If you are coming to the Universal Orlando Resort and can’t decide between Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure- we are here to help! Picking the best park depends on the experience you and your family want to have. For example, thrill seekers will enjoy a visit to Islands of Adventure more, while those of us who are excited to see mind-blowing performances will prefer Universal Studios.

This comprehensive guide will take you through the key differences between the two parks, touching upon everything from rides to dining to help you pick the best experience for you and your family.

Wait, Are Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure the Same?

Nope! They aren’t the same thing, but we totally understand why you might be confused. Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure are two separate parks within the Universal Orlando Resort, and each offers a unique experience for you and your family. Picking the best one to visit sounds complicated, but don’t worry, it’s hard to go wrong between the two because each offers magical rides, dining, and entertainment. Still, taking the time to learn about the parks and choose your favorite will ensure that you and your family have the best possible experience.

Which is More Worth It: Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure?

Whoa whoa, not so fast! While this is the question everyone wants to know, the answer is not so simple. The best experience for you depends on how you want to spend your time, the ages of you and your family, and what rides you are most excited to try. I know that sounds like a lot, but this guide will take you through the differences step by step to help find the park for you. There are so many options to choose from between hospitality, experiences, and dining.

Prefer to Speak With Someone? Get Free Help From Our Favorite Universal Travel Agency

Now, let’s start by looking at some of the key differences between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.

What is Universal Studios?

Entrance archway at Universal Studios Florida

Universal Studios was founded in 1990 with the intention of letting visitors experience their favorite movies and shows in the form of rides. It currently has eight main sections that allow you to walk from one part of the world to another, as you experience some of the most iconic locations relating to TV shows and Universal films. The sections are:

  • Minion Land (formerly Production Central)
  • New York
  • San Francisco
  • The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley
  • World Expo
  • Springfield, USA: Home of the Simpsons
  • Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone (much of which is currently under refurbishment)
  • Hollywood

Universal Studios embodies the theme of classic Hollywood movies and TV shows, and allows you to enjoy characters and experiences from shows like Scooby Doo and the Simpsons, and movies like E.T. and Shrek.

What Rides are at Universal Studios?

Universal Studios has 14 rides, and while it doesn’t have as many roller coasters as Islands of Adventure, it offers tremendous rides an experience that is friendly to visitors of all ages and levels of thrill-seeking desire. The park has:

  • Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
  • Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
  • Villain-Con Minion Blast
  • Hogwarts Express
  • Revenge of the Mummy
  • E.T. Adventure
  • Fast and Furious – Supercharged
  • Hogwarts Express (King’s Cross Station)
  • Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
  • Kang and Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl
  • MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack
  • Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon
  • The Simpsons Ride
  • TRANSFORMERS: The Ride 3D

(Want to learn more? Check out the locations and descriptions — as well as height requirements — of these rides).

One of my favorite rides on this list is Revenge of the Mummy. Whenever I ride it, it gets my heart racing and blood pumping. The ride takes you through an ancient Egyptian tomb as you run at lightning speeds from the evil mummy Imhotep and plunge into total darkness with no end in sight.

Had enough of ancient Egypt? Move on to the world-famous Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride, where you will have to run from a dragon while evading Voldemort and Bellatrix – all while experiencing some of the best 3D projections Universal Orlando has to offer. Whenever I go on this ride, the projections are so real it’s like Harry and Hermione are right next to me as we speed through the underground caves of Gringotts.

What is Islands of Adventure?

Islands of Adventure Theme Park Entrance

Islands of Adventure opened almost a decade later in 1999 and offers more modern themes, covering everything from superheroes to King Kong. Islands of Adventure is known for its many thrill rides that are based on major films, like Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. It also has eight major themes:

  • Jurassic Park
  • Marvel Super Hero Island
  • Port of Entry
  • Seuss Landing
  • Skull Island: Reign of Kong
  • The Lost Continent
  • The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade
  • Toon Lagoon

This park is more targeted toward thrill seekers, for huge roller coasters and water rides will whip you through these worlds as you experience some of the most iconic films and characters of the last two decades.

What Rides are at Islands of Adventure?

