Universal Studios vs Islands Of Adventure – Which Park Is Best?

Universal Studios Resort in Orlando, Florida is home to two theme parks and one waterpark.

The theme parks are Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure.

These theme parks are located next to each other and are connected by the Hogwarts Express inside each Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the entertainment complex of CityWalk.

If you’ve only one day at the Universal Studios Resort in Orlando then you’re likely left choosing between either visiting Universal Studios Florida or Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

In that case, Universal Studios Florida is better for younger children with rides such as Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem and shows such as Animal Actors on Location. In contrast, Islands of Adventure is better for Harry Potter fans with the Hogwarts Castle & Ollivanders wand shop.

Ultimately, both Universal Studios parks are incredible and which one is better for you on a one-day trip to the resort is likely to instead depend on who you’re visiting with and their interests.

What’s The Difference Between Universal Studios Florida & Universal’s Islands Of Adventure?

Fundamentally, Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure are the same in that they are made up of a combination of themed areas containing rides and shows.

However, Universal Studios Florida focuses more on reality with themed New York and San Francisco areas.

Meanwhile, Islands of Adventure focuses more on fantasy with themed areas for Superhero Island, Seuss Landing and Jurassic Park.

Which Universal Park Has The Cheapest Park Tickets?

While the cost of visiting the Universal Orlando resort theme parks varies depending on the day(s) of the year you choose to visit the price of Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure is the same.

As such it’s not cheaper to purchase park tickets for one park over another.

Which Themed Lands Are Inside Universal Studios Florida?

Universal Studios is made up of eight themed lands. Unlike Islands of Adventure, the majority of these areas flow together seamlessly.

So much so that it’s hard to distinguish Production Central from the likes of New York or San Francisco.

1. Production Central

Production Central is the first area you’ll come to inside Universal Studios Florida.

This area is home to the large Universal Studios store (perfect for picking up those incredible Universal Studios souvenirs) as well as rides such as Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit.

Just in front of the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit you’ll find the Universal Music Plaza Stage.

This stage accommodates up to 8,000 guests and is home to roughly 20 concerts from major musical artists each year.

2. New York

If you continue past the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit you’ll enter New York, home to two incredible rides; The Revenge of The Mummy and Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon.

This area is also home to the Delancey Street Preview Centre which showcases upcoming Universal films and TV shows as well as The Blues Brothers Show.

3. San Francisco

As you follow the lagoon round past the arcade you’ll enter San Francisco, one of the smallest themed areas within Universal Studios.

While this area is only home to one ride (Fast & Furious: Supercharged) it benefits from a number of great food and drink options including; Chez Alcatraz, San Francisco Candy Factory, Richter’s Burger Company and Lombard’s Seafood Grill.

4. London / Diagon Alley – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

London, and subsequently Diagon Alley within London is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter area within Universal Studios Florida.

Here you’ll find the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride along with the Hogwarts Express train which connects across to Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure.

This area is unsurprisingly one of the most popular within Universal Studios Florida and is home to plenty of souvenir shops and photo opportunities.

5. World Expo

Following the lagoon round from London, you’ll head into the World Expo. This is the furthest area from the entrance to Universal Studios Florida and is home to the iconic Men in Black: Alien Attack ride.

Alongside this incredible ride, you’ll find the Fear Factor Live show. This show takes place multiple times a day (be sure to check the specific show times for your visit online in advance).

6. Springfield

Springfield is our second favourite themed area inside of Universal Studios Florida (after Diagon Alley / London of course).

This area is home to two rides; The Simpsons Ride and Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl alongside a range of Simpsons-themed dining options for you to enjoy including;

  • Krusty Burger
  • Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck
  • The Flying Dutchman

7. Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone

If you’re travelling with babies, toddlers or young children to Universal Studios Florida then you’re not going to want to miss Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone.

This area is home to the awesome Animal Actors on Location show which takes place multiple times a day and lasts 20 minutes.

