Vacations with family are great, especially in Florida, but in the Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure debate, which theme park is better for groups with younger kids?
Both parks score highly as some of the best things to do with kids in Florida, but if you’re only able to do one of the parks, which is best for you?
Here’s what you should know about these parks and the best ways to enjoy a trip there.
- Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure: What’s the Difference?
- How Much Do Tickets to the Two Universal Parks Cost?
- Which of the Two Parks is the Largest?
- Which Park is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter In?
- Which Themed Lands Will You Find at Universal Studios?
- Which Themed Lands Will You Find at Islands of Adventure?
- The Best Rides for Younger Children at Universal Studios
- The Best Rides for Younger Children at Islands of Adventure
- Which Characters can Kids Meet at Universal Studios?
- Which Characters can Kids Meet at Islands of Adventure?
- Is Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure Better for Kids?
Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure: What’s the Difference?
In the Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure debate, one thing is clear; both theme parks are fundamentally similar to each other. They both highlight many of the most popular Universal properties, with a mix of rides and areas designed for guests of all ages.
Thematically, Islands of Adventure has more fantasy areas, like Superhero Island and Jurassic Park. The main Universal Studios has areas like New York and San Francisco with rides based on more modern, real-world franchises.
There’s plenty of crossovers – literally. In the case of the Wizarding World, the area spans both parks – but Islands of Adventure may appeal to children better than the main park because it has more franchises they’re likely to be familiar with.
How Much Do Tickets to the Two Universal Parks Cost?
Ticket prices are generally consistent between these parks, starting at $109.00 for a one-day pass to either park for an adult. Their two-day pass lets you choose one park each day for $106.50/day, while passes beyond that are at least full access to both parks.
The two-park pass starts at $164.00, valid for a one-day trip, and scales down to $65.80/day for a five-day pass. Children are generally a few dollars less per day, but the difference isn’t big enough to matter for most vacationers.
Annual passes start at $349.99 and scale up to $624.99 for the premier option.
For more information on current ticket prices that are not reflected above, see the park tickets page.
Which of the Two Parks is the Largest?
Islands of Adventure is slightly larger, covering about 110 acres of the roughly 541 acres that Universal manages in the area. The Universal Studios park is only slightly smaller, at about 108 acres. For all practical purposes, the two parks are the same size.
Which Park is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter In?
Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter has two distinct components, connected by the Hogwarts Express train. Guests with a park-to-park pass can use the train to move between the two parks.
The Universal Studios area features the Diagon Alley and London sections of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, while Islands of Adventure has the Hogsmeade section.
Most of the rides in the Hogsmeade section require guests to be at least 48 inches tall, though one ride allows children as small as 36 inches. The Diagon Alley/London area primarily has a Gringotts-themed ride, which requires guests to be at least 42 inches.
Which Themed Lands Will You Find at Universal Studios?
Universal Studios Florida has eight primary sections, plus access to a large lagoon that features nighttime shows throughout much of the year. Here are the themed lands.
Production Central is one of the largest areas in the park and acts as a central location with broadly generic and family-friendly attractions. It’s also highly accessible, with its attractions starting shortly after entry to the park.
This section of the park includes rides like Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, a simulator ride featuring high-definition animation, and some practical effects as guests go on a guided tour.
The Shrek 4-D ride tells an original story not easy to find elsewhere and details events following the first movie’s story. Kids may have a hard time remembering the entire movie, so it’s probably better to watch the film the night before you go on this ride.
Production Central isn’t limited to rides. It also features the Universal Music Plaza Stage, which seats about 8000 people and usually has 15 to 20 concerts per season. Tickets for these can sell out fast, so reserve them as early as possible.
This area also hosts Universal’s Superstar Parade, a relatively brief show featuring characters like Spongebob, Dora the Explorer, and characters from The Secret Life of Pets. As a parade, it’s easy to watch this one without waiting in line as long as you’re in the area.
One of the more aggressive rides in this area is Transformers: The Ride 3D, is limited to guests 40 inches and taller. The Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit is not suitable for young children.
