Universal Orlando Resort has two exciting theme parks, Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Naturally, everyone has a different opinion on which Universal Orlando park is best and why, but you’d only be cheating yourself if you didn’t experience both for yourself. This article aims to compare Universal Studios vs. Universal’s Islands of Adventure to help you decide which park tickets you’ll need to buy and what park you should focus on.

Which Universal Park is Best: Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure?

Before we begin, please know that Universal Orlando has a water park (Volcano Bay). But we are just focusing on the two theme parks in the article. Also, keep in mind that Universal and Walt Disney World are totally different resorts, have completely different experiences, and are owned by different companies. However, they are both amazing parks – and are only about 7 miles away from one another – so we recommend checking out both places if your time and budget allow it!

Contact The Vacationeer and get started planning today. They specialize in both Disney and Universal Orlando vacations, and they never charge a dime for their planning services.

Now, here’s our Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure comparison.

1. History and Theme

Universal Orlando Resort’s two theme parks were opened 9 years apart and had completely different themes.

  • Universal Studios Florida opened to the public on June 7, 1990. The park is themed to aspects of the entertainment industry, focusing on movies and television.
  • Universal’s Islands of Adventure opened on May 28, 1999. The park is themed after a journey of exploration and adventure, where guests visit various themed islands.

Winner: Universal Studios

We give a slight edge to Universal Studios Florida because it’s Universal’s original theme park. We also love its atmosphere; the park is a little easier to navigate than Islands of Adventure.

2. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (it’s in BOTH Universal Theme Parks)

Hogwarts Express

Before we go any further, don’t worry, Harry Potter fans, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-themed area is found at BOTH Universal parks.

You’ll need a Park-to-Park pass if you plan on experiencing the entirety of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter on the same day.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Diagon Alley is at Universal Studios, while the Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Hogsmeade is at Islands of Adventure.

Which Side of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is Better?

The centerpiece of Hogsmeade is Hogwarts Castle. The Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction is inside the castle, a thoroughly unique “broom” ride. Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure is another amazing ride at Islands of Adventure’s Hogsmeade and one of Universal’s Islands of Adventure’s newest and most popular rides.

Diagon Alley is an incredible immersive area and one of our favorite places to explore at Universal. It’s also home to my favorite Universal attraction, Escape from Gringotts.

Winner: Universal Studios

You should NOT MISS either of the Harry Potter Worlds if you’re a huge Harry Potter fan, but we prefer Diagon Alley by a slight margin. Tip: When you visit Universal Studios and stay at a resort hotel, ask for Early Park Admission so you can get access an hour before either Universal park opens.

3. Cost of Tickets at Universal Orlando Resort Theme Parks

A few things factor into the cost of Universal theme park tickets:

  • Type of ticket: Single Park per day or going from park-to-park on the same day
  • Type of park: Volcano Bay (water park) is priced differently from Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure
  • Number of days purchased: Visit Universal for 2+ days to save on the per-day price of tickets
  • Date of visit: Prices vary throughout the year due to holidays, school vacations, special events, demand, and more
  • Age of the visitor: Adults (ages 10+) pay a bit more than children (ages 3-9). Ages 2 and younger are free.
  • State residency: Florida (and occasionally Georgia) residents may be eligible for special promotions.

Here are the current ticket price ranges:

Single Park
$119 - $179$114 - $174
Park to Park
$174 - $234$169 - $229
Single Park
$234.99 - $337.99$222.99 - $338.99
Park to Park
$292.99 - $408.99$282.99 - $398.99
Volcano Bay
$80 - $85$75 - $80

Note: There are no special tickets just for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. That said, please be aware that the area is located in BOTH parks.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Diagon Alley is part of Universal Studios, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Hogsmeade is part of Islands of Adventure.

If you plan on experiencing BOTH sides on the SAME DAY (the one in Universal Orlando and the one in Islands of Adventure), you’ll need to purchase Park-to-Park tickets. This multi-park pass will give you access to the Hogwarts Express so you can ride between both Harry Potter lands.