Alongside this, you’ll find the waterplay zone of Curious George Goes to Town and Fievel’s Playground as well as the Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster and the E.T. Adventure ride.

A recent addition to this area is DreamWorks’ destination. A stage show and character experience based on popular DreamWorks Animation franchises.

8. Hollywood

As you follow the lagoon round back towards Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, you’ll enter Hollywood.

This is the last themed area inside Universal Studios Florida and home to one of the oldest attractions in the park; Universal’s Horror Make-Up Show.

Marilyn and The Diamond Bellas also regularly appear for performances along here, while towards the Today Café located on the corner you’ll find The Bourne Stuntacular.

Which Themed Lands Are Inside Islands Of Adventure?

Much like Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure is also home to eight themed areas. With the main difference between the two being how the lands inside of Islands of Adventure are more fictional.

1. Port Of Entry

Port of Entry, is as you’d expect the entrance to Islands of Adventure.

This area does not contain any rides and instead is made up of a large Universal Studios store and a number of quick-service dining locations including a Starbucks and Cinnabon.

2. Marvel Super Hero Island

While Disney now owns the rights to Marvel (and has done since 2009), they have continued to honour the existing Marvel contracts.

So, while Marvel Super Hero Islands is available here at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, for now, it’s unknown how long this might last.

This is one of the largest areas within Islands of Adventure and is made up of three rides;

  • Storm Force Accelatron
  • Doctor Doom’s Fearfall
  • The Incredible Hulk Coaster

Here you’ll also find a number of stores selling Marvel and Universal souvenirs alongside a number of dining options including; Café 4 and the Captain America Diner.

3. Toon Lagoon

Toon Lagoon is home to two of Islands of Adventure’s three water-based rides; Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls and Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges.

Alongside this, you’ll find the Me Ship, the Olive kids’ play area.

While this area of the park has attractions designed around children the characters are somewhat dated.

4. Skull Island

Skull Island is the newest area of Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and also the smallest home to just one ride; Skull Island: Reign of Kong.

5. Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park is one of the largest areas at Islands of Adventure and also one of the most popular.

This themed area is home to a range of stores and dining options alongside five attractions

  • VelociCoaster
  • Jurassic Park River Adventure
  • Pteranodon Flyers
  • Camp Jurassic
  • Jurassic Park Discovery Center

6. Hogsmeade – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Hogsmeade is the Islands of Adventure area of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and is connected to Universal Studios via the Hogwarts Express.

Unlike Diagon Alley over in Universal Studios you’ll find multiple rides in this themed area including;

Here you’ll also find a number of themed stores for Harry Potter souvenirs and a range of food carts selling snacks and that all-important Butterbeer.

7. The Lost Continent

Just outside of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter you’ll find The Lost Continent.

This is one of the oldest areas inside Islands of Adventure and is home to two minor attractions; The Mystic Fountain and Poseidon’s Fury.

While this area can now feel somewhat random we don’t recommend skipping it – especially if you’re hungry.

That’s because The Lost Continent is home to what we feel is the best food inside any of the Universal Studios parks.

For those looking for a quick meal be sure to check-out The Kebab House or the Fire Eater’s Grill.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a dining experience to remember head to the award-winning Mythos restaurant.

8. Suess Landing

This kid-friendly area is located just next to the Port of Entry (the park entrance and exit) and is home to some fun-filled rides and attractions including;

  • If I Ran The Zoo
  • Oh, The Stories You’ll Hear
  • One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
  • Caro-Seuss-el
  • The High In The Sky Suess Trolley Train Ride
  • The Cat In The Hat

Most of these rides are designed for children aged six and under. As such if you’re at Island’s of Adventure on an adults-only trip or with teens then this is likely an area you’ll want to skip.

Which Universal Park Is Best For The Wizarding World of Harry Potter?

One thing both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure have in common is that they both have a Wizarding World of Harry Potter area.

In Universal Studios Florida this is Diagon Alley, complete with Kings Cross just outside.