New York is the next part of Universal Studios Florida, focusing on modern pop culture, shopping, and dining. The Blues Brothers Show features several shows each day, playing classic songs for guests, and lasts about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, the Delancey Street Preview Center is an interactive area showcasing upcoming films and television shows that Universal is involved with. This area is seasonal and comes with individual monitors and headphones, serving as a way to get direct feedback about upcoming content.
The Revenge of the Mummy is an indoor roller coaster, but its height limit of 48 inches means most younger children can’t enjoy it. The Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, is more accessible, with a 40-inch height limit. However, children may not care for this type of comedy.
Notably, the New York area also has much of the
The San Francisco area is one of the smallest areas in the park, featuring only the Fast & Furious: Supercharged ride in the area. While it’s accessible to riders over 40 inches tall, children may not care for it, so it’s easier to give this a miss.
While it lacks rides, San Francisco makes up for that with more dining areas. These are a little more upscale than the restaurants in New York, including pastries, burgers, and a seafood place.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley/London
Diagon Alley is primarily a leisure destination. It features the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride for anyone over 42 inches. However, the real heart of this area is a variety of themed shops selling food, thematic merchandise, and Harry Potter-themed merchandise.
This part also has the Hogwarts Express train, a family-friendly ride that connects to the Islands of Adventure. However, you’ll need a park-to-park pass for this ride, so you can’t get on board if you’re only visiting Universal Studios.
The World Expo area is just to the east of the Wizarding World, another relatively small part of the park. This features two major attractions, starting with Fear Factor Live. The regular stage show allows some guests to participate in the event, although you’ll need to get there early if you want to get picked.
The other major attraction here is the Men in Black: Alien Attack dark ride. This ride is suitable for anyone over 42 inches but generally isn’t ideal for younger kids that may lack the fine motor skills needed to enjoy this ride to the fullest.
The first of Universal Studios’ primarily fictional locations is Springfield, based on the long-running Simpsons franchise. The main attraction in this area is The Simpsons Ride, which has a 40-inch height restriction and lasts about four minutes. This ride features an enormous number of characters from the television series.
The other ride here is Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl, an aerial carousel with cameos from various other characters.
Beyond the rides, this area has Simpsons-themed dining options for guests to enjoy.
Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone
As the name suggests, this is the best place in the park to go with younger children. If your kids are too much below 40 inches tall, it’s also one of the only places where you can find more rides and entertainment they can enjoy.
Kid-friendly attractions here start with Animal Actors on Location, a 20-minute live show featuring trained animals. Guests aren’t allowed to get too close, but it’s suitable for all ages, and most kids like animals enough to enjoy this feature.
The Curious George Goes to Town play area features shallow aquatic and ball play zones, mostly with soft foam to help prevent injuries. Visitors can get splashed, so make sure everyone in your group is dressed for this area before you get too close.
The DreamWorks Destination area is one of the newest attractions in the park, opening in 2021 and mixing a stage show with character experiences based on popular DreamWorks Animation franchises. The contents of this attraction will likely change to reflect their recent releases, so don’t wait too long to visit if there’s something here you want to see.
The E.T. Adventure is the opposite, serving as one of the oldest rides in the park, originally opening in 1990. This ride features a flying bicycle-type scene, with input from director Steven Spielberg to help ensure the ride feels friendly and personal. This is one of the areas in the Kidzone with a height limit, coming in at 34 inches for safety reasons.
Fievel’s Playland is another open play area in the park, based on the classic movie An American Tail. Notably, this area has a large climbing web and a 200-foot-long water slide. As with the Curious George Goes To Town play area, it’s best to wear clothes that can get wet.
The namesake ride of this area is Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster, which has a 36-inch height requirement and a short 44-second runtime. This ride only goes slightly faster than 21 miles an hour and has minimal g-forces, making it suitable for younger children.
The last of Universal Studios’ regular zones is Hollywood, which brings visitors back to the park entrance. It features more refreshments than other areas for guests who are tired after a long trip through the park. It also has live performances.
