1-Day Islands of Adventure Itinerary
Our 1-day Islands of Adventure itinerary offers a step by step plan for an ideal visit to Universal Orlando’s second theme park, with strategy for spending less time waiting in lines and avoiding crowds. We offer advice for rides, restaurants, shows, snacks, entertainment, and more. (Updated January 26, 2022.)
Central Florida theme parks are currently utilizing health safety protocol, and this itinerary has been created following the reopening of Universal Orlando, taking into account those operational changes. With that said, Universal Orlando has not changed as much as Walt Disney World. At this point, Universal has indoor face mask rules (again), but pretty much everything is close to normal–and we’d expect Universal to drop masking within the next month or two.
A few things before we get started. First, this Islands of Adventure itinerary assumes that you do not have Express Pass, which is Universal’s skip-the-line option. If you’re staying in an on-site hotel that includes Express Pass Unlimited (see our Universal Orlando Hotel Reviews & Rankings for the best options), that takes away a lot of pressure.
In fact, the degree to which you need an itinerary for the sake of efficiency if you have Express Pass is minimal. Simply use this itinerary for entertainment, atmosphere, dining–and what to skip. Beyond that, all you need to know if you have Express Pass is that you’ll need to prioritize Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and Jurassic World VelociCoaster, two incredibly popular (and excellent) roller coasters at Islands of Adventure.
To that end, if you have the one-time use Express Pass, follow this itinerary in the morning, doing the rides in order via standby lines when wait times are minimal or nonexistent. Then revisit rides in the afternoon and using Express Pass during the Lost Continent and Seuss Landing slots of the itinerary. For the most part, this Islands of Adventure touring plan offers step by step strategy so you don’t need to purchase Express Pass.
Second, this itinerary also ignores Early Park Admission, which is currently available daily at Islands of Adventure for Universal hotel guests and select others. As of 2022, this allows access one hour prior before scheduled park opening time to Jurassic World VelociCoaster, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Flight of the Hippogriff, and Ollivanders. The lineup for Early Park Admission changes with some degree of regularity, so be sure to consult the above link to Universal’s official site if you’re visiting for Spring Break or Summer 2022.
Unlike Early Park Admission for Universal Studios Florida, we are big fans of it for Islands of Adventure. In fact, it’s a potential game-changer, allowing you to knock out popular rides in the Hogsmeade section of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter before the crowds arrive. Not having Early Park Admission forces you to work around it, which is why you don’t see the Harry Potter headliners at the beginning of the day here.
With that all out of the way, let’s get to the brass tacks of the itinerary…
Zag When They Zig – Our 1-Day Universal Studios Florida Itinerary started with the recommendation of beating crowds by taking a counterintuitive approach and “zigging when they zag.” Here, we’re going to go with the straightforward plan of attack, knocking out the two biggest headliners in the park: Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and Jurassic World VelociCoaster, in that order.
You’re going to be racing in the exact same direction as everyone else, but in the opposite order. However, crowds for both only build later in the day, so knocking these out early is ideal. Chances are, you’ll want to do both more than once–feel free to do that if waits are manageable. If not, we’ll circle back to these at the end of the day.
Skull Island: Reign of Kong – Unfortunately, there is no good way to do Islands of Adventure without some degree of backtracking due to the layout of the park, which is similar to EPCOT at Walt Disney World with a loop around a large central lagoon. We’ve tested a variety of approaches to this itinerary, and doing Skull Island: Reign of Kong early is actually the least amount of circling the park.
Another approach is doing Skull Island: Reign of Kong in the late afternoon or early evening, but that means pushing a lot off until later in the day. We’d thus recommend knocking it out early.
Marvelous Morning – From there, you’ll want to continue heading back towards the front of the park and do Marvel Super Hero Island. With the vast majority of guests bypassing this first substantive land of the park for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the Jurassic Park area.
