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 goodway 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
Lunch at Mythos
Cat in the Hat
High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride
Ollivander’s Wand Shop*
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!
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!