Optional Ticket Add-Ons:

You can skip the lines at certain participating rides by paying extra for the Universal Express Pass. There are a few options:

  • Universal Express Pass (Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure): Skip the regular line one time per participating ride
  • Universal Express Pass Unlimited (Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure): Skip the regular line an unlimited number of times per participating ride
  • Universal Express Pass (Volcano Bay water park): Skip the virtual line at select rides, once per ride
  • Universal Express Plus Pass (Volcano Bay water park): Skip the virtual line at all rides, once per ride

The price varies per park and by date. There is no difference between adult and child pricing.

Here’s the current price range:

Express Pass TypeCost Per Person
Express Pass
(USF or IoA)
$79.99 and up
Express Pass Unlimited
(USF or IoA)
$99.99 and up
Express Pass
$19.99 and up
Express Plus Pass
$49.99 and up
Winner: Tie

The answer depends on how long you stay.

Single Park tickets are the same price for each park, and they get cheaper if you buy multiple days’ worth of tickets. However, if you are only at Universal for one or two days or want to take full advantage of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, consider going with the Park-to-Park ticket and paying extra for the convenience factor. Regular park tickets do not include some “hard-ticket” special events like Halloween Horror Nights.

Questions? Ready to book? Want a free quote?

Contact The Vacationeer if you’d like to find out more about Universal Orlando theme park tickets and discounts or to begin planning your Universal vacation.

4. Themed Areas (Lands)


Universal’s theme parks are loosely divided into different themed areas (or “lands).

  • Universal Studios has eight themed areas. They are as follows (located clockwise from the entrance): Minion Land (formerly Production Central), New York, San Francisco, London/Diagon Alley, World Expo, Springfield, Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone (most of which is currently closed for retheming to a DreamWorks land), and Hollywood. They have a combination of shows, rides, attractions, restaurants, character appearances, and merchandise stores.
  • Islands of Adventure has eight themed “islands.” They are as follows (located clockwise from entrance): Port of Entry, Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Skull Island, Jurassic Park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, The Lost Continent, and Seuss Landing.
Winner: Tie

5. Rides and Attractions

Both theme parks feature a complete slate of rides and other attractions.

Universal Studios Orlando has 14 rides and attractions in total. Of these, there are 4 roller coasters.

Current Universal Studios Florida Rides and Attractions
  • 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
  • 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
  • Villain-Con Minion Blast
  • Woody Woodpecker Nuthouse Coaster (Currently Closed)

Universal’s Islands of Adventure has 18 rides and attractions in total. Of these, there are 4 roller coasters and 3 water rides.

Universal Studios Orlando – Islands of Adventure Rides and Attractions
  • The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman
  • Caro-Seuss-El
  • The Cat in the Hat
  • 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
  • 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 and Bluto’s Bilge-rat Barges
  • Pteranodon Flyers
  • Skull Island: Reign of Kong
  • Storm Force Accelatron
Winner: Universal’s Islands of Adventure

Universal’s Island of Adventures wins by a slight margin because of its diversity of rides.

6. Thrill Rides

Both parks offer some very good thrill rides.

Universal Studios

A favorite at Universal Studios is the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. This steel roller coaster reaches a top speed of 65 mph and a height of 167 feet. The lift to the top takes guests straight up on a slow climb before takeoff. Guests can also select a song to play during the ride.

Other notable popular thrill rides include the classic dark-ride/roller coaster hybrid Revenge of the Mummy. This one has stood the test of time and is still a fan favorite.

And let us not forget Escape from Gringotts in Diagon Alley. Guests board a vehicle system and speed off on one of the most terrifying adventures you’ll go on!

Universal’s Islands of Adventure

Islands of Adventure is home to the new Jurassic World VelociCoaster, which reaches speeds of 70 mph.

Then there’s the enormously popular Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure Coaster combines traditional coaster elements with fantastic storytelling.

These two thrill rides are among Univeral Orlando’s most popular attractions at the moment.

Another trill ride to get your adrenaline pumping is The Incredible Hulk Coaster. It launches guests from 0 to 40 mph in just 2 seconds! Like Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket, it has several twists and turns throughout the ride.

See our Best Universal Orlando Rides for more.

Winner: Islands of Adventure

It’s a close call, but Islands of Adventure comes out on top.

