Orlando is undeniably one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world for families with children. The reason? Theme parks. And not just your run-of-the-mill ones, but the best and biggest.
Home to Disney World and Universal Studios, Orlando is touted as the “theme park capital of the world.” But its family-oriented appeal goes beyond these two park giants. You can visit kid-friendly museums, play in gorgeous gardens, and meet fascinating wildlife right smack in the middle of the city.
With so many attractions, which ones would you add to your itinerary? To help you plan the best trip, we have created a list of the top places to take your family in Orlando, Florida.
Are you still waiting for your acceptance letter to Hogwarts? Wait no more. Visit the Universal Studios to delve into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. When you have mastered magic and done fighting fire-breathing dragons, head to the realm of Despicable Me to meet the most lovable villains on the planet, the menacing minions.
At Universal Studios, you can experience your favourite movies and shows in real life. The park caters to every age and interest, from parents who are fans of E.T. (oh, the nostalgia!) to tots who love goofy SpongeBob.
But did you know that Universal Studios is just one of three parks? Opened in 1990, it is the first and original park at Universal Orlando Resort. In 1999, it was joined by Universal Islands of Adventure and, in 2017, by Universal Volcano Bay, a tropical-themed water park.
Each park features different rides, entertainment, dining scenes, and shows. To make the most of your family trip, you should visit all three and spend at least a day in each one. But if you’re short on time, you can visit Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in one day with a Park-to-Park ticket. The ticket also allows you to ride the Hogwarts Express and see Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, each in two different parks.
Founded 50 years ago, SeaWorld is not your cookie-cutter theme park. Yes, it has hair-raising roller coasters, cutesy paddle boats, spectacular live shows, endless entertainment, and a barrage of dining and shopping options. But first and foremost, SeaWorld is an animal rescue and rehabilitation centre with marine conservation as the core of its mission.
Meeting marine animals is one of the most exciting things about SeaWorld, especially when you’re travelling with kids too young for the thrill rides. You can see animals throughout the park at no additional cost. Pacific Point has sea lions swimming and frolicking in the water, Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin boasts five penguin species, and Flamingo Cove dazzles with hundreds of bright-pink birds. There are also aquariums for mantas and tropical fish and viewing tunnels for sharks and orcas.
If you want to interact with animals, you can book an animal experience tour. You can get close to the animals, understand their behaviours, and even pet them. You can also observe how trainers handle and care for them.
But of course, you can’t miss the rides! For thrill-seekers, the hyper-coaster Mako, the spinning Manta, and the rollercoaster-slash-flume-ride Journey to Atlantis will surely satisfy anyone’s adrenaline fix. The Sunny Day Carousel, Slimey’s Slider, and Rubber Duckie Water Works are more kid-friendly options. Don’t forget to drop by Sesame Street to meet your furry friends, Elmo, Cookie Monster, and the gang.
Walt Disney World
The “happiest place on earth”, Walt Disney World is the most-visited theme park in Orlando, welcoming millions of people annually. This massive entertainment complex covers roughly 25,000 acres and houses four of the world’s most famous theme parks: Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. It also has two water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, golf courses, and several Disney-operated hotels, shops, and dining venues.
So, what makes Disney World one of the best places to take the family in Orlando? The parks offer immersive activities for all ages. Magic Kingdom is where all childhood fantasies come true, with its Disney character meetups, festival parades, and fireworks at Cinderella’s Castle. EPCOT allows visitors a glimpse of the future with its avant-garde attractions, while Hollywood Studios depicts imagined worlds from popular Disney films, including Star Wars and Toy Story. Animal Kingdom is more of an animal conservation park where you can go on a spectacular safari expedition.
Another feature that makes Walt Disney World so exciting is its live stage shows that rival those on Broadway. In addition, you have endless dining and shopping options. And if you want to escape the heat, you can head to one of the water parks. You can get some fantastic Disney World packages for the family, ensuring a magical and memorable experience
Orlando Science Centre
One of the most underrated family destinations in the city, the Orlando Science Centre is an engaging museum that features exhibits and interactive activities “designed to inspire curiosity and exploration.” It makes a perfect break from Orlando’s theme parks.
The museum currently has eight exhibits and two theatres. NatureWorks describes the diverse ecosystems in Central Florida, DinoDigs showcases fossil models of dinosaurs and prehistoric marine creatures, and Fusion: A STEAM Gallery displays creative pieces that combine art and technology.
One of the museum’s goals is to teach through experience. At KidsTown, children can learn about scientific concepts through role-playing, while Kinetic Zone lets them design, build, and test their creations. The centre also has an observatory on the 6th floor, where visitors can stargaze on the first and third Saturday of the month, weather permitting.
Set on 20 acres of land, with over 50 attractions, ICON Park is a lively entertainment complex that draws families seeking adventure or a place to unwind. One of the most iconic features in the park is a 400-foot-tall observation Ferris wheel that affords dramatic views of the city.
If you are looking for adrenaline-fueled rides, you will be impressed with the 450-foot swing ride Orlando Starflyer and the 300-foot Orlando Slingshot, dubbed the tallest in the world. Those who prefer gentler rides can board the Pearl Express Train or get on the classic Carousel.
Apart from the rides, ICON Park has two museums, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum and Museum of Illusions. It is also home to Sea Life Aquarium, a virtual-reality arcade, Max Action Arena, and a 7D motion theatre.