The Universal Orlando property has two theme parks; Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure (plus a water park, but let’s handle that one separately!)
While it is always fun to visit both parks on an Orlando vacation, you may be put in a circumstance where you have to choose one over the other due to time restraints, a single park ticket, or other instances.
Today, our goal is to share what you can expect from each park and give you the information to choose which park you would prefer in the event that you have to pick just one!
This post is part of our Universal Orlando series
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Universal Orlando Park Layout
Upon entering the Universal Studios property, you will first encounter Universal CityWalk, an entertainment hub featuring a variety of dining, shopping, and entertainment options, including miniature golf and movie theatres.
From CityWalk, two bridges branch off either left or right. Taking the left bridge will take you to Universal’s Islands of Adventure; if you take the right bridge, you will go to Universal Studios Florida.
A Note for Potterheads
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a large draw to Universal Studios, and Harry Potter fans may be wondering just where it is located. The Wizarding World is actually spread across both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida.
It is split into two “lands” known as Diagon Alley on the Universal Studios Florida side and Hogsmeade with Hogwarts Castle on the Islands of Adventure side. You can use the Hogwarts Express to travel between the two sides ONLY with a park-to-park ticket (i.e., 2 parks in 1 day)
You can visit both Wizarding Worlds on separate days, but you will not be able to take the train between the two.
Universal Studios Park Tickets
Universal Studios offers a variety of ticket options based on your needs. Ticket options are as follows (correct as at 2023)
- 1 Park – 1 Day Ticket – Allows you entry into either Universal Studios Florida OR Islands of Adventures for 1 day
- Adult Tickets from $119 per day, Child Ticket from $114 per day
- 2 Park – 1 Day Ticket – Allows you entry into both Universal Studios Florida AND Islands of Adventure for 1 day
- Adult Tickets from $174 per day, Child Tickets from $169 per day
NB – you can frequently purchase multi-day tickets that give you extra days for FREE. E.g., buy a 2-day, 2-park pass and get a third day free to revisit one of the parks – see the ticket options at OrlandoVacations.com, our preferred ticket suppliers.
*Express Passes are purchased separately from park admission. You must have valid park admission in order to use your express pass within the park.
- 1 Park Express Pass – Allows you express pass line access to each ride once at either Universal Studios Florida OR Islands of Adventure (in addition to your entry ticket)
- Universal Studios Florida: from $84.99
- Islands of Adventure: from $94.99
- 1 Park Express Pass Unlimited – Allows you express pass line access to each ride an unlimited amount of times at either Universal Studios Florida OR Islands of Adventure (in addition to your entry ticket)
- Universal Studios Florida: from $119.99
- Islands of Adventure: from $124.99
- 2 Park Express Pass – Allows you express pass line access to each ride one time at both Universal Studios Florida AND Islands of Adventure (in addition to your entry ticket)
- From $104.99
- 2 Park Express Pass Unlimited – Allows you express pass line access to each ride an unlimited amount of times at both Universal Studios Florida AND Islands of Adventure (in addition to your entry ticket)
- From $134.99
Pro tip: Consider staying at one of the 8 Universal Resorts when planning your trip. Not only can you save money by purchasing a vacation bundle, but there are many benefits to staying on-site, including early admission to the parks, complimentary transportation from your hotel to the parks, and more!
If you stay at a Premier Universal Resort, you get Express Unlimited included with your stay. This includes Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, and Lowes Portofino Bay Hotel.
In our experience, an Express Pass for Universal is only necessary if you’re visiting during peak periods and want to fit everything into one or two days; if you have the luxury of 3-4 days, take your time, accept there will be a few ride queues at popular attractions and plan to take your time across the two amazing universal parks.
Universal Orlando Resort – Parks Overview
Each park at Universal Orlando has different offerings, including specific themes, character meet-ups, and favorite rides. If you’re trying to decide which park is best for you, I hope the following guide will clarify for you exactly what you can expect at each park.
Universal Studios Florida
At Universal Studios Florida, the park has various areas based on some of the most notable cities in the US, including New York, San Francisco, and Hollywood.