Meanwhile, over in Islands of Adventure, this is Hogsmeade complete with the Hogwarts Castle and Ollivanders wand shop.

Personally, we both believe that the best Wizarding World of Harry Potter is Hogsmeade inside Islands of Adventure.

This area is significantly more spacious and open in comparison to Diagon Alley and comes complete with photo ops of the Hogwarts Castle along with incredible rides including;

  • Harry Potter And The Forbidden Journey
  • Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
  • Flight of the Hippogriff

Souvenirs here can be purchased from Ollivander’s wand shop, Owl Post and Honeydukes while food and drink can be purchased from the Three Broomsticks, Hog’s Head and any of the Butterbeer Carts.

While both Universal parks are connected by the entertainment complex CityWalk they are also both connected by the Hogwarts Express that runs between the two parks.

This ride runs back and forth for guests with a park-to-park ticket from Kings Cross Station at Universal Studios to Hogsmeade Station at Islands of Adventure.

Which Universal Park Has The Best Rides?

The best Universal Orlando park for rides is currently Islands of Adventure since this park recently had two new additions;

Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure which opened in 2019 and VelociCoaster which opened in 2021.

List Of Rides At Universal Studios Florida

The current list of rides available at Universal Studios Florida is;

  1. Despicable Me Minion Mayhem Rides
  2. Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
  3. Transformers 4D: The Ride
  4. Race through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon
  5. Revenge of the Mummy
  6. Fast and the Furious Ride
  7. Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone
  8. Woody Woodpecker Nuthouse Coaster
  9. E.T. Adventure
  10. The Simpson’s Ride
  11. Kang & Kudos Twirl ‘n’ Hurl
  12. Men In Black: Alien Attack
  13. Escape from Gringotts in Diagon Alley
  14. Hogwarts Express

List Of Rides At Universal’s Islands Of Adventure

Meanwhile, the current list of rides available at Universal’s Islands of Adventure is;

  1. Flight of the Hippogriff
  2. Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
  3. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
  4. Hogwarts Express
  5. Pteranodon Flyers
  6. Jurassic Park River Adventure Ride
  7. Jurassic World VelociCoaster
  8. Cat in the Hat Ride
  9. High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train
  10. Caro-Seuss-El
  11. One fish, Two fish, Red fish, Blue Fish
  12. Doom’s Fearfall
  13. Incredible Hulk Coaster
  14. Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
  15. Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-rat Barges
  16. Dudley Do-Right Ripsaw Falls
  17. Skull Island: Reign of Kong

Which Universal Park Has The Most Water Rides?

Islands of Adventure is the only (and therefore the best) Universal park for water rides.

There are three water rides at Islands of Adventure;

  • Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls
  • Jurassic Park River Adventure
  • Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges

All three of these rides have a minimum height requirement with Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges being the lowest at 42″.

Of course, if you’re looking for more water rides while at the Universal Studios Resort in Orlando be sure to visit the water park, Volcano Bay.

Which Universal Park Is Best For Older Children?

Islands of Adventure is better suited to older children since it not only has more rides in total but also more thrill rides specifically.

This park is also the better park for a Harry Potter fan, which also tends to favour older children who have either read the books or watched the films.

The best roller coaster inside Islands of Adventure is currently Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.

This ride is currently one of the only rides ineligible for an Express Pass and subsequently has standby wait times of up to 200 minutes.

Given this, it’s best to stay on-site at a Universal Studios hotel to take advantage of the extra hour inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

However, if this isn’t possible we recommend going ahead and arriving at the park at least 30 minutes prior to general park admission so you’re ready to enter the park and head to the ride as soon as possible.

Which Universal Park Is Best For Small Children?

Universal Studios Florida is the best Universal park for families travelling with little kids since this park has more rides with lower height requirements and multiple live shows.

While the themed lands inside Universal Studios Florida aren’t as exciting as in Islands of Adventure, there’s still a lot for kids to enjoy here.

We recommend checking out the times for the Animal Actors show which takes place multiple times a day.