There are several attractions in Marvel Super Hero Island. The only two we recommend are the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and Incredible Hulk Coaster, in that order. So long as you’re able to knock both out before ~11 am, you should be in great shape. You can also do Doctor Doom’s Fearfall if you’re into that sort of thing (what you see is what you get there–we skip it).
Ride the Wave (You Will Get Wet) – One of our favorite rope drop expressions is “ride the wave” to stay ahead of crowds. Here, that’s both figurative and literal. It’s time to knock out three water rides in quick succession. This makes sense strategically and also practically–might as well get wet all at once rather than spreading it out throughout the day.
Wait times for water rides vary wildly based upon season and crowd levels. Assuming the weather and waits are conducive, start by heading deeper into Islands of Adventure and doing Jurassic Park River Adventure. Then backtrack to Toon Lagoon and do Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls and Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges (in that order). We’d recommend skipping Ripsaw Falls if its posted wait time is over 20 minutes. The other two are must-dos.
Air Dry (Low Setting) – At this point, you’ll have knocked out over a half dozen attractions at Islands of Adventure that can fairly be considered headliners. That’s a solid start to your day at IoA! Now is a fine time to slow down a bit, doing the Raptor Encounter, exploring Jurassic Park, and just slowly drying off while strolling across the park.
If you have some time before lunch, we’d also recommend knocking out a “kiddie coaster” or two. Options for this are Pteranodon Flyers in Jurassic Park or Flight of the Hippogriff in Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The former requires a child while the latter is clearly geared towards them–and hardcore Potterheads. Skip both if you don’t have kids in tow.
Meal Time at Mythos! – Universal Orlando’s in-park table service dining scene leaves something to be desired. Mythos is far and away the best sit-down restaurant in Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida, but we’re grading on a curve here. It does not quite live up to the “award-winning” acclaim or hype.
Mythos is an unparalleled theme park restaurant in terms of value for money and that is why we highly recommend it. (See our Mythos Restaurant Review for more info.) A table service lunch also avoids the chaos and long lines endemic to counter service restaurants at Islands of Adventure. Thunder Falls Terrace in Jurassic Park is a solid counter service alternative if you beat the lunch rush.
Find the Lost Continent – Congratulations, you discovered the Lost Continent! (At least, you did if you dined at Mythos.) Take some time to explore the Found Continent. This land has a cool look and some fun details, but it’s substantively lacking right now. (Depending upon the day, much of this area might simply be an extended queue for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.)
Right now, the most common thing you’ll find is greetings with Dreamworks characters. Take a few minutes for some Lemur Lovin’ and to visit the Mystic Fountain if it’s doing its thing.
Seuss Landing – You’ll now have circled back to the front of the park, where you’ll find Islands of Adventure’s Doctor Seuss-inspired land. As you can imagine, this area is primarily aimed at kids. There are a couple of small shows, a play area, and classic spinner rides. Whether you do these is up to you–they can mostly be accomplished quickly.
We have two picks for Seuss Landing. First, a tepid endorsement for Cat in the Hat, which is an okay family-friendly dark ride with rudimentary animated figures from the famous Dr. Seuss book. Second, a resounding recommendation for High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride, an elevated peoplemover ride offering great aerial views above Seuss Landing. It’s often dismissed out of hand as a kiddie ride, but this is an underrated leisure-seeker’s delight–a great way to relax during a long day at Islands of Adventure.
Witching Hour in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – An efficient plan of attack in the morning and early afternoon should give you a few hours to enjoy the Hogsmeade side of the Wizarding World. This is strategic–crowds peak here early and trend downward by late afternoon. It’s also atmospheric–Hogsmeade is the best looking land in Islands of Adventure, and it comes alive after the sun sets.
