Things to Do in Orlando

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Flamingos in the Orlando Florida area
Source: Unsplash

Voted one of Forbes’ 25 top cities to visit in 2020, Orlando is home to both out of this world magic and local charm. A balance of tourist attractions and homegrown entertainment, Orlando is one of those cities that will leave you spellbound! There’s a reason that Orlando has been ranked as one of the top tourist destinations in America.

However, if you’ve never been to Orlando before, you might be wondering where to start. Sure, we’ve heard of the theme parks, but how many are there exactly? Where are they? Are there other things to do in Orlando besides theme parks? Is there fun stuff to do in Orlando itself? What about the areas around Orlando?

We’ve got all the answers to these questions, and then some! There’s plenty of cool things to do in Orlando, with lots of Orlando attractions and excursions from which to choose. Don’t feel like you’ve got to stay within the city limits either – in fact, some of the best fun is in the surrounding towns! Disney World, for example, is actually in Lake Buena Vista, about twenty minutes from downtown Orlando.

Whether you’re interested in hitting the theme parks or checking out the local scene, there’s plenty to do in Orlando!


Table of Contents

Dinosaur Skeleton
Source: Unsplash

Orlando Theme Parks

Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World image of Main Street USA

With the incredible popularity of Disneyland, the land around the park in Anaheim was snatched up by the tourist industry, hoping to make a buck off the happiest place on Earth. Walt Disney began to dream of a place to open another park, in a completely uninhabited area, where he could built his dreams without others taking over. That dream grew into a long-term project of buying up bits of land in Central Florida. These bits would one day form what we now know as the Walt Disney World Resort.


The Magic Kingdom

Statue of Walt Disney & Mickey Mouse at Walt Disney World
I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse. – Walt Disney

Opening in 1971, the Magic Kingdom was the first of the theme parks at Walt Disney World. The original park had six distinct areas or “lands” – Main Street U.S.A., Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Liberty Square, Frontierland, and Adventureland. While the park has grown incredibly in the fifty years since opening, these six lands are still the staples of the park today!

Each land is expertly themed, from the rides and food items to the general atmosphere. Even the music is unique to each area, intended to serve as the backdrop to your adventure. You can tell the distinct elements of the lands as you travel through the park, which adds to the flavor of the experience.

Personal Favorites
Space Mountain

If I don’t start my day with Space Mountain, something has gone horribly wrong. It is my absolute favorite ride at the Magic Kingdom…my top record was four go’s in one day. It’s also a great starter-coaster, a step up from Big Thunder Mountain (which is also great!) as it’s in the dark. Top kids rides would have to include Peter Pan’s Flight, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid. These rides all include beloved characters and fun music, while being entertaining for all ages. You can even bring infants (lap-sitters) and toddlers on these rides!

For food, I really like Pecos Bill’s over in Frontierland if you’re looking for a quick bite. They have delicious barbeque and plenty of seating, so it’s a nice place to take a break from walking. If you’re looking for a table service meal, you can’t beat The Crystal Palace on Main Street U.S.A.! A delicious character buffet, there’s plenty of classic American cuisine with a few fun twists here and there. You also have the chance to meet Winnie the Pooh and friends as they celebrate Friendship Day.

Why You Should Go

This is a great park for families! There is plenty to do for all ages, with rollercoasters for your older thrill-seekers and smaller rides for younger kiddos. You can also find plenty of non-ride attractions for those that don’t care to ride. The atmosphere is also deniably wonderful, with the characters, parades, and other special events. Even with waiting in line, you won’t be bored!

Plan Ahead

While I love the Magic Kingdom, it’s still a theme park. There will be lots of people, waiting in lines, and a lot of walking. I suggest getting to the park early so that you can get ahead of the later crowds, take a break in the middle of the day, and then return in the evening. Even if you just leave the park and go over to one of the Magic Kingdom resorts, it will be a nice break. Also, know your kids. The number one mistake parents make is forcing their kids through a long, hot day without accounting for their usual routine. If your toddler is a stroller-napper, awesome, but if she isn’t, leaving for a couple hours to take that nap is essential. Isn’t that a waste of money? You might ask. Not if it’s going to make everyone in your group miserable! What’s the point of being in the park and unhappy if you could always come back later after a rest? Take my advice – work with your kids’ routines, not against them. They will be happier for it, and so will you.


EPCOT – Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow

Epcot Center at night
Source: Unsplash

Originally an idea of Walt Disney’s, he wanted Epcot to be a real, working community that showed off research and technology. While this never came to be, this innovative concepts went into the creative process from which the modern Epcot was born. This inspiration lives on, even as the park undergoes changes.

Opened in 1982, Epcot brought to life both past and future with a unique blend of attractions. Different areas were devoted to scientific advances in Future World, while the World Showcase Lagoon showed off the cultures of different nations. Among them were Mexico, China, Germany, Italy, USA, Japan, France, United Kingdom, and Canada. Norway opened in 1984, with the Morocco pavilion opening four years later.

In the past couple years, Epcot has undergone a reimagining, changing the previous Future World into three new areas – World Discovery, World Celebration, and World Nature. Each of these new areas will integrate previously existing attractions with new ones, as well as enhanced theming. World Showcase has had a few changes as well, with the refit of the American pavilion and several other pavilions seeing upgrades.

Personal Favorites

Soarin’ is one of the most incredible rides in the park. Even with its “non-thrill” nature, the excitement comes from the sensation of flying over different parts of the world. Smells and other effects enhance the experience, all of which is smooth and comfortable. Even your most nervous kiddo will have fun on this ride! I also love just walking around the World Showcase and seeing the different countries. Throughout the year, you can find different events in this area, with specialty foods and drinks to choose.

Epcot Center image
Epcot Flower and Garden Festival!
Source: Unsplash

There are entire blogs dedicated to the amazing food at Epcot! For quick service, I really enjoy the American pavilion or the fish and chips in Britain. America has awesome homegrown options with that Disney flair, definitely worth checking out! Lovers of seafood will want to dive right into Coral Reef, a table service meal that puts you right up with one of the huge aquariums over at the Living Seas.

Why You Should Go

One of the most distinctive theme park experiences, Epcot offers more than just thrill rides and shows. While those attractions are at Epcot, there’s a culture that surrounds the park that goes back to Disney’s original vision. Especially with the coming changes, there will be much more to see and do!

Plan Ahead

At this park, it’s important to know what you want to do ahead of time. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself just walking back and forth between different areas, losing time in the travel. With the lack of the FastPass system right now, it makes the most sense to work through the different areas one at a time. World Showcase isn’t always open with the rest of the park, with the exception of Frozen Ever After. With that in mind, it makes sense to hit the ride you most want to do first, then work through the sections from there.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Slinky Dog ride at Hollywood Studios Orlando

When it opened in May 1989, Hollywood Studios actually went by another name – Disney’s MGM Studios. The park was the product of an agreement between Disney and MGM, designed to show what a real, working backlot was like. There were even tours of animation studios on the premises, where actual Disney animators were at work on current projects for the company.

