Before I get into reviews, though, I'll put in a plug for the Lines App, from touringplans.com. This is a crowdsourced app for keeping track of how long the lines *actually* are on all of the rides, and it's a godsend. It was often more accurate than the officially posted times, and made the whole thing less frustrating. During the latter days of the trip, I got into the game of setting the timer when I got on line and reporting actual waiting times, to help keep the data current -- it's a fun little distraction. Between that, judicious use of FastPass to make reservations for some of the more popular rides, and simply the fact that we deliberately traveled during Very Low Season, I got a lot less annoyed by waiting in line than I often do at Disney.
One thing that's really striking about doing Disney and Universal on the same trip is just how *different* they are. In a nutshell, Disney has vastly more variety -- lots more shows and things to see, as well as more variety of rides. OTOH, Universal has doubled down on rides per se, pushing the technology hard and producing a much more intense experience. By and large, rides are the one area in which Universal really excels.
That said, they're starting to go to the same wells a bit too often. For example, the Gringott's ride in Potterland was pretty great, but it's largely the same technology as their classic Spider-Man ride, which is one of the best. Worse, their Transformers ride was one of the low points: it is *exactly* the same ride as Spider-Man, but with (and this seems impossible) even less coherence and plot. Of these three, while Gringott's gets all the attention, I still think Spider-Man is the best ride.
That said, of everything in Potterworld, the older ride inside Hogwarts ("Forbidden Journey") is my favorite: very active, twisting, twirly, near-upside-downy, fun. Kate didn't care for it so much, though: she doesn't love upside-down, and found that the ride made her a tad motion-sick. (Doing it shortly after ice cream may have been unwise. But the Butterbeer soft serve is very tasty.)
Roller coasters: Universal wins, hands down. The Dueling Dragons in Potterworld is a very good crazy coaster, and Hulk remains one of my all-time favorites. That's for crazy-coaster fans only, though: it has at least seven loops of one sort or another, so you spend a large fraction of the ride upside-down. (Needless to say, Kate stayed off that one.) Honorable mention goes to the Everest coaster in Disney's Animal Kingdom, which was just about the perfect compromise for me and Kate: interesting and crazy enough for my tastes, with some unusual twists, while not doing any of the upside-downness that she dislikes. That one is recommended to anybody who likes coasters.
Another honorable mention is the very odd Toy Story Midway Mania. This was one of Disney's few 3D rides, and in this case it's actually necessary. It is a "ride" only in the technical sense, but it's definitely not a show -- you are basically driven around from screen to screen, each of which is a carnival midway attraction of the "throw Things at Things in order to win prizes!" sort. You have an odd little controller, and pulling that shoots whatever is appropriate to the current screen -- balls, pies, suction-cup darts -- at the targets on the screen. The whole thing manages to be very accurate to the midway theme, but somehow much more exciting and interesting. Not worth the 60-minute line, but a great choice for a FastPass.
Out of everything, though, my pick for the best ride out of both parks is (and I was not expecting this) The Simpsons Ride. (AKA Krustyworld.) This is a completely insane motion simulator, one of those rides where you get into a car that holds about 20 people, and wind up watching a full-surround screen as you get jostled, turned and tilted. It is probably the best example of the concept I've ever seen (and I've been a fan of these things since Star Tours first opened, probably 20 years ago): the technology is smooth and convincing (despite, or perhaps because, it eschews the 3D), and the ride is nuts. Perhaps most important, this is the Simpsons, and is totally faithful: it is basically a mini-episode of the show, so it's not just frenetic, it is quite funny at the same time, with a storyline that runs through the entire experience from the waiting area onward. (The waiting area isn't quite as good as Muppetvision 3D, but it's up there.) Highly recommended.
Important caveat: Universal loves, loves, LOVES 3D. If you don't like 3D glasses, it may not even be worth going -- I think that over half of the better rides required the silly glasses. To be fair, they've gotten good at it -- the 3D *worked* much better for me on the newer rides than the older ones. But it started to get annoying after a while. (By contrast, very little of Disney uses 3D glasses.)
Also, Universal has gotten into the habit of requiring Absolutely No Loose Articles on many of their rides, and they're pretty strict about it: I had to get into arguments twice to make the point that yes, my belt pouch is firmly attached and is not by any reasonable definition "loose". So we wound up wasting a lot of time putting our stuff into lockers and getting it back out again. They've made the locker tech about as smooth as can be: it's free for all of the rides where it is required, and uses thumbprints to provide adequate security without needing keys, but it's still a hassle. (And, y'know, thumbprints.)
All that said: if you like "thrilling" rides, Universal is currently the park to beat. They've got an impressive density of power rides, and while a few are duds, most are solidly good...