SMACKDOWN! Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure: Which Should You Choose?

Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure: Do you know the difference?

Well, well, well ThemeParkHipsters, it’s almost summertime – you know what that means… Theme Park Season!

With the kids out of school and shorter work weeks ahead, you might be considering your next trip to the theme park capital of the world aka: Orlando, FL.

But of course, with this kind of trip planning comes LOTS of questions. Which parks are the best? Which should I spend my money on? And which should I skip?

Well today, we’re going to help you answer those EXACT questions. And while we’ve already covered the ULTIMATE theme park showdown: Disney vs. Universal here, today we’re going to take on an even tougher debacle: Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure.

Which park has more of what you’re looking for? Which park fits your ThemeParkHipster checklist for the perfect park day? 

Transformers the Ride 3D Entrance next to Bull's Gym Sign

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Today we’re going to put them head to head so you can find out! So let’s use our 7 favorite theme park categories to finally settle this age old challenge: Universal Studios vs Islands of Adventure!

Amount of Things to Do

We know, we know “Things to Do” is a broad category. But for our Universal Studios vs Islands of Adventure showdown, we broke this into two different groups: rides and entertainment/shows.

Seuss Landing at Islands of Adventure

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Universal Studios Rides and Attractions

So, which park is more packed to the brim for a full day of fun? We listed out each of their ride and attraction offerings below to help you figure it out:

Universal Studios Arches View from CityWalk

1. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts

A magical, cutting edge ride that combines the thrilling aspects of a (non upside down) rollercoaster with immersive 4D movie screens, surround sound, and atmospheric effects.

Gringotts Queue in Diagon Alley
Gringotts Queue in Diagon Alley

2. Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit

A thrilling roller coaster that records your reaction while you ride, so you can purchase your own roller coaster music video – once you’ve got your bearings back on ground of course!

Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit Overlooking Plaza at Universal Studios

3. Revenge of the Mummy

NOT for the faint hearted, this completely dark roller coaster goes 45 (miles per hour) mph inside and is full of surprises like realistic movie projections and flames!

Revenge of the Mummy Ride at Universal Studios Florida
Revenge of the Mummy Ride at Universal Studios Florida

4. Despicable Me Minion Mayhem

Because your day shouldn’t be ALL scary, Minion Mayhem uses 8 person ride vehicles to bounce, shake, and twist in tandem with the immersive screen in front.

5. E.T. Adventure

A cult classic, the E.T. ride takes guests on magical flying bikes over animatronic alien worlds.  This more family friendly ride is slower placed, but that doesn’t make it any less enchanting! 

ET Adventure Ride Entrance at Universal Studios Florida

6. Race through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon

Another 3D motion simulator attraction, this newer ride combines the comedic charm of Jimmy Fallon with the hustle and bustle of New York City for a truly immersive experience!

7. Shrek 4-D

The first ever 4D ride, you’ll dawn 3D glasses for this ride and be seated in electronic chairs that allow you to feel every bump, shake, and rocking motion of Shrek and his crew’s valiant adventure!

Shrek 4D Universal Studios Photos Orlando Tips

8. The Simpsons Ride

Yet ANOTHER 3D motion simulator attraction (are you sensing a pattern here?) this ride takes place in front of a big 3D screen that makes guests feel as though they are riding a creepy Krusty coaster with the Simpsons gang!

9. Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl

A kiddie type of ride in Simpson’s Land, riders go round and round 10’ off the ground.

Twirl n Hurl Simpsons Ride at Universal Studios

10. Men in Black: Alien Attack

Video game fans unite!  This ride gives each guest a laser gun to shoot animatronic aliens while tallying your points for the ultimate alien annihilation showdown!

Men in Black Alien Attack Immigration Room Universal Studios

11. Transformers: The Ride 3D

Perhaps the most realistic of all the 3D simulator rides in Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, this ride vehicle moves along a track to combine real forward movement with many 3D screens to really make you feel as though you’ve been dropped into a Blockbuster film!

