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Islands of Adventures vs Universal Studios

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If you didn’t already know, the Universal Orlando Resort parks are split into two, with an additional water park just a short bus ride away. We’ve stacked them against each other, Islands of Adventure vs Universal Studios – which is your favorite? Which is better for young kids or teens? Should you park hop with park to park tickets?

If you’re heading to the parks or if you’re wondering which park is the best and what are the differences between the two, I’ve covered all the pros and cons of each park to help you decide which one would best suit you and your family. 

Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure share a car park and an entrance but fork into two separate parks as you walk on through CityWalk. Volcano Bay also shares this car park, but you’ll need to hop on a dedicated Universal shuttle bus to reach the water park entrance.

Upon arriving at the Universal Orlando Resort and working your way through CityWalk, you’ll either turn left and head towards Islands of Adventure or right and end up in Universal Studios Florida and see the famous Universal globe.

Universal Globe
Universal Globe
Islands of Adventures vs Universal Studios

What’s the Difference Between the Universal Orlando Resort Parks?

As I mentioned before, the Universal Orlando Resort is split into two theme parks and one water park. Universal offers a range of tickets and ticket combinations, meaning you can choose to visit just one park, two parks, or all three. 

Hogwarts Express At Islands Of Adventure, Orlando

The park-to-park tickets for Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure mean you can continuously switch between the two theme parks during the day you visit and you can also jump on the Hogwarts Express in either park station and be transported to the other, cutting out the walking time and making you feel like you’re off to Hogwarts.

If you don’t have time to visit all three parks, how do you choose which Universal park is better, Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure? Well, here are the main differences between the parks to help make your decision easier. If it’s particularly busy, or you are short on time, consider purchasing Express Passes.

Universal Studios Florida
Universal Studios Florida

Universal Studios Florida

Universal Studios Florida was the first park to open in the Orlando location, and because of this, the rides that the movies are based on are older and suitable for adults and teens who are familiar with the films. Think Men In Black, The Mummy, E.T with the newer addition of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Most of the rides in Universal Studios Florida are show style and simulated, so if your family aren’t into big rides with extravagant drops, Universal Studios Florida might be a great fit – although they do have some high thrill rollercoasters too!

The Universal Studios Florida park is split into eight sections with rides and attractions in each: Production Central, New York, San Francisco, Hollywood, London and Diagon Alley, Springfield, Woody Woodpecker’s Kid Zone and World Expo. 

What Rides Are in Universal Studios Florida?

A good decider of which park to visit could come down to whether or not you like the movies the rides are based on. Rides are fun regardless, but it’s even better when you know all the characters and storyline before jumping on. 

The best rides in Universal Studios Florida include:

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem Ride
  • Despicable Me Minion Mayhem** – a simulator ride starting at Gru’s house through to Minion training grounds where the mayhem begins!
Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket
Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket
  • Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket – a huge rollercoaster with a top speed of 65 miles per hour!
Transformers: The Ride 3-D
Transformers: The Ride 3-D
  • Transformers: The Ride 3-D** – A dark ride on motion platform-mounted vehicles with 3D effects.
Jimmy Fallon - Race Through New York
Jimmy Fallon – Race Through New York
  • Jimmy Fallon – Race Through New York** – 3D motion-simulator with host Jimmy Fallon in a car race around NYC.
Revenge of the Mummy
Revenge of the Mummy
  • Revenge of the Mummy – an enclosed roller coaster. Expect darkness, fireball, thrills and creepy Mummies!
Fast and Furious Supercharged
Fast and Furious Supercharged Ride
  • Fast and Furious Supercharged** (NB there is one swear word before the ride begins, rhyming with dissed!) Otherwise a great ride for younger car fans as they ride in a ‘party bus’ through a massive car chase!
Escape From Gringotts RIde
Escape From Gringotts RIde
  • Harry Potter and The Escape From Gringotts – An indoor rollercoaster with brilliant special effects and speedy as you journey deep underground the vaults of Gringotts Bank.
  • The Hogwarts Express – London’s King Cross Station*
Twirl n hurl
Twirl ‘n’ Hurl
  • Kang & Kodo’s Twirl ‘n’ Hurl** – The ride is like all standard up and down spinning rides that you’ll find in theme parks all over the world, just with a Simpsons twist. 
The Simpson’s Ride
The Simpson’s Ride
  • The Simpson’s Ride** – Special effects that make you feel as if you are on a rollercoaster!
Men in Black Alien Attack-
Men in Black
  • Men in Black Alien Attack- Buckle up and shoot aliens!
E.T Ride
E.T Adventure Ride
  • E.T Adventure Ride* – During the E.T ride, you’ll be seated on a bike simulator and ride through the sky just like E.T himself. Along the way you meet colorful creatures, flora and fauna and of course you succeed in your mission!
Woody Woodpeckers Nuthouse Coaster
Woody Woodpeckers Nuthouse Coaster
  • Woody Woodpeckers Nuthouse Coaster* – On the coaster, you’ll join Woody as he runs around his personal nut factory, telling silly puns and jokes along the way.

