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.
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. Sure, there’s reduced capacity, physical distancing, and Universal’s face mask rules, but pretty much everything is close to normal.
A few things before we get started. First, this itinerary is only “valid” from around Spring Break until early Summer 2021. That’s in part because we expect the aforementioned rules to be rolled back, but the bigger reason is Jurassic World VelociCoaster, a highly-anticipated roller coaster coming to Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Summer 2021…
There’s no specific opening date for Jurassic World VelociCoaster yet, but it’ll upend this IoA itinerary when it debuts. However, we visit Universal Orlando several times per month, and will monitor wait times and overhaul this touring plan once VelociCoaster opens. That roller coaster is obviously going to be high priority; what remains to be seen is whether it will become the first stop of your day.
Just something to keep in mind if you’re starting to plan for summer. Let’s continue with current strategy for those visiting Islands of Adventure before that debuts…
Second, 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, that takes away a lot of pressure. The degree to which you need an itinerary for the sake of efficiency is minimal. Simply use it for entertainment, atmosphere, dining–and what to skip.
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.
Finally, this itinerary also ignores Early Park Admission, which is currently available daily at Islands of Adventure for Universal hotel guests and select others. This allows access one hour prior before scheduled park opening time to Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Flight of the Hippogriff, and the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.
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 things out in Marvel Super Hero Island, the first substantive land of the park, right away. Many guests will do the exact same thing, but even more will race back to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
There are several attractions in Marvel Super Hero Island. The only two we recommend are Incredible Hulk Coaster and the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, in that order. This will truly start your day with an exhilarating bang, as these are two of Florida’s best rides. 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).
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.
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 6-7 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 on TravelCaffeine 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. Hopefully, that’ll change by Summer 2021 and the Lost Continent will have more to offer. In the meantime, 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 atmopsheric–Hogsmeade is the best looking land in Islands of Adventure, and it comes alive after the sun sets.
The relatively new Hogsmeade headliner is Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, and this one is tricky to incorporate into the plan. On busier days, it uses the Virtual Line Pass, which is in high demand. It is thus imperative that you download the official Universal Orlando app before your visit and check for Virtual Line availability starting just prior to park opening. If you’re unable to score a spot right away, diligently refresh the app throughout the day–slots often are released later. Regardless of whether the Virtual Line or physical standby queue is in use, we’d recommend doing Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure in the early evening.
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. No need to repeat either if you’ve already done one or both as part of our itinerary for Universal Studios Florida.
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. (Frog Choir usually ends earlier–you’ll probably need to do it right after Seuss Landing.) 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.
Finally, hit up Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey shortly before park closing. 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.
After you get exit Hogwarts Castle, you should have Hogsmeade largely to yourself. 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.
To recap in one succinct location, here’s a rough outline of what your day at Islands of Adventure should look like:
- Acquire Virtual Line Pass for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
- Incredible Hulk Coaster
- The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
- Skull Island: Reign of Kong
- 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
- Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
- Ollivander’s Wand Shop
- Hogwarts Express
- Triwizard Spirit Rally
- Dinner at Three Broomsticks
- Flight of the Hippogriff
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
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, or are you waiting until 2022 or beyond? 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!