So, you decided to visit the Universal Orlando Resort. How do you choose between Universal Studios Florida vs Islands of Adventure?
Ideally, one should plan several days to enjoy all that Universal Orlando Resort offers. Nevertheless, guests focusing on Walt Disney World Resort sometimes attempt to squeeze in a day at the Universal Orlando Resort theme parks.
Trying to experience the two theme parks at Universal Orlando Resort all in one day comes with several obstacles. The first obstacle revolves around the basic practical aspect of navigating two entire theme parks without a meltdown by your group. Another significant hindrance involves the cost. Buying a park-to-park one-day ticket comes at a heavy price.
Like Walt Disney World, the least cost-effective way to visit a theme park resort is with a multi-park one-day ticket. For example, a Universal Orlando Resort one-day park-to-park ticket without a set start date costs over $200. You can lower that price by declaring a start date but expect to pay close to $200. For larger groups, that increase in price over a one-day single-park ticket adds up quickly.
Deciding Universal Studios Florida vs. Universal Islands of Adventure
So, how do you decide between these two theme parks? This resource endeavors to clarify some differences to help you decide which theme park makes the best choice for your group.
This decision presents some challenges. The two theme parks bring very different strengths and weaknesses. Despite being located very close to each other, Universal Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida provide different experiences. If you only have a limited time to visit a Universal Orlando theme park, many factors must be considered to choose between Universal Studios Florida vs. Universal Islands of Adventure.
Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure: Which is Better?
No one can answer the question of which of these theme parks is better for you, except you. However, you need some information about the two theme parks to make this decision possible for your Orlando vacation.
The over-simplified answer would be that Universal Islands of Adventure makes a better choice for those seeking thrill rides. In contrast, Universal Studios Florida offers better shows, character interactions, entertainment, and seasonal events.
However, Universal Studios Florida possesses thrill rides. Also, Universal Islands of Adventure extends some quality entertainment, character interaction, and shows.
Planning Your Universal Orlando Vacation
While you’re planning your Universal Studios Florida trip, you should refer to our various planning guides in addition to this Universal Studios Florida best rides guide. I have shared our complete guide to Universal Orlando with tips for taking advantage of everything offered at the entire resort and the best information on saving money with discount Universal Orlando tickets.
Clarifications of Terms
Universal Studios Florida and Universal Islands of Adventure are the two land-based theme parks at Universal Orlando Resort. Universal Orlando Resort also offers guests a water park known as Volcano Bay. The entire Universal Orlando Resort contains those parks, eight hotels, and CityWalk, the resort’s shopping and entertainment district.
For this article, we are comparing the two Universal operated theme parks in Orlando. Universal also operates a theme park known as Universal Studios Hollywood. That theme park is in California.
Just for clarification, we often see online and hear people say the term “Universal Studios Orlando.” The term or title directly relates to nothing. No such place exists. Though this phrase appears online, no theme park property goes by that name.
Each week, team members, Universal Orlando Resort employees, must deal with guests showing up with tickets to Universal Studios Hollywood, thinking they bought tickets to a Hollywood-themed studios park in Orlando. After some discussion with these guests, the online term “Universal Studios Orlando” was discovered to have confused the guest.
Who Owns Universal Orlando?
The Comcast Company did not always own Universal Orlando Resort. During some weaker ownership periods, the branding of the Universal Orlando Resort could have been better. This led to the use of Universal Studios Orlando online.
Though this term should not lead to this confusion, the term continues to do so, according to guest service reports. Once again, only a tiny portion of Orlando area theme park guests consult sources like this before visiting the theme parks. With Disney’s Hollywood Studios entertaining guests over at Walt Disney World, the levels of confusion grow exponentially.
We realize this sounds odd to many. Yet, ticket purchasing errors continue based on team members’ reports at Universal Orlando Resort. In fact, we witnessed this on four occasions during our last trip to Orlando. For the record, the tickets to Universal Studios Hollywood only work in California.
