Islands of Adventure opened as Universal Orlando's second gate on May 28, 1999, joining Universal Studios Florida next door.
One of the big attractions here is the original The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade, which opened in 2010. [Read about that in Harry Potter and the Day That Changed Theme Parks Forever.] IOA also includes lands themed to Dr. Seuss, Jurassic Park, King Kong, and Marvel Comics — for which Universal obtained the perpetual east-coast theme park rights years before Disney bought the company.
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Starting to the right from the Port of Entry entrance land.
Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park is part of the Universal Orlando resort, located near the intersection of Interstate 4 and Florida's Turnpike in Orlando, about 17 miles from the Orlando International Airport.
Before you go: Get your tickets in advance. Note that you will need a Park-to-Park ticket (Universal's term for what Disney calls a Park Hopper) to ride the Hogwarts Express, which shuttles riders between Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. If you don't care about Hogwarts Express, do the one park per day Base Ticket if you would prefer. Once you have your tickets, download and create an account on the Universal Orlando app [Apple | Android], which you will use for Universal's Virtual Line for select rides and Mobile Ordering for food.
Universal offers a paid front-of-line ticket called Universal Express but the resort gives that access away for no extra charge to guests at its Premier hotels (listed above). With Universal Express Unlimited benefits starting at $90 per person per day for everyone else, you might find splurging to stay at one of Universal's top three hotels well worth the higher room prices. You get the front-of-line benefit from the day you check in until the day you check out, so a one-night stay at a Premier hotel gets everyone in your family (up to five people) free Universal Express Unlimited access for two days. Follow the links in the "Universal Orlando Resort hotels" section above to check prices and book. Not that Universal Express does not apply to Hagrid, VelociCoaster, or Pteranodon Flyers.
If you bring a bag to the park, make it a small one. You will have to stow your bag in a locker for Hulk, Harry Potter, Hagrid's, and VelociCoaster, and while Universal offers free lockers on those rides, they are small (about the size of a fanny pack or medium-sized purse.) Backpacks would need to go into a larger, paid locker.
Early Park Admission: If you stay at any Universal Orlando hotel, you will get Early Park Admission, which will get you into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and possibly The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man one hour before the park opens to everyone else. Absolutely take advantage of this, because Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure does not offer Universal Express access and this is the only way to minimize what is usually the longest wait in the park. Arrive as soon as you can, then head to either Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey or The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, based upon your family's preference. (They're both ranked in our global top five, so there's no bad decision there.) Then head over to queue for Hagrid's before the regular admission guests arrive.
Morning of your visit: If you are not staying at a Premier hotel, wait to make a decision about buying Universal Express until you get into the park and see what the day's crowd level is actually like. Look at the posted wait times on the Universal Orlando app, and if they seem reasonable to you, skip the upcharge. If you want the front-of-line access, you can buy Universal Express inside the park near the front gate and at designated shops.
Whether you get Universal Express or not, look to see if Universal is offering Virtual Line to claim a space to ride Hagrid's. Grab one of those spots ASAP when they become available. Otherwise, arrive at least 30 minutes before park opening and head directly to Hagrid's. After riding, making VelociCoaster your next stop. Again, if Virtual Line is available to you for VelociCoaster, use it. VelociCoaster has better uptime than Hagrid's, which is why we recommend getting to Hagrid's first.
After that, if you have Universal Express, then just do what you want, whenever you would like. Strategy does not matter. But if you don't have Universal Express, you should double back to Marvel Super Hero Island and ride either The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man or Incredible Hulk Coaster next, starting with whichever has the longer wait. (They're just getting longer at this point.)
If you are visiting alone, take advantage of potential single rider lines on Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, Jurassic World VelociCoaster, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Doctor Doom's Fearfall, and The Incredible Hulk Coaster to reduce your wait times on those rides, if the single rider option is available.
You will get soaking wet on the Toon Lagoon rides of Popeye and Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges and Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls, so consider leaving them for later in the day if you don't want to head back to your hotel to change, spend the money for the "family dryer," or spend the next few hours with wet underwear. Skull Island Reign of Kong is good to bag as early as you can to avoid mid-day lines. Jurassic Park River Adventure also is a water ride, but seats in the middle and back usually won't drench you as much as the Toon Lagoon rides.
Pick up the shorter-wait spinner rides, shows and Seuss Landing attractions later in the day. If you are visiting Universal Studios Florida during your trip, do the Ollivander's wand experience over there, as it is usually a shorter wait.