Three years ago, I made my first visit to Florida, and while I enjoyed all of the parks I visited, Islands of Adventure stood out above the rest as my favorite. Granted, there were reasons that could have swayed my opinion. Part of it could be first park bias, as it was one of the parks I visited on my first day, but I visited Universal Studios Florida first that day and that's not only my least favorite of Universal's three parks, but my least favorite of all the major Florida parks. Part of it could be Disneyland bias lowering my opinion of WDW, but to be honest I find Magic Kingdom a more enjoyable park to visit than Disneyland these days (even though the rides are inferior), and would take any of Florida's second gates over DCA. Part of it could be that IOA was featured in many of the theme park TV shows that aired when I was a kid, so it's always been a bucket list place to visit. And part of it could be that I spent the most time there (portions of four separate days). Regardless of why, though, I was interested to see if the park would hold up to my high standards on this visit.
On my trip last month, I spent one full day at Islands of Adventure, plus portions of a second day there. I am happy to report that it has maintained its position as Florida's best theme park, and I would go as far as saying it is the best theme park in North America. Such a claim surely deserves some justification, so lets break it down...
Rides: No other theme park I've visited has as diverse of an attraction lineup as Islands of Adventure, nor as complete of a selection, as within the gates of the park, there is truly something for everyone. The park contains four separate quality dark ride attractions, each utilizing different technologies to achieve the desired effect and each offering a different level of thrill, ensuring there will be something for everyone. For those looking for a roller coaster, the park has everything from a tame junior coaster to one of the most intense coasters in the state, plus they've got one (soon to be two) highly themed adventure that immerses guests in the story better than a fair number of dark rides. For those who just want to get wet, the park offers three water rides with different strengths, all of which are guaranteed to cool you off on a hot Florida day. Lastly, a collection of smaller (but well themed) flat rides rounds out the offerings at this park nicely.
Shows: If there is a weak point to Islands of Adventure, this is it. Unlike most theme parks, this one doesn't have a big theatrical production. Instead, their show-based attractions are mostly small scale interactions, or are framed more like a walk-through. That said, the shows they do offer tend to draw a crowd, and complaints about the lack of these are few and far between.
Restaurants: Mythos, the park's signature table service offering, is near the top of the list for theme park restaurants from both a quality perspective and a thematic perspective. As far as I can remember, it is the only full service restaurant at a non-local park that I have taken the time to dine at twice. Beyond that, I generally find the quick service offerings at this park to be of better quality and faster service than those elsewhere, with sufficient offerings to cover all the bases even if there could be a little more originality amongst the menus.
Theming: Islands of Adventure contains eight separate themed areas, all of which are extremely well done and create an immersive environment for guests. Additionally, with the exception of the small Skull Island section (which feels like an extension of Jurassic Park), every section is distinct, adhering to its own unique architecture, color scheme, and atmosphere. While there isn't an overall unifying theme among the islands besides the general concept that each is a different adventure, the different areas complement each other and cover most of the genres visitors are likely to be looking for.
So, is Islands of Adventure the best park in the world? I can't say, as I have yet to visit almost all of the widely renowned parks of Europe and Asia. However, as someone who has been to nearly every noteworthy park in the United States and Canada, I can proclaim Islands of Adventure as the best theme park in North America, at least in my opinion. But, as with everything, that's just one enthusiast's opinion.
Agree or disagree? Got a different park you'd like to nominate for this title? Comment below, and thanks for reading my different musings from last month's Florida trip.Tweet