In 2008, after a falling out with MGM, the name was changed to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which it has been ever since (although many Disney fanatics just call it “The Studios”). Over the years, this park has morphed from a studio-only atmosphere to a place where Disney houses much of their beloved and current movie content. Even though there are still elements of old Hollywood, like the iconic Hollywood Tower of Terror attraction, the modernization of this park was essential to its survival. New lands like Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge revitalized Hollywood Studios and upped the fun factor straight off the charts!

Personal Favorites
Galaxy's Edge at night in Walt Disney World. Star Wars land

Indulge my geek side for a second: Galaxy’s Edge is amazing. I can’t begin to describe how well themed this section of the park is, or what an incredible job the Imagineers have done to bring this world to life. Actually, I did describe it, so if you want an in-depth look check out this overview! Star Wars fans, you have to check this out.

Outside of Galaxy’s Edge, one of my favorite rides is Rockin’ Rollercoaster, featuring music by Aerosmith. This indoor, fast, and intense rollercoaster is one of the most thrilling coasters in Disney World. The music is perfectly timed with your ride, which enhances the experience. For your kiddos, check out Toy Story Land. Even as an adult, I love this space, where you are “shrunk” down to the size of a toy to play in Andy’s backyard. Toy Story Mania, the feature attraction, is one of my absolute favorites. This interactive 3D adventure takes you through different carnival games, trying to get a higher score than the rest of your family.

Why You Should Go

One cool aspect of this park is the fact that it’s always changing, and new attractions are being added. Because it builds on Disney’s commercial brands like Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, and other acquisitions, you never really know what to expect! Though the new lands are established, this park is where Disney seeks to update and bring in new ideas. Even if you’ve been before, you’ll definitely want to come back.

Plan Ahead

You really need to strategize with this park. With the popularity of Galaxy’s Edge, people show up early (like, two hours early), so they can head straight to that section. While Disney has begun to head this off some, it is best to arrive before park opening. If Galaxy’s Edge isn’t the priority, move straight to the attraction that’s at the top of your list. Right now, many non-GE people go right to Mickey’s Runaway Railway and Slinky Dog Dash, as these will be some of the longest lines later in the day. When we went recently, more people were going to those attractions than Galaxy’s Edge, so we were able to get right on the Millennium Falcon and ride it twice before the crowds hit. Moral of the story – know what you want to do.


Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom Tree of Life
The Tree of Life greets guests as you arrive!

The youngest of the Disney Florida parks, Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened in 1998. Bringing to life several different cultures and adventures previously unexplored, Animal Kingdom took us out of Europe and into the wilds of Africa, Asia, and now James Cameron’s Pandora. Dinoland, U.S.A. takes us back in time to see animals that are long since gone, and provide a great place for the kids.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is also a working wildlife refuge, taking diligent care of the animals both out on exhibit and at the Rafiki Planet Watch. From the beginning, the goal of the Animal Kingdom was to allow guests to see these animals living as naturally as possible, with the least disturbance to the animals’ lives as possible. Altogether, this park is a special place to be.

Personal Favorites

Firstly, the atmosphere is amazing. It is so different from Disney’s other parks, in the best way possible. The sights, sounds, and even smells make you feel like you’re on a real adventure. Each land is, as always, perfectly themed. It is cool to see the cultures represented in the architecture and design of each area.

Everest ride at Animal Kingdom Walt Disney World

Attraction-wise, Flight of Passage in Pandora is easily one of the most amazing rides I’ve ever experienced. Until Rise of the Resistance in Galaxy’s Edge, Flight of Passage had far and away blown all my previous Disney ride experience out of the water. Considered a “4D” experience, a 3D film works with the ride vehicle to make you feel like you’re really flying a banshee. Beyond rides, the Festival of the Lion King stage show is a must-do for my family. Broadway-level singing and acting comes together with acrobatics and high-flying stunts that are breathtaking!

Dining is eclectic at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. With pizza, traditional African fare, and cool Indian cuisine, and even a Starbucks, you have plenty of choices! The Yak & Yeti is our favorite table service restaurant, with an interesting blend of Indian and Asian flavors. You can also grab some of these food items, or ones like it, from the counter service of the same name.

Why You Should Go

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is often overlooked, but really is a hidden gem. It’s a great place for a more relaxed park day, especially after you’ve done the “big ticket” ride items. Kids will love it here, with all the animals everywhere. There are even walking paths through the exhibits and tours of the animal care areas, so you should look into those! The park is also one large circle and fairly flat – easy for strollers and young ones alike.

Plan Ahead

Animal Kingdom might be a hidden gem, but it’s not a well-kept secret. If you want to ride Kilimanjaro Safaris or Flight of Passage, get to the park early and head straight there. I like to hit all of my “must-dos” in the morning, and then have a more relaxed afternoon wandering the park. With the restoration of park hoppers, Animal Kingdom is also a nice option for a half day park experience.


Universal Studios Orlando Resort

Universal Studios resort image
Source: Unsplash

Opened in June 1990 as Universal Studios Florida, at the time the park was directly in competition with Disney’s MGM Studios. The original concept was to mimic Universal’s existing studio tour in California, a working studio that was open to the public. In fact, Steven Spielberg, one of the park’s creative consultants, made it clear that it was a studio first and an amusement park second.

Over the years, that view has changed dramatically to turn Universal Orlando into a thrilling powerhouse resort area. On par with Disney, Universal works to bring its content to life for the guests in ways they never dreamed possible. One key difference – Universal has said that they will continue to change and update their attractions with the times rather than just keeping the classic favorites. Disney plays on nostalgia as well as their current brand, Universal goes for the now.

Universal Studios Florida

Street sign of Plaza of the Stars
Source: Unsplash

Universal Studios has changed drastically over the years, updating their attractions to stay current. In the early days, the main attractions included lake cruise interrupted by Jaws and Kongfrontation, a dangerous encounter with the king of apes. You could even go back in time with Marty McFly in the DeLorean from Back to the Future! However, as these attractions lost interest, Universal replaced them to stay up to date.

Kongfrontation is now Revenge of the Mummy, a thrilling rollercoaster-type ride that continues the story of Imhotep from the Mummy films. The Simpsons came in to take over Back to the Future, using the motion simulator technology to take you on one wild ride! The most notable change is the addition of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, which has taken over the back end of the park (including the former Jaws location).

With the expansion of “Harry Potter World” came the first inter-park connection between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Guests can now hop on board the Hogwarts Express and travel between the two sections of The Wizarding World, thus the two parks. While you do need a park hopper ticket to enjoy this feature, it is well worth it!

Personal Favorites
Dragon at Harry Potter World at Universal Orlando
Source: Unsplash

As a huge Harry Potter fan, I love this entire area! Universal took incredible steps to make both spaces feel like you’re really in the wizarding world, including the shape of the buildings and size of the streets. Gringotts, with the dragon atop, looms over the rest of Diagon Alley and draws you into the ride. The ride itself takes you right into the middle of the heist for the Horcrux out of the Lestranges’ vault…and let’s just say mayhem and adventure ensue!

Other than the Harry Potter section, my absolute favorite ride is Men in Black: Alien Attack. The ride takes you through the streets of New York, battling hostile aliens as they attack the city. Using a blaster, you are able to zap the aliens, all while earning a “training” score. The blasters actually come out of a holster on the ride vehicle (attached by a cord), providing a wider range of motion and opportunity for higher scores!