Universal’s Horror Make-Up Show is another of the oldest attractions in the park, detailing some of the many special effects used for creating horror movies. While adults may enjoy this show, including the pre-show walk-through props and set pieces, this isn’t a great attraction for kids.
Marilyn and The Diamond Bellas are located nearby and provide a live-action musical show, which is more appropriate for most children. The Bourne Stuntacular is another attraction geared more towards adults due to its grittier themes.
Finally, there’s the Lagoon. The Lagoon sits in the middle of the park, serving as a buffer to separate the different areas and helping guests move through each part of the park in order. Although mainly a spacer during the day, the Lagoon provides a nightly show for up to 6500 guests featuring fireworks, projection mapping, and well over a hundred fountains.
If your kids are okay with staying up a little, it’s usually worth waiting until nightfall to enjoy this show.
Universal Studios Kid-Friendliness Review
Functionally, only four of Universal Studios’ eight main attractions are truly suitable for families with young children. This isn’t counting the nightly Lagoon shows, which are different from regular visits to the park.
The best route for most families here begins in Production Central, the most “normal theme park” area in Universal Studios and broadly suitable for kids. The Shrek and Minion rides are great for most kids, but you’ll have to time things to see the parade.
The next area to visit is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, though you can stop in the New York or San Francisco areas for food if you didn’t enter the park until late morning. If you have a park-to-park pass, make sure you at least visit the Hogsmeade area in the Islands of Adventure.
Springfield is a little hit-or-miss, with the viability depending largely on whether your kids like the Simpsons or not. If they do, try to enjoy both rides.
Finally, Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone is the last place to stop with young kids. The Kidzone has the most kid-friendly attractions. It’s a good spot to let kids tire themselves out at the end of your trip. Try to come here last to make sure they’re not too tired to enjoy the rest of the trip.
Note that despite the name, Schwab’s Pharmacy isn’t a medical location, so you shouldn’t rush over there if a child falls and needs quick care after a tumble in the Kidzone. The actual first aid station is located slightly further down the street, by the park entrance. There’s another station right between New York and San Francisco.
Which Themed Lands Will You Find at Islands of Adventure?
Just like Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure has a series of themed lands. It currently hosts eight areas, known in this park as islands, that focus on different themes. Here’s what you should know about these lands and their rides.
Port of Entry
The first section of the park is the Port of Entry, immediately adjacent to the entrance, exit, and first aid station. Unlike Universal Studios, where Production Central has several rides, this is mainly a hub with extensive dining and shopping options. You can stop here on your way in, but most people come here to relax and cool down before leaving the park.
Marvel Super Hero Island
This is one of the more interesting sections of the park, both for its rides and the mere fact that it exists. As of 2009, Marvel is owned by Universal’s rival, Disney. However, Disney has agreed to honor existing Marvel contracts with their competitors, so Universal continues to run this section of their park.
Superheroes are often kid-friendly areas to start with, although the only truly kid-friendly ride in this area is The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. This 3D dark ride has a height limit of just 40 inches, which is among the lowest in the park.
The Storm Force Accelatron is the next-best choice for visiting with kids. It has a 48-inch height requirement, which is a little high for younger kids, but it’s otherwise an accessible teacups-style option based on the X-Men.
The other two rides on this island, Doctor Doom’s Fearfall and The Incredible Hulk Coaster, have height requirements above 50 inches and therefore aren’t suitable for young children.
Super Hero Island also has dining and shopping options, with a vast amount of themed merchandise available for kids. This is a good place to pick up nice merchandise to remember your vacation. However, unless you want to carry things around the entirety of the park, you may want to return here at the end of the day.
Toon Lagoon may be a little lost on kids because it focuses on classic characters. While kids may not have watched the shows, the area is still pretty kid-friendly with its rides.
Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls is a log flume ride that’ll probably get you wet, but at just a 44-inch height requirement, it’s quite accessible.
The other main ride in the area, Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges, is a river rafting water ride with just a 42-inch height requirement. People can get extremely wet on this ride because people in Me Ship, the Olive, a kids’ play area, can shoot water at the other rides.
