Spending time at Disneyland Vs Universal Studios
November 7, 2016 9:00 PM   Subscribe

Our family of four is going to California in less than two weeks. Our mission is basically to see Disneyland and Harry Potter World/Universal Studios. We have 2 little girls, one in Kindergarten and the other a Fifth Grader. We have six days to spend between these parks. We are thinking about 4 days at Disney/California Adventure and 2 days at Universal/Harry Potter world. Does this seem like the right allocation of days in these parks?

We're particularly interested in opinions from parents who've spent time there recently and might have kids of similar ages....
posted by Artw to Travel & Transportation around Los Angeles, CA (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Disneyland was a bit of a slog for the young kids (3-5yo) -- the lines are super long and they just don't care about much of the cool architecture and visuals. We are probably an outlier though since my kids haven't seen many Disney movies yet (or Star Wars)
posted by benzenedream at 9:31 PM on November 7, 2016

3 days is plenty for Disney and California Adventure, with 4 you'd see absolutely everything with lots of breaks. Get to the parks early if possible, use Fastpasses and apps like Mouse Wait to manage lines. (We haven't been to Universal.)
posted by gryphonlover at 9:36 PM on November 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Well we don't have kids but I've been to both parks. Honestly I don't think you need as much time as you've allotted. 2 days at Disney...1 for the main park and 1 for California adventure. 1 day for universal should work. These parks are not nearly as big as their counterparts in Orlando. Enjoy some other cool places in LA....Of course others may disagree. But u could see other great things in there area and save money. Either way hopefully u enjoy southern California.
posted by ljs30 at 9:42 PM on November 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

Totally agree that you're allotting more time than you need. I would agree on two days at Disney/California Adventure, and maybe three if you're only spending partial days, and one at Universal Studios. Consider going to the beach or to Legoland on the other days.
posted by cnc at 10:26 PM on November 7, 2016

So I am a huge theme park fan, with a penchant for Disney Parks in particular. I don't have kids but I am a kid at heart.

I went to Cali Sept last year, and yes you only really need 1 day per Disney park-- but only if you are pretty organized and/or fastpass early and often, don't mind rushing a bit, and spend most/all the day there (we're talking 9am to about 6pm at the least to see it all). You'll get to ride each ride at least once. If this sounds like you, do this. Keep in mind, some rides fastpass times start to go crazy very quickly --Radiator Springs Racers for example-- so these need to be fastpassed immediately. Research the rides you and the kids might want to go on and see how they fare. There are apps with approx times and lots of info on queues and queue times online. Keep in mind age and height restrictions for the kids, etc. So it's totally doable with one day per theme park.

BUT If you want to really enjoy the parks, take your time and not rush, and also maybe go on each ride at least twice, see more things, etc, I'd take 2 days each Disney Park. There's not a lot to California Adventure in terms of rides, but its vast and things like the Ferris Wheel take a really long time to get into (it cannot be fastpassed). Moreover, there's SO more to seeing Disney parks than riding the rides and getting out of there! People who do this kind of miss the point in my opinion.

I mean, there's a plethora of themed restaurants (I recommend the Storyteller's Cafe in California Adventure, the Blue Bayou in DL). I would try and do at least one themed restaurant. (Make sure to book.) When we went, we did 3, and I really enjoyed them. Storytellers is great for the little ones, the characters were awesome and came over for photos and hugs to every table. This was the easiest way to meet Disney characters without randomly finding them in the park and queuing to meet them. Also they are all fuzzy cute critter characters. There are other themed restaurants where you can meet Princess characters instead, if that's your kids thing. There's also two parades per day (the parades between parks are different) a Fireworks show at night, and 3-4 shows you can watch. We watched a live-action Aladdin musical which was awesome and rather long (50 minutes), and a stunt racer show too, among other things. Not to mention souvenir shops everywhere. Also, each park has a night event-- Cali Adventure has a fountain show, and Disneyland has a show on the River with a parade of boats. You need to fastpass these to get close to see them, and they are significantly less fun if you are rushing all day and cramming them in at the end, believe me. Disneyland is as involved as you want it to be. People saying otherwise have missed a lot.

As for Universal, I went to the plain version in Cali in 2006, and while it was OK, it didn't merit a second look. When I went to Cali last year, Harry Potter world wasn't finished so I didn't go again. I have been to Islands of Adventure feat. Harry Potter world in Orlando though, and I enjoyed that park very much. We spent one day there-- I recommend the queue-jumper tickets (they do cost extra), you get to use it once per ride, but skipping the queue is great. One day was enough for me, because while HP World is awesome (and Butterbeer is the best) it kinda lacks the magic that Disney seems to conjure, and it only took one day to get the most of it. I really enjoyed it though, and the Harry Potter section in particular is totally worth it. Again haven't been to the Cali version but I imagine its similar.