Are you looking for some thrill in your life? Islands of Adventure is the place for you. The best Islands of Adventure rides include the huge selection of roller coasters and experiences that will make your jaw drop — but there’s plenty for every level of thrill seeker from the tame to the extreme. The park features:

  • Caro-Seuss-el
  • 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
  • Hogwarts Express (Hogsmeade Station)
  • Jurassic Park River Adventure
  • Jurassic World VelociCoaster
  • One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
  • Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges
  • Pteranodon Flyers
  • Skull Island: Reign of Kong
  • Storm Force Accelatron
  • The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
  • The Cat in the Hat
  • The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride!
  • The Incredible Hulk Coaster

This park has something for everyone, and when you go, you are going to want to try everything. My favorite ride in the park is Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. The ride is said by many to be one of the best in Florida. On Hagrid’s ride, you will experience the magic of flying through the Forbidden Forest and you will get to see some of the most magical creatures in the Harry Potter world. The scenery is fantastic, and I could go on this ride all day long!

Finished zooming through the grounds of Hogwarts and looking for something a bit more intense? Try the Velocicoaster. It’s an intense ride with twists and turns that any thrill seeker will love. The Velocicoaster is one of Florida’s fastest and tallest roller coasters, and it will let you experience the thrill of hunting alongside animals as you race through the jungle.

Get Free Help Planning Your Universal Vacation

Did you know that there’s absolutely no cost to have a premier Universal Preferred Travel Agency plan your trip for you?

Imagine not having to worry about keeping track of hotel reservations, theme park tickets, and dining! No need to figure out how to plan a Universal vacation because a Universal travel agent does it all for you at no additional cost! And they’ll even throw in their best personalized recommendations on everything from rides to daily itineraries.

In our view, the best Universal Orlando travel agent is The Vacationeer! With agents who specialize in Universal, Disney, and other Orlando-area attractions, you’ll be working with people who know the parks inside and out because they visit them often! Just try getting that level of knowledge from a massive wholesaler or national agency.

Even better, contacting The Vacationeer means you’ll be connected with a single, dedicated agent to handle your entire trip from start to finish. No waiting on hold, no giant call centers, no explaining what you need over and over again to a new person each time!

And because they don’t charge any planning fees, your trip won’t cost a penny more than if you’d booked it yourself. It might even cost less! That’s because they know all the money-saving tips to make sure you get the best value for your vacation dollars.

So what’re you waiting for? Contact The Vacationeer today and start planning your amazing Universal adventure!

Comparing Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure

It seems that everyone has their own opinion about which Universal park is better. And it really comes down to personal preference and what you’re looking for.  Here’s a brief glance at just some of the comparison points.

Which is Better for Thrill Rides?

Universal Orlando Rides - Hargrid's Motorbike Adventure

Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure at Islands of Adventure

After those ride descriptions earlier, you may be able to guess that Islands of Adventure is the best choice for the thrill-seekers of this world. The park offers many thrill rides and includes some of the most popular roller coasters in Florida. There are so many you could go around the park riding them for days! I love the roller coasters in this park because they offer a magical combination of physical and visual thrills, sending you twisting and turning though the skies and caves next to some of your favorite characters using beautiful and surreal visual effects. Islands of Adventure rides will build suspense and keep you guessing; they are an experience that you can’t miss.

Which is Better for Shows?

Not all of us want to be riding winding roller coasters and top speed all day, and thankfully there is so much else to do in these parks. One of my favorite ways to spend my time is watching some of the many shows put on throughout Universal Orlando Resort. So, which park has the best shows? Our pick is Universal Studios. What Universal Studios may lack in endless thrill rides, it makes up for with magical shows and experiences that you can’t miss.

The park offers many shows like the Bourne Stuntacular; a stunt show like no other that combines real stunts with 4D effects to create a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

You could also catch the Blues Brothers Show, where a band brings you back in time and performs famous rock and soul songs that will have you swaying, dancing, and singing along.

Which Universal Park is Better for Kids?

This is a widely debated topic, which is a great thing for everyone planning to book a vacation! It means that both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure have a variety of activities for kids, and both are great options. The best park for your child depends on their height, because some rides in both parks have height restrictions that could limit their options.

Some argue that Universal Studios is better for kids because of the wide variety of shows and experiences that it offers. These performances and exhibits let parents take their kids from one amazing experience to the next, without having to worry about being rejected on a ride for not meeting the height requirement. Also, if your child is ready to move on from the shows, there are some great rides to try! Some good rides for kids at Universal include:

  • Kang and Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl
  • The Simpsons Ride
  • E.T. Adventure, and more

Just make sure to check height requirements on rides to avoid disappointment! Some minimum heights can be as tall as 48”, so generally kids should be at least 7 or 8 years old to get the best experience in this park.