Why You Should Go

I love Disney World, but the draw there is in the classics mixed with the contemporary. Universal focuses on bringing what we love right now to life, and updating their classics to stay current. You won’t have to give your kids a brief history lesson so that they will understand the ride – it will be something with which they are already familiar.

Plan Ahead

Most of the rides at Universal Studios are for older kids, I would say about ten and up (depending on your child). While there are definitely kid’s rides and play areas, the big name attractions are intense, loud, and many are rollercoasters. If you don’t think your kids are quite ready for that, then you might want to wait until you’re older to take them.

Also, if your focus is The Wizarding World, prepare for crowds. Not only are these sections extremely popular (with both kids and adults!), the streets were intentionally built to make you feel the “squeezed” nature of the world. What may not in fact be a large crowd will feel smaller when packed into the tight spaces.


Universal’s Islands of Adventure

Hulk ride at Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando
Source: Unsplash

In 1999, Universal’s Islands of Adventure joined the CityWalk to help to turn Universal Studios into a resort area. This park lives up to its name, providing thrills and adventures with its attractions, all while taking guests through worlds you know and love. The primary areas are Jurassic Park, The Lost Continent, Marvel Super Hero Island, Seuss Landing, Skull Island: Reign of Kong, Toon Lagoon, and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade.

Between the two parks, Islands of Adventure helps to balance the thrill rides with the less intense options, especially for kids. Many of the areas have options on both ends of the spectrum, like the kids area in Jurassic Park while the rest of the group escapes on the Jurassic Park River Adventure. There’s also a fun “flying” attraction built for kids in this area, which is a fun alternative. Similarly, Hogsmeade has different levels of rides, including the Flight of the Hippogriff, which is a smaller “kiddie” coaster. That helps to balance the Hagrid’s Motorbike coaster and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

Personal Favorites
Hogwarts Castle at Universal Studio's Island of Adventure

Again, I am drawn straight to Hogsmeade whenever I enter this park! Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, or “the Hogwarts ride,” is a spectacular 4D motion simulator attraction that is an absolute must-do. Featuring the original characters in an all-new adventure, Harry Potter fans of all ages will flip for this attraction! The rest of Hogsmeade is well worth exploring – I often spend the whole morning in this land.

Outside of The Wizarding World Marvel Island, Jurassic Park, and Suess Landing are my favorites. Marvel Island hosts an incredible coaster based around the Hulk, and another amazing simulator ride with Spider-man. Jurassic Park received a recent update to bring in the new content from Jurassic World, and another new coaster will be opening summer 2021! Suess Landing is just adorable, and spot on with the theming. You’ll really feel like you jumped into a Suess book, it’s that good. Don’t worry about your older kids either, even as teenagers my sister and I loved this part of the park!

Why You Should Go

Universal’s Islands of Adventure really has something for everyone. There are water rides, shows, kid’s play areas, and lots of food and shopping. You could have a great time and never get on a single ride. It’s definitely a “please all” type of park, so if there’s lots of different interests and needs in your family, it will be well worth it.

Plan Ahead

This park is huge. Even though it is one large circle, it’s going to take some walking to get to the different lands. You can easily wander through and hit the areas as you go, but if there’s certain rides on your list make sure you head there first. If different people in your group have different priorities, safely split up. Both times I have ridden Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, I waited two hours to do so. Even on light crowd days, sources indicate you should expect to wait a minimum of forty-five minutes. With that in mind, those who are skipping that attraction should know where else they want to go.


Sea World Orlando

Orca whales at Sea World Orlando
Source: Shutterstock

In 1973, Sea World Orlando became the third and final Sea World Park in the United States. Part of the Anheuser-Busch Busch Entertainment family, Sea World is dedicated to helping wildlife while showing their guests a good time. What began as a more aquarium-like aquatic park has grown into an incredible hybrid theme park experience!

Now, three rollercoasters and two water rides are woven into the fabric of the park, complementing the animal habits. Even though the Shamu Show featuring the orca whales stopped in 2019, you can still see the park’s mascots in a more educational encounter setting. In fact, there are several other animal encounter areas throughout the park, perfect for non-riders. Your little ones will love Sesame Street Land, a collaboration between the beloved characters and Busch Entertainment.

Personal Favorites

Growing up, I always loved the Shamu Show. While I understand the need for the phase-out of that attraction, I appreciate that there is still a chance to see these graceful predators up close. I also love the way the park is just the right combination of animal adventures and ride attractions. One of the best rides in Manta, a face-down ride that is meant to simulate the movement of a manta ray through the water. You’ve never ridden anything like it!

Why You Should Go

Sea World is perfect for families, especially ones with younger non-riders. There’s so much to do, you won’t have to worry about toddlers getting squirrelly while they wait for older siblings to get off rollercoasters. They’ll happily be looking at the penguins instead! Sea World also offers a unique experience in comparison to other parks, all while spreading a wonderful message of conservation.

Plan Ahead

With more than one water attraction, it is a high possibility you could get wet. It might be smart to wear a swimsuit under your clothes or a pack an extra outfit. While Sea World sells its own gear, it’s not necessarily cheap. You can also plan to bring a poncho for these rides as well, which will keep you and your gear dry during the ride. It might also be a good idea to pack snacks. While there are plenty of dining options, most are counter service grub, which is tasty but heavy.


Busch Gardens Tampa

Busch Gardens in Tampa
Source: Unsplash

The first of the Bush Entertainment parks, Busch Gardens Tampa opened in 1959 as a hospitality house to allow guest a chance to sample beer while looking at the animals. In 1965, the Serengeti Plan Exhibit expanded the park and provided the African theme. Growth has only continued from there, with over 2,700 animals and 15 ridable attractions for guests to enjoy! The newest coaster, Iron Gwazi, should be opening later this year.

Similar to Sea World, Busch Gardens Tampa is a great place to take the family. Whether you enjoy the thrill rides or not, there’s plenty to see and do. Take a ride on the Serengeti Express, a train that winds through the African plains. Enjoy an up-close animal encounter with some of the parks animal ambassadors. You can even reserve different behind the scenes or up close tours, perfect for the animal lovers in your life!

Personal Favorites
Source: Unsplash

Again, I love the balance of theme park and zoo. It’s the perfect way to break up the day, and also find plenty to do if you have some non-riders. The African theme is fun and lively, as are the incredible thrill rides! My favorite of the rides is Montu, a smooth, inverted coaster that makes you feel like you’re really flying. This was also the first coaster in the world to add in an Immelmann loop (a simultaneous loop and roll) for extra intensity.

Why You Should Go

If your kids love the zoo, that’s almost reason enough! With all the animal options, it’s almost like the theme park aspect is the secondary reason (although it is a fantastic park). Even if you don’t have kids, this is fun experience for adults as well. The coasters are no joke, as are some of the other attractions, so you won’t feel like you showed up for “kiddie” rides. Yes, I know this park isn’t technically in Orlando, but you should still check it out during your stay!

Plan Ahead

This is a large park, with lots to do. You might need to accept that you won’t get it done all in one day – which just means you’ll have to come back! With that in mind, you may want to consider choosing whether to focus on the rides or the animals. It might also be a day where you safely divide your group based on personal preferences, so that everyone can have a great time. It doesn’t make it any less of a family trip if you all have something to bond over later.