So I mean, that's my experience, YMMV. I hope you and your family have a blast and make awesome treasured memories!
posted by Dimes at 12:16 AM on November 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

Huge, adult, HP fan. I was at HP world in August and as I seem to recall a total of 3 rides and one wand experience. And you walk through the castle to get to one of the rides I guess. But the total area is small by anybody's standards. If that is really the only thing you want to do at Universal do not plan more than one day. In fact you can do it comfortably in half a day. Also consider that this is likely to appeal mainly to your older child, the younger child won't even be able to go on most/any of the rides but I can't remember what the minimum height was.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:42 AM on November 8, 2016

This is going to sound a bit heretical, but speaking from personal experience with kids similar to yours - theme parks can be really physically taxing on younger kids.

I would plan one day or maybe two half-days as breaks. Sleep in a little, spend some time at the pool. Get away from the crowds a bit. It's vacation after all!

I did DW/MK with a five and eight year old and their best memories were the sandy pool at Beach Club. Considering how much park passes cost that was kind of a pisser for me, but you can't force happiness on a child (although you will see a LOT of that being attempted at the parks).
posted by JoeZydeco at 4:40 AM on November 8, 2016

Nthing that Universal is smaller than you'd think. Took 3 boys there a few months ago, let them do everything they wanted to do, and we were still out in under 6 hours.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:03 AM on November 8, 2016

Oh definitely do at least three days at DL! You want to be able to be leisurely about it-take afternoon breaks if folks are wiped-and have time to watch shows and parades (little attractions like Turtle Talk with Crush are amazing and kid favorites but hard to fit in with only one day at CA, for instance-the Redwood Creek Challenge Trails are another example) -as well as repeat everyone's favorites. Familiarize yourself with fast pass strategies, touring plan ideas (which rides to hit first) and the child swap-you are likely to have rides where your 5th grader loves it and your kindergartner doesn't or is too short-so you avoid the dreaded "standing in the middle of Main Street staring at a map" affliction.
posted by purenitrous at 6:25 AM on November 8, 2016

We just took our two kids this spring - ages 5 and 8 at the time. We did 4 days with Parkhopper passes to go between Disneyland and California Adventure. We skipped Universal and other parks, as we chose not to rent a car.

Disneyland is absolutely magical. They loved every minute of it. California Adventure is fantastic as well. Anna and Elsa were over at CA Adventure, so we couldn't miss it. (If they care about characters, get the Disneyland app, because it will tell you who is going to be out signing autographs at what time.) We got the Parkhopper passes so we could go back and forth between the two parks on a whim, without exhausting ourselves with excessive planning.

For this age of kids, I think that three days at Disney/CA Ad is the ideal minimum - our 4 days was almost leisurely. Two days would have left some things undone, or else we would have felt pressured to go-go-go and that is never fun with a 5 year old.

I agree with the folks above who say to take breaks during the day. We had a hotel near by and the kids happily took off the late afternoons to swim. Then we went back to the parks for dinner and more fun. The break gave them the stamina to stay up for the parades.

Giving the kids plenty of time at the parks had the added benefit of letting them feel some mastery over the environment. By the third day, they were willing to go on rides they were shy of the first day, and they knew to ask if we could go back to the treehouse again, or get the pineapple ice cream we had to pass by the day before.

Sorry I don't know anything about the Harry Potter world at Universal - it sounds fantastic. Have a great time!
posted by Knowyournuts at 2:04 PM on November 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

We went with a girls (ours and a friend) slightly older than either of yours to Disneyland and Universal this year. I agree with the above advice regarding the Disney parks—it is just possible to do Disneyland in one day if you know where everything is but two days for Disneyland and one for California Adventure is about right.

We went to Universal in May. The Harry Potter part is small. We got passes that let us in an hour before the park's official opening time and did everything in the HP area in an hour which paid off because the line for the wand show alone was over an hour later in the day. Universal also has the backlot tour and some other stuff (plus the widest variety of food options of the Southern California theme parks) that I feel makes the park as a whole worth it.

You will probably also want to allow for most of a day to travel between Disney and Universal as they are on opposite sides of LA.
posted by rai at 8:09 PM on November 9, 2016

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