It’s no surprise when it comes to things to do in Orlando that the famous line-up of theme parks in the city takes up the bulk of the action–and rightly so. The tourist market is dominated by both Disney and Universal, with nine different parks between them, not to mention all the branded shopping, dining and nightlife experiences that don’t require a day pass.
While visiting Orlando without at least saying a quick’ hello’ to Mickey and Co may feel like you haven’t had the full experience, the city–and the central Florida area surrounding it –promises a lot of alternatives. Explore the quaint downtown district and downtown parks on foot, fly your way around the swamps, or take a tour of the eastern shores of the Kennedy Space Centre.
- Universal’s Island of Adventure
- Disney’s Magic Kingdom
- Universal Studios
- SeaWorld Orlando
- Kennedy Space Center
- Aquatica Park
- Gatorland Orlando
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Legoland Florida
- Discovery Cove
1. Universal’s Island of Adventure
While other theme parks around the city tend to be more responsive to certain age groups or tastes, Universal’s Adventure Islands has got it all. Live-action stunt shows to entertain the kids, rollercoasters and amusement parks hang above, and realistic simulators place you in the middle of your favorite movie–perfect for those who want to be a little closer to the ground for their adrenaline boost.
Islands of Adventure, opened in 1999, consists of 7 different areas, with every day the ‘ Wizarding World of Harry Potter ‘ bringing in the bulk of visitors. This lies next to ‘ The Lost World, ‘ ‘ Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park ‘ and ‘ Marvel Super Hero Island. ‘
2. Disney’s Magic Kingdom
The first-ever theme park of Disney World is one of its best. With its 6 different lands of fun and adventure, Magic Kingdom attracts a staggering 20 million visitors each year. The famed Cinderella Castle is the highlight of the park, illuminated by the famous fireworks display every night at 10 pm (which can be seen free if you get close enough).
Entrance to the park–beginning at around $100–unravels a world of Disney-inspired exhibits, parades, rollercoasters, swings, and simulators, most of which appeal more to the younger children. Adventureland, Fantasyland, Frontierland, Tomorrowland, Main Street, and Liberty Square are among the six territories.
3. Universal Studios
Universal Studios is drawing crowds in the bumper with its long line-up of rides and attractions influenced by Hollywood. Get next to those nasty yellow villains from Despicable Me, float through Springfield with The Simpsons, ward-off alien threats in the Men in a Black simulator or get trapped in a world of magic at the Escape from Gringotts coaster by Harry Potter.
The gameplay here is more focused on delivering an interactive film experience compared to Universal’s Islands of Adventure, with state-of-the-art technologies being used across the simulator spectrum.
4. SeaWorld Orlando
SeaWorld has long been a solid staple on the list of big-name parks in Orlando, with plenty of exhibits, water-themed rides. and hands-on wildlife activities to keep the family entertained for the day.
Venture through the shark tunnel to reveal an underwater world, get close to the’ Sea of Shallows ‘ dolphins and rays, and watch the orca whales demonstrate their talents at the iconic Shamu Stadium. Access prices vary from weekdays to weekends (starting at about $80 per ticket), and SeaWorld also has a variety of options including add-ons for access to the Aquatica waterpark and Discovery Cove.
5. Kennedy Space Center
One of the most popular attractions in the region is the Kennedy Space Center – away from all the theme park action, that is. It is located on Florida’s eastern coast, about 45 minutes from downtown Orlando.
The Kennedy Space Center has become so much more than just a site for NASA to launch its astronauts off the Earth’s surface thanks to Orlando’s relentless tourism boom. Now you can get close to the original Apollo rocket, stand with the huge Atlantis Space Shuttle, take a simulated trip out of the atmosphere, or even arrange lunch with a veteran astronaut.
The Kennedy Space Center is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the area, far from Orlando’s booming line-up of theme parks. At the same time, it is also a fully operational launch center for NASA.
With attractions including the first Atlantis Space Shuttle, a Saturn V moon rocket, a 3D IMAX cinema, a flight simulator and the Astronaut Hall of Fame, the visitor center here has plenty to keep the whole family entertained for the whole day. There is also a possibility to see real releases, with a detailed timetable on their homepage.
6. Aquatica Park
Orlando has a few water parks to choose from, and Aquatica, situated next to the larger SeaWorld site, is one of the biggest. Aquatica also provides many somewhat more special activities alongside all the usual water parks such as head-to-head slides, rapids, and high-speed flumes. Another such example is the’ Dolphin Plunge,’ where a pool full of dolphins moves through your translucent flume.