Other Orlando Theme Parks

Fireworks viewing
Source: Unsplash

Yes, there are other theme parks in the Orlando area! While these two parks may not be as expansive as the big names, that doesn’t mean they are any less fun. If you’re only going to the Disney or Universal parks for one day, or just want to try something new, you might want to check these out.


Legoland Florida

Legoland Florida
Source: iStock

Legoland takes inspiration from our beloved building block to make incredible rides and attractions for kids of all ages. A fun mix of thrill, carnival-style, and kids rides, the attractions all look like they were built out of Lego! You can also find multiple interactive play zones, some of which allow you to build your on Lego creation.

With the success of the Lego movies, these lovable and kooky characters have been integrated into the fabric of the park. The Lego Movie – Masters of Flight, Uni Kitty’s Disco Drop, and Emmet’s Super Suite all connect back to the film featuring your favorite Bricksburg friends.

Personal Favorites

I just love the mix of attractions at this park. Not only are there plenty of rides, but there’s cool stuff to do that everyone will love. As the parent of a toddler, I love the concept of the Florida Prepaid Schoolhouse. Inside are interactive touchscreen games, a soft play area, and lots of activities geared towards younger kids. The park’s Baby Center, complete with quiet room for nursing moms, is located here as well. The fact that the park’s creators considered these needs is just another item in the pro column for me!

Why You Should Go

If you’ve never taken your kids to an amusement park before, this is a great place to start. Completely family-focused, Legoland expects there to be kids, therefore has accommodations for them. The rides are kid friend, fun versus scary, and the perfect way to introduce little ones to the fun of a theme park. At the same time, there attractions that older kids will enjoy as well, making it an ideal family fun day.

Plan Ahead

In at least three of the attractions and play areas, you and your kids could get wet. In fact, one of the Duplo Valley attractions is a splash zone for little tykes! Definitely plan for water fun, whether that means bathing suits or extra clothes. For infants and toddlers, bring those swim diapers so they can run free in the waterspouts. You might want to consider towels as well. That may seem like a lot of stuff, but better to be prepared than deal with wet, cranky kiddos.


Gatorland

White bird at Gatorland in Orlando Florida
Source: Unsplash

The self-proclaimed “gator capital of the world,” this is an Orlando attraction you won’t want to miss! Founded by Owen Godwin in 1949, what began as a small tourist attraction has expanded into a 110-acre wildlife preserve. Godwin’s family still owns the park, and does everything they can to keep his original dream of protecting and promoting Florida’s wildlife alive.

Now, Gatorland not only houses alligators, but birds, wildcats, tortoises, snakes, and other “critters.” It is a great chance to see these creatures in a natural environment, with many of the experiences allowing you to get up close to the animals. Gatorland also has a couple of rides, two zip line adventures and a new off-road tour in the wackiest custom vehicle you’ve ever seen!

Personal Favorites

Adventure Hour is a must-do behind the scenes tour that gets you right up close with the gators! During your tour, you are the only people in this area of the park, giving you private access to the animals. Your group will also have the chance to feed the gators, which is definitely an experience!

Why You Should Go

The fact that this part is a part of local Orlando history is a major part of the appeal. Sure, it’s not the big name parks, but there is something charming about the goofy tour guides and the homey nature of the place. It’s also a more relaxed atmosphere, as you don’t have to rush about to different rides or wait in lines. This is a great place to visit during your vacation, even just to say that you’ve done it!

Plan Ahead

Remember, these are wild animals, not animatronics. Safety is really important, especially with your kids. Make sure you discuss animal safety and boundaries with your family before heading to Gatorland. This park is probably better for older elementary kids and up rather than your younger kiddos. Also, know what they can and can’t handle – if you think seeing the gators or snakes will scare them, this might not be the best park for you.


Orlando Water Parks – Dive In!

Young child playing in water at a water park
Source: Unsplash

On a hot day, one of the most fun things to do in Orlando is head to a water park. No matter your budget or thrill, there are plenty from which to choose! Extend your Disney or Universal vacation by using their parks, check out a local Orlando park, or go for a unique aquatic experience. Vacationers of all types will have a great time at any of these water parks!


Typhoon Lagoon

Typhoon Lagoon swimming pool
Source: Pixabay

Opening in June 1989, Typhoon Lagoon was part of the major Walt Disney World expansion of the late 80’s and early 90’s. The second Disney-themed water park (the first being River Country in 1976), it housed the largest surf pool in the world. While that record has since been broken, the incredible wave pool of Typhoon Lagoon is still a main attraction for visitors. Every half hour, a huge wave starts at the deepest section of the pool before washing up on shore, different than the typical swells of a wave pool.

The theming of Typhoon Lagoon revolves around a deserted island, with the attractions built out of “found” objects and local plant life. Real sandy beaches are throughout the park, under chairs and tables, enhancing the island feel. There’s plenty to do for everyone – little ones will love splashing through their own area, Ketchakiddee Creek, while more daring guests can shoot down Humunga Kowabunga as fast as the flume can go!

Personal Favorites

The Crush n’ Gusher water coaster is one of the best rides in the park, hands down. Built in 2005, this amazing tube ride brought a sense of thrill that Typhoon Lagoon was missing. The coaster operates using water pressure to push the tandem tube up and down small hills before shooting out into the splash pool. Super fun, and even your typical non-coaster riders will love it!

Why You Should Go

Water parks on a hot Orlando day are always a good idea. Beyond that, this is a great introduction to water parks for your younger children. With a fun splash area and the giant wave pool, they will have a great time. Meanwhile, there’s enough larger attractions that older family members love it as well! Between the two Disney water parks, Typhoon Lagoon also tends to be less crowded, which can be nice.

Plan Ahead

There’s sand pretty much everywhere, so be prepared to deal with that. You might also want to wear water shoes or foot glove shoes, especially around the park. The pavement can get scorching, and you can’t wear items like flip flops on the rides. Some people run the risk of leaving their shoes at the end of the ride, but you can’t guarantee your flip flops’ safety. You will also want to bring your own towel, unless you want to rent one at the park. Even though all of Disney’s resort pools provide towels, the water parks do not.


Blizzard Beach

Definitely larger than Typhoon Lagoon, you could spend a whole day just in this water park! The story behind the park is this: Once, there was a freak snowstorm in Florida. However! Out of nowhere, a ski lodge sprang up, with all sorts of snow fun to enjoy. As the sun and heat came back, the snow began to melt…but that didn’t stop the lodge owners! Instead, they turned their ski resort into a water park, and Blizzard Beach was born!

Throughout the park, the theming is spot on. It’s such a crazy, yet perfect, blend of beach and winter fun. Icebergs float in the Ski Patrol Training Camp (a great place for kids 8-12), toboggan racers can be found in areas throughout the park, and a ski shack sits atop Mount Gushmore. Encircling the park is Cross Country Creek, a massive lazy river that is perfect for when you just need a break. It is also ideal for when the park is fairly full, as you usually don’t have to wait in line to hop in.