All rides with ** after their names are suitable for young children with a minimum height of 40” (102 cm) and over to ride on. If * children must be over 92cm/36″. There are a few immersive playgrounds in Woody Woodpeckers Kidzone that your little ones will love too.  For more toddler and pre-school rides see this Universal for Toddlers article.

toddler checking rides line height at Universal, orlando
A 3.5 year old measuring up at Universal.
fievels playground at Universal Studios Orlando
A slide at Universal Studios playground

What Shows Are in Universal Studios Florida?

Universal Studios Florida also has many shows suitable for the whole family, most with air conditioning and seating – perfect if you’ve been spending the entire day walking around and waiting in queues. 

Shows throughout the park:

  • The Horror Make-Up Show
  • Fear Factor Live
  • The Blue’s Brothers
  • Animal Actors – On Location! 
  • Superstar Parade
  • Poseidon’s Fury
Islands of Adventure, Universal Orlando
Islands of Adventure, Universal Orlando

Islands of Adventure

If you have little ones in tow, Islands of Adventure might be the park better suited to you. You can find dedicated lands and rides suitable for children all over the park, as well as rides based on movies they have most likely watched or heard of. 

Islands of Adventure is also split into eight different sections: Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, Dr. Seuss in Seuss Landing, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade, Skull Island, and The Lost Continent. 

Universal Comic strip cafe in Toon Lagoon, Universal Orlando
Toon Lagoon

What Rides Are in Islands of Adventure?

As the Islands of Adventure’s rides are based on newer and more well-known movies, the whole family will be able to enjoy the rides, fully understanding the plotline and characters featured. 

One of the biggest benefits of visiting Islands of Adventure is the fact that is has more rides than its sister park and more rides, means more fun. 

The best rides in Islands of Adventure include: 

The Incredible Hulk coaster
The Incredible Hulk coaster
  • The Incredible Hulk coaster
Storm Force Accelatron
Storm Force Accelatron
  • Storm Force Accelatron**- Your standard teacup ride, but make it superhero!
Doctor Doom’s Fearfall
Doctor Doom’s Fearfall
  • Doctor Doom’s Fearfall
Spiderman at Universal Orlando IOA
  • The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman**
Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges
Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges
  • Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges- you WILL get absolutely soaked from head to toe!
Dudley Do Right’s Ripsaw Falls
Dudley Do Right’s Ripsaw Falls
  • Dudley Do Right’s Ripsaw Falls
skull island king kong
Skull Island: Reign of Kong
  • Skull Island: Reign of Kong**- Meet Dinosaurs and Kong on this safari ride of a lifetime – the line can be a bit scary for younger ones with the chanting woman.
Pteranodon-Flyers
Pteranodon Flyers
  • Pteranodon Flyers* (Under 48” (122 cm) requires Supervising Companion)
  • Jurassic Park River Adventure – all is running smoothly, until Dinosaurs escape!
Jurassic World Velocicoaster
Jurassic World Velocicoaster
  • Jurassic World Velocicoaster – Florida’s fastest and tallest roller coaster.
Harry Potter & The Forbidden Journey
Harry Potter & The Forbidden Journey
  • Harry Potter & The Forbidden Journey
  • Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Ride
  • Hogwarts Express: Hogsmeade Station*
Flight Of The Hippogriff
Flight Of The Hippogriff**
  • Flight Of The Hippogriff** – A junior roller coaster for those over 48″ at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter 
Poseidon’s Fury
Poseidon’s Fury
  • Poseidon’s Fury
The High In the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride
The High In the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride
  • The High In the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride** – There are two different routes on the ride, both of which are extremely toddler-friendly with no drops, high speeds, or jerky turns.
Caroseussel
  • Caro-Seuss-el- (No minimum height required. Under 48” (122 cm) requires a Supervising Companion)
One Fish Two fish red fish blue fish ride
  • One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish – No height requirement.
The Cat In The Hat
The Cat In The Hat
  • The Cat In The Hat*( Under 48” (122 cm) Requires Supervising Companion)- Toddlers 36 inches and up can ride with a parent on the indoor Cat in the Hat ride. The cars do spin gently from side to side as they go along the track.

All rides with ** after their names are suitable for young children with a minimum height of 40” (102 cm) and over to ride on. If * children must be over 92cm/36″. Other playground type areas are located in Suess Landing and Jurassic Park, where the kids can run around and let off some steam. 

Frog Choir at Islands of Adventure
Frog Choir at Islands of Adventure

What Shows Are in Islands of Adventure?

Islands of Adventure also have their fair share of shows, four of which are Harry Potter inspired and found in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade. 

