Theme Park of the Week: Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure

May 22, 2022, 6:51 PM · Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure theme park celebrates its 23rd birthday this Saturday. So we are kicking off the anniversary celebration by making Islands of Adventure our Theme Park of the Week.

Universal's Islands of Adventure opened officially on May 28, 1999 as Universal's second gate in Orlando, on site of Universal Studios Florida's former parking lot. Today, the park offers perhaps the strongest line-up of top-rated attractions in the world, leading Theme Park Insider readers to vote it as the world's best theme park last year.

Check out the list. IOA is home to three of our readers' top four attractions and four of our top six. All led by our readers' number-one roller coaster, the Jurassic World VelociCoaster.

Not enough for you? Islands of Adventure also delivers the original installation of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, as well as Mythos Restaurant - our first Theme Park Insider Award Hall of Fame member, and Marvel Super Hero Island - theme park land that remains the biggest thorn in the side of the Walt Disney theme parks.

Join us for a stroll around this award-winning park with our walking tour video:

Ticket Icon To buy discounted tickets to Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Florida, and the adjacent Volcano Bay water theme park, please visit our authorized partner's Universal Orlando tickets page.

Replies (14)

May 22, 2022 at 8:49 PM

Still remember how stunning it was on first visit in 2001. Compared to Disney, so much in thrills, the Spider-Man ride a stunner and more. 2012 visit with Potter rides even better and still an amazing achievement.

The one ride I skip is the Popeye one as just so damn soaked on that, they literally have heating booths nearby to dry out.

May 22, 2022 at 9:01 PM

I'll never forget the day, March 27th, 1999. During my college years at the University of South Florida I had the pleasure to work at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Back then we had an arrangement with Universal Studios where Busch employees were given complimentary access to the Studios and vice versa for Universal employees over at Busch. On this date, Islands of Adventure opened up the "sneak peak" to the new park as an approximate $30 upcharge to a day ticket for the Studios. I took advantage of my Studios day pass from my Busch Gardens employment and paid the upcharge to enter Islands of Adventure on it's first day of previews. The crowd level was really low as not many folks were aware of the preview. As a result, we were able to walk on rides such as The Incredible Hulk Coaster, Jurassic Park River Adventure, Dueling Dragons (both fire and ice), Poseidon's Fury, and of course The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. Needless to say I was completely blown away by the level of theming and state of the art attractions. The small intricate details that differentiated each island was amazing. I fell in love with The Lost Continent and it's callback to the tales of Merlin and King Arthur. That day we stayed until closing and completed our evening with three final spins on The Incredible Hulk Coaster (believe it or not the front of the trains were not yet completed). I walked away that day in utter disbelief that a company not named Disney could create such an imaginative and immersive world. Years later, Islands would give me that same feeling with the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This themed land that completely turned the theme park industry upside down is the reason I became an annual passholder. In my opinion, this is indeed the best overall theme park in the world. 23 years since my first visit and today I am blessed to be able to bring my daughter to experience this wonderful park. Like I did on my first visit, her eyes light up at that first sight of "the adventure begins" sign that sits above once you enter the park. If this is an indication of what Epic Universe will be, I feel fortunate to have this world of imagination in my backyard.

May 22, 2022 at 11:13 PM

Universal’s Islands of Adventure continues to be the best theme park in the world.

May 23, 2022 at 7:40 AM

Such a great park. Besides the rides and restaurants, there are many great areas to explore or just sit and take in all the views.

May 23, 2022 at 8:38 AM

IOA is the prototype for the modern theme park. It has an unprecedented mix of thrill rides, family rides, theming, variety, and flat out fun. What's amazing is that IOA is so good, yet can be so much better given its obvious shortcomings which include: Lost Continent dead zone, aging Seuss Landing attractions, tricky Marvel Island theming, lack of shows in theaters and central lagoon.

Even with all of the areas in need of improvement, I would rather spend a day at IOA than pretty much any other theme park in the world.

May 23, 2022 at 12:40 PM

Yeah, IOA is good, but like Russell indicated, there is still so much that needs to be done before I'd call it best park in the world. The entertainment offerings are abysmal and over half of the park shuts down when lightning strikes.

May 23, 2022 at 2:25 PM

IOA - my all time favorite park. Rides and Attractions for all....

