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Rank the Central Florida theme parks

Matt N

CF Legend
Hi guys. Of all the places in the world, Central Florida in the USA is arguably the theme park capital of the world. With Disney and Universal both operating their flagship multi-park resorts in the area, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens both having parks there, and other operators like Fun Spot and Merlin also maintaining a presence, theme park enthusiasts really are spoilt for choice in Central Florida! I've been to the region 5 times myself, with my first visit being in 2012 and my most recent being in 2023, and I absolutely love it out there! With this in mind, I'd be interested to know; how would you rank the various theme parks in Central Florida? Out of the smorgasbord of Florida theme parks, which one is your favourite?

I was inspired to make this thread by my uncle, aunt and cousins, who are coming to the end of their first ever trip to Florida. They've visited all 4 Disney parks and both Universal parks, and when my dad asked his brother whether they preferred Disney or Universal, he apparently said that "the rides are better at Universal, but you can't beat the overall experience of Disney"!

I'll get the ball rolling with my own personal ranking. Out of the area's theme parks, I've been to all 4 Disney parks, both Universal parks, SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa and Fun Spot Kissimmee, with the only notable ones I haven't been to being Legoland Florida (and by extension the adjoining Peppa Pig Theme Park) and Fun Spot Orlando. My most recent visit to the Universal parks, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens was in 2023, while my most recent visit to the Disney parks and Fun Spot Kissimmee was in 2019. With all of this in mind, my personal ranking is as follows:
  1. Universal's Islands of Adventure - IOA just had to come out on top for me! I find that the park just ticks all of the boxes, combining an awesome ride lineup with wonderful theming and atmosphere! In terms of the rides, the park simply fires on all cylinders, with two top-class coasters in VelociCoaster and Hagrid's, two top-class dark rides in Spider-Man and Skull Island: Reign of Kong and a top-class water ride in Jurassic Park River Adventure, amongst numerous other headliners! The theming in the park is also nothing shy of wonderful; ornately crafted areas like Hogsmeade, Jurassic Park, the Lost Continent and Toon Lagoon are wonderfully immersive, packed with detail and make the park a lovely place to be in and exist in. On the whole, I just absolutely love Islands of Adventure, and I feel that the park ticks every box you could possibly ask for from a theme park; it definitely earns its top spot and its place as one of my favourite theme parks in the world!
  2. Universal Studios Florida - Universal Studios Florida is often maligned, but I find it to be hitting at nearly the same high level as IOA, personally! The park has some brilliant headline attractions, with Revenge of the Mummy, Gringotts and Transformers all being excellent, in my view, and there's a wide range of other things to do at the park rides-wise, albeit many of them are simulators. The park also has some excellent theming, with Diagon Alley and Springfield, as well as the Hollywood and New York street areas, being excellently themed with lots of little details, and in general, I think Universal Studios Florida, dare I say more so than Islands of Adventure, is an incredibly relaxed park that's genuinely nice to just saunter along and exist in. The park has a wonderful atmosphere, with lots of things to look at and just a general relaxed feel! On the whole, then, I love Universal Studios Florida, and I think it and Islands of Adventure make for a phenomenal one-two punch of parks that Epic Universe will only enhance when it arrives!
  3. Busch Gardens Tampa - I do love Busch Gardens! I'm a huge coaster fan, and I have to say that Busch Gardens Tampa has possibly the strongest thrill ride lineup of any park I've visited, in my view; there are so many great thrills on offer at this park! For starters, that coaster selection is nothing short of top-tier; Iron Gwazi and SheiKra are a sublime one-two punch of top-ranking coasters, Montu is fantastic, Kumba is awesome, Cheetah Hunt is also really decent, and there are a few others to round the selection out! There are also two very strong thrilling flat rides at this park; Serengeti Flyer is absolutely phenomenal, in my opinion, as is Falcon's Fury! While hardly Universal or Disney quality in this regard, the park also has some respectable theming and landscaping in places, and it is a generally pleasant park to be in. It's not perfect; I think the park could perhaps do with one or two more non-coasters (maybe another big flat ride or a dark ride wouldn't go amiss), and I think the operations are quite weak. Nonetheless, I do love Busch Gardens, and from the standpoint of a thrill park, I think it possibly offers one of the strongest thrill ride lineups around!