Personal Favorites

Teamboat Springs, or affectionately known in my family as “the family ride,” is a large raft ride that rushes down the side of Mount Gushmore. Twist, turn, and shriek with delight as you zoom down the mountain. At the end, be sure to smile nicely for your picture! I also love Runoff Rapids – three different single or tandem tube rides that zip down the hill, hitting bends and curves all along the way. I could easily spend the majority of my day on this attraction!

Why You Should Go

This was my first water park experience as a kid, and I fell instantly in love. The beach vibe music, the bright colors, and the winter fun references all just make this a great place to be. There’s plenty of space and shade throughout the park, with lockers you can rent for valuables you don’t want sitting out. You will also find lots to do for all ages – whether you’re travelling with small children or just adults, you’re going to have fun at this park.

Plan Ahead

Bring your own food, bring your own towels. There are plenty of places to grab a meal throughout the park, but they are a bit spread out. We’ve always found that bringing our own snacks is the way to go, with a larger meal planned that evening. As we mentioned before, make sure you have your own towels and other swim gear – it’s expensive at the park. Also, sunscreen is a must. Even with reapplying, I have fried at this park from carrying the tubes and just being out in the sun. Be prepared, and lather up.


Universal’s Volcano Bay

Fitting with the intensity of Universal’s other rides, Volcano Bay is the home of some of the most thrilling water attractions! Plummet down the volcano with the Ko’okiri Body Plunge, starting with a 70-degree drop through a trap door before shooting through 125 feet of body flume craziness. Rocket down the Ohyah & Ohno Drop Slides, before ending with a four-foot fall into the splash pool below. Volcano Bay even has its own water coaster, the Krakatau! Hop into a four-person canoe before you are swept up the mountain…then sent twisting and turning back down it.

Personal Favorites

Even though I do love all these thrill rides, sometimes you just need to relax. That’s when it’s nice to take a dip in the Kopiko Wai Winding River, Volcano Bay’s lazy river. Gently snake your way around the park while lounging in your tube, occasionally sprayed by water to cool off. This river also has its surprises, so don’t let yourself get too lazy!

Why You Should Go

It’s the perfect blend of thrill-seeking and water park fun! Ideal for families with older kids, this is a step up in intensity from some of the other water parks in the area. Especially if you’re staying at a Universal resort or in the surrounding area, this is the most convenient park for you.

Plan Ahead

Universal’s Volcano Bay uses a virtual queue system that involves the wearable TapuTapu, a watch-like item that puts you in line without actually having to wait. It’s important that you look into the system ahead of time, so you understand exactly how it works.

This park is also geared more towards older kids and adults. That doesn’t mean you wouldn’t have fun splashing in the wave pool with your little ones, but you might want to save the money if you don’t have older kids who would enjoy the park. There isn’t a dedicated “kid’s zone” at Volcano Bay, so the wave pool and lazy river would be it as far as tame options.


Aquatica Orlando

Lazy river pool at Aquatica in Orlando
Source: Unsplash

Part of the Sea World family, Aquatica is a fabulous family park, with the perfect combination of thrilling rides and fun splash zones. Go weightless with the KareKare Curl, a raft side that sends you shooting up the side of a wave before zooming back down towards the pool. Ride through massive tubes, sloshing up the sides as you go, on Omacka Rocka.

For something a little more low-key, hope in a tube and enjoy Loggerhead Lane, Aquatica’s lazy river. During this smooth river ride, you will also travel beneath aquariums full of fish, making you feel like you’ve really gone to the depths of the sea!

Personal Favorites

While I love all the slides, there’s nothing quite like a good swim. With Roa’s Rapids, you get that and just a bit more. It’s a bit more intense than your normal lazy river, partially because you aren’t in a tube (lifejackets are strongly recommended). The current carries you around twists and turns, under waterspouts and bridges, all along Aquatica. This is a great way to get a dip and some exercise all at once.

Why You Should Go

Aquatica is a great, family-friendly park, that also provides fun for older kids, teens, and adults. The more intense drop-tube rides are great for daredevils, while younger kids can play at Kata’s Kookaburra Cove. If you have a family of mixed ages, this is perfect.

Aquatica also brings in the sea life element, which makes sense given the connection with Sea World. More than a few attractions allow you to see the animals in their element, while you gently float (or shoot) past yourself. It gives you a connection to the animals in a spectacular way.

Plan Ahead

Check out the park map ahead of time, and choose where you would like to get your spot. This is important, as the lounging areas are somewhat limited. If you don’t want to stake a claim on a particular location, I suggest renting a locker (which you might want to do anyway). Trust me, having a locker with your belongings safely tucked inside will make you feel much better throughout your park day.


Orlando Watersports Complex

Definitely more for the daring adventurers in your life, Orlando Watersports Complex has all sorts of amazing water sports and activities! Enjoy cable or boat activities like waterskiing, wakeboarding, tubing, and more. You can even book a lesson or two before your reservation, giving beginners the confidence they need to have a great time.

The main attraction here is the Aqua Park – an inflatable obstacle course out on the lake that you’re going to love! With three different levels of difficulty including over forty features, plus a beach area, the Aqua Park will provide tons of fun for the whole family.

Personal Favorites

Beyond the attractions, what makes a park great is the staff. In this sort of water park, where you might be trying something new, it is important that the staff makes you feel confident and calm throughout the process. That is absolutely the case at OWC! The instructors are friendly and accommodating, and are great with kids trying to learn. They want you to have a fabulous time, and that is evident throughout the interactions with all the OWC staff.

Why You Should Go

If you’re looking for cool things to do in Orlando, this should be near the top of your list. It is different than a typical park, but still lots of fun. It’s also nice to get outside and do something physical, especially in our “screen obsessed” world. Trust me, your family will never forget it!

Orlando Watersports Complex also has group rates and birthday parties available, a nice option if you’re travelling with a large group.

Plan Ahead

This park is definitely for older kids and adults – infants and toddlers will have nothing to do. You also have to sign a waiver for both yourself and your children before going, and all minors have to be accompanied by an adult. All adult participants also need to have their IDs. Orlando Watersports Complex asks that you bring your own towel, sunscreen, and other necessary items. They do supply lockers and lifejackets, so you can be sure of your safety.


Nona Adventure Park

Nona Adventure Park is a great option if you’re trying to get out and get moving! With three distinct areas, you’ll have plenty to do throughout your time at the park. The Aqua Park features an obstacle course out on the lake, totaling 1,000 feet of inflatable fun! Nona Wake is the cable system section of the park, for wake boarders, water-skiers, or knee boarders of all skill levels. Finally, enjoy the Climbing Tower, a ropes course and climbing wall that will challenge you to new heights. There’s even a junior course designed for climbers three to eight, making this a great family outing.

Personal Favorites

Out of the three sections, the Aqua Park would be my go-to. Even though these sorts of courses can be exhausting, it’s still fun to test your strength and splash around in the lake at the same time! The Aqua Park is also meant to be a nice variety for differing skill levels, as kids as young as five can use the course.

Why You Should Go

As far as adventure parks go, this is an ideal family option. Because there are more options for younger children, your smaller kiddos won’t have to feel left out of all the fun! The Climbing Tower also brings in a bit of variety, and you also don’t have to do any of the water attractions. You can choose just to stick to the ropes course if you would prefer.

