Universal’s Islands of Adventure
Orlando, Florida, USA
“World-class roller coasters, world-class water attractions, world-class dark rides”
Welcome back at Universal Orlando Resort. In my previous report, I focused on the studio theme park, which didn’t exactly blow my mind. The resort’s second park, however, looks considerably more attractive. I’m talking about a legendary place called Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Since its opening in 1999, the park has received many ecstatic reviews. Many enthusiasts describes it as the world’s best theme park, thanks to its wonderful collection of roller coasters, dark rides and water attractions. Islands of Adventure reinforced its immortal status in 2010 by opening the widely acclaimed Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And recently, things got even more interesting thanks to the inauguration of two world-class coasters in a 2-year time span. Needless to say… it’s a pleasure to be here.
I should definitely start this chapter with VelociCoaster, the park’s newest roller coaster. This Intamin LSM Launch Coaster opened in June 2021 and it’s therefore Universal’s first big post-pandemic addition. Although the ride was built in Islands of Adventure’s Jurassic Park section, it’s actually based on the newer Jurassic World films. This results in a more modern, stylized kind of theming. Still, it fits incredibly well within the existing land. I was a bit worried that VelociCoaster would harm Islands of Adventure’s wonderful landscape, but the added dynamics are actually a huge plus for the park. Yes, VelociCoaster is a beautiful attraction for both spectators and riders.
By the way… those riders may prepare for one of the best roller coasters in the United States. VelociCoaster has a certain Taron-with-inversions vibe. Just like its German sibling, this coaster consists of two separate parts with an ascending thrill level. The first part definitely has the better theming, but it felt a little underwhelming from a thrill seeker’s point of view. The final coaster section, however, blew my mind. The second launch is powerful, the top hat creates some perfect airtime and the inverted stall is just as awesome as the one I experienced on Taiga. VelociCoaster’s highlight is undoubtedly the barrel roll at the end. Imagine Blue Fire’s final inversion, but with double the speed. Amazing ride!
VelociCoaster isn’t the only credit I’m adding to my coaster counter today. The former location of Dragon Challenge was a huge construction site during my previous visit, but this plot of land is home to Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure nowadays. And believe me… this ride is definitely worth its lengthy name. It features seven (!) launches, quite a few special effects and the vehicles are as unique as they are beautiful. With its surprisingly long layout and excellent theming, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure actually performs even better than VelociCoaster. Beware for long queues, though. The ride is extremely popular and the wait time rarely drops beneath the 1-hour mark. Early access (offered to Universal’s on-site hotel guests) offers an opportunity to avoid the longest queues.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter features a second roller coaster, but this one isn’t nearly as good as Hagrid’s: Flight of the Hippogriff is just another standard Vekoma Junior Coaster. Interested in another world-class coaster? Then head to the opposite side of the park for The Incredible Hulk. This enormous machine underwent a major overhaul in 2015 and 2016, which prepared it for a few more decades of B&M goodness. The Incredible Hulk is characterized by its impressive launch in a tunnel, but it doesn’t stop there. The ride is fast… very fast actually. Due to these high speeds, the inversions and turns create an incredibly intense feeling. Especially the second part, which is full of tight curves, causes a slight greyout in my head. I don’t consider this as a bad thing, though. The Incredible Hulk is a world-class roller coaster and the lakeside location is very sexy.
Talking about sexy… the park offers free wet T-shirt contests year-round. Islands of Adventure has three large water attractions and their wetness varies from refreshing to downright soaking. The epicentre of this water ride madness is Toon Lagoon. This colourful section of the park is home to Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls and Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges. The latter is undoubtedly one of the world’s most legendary rapid rivers. It’s almost impossible to exit the raft without being totally drenched. Of course this isn’t a problem, as Central Florida has high temperatures 300 days a year. Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls (log flume) is a little less soaking, but it offers a thrilling and surprisingly pleasant ride nevertheless.
The third and final water ride is Jurassic Park River Adventure. This shoot-the-chute doesn’t only contain a 26-metre descent, but it’s also an immersive boat ride through Jurassic Park. Despite the fact that I’ve always adored this attraction, I should note that it’s currently not in its best shape. River Adventure could use a major overhaul and/or some extra special effects, if you ask me. Jurassic World, anyone?
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is the star attraction at the Wizarding World. The ride has an incredibly beautiful queue and the ride itself is very unique. That’s mainly due to the transportation system, which involves robotic arms and revolving theatre screens. Incredible hardware, but I must admit that Forbidden Journey fails to amaze me. The ride uses a combination of real props and screen-based parts, but the transitions between these scenes aren’t subtle at all. Besides, this attraction has always had a slightly nauseating effect on me. Don’t get me wrong… I understand why Forbidden Journey is such a crowd pleaser, but I’m not that fond of it.
Fortunately, Islands of Adventure offers another world-class dark ride at the opposite side of the park. I’m talking about The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, possibly the best non-Disney dark ride ever. This was an opening day attraction at Islands of Adventure, so it’s almost 20 years old. However, the experience just keeps getting better and better during each ride. Especially the final scene (in which you’re being virtually transported to the top of a skyscraper) blows my mind every single time. This is Universal at its best.
A child-friendly dark ride (The Cat in the Hat) can be found at Seuss Landing. It’s surprisingly long and it features funny narration, but the theming level is so-so. It fits perfectly within Seuss Landing, though. This area is extremely colourful and a bit chaotic, but it’s got a very cheerful atmosphere and it’s very photogenic.
The Lost Continent used to be the park’s most beautiful area, but the land has gradually lost most of its charm. The only remaining attactions is Poseidon’s Fury. I could describe this as a walk-through with some live performance elements, but I’m afraid that I’ll raise your expectations by saying that. Poseidon’s Fury has a certain flair and the building’s exterior looks fantastic, but it’s still a rather mediocre experience.
The most unique ride at Universal Orlando Resort is the Hogwarts Express. Train rides and monorails aren’t that unusual at theme parks, but this attraction is different. On the one hand, it’s an elaborately themed experience which totally immerses you in the Harry Potter universe. On the other hand, it acts as a link between both Universal theme parks. There are stations in Hogsmeade (Islands of Adventure) and Diagon Alley (Universal Studios), so the Hogwarts Express always drops you off at the other park. Because of this, Hogwarts Express is only available for visitors with 2-park admission passes. If you possess such a 2-park ticket, be sure to use the Hogwarts Express at least once for park-hopping.
WORTH A VISIT?
In my opinion, Islands of Adventure is superior to Universal Studios Florida. The latter is a rather static amusement park with lots of concrete buildings and a 3D overdose. Islands of Adventure has found a better balance between all different attraction types. The park offers two awesome dark rides, three great water attractions and Seuss Landing is a wonderful area for families with young children. However, the park’s highlights are obviously the roller coasters. Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure is one of the world’s best family coasters, The Incredible Hulk’s intensity never fails to amaze and VelociCoaster is able to compete with the planet’s most legendary thrill coasters. Overall, Universal’s Islands of Adventure lives up to the expectations. So yes, I’d definitely recommend a visit to this park if you’re planning a trip to Florida.
PORT OF ENTRY
THE LOST CONTINENT
WIZARDING WORLD – HOGSMEADE
MARVEL SUPER HERO ISLAND
Do you belong to Team Harry Potter or Team Spider-Man? Is Incredible Hulk the most intense coaster in Orlando? And do you consider Islands of Adventure as one of the world’s best theme parks? Share your opinion in the comments section at the bottom of this page.