Shamu photo - SeaWorld Orlando

Poolside at a dolphin show at Seaworld Orlando, Florida. (ThinkStock)

What to do in SeaWorld Orlando

Ride-oriented theme parks tend to thrill big kids and teens, leaving younger children and squeamish adults without much to do. And not every kid is into costumed characters and light parades. Luckily, SeaWorld Orlando, located adjacent to sister parks Aquatica (a water park) and Discovery Cove (a marine park offering interactive experiences with dolphins and other sea animals) and just ten minutes from downtown Orlando, offers something for everyone in the family. Even the most jaded teen can't help but get excited over the prospect of swimming with dolphins.

Ocean life definitely takes center stage at SeaWorld, but this is no stodgy aquarium: There's much more to do than just stare at sea creatures through glass. Kids and adults can feed seals and sea lions and touch sharks and stingrays. Guests over the age of ten can actually get into the water and play with beluga whales and sharks with the Immersive Animal Connection (additional fees apply, and guests should reserve spots ahead of time). And the hands-off attractions go above and beyond typical aquarium fare: You can get a close-up view of mother dolphins and newborn calves, see rescued manatees as they're brought back to health, or walk through a 60-foot-long Plexiglas tunnel as sharks swim overhead.

Thrill seekers won't want to miss Manta, a one-of-a-kind flying roller coaster; Kraken, a 65-mile-per-hour floorless coaster named after the beast in Clash of the Titans; and Journey to Atlantis, a speedy water ride that will leave you soaked. Young kids should venture to Shamu's Happy Harbor, offering a mild-but-fun family-oriented roller coaster and other gentle rides. Parents can get off their feet for a few minutes while the kids enjoy the play area with its four stories of climbing nets, tunnels, slides, and a water maze.

A variety of dining options and shows offer even more ways to get off your feet (and out of the Florida sun). Dine under the sea at the Sharks Underwater Grill, or have dinner with an orca backstage at the Shamu show "Believe." Killer whales, sea lions, dolphins, divers, and more perform in one of many live theatrical performances.