Also, people buy tickets to the Universal Studios Florida theme park, thinking they can visit Universal Islands of Adventure. Sadly, they find out quickly that the information is false. When chatting with these guests at guest services, often the issue relates to thinking Universal Studios Orlando is the actual name of the resort. When you purchase ticket media to Universal Orlando Resort, please know the relevant details before you arrive.
Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure: Basic Overview
In 1990, Universal Studios Florida opened. This fledgling theme park enterprise started with less-than-stellar results. However, Universal opened a second theme park along with Universal CityWalk Orlando after some rocky years. The second theme park, Islands of Adventure, intended to reach a different audience than Universal Studios Florida, opened in 1999.
These two theme parks reside within easy walking distance of each other. If you decide to park hop from one park to the other, it takes only a few minutes to walk. This creates a massive advantage over the time needed to park hop at Walt Disney World.
These two theme parks share many characteristics. They each include an entire Wizarding World of Harry Potter land. Both have roller coasters, simulator rides, a kid’s area, characters, and shows. Comparable dining options exist at both parks.
Nevertheless, these two theme parks are located near each other. In fact, they are connected by an attraction, the Hogwarts Express. The Hogwarts Express takes guests back and forth from Universal Studios Florida and Universal Islands of Adventure. As the name implies, this Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction takes guests from one Wizarding World land to another. However, please be advised that guests must have purchased a park-to-park ticket or have an annual pass to ride this attraction.
Based on the locations of these theme parks, the Universal CityWalk Orlando dining and entertainment options can be reached from either park within a short walk. Most guests walk through a large portion of Universal CityWalk Orlando, from the parking garages to the two theme parks.
Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure: Rides
Many people come to theme parks for the rides. If visiting for the rides, which of the two theme parks makes the better choice?
Universal Islands of Adventure wins over Universal Studios Florida if discussing the total number of rides. If rating the most thrilling, unique, and technologically advanced rides, Universal Islands of Adventure wins again.
If your group desires more family-friendly rides, Universal Islands of Adventure currently offers more. However, that will change with the opening of Illumination’s Villain-Con Minion Blast and the future DreamWorks area opening in 2024.
Also, Universal Islands of Adventure presents guests with three water rides. In contrast, Universal Studios Florida offers no water rides.
Despite that, Universal Studios Florida offers plenty of rides for guests to enjoy. Those rides include:
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
- E.T. Adventure
- Fast and Furious – Supercharged
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
- Hogwarts Express (King’s Cross Station)
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
- Illumination’s Villain-Con Minion Blast
- Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl
- MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack
- Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon
- Revenge of the Mummy
- The Simpsons Ride
- TRANSFORMERS: The Ride-3D.
This list includes two roller coasters, a hybrid coaster (Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts), five simulator-type rides, and four family-friendly attractions.
Universal Islands of Adventure
In contrast, Universal Islands of Adventure offers more rides. Many of these rides come with more thrills also. The list of rides at Universal Islands of Adventure consists of the following:
- The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
- The Cat in the Hat
- Doctor Doom’s Fearfall
- Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls
- Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster
- Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure roller coaster
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train
- Hogwarts Express (Hogsmeade Station)
- The Incredible Hulk Coaster
- Jurassic Park River Adventure Ride
- Jurassic World VelociCoaster
- One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
- Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges
- Pteranodon Flyers, a kiddie-style glider ride
- Skull Island: Reign of Kong
- Storm Force Accelatron
Universal Islands of Adventure currently contains five more rides than Universal Studios Florida. Universal Islands of Adventure has seven rides designed for families with young children. It also holds five high-thrill attractions varying from Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey to the traditional high thrills of Jurassic World Velocicoaster.
Ironically, Universal Islands of Adventure has more thrill rides and more kid-friendly rides. If the rides demand your focus on a day at Universal Orlando Resort, Universal Islands of Adventure makes a better choice.
Which Park Has the Best Rides?
Regarding rides, Universal Islands of Adventure wins in the Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure battle. Still, we must point out one crucial variable that changes that advantage.