If you’re so inclined, this is also a good time to do Ollivander’s Wand Shop and take the Hogwarts Express over to Diagon Alley if you have park-to-park admission. We’d also recommend checking out the schedule for the Triwizard Spirit Rally and Frog Choir, live entertainment acts that perform on the stage near Hogwarts Castle. You should be able to catch the last or second to last performances of each. After that, do dinner at the Three Broomsticks. This rustic tavern serving British pub fare is far and away the best counter service food in Islands of Adventure.
After dinner, you’ll want to knock out Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. You might also consider Flight of the Hippogriff if you skipped it earlier or the line is short. Another ride on Hagrid’s might be a long-shot option, as well.
If you did this at the very end of the night, you should have Hogsmeade largely to yourself upon exiting Hogwarts Castle. This is a great time to do some more exploring on your way out, soaking up the atmosphere, savoring the hidden details, and grabbing some night photos of this beautifully designed land.
Another option is doing Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey with about 90 minutes left in the day, then hitting Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, and bouncing over to Jurassic World VelociCoaster for two more rides on those rad roller coasters.
Whether you’ll be able to accomplish all three really depends upon crowd levels. It’s also worth noting that both Forbidden Journey and VelociCoaster have Single Rider lines, and those tend to be very short at the beginning of the day and end of the night. (Incredible Hulk Coaster also has a Single Rider line that can be worth using if its posted wait time is long earlier in the day.)
To recap in one succinct location, here’s a rough outline of what your day at Islands of Adventure should look like:
- Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
- Jurassic World VelociCoaster
- Skull Island: Reign of Kong
- The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
- Incredible Hulk Coaster
- Doctor Doom’s Fearfall*
- Jurassic Park River Adventure
- Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls*
- Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges
- Pteranodon Flyers*
- Raptor Encounter
- Lunch at Mythos
- Mystic Fountain
- Cat in the Hat
- High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride
- Frog Choir
- Ollivander’s Wand Shop*
- Hogwarts Express*
- Triwizard Spirit Rally*
- Dinner at Three Broomsticks
- Flight of the Hippogriff*
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure*
- Jurassic World VelociCoaster*
*Optional attractions that are potentially good options, but are not must-do steps for everyone. Cut if crowds or time does not allow.
Ultimately, that should make for a pretty satisfying day at Islands of Adventure. While some of that list is option and you’ll likely skip, there are other things you’ll stop to do that are not included, and there’s also ample opportunity for repeating rides if you have an efficient and productive morning. All told, doing 20 things in a day at Islands of Adventure is entirely realistic and feasible if you follow this itinerary!
Need trip planning tips and comprehensive advice for your visit to Central Florida? Make sure to read our Universal Orlando Planning Guide for everything about Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. Also check out our Walt Disney World Vacation Planning Guide for everything about those parks, resorts, restaurants, and so much more. For regular updates, news & rumors, a heads up when discounts are released, and much more, sign up for our FREE email newsletter!
What would you include in your perfect day at Islands of Adventure? Do you prefer this park or Universal Studios Florida? Any favorite rides, shows, restaurants, or snacks you recommend? Do you agree or disagree with our strategy? If you haven’t visited Universal Orlando, what do you plan on doing? Any other highlights for you? Thoughts on anything else covered here? Will you be attempting to visit Central Florida this year? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
Hi Tom-any insight on how much earlier than 1 hour early to arrive at the gates of islands of adventure in order to best reap the benefits? Is it similar to how HS typically opens earlier than advertised?
Hi. Thank you for your insights. We have never been to Universal but have decided we want to visit the Grinch and friends next Christmas…..one park and would like to see the Harry Potter World while we are there. Which hotel is your best recommendation for 1 night in November 2022 before we head over to Disney? The Grinch is our main goal.
Thank you and happy 2022.
Is there an updated itinerary that includes the new Jurassic World ride?
We’re waiting until the “new ride smell” wears off a bit to update the itinerary, but based on the data we have thus far, mid-afternoon (2 or 3 pm) is going to be your best bet. Not because that’s when VelociCoaster has the lowest wait times (that’s first thing in the morning), but because that’s when the line starts to drop off.
