Family Travel Guide to Orlando and its Theme Parks

 

Orlando, Florida is one of the most visited places in the United States. The city has the best theme parks in the world. In fact when you think Orlando, theme parks like Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld are the first things that come to mind.

The city attracts approximately 48 million visitors per year and about one in every twelve visitors is from a foreign country. Each one of the million who have already visited the theme parks have their own cherished idea of what makes this place enchanting.

Orlando caters to all age groups, interests, cultures and levels of participation. Whether you are traveling solo, as a couple or with friends and family, you will find that Orlando offers a unique taste to your indoor and outdoor adventures, entertainment, shopping, dining, golf, spas and nightlife. But of course, traveling to Orlando is never complete without a visit to one of the theme parks.

Reading Suggestion: See 5 tips, like when to book your ticket, from the Hopper research team that can save travelers hundreds on their flights to Orlando.

Walt Disney World Resort

The world’s largest and most visited theme park resort, Walt Disney World is made up of four theme parks: the Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. Disney’s Typhoon and Blizzard Beach are its two water parks.

The resort has 24 hotels and resorts that are categorized into Value, Moderate and Deluxe for travelers of any budget. They even have timeshare villas and campgrounds for visitors of different interests and needs.

Magic Kingdom

This is a place where dreams come true for little girls and boys and the young at heart. Magic Kingdom is the place of fairy tales, entertainment and where the Cinderella Castle takes center stage.

When visiting Magic Kingdom be prepared to have good walking shoes, load up your camera with enough memory and charged batteries for all the photos with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and the whole clan who will be waiting for all of you to take the photos of a lifetime.

Mickey has welcomed children to the Magic Kingdom for over 40 years.

Mickey has welcomed children to the Magic Kingdom for over 40 years.

Magic Kingdom is divided into six whimsical lands. They are Main Street USA, Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. The 107 acre park will take you into fantasies where you can become a pirate, warrior, princess or prince. Kids and adults alike can be the star or princess of the day!

You will find that this park not only caters to your teens or your grandparents, it is actually the most suitable park for children ten years and below. There are gentle and ‘first timer’ rides suitable for children ages four and below and less than 48 inches tall. One of the attractions for little children is the “it’s a small world” ride which has 300 brightly costumed dolls from 100 countries singing in 5 languages.

For the adventure seeking teen or adult, there is the Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Tomorrowland Speedway rides.

Families will have a fun time joining various parades on Main Street USA, performances and the night attraction of Fantasy in the Sky Fireworks. Magic Kingdom is by far the best representation of what Walt Disney had in mind when he set out to make Orlando the city that it is today.

Justin Bieber performing at Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom.

Justin Bieber performing at Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom.

Photo Credits: Disney Parks News Rooms

Epcot

Visitors can have a taste of 11 countries in one day at Epcot’s World Showcase. The park is divided into Future World and World Showcase. Epcot is the biggest of Disney’s four theme parks with 300 acres of land for you to explore. Prepare to do a lot of walking in Epcot.

Walk through Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, United States, Japan, Morocco, France, United Kingdom and Canada. As you walk along, try out the authentic food and drinks from the countries and catch a live entertainment show along the way.

Disney Characters are found all over the park for greeting and photo sessions. Children can collect and create their own souvenirs and their make believe passport stamped from country to country at their Kidcot Fun Stops.

Make sure you get the park’s live show schedule daily so you will not miss the day’s special presentations and performance locations.

One of the highlights in Epcot is their nightly show called IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, a show filled with fire, fountains, pyrotechnics and lasers on World Showcase Lagoon. Get there at least 45 minutes early to get a good spot around the Lagoon. Since the show produces smoke, a good tip is to take not of the direction in which the wind is blowing and move upwind.

Spaceship Earth, the iconic centerpiece of Epcot.

Spaceship Earth, the iconic centerpiece of Epcot.

Animal Kingdom

This park is divided into seven areas and they are the Oasis, Discovery Island, Camp Minnie-Mickey, Africa, Rafiki’s Planet Watch, Asia and Dinoland. Each area offers a unique group of animals and live entertainment.

