Universal Studios vs Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Which Is Better?

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We live on the internets. 

It’s a dog-eat-dog kind of place. Or rather, the kind of place where you’d make a TikTok of a dog looking guilty while pretending he didn’t just act like he was gonna eat that other dog. 

Whatever it is, this Lord of the Flies digital realm which we have created has a certain code like Fight Club, except all we do is talk about it. 

The foremost rule of the unruly interwebs is confrontation sells. Cohesion? Brotherly love? We ain’t got time for that. 

Editor’s note: We actually do have time for “that,” that’s when we get our “It’s dusty in here” or “Somebody’s cutting onions” memes. 

Regardless, confrontation sells, baby. So which is the better of the Universal parks, Universal’s Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida?

Now, we could tell you that the Universal Orlando Resort parks are built to be companions, connected through City Walk and the Hogwarts Express. In reality, it’s one big experience.

We could tell you that. But we’re not, because one of the parks is significantly superior to the other. 



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Islands of Adventure entrance
The iconic tower at the entrance to the Islands of Adventure (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Is Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure better?

Not so fast, my friend. We’re not some fly-by-night, slipshod operation that makes random pronouncements. This is serious business. I’m not just going to arbitrarily declare one the best.

We’re employing the scientific method. Having developed a question and researched data, we’re gonna have hypotheses we can test with experiments, analyze data and report our conclusion.

That’s right. We’re going to do a tale of the tape. Afterward, I am going to arbitrarily name one of them the best.

the entrance to Universal Studios in Orlando
Universal Studios is only slightly smaller than Islands of Adventure (photo by Daniel Munson/HeyOrlando.com)

Is Universal Studios bigger than Islands of Adventure?

In the world of theme parks, bigger doesn’t always mean better. How the space is utilized, how it is navigable and how much we have to walk in the blazing hot Florida sun all factor into the equation. 

It’s actually closer than I would have thought. Being in the park, I would have told you Islands of Adventure was significantly larger. However, Islands of Adventure is 110 acres to Universal Studios Florida’s 108 acres. The whole Universal Orlando Resort area is about 540 acres. 

I do think Islands of Adventure is better balanced and easier to get from one piece of entertainment to the next. The rides in Universal Orlando feel more scattered, though having Revenge of the Mummy reopen does help with that. 

But ultimately, in the issue of size, it doesn’t matter. 

Conclusion: Push.

Raptors at Velocicoaster
The popular Velocicoaster ride is found at Universal’s Islands of Adventure (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Which park has the best rides?

This one, in all honestly, isn’t especially close. Universal’s Islands of Adventure has what are probably the three best rides in the system – at least until the new park opens in a couple of years.

That’s not to say there aren’t some fun rides on the Universal side. But Islands wins handily both in quantity and quality whether you’re counting roller coaster thrill rides or what have you.

Sure, the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit is fun, but Universal Studio’s best coaster would be the fourth or fifth best ride at Islands of Adventure

Conclusion: The best rides, and the most rides, are in Islands of Adventure.

Read Also: What is the Harry Potter coaster called? Your guide to magical rides 

Wizarding World of Harry Potter's Diagon Alley
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley is located at Universal Studios (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Which park has the better piece of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter?

This is a tough one. On the one hand, entering Diagon Alley – in Universal Studios – and seeing the Wizarding World open in front of you leading to the fire-breathing Gringott’s dragon is an unmatchable experience.

The shops are better in Diagon Alley – as is the wand-choosing experience. I think the Leaky Cauldron is preferable to the Three Broomsticks. The Hallows puppet show, Tales of Beedle the Bard, is significantly superior to anything in Hogsmeade. Diagon Alley has a lot going for it.  

Hogsmeade – located in the Islands of Adventure – doesn’t have quite the awe upon entrance. That’s partly because you can’t see it all, whereas Diagon Alley is uphill and more easily viewed. Hogsmeade, however, does have more Harry Potter rides including Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and Flight of the Hippogriff.

The Forbidden Journey and Escape from Gringotts rides cancel each other out, but Hagrid’s ride is among the best in Orlando. 

Hogsmeade does have the Hogwarts Castle, but the execution isn’t as successful as say the Cinderella’s Castle in Disney in terms of the forced perception. It looks like the Camelot model in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. 

The Hogsmeade train station is vastly superior to the King’s Cross station due to Hogsmeade’s clever theming and more open-air queue. The Hogwarts Express queue at King’s Cross is more soul-sucking than a Dementor’s kiss. 

Conclusion: I think it all comes down to what Harry Potter fans want out of their Wizarding World. I think they want awe and immersion, and I think that’s better in Diagon Alley. The winner is Universal Studios. 

Universal's Jurassic Park Entrance
Jurassic Park can be found at Universal’s Islands of Adventure (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Which park has the better-themed areas?

I am on record as being less-than-impressed with the Marvel Super Hero Island. But aside from the Diagon Alley, it would probably be the best section in Universal Studios.

Springfield, with its Simpson’s Ride and the Krusty Burger, might give it a bit of a run. But it really can’t compare to the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk coaster, the Storm Force Accelatron and the Dr. Doom ride.

I do like the general vibe of Springfield better. Also, meeting the Simpsons characters is better than meeting all the Marvel characters except Spider-Man.

In this particular area, Islands of Adventure being a newer park helps. It has Seuss Landing, the Jurassic Park area and Toon Landing as well as the aforementioned lands.

The Lost Continent is slightly underwhelming, but kind of makes up for it with the food. Universal Studios has major attractions that aren’t really part of a cohesive “land.” 