Transformers The Ride 3D at Universal Studios Orlando

12. Fast & Furious: Supercharged

With an immersive, live pre-show that captures guest attention from the start, riders are then loaded into a bus-like vehicle surrounded by movie screens for a front row seat to this fan favorite film franchise!

14. Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster

Technically a kiddie-coaster, this brisk roller coaster is open to guests of all ages and positioned right next to Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone; aka the playground.

15. Entertainment at Universal Studios Florida

And of course, don’t forget that Universal Studios has lots and lots of entertaining shows including:

Beat Builders at Universal Studios Orlando Florida
Beat Builders at Universal Studios Orlando, Florida
  • Animal Actors on Location
  • Bourne Stuntacular
  • Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees
  • Tales of Beedle the Bard
  • Fear Factor Live (Currently not open)
  • The Blues Brothers Show
  • Beat Builders
  • Universal Orlando’s Horror Make-Up show and more!

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Islands of Adventure Rides and Attractions

Port of Entry Islands of Adventure. #UniversalOrlando #Islands of Adventure Itinerary #ThemePark
Port of Entry | Islands of Adventure

1. Flight of the Hippogriff

The most tame of the Harry Potter rides, this brisk roller coaster is great for those Potterheads who want a bit of a magical thrill, without any crazy dips, drops, or turns.

2. Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure

Having recently replaced the crowd favorite Dueling Dragons / Dragon’s Challenge, this coaster feels like you’re flying through the Forbidden Forest.

Hagrids Magical Creatures and Motorbike Adventure Line Ride Vehicle Interiors Exteriors Scope Shots
Hagrids Magical Creatures and Motorbike Adventure Photo: Universal Orlando Resort

This ride give you a thrill factor somewhere in between the more tame Flight of the Hippogriff and the way more intense Incredible Hulk Coaster.

3. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

Want to feel like you can actually fly on a Nimbus 2000? Then this is your ride! 

Hogsmeade at Universal Hogwarts Castle Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
Hogsmeade at Universal Hogwarts Castle Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

Guests are loaded into one of four suspended seats that come with a “broom handle,” so you truly feel like you’re soaring with Hogwarts’ best witches and wizards! 

Plus, large screens and quick dips and turns work together to convince you that you really can fly!

4. The Incredible Hulk Coaster

Not for the faint hearted, this coaster goes from 0 – 60 mph in two seconds and takes guests upside down on 7 different occasions!

HULK Roller Coaster

5. VelociCoaster

Not to be opened until June 2021, this much anticipated coaster will likely rival The Incredible Hulk in speed and thrill factors!  Don’t believe us? Just check out this video review!

6. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man

This dark ride requires 3D glasses and moves guests through different high energy scenes in 12 person ride vehicles!

spiderman at islands of adventure

7. Doctor Doom’s Fearfall

Ever wanted to freefall 185-feet? Now’s your chance on this thrilling ride in Islands of Adventure’s Marvel Superhero Island.

dr doom fear fall photo from universal (1)
Photo Credit: Universal Orlando

8. Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls

Need a water ride for some Florida heat relief? Then this ride might be the one!  Just make sure you’re prepared for the climactic 75-foot drop at the end!

Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls Water Falls Islands of Adventure Itinerary
Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls Islands of Adventure

9. Jurassic Park River Adventure

Another thrilling water ride, but the climactic 85 foot drop really catches riders off guard since you can’t see it until you’re riding it!

10. Storm Force Accelatron

A twirling “tea cup -esque” ride in Marvel Super Hero Island for guests of all ages (temporarily closed at the writing of this article)!

11. The Cat in the Hat

Another ride geared towards the little ones, this four person vehicle takes guests swirling and twirling through this beloved Dr. Seuss book with animatronics.

Cat in the Hat Ride at Islands of Adventure

12. The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride

Similar to Disney’s “People Mover” this easy going ride takes guests on a high in the sky train track throughout Seuss Land.

Cat in the Hat Ride at Islands of Adventure

13. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

Another kiddie, twirling ride that goes round and round up to 15-feet off the ground. 