In addition to these big-time cities, you will also get the chance to see Production Central, half of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter known as Diagon Alley, World Expo, and Springfield, U.S.A – The Famous Home of the Simpsons, including a Quik-e-Mart and Krusty Burger.
(NB Woody Woodpecker World, aimed at little kids, is being replaced by DreamWorks Land, with a touted opening date of Summer 2024. This has significantly reduced the number of rides and experiences for younger children at Universal Studios Florida, for the time being).
Some of the biggest hits when it comes to rides and attractions at Universal Studios Florida include E.T. Adventure, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, Revenge of the Mummy and The Simpsons Ride.
As for character meet and greets at Universal Studios Florida, you can expect to meet some of the characters featured in the rides and attractions in the park, as well as some fun extras!
Characters available for the meeting include The Transformers, Bumblebee and Optimus Prime, a money exchange with the teller at Gringotts Bank, Shrek & Donkey, The Simpsons family, and Spongebob Squarepants & friends!
Universal Studios Florida also plays host to several live shows, including a lively street party with the Blues Brothers, Drive-in and Dance and, for explosive action, the Bourne Stuntacular is one of the best shows.
Are you worried about height restrictions and whether younger children will enjoy Universal? We have a complete guide to the best kids’ rides at Universal here
Overall, the main attraction of Universal Studios Florida is the sheer volume of immersive experiences and entertainment, rather than purely focused on theme park rides.
Universal Islands of Adventure (IOA)
On the Islands of Adventure side of the park, you can expect to see rides and attractions that feature a more adventurous side…hence the name.
The park has a number of themed areas to enjoy, including the Port of Entry, Marvel Super Hero Island, Skull Island: Reign of Kong, Toon Lagoon, Part two of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter known as Hogsmeade, Jurassic Park, Seuss Landing, and The Lost Continent.
Some can’t-miss fan favourite rides and attractions at IOA include Jurassic World VeoliCoaster, Jurassic Park River Adventure, The Incredible Hulk Coaster, and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
There are not as many characters encounters on the IOA side of the park, but there are a few that you will not want to skip! Some of these include the Raptor Encounter at Jurassic Park and, for young children, the Dr. Seuss Character Zone in Seuss Landing, where you will have the chance to meet a number of the notable characters from the famous Dr. Seuss books!
Superhero fans will definitely want to focus on Marvel Super Hero Island with thrill rides, including the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk Coaster, for those that meet height requirements!
So, is there a better park at Universal Orlando?
No matter which Universal park you choose in Orlando, you are bound to have an excellent time! If you have to choose between the two due to limited timing or availability within your vacation, we hope that this guide has helped you make the best decision for your family – there’s absolutely no ‘one size fits all’ answer, but in our opinion:
Choose Universal Studios Florida if you love the behind-the-scenes feel of movie production and are looking to enjoy rides and attractions that are based on some of the most popular films in Universal Studios history. Many of the rides on this side are more frequently indoors (good for rainy days!) and feature 3-D/theatrical style rides!
Choose Islands of Adventure if you are feeling a little more daring and bold. Here, you will find rides and attractions that are more of a traditional amusement park, including various styles of roller coasters, water rides and attractions with comic book hero meet and greets. We’d also recommend with the current KidZone closures in Universal Studios, that IOA is the better Universal park for toddler rides and activities.
Choose a Park-to-Park ticket if you want to experience a bit of both parks. You likely won’t have time to ride everything on both sides of the park, but you will indeed have the chance to enjoy some fun on both sides. A park-to-park ticket will also give you the opportunity to see the entirety of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
More Planning Tips For an Orlando Vacation
- A beginner’s guide to every theme park in Orlando – helping you choose which theme park may fit your family’s interests best
- The best way to get from Orlando Airport to Universal Studios, and helping you decide if you should rent a car and drive in Orlando
- Our selection of the best toddler-friendly activities in Orlando and where to recommend you get on your itinerary traveling with tweens and teenagers in Orlando
- Want some flexibility in your accommodation without staying at one of the onsite resorts? Try one of these nearby hotels and resorts with a shuttle to Universal Studios
- Want a theme park-free day? Here’s where else you can explore while based in Orlando
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