This guide to how to plan a visit to Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure in one day will give you everything you need to plan your day at the Universal Orlando theme parks.
Universal Orlando Resort is theme park destination that includes 2 theme parks, 1 water park, numerous hotels and resorts, as well as a shopping and dining area.
Universal Orlando Resort is not part of the Walt Disney World resort. If you are unsure which theme park to visit read this: Walt Disney World vs Universal Orlando | What Theme Park is Best for Your Orlando Vacation
There are also different Universal hotels to choose from as well as shopping and dining at Universal CityWalk.
There are so many things to do at Universal Orlando, but what if you only have one day to see Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.
You won’t be able to see and do everything but you will be able to ride some of the most popular attractions and enjoy a great day at the Universal Orlando theme parks.
You might not have time to fully explore The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at both parks for hours, but you will have time to experience the rides and walk around a bit.
Tips for Doing Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure in One Day
There are a few tips that will really help in planning out your 1-Day plan for Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.
Stay On Site at a Universal Orlando Resort
The biggest benefit to staying on-site at Universal is early entry. Guests staying off-site can still experience everything but you may have long lines.
There are four different tiers for the Universal Resorts. All include early entry into the park.
Early Entry is typically at Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure. During busy season it can be both parks. It allows on-site guests to enter the park an hour before official park opening.
Guests wanting to take advantage of this will want to stay on-site. Luckily Universal resorts offer a variety of accommodations for all budgets.
The Prime value are: Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort and Universal’s Aventura Hotel.
The Preferred is Loews Sapphire Falls Resort. The Premier Resorts are Loews Portofino Bay Resort, Hard Rock Hotel, and Loews Royal Pacific Resort.
The Premier Resorts are the most expensive but they come with a big perk of Unlimited Express Pass included.
Unlimited Express pass allows guests to skip the line and enter any attraction that accepts express pass. Guests can also purchase this as an add-on to your park ticket.
Usually it is less expensive to pay to stay at a Premier resort that includes express pass rather than staying at a value and purchasing it as an add on.
Having express pass will allow you to easily see and do everything at both parks with minimal wait times.
We stayed at a Premier resort and took advantage of a short walk to the parks and express pass. Read about our stay: 4 Benefits to Staying at Hard Rock Hotel Orlando with Kids
One thing to note is that we rarely have express pass. It is very expensive and not usually in our budget.
To minimize wait times we arrive early, ride the most popular attractions first, and take advantage of the single rider line.
Single rider line is a way to skip the long lines but you will be separated from your group. They use single rider line to fill in the empty seats. Discuss this with your kids if you are thinking about taking advantage of this.
Check Theme Park Hours
Theme park hours can vary and I recommend checking them before you arrive at the parks. Often Islands of Adventure stays open later than Universal Studios.
For this reason you may want to finish your day at Islands of Adventure.
Have a Plan
It is important to have a flexible plan when visiting the parks. We always talk as a family about expectations.
Some questions you might want to consider: What rides are a priority for everyone? What can you skip? Do you want to sit down for meals? Do you want to watch shows? Are you going to want to meet the characters at the parks?
A family vacation to Universal can feel overwhelming. Setting everyone’s expectations will help it go smoothly.
Purchase Tickets Ahead of Time
If you want to do Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure in one day you must purchase a park-to-park ticket.
Always purchase your tickets online before you arrive at the parks. This will save you time and money.
What to Expect at Universal Studios Florida
Universal Studios Florida used to be “step into the movies” theme park. Now it is a little bit different but still has rides and attractions around your favorite movies.
It is not a huge park so walking around and visiting Islands of Adventure is not a huge hassle.
Rides at Universal Studios Ranked from Most Popular/Busiest Wait Times
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (Universal Express Pass & Single Rider)
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem (Universal Express Pass)
- Revenge of the Mummy (Universal Express/Single Rider)
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit (Universal Express Pass)
- Transformers 3D (Universal Express Pass)
- ET Adventure (Universal Express Pass)
- Hogwarts Express (Universal Express Pass)
- Men in Black (Universal Express Pass/ Single Rider)
- The Simpsons Ride (Universal Express Pass)
- Illuminations Villain-Con Minion Blast (Universal Express Pass)
- Race Through New York with Jimmy Fallon (Universal Express Pass)
- Fast & Furious Super Charged (Universal Express Pass)
- Kang & Kodos Twirl n Hurl (Universal Express Pass)
This is not necessarily in order by the best rides but it is the attractions that have the longest wait.
Our favorite rides at Universal Studios are Escape from Gringotts, The Mummy, E.T. Adventure, and Men in Black.
The Hogwarts Express is a train ride that takes you between The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Diagon Alley and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Hogsmeade.
Guests wanting to ride it must have a park to park pass. Wait times ebb and flow throughout the day.
If wait time is long and riding is not a priority, it is often faster to exit the park and walk to the next park. Hogwarts Express does not save you time transferring between parks.
There are also shows and character meet and greets throughout the park. It is best to check the Universal Orlando app for the most up-to-date times and offerings.