  4. Disney's Animal Kingdom - Animal Kingdom is a gorgeous park. The aesthetics of every single area are just wonderful, and the theming and attention to detail throughout is unparalleled! The park also has some good attractions, with Flight of Passage being an excellent flying theatre, Kali River Rapids being a fun rapids, and Kilimanjaro Safaris being an undeniably stunning replica of an African safari! My one criticism, however, is that I think the park generally lacks rides. There is not much at this park in the way of rides, and I do think that's a real weakness of it for me. Nonetheless, I get that that's not really what the park is about, with that more being my own personal taste, and the theming is undeniably brilliant!
  5. SeaWorld Orlando - SeaWorld, like Busch Gardens, has some great coasters! Mako and Ice Breaker are a sublime one-two punch of top-ranking coasters, Kraken is really decent, and while I don't massively rate Pipeline and Manta, they undeniably add variety to the lineup. Like Busch Gardens, it's also got a relaxed atmosphere and is generally quite a pleasant park to be in. However, SeaWorld ranks lower because I don't think the thrill ride lineup is quite as fleshed out and strong, I don't think the theming and landscaping are quite as strong, and I think the flaws are perhaps exacerbated. Similarly to Busch, the operations are quite weak (although the queues were shorter than at Busch), but unlike Busch, SeaWorld has pretty much zilch in the way of non-coaster attractions now. I don't necessarily mind that too much, as I am a big coaster fan, but a bit of variety would be nice and I think a flat ride or two and a new dark ride would not go amiss to round things out a bit. Nonetheless, SeaWorld is a fun park with a really excellent lineup of coasters!
  6. Epcot - Epcot is an interesting one for me. Thematically, it's a park of two halves. On one hand, I thought World Showcase was absolutely stunning, I loved spending time there, and it was a truly wonderful area to spend time in, with top-drawer theming and landscaping, but on the other hand, I found Future World, while nicely landscaped in areas, quite bland and uninspired. In terms of attractions, I do think rides are a weak spot for Epcot; other than Test Track, which was great, and Frozen Ever After, which was surprisingly good, I'd struggle to think of any noteworthy rides there, and I think that similarly to Animal Kingdom, the park really lacks rides in general for my personal taste. While I did find World Showcase a stunning area to walk through and a lovely area to just spend time in, I do also kind of understand the criticism that some give of it mainly being a very well themed shopping mall or food festival, particularly seeing as I'm not much of a foodie. Nevertheless, Epcot is a nicely presented park, with World Showcase in particular being a highlight, and as with Animal Kingdom, the rides thing is probably more my personal taste.
  7. Disney's Magic Kingdom - Magic Kingdom was a nice park, and I enjoyed my time there... but it just lacked something for me. The theming and landscaping were very nice in areas, but I thought that in other areas, it was weaker than at other parks in the region. There were fun rides at the park, and to its credit, the park has a greater quantity and variety of attractions than the other Disney parks, but for me, it lacked a real standout attraction. In general, my family, rightly or wrongly, also felt a little bit too old for it. The other thing I'd say about it is that I found the whole experience there quite... stressful due to the sheer crowd levels. I know that these Florida parks are busy, but I seem to remember the crowd levels being magnified beyond that of any of the other parks at Magic Kingdom; it certainly lives up to its billing as the world's busiest theme park. Don't get me wrong, however, I enjoyed my time at Magic Kingdom, and I acknowledge that I'm probably not the target demographic. Also, I must say that the castle fireworks show (Happily Ever After at the time of my visit) was excellent, and dare I say quite magical!
  8. Disney's Hollywood Studios - To its credit, Hollywood Studios had some of the strongest rides at the Disney resort for me. Tower of Terror was absolutely sublime and my favourite Disney attraction by some margin, and Rock'n'Rollercoaster and Slinky Dog Dash were (perhaps controversially) the two strongest coasters at the resort for me. However... the rides and things to do at this park were so, so few and far between at this park when I went. Admittedly, half of it was a building site when I went, with only Toy Story Land being open of the newer additions, but we had a perception of there not really being much to do here at all, more so than with any of the other parks. And unlike some of the other parks, I didn't really think Hollywood Studios had the theming and visuals to make up for that; the park was more weakly themed than most of the other parks in Florida, and I felt like it didn't do the whole "studio" theming style nearly as well as Universal. However, I do acknowledge that I may have had an unfair perspective, as half of the park was under construction when I went.
  9. Fun Spot Kissimmee - Fun Spot is what it is, really. I remember Mine Blower being pretty decent, but the park as a whole is never going to compete with the other parks in the area, as it is a more basic park on a generally lower level. That's no slight against it at all, though, as it's not even really trying to compete with the other parks in the area.
I admit that my perspective may change if I was to revisit some of the Disney parks, particularly Hollywood Studios, and I apologise if I've been overly harsh with some of my comments.