Shows throughout the park:

  • Triwizard Spirit Rally
  • The Frog Choir
  • The Dark Arts At Hogwarts Castle
  • Nighttime Lights At Hogwarts Castle
  • Oh! The Stories You’ll Hear – Dr Seuss Themed
Volcano Bay Universal Orlando with kids

Volcano Bay

Volcano Bay is the final instalment in the Universal Orlando franchise, and although it is set roughly a mile away from the two main theme parks, regular buses running from the car park can get you to and from Volcano Bay in no time at all. 

Volcano Bay has tons of big (and small) water slides, a wave pool, a lazy river, luxury cabanas and lounge chairs, so there really is something for everyone. 

Ika Moana and hona Ika Moana ride at volcano Bay
Honu of the Hona ika Moana and Ika Moana of the Hona ika Moana

What Rides Are in Volcano Bay?

If you’re into big water rides or lounging back in a rubber ring and floating along a lazy river, Volcano Bay is the place to go. 

The best rides in Volcano Bay include: 

  • Honu of the Honu ika Moana
  • Ika Moana of the Honu ika Moana
  • Kala and Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides
  • Ko’okiri Body Plunge
  • Kopiko Wai Winding River
  • Krakatau Aqua Coaster
  • Maku of the Maku Puihi Round Raft Rides
  • Puihi of the Maku Puihi Round Raft Rides
  • Ohno of Ohyah & Ohno Drop Slides
  • Ohyah of Ohyah & Ohno Drop Slides
  • Puka Uli Lagoon
  • Punga Racers
  • Raki of Taniwha Tubes
  • Tonga of Taniwha Tubes
  • TeAwa The Fearless River
  • The Reef
  • Waturi Beach
Mel’s Drive in at Universal Studios

Which Park Has the Best Food?

The good news is, the food in both theme parks covers a wide variety of cuisines to suit every budget, so no matter which park you choose, you’ll be able to find an affordable meal that’ll suit everyone in your family. 

Best places to eat – Universal Studios Florida:

  • Today Cafe
  • Kidzone Pizza Company
  • Krusty Burger
  • Mel’s Drive-In
  • Lard Lad Donuts
  • Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour – try the Earl Grey with lavender!
  • Lombard Seafood Grille
  • The Leaky Cauldron

Best places to eat – Islands of Adventure:

  • Backwater Bar
  • Moose Juice Goose Juice
  • Cinnabon
  • Mythos Restaurant
  • Fire Eater’s Grill
  • Comic Strip Cade
  • Doc Sugrue’s Desert Kebab House
  • Three Broomsticks
  • Hog’s Head
Diagon Alley vs Hogsmeade, Which Is Better?

Diagon Alley vs Hogsmeade, Which Is Better?

If you or anyone in your family is a major Harry Potter fan, and have to choose one park, then choosing the park you should go to could come down to which Harry Potter land is best. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter sections are the busiest sections of the parks, so head there first at park opening if Harry Potter is top of your list of things to do at Universal.

Islands of Adventure has Hogsmeade, and Universal Studios Florida has Diagon Alley, but which is better and which should be chosen if you can only pick one? 

Buy a set of postcards and stamps and post at Owl Post in Hogsmeade!
Buy a set of postcards and stamps and post at Owl Post in Hogsmeade!

In my opinion, Hogsmeade just takes the top spot for Harry Potter fans (but if you can do the park to park ticket, I highly recommend it.) You can buy postcards from Hogsmeade’s Owl Post Office and send them across the globe. ( Note you do need to buy the full package which includes 10 postcards and about 20 USA stamps -costing approx $30, so have a few people in mind to send postcards to!) With Harry Potter & The Forbidden Journey, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Ride, Hogwarts Express: Hogsmeade Station and Flight Of The Hippogriff, it not only has twice as many Harry Potter inspired rides as Diagon Alley, but it also has four themed shows that run throughout the day. 

  • Triwizard Spirit Rally
  • The Frog Choir
  • The Dark Arts At Hogwarts Castle
  • Nighttime Lights At Hogwarts Castle

Olivander’s Wand Shop and butterbeer, however, can be found in both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade so you’ll still get to taste the delicious butterbeer and try your hand at magic spells with a specially chosen interactive wand. 

Butterbeer at Universal Orlando Wizarding World
Butterbeer at Universal Orlando Wizarding World
Do chat to the Goblin at Gringotts Money Exchange in Diagon Alley
Do chat to the Goblin at Gringotts Money Exchange in Diagon Alley

Do stop at Gringotts Money Exchange over at Diagon Alley and speak to the Goblin. (Not the Goblin in Gringotts Back on the Escape from Gringotts ride line) Ask him if he is a house elf and enjoy his retort! He is quite chatty!

Gringotts Bank Notes at Gringotts Money Exchange in Diagon Alley
Gringotts Bank Notes

You can also buy Gringotts Bank Notes in exchange for Muggle money which can be spent at select Universal Resort locations as well as Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Don’t worry if you don’t spend it all – you can change it back to Muggle currency US$ at Guest Services.

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