There are two theme parks at Universal Orlando: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Both are fun, exciting and packed with rides and attractions!
I’d definitely recommend visiting them both (Universal tickets from FloridaTix give you admission to both parks), but one of the things many first-timers want to know is What’s the difference between the Universal Orlando Parks and which one is better suited to me and my family? Well, that’s what I am going to answer in this post!
In a nutshell…
I think the easiest way to describe the difference is that the rides and attractions at Universal Studios are based more on movies and TV shows, and Islands of Adventure is where the fantasy and thrill rides are.
If you’re after the big thrill rides, head to Islands of Adventure. If you’re after a milder experience of rides and attractions, Universal Studios is the place for you!
….and what about Harry Potter World?
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is now spread across both Universal parks in Orlando! Universal Studios has Diagon Alley, and Islands of Adventure has Hogsmeade – plus there’s a REAL Hogwarts Express train that links both the parks together – how cool is that??
The good news is, there’s no real reason to pick one Universal Orlando park over the other when it comes to the money factor. Many tickets for Universal Orlando are sold as a park-to-park ticket, which means you can visit both parks on the same day – brilliant! It’s easy to walk between the two, and you now have the added fun of catching the Hogwarts Express (although prepare for long queues!).
Both parks are also reached from CityWalk – Universal Orlando’s entertainment district filled with nightclubs, restaurants, shops and cinemas.
When it comes to my family of three – my husband, teenage son and myself – we love both parks for various reasons, which you may think is a cop out answer, but it’s true! There is something amazing about seeing the movies, TV shows and comic book characters come to life at both of the Universal Orlando theme parks:
Theme Park #1: Universal Studios
Definitely the park for those who are not as keen on the big thrill rides. That’s us as a family – although, one day I will be brave enough to go on The Incredible Hulk Coaster at Islands of Adventure – and I will be dragging the boys on with me!
For Universal Studios, head to the right and when you see the giant globe, you will know that you are nearly there! You then pass under the arch and your movie adventure begins….
These are some of the rides and attractions in each area of Universal Studios:
Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, TRANSFORMERS: The Ride-3D, Shrek 4-D, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
Twister…Ride It Out , Revenge of the Mummy, The Blues Brothers Show
My husband has ridden Revenge of the Mummy and said it was very good and goes very fast! I stayed behind with my son as he really didn’t want to go on it. I think he’d ride it now that he’s a bit older though!
If you’re a fan of the movie, The Blues Brothers Show is excellent – it’s quite informal, dancing on the streets to the music – so get ready to shake your tail feather!
This area used to be home to the iconic Jaws ride, which we rode on our first visit to Orlando back in 2011. However it has since been removed to make way for Diagon Alley. The giant shark remains though, so make sure you get a photo with him!
Universal Orlando’s Horror Make-up Show, Terminator 2:3-D, Lucy: A Tribute
The Horror Make-up Show reveals the secrets of special effects in horror movies. It’s funny and not too scary, but there is some [fake] blood and gore. There is also audience participation, but don’t worry – no harm comes to the audience member!
Terminator 2:3-D is another favourite of ours (it’s one of my favourite films). We love the combination of 3D and live action – a must-see for any fan of the Terminator movies.
MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack, The Simpsons Ride, Fear Factor
Our favourite part of Universal Studios is Springfield, the home of The Simpsons! They added a lot of new features to this area in the two year gap we had between visits, and it is AWESOME.
You can eat at Krusty Burger, drink a Flaming Moe and even meet some of the characters. You can also ride along with The Simpsons as they visit Krustyland in a 3D simulator with 80 foot screens!
The Simpsons Ride used to be home to the Back to the Future Ride, and you can still see the Delorean, the time travelling train and meet Doc. We are huge fans of this movie and it was fun to discover this section which I’m sure wasn’t there on our first trip!
Woody Woodpecker’s Kid Zone
Animal Actors on Location!, A Day in the Park with Barney, Curious George Goes To Town, Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster, Fievel’s Playland, E.T. Adventure
Since we don’t have young children, we haven’t explored this area much, but there does seem like a lot to do for those with little ones. We did go on the E.T. Adventure which was fun, and if you’re a fan of the film, it’s worth riding!
Theme Park #2: Universal’s Islands of Adventure
As I mentioned at the start, Islands of Adventure is all about the thrills and the fantasy. The park is also divided into different areas, so it’s probably easiest if I go through each one and tell you about what you can find!
You enter the park at The Port of Entry, where you’ll find places to eat and shops to buy souvenirs, it is then either right to Seuss Landing, or left to Marvel Superhero Island. If you’ve got little ones, head right, if you want to hit up one of the major thrill rides, go left!
Marvel Superhero Island
The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, Doctor Doom’s Freefall, The Incredible Hulk Coaster, Storm Force Accelatron
Despite never going on it, Hulk is my favourite coaster! I just love watching it go round, and upside down…I’ll be brave enough one day! This is the area to go to if you or your kids love the Marvel Superheroes – you’ll find them all here, and some even come out to do meet and greets.
Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges
In this cartoon themed area, you’ll also find two water rides – a log flume and a river rapids. We have yet to do the Falls, but we went on the Barges, and well, they warn you that you will get soaked – and we really were! No one escapes getting wet on this ride! Make it the last ride of the day so you don’t walk around the park soaked (although there is a huge family drying machine which costs a few dollars nearby)
Camp Jurassic, Pteranodon Flyers, Jurassic Park River Adventure, Jurassic Park Discovery Centre
The big ride here is the River Adventure, where you may or may not get wet – depending on where you sit in the ride! It can be quite a scary ride for younger children and the drop is BIG
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Escape from Gringotts, Dragon Challenge, Flight of the Hippogriff, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
We have yet to go on the Forbidden Journey ride, but we did manage to get on the Flight of the Hippogriff which is a small rollercoaster – but it does whip around fast! You can read more about the Harry Potter Rides here.
You can also pop into several of the shops that you’ll recognise from the books and the films, including Ollivander’s Wand Shop, Zonko’s and The Three Broomsticks where you can try a Butterbeer. You can also buy bottles of Pumpkin Juice from carts in the street – my favourite!
Of course, there’s also the Hogwarts Express, which is a real train ride that takes you from one Harry Potter park to the other. The journey is about 4 minutes and has some fabulous “views” through the carriage windows of Harry Potter’s wizarding world!….
The Lost Continent
Poseidon’s Fury, The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad Stunt show
The only thing we’ve done in this area is walk through it, and eat at Mythos Restaurant. That’s because on the days we’ve visited these attractions have been closed.
Caro-Seuss-el, The Cat in the Hat, If I Ran The Zoo, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride!
A great area for younger children – it is bright and colourful with several gentle rides. Although don’t be fooled by The Cat in the Hat ride, which does whip you around a fair bit!
I hope that my post about the differences between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure now helps you to decide which park is the right one for you and your family. They both have great rides and attractions of varying thrill levels, and I really do think that there is something for everyone at both of the Universal Orlando theme parks. We can’t wait to go back!