One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish Ride at Islands of Adventure

14. Skull Island: Reign of Kong

Very similar to Fast & Furious: Supercharged, guests are seated into a safari bus type vehicle that moves forward on a track and stops at various movie screen scenes for some thrilling story lines!

15. Islands of Adventure Shows and Entertainment

Show-wise, Islands of Adventure has less to offer than Universal Studios, such as Poseidon’s Fury – a walk-through interactive show that some people consider to be a ride.

Christmas at Universal Harry Potter Christmas Snowman in front of castle

There are also shows in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter such as the Frog Choir and the TriWizard Rally.

Category Winner: Universal Studios!

In terms of the sheer amount of rides and shows, Universal Studios wins, but remember, the quality of the rides at each park are also quite different. 

HULK Roller Coaster Universal Islands of Adventure

While Islands of Adventure is packed with thrilling coasters and rides with big twists, turns, and drops, Universal Studios makes up for it by offering LOTS of shows and more immersive 4-D experiential rides.  

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Food

No theme park day is complete without some good eats, right? So let’s break down this very important category in our Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure debate!

Empanada Brisket Melt Esquites Asados at Universal Studios
New summer offerings at at Universal!

Universal Studios Food

Guests at Universal Studios can expect a wide variety of dining choices, including sit down options like the full service:

  • Finnegan’s Bar and Grill
  • Lombard’s Seafood Grille
  • The Leaky Cauldron

You can also enjoy quick service bites and treats, like the magical Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour, and savory Simpson’s Land pickings like Krusty Burger, Cletus’ Chicken Shack, Bumblebee Man’s Tacos and so much more!

Chicken and Waffle Sandwich from Cletus' Chicken Shack Universal Studios
Chicken and Waffle Sandwich from Cletus’ Chicken Shack

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Islands of Adventure Food

You can’t talk about dining in Islands of Adventure without talking about Mythos – or as most people call it – the multiple award winning Mediterranean restaurant in Islands of Adventure.  

Gyro at Fire Eater's cafe at Islands of Adventure
Gyro at Fire Eater’s Grill

The mystical theming of Mythos is reason enough to try it, not to mention the delicious menu! So of course, reservations are highly recommended. 

Snag one by visiting the hostess stand as soon as the restaurant opens for the day.

Fish and Chips at the Three Broomsticks and Long Island Tea at Harry Potter World Universal
Fish and Chips at Three Broomsticks

Other eateries of note in Islands of Adventure include:

  • Confisco Grille: which boasts global cuisines
  • Three Broomsticks: with its legendry Butterbeer, Shepherd’s Pie, and Fish and Chips
  • Comic Strip Café: with an assortment of burgers, pizzas, and fried chicken
  • Burger Digs: AKA, the best burger topping bar there is! 

Category Winner: Islands of Adventure – because they have an award winning restaurant and the better of the two Harry Potter eateries!

Quality of Rides

Well, if we do say so ourselves, we gave you a pretty detailed breakdown of all the rides offered at Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure in our first category: “Amount of Things to Do.” 

Entrance to Transformer the Ride with Walgreen Sign

But, as we all already know, quantity doesn’t always mean quality. So, let’s put the quality of each park’s rides to the test, shall we?!

Universal Studios

In the spirit of keeping a “Hollywood Blockbuster” vibe to this park, many of the rides in Universal Studios are 3D simulated, so in our opinion, after a while, a lot of them can feel like more of the same… Or, as some might see it, more potential for motion sickness!

Bourne Stuntacular Entrance at universal Studios Florida. universal studios vs islands of adventure.

With that being said, Universal Studios definitely has its share of world class rides, including Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, Rip Ride Rockit, E.T Adventure, and Revenge of the Mummy.

Diagon Alley with Dragon on Top of Gringotts. universal studios vs islands of adventure.

However, the majority of the other offerings are some sort of motion simulator that combine 3D screens with sharp twists, turns, and movements, which can start to feel repetitive.

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Islands of Adventure

This park is definitely the place to be when it comes to ride diversity! From water rides, to intense roller coasters, to interactive shooting games, your day at Islands of Adventure definitely won’t feel monotonous.  

