Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure (Best Universal Park)

Everyone has an opinion on Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure, and as we visit I find myself liking one park during one visit and the other park more during the next. I thought it would be fun to share what we like at each of the Universal Parks to help decide which is better Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure.

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Who doesn’t like a classic showdown between theme parks? I’ve come up with seven categories that we value when we visit the parks to help determine who is the ultimate winner of this Universal vs. Islands of Adventure showdown!

Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure are located at the Universal Orlando Resort in Orlando, Florida. They both have a Harry Potter themed area, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Diagon Alley at Universal Studios and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure.

I share tips for visiting Universal Studios and tips for visiting Islands of Adventure in previous articles but for today I want to go over the differences between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure to decide which is the better park for your visit.

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Islands of Adventure vs. Universal Studios

The seven categories for deciding the better Universal Theme Park are:

  • Thrill Rides
  • Family Attractions
  • Atmosphere
  • Food
  • Characters to Meet
  • Shows and Entertainment
  • Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure: Thrill Rides

I’m starting with thrill rides and both parks offer some good ones.

Universal Studios has Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket that climbs 167 feet and reaches speeds of 65 mph. This ride is thrilling because the lift to to top takes guests on a straight up slow climb. Guests can also pick their music of choice to be played during the ride.

Islands of Adventure has The Incredible Hulk Coaster which launches guests to 40 mph in 2 seconds. Waiting for the launch is the most exciting part of the ride. The coaster continues with twists and turns through the ride. Hulk is a bit rough and not as smooth as Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket.

In Summer 2021 Velocicoaster will open at Islands of Adventure. This will be in addition to the popular Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure Coaster also at Islands of Adventure.

Velocicoaster will have launch sequences and reach speeds of 70 mph. Hagrid’s is one of the best rides at Islands of Adventure and it combines storytelling with coaster elements.

Both parks have fun attractions but Islands of Adventure is the winner based on the new coaster additions.

Winner: Islands of Adventure

Universal Orlando Resort has created its most life-like animated figure for the most highly themed, immersive coaster experience yet, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. And it’s none other than Hogwarts gamekeeper and Care of Magical Creatures professor himself – Hagrid.

Best Family Attractions at Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure

The Universal Orlando parks are geared toward older kids but there are still many things to do for preschool age kids and kids that may not want big thrills.

Universal Studios is home to KidZone. KidZone has the Woody Woodpecker Roller Coaster, Barney’s Backyard, Fievel’s Playground, Curious George Goes to Town. They also have E.T. Adventure, Despicable Me, Kang and Kondo’s Twirl n’ Hurl, and Shrek 4D.

All of these attractions have a 36″ height requirement or under. Despicable Me has a 40″ height requirement but there are stationary seats available for those under the height requirements.

Related: Height Requirements at Universal Studios

Islands of Adventure has Seuss Landing. I love Seuss Landing and how it feels like you are stepping into a Dr. Seuss world. There are four rides at Seuss Landing: The Cat in the Hat, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train and Caro-Seuss-al.

All of the Seuss Landing attractions have a 36″ and under height requirement making this a great place to visit for families. There are a few themed play areas throughout Islands of Adventure. They are Camp Jurassic, If I Ran the Zoo, and Me Ship, the Olive.

Related: Height Requirements at Islands of Adventure

Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios offer many places for preschool kids to play at the parks. Islands of Adventure won this one because of Seuss Landing. The area is so much fun and there are so many areas to discover and enjoy.

Winner: Islands of Adventure

Seuss Landing at Islands of Adventure
Booking.com

Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios: Atmosphere at the Parks

This one is going to be up for discussion but I think the atmosphere of the parks is worth noting as well as the ease of getting around.

Universal Studios is modeled after a working film studio and the rides and attractions are housed in big studio buildings. There are sections based on different cities like NYC or San Francisco as well as Springfield U.S.A. (The Simpsons) and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. There are many paths and cut throughs to navigate the park.

Islands of Adventure has 5 distinct themed lands. They are Seuss Landing, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, Toon Lagoon, and Marvel Island. Islands of Adventure is a big circle and there are no paths to easily navigate the park.

Each park has great themed areas but Islands of Adventure doesn’t feel as cohesive as Universal Studios. Also the walking and back-tracking at Islands of Adventure can be exhausting, making Universal Studios the winner.

