Best Universal Orlando Rides
Discover the Top 9 Rides at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure
Universal Orlando Resort – commonly referred to as Universal Studios Orlando – shares many similarities to Disney World. The resorts are often confused because they are just 20 minutes apart and both have multiple theme parks, thrilling rides, entertainment, on-site hotels, free in-park transportation, and a similar ticketing system. But that’s about where the similarities end.
Universal Orlando is not owned by Disney and they are in direct competition with one another. They also have a completely different set of rides and experiences. This is actually a big advantage to anyone planning a trip to Orlando because it’s easy to visit both Disney World and Universal Orlando on the same trip…and we recommend that you do just that!
So, for the sake of this article, let’s take a look at the top 9 best Universal Orlando rides to help you prioritize your attractions if you decide to visit Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure theme parks in the future.
Universal Orlando is divided into 4 distinct sections: 2 theme parks, 1 water park, and a dining and entertainment district. In our Best Universal Orlando Rides article, we will just focus on the rides at the two theme parks. However, here is a breakdown of each Universal Orlando area to give you a sense of the layout of the entire resort.
(note: see our Universal Orlando Map page to view expandable, printable PDF maps of Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Florida, Volcano Bay, and CityWalk.)
Universal Studios Florida – Theme Park
Universal Studios Florida opened on June 7, 1990, as the resort’s original theme park. The themed-areas and attractions are inspired by popular film, television, and music productions. Guests are made to feel as though they are on a movie set. The eight themed-areas are Hollywood, New York, San Francisco, Springfield, Production Central, World Expo, Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone, and Diagon Alley/London.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure – Theme Park
Universal’s Islands of Adventure opened on May 28, 1999, as the resort’s second theme park. This park has seven “islands” that are themed around a particular form of adventure. Guests start at the Port of Entry and then proceed through the various islands in the following order: Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Skull Island, Jurassic Park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, The Lost Continent, and Seuss Landing. Of the seven islands, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the only one to be added (2010) since the park first opened. It is, of course, based on the Harry Potter book/film franchise.
It should be noted that Universal’s Islands of Adventure has been selected as TripAdvisor® Travelers’ Choice’s #1 Amusement Park in the World for 2015–2018, so they are certainly doing something right!
Volcano Bay – Water Park
Volcano Bay is a 27-acre water park at Universal Orlando Resort. It opened on May 25, 2017, and replaced the former Wet ‘n Wild water park (which first opened in 1977 but was acquired by Universal Parks & Resorts in 1998). Volcano Bay is themed around a 200-foot-tall artificial volcano named “Krakatau.” The volcano is home to Ko’okiri Body Plunge, the tallest body slide in the country, three drop capsule slides, the Kala & Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides, the Krakatau Aqua Coaster, and more!
Universal CityWalk Orlando – Dining and Entertainment District
The resort further expanded with the opening of Universal CityWalk Orlando on May 28, 1999. This new dining and entertainment district replaced the former parking lot and main entrance. Now guests would arrive at one of the multi-story parking structures and then hop on the moving sidewalks and proceed into CityWalk. From there, guests can enter Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure theme parks. But if you explore Universal CityWalk, then you will find Universal Store (merchandise from both parks) and other shopping locations, plenty of casual and upscale restaurants, nightclubs and live music venues, the Blue Man Group show, and an AMC Movie Theater. The atmosphere here is electric and you will never run out of things to do!
There are dozens of attractions at Universal Orlando, and, like Disney World, this resort has attractions for all age groups. However, the majority of rides that we particularly enjoy at Universal Orlando tend to be more suitable for bigger kids, teens, and adults due to their thrilling aspects and height requirement.
That’s not to say that there aren’t any rides for children because there are plenty. And it’s not to say that Disney World doesn’t have its fair share of thrilling attractions, because it certainly does. However, the majority of the rides on this list tend to be the high-adrenaline types of rides with a few slower ones mixed in.
So, without further ado, here is our list of the best Universal Orlando rides!
The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man comes it at #9 on our Best Universal Orlando Rides list. Debuting in 1999, this attraction is a hybrid of a classic dark ride, fused with film-style 3-D projected scenes, high definition 4-D movie aspects, simulations, and other high-tech gadgetry. The result is an exciting and realistic experience that immerses the rider in the stylized comic book adventures of Spider-Man.
After boarding a Daily Bugle van, guests (ie, news reporters) will then enter into the world of Marvel Comics’ legendary character Spider-Man. The villains of Sinister Syndicate have captured the Statue of Liberty with an anti-gravity gun and a battle ensues. Will you be able to help Spider-Man in this classic adventure of good vs evil?