Animal Kingdom is the biggest animal themed park in the world with 1,700 animals from 250 species. Most are walking freely in the enclosed park area of 500 acres.

This is the only park that closes before the sun goes down. But it’s also one of the only parks with a resort hotel and timeshare villas right in the midst of all the action. Imagine going on a Kilimanjaro Safari spotting zebras, rhinos, lions and giraffes on a rugged open-sided safari vehicle or singing along with Finding Nemo the musical, or being entertained by a full Broadway musical-stage show called Festival of the Lion King. Then imagine retiring to your spacious suite at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas and enjoying the scenic vistas from your own private balcony.

Observing the wildlife on the Wild Africa Trek in the Animal Kingdom.

Observing the wildlife on the Wild Africa Trek in the Animal Kingdom.

If you want a good scare, you can visit Dinosaur, where an angry, carnivorous and hungry Camotaurus greets you and your party.

According to the resort, the animals in Animal Kingdom consume about 3 tons of food a day, which is an average person’s 4.5 years food supply.

Hollywood Studios

If you like movies and live shows, go behind the scenes and take a glimpse of what Hollywood does with their stunts, make up, live shows and lighting.

In recent years, Hollywood Studios added The American Idol Experience for those who want to try it out without having to face the mean judges. This is a place to live out your dream of becoming a superstar performer.

You can join Jedi Training Academy to fight the forces of the Dark and go against Darth Vader.

Young apprentices practicing at the Jedi Training Academy.

Young apprentices practicing at the Jedi Training Academy.

Hollywood Studios’ Fantasmic is a 25 minute fireworks and water show where Mickey and his friends go against the Evil Queen. This is not a daily performance. Remember to check the days of performance before scheduling your day in Hollywood Studios.

For those who like water sports and fun, Disney offers Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. Blizzard Beach is a thrill slides galore while Typhoon Lagoon has more gentle and easy slides.

A thrill seeker plummets down a slide in Disney's Blizzard Beach.

A thrill seeker plummets down a slide in Disney's Blizzard Beach.

Photo Credits: Disney Parks News Rooms

Universal Orlando Resort

Want to fly with Harry? That is, Harry Potter. Or, touch the Amazing Spiderman or check out how many teeth the dinosaur in Jurassic Park has? These are the fantasies and at Universal Studios you can find yourself with your favorite stars and in your favorite movies.

Universal Resort is divided into two parks, the Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. The most popular attraction is the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

The movie comes alive as you walk through the towering Hogwarts castle gates, passageways, classrooms, shops of Hogsmeade, Three Broomsticks and Hogs Head. You will experience the magic of Harry Potter as read in books and watched in the movie theaters.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Hogwarts Castle.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Hogwarts Castle.

Universal Orlando is an actual movie set and visitors can choose different types of shows and rides along with the movie set attractions.

The main rides for young children below ten in Universal Orlando are E.T. Adventure and Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster. Most first timers will find these easy rides to be fun and relaxing, even grandparents will appreciate them.

The Cat in the Hat will transport you and your family into the pages of Dr. Seuss’s book. The Cat in the Hat is located in Islands of Adventure and has been one of the most crowded attractions in Universal Resort since its opening.

Islands of Adventure also has many attractions that are suitable for adults and teenagers. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man is an innovative ride that has been thrilling visitors for the last ten years. It uses state-of-the-art vehicles operating on a track and it combines special effects and physical sets to achieve a suspenseful and exhilarating ride that allows riders to be rescued from certain peril by Spider-Man.

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man is a visually thrilling ride.

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man is a visually thrilling ride.

There are also very exciting roller coasters in the Islands of Adventure. Dragon Challenge, formerly known as Dueling Dragons, is an inverted dual track roller coaster. Two roller coasters depart at almost the same time and race down the unique courses at speeds of up to 60 mph, all the while twisting, turning and coming within only a few feet of each other.