Seuss Landing | Islands of Adventure #universalorlando #themepark
Seuss Landing | Islands of Adventure

Plus, the scenery is always changing, from Marvel Superhero Island, to Jurassic Park, to Seuss Landing, to Toon Lagoon, to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and more! 

Basically, what we’re trying to say is Islands of Adventure certainly lives up to its name!

Category Winner: Islands of Adventure for a smorgasbord of different ride opportunities!

Fandoms

What movies make your heart tick? Which movie characters do you want to fill your day with? 

Hogsmeade vs Diagon Alley with fire breathing dragon and hogwarts castle
Hogsmeade vs. Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando Resort

Think about it hard! Because the answer to this question might impact your Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure opinion dramatically!

Universal Studios

Home to rides inspired by cult classic movies like E.T., Fast and Furious, Men in Black, Transformers, and King-Kong, blockbuster movie buffs will definitely enjoy their time at Universal Studios.  

Men in Black Alien Attack Immigration Tour
Men in Black Alien Attack Immigration Tour

But of course, so will guests who enjoy the Dreamworks bunch, including Shrek, the Minions, and Springfield’s Simpsons who are also widely featured at Universal Studios.

Islands of Adventure

This Universal Orlando theme park is home to Jurassic Park (where you can meet a LIVE dinosaur), Marvel Superheroes, and the many comic book characters of Toon Lagoon like Betty Boop and Popeye.  

Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges. universal studios vs islands of adventure.

Category Winner: It’s up to you! Since we can’t tell you which fandoms to like best, the choice is really in your hands! Are you more of a superhero park hopper, or are the Simpsons more your thing? You can let us know in the comments below!

And P.S. Potterheads, don’t sweat it. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is featured in both parks!

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Entertainment

For a well-rounded park experience, sometimes it’s nice to break up all those rides with some shows and entertainment. 

Celestina Warbeck at Diagon Alley Orlando
Celestina Warbeck at Diagon Alley

But what does each park offer? And which has a better entertainment selection?  

Universal Studios

This Florida theme park was BUILT with the movie buff in mind. The rides here have cutting edge technology to make you FEEL like you’re IN the movie (yeah- we’re especially looking at you Transformers: The Ride 3D).

Meeting Spongebob and Patrick at Universal Studios Florida. universal studios vs islands of adventure.
Meet characters at a distance.

In addition to rides that make you feel like you’re a Hollywood star, there are also LOTS of awesome shows at Universal Studios. With some fan favorites being Universal Orlando’s Horror Make-Up Show, Fear Factor Live, and the Bourne Stuntacular.

Plus, of course, in Universal Studios you can do meet and greets with Bumblebee, Optimus Prime, Shrek, Fiona, Spongebob, and Patrick, if that’s your speed!

So, Universal Studios really is a movie critic’s paradise!

Islands of Adventure

When comparing Universal Studios vs Islands of Adventure in this category, we don’t want to say there’s NO competition…but in a way…there’s really no competition. 

Mythos Restaurant at Islands of Adventure

Although you can do meet and greets with:

  • Dreamwork Characters
  • Spider-Man, Captain America
  • Wolverine
  • Dr. Seuss Characters
  • Blue the Velociprator from Jurassic World

Islands of Adventure really was designed more for the thrill seeking, ride loving type of ThemeParkHipster.

Incredible Hulk Islands of Adventure Tips with Green roller coaster.
Incredible Hulk at Islands of Adventure

Launching from 0 – 60 mph in two seconds (The Incredible Hulk Coaster), 150+ foot drops (Doctor Doom’s Fearfall), and deep degree vertical drops (Velocicoaster) are the norm at Islands of Adventure. 

Basically, they’re not trying to win your heart over with entertainment and story lines here, but more so boost your heart rate with some serious adrenaline!

Category Winner: Universal Studios

Shopping

You can’t have a theme park without a few gift shops, right? Well rest assured that both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios have their fair share!

