Islands of Adventure

Adventure Awaits at Islands of Adventure (Orlando 2021)

Posted December 10, 2021 by Amber in Around the World / 0 Comments


Last week, I posted about our first time back in Universal Studios Orlando for the first time in nearly a decade. If you read that post, you may remember that my review of the park was somewhat mediocre. You’ll be pleased to hear that after that downer last week, I had a very, very different experience with Islands of Adventure.

Going between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure is like night and day. Islands of Adventure seems to be Universal’s answer to Disney’s highly immersive thumbing because every land in this park is themed so well and organized intelligently so that for the most part, the lands just blend into one another at the edges. I love Islands of Adventure for this. I could hang out in the park and just enjoy the theming, not even going on any rides.

The Park as a Whole

Because I love the theming so much, I really want to talk about it for a minute. There are eight different lands at Islands of Adventure:

  • Port of Entry
  • Seuss Landing
  • The Lost Continent
  • The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Hogsmeade)
  • Jurassic Park
  • Skull Island
  • Toon Lagoon
  • Marvel Superhero Island

Every single one of these is incredibly themed, even Skull Island, which is an afterthought on the edge of Jurassic Park and only contains the Skull Island: Reign of Kong ride.

Theming makes a park a destination. If I just want virtual rides, I can use my partner’s VR headset. If I want a rollercoaster, SixFlags New England is an hour drive away. But complete immersion? That’s something you can only get at a destination theme park. Universal Studios itself doesn’t have this draw, but Islands of Adventure has it in spades.

I’m hard pressed to pick a favorite location in Islands of Adventure, but here are some places in the park that take my breath away and make me feel like I’m in another world:

  1. The ruins around Poseidon’s Fury. The broken statue arm towering over the park is iconic. I don’t even like the ride/show/whatever they call it, but this feature of The Lost Continent is amazing. The architecture of Mythos and Poseidon’s Fury itself are both incredible – it’s a jaw-dropping entry into the new land.
  2. Seuss Landing. Even though this is the kiddie land at the park, I absolutely love it. The bright colors are so joyful and the park designers took so much time integrating different Dr. Seuss books into the theming. While Seuss’s books have recently come under scrutiny for racist tones (a good thing to remember), there’s so much nostalgia here. I really like the Lorax’s Forest, but I remember most of the stories integrated in the land. I wish Caro-Seussel had been open so I could have gotten a photo of that – it best illustrates exactly how “Seuss” Seuss Landing is. But see above for the entry to the land – even the holiday decorations are very “Seuss” (and I had the Whos’ Christmas song stuck in my head all day, of course).
  3. The Jurassic Park Entry Gates. Passing through the gates in the 1993 classic is an iconic moment, and for me… that holds true when I pass through the gates in Islands of Adventure. Jurassic Park is one of my favorite childhood movies and it holds up so well (even the CGI!)… I hope they never change this to Jurassic World gates because I love these ones.
  4. Toon Lagoon. All of it. This land is the one I think is most likely to be rethemed just because I don’t think most people know what the references are. I don’t even know half of them. But like Seuss Landing, it’s bright and joyful. You can get hamburgers at Wimpy’s (he will not let you pay tomorrow for a hamburger today, however), go on Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls… it’s just joyful fun. A lot of these comics and cartoons are things I remember from way back in my childhood. There’s a little nostalgia and it’s beautifully designed. The odds of Toon Lagoon still being around the next time I go to Universal are low, so I’m so glad I got to wander around and dredge my memory for all the references this time!

The Rides

Like the theming of the lands, the theming of the rides is, for the most part, excellent. There is a good variety of rides in this park, including 3D rides, thrill rides, dark rides, water rides, and relaxing rides. There’s a better overall balance and I appreciate that.

Depending on personal taste, some rides are going to be more to your liking than others. up until recently, Universal hasn’t changed rid, but instead chosen to expand and retheme. Considering the chaos in the main park, this is something I really appreciate because I think it’s made the lands a lot more cohesive and keep the “magic”. The only ride that has been completely replaced is Dueling Dragons, presently Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure. When Islands of Adventure opened in 1999, Dueling Dragons was a BIG DEAL – I didn’t know what was at the park other than that ride until I first went in 2013. While it’s a bit sad to see such an iconic opening day ride replaced, Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure is an excellent successor and one of the best rides in the park.

As a general rule, all the rides in Islands of Adventure are excellent for what they are. I can’t criticize a single one. Even The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman (an older 3D ride) is so well-built that I enjoyed the ride elements and sets without wearing 3D glasses.

My least favorite ride by far was Velocicoaster, and this is an incredibly unpopular opinion. It throws you around and is so incredibly fast and while the queue is themed, the coaster is not. Velocicoaster is the most intense thrill ride I’ve ever seen and if you’re looking for a blast of adrenaline, this is where you’ll get it. The ride was not for me but I can see why it’s so popular!

Unfortunately I have to give it to Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure as the best ride in the park. It’s a great mix of story, theming, fun (not overly thrilling) coaster, and dark ride. You may wish to skip this one if you’re boycotting Rowling, but if you (like us) are resigned to the idea we’ve already done the bad thing and supported her by buying park tickets and you want to surrender to the inevitable… this is a good ride.

Other favorites? I really like the Jurassic Park River Adventure and Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges. The theming is AMAZING on both of them, but watch out on the Bilge-Rat Barges because you will get SOAKED… the signs are not hyberbolic.

The Food

The food in Islands of Adventure is much better than in the main Universal Studios park… at least, it is for the quick service options we tried! The themed lands also made for some fun snacks, which we appreciated.

We ate at the Three Broomsticks and Burger Digs in Islands of Adventures, as well as grabbed snacks in Seuss Landing and Marvel Superhero Island. I’ll discuss them more in the Universal Food post coming up. Island of Adventures food is better but it’s still not top quality. Classic theme park food.

Should You Visit Islands of Adventure?

If you are headed to Orlando and you really want to visit Universal Studios, then yes, Islands of Adventure is a great park. You can do it all in one day if you really want to go hard for a full day, but it’s better to take it easy and enjoy. The crowds are intense in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (think: a 45min. wait for butter beer), but the rest of the park is easily navigable.

One thing to know about Universal Studios AND Islands of Adventure is their locker requirements. Most rides require you to put your belongings into a locker before ridings, and in the main park, Rip, Ride, Rock It! even has a security checkpoint so you cannot bring your phone with you. If you’re heading to the parks, pick a small bag that you can shove into those free lockers! Matt used a cloth bag and I had my Rainbow Minnie Loungefly backpack, which barely fit.

I enjoyed our time at Islands of Adventure and may go back someday (I would definitely go back if not for the Rowling-thing). It’s a lot of fun and the theming is SO GOOD it’s Disney-level, no question. Universal has done an amazing job with this park, and I hope to see them replicate those efforts at Epic Universe when it opens someday.

send me your thoughts

Which Universal theme park do you like better?

Do you think the parks in Hollywood, Tokyo, etc. are better than Orlando?

Share with me in the comments!

stay magical amber

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