Plan Ahead

You have to sign a waiver for yourself and any children in your party, so be prepared for that. Nona suggests that you complete the waiver online ahead of time to streamline your process when you arrive for your reservation. You can book individual sections or experiences, or get an all access pass. If you do get the all access pass, I suggest starting with the Climbing Tower before going to the water attractions. It will be much easier to do the ropes course when you are completely dry, and then you’ll work up a sweat to cool off in the lake!


Legoland Water Park

Have more Lego fun with the Legoland Water Park! An extension of Legoland Florida, the water park section features plenty of enjoyable water attractions for families. Similar to the park itself, the Legoland Water Park values giving kids a safe place to place while stretching their imaginations. Little ones can play in the wave pool or Duplo Splash Safari, while older kids will enjoy the tube rides.

Personal Favorites

I am always partial to a lazy river, but the Build-a-Raft Lazy River is quite the experience! With a tube as your base, use the Lego pieces floating about to create a craft all your own. Instead of just being a more passive experience, you and your kids can actively create while you float along. It’s nice to have something to do and relax at the same time.

Why You Should Go

This is a great “beginners” water park, literally getting your kiddo’s feet wet before moving onto the bigger rides. Younger kids are sometimes intimidated by the larger parks, or just want to play in the water rather than wait in line for rides. At Legoland Water Park, they can do just that. There’s more play area than rides, which is perfect for your active kiddos.

Plan Ahead

Even though the Legoland Water Park is part of Legoland, it does require a separate ticket. It is not included in your admission to Legoland itself. However, there are plenty of deals available if you want to do both that help with the price. As water parks go, the Legoland Water Park is on the budget friendly side.

If you are doing both, just make sure you have all the items you will need for both a theme park day and a water park day. That means sunscreen, probably twice the snacks, towels, and plenty of water!


Orlando Fly Sports

Have you ever seen those water jetpacks that allow you to fly? Now you’ll have the chance to pilot one with Orlando Fly Sports! Use a fly board, hover board, or jetpack, all propelled by water, to soar over the lake. Qualified instructors will help you to get comfortable with the craft before you are sailing off on your own.

Personal Favorites

This Orlando attraction isn’t just for adults, kids ages three and up can join in the fun! It’s a great chance to try something new with your family, and definitely will be one of the highlights of your vacation.

Why You Should Go

This is definitely a unique experience, with friendly and supportive staff. They even provide hotel pickups and drop-offs to some locations, so be sure to check that out!

Plan Ahead

You know what your kids can and can’t handle. Even though they accommodate younger fliers, if you’re worried that they will be scared, they might want to sit this one out. Also be sure to bring any sort of snacks, towels, extra clothes, and other items you think you will need. Orlando Fly Sports supplies the equipment and instruction, and that is all.


Ship Wreck Island Water Park

Part of the Westgate Town Center Resort, Ship Wreck Island Water park is open to the public ($20 per person) and free to owners and guests on property. This is another great option if you have younger kids, as the park is smaller and features multiple “water playgrounds” where kids can just play. There are slides for your older adventurers as well, including the Pirate’s Plunge, a drop slide that shoots riders down a clear tube and into the pool. Don’t worry, bigger kiddos won’t be bored here!

Personal Favorites

Sometimes less is more, which is why the smaller nature of the park is appealing. I love the large, big-name water parks as well, but with a smaller child, the idea of everything being compact is appealing. There are also three poolside bars with full food menus, making it easy to grab a quick bite.

Why You Should Go

Yet another great option if you’re trying to introduce your kids to a water park, with the intention of working them up to the larger varieties. This is a great place for families to hang out, especially if you’re staying at Westgate or know a guest. You can watch your kids play while you snack and sun, a fun and relaxing day for everyone! The price is also appealing, so if you have to cut your day short for a nap or meltdown, you can still get your money’s worth in a couple of hours.

Plan Ahead

Because the area is a bit smaller, you may want to get to the park early. That way, you can get a good seat and do most of the attractions before the crowds pick up. Also, if you’re coming with smaller kiddos, you can let them play in the morning and leave by the time they will need an afternoon rest. Outside guests can arrive at 11:00am, and the park opens for resort guests and owners at 10:00am.


Fun Things to Do in Orlando on Your “Day Off”

It’s not possible to go to a theme park every day and still have a relaxing vacation. As much fun as the theme parks can be, you need to take time to do something more low key or impulsive (which does not describe a theme park). Luckily, there are plenty of fun things to do in Orlando besides theme parks!

All of these options are local, accessible, and most importantly, fun!


Disney Springs

Canal at Disney Springs shopping area in Orlando

The main shopping and dining area at Walt Disney World, Disney Springs is a must-do for any Disney guest. Originally opened in 1975 as the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village, this area has morphed over the years into an expansive collection of incredible restaurants, shops, and experiences, all with that Disney edge.

Disney Springs has four different areas – the Marketplace, Town Center, The Landing, and West Side. The Marketplace and The Landing include much of the old Downtown Disney area, including the majority of the Disney-specific shops. Also in this area are some of the nostalgic restaurants like the Rainforest Café, Earl of Sandwich, and Paddlefish. Meanwhile, Town Center and West Side include most of the updates of the last several years. Find brand-name items at Vera Bradley (who also has exclusive Disney patterns!), Tommy Bahama, Alex and Ani, and more! Enjoy beyond incredible dining, ranging from exotic flavors to local Orlando cuisine. Even if you don’t go to the Disney World parks, you have to go to Disney Springs.

Personal Favorites

While I love all of the name brand shops, The World of Disney holds my heart. This is the one-stop shop for all your Disney items – clothing, toys, accessories, and home goods. I can easily spend hours there!

For food, there are so many places to eat it’s hard to pick. However, on my most recent trip, I discovered Morimoto’s Asia. Oh my goodness, this place is delicious! Easily the best orange chicken I have ever had, and I still think about the Crispy Popcorn Shrimp Tempura appetizer. A lot. If you like Asian food, you have to check this out! There’s also a quick service option for Morimoto’s, great if you need to eat on the go.

Why You Should Go

If you love Disney, this is the place for you. My family and I always make a point to hit the Springs when in Disney, if only to see what merchandise is out and walk around. There’s also so much to see, eat, and do! On the West Side, the movie theater and Splitsville bowling alley make for ideal rainy day fun. There are also tons of quick food options and food trucks for a snack in between Disney meals. It’s an ideal place to kill time, and you don’t necessarily have to spend any money.

Plan Ahead

Disney Springs can definitely get crowded, especially at peak times. Particularly when it comes to parking, you want to make sure you think about when you want to go. More parking has been added since the reimagining, but it can still take a long time to get a spot. Many of the table service restaurants also require a reservation, so be sure to book those in advance.


Universal CityWalk

Universal’s shopping and entertainment area, the Universal CityWalk is the first thing you see when headed from the parking garage to the parks. You’ll walk past delicious restaurants, interesting shops, and fabulous entertainment. End your day at the parks with a yummy seafood meal at Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Co. or stop at Pat O’Brien’s for some New Orleans-style grub. The atmosphere at CityWalk only gets better when the sun goes down, coming alive with music and fun!