Russel - don't you dare say anything bad about One Fish two fish, red fish, blue fish....

We first went to Orlando since my daughter wanted to swim with the Dolphins…

We had a Day with nothing planned so we looked at all the handouts at the Front Desk of the Sheraton Vistana resort (Fee #Ad from me) and saw Universal. It looked marvelous, so we bought Park to Park One day ticket. We hit the Studios side first since we had no clue what we were doing or where we were going.

Then with two hours left we went to the Other side – IOA…. And fell in Love with this park. The sights and sounds and Rides…… Oh my, I am getting a bit Randy now, hahaha Just kidding…

Trip to Universal planned for Sept.... This will be the first trip we have taken since the damn virus hit..

May 23, 2022 at 3:38 PM

When the park first opened, Mike Thomas of the Orlando Sentinel wrote: "The beginning of The Incredible Hulk is the best six seconds in theme park history."

May 23, 2022 at 3:39 PM

IOA was always a favorite of mine, but Hagrid's and VelociCoaster have completely revitalized an already-great park and turned it into Orlando's best and one of the top two or three in America. I don't think there's a single park in the world that can match a top six of VelociCoaster, Hagrid's, Spider-Man, Forbidden Journey, River Adventure, and Hulk, and there are several strong supporting attractions as well. Some of the themed areas are dated and as Russell stated above, Lost Continent is a serious issue with how the central lagoon forces you to take a certain route (there's a reason Epic Universe is going with hub-and-spoke), but in terms of top end stuff you can't really beat IOA and the majority of its lands are great.

For the future...I know Nintendo is being held for Epic, but I'd really love to see that Zelda overlay of Lost Continent happen at some point down the line if they decide they'd like a Nintendo presence in all three parks. I also think there will come a point where it makes sense to hand the Marvel keys over to Disney (for a very very very steep price, of course) and retheme Marvel Superhero Island into something more current, but that's a long ways away. VelociCoaster and Hagrid's are such home runs that there really aren't many holes left in this lineup, it's more about updating what's there and filling dead space.

May 23, 2022 at 4:49 PM

But I thought skippers shooting at the hippos were the best six seconds in theme park history?

May 23, 2022 at 6:02 PM

Nah, the hippos' revenge after that was... but we never get to see that scene anymore. Darn lawyers. /s

May 23, 2022 at 7:01 PM

I’ll never forget my first time on the Hulk. It was in ‘99. As a Florida resident
I want to say we were offered a sneak preview day? My memory of this is fuzzy, maybe someone can clarify this. Anyhow, the park wasn’t very busy for whatever reason. I remember approaching the Hulk and not even thinking twice that these trains were exiting the tunnel / lift hill with enough velocity to hit a roll. Out of sight out of mind I guess. We queued just long enough to basically watch an entire loop of the original animated themed story. When we finally got on the coaster and we heard Banner’s voiceover “I think… it’s working…” and then Blast Offffff!!!!!!! It’s not working Bruce! S#_t has just gone completely pear-shaped!!!! Wow. What a rush!
@Th: I think I still have to agree with Mike Thomas, at least in this specific regard: the first 6 seconds of Hulk is the best beginning to any coaster I’ve ever ridden.

May 24, 2022 at 12:32 PM

Ah Hulk.....

Robert, I think it is time that we had an article or a best of / top 10 list of roller coasters based on superheroes / comic characters. Disney, Six Flags & Universal all have them (not even taking into account the international parks)...Marvel vs DC, DC vs DC, Marvel vs Marvel...

GOTG Cosmic Rewind
Batman The Ride
Jokers Jinx
Wonder Woman Flight of Courage (yeah, it's early but still :)
Mr Freeze Reverse Blast

Could even open it up to any superhero themed ride (with Spidey taking #1, but it would still be cool to see 2-10, lol) Mission Breakout, Superman Escape, etc.

May 24, 2022 at 3:22 PM

I was on Orlando very short after 9/11. Everybody was nervus about flying. So the Park ( all the parks ) were basically empty. We rode all rides severall times. It Just was surreal. But having spider man, the hulk, the dueling dragón, jurásic, for me and my wife was amazing. Best Day ever. The Best Park for adventurers/young adults ever!!!! Even before Potter...

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