One benefit of Islands of Adventure that could tip the scales in its favor is that it has more rides for shorter kids because of Seuss Landing. Seuss Landing has shops, foods, character meet and greets, shows, and most importantly, rides for kids of all ages to enjoy. Outside of Seuss landing there are many rides that your kid would love — if they meet the height requirement. Some rides, like Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, have a height requirement of 48 inches, so make sure to check all the rules before you book!

In conclusion, if your child is above 7 (but more importantly is above the various height requirements) it’s hard to go wrong either way, but if your child is younger than 7 and interested in rides, then Islands of Adventure has the largest selection for them to try!

Which is best for Adults?

They say that Orlando’s theme parks brings out the kid in all of us, but sometimes, after a long day of reliving your teenage years, it’s nice to just sit back in an amazing restaurant and take a deep breath. For me, picking the perfect park for an adult trip means balancing the best rides with the best cuisine and the best shows. Thankfully, it’s hard to go wrong! Both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure offer magical dining experiences (which we will talk about later in this article), dazzling shows, and mind-blowing rides.

Despite both parks having so much to offer, I believe that Islands of Adventure is the best park to visit as an adult. The top thrill rides in Islands of Adventure make the park stand out as an incredible experience for an adult. No matter how old you are, rides like Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, the Velocicoaster, and The Incredible Hulk Coaster are must-tries. The park also features great dining options to relax after a day of excitement, making it the perfect place for an adult trip.

So, on that note…

Which has the Better Food?

While Universal Studios has great food options, Islands of Adventure has some special restaurants that make it stand out and take the gold. My favorite restaurant in Universal Orlando is Mythos. The restaurant, based in Islands of Adventure, combines a mixture of American, Asian, and Mediterranean cuisine with a magical setting of waterfalls, rock formations, and ancient figures that make you feel like you are eating in a far-away cave on the sea. Last time I went I tried the Sweet Corn and Scallop Risotto, and it blew my mind. I can’t recommend Mythos enough! The restaurant has been voted many times to be the best theme park restaurant in the world and is an experience that can’t be missed.

If you are looking for something a bit more casual, both Harry Potter Worlds offer some great takes on theme park food, and you can even have a Butterbeer in the Three Broomsticks tavern in Hogsmeade.

Despite these great options, if you are in Universal Orlando Resort and you are looking for a great place to dine, you can’t go wrong with Universal CityWalk.

Universal CityWalk is in the heart of the Universal Orlando Resort, and offers fantastic dining, entertainment, and shopping. You can find everything from karaoke to cocktails here and there are so many options, making it the best place to look around for a meal in the resort.

Which Harry Potter World is Better at Universal?

Universal Orlando Hogsmeade

Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure

They’re both amazing, but if you can only visit one, we would recommend going to Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure. It has the famous Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, Hogwarts Castle, and the Three Broomsticks. But the real answer is that you should visit both, and here is why:

First of all, YES, there are Harry Potter Worlds in both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Both of these Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter have so much to offer, and you can take the Hogwarts Express in between them just like you are a Hogwarts student.

In Universal Studios you can enter into Diagon Alley, the wizarding world in this part of the park. In Diagon alley you can choose your own wand at Ollivanders, eat at the Leaky Cauldron, and adventure on to the magical ride: Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. After escaping from Gringotts you can jump on the Hogwarts Express, a surreal replica of the same train Harry used to get to Hogwarts, and ride in between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure to access the other Harry Potter World. Important Note: a Park-to-Park admission ticket is required to board the Hogwarts Express.

The Hogwarts Express train ride at Universal Orlando Resort

In Islands of Adventure, you can journey through Hogsmeade: a snowy village filled with taverns, shops, and enchanted secrets. Here, you can dine at the Three Broomsticks or the Hog’s Head, stop in Dervish and Banges for some magical items or Hogwarts merchandise, or stop for some candy from Honeydukes. In Hogsmeade, you have world-famous rides like = Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, along with the Flight of the Hippogriff, and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

The best Harry Potter World for you depends on what you want to see. Hogsmeade (in Islands of Adventure) has an unmissable ride in Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, along with other rides and many activities to take part in. Furthermore, Hogwarts Castle is in Hogsmeade and that is a sight that is on almost everyone’s list.