Personal Favorites

For sure, Margaritaville is my favorite of the food offerings on the CityWalk. It’s such a fun blend of American favorites and island flavors, as well a great atmosphere. Obviously, there’s Jimmy Buffet music playing, and every half an hour a “tropical storm” hits to create a hurricane beverage in a giant blender. It’s a ton of fun!

Why You Should Go

CityWalk is just fun, that’s the best way to explain it. You could spend an afternoon wandering through the shops and having great food, and then catch a movie before heading out. The overall vibe of the place is great, with a focus still on family fun. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty for adults as well!

Plan Ahead

To access the CityWalk, you have to go like you’re entering the Universal theme parks (unless you’re coming from one of their resorts). That does mean you have to pay to park, so I suggest tacking on your CityWalk outing after a park day. However, if you don’t mind paying the fee, it’s a great place to go for a fun evening out.


Miniature Golf

A personal vacation staple, playing mini-golf is something I always did growing up, and still enjoy as an adult. We often we go in the evenings after a big meal as a way to unwind but still get some exercise. While there are plenty of mini-gold options in Orlando, there are a few that are better than the rest. These are my three favorite, must-visit miniature golf locations in the Orlando area.

#1 – Winter Summerland

Castle at winter Summerland Miniature Golf in Orlando

My top choice is always Winter Summerland Miniature Golf, located right outside Disney’s Blizzard Beach. Winter Summerland has two courses, one beach themed and one snow themed, going with the overall vibe of the park. There is also a Christmas spin on this mini-golf course, which gives it that extra layer of magic. A combination of beach and Christmas music plays and you go through the course, making the atmosphere fun and festive.

I personally prefer the winter course, just because I love seeing the winter and snow theme. Throughout the course, there are nods to the North Pole, Santa, and his elves, all of which add to the fun.

#2 – Fantasia Gardens and Fairways Miniature Golf

Enjoy this colorful course based on the Disney film Fantasia, featuring the music from the movie as well as the beloved characters. Watch as your ball plinks merrily down a piano, try to beat the ducking mushroom, and dance past centaurs and satyrs. Be careful, there are more than a few fountains on this course that just might get you!

For lovers of traditional golf, the Fairways course is designed like a miniature version of a standard course, complete with hazards. If you have older members in your party, or just want to avoid the crowds of the Fantasia course, this would be a great option!

I personally like the Fantasia course, but my dad is a huge fan of the Fairways. Both are perfectly themed, and have just the right level of challenge. The courses are both clean and well kept, so you’re sure to have a great game!

#3 – Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf

I have been to multiple Pirate’s Cove golf courses, but the one in Orlando is my favorite. This is one of those cool things to do in Orlando that is outside of a theme park property, and still fun for the whole family! The theming is spot on, the course is challenging yet fun, and it’s a great way to get out in the evening.

My favorite aspect of the course, besides the game itself, is the story. Throughout the course, different plaques tell the tales of famous pirates, giving you new bits and pieces as you come to each hole. It’s a nice distraction on a busy night if you’re waiting for your turn, or just to enhance the fun.

Why You Should Go

Miniature golf is something the whole family can enjoy – if the child can walk, they can play mini-golf! You may just want to let your toddler hit it once though, and then stick the ball in the cup. Otherwise, it’s a great family bonding time. Many of my best vacation memories are at mini-golf courses, it’s perfect for the evening.

Plan Ahead

However, many people agree with me. All three of these courses can get packed quickly, even though there are multiple paths at each location. If you don’t want to have to wait to play, consider trying to go in early evening or late afternoon. Playing during the week versus on a weekend sometimes helps as well, depending on the time of year. Most mini-golf courses are also not stroller friendly, so you really shouldn’t try to bring one.


Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures

Just a few miles south of Orlando is Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures, the area’s favorite airboat park and swamp tours. If you want to see real Floridian wildlife, you’ve got to do an airboat tour. Your guides will take you through marshy lands to see alligators, birds, and other local animals. After the tour, head to the barbecue restaurant on site for a delicious meal.

There are several different tours and packages available, so be sure to look for the one that best fits your needs. Some of these tours are seasonal, so it is important to read up ahead of time.

Personal Favorites

Out of all the tours, I love that there are times available at sunset and after dark. While that wouldn’t work if you have younger kiddos, it is so cool to see the changes in the animals when the sun goes down. The alligators tend to be more active at this time also, which means you’re more likely to see them swimming through the swamps.

Why You Should Go

If you’re looking for cool things to do in Orlando, this definitely should make the list! Especially if you want something different from the theme parks, an airboat ride helps you to see the natural side of Central Florida. Your family will have a great time, and it will be a unique experience you won’t forget.

Plan Ahead

These are wild animals, so remember all the safety rules are there for a reason. Be sure to review them with your family ahead of time, so that no one gets hurt. If you go during the day, be sure to wear sunglasses, sunscreen, and bring sunblock. At the high speeds, bugs come flying at you, so the sunglasses keep the insects out of your eyes. You also are out in the elements, so whatever protection you need make sure you have.


BoK Tower Gardens

Enrich your vacation with a cultural excursion to the BoK Tower Gardens. At the gardens, explore the Carillon bell tower and learn the history behind this architectural instrument. Wander through the acres of fresh flowers, trees, and other foliage, appreciating the natural splendor. There are also plenty of local birds that make their home at the gardens, adding to the overall atmosphere. Breathtaking, beautiful, and serene, the BoK Tower Gardens makes for a fun but relaxed family outing.

Personal Favorites

My favorite part of the gardens is historic Pinewood Manor. Built in the 1930s as a retreat for a steel tycoon, this Mediterranean-style manor is now a part of Florida’s history. With its own beautiful and meticulously groomed gardens, Pinewood Manor is a sight to behold.

Why You Should Go

It’s always nice when you and your family can learn something together. BoK Gardens gives you that chance, with its deep Florida history and natural beauty. The gardens also hosts events throughout the year, some geared specifically towards kids, that your family will love.

Plan Ahead

As with any garden park, there is a lot of walking. Be sure to prepare your kids and wear comfortable clothes. You can bring your own food and beverages, but BoK asks that you bring a picnic blanket if you plan to eat outside. The onsite restaurant, the Blue Palmetto Café, has sandwiches and other picnic fare, so if you want something bit different you might want your own snacks.


ICON Park

More than just a theme park, ICON Park is one of the most popular Orlando attractions. ICON Park includes The Wheel, a 400-foot monstrosity of a Ferris wheel. At this height, you can see the city in a way you never thought you would before. ICON Park also houses Sea Life Orlando Aquarium and Madame Tussauds Orlando, two spectacular attractions. Wander through the different habitants of your favorite underwater animals, or take your picture with astonishingly life-like figures of your favorite celebrities. With over forty different places to eat, shop, and explore, you’re going to love it!

Personal Favorites

What is particularly nice is that you can pick and choose where you would like to visit, or purchase a package that includes all the attractions. Unlike a conventional theme park, ICON Park is a sort of “pay as you go” kind of experience.

Why You Should Go

If you like spontaneity in your vacation, ICON Park is perfect. You can choose what to do on a whim, wander around and check out the shops, and grab a bit to eat. Tailor your time to fit your family and their needs, or make it an adults-day out. Whatever you choose, you’re going to have a great time.