Category: Motion-Based 3D Dark Ride
Location: Island’s Of Adventure; Marvel Super Hero Island
Opening Date: May 28, 1999
Height Requirement: 40″ (102 cm)
Ride Duration: 5 minutes
Dr. Doom’s Fearfall comes it at #8 on our Best Universal Orlando Rides list. Debuting in 1999, this attraction is for brave people with strong stomachs! If you enjoy the gravity drop in Disney World’s Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, then you may want to check out this thrill ride.
Riders first step inside Doctor Doom’s laboratory. Here you encounter tv’s showing the details behind Doom’s latest invention and how it can defeat the Fantastic Four. Unfortunately, Dr. Doom traps you inside and to use in his experiments. One key ingredient he needs in his weaponry formula is fear, and he plans on extracting fear from you as you experience this ride!
Guest walk through the queue and enter Doctor Doom’s launching platform. You then board a Doombot vehicle and prepare for liftoff. After a nerve-racking countdown, you are then thrust skyward for a few minutes before returning to solid ground. Dr. Doom laughs as you depart the ride because, well, you were scared and he got what he wanted!
Category: Space Shot
Theme: Fantastic Four
Location: Islands of Adventure; Marvel Super Hero Island
Opening Date: May 28, 1999
Height Requirement: 52″ (132 cm)
Speed: 40 MPH
E.T. Adventure comes it at the #7 spot on our Best Universal Orlando Rides list. Debuting all the way back in 1990, this attraction will bring back nostalgia for anyone who is old enough to remember Steven Spielberg’s E.T. film. If not, don’t fret because you will enjoy this Universal Orlando attraction regardless. But look elsewhere if you need high-speed thrills because E.T. Adventure is a leisurely ride that will take you flying past police officers, over the city, and into space.
Guest are seated in a “bicycle,” and in the middle of the front row sits E.T. The vehicle speeds past NASA and the police give chase. But right as you are about to be apprehended, the bicycle ascends into the sky, above the city, and into outer space. The is an enchanting view of the cityscape beneath as you climb into the sky and are transported into a portal with flashing lights and finally arrive at the Green Plant. Here guests with come into contact with Botanicus, who petitions you to rescue E.T.’s friends. E.T. uses his healing powers to revive his friends, and then a joyful celebration follows!
The beginning of the ride is dark and a bit scary, but the ending scenes are bright and joyous. A great choice for children and kids-at-heart.
Category: Suspended Dark Ride
Theme: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Location: Universal Studios Florida; Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone
Opening Date: June 7, 1990
Height Requirement: 34″ (86 cm)
Duration: 4.5 minutes
Jurassic Park River Adventure comes in at #6 on our Best Universal Studios Orlando rides list. This water-based attraction takes its theme from the Michael Crichton novel and Steven Spielberg film Jurassic Park. The attraction is designed to resemble Isla Numblar, the fictional Central American island in Jurassic Park. Jurassic Park River Adventure underwent renovations during 2018-2019 and reopened to the public during the summer of 2019 (better than ever before).
Guests board a floating water vehicle and travel through a pre-historic land where dinosaurs run amok. The new updates include new dinosaurs, lush scenery, enhanced storytelling, and a lot more state-of-the-art technology. At one point in the ride, Dilophosauruses jumps out and spits toxic venom at you (it’s actually water). Towards the end of the ride, you will ascend a long hill, and then experience two drops, including a plunge down an 85′ drop into and into a tropical lagoon outside the Environmental Systems Building. Avoid this Universal Studios ride if you don’t want to get wet!
Category: Shoot the Chute
Theme: Jurassic Park
Location: Universal Studios Florida; Lower Lot
Opening Date: May 28, 1999
Height Requirement: 42″ (107 cm)
Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts comes in at #5 on our Best Universal Orlando rides list. The ride is themed to the Gringotts Wizarding Bank and is the flagship attraction of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter section of the park.
As the crowning jewel of Diagon Alley, Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts is based on J.K. Rowling’s magical novels and the movie franchise. It sends you on a journey alongside Hermione, Ron, and Harry in one of the most climactic scenes.
Guests board a roller coaster train and then travel deep into the Gringotts Bank vaults where you will encounter Voldemort, dragons, and other creatures.
This indoor steel roller coaster is similar to a dark ride because it utilizes special effects in a light controlled environment. It also utilizes motion-based 3-D projections with live-action and animation sequences to really bring the experience to life. This is one of the most exciting rides in the park!