Diagon Alley (Universal Studios) is designed for a more relaxed exploration of the Harry Potter World. Exploring iconic locations like London King’s Cross Station Platform 9 3/4s can all be enjoyed here along with some great opportunities for shopping. Buy your own wand and you can spend the afternoon activating in-park magical effects. And here’s a great Wizarding World tip if you’re traveling in the heat of summer: Knockturn Alley is always dark and cool — a great place to get out of the sun for a while.

In conclusion, if you can only visit one, we would suggest going to Hogsmeade (Islands of Adventure). But, from my past experience, I always get the most out of my visit when I go to both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. You get to take the Hogwarts Express from one world to the other, and it is one of my favorite parts of the whole adventure. Sitting in the train car you see projections of your favorite Harry Potter characters walking in the hallways, see some amazing views, and you might even have a visit from some dementors on your journey. Best of all, the train offers a different experience in each direction, so riding twice is a must!

What are the differences in price for Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure? 

After all of that debating back and forth, we have finally come to a straightforward section. The cost to visit each park is the exact same, meaning there is no need to factor in the cost of a ticket to your decision to visit either Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure. A two-park ticket allows you to visit both parks in the same day, for less than the cost of buying two separate tickets. As demonstrated in the chart below, all ticket prices can vary based on age, the number of days purchased, and the package you purchase.

Some other things to consider concerning cost: Universal Orlando uses surge pricing, meaning that tickets will cost more during high season than low season. Tickets are a major factor in the Cost of a Universal Orlando Vacation, so the time you choose to visit can have a big impact on your vacation budget.

TICKET TYPEADULT CHILD (AGES 3 - 9)
Single Park
1 DAY
$119 - $179$114 - $174
Park to Park
1 DAY
$174 - $234$169 - $229
Single Park
2 DAY
$234.99 - $337.99$222.99 - $338.99
Park to Park
2 DAY
$292.99 - $408.99$282.99 - $398.99
Volcano Bay
1 DAY
$80 - $85$75 - $80

Pro tip: I like to purchase my tickets in advance, because it can be less expensive than buying them in-person. So, save yourself the time and money and buy before you arrive in Orlando! And remember, using a travel agent to help you book will guarantee that you save the most money and have the best experience.

Questions About Universal Theme Park Tickets?

Is it Worth it to Visit Both Universal Orlando Parks?

Yes. Last time I visited Universal Orlando I spent a day in each park, and I am so glad I was able to visit both. Each park offers a totally unique experience in terms of rides, shows, and dining. The chance to see both Harry Potter Worlds, ride the Velocicoaster one day, and then watch the Bourne Stuntacular the next is an experience you can’t miss.

Visiting both parks may sound like a lot of planning and that is where a travel agent will be a life saver. They are the best way to save money and get the most out of your vacation. I’ve had incredible experiences working with the Vacationeer — I can’t recommend them enough, and they are one of the best in the Disney and Universal vacation planning industry.

Final Thoughts: Universal Studios vs Islands of Adventure

Which park is better? That depends on the experience you and your family are dreaming of for your Universal vacation.

If it works with your budget and you have the time, I absolutely recommend visiting both parks. Each offers a unique experience that you can’t miss. But, if you only want to visit one, consider what experiences, rides, and shows you hope to see, alongside the ages of your family to pick the best option for you. Once you’ve decided between Universal Studios vs Islands of Adventure, don’t forget to check out our Universal Orlando Crowd Calendar to pick the best time to visit.

The great thing about choosing to plan a Universal vacation is that you can’t really go wrong!

Ready to Book?

Get free help booking your Universal vacation from our favorite Universal Travel Agency, The Vacationeer! As a Universal Preferred Travel Agency, their agents specialize in making sure that your visit to Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure is truly amazing!

They’ll handle all your hotel, ticket, and dining reservations for you — and can even arrange transportation from the airport to your hotel!

And best of all? They do all this for free! The Vacationeer doesn’t charge any planning fees, so your trip won’t cost a penny more than if you’d booked it yourself. Thanks to their expert-level knowledge of all the best Universal discounts and money-saving tips, your trip might even cost less!

And because they offer a free, no-obligation quote, you can find out the cost of your dream trip without any pressure to book.

Get in touch with The Vacationeer today and start planning your amazing Universal Orlando vacation!