If your kids love Harry Potter and super heroes more than princesses and cartoon characters, Universal’s Islands of Adventure could be the place for you. People often overlook this Orlando attraction, but it actually delivers on some things where Disney falls short. However, it does fail in some rather important areas, namely rides suitable for the little ones and a lack of food allergy awareness, which is a problem for our family.
Universal Studios Islands of Adventure is a theme park that is easy to manage in a day. There are seven “islands”:
Seuss Landing (everything Dr. Seuss), The Lost Continent (think Sinbad and Poseidon), Jurassic Park (a must for dinosaur lovers), Toon Lagoon (a throwback of cartoons with characters such as Popeye and Dudley Do-Right, be ready for questions from the kids because they will be clueless), Port of Entry (trinket shopping and food near the park entrance), Marvel Super Hero Island (all the favorites, including Spider-Man and Wolverine), and our favorite, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
When the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (WWHP) opened in 2010, it was an instant hit. Our first visit was six months after WWHP opened and the place was a madhouse. Lines went as far as the eye could see. There was no point in waiting to enter the wand shop, Ollivanders’, where the wand chooses the wizard, because the line was two hours long. It was only an hour long this time, so we still didn’t make our way in, but that doesn’t detract from the experience of meandering through the cobblestone streets and stopping in the other shops while enjoying a butter beer. The candy shop, Honeydukes, is equally crowded, because what child doesn’t want a chocolate frog or booger flavored jelly beans? Universal has done an amazing job recreating Hogwarts, the school from the Harry Potter books and the Hogsmeade village. Universal is about to take the experience a step further this summer when they introduce WWHP Diagon Alley at their sister property, Universal Studios Orlando. Guests will be transported from Hogsmeade on the Hogwarts Express to Diagon Alley and the streets of London. I guess that means we will be making a return trip at some point in the future!
What Islands of Adventures Does Well
Parking: Unlike many other parks, Universal’s parking lot is a parking garage, which means you can park close to the entrance and no shuttle is necessary. Why doesn’t every theme park do this?
Allowing Early Entrance: We arrived at 8:45 (the park opened at 9:00) and there was no problem with early entry. This allowed us to head straight for WWHP and enjoy the rides multiple times before it was crowded.
Serves Quality Food in Their Restaurants: The Mythos Restaurant at the park consistently wins rave reviews for the quality of its food and reasonable prices. We ate at the Three Broomsticks in WWHP and we all agreed it was the best food we ate at any of the theme parks we visited. In the restaurant they were able to address our allergy concerns, but we did not find that to be consistent throughout the park. The best part about these restaurants: You don’t have to make a reservation a month in advance!
Provides Opportunities for Character Photos: We have waited for hours at other parks for character photos and autographs. At Universal, the Marvel Super Heroes and Dr. Seuss characters will pose for pictures and sign autographs. The park does an excellent job of announcing these opportunities when you are in Marvel Super Hero Island and it never seems to take longer than a twenty minute wait for your favorite character.
Making the Park Manageable: The “islands” form a giant ring around the park. This makes it easy to transition from one area to the next. Each “island” usually has a couple of smaller rides and a “main ride”, which means you don’t have to spend too much time in one place. (This is helpful when you have three kids that want to run in three different directions)! We feel the best rides for each “island” are as follows:
Marvel Super Hero Island – The Incredible Hulk Coaster: A high-speed, thrill a minute roller coaster that twists, turns, and loops around to make you scream with joy or terror.
Toon Lagoon – Dudley Do-Right’s Rip Saw Falls: The wait in line is in desperate need of updating, but the ride is a throwback to a good ol’ log ride. WARNING: YOU WILL GET SOAKED!!
Jurassic Park – Jurassic Park River Adventure: This ride was our kids’ favorite the last visit, but was under construction this time. It is an amazing raft ride through the Jurassic jungles, with a big surprise at the end.
WWHP – Dragon Challenge: Our older kids’ and adults’ new favorite (the younger one is not tall enough to ride yet). This is actually two different roller coasters running simultaneously. Each one is a “dragon” on a different track, so each ride can be a different experience.
The Lost Continent – The Mystic Fountain: This was our entertainment for the day. The “fountain” loves to tell jokes and riddles and will carry on a conversation with anyone that approaches. Our middle son, thought it was funny to ask the fountain to “make it rain” and then run away. Unfortunately, the fountain pulled one over on him and shot water out of the ground and got him wet anyway.
Seuss Landing – One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish: Up and down, round and round, with some water thrown in for good measure. This area of the park is the best for younger kids.
Room for Improvement
Rethink Universal Express: Universal Express allows you to skip the regular lines and go through the Express line on each attraction at the park once (with a couple of exceptions). Unlike Fast Pass+, Universal Express is not included in the cost of admission. The cost of the pass varies depending on the crowds at the park. The day we visited it would have been an additional $50 per ticket. I am so glad we opted not to take the Universal Express since there were no lines to fight all day. I would have been furious if I had dropped $200+ to jump the line. Not worth it in my opinion.
Height Requirements: Unfortunately, this is a park that seems better suited for older children and adults. The first time we visited, our youngest was four, and there were very few rides he could enjoy due to height requirements. At the time, we felt ripped off by the experience. Now at the age of seven, there are more rides he can experience, but some of the best are still out of reach.
Allergy Awareness: As I mentioned, the sit down restaurants did have access to allergy information for their food items. However, we tried to purchase a churro for our kids and the employee had no idea whether or not the item had nuts or was made on nut equipment. Obviously, we decided not to “try it”. I think Universal could attempt to educate employees and provide them with allergy information for all of their food products. This would move them up a notch in my allergy awareness book.
Lack of Employees: Whenever we needed assistance, it seemed there was no one to ask. The park was almost deserted as far as employees were concerned. It would be helpful to have more hands on deck.