The reason we tentatively do NOT recommend doing VelociCoaster first is because that’s what almost everyone does. So if you aren’t at the front of the pack, your wait time won’t be low–and you’ll have the opportunity cost of missing out on other popular rides while they are walk-ons.
Hope that makes sense–good luck!
Now that the Velocicoaster is running, when would you recommend riding it based on the itinerary listed above?
Tom, we are staying on property and will have the extra hour before the park opens. With that in mind, what are your changes to this itinerary?
This blog has some much great information as I plan a surprise 5 day trip to Universal for my hubby’s 40th. I was wondering if you already made 2 day itineraries for each park (I haven’t found it, but I’ve been staring at a screen for a long time, so may have missed it) Also- maybe I am misreading one of your posts, but can you be turned away from a park if you have a 5 day “dated pass” for park-to-park? We are going at the end of August which i know is still busy, but not quite as bad as June and July and I would hate to think we could get turned away ANY day! Any tips or tricks or ways to “reserve” the day further (especially for Volcano Bay?)
Thank you for all your tips. First time visiting all the parks in a few weeks and I appreciate your itineraries. Question though, do you know if Hagrid’s Motorbike ride is open with early entry during Spring Break or is just the virtual que available?
I haven’t been during this year’s spring break, but I believe the answer is both (assuming no downtime woes). Hopefully someone who is there can confirm!
Hagrid’s Motorbike ride is definitely worth the hype! However the ride tends to break down quite often. We had the park to park pass and by the time we got to IoA it had broken down and was broken down for 3 hours. (It had also broken down the day before for a few hours). I had the notifications turned on on the Universal app and was notified it was back up and running about 90 minutes before park closing. We rushed over and rode it for our first and 2nd time and it was worth the wait!
Any chance of a 1-day two-park itinerary coming soon?
X2 on this request. We’re heading to Universal for 1 day (with park to park) next week and can’t figure out which park to start in. Any advice available would be really helpful!
Working on it! Can’t promise it’ll be ready by next week, but Sunday is my goal.
I have never been to any of the Orlando parks but family and I are going in June. This is a big help as I don’t want to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what and where to go. Thank you for this information. With the amount of money that we are spending I don’t want to waste time checking maps and phone.
I love this blog. Thanks, Tom. This is so helpful and the timing just right! Among other attractions, I had no idea the Frog Choir was a thing. After a year of staying close to home, with few options for family outings within the city, our upcoming trip feels more like a trip to another planet. Can’t wait.
Hagrid’s is such an incredible attraction. Personally I’d say it meets or beats any Disney roller coaster on the planet, and I’ve been on every single one of them.
It is Universal’s best addition to it’s line up. You’re right – Disney doesn’t compare. It’s one of our favorites for sure!
I havent been to IOA since 2011. I agree with most of your opinions except for Ripsaw Falls. Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls was one of my favorite attractions at IOA so I wouldnt skip it. Although not in the same league, it reminds of Splash Mountain. Plus I liked the Jay Ward cartoons as a kid.
Even if you don’t eat there (we did in late 2018, and it was fine but we didn’t order the more difficult-to-prepare dishes), I would urge everyone to at least spend time looking at the exterior of Mythos. It’s truly amazing, especially if the waterfall is running out of the figure’s mouth. Inside is nicely-themed also, but not as memorable as the outside. And if you go towards the back on the walkway there’s a troll or something you can hear moaning.
Hagrid’s might cause some upward revision but we found Hogsmeade decidedly inferior to Diagon Alley in terms of immersive theming. 3 Broomsticks had better food, however. Enjoyed the Hog’s Head bar there, too. Mostly agree with your ride evaluations, except to mention that the screens show different events going each direction on the train so it’s more worth riding both ways. Of course our opinion was influence by sharing our “compartment” with a COS-player who absolutely nailed Snape’s appearance. Even the cast members were impressed, and I’m sure they see a huge number of people dressed as Potter characters every day. This anecdote shows how much the unplanned, spontaneous things at a Park affect your experience, so if you spend all your time looking at your phone for updates you may miss a great moment.
