Front to back, Universal’s Islands of Adventure® offers as diverse a set of theme park experiences as you’ll enjoy at any major park. From superheroes to Seuss heroes, every corner of the park brings a different thrill and creates a unique lasting memory.
Before your first visit to Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando®, it’s best to have a strategy in place for making the most of your experience. We present information and suggestions we hope will help you formulate your strategy. If you’ve explored similar pages at other sites—they’re countless—you’ve probably noticed that tips can vary from site to site. We’ll stick to five that you’ll find to be, well, Universal.
Understand the park
Islands of Adventure and its companion theme park, Universal Studios Florida®, are part of Universal Orlando Resort. The immediate property also includes Universal CityWalk Orlando, a dining-shopping-entertainment area. Just a bit south is a fourth component—Wet ‘n Wild Orlando, a water park annexed after it was purchased from its original developer.
Islands of Adventure is adjacent to Universal Studios Florida. To get to the front gate, first you’ll travel across a series of moving sidewalks from the parking facility to CityWalk. Then you’ll continue on foot through CityWalk before proceeding left at a fork in the path. (Those who want Universal Studio will proceed right.) The two parks also connect inside by way of inter-park transport. The Hogwarts™ Express train ride links their respective Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ sections—Hogsmeade™ in Islands and Diagon Alley™ in Studios.
Hogsmeade is one of six islands in your chosen park. Each is themed after books, cartoon characters or a movie. The islands form a loop around a lake in the center of the park. Inside the front gate, you’ll pass through the Port of Entry after which you may proceed left or right. Proceeding left, or clockwise, you’ll you pass through Marvel Super Hero Island®, Toon Lagoon®, Jurassic Park®, Hogsmeade, The Lost Continent® and Seuss Landing. If you were to follow your original direction from island to island all the way around (not required!), you’d wind up where you started.
The park consists of about 25 rides and major attractions. Obviously all five within Seuss Landing are intended for younger children, but others elsewhere also are mild enough to be suitable for youngsters (who meet height requirement). Storm Force Acceleration® on Marvel Super Hero Island is one example. Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges, a water ride in Toon Lagoon, is another.
Understand your budget and decide wisely
As at any major theme park, you’ll want to optimize your spending. Understanding how and where your choices can save you money is important. For starters, it never hurts to check to see if your benefit program at work, or some other accredited provider within your personal network, offers discounted passes.
If not, your best option is to purchase passes online. There’s no downside. Not only are multi-day passes more expensive at the park, but also by skipping the admission queue, you can go directly to the gate—as you’ll be advised in Tip No. 2.
The standard admission options are single park admission and park-to-park, which also covers Universal Studios Florida. You can buy passes good for one, two, three or four days at increasing discounts.
You’ll want to figure the cost of parking in your budget, too. Parking costs $17 per day ($22 for preferred spots) and is not included in the admission price.
Your next necessary purchases (technically they’re optional, but trust us, they’re necessary) are the Universal ExpressSM or Unlimited ExpressSM passes. These passes allow you to bypass lengthy lines and save the horror experiences for the rides themselves. You can buy a single-day Express pass for either park or a marginally more expensive two-park pass. The Express pass might be less expensive than the Unlimited Express, but you can use it only once per ride per day, and not all rides accept it. If you’re going to invest in multi-day single-park or especially park-to-park passes, look into whether the Unlimited Express option works within your budget.
That brings us back to the most important decision. What do you want out of your experience? It’s impractical to try to see both parks in one day (unless you splurge on an exclusive VIP Experience). So decide upfront whether experiencing Islands will be enough to satisfy you—and if so, be prepared to stick to your commitment if you experience temptation. Universal allows you to upgrade your passes while inside the park until the end of the day they expire. But if you’ve chosen to be budget-conscious, set firm expectations for everyone so you won’t feel pressured into an impulse purchase that could affect the rest of your vacation.
Don’t forget about food. Universal offers meal plan options, but if you don’t expect to eat enough to justify one, know that it’s OK to bring your own small snacks.
Understand when to arrive and where to go first
Plan to be parked about an hour before the park opens. This will give you time to find your way through CityWalk and be at or near the front of the line. Your goal is to beat as many others as possible to the attraction you want to experience first, so have your mind made up. Pick an attraction and go!
One of the most popular rides in the park is closest to the entry—the twisting Incredible Hulk Coaster® on Marvel Super Hero Island. If you’re one of the first to enter the park and you don’t have an Express pass, think hard about going there first. A lot of others will have the same idea, so the line there will form quickly —you might start your day with a lengthy wait. If you do have an Express pass, save the Hulk for later and go first to another of the most popular thrill rides, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man® (which also accepts Express).
Don’t be tempted to hurry over in the other direction, past Seuss Landing and The Lost Continent, to Hogsmeade. The Harry Potter attractions already will be busy; Universal makes Hogsmeade available to guests who stay at resorts on the theme park’s property an hour before the park opens.
Understand where to go after that
It’s helpful to know, as you organize your day, which attractions don’t participate in the Express program. As of August 2014, they include Pteranodon Flyers® in Jurassic Park and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™ in Hogsmeade.
It’s also helpful to know about the Child Swap and Single Rider programs. Every ride participates in Child Swap, which benefits adults and older children who travel with children too young or too short for the ride. One or more adults board the ride while the others stay behind and babysit in an adjacent and often indoor play area; everyone then switches roles for the next ride. Single Riders form a line that fills open spots as they occur and are another way to shorten waits.
Other notes: The park often empties later in the day, so experienced guests often hold off until mid-afternoon or later to visit Hogsmeade. Also, while you stand a good chance of getting wet at a few attractions, you’re guaranteed a soaking on Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls®. If it’s a typical warm Orlando day, consider enjoying that ride around midday, when the sun will dry you the fastest. If it’s unusually cool, save it for another visit—especially if you have a multi-day pass.
As for meet-and-greets with Spider-Man and other characters, it’s best to consult a park map for times and locations. You can pick up a map at the park entry or download it here.
One other major factor could shape your planning. It’s outlined in Tip No. 5.
Understand where and when to eat
If you’re counting on eating at either of the park’s two sit-down restaurants, Mythos Restaurant in The Lost Continent or Confisco Grill® and Backwater Bar in the Port of Entry, you’ll need to make a reservation at least a day or two in advance. Times may be limited, so the reservation time you choose to accept might supersede all other factors in your day planning. If you’re OK eating “Quick Service” food instead, you’ll find options all over Islands of Adventure featuring selections you might expect at a theme park.
The only one true food or beverage “must” is the sweet, creamy (and non-alcoholic) Butterbeer at Hogsmeade. If the line at the outdoor Butterbeer cart is too long, you might have better luck at the Hog’s Head Pub inside the Three Broomsticks restaurant.
This all might seem complicated, but making the most of your first visit to Islands of Adventure is nothing more than understanding your options and exercising common sense. If you do, there’s one more thing to understand:
Your first visit won’t be your last.
For an exciting family experience, check out this Orlando Stay & Play package for theme park fun.