Wondering how to best spend your time at Universal Orlando Resort? There are so many things to do it can be overwhelming to plan without spending some time discovering what each park has to offer.
Universal Orlando is split into two theme parks and one water park. Here we are just talking about the theme parks:
- Universal Studios Florida which is the original theme park that opened in 1990
- Islands of Adventure opened in 1999
The two Universal Orlando parks are within easy walking distance of each other, but they are very different from each other.
One of the major differences is the themes. Universal Studios is centered around tv shows and movies, whereas Islands of Adventure is mostly themed around superheroes.
Both parks have a Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme.
In the middle of Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure is City Walk, the entertainment, restaurant, and shopping area of Universal Orlando.
The theme parks and Universal City Walk are within easy walking distance of each other and it is possible to visit more than one park in a day.
Indeed there is even a ride linking the two Universal theme parks. You can even take the Hogwarts Express from Islands of Adventure to Universal Orlando and back.
Here is the complete guide to Universal Studios vs Islands of Adventure for all ages.
Let’s start first by looking at what rides are on offer in each Universal Orlando Resort theme park.
Universal Studios Rides and Attractions
- The Bourne Stuntacular
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
- E.T. Adventure
- Fast & Furious Supercharged
- Fear Factor Live
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
- Hogwarts Express
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
- Kang & Kudo’s Twirl ‘n Hurl
- Men In Black: Alien Attack
- Illumination’s Villain-Con Minion Blast
- The Simpsons Ride
- Transformers: The Ride – 3D
- Race Through New York starring Jimmy Fallon
- Revenge of the Mummy
Islands of Adventure Rides List
- Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
- Cat in The Hat
- Doctor Doom’s FearFall
- Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls
- Flight of the Hippogriff
- Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
- Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey
- High in The Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride
- Hogwarts Express
- Incredible Hulk Coaster
- Jurassic Park River Adventure
- Jurassic World VelociCoaster
- One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
- Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges
- Pteranodon Flyers
- Skull Island – Reign of Kong
- Storm Force Accelatron
- Toon Lagoon
If you are comparing Universal Studios vs Islands of Adventure then the latter has more attractions to experience.
Which Universal Park Is Better For Children?
While I’d say that kids aren’t the primary target audience at Universal Resort, there are many attractions and experiences kids can enjoy at both parks.
Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone used to be the place to go for kid attractions.
There were two playgrounds – Curious George Goes To Town and Fievel’s Playground
However, currently, this is undergoing a makeover and at the moment is a construction site.
The new theme will be DreamWorks Animation Land and this area will feature new play areas and attractions themed after Kung Fu Panda, Trolls and Shrek.
It seems that the Woody Woodpecker roller coaster will be rethemed so that there will still be a kids roller coaster in Universal Studios when the new land is complete.
Children will enjoy E.T. Adventure where you fly on a bike with E.T. and live out some of the iconic scenes from the movie. Even if they have no idea who the character is, its still a cute ride!
There’s also Animal Actors On Location where animals show off their tricks. The last time I went there was a raccoon sliding down a waterslide, so that should give you an idea of how spectacular it is.
Then for older kids, there are a number of attractions. Keep in mind they may need to be at least 40 inches tall.
Kang & Kodos Twirl ‘n’ Hurl is a perfect Dumbo-style attraction for little kids.
Men in Black: Alien Attack is a shooter ride that leans a little on the scary side, but it’s a lot of fun and is one of my absolute favorites.
Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem and The Simpsons Ride are fun motion-simulator rides, much like Star Tours – The Adventures Continue in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
However, they’re old and very rough.
And of course, there’s Diagon Alley – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Fans of the books and movies will go nuts for this place, as it truly feels like you’ve been dropped into the world of Harry Potter.
You can try Butterbeer, buy a wand from Ollivanders, get a knick-knack from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, and much more that I won’t spoil here.
Kids will love the Hogwarts Express, which takes you from Universal Park to Islands of Adventure and makes you feel like you’re traveling to Hogwarts.
The signature attraction, Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts might be too scary for kids. There are some steep drops, moments in the dark, and some scary creatures that come up in your face in 3D.
Although, it’s not as scary as Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey.
Universal Studios Park has plenty of options for kids. They might not recognize many of the characters these attractions are based on, but they’re still a lot of fun.
