What are the best places to visit in Orlando, Florida, and top things to do in town? When you’re planning a trip to Orlando FL, chances are that you (or the mini-yous that you are bringing with you) have your sights set on an amusement park vacation. And it’s true: The glistening expanse of Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Florida and LegoLand have become a trifecta of family fun in the sunshine state. But people often barely know where to start — or how to navigate — the character jungle, array of entertainment options, and the landscape beyond these three parks’ gates. Luckily, we’ve done the heavy lifting for you — so get ready to discover more of the best places to visit in Orlando, Florida, and top things to do in the city that’s filled with sun and fun.
When to Go
Orlando is almost always blessed with sunshine, so if it’s warm weather that you’re seeking, you’ll be satisfied at almost any time of year. Florida winters are generally mild, and the summers can get unbearably hot — just keep in mind that even if you’re a warm weather junkie, the summer months can be a little too humid. But there are other factors to consider aside from weather, as TripSavvy explains: “Holiday Periods” like Christmas and Easter, and “Peak Periods,” such as Presidents Day and Memorial Day Weekend, are the most popular — and also the most expensive. If you have some leeway in terms of your schedule and can avoid school holidays, trips in January to mid-February, many parts of fall, as well as midweek excursions can save you a huge chunk of change when you decide to go.
Insider’s Amusement Park Guide
You’ve obviously heard of Disney World, but unless you’ve already done your research, you might not know that this Orlando complex is actually divided into four theme parks, and that there are other great family parks beyond good ol’ Mickey’s franchise to take in. As Orlando Insider Vacations explains, each of these amusement park complexes is massive (like, the size of San Francisco/43 square miles type enormous). Here’s a quick cheat sheet on some of the best theme park options:
Walt Disney World – It’s the empire that started all of the Orlando madness, and still provides the classic vacation full of adventure, cartoon characters in real life, and family fun.
Magic Kingdom: As the most popular theme park in the entire world (let that sink in for a moment), and the first Disney park to open, the Magic Kingdom has a lot of street cred. From the park’s Main Street USA, which features rows of cute, old-timey shops selling sweets and Disney apparel, to the “jungles” of Adventureland, to the futuristic rides of Tommorowland, Magic Kingdom truly has it all. And the first time you and your family glimpse that iconic Cinderella Castle, or catch a fireworks or parade display, you’ll know that you’ve finally made it to Disney.
Animal Kingdom: If you and your family are looking for otherworldly animal adventures, you can’t go wrong with Animal Kingdom. DinoLand USA will wow parents and kids alike with its pre-historic dinosaurs and rides, which make you feel like you’ve traveled back in time several hundred million years. And since last year, Animal Kingdom’s newest section, Pandora – The World of Avatar, has reinvigorated the park with 3D adventures and magical Avatar-themed experiences.
Epcot Center: If you want to travel around the world but don’t quite have that many vacation days, head to Epcot for an international adventure. Experience architecture, savor food and buy trinkets from Epcot’s 11 countries, which include far-flung destinations such as Norway, China, Japan, Morocco and more.
Hollywood Studios: Become a star and experience the glamour of Hollywood at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Star Wars fans can geek out with a 4-D simulator adventure ride and children’s Jedi training, and the whole family can scream in unison at the famous Tower of Terror ride.
Universal Studios – Universal has become a staple alongside Disney in the past years, and the addition of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has further catapulted it to stratospheric fame. You can either purchase tickets to just Universal Studios, or also book a pass to its conjoined Island of Adventures, where magical creatures, superheroes and beasts intertwine to make an exciting world of fun.
SeaWorld– SeaWorld is one of the country’s finest marine parks, and offers up a chance for adventure seekers and animal lovers to get the best of both worlds. Get your requisite taste of twirling and skyrocketing and swirling rollercoasters, and then head to the park’s shows, which include majestic dolphin and whales jumping in tandem. If you want to actually interact with the animals, you can feed sea lions, hang out with penguins, or get up close and personal at the aquarium.
Discovery Cove – If you simply can’t get enough interaction with the animals, consider spending a day or two with dolphins at Discovery Cove. Here, you can experience underwater life by snorkeling, swimming with dolphins and lounging in the tropical swim area.
LegoLand – Are your kids obsessed with Legos? Then Legoland is perhaps the most exciting adventure you will ever take. This mix of interactive areas, like the building and creation zones, combined with water and land rides, will get your kids’ imagination flowing like no other.
Orlando Amusement Park Hacks
Since the Orlando amusement parks are some of the best in the world, this also means that they can get mighty crowded and expensive. As Go Informed suggests, sometimes it’s best to be prepared, and heed tricks such as getting to the amusement parks 30 minutes before opening to avoid outrageous lines, making sure to wear comfortable shoes, and buying tickets beforehand to get the best deals. Best of Orlando also suggests staying on property when you’re headed to the Disney resorts, as you’ll get all sorts of great perks and easy access to the theme parks.
Orlando Beyond the Parks
Although the amusement parks are a huge draw, Orlando has so much more to offer outside of the themed walls. As Smart Destinations explains, you can experience another adventure at the Kennedy Space Center or head to Gatorland to hang out with some mean, green, chompin’ critters. And if you really want to get away from the Disney madness and treat yourself to some quality cuisine, Orlando has a budding foodie scene that won’t disappoint. Eater put together a list of 13 incredible culinary choices in Orlando, including Ace Café Orlando, which feels like it’s half-British pub, half-American diner, and Reyes Mezcaleria, a trendy Mexican restaurant and bar with impressive tequila and mezcal offerings.
Freelance writer Lauren Paley is an avid writer and traveler. She has lived in Morocco, France, Tel Aviv and Prague, and has traveled to over 25 countries. Her interests include banh mi sandwiches, Boo the dog, trying (and failing) at languages, and outdoor movie theaters.