Alley in New York Area of Universal Studios. universal studios vs islands of adventure.

Universal Studios 

Of course there are more gift shop offerings than what we have listed here, but these are the most memorable standouts due to their attention to detail: 

  • The Kwik-E-Mart:  from the Simpsons
  • Spongebob Storepants: which is also where Spongebob and friends do their meet and greets 
  • The Super Silly Store: directly after the Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem ride
  • Hello Kitty Shoppe: or as we like to call it, the cutest store you ever did see
  • Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes: which is impressively identical to the Potter films.

Islands of Adventure

This park has some standout shops too, including: 

  • The Islands of Adventure Trading Company: which is probably the biggest store on Universal Orlando Resort property
  • Honeydukes: the only place you should be stopping for magical sweet treats while you’re in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
  • Magneto’s Comic Book Shop: for those hardcore Marvel fans

Category Winner: Tie!

To be honest, this category kind of goes back to Fandoms, because specific merch is sold near specific attractions. 

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Wands at Ollivanders
Wizarding World of Harry Potter Wands

For example, if you really want an EPIC Transformers shirt, your best bet is to go to Universal Studios and check out the Transformer dedicated gift shop outside of the ride. (And yes, Harry Potter merchandise is available in both parks, don’t you worry Potterheads!)

Diagon Alley: Broomsticks Quality Quidditch Supplies

Something else you have to consider with shopping at Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure is that both park tickets grant you access to CityWalk, or the outdoor mall type of experience prior to park entry.

CityWalk features LOTS of great shopping, with major brand stores like Universal Studios Store, Quiet Flight Surf Shop, and Hart & Huntington. 

CityWalk at Universal Orlando universal studios vs islands of adventure

And, since this area is open to anyone on Universal Orlando Resort property, park ticket holder or not. So, we’ve got to say Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure are pretty well matched here!

Ride Wait Times

As you likely know, ride wait times are more so based off of time of the year and time of day rather than park. 

Diagon Alley Grand opening day Gringotts wait time.
Diagon Alley Grand opening day Gringotts wait time.

So, for the most optimal wait time experience, we DEFINITELY recommend hitting the parks right at opening and hitting the newest/most popular rides first thing.

Another tip? Visit during a weekday in September, November, February, March, April, or May aka: NOT during the holidays or when schools are off for break.

But, nevertheless, since Universal Orlando has recently released “virtual” ride queues through their mobile app, available for any guest use (in addition to their Express Pass, which can be purchased for either park here).

Universal Studios Crowd Calendar from Undercover Tourist

We thought we’d compare those for you, just for some extra Universal Studios vs Islands of Adventure drama.

Universal Studios Virtual Lines

As of Spring of 2021, Universal Studios has 6 rides that currently offer virtual line queues, including:

  1. Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
  2. Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon
  3. Revenge of the Mummy
  4. Fast & Furious: Supercharged
  5. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
  6. Ollivanders Experience in Diagon Alley

Islands of Adventure Virtual Lines

In Islands of Adventure, on the other hand, just 5 lines have virtual queue, including:

  1. Skull Island: Reign of Kong
  2. Pteranodon Flyers
  3. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
  4. Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
  5. Ollivanders Experience in Hogsmeade

Category Winner: Universal Studios, since they have an extra line queue ride option!

The Final Breakdown

So the final consensus in our Universal Studios vs Islands of Adventure showdown?  

…Universal Studios! For its extensive ride and show offerings, and more virtual line opportunities.

Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure
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Do you agree that Universal Studios is the superior park?  If you could only go to one park on Universal Orlando Resort property, which would you choose and why?

Let us know in the comments below! And, as always…

Until next time, Happy Park Hopping Hipsters!

About the Author

Gina Arfi Disney Writer at ThemeParkHipster

Gina is a former Walt Disney World and Disney Cruise Line Cast Member who enjoys reliving the magic by writing helpful tips and tricks for future guests! 

Check out more about her Disney adventures and writing endeavors at www.ginaarfi.net.

UP NEXT: Disney vs Universal: Which is Better for You?

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