Related Article: Universal Islands of Adventure Rides – The Complete Guide
Islands of Adventure for Kids
Islands of Adventure has a lot of rides for little kids, but older kids might have a hard time finding attractions that aren’t high-caliber thrill rides.
Seuss Landing has many rides for little kids. The highlight is The Cat In The Hat, which is a charming slow ride reminiscent of classic Disney dark rides like Alice In Wonderland.
It has a carousel, a Dumbo-style attraction, and a train that goes above Seuss Landing.
The best place in the park for kids though is Jurassic Park.
There’s the Discovery Center, where you can peek at massive dinosaur fossils, see a dinosaur come out of its egg, and play a fun dinosaur game show.
There’s also the best play area in a theme park I’ve ever seen, Camp Jurassic. You can get in water fights, go over rope bridges, explore caves, and ride on a pteranodon.
And again, this park also has a Harry Potter-themed section, which also has a lot to explore.
The only issue is besides that, most of the other rides are a little intense.
Many kids will love rides like Flight of the Hippogriff, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, and Skull Island: Reign of Kong.
Just keep in mind they lean a little more towards the intense side and that some have height requirements.
Which Park Is Better for Kids?
Universal Studios has more options for older kids who are looking for a tamer experience.
On the other hand, I’d say the attractions at Islands of Adventure are better for little kids. There are more rides they can go on and they’re better quality.
What’s The Best Park For Teenagers?
If they could only go to one park for the day, I’d tell teenagers to go to Islands of Adventure.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a number of great attractions at Universal Studios Park, but really if I had to pick one to visit it would be Islands of Adventure every time.
Universal Studios for Teens
Teenagers will love Revenge of the Mummy, a high-speed horror roller coaster in the dark.
It’s most definitely the best roller coaster at Universal Studios Park.
Men In Black: Alien Attack is a personal favorite of mine.
It’s a shooter ride like Buzz Lightyear: Space Ranger Spin at Magic Kingdom. Except this is more action-packed and fast-paced.
It’s basically a video game in real life. It’s very addicting because you want to beat your last score.
Another ride that teens will love is Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts.
It’s based on the sequence in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 where Harry and his friends try to obtain a Horcrux from Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault.
Gringotts is a roller coaster, but it’s not that intense.
There’s only one drop and a launch section. It’s mostly focused on the special effects and sets.
The best part is the queue, where you walk through the main hall in Gringotts.
Teens will also enjoy Transformers: The Ride – 3D.
While it is very rough, the effects are impressive, coming with 3D elements with practical sets. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which!
Islands of Adventure for Teens
The attractions at Universal Studios Park are great and if you’re staying for two days or have a park-hopper ticket, they are worth checking out.
However, I don’t any of them quite match up to some of the ones in Islands of Adventure.
For one thing, there are many more thrill rides for teens.
They’ll love roller coasters like the Incredible Hulk and the new jewel in the crown for Islands of Adventure, Jurassic World Velocicoaster.
I really cannot say enough about just how amazing the Velocicoaster ride is. If you love roller coasters this will probably be your new favorite ride.
Islands of Adventure also has two of my all-time favorite attractions that have won many awards – The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
Spider-Man is very similar to Transformers: The Ride – 3D, and in my opinion, it does it much better. Transformers relies a little too much on 3D effects.
Spider-Man blends the 3D effects with the practical effects much better. I still have a hard time figuring out what’s real on that ride (in a good way).
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is similar, in that the effects are so realistic that it truly makes you feel like you’re flying over Hogwarts.
The Best Universal Park For Adults
I love Universal Studios Park. But if I was just there for a day, I’d go for Islands of Adventure.
One thing IOA has over USP is that the theming is far more immersive. Besides Diagon Alley, Universal Studios Park doesn’t have any great themed lands.
I struggle to remember what the themed areas are, even though I’ve literally been visiting the park since before I could walk!
Islands of Adventure has an area themed around Jurassic Park, Dr. Seuss characters, Marvel, and vintage cartoons. All of which are unique and stylistic.
Also, while Universal Studios Park has some great rides, unfortunately, unlike Islands of Adventure, there are a few rides that are underwhelming.
There are too many motion-simulator rides where you’re just moving around a bit and staring at a screen. Some of them are a little charming, like Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem and the Simpsons Ride.
However, they’re bumpy and pretty dated.