Mat Hoffman’s Aggro Circus is a seasonal BMX stunt show. It’s fun but probably not worth scheduling your entire trip around, so just enjoy this if you happen to be visiting when it’s on.
Skull Island is the newest and smallest area of the park. Its primary attraction is Skull Island: Reign of Kong, which is kid-friendly with a height requirement of just 36 inches. The ride itself is a trackless dark ride with one of five drivers, plus a story where the famous giant ape fights various other huge monsters.
Despite its low height requirement, this ride shows a little violent content to visitors. If you’re concerned about your child seeing such material, it may be better to pass on this entire section of the park.
Jurassic Park is one of the larger areas within the Islands of Adventure, and it pays homage to a classic movie favorite. It’s also one of the older areas, with four of its five attractions dating back to the opening in 1999. The old attractions are generally child-friendly, while the newer VelociCoaster is only suitable for those 51 inches and up.
The Jurassic Park River Adventure is a water-based ride with an emphasis on an exciting chute section. It’s both fast and long, clocking in at a little over seven minutes and a maximum speed of about 50 miles per hour. It’s one of the larger attractions in the park and certainly worth the trip with kids 42 inches or higher.
The Pteranodon Flyers are part of a suspended roller coaster. This is a relatively unusual ride in that it only allows riders between 36 and 56 inches or those with a child of that height. It has a low capacity for a theme park ride, so the rule is in place to make it easier for kids to enjoy.
Camp Jurassic is one of the area’s two play zones and the more active of the two. It includes fountains, water cannons, slides, nets, and other kid-friendly activities. Like most areas, it has no height requirement.
The Jurassic Park Discovery Center is an interactive play area with a focus on education. Kids who just want to run around and play may not enjoy this too much, but any kids who like learning about dinosaurs may want to spend quite a while here. It makes this a good place to rest if you’ve already ridden a few of the rides earlier in the park.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade
Hogsmeade is half of the Wizarding World attraction. It’s about 20 acres total and contains noticeably more rides than the Diagon Alley/London segment in Universal Studios. The Hogwarts Express ride connects the two areas as transportation and is fully accessible for families.
The Flight of the Hippogriff is a junior roller coaster with a height requirement of just 36 inches. This coaster is about a minute long, traveling at a maximum of 28.5 miles an hour. Though relatively short, it’s comfortable for most children and has no inversions or other advanced components.
Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure is another roller coaster in the area, and in many ways, it’s the opposite of Flight of the Hippogriff. It has a height limit of 48 inches, which puts it on the upper end of what’s suitable for younger children, but it’s also one of the longest roller coasters in Florida at more than 5000 feet of riding distance.
This is the perfect stop for anyone who loves roller coasters. Although the ride duration is only about three minutes, it has a total of seven launches and a vertical, free-fall drop. Keep smaller children away from this ride.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey has the same height requirement as the Motorbike Adventure, functioning as a motion-based dark ride detailing Hogwarts castle. Although similar to a roller coaster, it’s primarily a scenic experience and even allows seats to pivot as people move. Note that this ride ends in a gift shop.
Ollivanders is a somewhat unusual experience, where guests can purchase souvenir wands after testing several of them to replicate the storybook concept of a wand choosing a wizard.
Several other shops dot this area, including dining options at the thematic Hog’s Head and Three Broomsticks.
The Lost Continent
This is one of the park’s smaller areas, thanks to older sections absorbed into the Wizarding World section.
The Mystic Fountain is an interactive area aimed towards kids, encouraging people to talk, sing, and get squirted on by water coming out of the namesake fountain.
Poseidon’s Fury is a special effects stage but has recently been closed to help with pandemic restrictions. When open, it offers a Greek/Atlantis-themed adventure.
While the rides are limited, this is a good place to stop for a bigger lunch if you’re so inclined. The Kebab House and the Fire Eater’s Grill offer faster fare, but Mythos Restaurant is a premium, full-service restaurant.
This is the last of the major areas of the park and the most kid-friendly. It’s adjacent to the entry area, so you can go straight here if you prefer.