Yes, we have done SpiderMan, and it was amazing!
I tried JF once, but didn’t care for it with all the motion and movement of the seats. I got motion sick from it and I Never get motion sick. So, one and done, for me.
Where is this Mystic Fountain that has been mentioned? It sounds like fun:)
Hagirid’s motorbike question.
If you get in early (we are staying onsite). Would you go there. First? Hoping the kids can ride it maybe even twice this next trip as it is the only ride they haven’t done yet and it looks great.
Hoping they can ride it 1st thing then we could also get the virtual queue.
They send you through Seuss Land and Lost Continent to get to the Harry Potter section prior to 9:00 am opening. We were there last week and it pays to snag a pre-opening Hagrid’s virtual pass. We ended up being able to ride it twice each day with a virtual pass (usually before 10 am and again between 7:00 pm and close). Even if you are only able to snag a 6:00 pm time when they release passes at 4 you can modify the time. Almost like the Disney FP+ stock trading refresh but it can be done!
Great article Tom, as always!
I will add one caveat to the advice: If you have kids that may like the Dr. Seuss characters, they tend to come out in mid-morning to early afternoon. Thing 1 & 2 are particularly good at interacting with kids, even with social distancing. You have a very good chance of running into them between 10:00am and 2:00pm. If meeting Dr. Seuss characters is not your thing, then I wholeheartedly agree to put off visiting that land until mid-to-late afternoon or evening. At that point, crowds and wait times are much lower.
Characters for Marvel Island such as Spiderman, Captain America, Wolverine, Storm, etc. tend to come out in the afternoon. Time permitting, characters will interact with you and your kids. Spiderman and Captain America were asking my 11-year-old kid trivia questions then telling everyone how awesome he was for answering all the questions correctly.
That’s a great tip!
We’ve seen a lot of characters out in Islands of Adventure recently, many doing a great job with distanced guest banter. The Marvel characters are fun, but it’s hard for me to get past their art style as someone who only has experience with the MCU. To me, most of those costumes look like something from Spirit Halloween.
First, thank you for this review of IOA. I am ashamed to say that we (senior husband and I) have not spent much time in IOA. We really never knew what all was there, and we were turned off by the cartoon like areas, so we never ventured to anything else! I can see that was a mistake. We have always loved the Studios side, but because of your in depth narrative on IOA, we will definitely explore more of this beautiful park. We never knew half of it was even there:( I am especially intrigued by the Jurassic Park area and the raptor encounter.
In fact, I find Universal more fun than disney, at this point. Disney has the nostalgia factor, for sure, and we will always go there. But Universal has definitely showed us how wonderful it is! So, thanks again. I hope you will do more Universal articles in the future.
I don’t know how you are with more intense attractions, but on the cartoon (comics) like side of the park, Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man is a can’t miss attraction. One of the best theme park rides in the world, and worth doing at least once.
Also lots of great areas to explore in Jurassic Park and the Wizarding World!
If you have not tried it, do strike a conversation with the Mystic Fountain. It is on when you see lights in the eyes. The fountain can be absolutely hilarious and have you in stitches. Just be aware that the fountain can be sensitive about its age (although you should debate this) and likes to get people wet. You might want to stay out of its range, or (for even more fun) have some unsuspecting kids stand in front of the fountain.
I agree with Tom to do Spider-Man. Hubby was afraid I wouldn’t like it and 2nd trip I said I’m trying it and I love it. (I don’t do roller coasters)
I also pushed myself to do HP Forbidden Journey the first trip we took after it opened. It is a bit intense for me but there is NOTHING like it so I do it multiple times each visit.