Even the new Illumination’s Villain-Con Minion Blast is underwhelming.
And the two other ones, Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon and Fast and Furious -Supercharged are uninspired and aren’t worth your time.
Islands of Adventure has a couple of attractions that you really should probably skip, but none of them miss the mark quite as badly as Universal Studios Park.
And in my opinion, the best rides at Islands of Adventure beat the best ones at Universal Studios Park.
There are some rides like Transformers: The Ride – 3D and Men In Black: Alien Attack which are worth checking out, but they don’t compare to rides like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey or Velocicoaster.
Which Universal Orlando Park Is Better For Thrill Seekers?
How about those who want an adrenaline rush?
For this, I’d say Islands of Adventure is a clear winner.
There are many fantastic thrill rides at Islands of Adventure, while I’d say there are only two or three at Universal Studios Park.
Universal Studios Park for Thrill Seekers
My favorite thrill ride at Universal Studios Park is Revenge of the Mummy.
The sets are very impressive and create a very scary atmosphere.
Plus, the roller-coaster section is really exciting, with lots of air-time, a launch section, and a backward drop.
Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts has a lot of amazing effects and is incredibly immersive, but disappointingly, the roller coaster section is short.
Transformers: The Ride – 3D is a lot of fun, but it’s pretty rough.
And The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man over at Islands of Adventure is very similar and I think it does it much better.
Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit is probably the worst out of the big roller coasters at the resort. It has its moments, but it’s very, very rough.
Islands Of Adventure for Thrill Seekers
The VelociCoaster is regarded as one of the best roller coasters in the world.
It reaches a top speed of 70 MPH, has a near vertical drop that’s 140 feet, and has two launch sections, one of which launches you from 0 to 50 MPH in two seconds.
It’s absolutely terrifying.
But that’s what makes it fun!
Nearby is Hagrid’s Magical Creature’s Motorbike Adventure, one of the best-themed roller coasters out there.
You’ll zoom through the Forbidden Forest on Hagrid’s motorbike and see many kinds of magical creatures, including an encounter with Devil’s Snare.
The list goes on and on…
The Incredible Hulk is another thrilling rolling coaster that has 7 inversions.
The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man blurs the line between reality and 3D and truly makes you feel like you’re in a Spider-Man comic.
Jurassic Park River Adventure and Dudley Do-Rights Ripsaw Falls are water rides that have huge, steep drops that make you fly off your seat.
That’s not even the end of it.
Islands of Adventure has many more thrill rides, some of which are the best in the world.
The ones at Universal Studios are worth checking out, but if you’re a thrill seeker and can only visit one park, I’d go for Islands of Adventure.
Best Universal Park For Harry Potter
This is a tricky one. It depends if you want great attractions or great theming.
Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida is more fun to explore and is more immersive, given that you can’t see the rest of the park.
A lot of the places are more recognizable and in my opinion, feel more like you’re in the movie.
The only thing is Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure not only has more rides, but they’re also better.
Escape From Gringotts at Universal Studios Park is great, but it relies heavily on screens and sometimes feels more like a movie than a ride.
Even though it’s more than 10 years old, The Forbidden Journey at Islands of Adventure still ranks among some of the best dark rides in the world, alongside Disney’s Star Wars – Rise of the Resistance and the Indiana Jones Adventure.
It also has the best theme park queue in the world, which takes you through Hogwarts Castle.
And again, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure (who named this?) is one of the best-themed roller coasters in the world.
I personally prefer Hogsmeade, because it has two of my favorite rides in the resort, but I could see why someone would pick Diagon Alley, given how immersive it is. Really, it is a very close call for this one.
Universal Studios vs Islands of Adventure – Which Is Best?
Both of the Universal Orlando Resort theme parks are well worth a visit.
So much depends upon personal preference, but I think that for most people if you have to choose between them, they would vote for Islands of Adventure.
What do you think of the Universal Studios vs Islands of Adventure debate?
Alison Meacham is the founder of EverythingMouse Disney Blog. For over 15 years she has shared her love of Disney Parks, Disney Cruises and Universal Orlando. In over 30 years of Disney Travel she has spent countless months in Disney Parks and has sailed on over 45 cruises. A British native and now a United States resident she splits her time between California, Florida and the UK. And spends a serious amount of time sailing the seven seas. She helps over 200,000 people per month follow their Disney travel dreams.