Universal's second theme park opened in 1999 with a vibrantly colored, cleverly themed collection of fast and sometimes furious rides. At just over 120 acres, it's now, thanks to the addition of the Wizarding World, slightly larger in size than its big brother, Universal Studios Florida, and it's definitely the Orlando park for thrill-ride junkies. Roller coasters roar above pedestrian walkways, and water rides slice through the park. The trade-off: Fewer shows.

Expect total immersion in the park's various "island" sights, sounds, and surroundings. From the wobbly angles and Day-Glo colors in Seuss Landing to the lush foliage of Jurassic Park to the magical mystical world of witchcraft and wizardry in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal has done an amazing job of differentiating the various sections of this $1-billion-plus park (unlike Universal Studios Florida, where you ease into the next area and all of a sudden you realize that you're in San Francisco, not New York anymore). They've also done an outstanding job of differentiating Islands from Disney or any other Orlando park. In Florida, the closest competitor (and that's a stretch) is Busch Gardens in Tampa, but this park clearly has the edge on the ride front -- and most definitely in the atmosphere department.

The adventure is spread across seven very different islands: the Port of Entry, a pass-through zone themed to resemble an exotic open-air bazaar and lined with a collection of shops and restaurants, and six themed islands -- Seuss Landing, the Lost Continent, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, Toon Lagoon, and Marvel Super Hero Island. The park offers a concentration of thrill rides and coasters, but there are plenty of places to play for young kids, too.

Islands of Adventure usually opens at 9am. In winter months, operating hours may end at around 6pm but in summer, they’re often open to as late as 10pm. After you park, open your bags for inspection, take the moving sidewalks to CityWalk, and veer to the left, toward the 130-foot Pharos Lighthouse (it’s just for show), you finally reach IOA.

If you doubt whether your kids are tall enough to ride everything, there’s a gauge listing requirements before the ticket booths.