Islands of Adventure: The Complete Guide

Theme Park At Universal Orlando Resort

Universal Orlando Harry Potter Hogsmeade Flight of the Hippogriff

Universal Studios

One of the most sophisticated and elaborate theme parks in the world, Islands of Adventure is also a visual feast. Like Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, it is divided into themed lands–in this case, "islands"–stationed around a lagoon. Each island, including The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, and Marvel Super Hero Island, is meticulously themed and is designed to immerse guests and help advance the attractions' storylines. Unlike Disney’s sugarcoated Magic Kingdom, IOA features many edgy, high-octane, to-the-limits attractions.

Part of the Universal Orlando resort, which also includes the second theme park, Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Volcano Bay water park, multiple hotels, and the CityWalk dining, shopping, and entertainment complex, there’s plenty to consider when planning a visit. When should you go? What are the can’t-miss attractions? Where should you dine? How about the hotels? Let the adventure begin!

Harry Potter film stars on Hagrid coaster at Universal Orlando
Universal Orlando

Planning Your Trip

Best Time to Visit: The time of year with the least amount of visitors (and the lowest ticket and hotel prices) is mid-January to mid-February. It’ll be a bit busier, but still relatively quiet in September and October (and you'd be able to catch the wonderful Halloween Horror Nights), early November, mid- December, April, and early May. The crowds will be bigger still in late May, early June, and late August. The peak season coincides with summer school vacations: late June to early August, Thanksgiving, and Easter. The very busiest time is the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

It should come as no surprise that Florida’s notorious heat and humidity is at its most intense from late spring through early fall. Note also that the Atlantic hurricane season, which can cause havoc in Florida, runs from June through November with a peak period of August to October. You might want to consider buying travel insurance if you plan a visit at those times.

Getting Around: Because it is so compact (especially compared to the sprawling Walt Disney World), it’s fairly easy to make your way throughout the theme park resort. In general, cars are more of a hassle than a help. Located at either end of CityWalk, it’s an easy walk between the two theme parks. All of the hotels offer shuttle buses to the central garage that leads to the parks and CityWalk. Most of the hotels are also connected by water taxi. With the exception of the Endless Summer resorts (which is located a short distance away, but not contiguous to the rest of the Universal Orlando campus), all of the hotels share a lovely garden path for guests who would prefer to hoof it to the parks.

Travel Tip: All of Universal’s hotel guests have access to Early Park Admission. Use the benefit to get into the theme park before the general public and explore the Wizarding World of Harry Potter as well as other select attractions.

Be sure to download the official Universal Orlando Resort app and avail yourself of its features and resources. Also, familiarize yourself with Universal’s Virtual Line program, which is available through the app. Use it to make onsite reservations for select attractions. Learn more about how to skip the lines at Universal Orlando.

Spider-Man Universal Orlando Ride
TripSavvy / Arthur Levine

Things to Do

By far, the most popular and must-do section of Islands of Adventure is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade. It was the first theme park land to capitalize on the beloved franchise. Located inside the iconic Hogwarts Castle, The Forbidden Journey of Harry Potter is one of the finest achievements in park attractions. The land also offers a fabulous second E-Ticket ride, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Coaster, which is a wild, launched ride. The Hogwarts Express, a themed attraction in its own right, shuttles passengers between Hogsmeade and Universal Orlando’s second Wizarding World, Diagon Alley, at sister park, Universal Studios Florida.

There are many other highlights throughout the park, including the the world’s first roving motion base 3-D simulator ride, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, the rip-roaring immersion tunnel attraction, Skull Island Reign of Kong, and two kick-ass coasters, The Incredible Hulk and Jurassic World VelociCoaster. You will get completely soaked on the two water attractions at Toon Lagoon, Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges (a river raft ride) and Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls (a log flume ride). Our advice: Wear sandals and a bathing suit unless you want squishy socks and underwear.