Universal Islands of Adventure makes a weaker theme park choice in bad weather. Most of Universal Islands of Adventure’s rides are outdoors. This means that the outdoor attractions close with rain or lightning in the area. The only attractions that run at Universal Islands of Adventure during bad weather are:
- The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
- The Cat in the Hat
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- Hogwarts Express (Hogsmeade Station)
- Skull Island: Reign of Kong
Sometimes, two other attractions operate depending on the storm’s severity. Storm Force Accelatron and the Caro-Seuss-El might run in bad weather. Either way, rain drastically reduces the ride options at Universal Islands of Adventure. Also, the higher sought-after rides will close in bad weather, creating far longer queue wait times for the remaining open attractions.
Over at Universal Studios Florida, few rides operate outdoors. Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit often closes in any challenging weather. In fact, it closes with too high wind gusts. Kang and Kodos’ Twirl and Hurl also close in bad weather. Still, that leaves plenty of attractions at Universal Studios Florida operating even in bad weather.
For a bonus, Universal Studios Florida contains more indoor merchandise locations and other places to hide from the rain. When making your decision between Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure, weather factors should be considered.
Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure: Shows and Entertainment
A great way to wait out some stormy weather involves taking in an indoor show. Universal Studios Florida provides a greater variety of indoor shows than Universal Islands of Adventure. In fact, Universal Islands of Adventure currently offers no year-round indoor shows, except the Ollivander’s Wand Experience in Hogsmeade, the Wizarding World area in Islands of Adventure. However, that show happens more often in Diagon Alley, the Wizarding World area of Universal Studios Florida.
Universal Studios Florida offers several indoor shows, such as The Bourne Stuntacular and Universal Orlando’s Horror Make-Up Show. The Wizarding World shows happen in a mostly covered area. At Islands of Adventure, the Wizarding World shows happen outdoors.
Universal Studios Florida offers more shows overall and character interactions than Universal Islands of Adventure. In this category of the battle between Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Florida clearly wins.
Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure: Seasonal Events
If you enjoy seasonal events at theme parks, then Universal Studios Florida makes the best choice of these two theme parks for you. Universal Islands of Adventure offers minimal seasonal events, except for Grinchmas each holiday season in the Seuss Landing area.
In contrast, Universal Studios Florida conducts three major seasonal events in addition to several smaller ones. In February, the Mardi Gras celebration happens. The spooky season brings Halloween Horror Nights. The year closes with the Universal Studios Florida holiday celebration, featuring a parade with Macy’s balloons.
At Universal Studios Florida, each of these events arrives with new food. In some respects, this resembles a food festival at Universal Studios Florida. Universal Studios Florida is an excellent option for those who enjoy a food festival at a theme park.
Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure: Wizarding World of Harry Potter areas
A primary reason Universal Orlando Resort has grown in popularity among Orlando area visitors involves the creation of two themed Harry Potter lands. Hogsmeade at Universal Islands of Adventure opened in 2010 after some reworking of the Lost Continent area of the theme park.
The Hogsmeade area can also be found similarly at Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Studios Japan, and Universal Studios Beijing. However, only Universal Islands of Adventure has the top-rated Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure roller coaster.
Over at Universal Studios Florida, Diagon Alley opened in 2014. This took over most of the former Amity area that housed the former Jaws attraction. Diagon Alley cannot be found at any other Universal theme park. This land offers one main attraction, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Nevertheless, this land provides the top level of immersion for any Wizarding World fan.
So Which Wizarding World is Better for Your Group?
Hogsmeade at Universal Islands of Adventure theme park offers more rides than the Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida. For example, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure offers a themed story roller coaster experience not seen in many other places in the world. This attraction draws crowds every day at Universal Islands of Adventure.
Based on rides and attractions alone, Hogsmeade makes the better choice. Guests’ options range from the kiddie coaster, Flight of Hippogriff, to Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventure. Also, there is the Forbidden Journey attraction and even an evening projection nighttime light show (currently not running but scheduled to return later this year) on Hogwarts Castle.
