Family Vacations to Orlando, Florida

Dueling Dragons Adventure Island Orlando, Florida
Dueling Dragons Adventure Island (courtesy, Orlando Tourism)

Orlando Highlights

  • Go on an African safari at Walt Disney's Animal Kingdom.
  • Explore the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and MGM Studios at Walt Disney World.
  • Get twirled and whirled at Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure.
  • Encounter sharks and penguins at SeaWorld.
  • Swim with dolphins at Discovery Cove.
  • Get hands-on with science and nature at the Orlando Science Center.

Orlando, family travel's 800-pound gorilla, draws the fun-loving with its major theme parks. So start at the parks and spend most of your time there, but save at least half a day for exploring some of Orlando's other kid-friendly treasures.

Walt Disney World Resort, with four theme parks, big and bold water parks, plus Downtown Disney, a dinner, entertainment and shopping complex, is still Orlando's number one attraction.

The Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom charms kids with classics such as Pirates of the Caribbean and "it's a small world." Epcot, divided into Future World and World Showcase, presents the popular 3-D version of Honey I Shrunk the Kids as well as Body Wars, a bumpy ride through the human body.

At Disney-MGM Studios, a celebration of moviemaking through rides and attractions, walk through a wardrobe to enter a stage set and see costumes and props from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In early 2006, Disney's Animal Kingdom, featuring real and imaginary animals, many from Africa, debuted Expedition Everest, a high-speed train ride through bamboo forests and past thundering waterfalls.

Universal Studios Florida is popular for turning action movies such as Men In Black, Alien Attack, and Terminator 2 into immersive rides loaded with special effects. Revenge of the Mummy, a psychological coaster, preys upon your darkest fears with scenes from The Mummy movie franchise. Although you never move faster than 45 mph, you ride in the dark, sense beetles crawling on your body, and face fireballs and bad guys. Universal CityWalk rounds out the experience with cafés, clubs, restaurants, and shopping. Islands of Adventure, Universal's sister park, adds more thrills with stomach-churning coasters based on comic characters like Spider-Man and Dudley Do-Right. Islands of Adventure is also home to Seuss Landing, a whimsical ride and play area based on scenes and characters from the much-loved Dr. Seuss books. On the High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train ride, which debuts in summer 2006, Sneetches (Seuss creations) stamp out stars, adding sparkle at the Star Wash. Then the train heads outside, offering riders an overview of the Seuss-inspired landscape. .

SeaWorld Orlando features "Believe," a killer whale show with choreography, a musical score, and panoramic LED screens. "Blue Horizons," another show, mixes dolphin antics with a spectacle of aerialists and animal trainers. You can see more critters at Manatee Rescue, feed stingrays and watch turtles at Key West, and admire the Clydesdale's in Hamlet. Want thrills? Speed along a track at 65 mph on Kraken, a floorless rollercoaster.

Discovery Cove, SeaWorld Orlando's sister park, delivers animal interactions in a resort-like setting of pools and sandy beaches. During the shallow-water dolphin swim, for ages six and older, kids rub, kiss, and learn about these playful mammals. You can snorkel in the Coral Reef, touch the velvety backs of stingrays in the Ray Lagoon, splash in one of the pools, and encounter brilliantly colored birds in the aviary.

Beyond the theme parks, kids discover the magic of science at the Orlando Science Center, where themed halls feature hundreds of hands-on exhibits. Science City's arches, pendulums, and bridges demonstrate how science is part of everyday life, while NatureWorks focuses on the coral reefs, salt marshes, and swamps that make up central Florida's topography. At Dr. Dare's Laboratory, part of TechWorks, parents and kids follow computer displays to perform experiments.

Kids will think of art differently once they see the Orlando Museum of Art's 80 historic and contemporary motorcycles, part of "The Art of the Motorcycle," on view through July 23, 2006. Permanent exhibits include works by American luminaries such as John Singer Sargent, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Ansel Adams.

Tips: At Walt Disney World, you can reserve a restaurant up to 180 days in advance by calling 1-407-WDW-DINE. At Universal Orlando, a guided VIP Tour gets you to the front of the line, generally for five to eight attractions. The fee is about $100 per person in addition to the park entrance, but if you only have one day to see the parks, this is a way to catch the most popular attractions.

Recommended Side Trip: Kennedy Space Center's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 23 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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