This show is located between Springfield, home of The Simpsons and Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone which is a must-visit area for those with toddlers.

Of course, just because this area is better suited to smaller children doesn’t mean there’s nothing here for the adults.

Just around the corner from epic rides such as Race through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon and Revenge of the Mummy you’ll find regular shows by The Blues Brothers.

Meanwhile, much like Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Florida is also home to a Harry Potter World in Diagon Alley.

Character Meet & Greets Inside Universal Studios Florida

One of the highlights of travelling to Universal Studios with younger kids is likely going to be meeting their favourite characters.

In this case, the characters you can expect to meet inside Universal Studios Florida are;

  • Betty Boop
  • Hello Kitty
  • Lucy and Ricky Ricardo
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Doc Brown
  • Scooby-Doo, Daphne, Fred, Shaggy, and Velma
  • Dora, Boots, Diego, and Baby Jaguar
  • Numerous Minions characters
  • The Secret Life of Pets characters
  • Beetlejuice
  • Frankenstein’s Monster
  • Count Dracula
  • Shrek
  • Fiona
  • Donkey
  • Optimus Prime
  • Bumblebee
  • Megatron
  • Agent J
  • Agent K
  • The Simpsons family
  • Krusty the Clown
  • Sideshow Bob
  • Spongebob, Patrick, and Squidward
  • Numerous Madagascar characters
  • Po and Tigress
  • Several Trolls characters
  • Puss in Boots
  • The Boss Baby
  • E.T.
  • The Blues Brothers
  • Hashtag the Panda
  • Mummies
  • Bruce the Shark

Character Meet & Greets Inside Universal’s Islands of Adventure

Meanwhile, the characters you can expect to meet inside Universal’s Islands of Adventure are;

  • Puss in Boots
  • Kitty Softpaws
  • Various characters from Madagascar
  • Po from Kung Fu Panda
  • She-Ra
  • Spider-Man
  • Captain America
  • Wolverine
  • Doctor Doom
  • Green Goblin
  • Cyclops
  • Storm
  • Rogue
  • Popeye and Olive Oyl
  • Betty Boop
  • Several dinosaurs
  • The Cat in the Hat
  • Thing 1 and Thing 2
  • Sam-I-Am and Guy-Am-I
  • The Grinch
  • The Lorax

Not that some characters are significantly harder to meet than others.

This specifically applies to lesser-known characters such as; the characters from Madagascar and Popeye.

Instead, you’ll find the more popular characters not only appear daily but instead multiple times a day.

These characters include; Homer Simpson, Spider-Man, Captain America, Bumblebee and Scooby-Doo.

Which Universal Park Has The Best Food & Drink?

Both Universal parks offer incredible food and drink options, however, each park has a strength.

Universal Studios Florida is the best park for snacks with Duff Beer and giant doughnuts available from inside Springfield, home of The Simpsons.

Meanwhile, Islands of Adventure is the better choice for meals with the Confisco Grille and Mythos Restaurant.

For those looking to dine within the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you’ll be pleased to know that both parks have a themed restaurant.

In Universal Studios Florida this is the Leaky Cauldron while over in Islands of Adventure you’ll find the Three Broomsticks.

Best Universal Park For Fireworks

Unlike Walt Disney World, there are no fireworks displays at Universal Studios.

Instead, both parks offer a light show (which inside Universal Studios contains a synchronised water feature and incredibly limited number of fireworks, not enough to call it a show similar to what you’d see at Magic Kingdom).

In our opinion, the best Universal park for an evening light show is Islands of Adventure.

While this light show contains no fireworks, it’s projected onto the Hogwarts Castle at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and repeats throughout the evening with the first show beginning shortly after the sunset.

Universal Studios Florida on the other hand has a set water and light show which takes place on the lagoon with projections showing over on the Richter’s Burger Company and San Francisco Pastry Company buildings.

This show lasts 15 minutes and typically begins one hour before the park closes.

Note that this show does not take place during Halloween Horror Nights.

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