Both Wizarding World areas have a version of the Ollivander’s Wand Show. Both lands have stage shows themed to various aspects of Wizarding World lore. Most guests would consider these shows to be slightly better in Diagon Alley vs Hogsmeade. Nonetheless, that advantage ranks as only a slight one for Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida.
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts attraction is the only aspect of Diagon Alley that can compete at all with the attractions in Hogsmeade. However, we often hear guests say, after experiencing the Gringotts attraction, “Is that the only ride?” Yes, Gringotts is the only ride-style attraction in Diagon Alley.
Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida
In fairness, Diagon Alley consists of far more theming than Hogsmeade. Wizarding World fans can spend days in just Diagon Alley soaking up the atmosphere, watching the dragon breathe fire, and escaping into Knockturn Alley for some air conditioning and Slytherin fun.
Also, arguably the best ice cream place in a theme park resides in Diagon Alley. Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor is an attraction all by itself. Though Hogsmeade has Wizarding World ice cream, that ice cream pales in comparison to the glory of this ice cream location. Hard-pack ice cream is the only option in Hogsmeade. However, the magnificence of the soft-serve choice in Diagon Alley receives far higher reviews. You can also find the soft-serve butterbeer option at an additional location in Diagon Alley.
If you want a sweet treat, a hot butterbeer is easier to find at Diagon Alley vs. Hogsmeade. Hot butterbeer used to be a seasonal option. However, guests enjoy this slightly different formula from the classic butterbeer year-round now at Universal Orlando Resort.
Another variable to consider relates to the other treats and beverages you want. Both Wizarding World areas have butterbeer in various forms. They both have alcoholic drinks (though the Hog’s Head Brew is only available in Hogsmeade) and non-alcoholic ones like pumpkin juice. They both have a significant candy and sugary treats shop. These shops have basically the same offerings. In addition, a large portion of these offerings can be found outside the two Wizarding World areas at various Universal Studios Stores around the resort.
Harry Potter World Dining
Both Wizarding World areas provide guests with a quick-service dining option. These each serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Neither Wizarding World of Harry Potter area provides guests with table service dining. However, we expect that to happen when the third theme park, Universal’s Epic Universe, at Universal Orlando Resort opens in 2025.
If you can only count on going to one of the Wizarding World restaurants, how do you choose? As with all theme park decisions, this comes down to your group’s desires. Both Leaky Cauldron and Three Broomsticks will be busy. Both are very popular and have above-average theme park food that does not fit the mold of burgers and pizza. They each have an excellent theme within the restaurant. Neither of these “British” themed restaurants will cause our friends from the UK to consider this authentic British cuisine. Having said that, Leaky Cauldron has more British-style food (including breakfast). Three Broomsticks has fewer British-style theme park items.
Three Broomsticks has menu items such as shepherd’s pie, beef pasties; rotisserie smoked chicken, rib platter, combo chicken/ribs platter, smoked turkey leg, and rotisserie chicken salad. Leaky Cauldron features bangers and mash, toad in the hole, beef/lamb Guinness stew, cottage and fisherman’s pie, and scotch eggs. If you want a more authentic version of theme park British fare, Leaky Cauldron should be your choice. Three Broomsticks may be your better choice if you want non-traditional, less-themed theme park food.
Depending on your group, some other factors may cause you to want to visit one Wizarding World restaurant over the other. We enjoy the back patio area at the Three Broomsticks. The outdoor patio can be delightful on a nice day in Orlando. The noise level will usually be lower in this area. The only exception is the sound of the Jurassic World VelociCoaster speeding nearby every so often.
Also, Hog’s Head Pub is literally next door to Three Broomsticks and shares some seating. This themed pub is a great place to relax and get all types of beverages. In fact, Hog’s Head Pub often has a shorter queue than the two Butterbeer Carts. If you want to have a butterbeer, Hog’s Head Pub makes an excellent choice.