Aquatica is one of the newest and most famous waterparks in Florida, situated at SeaWorld, south of Orlando City. The amazing’ Dolphin Plunge’ gets the most attention here among a day full of enjoyable slides and water attractions. It’s a coaster that allows you to roll around the nearby lake through a translucent tunnel of dolphins swimming.
7. Gatorland Orlando
The highly-rated Gatorland by Orlando provides a little extra ‘ bite ‘ for a theme park with a difference – it’s home to dozens of live alligators and crocodiles.
The schedule of live shows and demonstrations here provides a great way to learn more about Orlando’s most famous reptiles, but what’s going to leave a lasting memory is the much-talked-about zipline ride across the gator-infested swamps – easily beating any other rollercoaster in the city to the title of Orlando’s scariest attraction!
Entrance is also very fair, as this is one of the tourist attractions in Orlando’s cheapest. Though, with stuff like the zipline and gator training sessions, you pay a little extra.
Orlando’s Gatorland blends nature, wildlife, and entertainment in the old-fashioned theme park. The consequence is one of the city’s highest-rated attractions… that is, beyond Disney and Universal. Sitting on a 110-acre swampy area just south of Orlando City, this theme park-cum-wildlife preserve is dubbed the’ World’s Alligator Hub.’
It promises a lot of activities for the kids, including an observation tower, alligator and crocodile exhibits, a marsh hike, a zipline, gator training sessions, and regular events.
8. Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Disney’s Hollywood Studios is where movie magic comes alive, with a family-friendly set of plays, rides, and attractions influenced by early Disney movies.
In contrast to live-action attractions and immersive simulators, rides like’ Tower of Terror’ and’ Rock’ n’ Roll Coaster ‘ provide some more pulse-raising anticipation. Movie buffs should also not forget to check out the excellent’ Animation Courtyard,’ home to some very interesting exhibits detailing Walt Disney’s life and work.
9. Legoland Florida
Legoland Florida features lots of things to see and do, including rollercoasters, massive Lego-built structures (such as California, New York, Kennedy Space Center, and Daytona Speedway), exhibits and events. Most of the attractions here are aimed at children aged 2-12, such as their famous Duplo fairground-style slides, the’ Dragon’ rollercoaster indoor-outdoor, wooden’ coastersaurus’.
Legoland has several customizable days’ passes, with adult and child rates controlled. There is also a nearby Legoland Water Park which charges around $100 for a single’ park-hopper’ card. Located right next to Lake Eloise in the Lakeland area, Legoland’s biggest park is about an hour’s drive from downtown Orlando.
10. Discovery Cove
As an alternative to the slightly more marketable SeaWorld, head to the adjacent Discovery Cove for a more intimate and unique experience. The top-rated experience here is the’ Dolphin Lagoon,’ which lies with the dolphins in the water on 30-minute small-group sessions, encouraging you to swim, touch and even kiss the dolphins (if that’s your thing).
The’ Freshwater Oasis ‘ area promises much of the same, with different animals such as otters and marmosets, while’ The Grand Reef’ is the place to check out some exotic fish with a selection of snorkels. Wind-Away River’ is a slow-flowing river crossing landscaped jungles, caves and waterfalls.
Nearly all the activities here involve getting into the water, so don’t worry about your bathing suits. Packages can be fully customized and booked well in advance through their website.
Discovery Cove Orlando is a theme park that offers a safe and easy opportunity to enjoy spectacular dolphin swimming activities on the bucket list.
A sister park to SeaWorld Orlando and Aquatica Orlando, where you can interact with the wildlife is home to recreations of natural environments. Dolphin diving is a common feature on the lists of things that people want to do before they die, and one that Discovery Cove Orlando will make a reality.
In the heart of the resort, just across the street from SeaWorld Orlando, the Dolphin Lagoon presents visitors with one of many of these majestic creatures for 30 minutes, during which they can reach, run, swim and even learn to communicate with it and ride its dorsal fin. All of this is under the guidance of professional professionals, ensuring that there is no risk to either visitors or pets.
The Grand Reef, a replica of a coral reef, home to thousands of fish and rays, is another part of the park. Among most of them, you can swim and snorkel, and through safety glass, you can see the reef sharks. With the SeaVenture underwater walking tour, priced at around $59 per person, you can even dive down to explore the reef and its inhabitants.
Discovery Cove Orlando also recreates a tropical river environment, allowing you to interact with creatures of freshwater like otters and marmosets. It provides comfort in natural surroundings, as well as the Wind-Away River and Serenity Bay – like a break in summer.