We have more articles for you to peruse, including how to enjoy Universal Orlando if you are a ride wimp as well as an overview of the best of Universal Orlando

Milkshakes at The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando

What to Eat and Drink

The food is generally quite good throughout Universal Orlando, and Islands of Adventure is no exception. The full-service Mythos Restaurant, which boasts wild architecture themed to the Greek Gods, is particularly good. The varied menu includes everything from Pad Thai to grilled lamb chops. The menu at Confisco's Grille, located near the front of the park, is perhaps even more eclectic. The food is on par with Mythos, but the restaurant is generally less busy.

Because everything is so close to one another, you could easily leave the park for a meal at CityWalk and return. Among our favorite restaurants there is The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen for its huge menu filled with tasty dishes, creative and scrumptious milkshakes, and whimsical steampunk themeing. Other good choices include Bigfire, which features delicious wood-charred dishes, and Vivo Italian Kitchen, which gives guests scissors to cut its scrumptious pizza.

We strongly recommend that you make advance reservations for Universal’s full-service restaurants or you may find that you’ll either have a really long wait or be shut out all together. Reservation info is available by clicking on the restaurant of your choice at Universal Orlando’s Web site.

For quick-service restaurants, consider Three Broomsticks, the Harry Potter-themed eatery in Hogsmeade. There you will find veddy British fare such as Shepherd's Pie and Beef Pasties. Many quick-service restaurants, including Three Broomsticks offer mobile food ordering via Universal’s phone app.

You haven’t truly visited Islands of Adventure until you have tried Butterbeer, the incredibly popular Potter-themed beverage. It comes in a variety of forms, all of which are delicious and addictive.

Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort
Universal Orlando Resort

Where to Stay

You could stay off property and probably save money–but not that much. With the opening of the Endless Summer resorts, Surfside Inn and Suites and Dockside Inn and Suites, Universal has set a new bar in affordable, “value” hotels. Prices are generally comparable to budget properties along International Drive and in Kissimmee, but the hotels offer surprisingly comfortable and lovely accommodations as well as benefits such as early admission to the parks and complimentary transportation to the parks. As noted above, the Endless Summer properties are detached from the main campus, but are a short shuttle bus away.

Operated in partnership with Loew’s Hotels, Universal Orlando’s hotels come in a variety of tiers. A step up from Endless Summer are the Prime Value properties, Aventura Hotel and Cabana Bay Beach Resort. The latter offers a compelling, retro, mid-century theme and perhaps the best pools of any Universal hotel. The rates are affordable, and, as with Endless Summer, Cabana Bay has suites that can accommodate large groups, but don’t command high rates.

Universal’s midrange Preferred-level property, Sapphire Falls Resort, has a Caribbean vibe that extends to its island-inspired eateries, Amatista Cookhouse and Strong Water Tavern. The top-level Premier properties include the Royal Pacific Resort, the Hard Rock Hotel, and the Portofino Bay Hotel. All are exquisitely themed and nicely appointed.

In addition to affordability, there are other compelling reasons to consider staying at Universal’s hotels. Check out our picks for Universal Orlando]s best hotels.

Getting There

The primary airport serving Universal Orlando is Orlando International Airport. To get to and from the airport, which is about 25 minutes away, Universal offers SuperStar Shuttle, a shared shuttle bus service. A less expensive shuttle service, Mears, is also available. Other options include taxis, ride sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, and rental cars.

Hogwarts Castle at Universal Orlando Resort
Universal Orlando Resort

Money Saving Tips

  • Purchase park tickets in advance. Save time by bypassing the ticket lines at the park and, more significantly, save money on the discounted online rates.
  • Consider the value that Universal’s Premier hotels offer. In addition to the amenities, themeing, and upscale aesthetics, guests receive complimentary 2-Park Universal Express Unlimited ride passes included in the room rate. Pass holders get to skip the regular lines of most attractions as many times as they wish. The passes can sell for over $200 per person during busy periods. That can make the hotel rates a particularly good deal, especially at the Royal Pacific, which offers the lowest rates of the three Premier properties.
  • Check Universal Orlando’s official site for special deals and offers. The resort offers money-saving hotel and ticket combo packages.
  • If you or somebody in your family is a member of the military or a veteran, you could save money on park tickets by purchasing a discounted Military Freedom Pass. Universal Orlando began offering the special passes in 2021. The resort also offers members of the military discounted stays at its hotels as well as vacation packages.
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