Winner: Universal Studios

universal studios height requirements

Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure: Food at the Parks

This was another category that I thought was very difficult. There are places I really enjoy at both parks and I shared our favorite places to eat at Universal Orlando in a previous post.

Universal Studios has a handful of sit down restaurants as well as numerous options at Springfield U.S.A. One of my favorite meals comes from the Taco Truck outside Moe’s at Springfield U.S.A. They also have Leaky Cauldron which is a great choice for Harry Potter fans.

Islands of Adventure has Mythos as well as many counter service dining options. Mythos has won awards for being one of the best theme park restaurants in the country. We tried Mythos during a visit and liked it, but it is very pricey and not really a great choice if you are riding rides all day.

Islands of Adventure also has Green Eggs and Ham at Seuss Landing. This has been at Seuss Landing for years but recently re-opened serving Who-Hash and other Seuss themed meals. I really hope Green Eggs and Ham stays open because it was a hit for everyone in the family.

Even though Islands of Adventure has Green Eggs and Ham, Universal Studios wins this one because of its options for sit-down and counter service plus it’s variety of options for everyone.

Winner: Universal Studios

The Leaky Cauldron is a great stop for a meal at Universal Studios.

Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure: Characters to Meet

Universal Orlando Resort is always surprising us with new and fun characters to meet at the parks. I shared 65+ characters to meet at Universal Orlando and I am always updating it with the latest additions.

Universal Studios has some of the classic movie characters like Marilyn Monroe, Scooby Doo Gang, Beetlejuice as well as The Simpsons, Despicable Me characters and Transformers.

Islands of Adventure has The Cat in the Hat, Thing 1 and Thing 2, as well as Spider-Man, Wolverine, and other Marvel characters. You can also meet a Raptor in the Jurassic Park area.

Universal Studios is going to take this one because there are so many places to meet characters and you will meet more inside this park than Islands of Adventure.

Winner: Universal Studios

Characters at Universal Orlando

Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios: Shows and Entertainment

Throughout both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios you will find amazing and interactive entertainment. On our last visit the kids joined a drum band at Islands of Adventure. You never really know what to expect.

Universal Studios has Fear Factor Live, The Blues Brothers Show, and The Tales of Beedle the Bard to name a few. The Tales of Beedle the Bard is located in Diagon Alley at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It is often underrated but on one of my favorite shows at the parks.

Universal Studios also has Fear Factor Live that allows guest to face their fears and become part of the show. My husband was part of the cast on our last visit and he shares his experience in the post, Facing My Fears at Fear Factor Live at Universal Studios.

Islands of Adventure has a nightly projection show on Hogwarts which is a great way to end your day at the parks. It also has Poseidon’s Fury which is a walk through attraction/show. You can also watch shows in Seuss Landing that retell the beloved Dr. Seuss stories.

Winner: Universal Studios

tales of beedle the bard at universal studios
Watching Tales of Beedle the Bard at Universal Studios.

Which “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” Area is Best

Both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure have The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. At Universal Studios they have Diagon Alley and at Islands of Adventure they have Hogsmeade.

Diagon Alley is incredible. The first time we visited we literally walked past the entrance and didn’t even realize it was there. Universal has done an incredible job with this area making it one of the best every to explore. It also has my favorite attraction Escape from Gringotts.

Hogsmeade is at Islands of Adventure and features Hogwarts castle as its center piece. Inside Hogwarts guests can board a “broom” in Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This ride is unique and unlike anything I have ever been on. Hogsmeade also has the newest attraction at Universal Orlando; Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.

Although both areas offer something special I am going to have to say Diagon Alley is the winner. There is something so immersive when you enter this area that is unlike anything I have ever experienced.

Winner: Universal Studios

universal studios height requirements

Bonus: Best Overall Ride at Both Parks

I think it is important to say that the best ride at Universal Orlando is definitely Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. It is full of surprises and unexpected twists. I won’t spoil it but it is a must if you are visiting the parks.

Photo Courtesy: Universal Orlando Resort.

If you can visit Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure I think you have to consider what works best for the group you are traveling with. I suggest making time to visit both parks because they are really great places to spend an Orlando vacation.

Read Next: Universal Orlando with Kids: 71 Must Do Attractions

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