Plan Ahead

For attractions like the Wheel or aquarium, you may want to consider buying a ticket in advance. With limited numbers right now, you don’t want to show up and not be able to get in. All the other attractions, like restaurants and shopping, you can wander through.


Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens

If you’re looking for a great family outing where you can just take your time and enjoy yourself, the Central Florida Zoo is a perfect choice. A fun blend of exotic animals, like cheetahs, giraffe, and warthogs, as well as other domestic creatures like goats and farm animals. You can also see a variety of birds, reptiles, and invertebrates.

Not only is this an incredible zoo, but there are other attractions here as well! Splash around in the tropical-themed water playground, or have a behind the scenes chat with a zookeeper. You can even try a bungee jump-like attraction…open to children as young as three! In addition to all this fun, you can also take a stroll through the botanical gardens, taking in the beautiful assortment of flora and fauna.

Personal Favorites

To me, the best attractions are the ones where you can get up close to the animals. At the Central Florida Zoo, they have three – Barnyard Buddies, Giraffe Feeding, and Rhinoceros Encounters. Each one gives you and your kids a chance to get right next to the animals, even touch or pet them! It’s one thing to see a rhino in an enclosure, it’s quite another to stand beside one.

Why You Should Go

Zoos are great for families, especially with elementary-age kids. The options at the Central Florida Zoo give you the chance to build your own itinerary and go at your own pace, which is a nice change from an amusement park. Moreover, with the other attractions available, there’s plenty to do and see other than the animals!

Plan Ahead

Especially with the splash ground, you want to make sure you have all the necessary items for all your activities. Whether that means bathing suits, extra clothes, and towels, or basics like snacks and sunscreen, you probably won’t just show up with just yourselves. You could have each child carry their own items in a small backpack, which spreads the load, and be sure to bring plastic bags for wet items.


Andretti Indoor Karting & Games

Looking for an exciting outing? Andretti Indoor Karting & Games is an awesome, grown-up arcade experience…with a ropes course, laser tag, and go-karting thrown in for good measure. If you have teenager, this is the perfect way to spend time together as a family and have a blast! Adults will also love Andretti, definitely not just for kids.

Using biz karts, zoom around the indoor track, navigating the twists and turns while you try to defeat the rest of the people in your party. High above the arcade, work your way through the ropes course, finishing in a thrilling zip line. From there, challenge your friends or family to a game of laser tag, playing in teams or every person for themselves. There are also different simulator options, putting you right in the middle of an action scene.

Personal Favorites

One of the best parts of Andretti Indoor Karting & Games is that it is pay as you go, meaning you only pay for the attractions you want to try. With no admission fee, you can do whatever activities you want, stay as long as you want, and then head out. It’s nice to have that flexibility, especially if you have more structured aspects to your vacation.

Why You Should Go

Let’s face it, it’s going to rain while you’re in Orlando. With that in mind, you’re going to need some rainy day activities up your sleeve. Of all the cool things to do in Orlando, this is one of the best indoor options. Also, if you have teenagers or a group of adults, you want to find something that is going to be fun and engaging. Andretti Indoor Karting & Games meets that need perfectly.

Plan Ahead

With so much to do, you might want to check out the pricing and packages ahead of time. While it is pay as you go, if you think you want to try everything you might want to consider a package, which could save you money. If you are paying as you use the different attractions, just be aware of your spending. It’s easy to get carried away when you’re just swiping your card, so you may want to budget ahead of time.


Crayola Experience – Orlando

Way more than just crayons, the Crayola Experience invites you and your children to explore and push the boundaries of imagination. Interactive stations and games encourage problem solving and play, with the reward of saving the world. Enjoy shows that explain the process of how crayons are made, as well as the process for creating the colors. Of course, there are plenty of places to color and create your own masterpieces!

In addition to these stations, there are a couple of playgrounds for your little ones to run around. One of the play areas is specifically for toddlers, with soft-play equipment and more size appropriate items. This is particularly nice, as you won’t have to worry about older kids running over your little ones while they play.  

Personal Favorites

I love all the educational aspects of the Crayola Experience. It’s so more than just a “crayon museum,” it’s as if a science museum and art center morphed together. This gives your kids a chance to learn something while they play, which is a major benefit!

Why You Should Go

Firstly, it’s great fun for kids. The Crayola Experience is also different from other fun things to do in Orlando, with all the unique aspects of the attraction. Second, this is another great indoor option for rainy days, while still being a blast. Even if it’s raining outside, it will feel sunny at the Crayola Experience! Finally, you will leave with special souvenirs, from a coloring page of your family to art created by your children.

Plan Ahead

There are particular guest protocols that the Crayola Experience has in place for the safety and security of all guests. One of the most important is the requirement of clear bags – any bag you bring in must be see-through. This includes purses and diaper bags. While that might seem a bit inconvenient, this is a security requirement. The easiest way to address this would be to use gallon zipper bags, filled with the essentials. You can also find clear backpacks several places online, which might be a good investment if you often travel to parks and stadiums.


WonderWorks Orlando

 A science-based, indoor amusement park, WonderWorks Orlando specializes in what they like to call “edu-tainment.” Bringing together educational scientific research with hands-on experiences, adults and kids alike will learn something new and have a blast!

Six different “Wonder Zones” have themed attractions to wow and entertain guests. In the Extreme Weather Zone, you can experience what a real earthquake feels like in a safely controlled setting. Test your strength in the Physical Challenge Zone, use a pulley system to raise yourself off the ground. Try on a real EVA suit in Space Discovery to find out what real astronauts feel like. Over in the Wonder Art Gallery, learn about optical illusions and see art pieces featuring these techniques. Make music on the giant piano in the Light & Sound Zone. Finally, learn how different everyday items work in the Imagination Lab. With over 100 different exhibits, you’ll find plenty to do!

Personal Favorites

Not only are these amazing exhibits, there are different attractions for you to try! One of my favorites is the ropes course, designed with families and kids in mine. Some ropes courses are difficult, and can be scary, but this one is intended to fit the comfort level of each participant. Younger kids will gain confidence on the easier obstacles; while more advanced athletes can push themselves to new heights on the harder challenges.

Why You Should Go

Again, this is an awesome rainy day option. Not your typical museum, there will be plenty to do for even the most active kids. In addition to the fun, adults and kids alike will learn something, which is a bonus. WonderWorks wants kids and their parents to bond while they enjoy the learning process together, and help form memories you’ll have forever.

Plan Ahead

There are different passes and packages you can buy to access the attractions, so make sure you choose the one that’s right for your family. If you’re going to do the ropes course or laser tag, there are certain clothing requirements, so make sure you dress appropriately. Sorry, no flip-flops!

WonderWorks also does special sensory days for children or adults with special needs. If you’re travelling with someone who has sensory sensitivities, this would be a great chance for you to take them out! The exhibits are altered to decrease stimulation and insure your family member will have a great time. Since these are special days, you want to find out if the next one will be during your trip.


Grace Hoyos, Staff Writer

Grace loves to travel, particularly to Florida or anywhere with a beach. Her ideal vacation is a mix of theme parks, historical sights, and local cuisine. That and a Caribbean cruise.