At Universal’s Islands, Only Skull Island and King Kong’s Reign of Kong ride is an outlier. 

In Universal Studios, Transformers, the E.T. Adventure, the Minion ride, the Mummy and Men in Black are all just kind of standalone rides.

I know The Race Through New York and The Fast and Furious Rides are technically cohesive parts of the area, but it doesn’t really feel immersive enough to count. 

Conclusion: Islands of Adventure has the best-themed areas. 

Read Also: What characters are at Universal Studios? 13 best experiences

Poseidon's Fury at Universal's Island of Adventure
Poseidon’s Fury show at Universal’s Islands of Adventure got a strike in the show category (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Which park has the best shows?

This, my friends, is a war of attrition. The shows at the Universal parks overall are pretty underwhelming.

I’m a Blues Brothers fanatic who really wanted to like the Blues Brothers show. While acknowledging it’s a difficult gig, I can’t give it my hearty endorsement but it was fine. The two non-Blues Brothers characters were better.

The family enjoyed the construction workers’ show where they beat on things Stomp-style and Marilyn was campy fun. The best show we saw in the parks was the Tales of Beedle the Bard in Diagon Alley. 

Universal’s Islands of Adventure, however, is going to lose for the simple fact that it is home to Poseidon’s Adventure – the worst theme park experience I’ve ever had in my life.

I grew up on campy 70s and 80s action films, so I don’t need fancy special effects to be entertained. However, what in the name of Max Von Sydow playing Ming the Merciless in “Flash-Gordon” was going on in that “adventure?”

It completely befuddled me. I was physically angry at the organization of the show, the queue, the effects and the technology.

Conclusion: I award whoever is responsible for keeping Poseidon’s Adventure alive no points. The winner is Universal Studios. 

Suess Landing
Universal’s Islands of Adventure has Suess Landing (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Which park is the best for young children? 

Tricky here. Islands of Adventure’s Seuss Landing is superior to anything in the other park with meet and greets, with The Cat in the Hat, The One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish ride and the Seuss Trolley Train ride. 

Islands also has Toon Landing, which has some stuff for younger children. There’s also Camp Jurassic over in Jurassic World

But there are large sections of that park with nothing really for younger children who, in Universal Studios, have plenty of characters to meet like Scooby Doo, Hello Kitty and all the Dreamworks folks. 

Throw in the general cartoon vibe of the Simpsons, the Woody Woodpecker, E.T. and Curious George stuff and I think there’s more for little kids in Universal Studios. 

If you want a tie-breaker? One park has a character who lives in a pineapple under the sea and the other does not. 

Conclusion: Universal Studios has SpongeBob. End of discussion. 

Universal's Lombard's Seafood Grill Sign
Lombard’s Seafood Grill is good theme park dining (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Which has the best theme park restaurants?

In the matter of Universal Studios vs Islands of Adventure, the stomach must play a significant role. We can’t live on popcorn and cotton candy alone.

If I’m being honest, the dining experiences in Islands of Adventure chiefly left something to be desired and by and large, if I can’t eat in Universal Studios, I’d rather just go out to City Walk. 

At Islands, Confisco Grille is good and, in my experience, almost always had reservations available. The Green Eggs and Ham servings were okay, but I really felt like it was overpriced. 

The Mythos Restaurant on the Lost Continent with its ancient sign declaring itself the best theme park restaurant in the world was my favorite place by far on Islands.

The eateries in Jurassic Park and on Super Hero Island were underwhelming. 

And I spent the entire time at the Three Broomsticks stewing. The angry man at the entrance chewed me out for the audacity of thinking the “reservation” I’d bought back at the hotel – which came with a time to be at the restaurant – was anything other than prepaying for a meal I’d have to get in the queue and wait for. 

Throw in the giant man-child whose job was to stand at the other end of the queue and condescend to perplexed holders of “reservations” like mine and I was ready to apparate my behind up outta there.

Our dining experiences in the other park, however, were comparatively delightful. Nobody yelled at me at the Leaky Cauldron. The fare at the Today Show Café was surprisingly fresh and tasty. I got a turkey leg at one of the little stands and it lived up to all the hype. We enjoyed the Krusty Burger, though the organizational system took a bit to get used to. 

Lombard’s Seafood Grill – over in the San Francisco Wharf section – was probably the best in-park theme park meal we’ve had. They did a great job of working with my son’s dietary restrictions, so much so that when we went back for our second day, he excitedly picked it again for our meal. 

Conclusion: Mythos gave Islands of Adventure a chance, but Universal Studios wins the culinary portion of our contest easily. 

OK. So who wins?

Final conclusion: Folks, science doesn’t lie. But in this case, it might be a bit misleading. 

Giving all the categories equal weight, it would appear that Universal Studios is the better park. But like the College Football Playoff selection committee, we have to also consider the eye test.

I could have made a couple more categories; split rides into thrill rides and coasters and water rides to give Islands the win. I could write about intangibles and pad the stats but I won’t do that.

Ultimately, for the experience of what we expect from an amusement park, I think Islands of Adventure is clearly superior to its older brother. 

My suggestion? Get a park-to-park ticket and get the best of both worlds. Find the parts of the parks that speak to you and maximize your experience. 

Go have fun your way. Don’t worry about what the YouTubers or the bloggers or the influencers say. Unless they’re telling you how bad Poseidon’s Adventure is, then, for the love of all that is holy, listen well. 

Which is better, Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure, in your opinion? Let us know in the comments!

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John Gullion

John Gullion, Managing Editor at the Citizen Tribune, is a freelance contributor for TheSmokies.com LLC – the parent company of TheSmokies.com and HeyOrlando.com.

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