The Incredible Hulk Coaster is the other big attraction in the park for thrillseekers. This roller coaster reaches speeds of almost 70 mph and produces 4Gs of force. It has seven inversions and plenty of breakneck turns all over a small lake. Another exciting part of the coaster is its launch system. Instead of ascending by a slow and boring chain, the Incredible Hulk launches its riders to the top of their ascent, accelerating to 40 mph in only two seconds.

The twists, turns and inversions of the Incredible Hulk Coaster.

The twists, turns and inversions of the Incredible Hulk Coaster.

Photo Credits: Universal Orlando Resort

SeaWorld Orlando

For sea animal lovers who want a close encounter with whales, dolphins and sea lions don’t miss SeaWorld Orlando. SeaWorld offers visitors a behind-the-scenes tour where a guide will take you and your party for a 90-minute tour to interact with a penguin, see a polar bear in its den, and see how animal experts care for the rescued manatees and sea turtles.

Or spend some time taking a Dolphins Up-Close Tour to see how training and care are done in SeaWorld with the intelligent dolphins. This tour includes a chance to touch and talk to dolphins.

Killer whales performing in a show at SeaWorld Orlando.

Killer whales performing in a show at SeaWorld Orlando.

Pets Ahoy attraction takes you away from the sea animals to domesticated animals like cats, dogs, ducks, doves, pigs and other surprises that differ each week. Join with SeaWorld casts as they show stunts and tricks done by these pets. Although these are not exotic animals, the show will leave you wanting more. A most interesting fact is some of these animals are rescued from animal shelters.

SeaWorld Orlando offers visitor’s shows, exhibits, behind-the-scenes tours, educational programs and also rides. Visitors are entertained by trainers and animals and at the same time, are able to get into the thrills of riding on Kraken, the monster coaster, ranked one of the top coasters in the world. Kraken will take you through spiral turns over and over again and drop you off to another thrilling turn.

Kraken is considered one of the world's best roller coasters!

Kraken is considered one of the world's best roller coasters!

You can get wet on the Journey to Atlantis water rides going through dark water passageways and splash into the man made lake.

The best attire for your day in SeaWorld are swimwear and flip-flops. Don’t forget your towels and sunglasses.

Photo Credits: SeaWorld Orlando

A Night Out For The Adults

Outside The Theme Parks:

Most hotels in Orlando have babysitting services and kids’ clubs designed for parents who want a night out. There are on-site or in-room services. Check with your hotel before making a reservation if a night out is what you have in your vacation plan.

Two great places for dining out are Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar and Bahama Breeze Island Grille.

Downtown Disney:

Downtown Disney is the best hang out place for adults during the night. You can choose the House of Blues, Planet Hollywood or Portobello Trattoria.

Enjoy music and a hearty dinner at the House of Blues, a great time with cold beer, live music and scrumptious eats.

Portobello Trattoria brings you an authentic Italian dining experience by the lake and with flying seagulls. You can dine inside or on the patio by the lake. With its delicious pasta and Italian wine, you are sure to have a great night out.

In The Theme Parks:

A great option is the AAA five-diamond rated Victoria and Albert’s Restaurant at Disney’s Grand Floridian Hotel. With candles flickering and music playing in the background, this is a perfect place to relax, enjoy an artistically prepared meal and recommended wine to pair with your meal.

Bam! Emeril Lagasse planted his flagship restaurant at the CityWalk in Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. Emeril’s will be an upscale and expensive dinner experience for you and your partner.

Emeril's Orlando in CityWalk. This is the chef's flagship restaurant.

Emeril's Orlando in CityWalk. This is the chef's flagship restaurant.

It’s almost impossible not to enjoy Orlando with its great weather and so many world-class theme parks. Try to worry less about whether you’re seeing every attraction or park and just relax and have a good time on your vacation.

Photo Credits: Universal Orlando Resort

 

Tags: , , , , ,

avatar
Claudia is a writer and traveler who has lived and worked in Kuala Lumpur, Auckland and New York and has had the pleasure of traveling to almost 30 countries.