7. Family Attractions: Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure

Universal Orlando theme parks are generally geared toward older kids and adults. That said,  there are lots of attractions for preschool-age kids and other kids that may want some gentler types of rides.

  • Universal Studios has a designated area for kids, but much of it is currently closed for a major re-theming. Previously called KidZone, it included a number of kid-friendly attractions, including Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster. This area is being reworked into a DreamWorks land, but it won’t re-open until Summer 2024. Until then, there are still plenty of kid-friendly areas and attractions in the park, including E.T. Adventure.
  • Islands of Adventure’s designated kid’s area is called Seuss Landing. Guests will feel like they just stepped into the magical world of Dr. Seuss. Seuss Landing has four rides: One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, Caro-Seuss-al, The Cat in the Hat, and The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train. There are also a few more themed areas for kids throughout Islands of Adventure, including Camp Jurassic, Me Ship, the Olive, and If I Ran the Zoo.

The little ones will have so much fun in these areas!

Winner: Islands of Adventure

Again, a close call but Universal’s Islands of Adventure has just a little more to offer for kids.

8. Shows – Islands of Adventure vs. Universal Studios

Live Shows at Universal Studios

  • Animal Actors On Location!
  • Celestina Warbeck & The Banshees
  • The Blues Brothers Show
  • The Bourne Stuntacular
  • The Blues Brothers Show
  • The Tales of Beedle the Bard
  • Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration
  • Universal Orlando’s Horror Make-Up Show

Live Shows at Islands of Adventure

  • Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle
  • Frog Choir
  • The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle
  • Oh! The Stories You’ll Hear!
  • Triwizard Spirit Rally
Winner: Universal Studios

Universal Studios has a few more shows than Islands of Adventure. Check with Universal or your The Vacationeer for updates and showtimes.

9. Restaurants at Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure

Universal Studios has some sit-down restaurants and the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley. One of the most popular lunchtime spots at Universal Studios Florida Fast Food Blvd in Springfield: Home of the Simpsons. There’s a wide assortment of food with eateries named after The Simpsons television series. Guests can select from eateries like Krusty Burger, Flaming Moe’s, The Frying Dutchman, Cletus’ Chicken Shack, Lisa’s Teahouse of Horror, or Luigi’s Pizza.

Islands of Adventure has the award-winning restaurant Mythos as well as numerous counter-service dining options. Our favorite spot at Islands of Adventure is  Green Eggs and Ham at Seuss Landing, where they serve Who-Hash and other Dr. Seuss-themed meals.

Winner: Universal Studios 

Despite our love for Green Eggs and Ham at Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios has more sit-down and counter service options and something for everyone. Just don’t forget to set aside money for the cost of dining in your Universal budget!

10. Characters to Meet

There are many fun and interesting characters to meet around Universal Studios Florida.

Universal Studios features many of the classic movie and television characters like Beetlejuice, Marilyn Monroe, The Simpsons, Transformers, Scooby-Doo Gang, and Despicable Me.

Islands of Adventure has Wolverine, Spiderman, and other Marvel characters, as well as The Cat in the Hat, Thing 1 and Thing 2, and Raptor in the Jurassic Park area.

Winner: Universal Studios

Universal Studios wins because there are more characters to meet all around the park.

We love the two parks just about the same. If we had to choose the best park, Islands of Adventure might have the edge in terms of rides. Still, Universal Studios has the edge on most of the other factors.

Do you need help planning and booking your Universal Studios Resort vacation? If so, then look no further than The Vacationeer. This Universal travel agency (which also books Disney trips) will get you the best rates AND make sure every aspect of your Universal Orlando vacation is as magical as possible… all without charging you anything for their planning services. Plus, they will book all your reservations, so you don’t have to.

Are you looking for more information on Universal? We have many more articles!

Check out How to Plan a Universal Vacation, Universal Orlando Crowd CalendarUniversal Orlando MapUniversal Orlando TransportationBest Universal Orlando RidesUniversal vs Disney WorldHow to Get from Disney World to UniversalHow Much do Wands Cost at Universal StudiosIs the Universal Express Pass Worth It and How to get the Universal Express Pass for Free pages.