Check out these helpful Universal Studios planning posts:
- Best Itinerary for Universal Studios Orlando
- Universal Studios Height Requirements and Scare Factor (A Guide for Families)
- Universal Studios Orlando Insider Tips (Updated Guide for 2023)
What to Expect at Islands of Adventure
Islands of Adventure is divided into different lands that surround a lake. The biggest issue with getting around Islands of Adventure is there is not a cut thorough. You have to go around to get to each part.
The lands are Marvel: Super Hero Islands, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and Seuss Landing.
Rides at Islands of Adventure Ranked Most Popular Rides/Busiest Wait Times
- Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure (Single Rider/NO express line)
- The Incredible Hulk Coaster (Universal Express/Single Rider)
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Universal Express/Single Rider)
- Jurassic World VelociCoaster (Universal Express/Single Rider)
- The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man (Universal Express/Single Rider)
- Skull Island: Reign of Kong (Universal Express(Universal Express/Single Rider)
- Jurassic Park River Adventure (Universal Express/Single Rider)
- The Cat in the Hat (Universal Express)
- Hogwarts Express (Same as Universal Studios)
- Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls (Universal Express, water rides: crowds depend on weather)
- Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges (Universal Express, water ride: crowds depend on weather)
Hagrid’s is the most popular ride between both Universal parks. I checked wait times as I am writing this at 9:30am on a random Monday at it is already 80 minutes.
Hagrid’s is a family friendly roller coaster. If you can use early entry this is the ride you must use it on. If not consider single riding it.
Some of the attractions do not have single rider listed on the app but they do have it available. You have to check during your visit to see if the line is open.
It is a good idea to ride the Harry Potter attractions at the parks during early park admission or late in the evening.
Hogwarts Castle at Hogsmeade does have a nightly projection show that can make this area busier at night.
One thing to note about Hogwarts Express is that the experience is different depending on which direction you are going.
Guests riding from King’s Cross Station at Universal Studios to Hogsmeade will see a different show compared to guests riding from Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure to Universal Studios.
Seuss Landing is one of my favorite areas to explore. Lines will start to grow as the day goes on. It is a great area to visit in the evening.
Another thing to consider when planning your day is that Islands of Adventure has 3 water rides. Jurassic Park will get you the least soaked followed by Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Adventure, and Popeye’s.
You will want to plan your day around these rides. Being soaked at the start of your day is not fun.
Check Out These Helpful Islands of Adventure Posts:
- Guide to Islands of Adventure Height Requirements and Ride Scare Factor
- Islands of Adventure Itinerary: One Day Islands of Adventure Touring Plan
- Guide to the Best Rides at Islands of Adventure at the Universal Orlando Resort
Touring Plan for Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure in 1-Day
The are many things that can change plans when visiting two theme parks in a single day. This is what we have done when visiting both parks in one day.
Arrive 30-60 minutes before park opening. If you are using early entry at 8:00am arrive at the parks around 7:20am.
This may seem early to wait around but there are times they open the gates early and let you line up at the attraction.
These aren’t posted and you never know what their operational procedures will be during your visit but it will help you avoid crowds.
If Islands of Adventure has early park admission we go straight to Hagrid’s and the Velocicoaster. All attractions are not open during early entry.
After those attractions we usually check wait times to determine our next direction. We will try to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Jurassic Park, The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Adventure of Spider-Man in that order.
Then we will walk over to Seuss Landing and ride The Cat in the Hat. If it is lunch time we will eat at Green Eggs and Ham or Circus McGurkus in Seuss Landing.
At lunch you can also grab something from Universal’s CityWalk. It is very easy to walk between Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and CityWalk.
Read more about place to eat: Best Restaurants at Universal Orlando Resort with Kids
In the afternoon I would head over to Universal Studios. I suggest starting with attractions that have short wait times and using single rider line.
If single rider line is not something you want to do take time to see a show during the busier afternoon hours.
This may be a good time to explore Diagon Alley and check out all the attention to details.
In the afternoon/evening hours at Universal Studios I would keep an eye on wait times and plan my day based on that.
ET Adventures, Escape from Gringotts, and the Minion Villain-Con attraction are popular. Also Men in Black, Revenge of the Mummy, Transformers, and for coaster fans Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit.
In 2023 Universal Studios opened Minion Land which includes the 2 attractions as well as Minions Cafe, shops, and character encounters.
I suggest taking time to check it out and planning dinner at Minions Cafe.
In summer 2024 Dreamworks area will be opening up. Stay tuned for more details on rides and attractions.
When planning 1-Day at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure you want to be sure to prioritize the attractions you and your group want to experience.
If you are traveling with young children you may not want to ride the more intense attractions. We travel with teens so we like to ride the thrill rides first.
Expect to get most of your rides done during the early morning hours and the evening hours. Save the middle of the day for shows and to walk around at your own pace.
Enjoying a day to both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure can be done with some planning.
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Leah has been traveling with her family of 5 since 2012 and sharing her expertise on planning family vacations and visiting theme parks since 2016. Leah has been featured in Visit Rochester, Undercover Tourist, and Home Publications. She has worked with brands like Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, Hersheypark, Toyota, and various Tourism boards and destinations. Leah creates family travel itineraries based on real trip experiences with her family. Her guides and tips help others plan great family vacations. Learn more about Leah and Five for the Road.