The Cat in the Hat is one of the oldest rides in the park and has a height requirement of just 36 inches. It is a short, kid-friendly dark ride based on the original Seuss story.
The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride is a somewhat newer ride and serves mainly as a tour of the area. It has a height requirement of 40 inches, but also provides a great way to show the unusual design of this area.
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, and the Caro-Seuss-el are spinning rides. Kids under 48 inches can ride these, but only with supervision, so you’ll probably have to go with them.
Oh, The Stories You’ll Hear is a musical show featuring several famous Dr. Seuss characters. The show is particularly good for younger children who might not be ready for the faster, surprising rides.
If I Ran The Zoo is another interactive play area and a great way to let kids burn off any extra energy at the end of your trip.
Islands of Adventure Kid-Friendliness Review
The Islands of Adventure are generally kid-friendly with suitable rides on Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, the Wizarding World, and Seuss Landing. The Seuss Landing area is perfect for very young kids, but most of the park is entertaining for the younger crowd.
The Best Rides for Younger Children at Universal Studios
The best rides for younger kids at Universal Studios include:
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
- Shrek 4-D
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
- The Hogwarts Express
- The Simpsons Ride
- Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl
- E.T. Adventure
- Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster
Note that this list doesn’t include non-ride attractions.
The Best Rides for Younger Children at Islands of Adventure
The top rides for kids at Islands of Adventure include:
- The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
- Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls
- Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges
- Skull Island: Reign of Kong (some violence)
- Jurassic Park River Adventure
- Pteranodon Flyers
- Flight of the Hippogriff
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
- The Hogwarts Express
- The Cat in the Hat
- The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride
- One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
As with the Universal Studios list, this does not include non-ride attractions.
Which Characters can Kids Meet at Universal Studios?
Characters that kids can meet at Universal Studios include the following. While the mascots move around, this is broadly the order you can meet them in the park.
- Betty Boop
- Hello Kitty
- Lucy and Ricky Ricardo
- Marilyn Monroe
- Doc Brown
- Scooby-Doo, Daphne, Fred, Shaggy, and Velma
- Dora, Boots, Diego, and Baby Jaguar
- Numerous Minions characters
- The Secret Life of Pets characters
- Frankenstein’s Monster
- Count Dracula
- Optimus Prime
- Agent J
- Agent K
- The Simpsons family
- Krusty the Clown
- Sideshow Bob
- Spongebob, Patrick, and Squidward
- Numerous Madagascar characters
- Po and Tigress
- Several Trolls characters
- Puss in Boots
- The Boss Baby
- The Blues Brothers
- Hashtag the Panda
- Bruce the Shark
Which Characters can Kids Meet at Islands of Adventure?
Characters in the Islands of Adventure include the following. Like the Universal Studios list, this is organized mainly by the order you’re likely to see them in the park.
- Puss in Boots
- Kitty Softpaws
- Various characters from Madagascar
- Po from Kung Fu Panda
- Captain America
- Doctor Doom
- Green Goblin
- Popeye and Olive Oyl
- Betty Boop
- Several dinosaurs
- The Cat in the Hat
- Thing 1 and Thing 2
- Sam-I-Am and Guy-Am-I
- The Grinch
- The Lorax
The Islands of Adventure generally has fewer characters than the main Universal Studios area. However, several characters appear in both parks.
Is Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure Better for Kids?
Overall, we think that the Islands of Adventure are a little better for kids. There are more kid-friendly rides, and both the shopping and eating options will probably be more fun. The Islands of Adventure are also a little more interactive than the main Universal Studios area.
That said, you can get a pass for both parks and easily visit them on the same day thanks to the transportation offered by the Hogwarts Express. You don’t have to limit yourself to one park, but the Islands of Adventure are better if you do have to choose.
However, the Islands of Adventure also have several more water-based attractions. Keep that in mind when deciding where to go and how to dress.
More about our TFVG Author
A seasoned traveller, Dad, and avid sports tourist, James foundered The Family Vacation Guide to share his expert vacation experiences- especially when it comes to being a travelling family man.
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