But I'd be interested to know; how would you rank the Central Florida theme parks, if you've been? And which one is your favourite?
 

Dan Nguyen

Mega Poster
1. Islands of Adventure - basically a perfect theme park that caters to everyone. The theme is well executed and there's such a diverse selection of dark rides, flats and water rides on top of the really solid coaster collection the park has

2. Epcot - I love how unique this park is. World Showcase is amazing and Future World has a really solid selection of rides. This is another park that pretty much caters to everyone.

3. Universal Studios Florida - This park is basically the lesser IOA. Solid selection of rides that cater to everyone, but the studio theme doesn't really appeal to me nearly as much

4. Busch Gardens Tampa - I'm pretty much only ranking this park fairly high because of the coasters and how easy the park is to clear on the right day. BGT has the best collection of coasters in the state and the giant safari doesn't really hurt its case either. Operations are poor though

5. Animal Kingdom - This is probably the most immersive of the 4 Disney parks. The safari theme really works well. The park is still very much a half day park though. Fight of Passage has been toned down from opening year so its not as fun. I just stick with the safari and Everest whenever I come here nowadays

6. Magic Kingdom - This park probably has the highest concentration of rides and the park itself is pretty nice, but I think Disneyland has spoiled me. I think I prefer the intimate feel Disneyland has over the giant pathways and huge structures at MK

7. Sea World Orlando - I love the animal exhibits and the coasters, but I usually only spend about a half day here every time I visit

8. Hollywood Studios - If Tower wasn't here, I'd probably have no reason to visit TBH. Rise is really fun but the queues are always long. Falcon is great for single rider. Star Tours feels so dated now compared to the stuff in Star Wars Land. The Toy Story rides are ok but they're all low capacity so they command heavy lines all the time. Mickey's is nice but I feel they should've put that in MK and kept Great Movie Ride where it was. The park still feels too small for its own good.

9. both Fun Spot parks - $70 for an all day wristband? Geez what a ripoff. The parks were great when it was still $45-$50 for the all day. I do love the cheap beer though.

10. Legoland - Isn't really designed for me. The park is gorgeous and the rides I can hit are ok but its mostly a park geared towards small children.+
 
1. Busch Gardens Tampa
2. IOA
3. Animal Kingdom (Ive only been pre 2016)
4. SW Orlando
5. Universal Studios Orlando
6. Magic Kingdom
7. EPCOT
8. Hollywood Studios
9. Fun Spot Orlando
10. Fun Spot Kissimee
 
I don't remember SeaWorld enough to put it in my rankings because it has been two and a half decades since I last went (will probably go during my 2025 Florida trip), but other than that I'd rank them:

1. Islands of Adventure- So much to do, and every attraction is amazing besides that weird Poseidon thing. The theme of each land is engaging, thorough, and beautiful to look at, and obviously the park has been made more incredible with the addition of VelociCoaster and Hagrid's, which sadly I have yet to ride either.

2. Hollywood Studios- I love the attractions here and I find it the best mix of theme park and amusement park out of all the Disney parks.

3. Universal Orlando- A bit too heavy with the motion simulators, but I can't really fault them when they're all top notch. Revenge of the Mummy is also a coaster I can't wait to reride as I remember it being tons of fun.

4. Magic Kingdom- A bit more commercial feeling than the one in California, which is what stops it from being ranked any higher. I love it though, and it's still easy to feel the Disney magic here!

5. Busch Gardens Tampa- I wish I could go back on a day where it didn't torrential downpour, but the parts of the day I got with good weather were great. A nice lineup, I just don't rank it higher because it's an amusement park and not quite as unique as the other parks in Florida. I'd love to get on Iron Gwazi, though!

6. Animal Kingdom- I feel like this was always seen as a bit of a filler park, but after my visit in 2023, I realized there is enough to spend the better part of the day here now and a lot of the attractions are quite unique. Everest might be my favourite Disney coaster, and the Avatar area definitely elevated the park and gave it the extra oomph that it needed.

7. Epcot- Ugh, I do love Epcot but the problem is, I didn't do much in the World Showcase during my 2014 visit, and I didn't do much there during my 2023 visit either because it was boring for my kid. There are some fun attractions, but I feel like if I could enjoy the entire park, both the World Showcase and the rides all in one visit, I'd love it a lot more. It does still just have a bit of an identity crisis and has never felt cohesive, which I don't like.

8. Any Fun Spot park- They're all just cred runs to me and filled with a lot of ghetto folks.
 
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