Category: Roller Coaster
Theme: Gringotts Bank
Location: Universal Studios; The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley
Opening Date: July 8, 2014
Height Requirement: 42″ (107 cm)
Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit comes in at #4 on our Best Universal Orlando rides list. If you’re looking for an extreme adrenaline rush, then this is the ride for you!
It opened in 2009 and is not overly complex. You just strap yourself in, choose your song, and get ready to rock ‘n roll.
As you fasten your safety belt, guests are able to pick the song that they will be able to hear on the ride. Then you ascend skyward at a 90-degree angle as the music is thumping and your heart is racing. Once at the top, you have an amazing panoramic view of the park, but it’s fleeting as you soon plummet down and speed along the winding track at a blistering 65 MPH. The ride continues with small drops and plenty of twists and turns until you are back at the station. You will have an opportunity to purchase a photograph or music video souvenir of the experience if you wish.
Note that Hollywood Rid Ride Rockit has safety limitations on size and body shape of the passengers.
Category: Steel Coaster; Trill Ride
Theme: Rocket Ship
Location: Universal Studios; Production Central
Opening Date: August 19, 2009
Height Requirement: 130–201 cm (4′ 3″ –6′ 7″)
Speed/Vertical: 65 MPH/167 feet
Keeping the roller coaster theme going, the Incredible Hulk Coaster comes in at #3 on our Best Universal Orlando rides list. This attraction is similar to Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit because both are fast-paced coasters with a variety of harrowing twists and turns. However, there’s plenty of differences between the two including theme, location, and the course.
The coaster underwent a major refurbishment in 2015-2016 and now includes a new storyline and a redesigned queue experience. The entrance features a statue of Hulk lifting a vehicle over his head and guests enter General Thaddeus Ross’ wacky scientific lab. The televisions air CGI animations of test subjects who are exposed to gamma radiation and then transformed into creatures resembling the Hulk. Once on the ride, you are strapped in before zooming off on perhaps the most exhilarating ride at Universal Orlando Resort.
Riders experience seven inversions with a 2-second 0-40 MPH acceleration and a top speed of 67 MPH (vs 65 MPH in Rip Ride Rockit). It incorporates several upside down loops along the course to get your heart pumping.
Category: Launched Steel Coaster; Trill Ride
Location: Universal’s Islands of Adventure; Marvel Super Hero Island
Opening Date: May 28, 1999 (as Animation) August 4, 2016 (as Action)
Height Requirement: 54″ (137 cm)
Speed/Vertical: 67 MPH/115 feet drop
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey comes in at #2 on our Best Universal Orlando rides list. This attraction is categorized as a motion-based dark ride within The Wizarding World of Harry Potter area of Island of Adventure theme park. The attraction is an in-depth exploration into the world of Harry Potter and uses locations and scenes in and around Hogwarts Castle as the backdrop. If you are a fan of the Harry Potter series, then some of this will look familiar to you. The ride utilizes innovative technology to transform the theme park experience like never seen before.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter themed area is a highlight of any Universal Orlando Resort vacation. It’s rich in detail and the experience really immerses you in a lifelike experience which mimics the books and films. To us, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is the star of the show (land), if there was one. This attraction is a wild ride features a getaway through Hogwarts Castle, a harrowing encounter with Death Eaters, an high-flying Quidditch match, and other heart-racing moments with Harry. The attraction also showcases a real theme park innovation with its robotic ride vehicles. This ride is not to be missed, even if you aren’t a Harry Potter fan (for whatever reason)!
Category: Dark Ride
Theme: Harry Potter
Location: Islands of Adventure; Universal Creative
Opening Date: April 7, 2016
Height Requirement: 48″ (122 cm)
Revenge of the Mummy comes in at #1 on our Best Universal Studios Florida rides list. This “psychological” thrill ride is a combination of an enclosed dark ride (with amazing special effects and animatronics) and a launched roller coaster experience. In other words, it captures some of the best aspects of a theme park attraction in one ride. If you like scary rides, this one is for you!
Revenge of the Mummy uses treasures and warrior mummies to replicate the film props used in The Mummy film series. Some of the props are the actual film props themselves. Linear induction motors (LIMs) are also used in order to launch your mine car from a standstill position to speeds of up to 45 mph in a matter of seconds.
The enters a dark tomb lit surrounded by fluorescent lights with a mummy spring out and hissing at riders. From then on, you can expect the unexpected as mummies come from all directions and you go from dark room to dark room and then speed into a dark abyss. The surround sound and effects really bring this ride to the next dimension of entertainment and scariness.
Category: Steel Launched Coaster / Enclosed Dark Ride
Theme: The Mummy
Location: Universal Studios; New York City
Opening Date: May 21, 2004
Height Requirement: 48″ (122 cm)