Of course, the Three Broomsticks in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter possesses some weaknesses. We find this quick service location gets louder indoors than we would like. In addition to that, the Three Broomsticks often feels congested on busy days and peak dining hours.
Also, the “themed” chairs in the dining area are very low to the floor. You might compare some of the seating to the feeling of being a little kid barely able to see over the table. Okay, we might be exaggerating there. Still, you will notice how most of the chairs are very low to the floor.
Over in Universal Studios Florida at the Leaky Cauldron, guests find another type of Wizarding World dining environment. The menu at the Leaky Cauldron looks and sounds more “British.” Still, the menu offers more variety.
In addition, guests will find more options for a light meal. In fact, you can order a side of Scotch Eggs here. This can be an excellent and cost-effective way to enjoy the restaurant’s theme without hurting your budget and waistline too much.
Wizarding World experienced visitors to Universal Orlando Resort prefer the breakfast menu here over the Three Broomsticks. However, at hectic times of the year, breakfast will be bustling due to people purchasing Wizarding World vacation packages that include breakfast.
On the less positive side, picky eaters may struggle here. Still, Muggles, like me, endorse the chicken sandwich at the Leaky Cauldron.
The Leaky Cauldron utilizes more family-style seating than the Three Broomsticks. This can be off-putting during busy dining hours for guests looking for some peace and quiet.
In the past, I would have chosen the Leaky Cauldron for dining. However, in my current status, I prefer the patio aspect of the Three Broomsticks sitting and watching Jurassic World Velocicoaster. Like most differences between the two theme parks, this comes down to your group’s preference in the battle of Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure.
Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure: Early Park Admission
Universal Islands of Adventure is the better choice when both theme parks offer early park admission. More attractions will be open. Also, you will get a head start on guests wanting to ride Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.
Having said that, both theme parks are rarely open for early park admission. Most of the year, only one is available for early park admission. In recent years, that has been Universal Islands of Adventure. This pattern makes sense based on two of the newest rides, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and Jurassic World Velocicoaster reside within Universal Islands of Adventure. Both attractions open during early park admission time. Still, schedules are subject to change.
Early park admission at Universal Orlando officially starts one hour before the regular park opening. Resort hotel guests, some annual passholders, and select tickets purchased through some travel agencies extend early park admission to Universal Orlando Resort guests.
Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure: Better for Young Kids?
As discussed earlier, Universal Islands of Adventure offers more rides and more kid-friendly rides. That will change when the DreamWorks area opens in 2024. Until then, the Seuss Landing area in Universal Islands of Adventure contains the most kid-friendly rides at Universal Orlando Resort.
In addition, the Jurassic Park area kid’s play area makes a fabulous spot for young children to use up some energy. The play area has one way in and one way out so parents can feel more secure. However, getting your kids out of that area presents standard parenting challenges.
Of course, most rides at Universal Orlando Resort come with a height restriction. This remains true even for some Seuss Landing area rides. The very youngest of your group may struggle to ride most attractions, needing to be taller.
Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure: Which is Better?
All this discussion brings us back to the starting premise. Universal Islands of Adventure makes a better park for theme park rides and other attractions. Nevertheless, Universal Studios Florida provides a more balanced theme park experience.
When we visit Universal Orlando Resort, we spend more time at Universal Studios Florida during seasonal events. In contrast, when we visit outside those events, we can spend all day at Universal Islands of Adventure.
FAQ: Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure
As discussed in this article, the answer comes down to your group’s preference, rides, or overall experience.
Both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure are kid-friendly. Currently, most guests find Universal Islands of Adventure better for kids.
Yes, you can do both parks in one day. However, this depends on what you mean by doing both parks. We will only recommend trying this if you have no other choice since you will miss out on so much Universal Orlando has to offer.
If your budget and valuable vacation time allow visiting both Universal Orlando Resort theme parks, we recommend you do it. We love it there!
Hogsmeade at Island of Adventure offers better rides. Still, Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida provides a better immersive experience.
Considering a Universal Orlando Vacation?
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