age and that is not the same at Universal. Universal doesn’t discourage against any age group, but Disney Princesses will almost always win against Curious George and definitely against Fievel. A lot of children grow up watching Disney movies and television and it sticks with them as a thing of nostalgia. Universal has nostalgic properties, but not on the level as Disney.

          Finally, Disney has a huge fan base that just don’t want to accept Universal. They aren’t interested in anything but Disney, they don’t think anything should exist besides Disney and they would rather cut off their limbs than go to Universal or any other park. Once again that probably goes back to the nostalgia factor, but who knows. It doesn’t hurt Disney has made a destination where you can fly in and have free transportation to your hotel and anywhere you want to go for your entire stay as long as it is on their property.

          Universal will not overthrow Disney as the go-to place in Orlando, but right now they don’t want that. They want more people that go to Disney to give Universal a chance and they have been very successful in that.

          To wrap this up, not everything that is “better” is more heavily attended. In Winter Park there is a fantastic fried chicken restaurant called The COOP. There is only one store that can only handle so much. However, there are multiple KFC’s in the Orlando area and I’m positive that their yearly sales and attendance far exceeds The COOP. Only a crazy person would say KFC is better though.

  • Kathy

    We went a couple of years ago just to Universal for a week, because I had to see the Harry Potter land. The whole time I missed my Disney. But I think that the reason we don’t do Universal so often is that we LOVE the diversity and size of WDW, and when you buy a lengthy ticket there (like 10 days), it really becomes a bargain. This year, we are going for 11 days to WDW, but we broke down and bought a one-day ticket to Universal to see the NEWEST Harry Potter stuff, but that one ticket costs a fortune. And we had to rent a car to get there. So it is NOT a cheap excursion. So it is not that we don’t LIKE Universal, but it is does not have the draw for us that WDW does.

  • Ruth Iverson Lucas

    The biggest problem with universal is accessibility. I can not do that park independently. I have to get out of my power chair fro most rides and get in a park provided chair and go through the queue. If I was able to push myself I would have a regular wheel chair. This is such a shame.

    • Craig Williams

      I do agree and know that this issue is a big problem for a lot at Universal. Hopefully it is corrected some day.

      • Ruth Iverson Lucas

        Do we know why this is the case? I have never been. It is a big turn off to not be independent. In this day and age it seems totally unacceptable. Are they trying to discourage mobility devices in their park?

        • Craig Williams

          I don’t believe they are trying to discourage mobility devices at all. In fact, Universal is very similar to Disneyland in that a lot of these lines just aren’t designed wide enough for a lot of ECVs. I think it boils down to two factors. First, queues have to be very wide to allow bigger ECVs to travel through without hurting those who are driving and others around. Yes, they could just make it big enough to allow for these vehicles like Disney does, but sometimes they don’t have total creative control to do whatever they want like in the case of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Second, in the case of an emergency it is a lot easier to get a wheelchair out of a tight space than it is an ECV. Again, that could be argued by designing the queues to be more accessible.

          I may be wrong about this as well, but I don’t think Universal wants their team members to be as responsible for ECVs and moving them like Disney does. It is normal to see cast members driving a guest’s ECV after they board an attraction, but at Universal if a guest needs a transfer chair the team member will 99% of the time meet them at the proper parking area with a transfer chair so they aren’t in charge of moving it.

          At the end of the day, I may be wrong about all of this. Universal may not want to be liable for potential issues or they may not have control in a lot of situations to do things the way they want to. But, I don’t think they are openly trying to discourage anyone from coming to their parks.

  • Brightie

    Craig, that was an excellent article. Thanks

    • Craig Williams

      No, thank you for reading!

  • Tom_CC

    Say more nice things about Universal so the crowds will be lighter at WDW! :-)

  • CJK

    I really enjoy your articles. This one was especially interesting. I also liked the video edition with Shaun. Thanks!