Walt Disney World Parks
Walt Disney World is Florida's most popular family attraction and has been for many years. Of its four parks, Magic Kingdom is the most iconic, with Cinderella's Castle standing at the center of the park. Epcot's Spaceship Earth geosphere stands at the entrance of this exposition-style park, which includes Future World and the World Showcase, an around-the-world experience that gives visitors a chance to peek at different cultures and meet popular international Disney characters like Mulan, Belle, and Mary Poppins. The Hollywood Studios park gives visitors the opportunity to see into the world of movie magic, with exciting stunt and special effect shows and even tours through actual studio space. The Kilimanjaro safari experience at Animal Kingdom is an amazing way to see African animals run free in a natural habitat, and the massive Tree of Life makes the perfect backdrop for family photos.
Universal Theme Parks
Universal Studios Florida is a combination theme park and working studio that was designed in consultation with Steven Spielberg to give visitors an interactive experience with the filmmaking industry. Universal's Islands of Adventure has seven themed island parks that are each dedicated to a film franchise. These include Seuss Island, The Lost Continent, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, Skull Island, and Marvel Superhero Island. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the park's newest addition, complete with Hogwarts Castle and Hogsmeade. Diagon Alley extends into the Universal Studios park, where visitors can join Harry's escape from Gringotts bank. Universal Studios also has regular events and celebrations for the whole family. City Walk, also part of Universal, is a huge entertainment complex, featuring dining, shopping, movies, and other day and night entertainment.
Orlando's SeaWorld is known for its massive aquariums, dolphin and whale shows, touch pools, and many exciting rides. Although guests may no longer feed the dolphins, you are still able to reach into the interactive dolphin pool and pet these beautiful, intelligent creatures. Those who want to get even more hands-on can sign up for an up-close tour with the dolphins, killer whales, sea lions, penguins, or sharks. Other special tours include a behind-the-scenes look at SeaWorld operations and tours of the manatee rehabilitation center or the dolphin nursery, where the park's youngest dolphins are cared for. In addition to the plethora of sea life, the park has many exciting rides for all ages, including several water rides that are refreshing on a hot Florida day. The park's most popular thrill rides are its roller coasters, including the Mako hyper coaster, the Manta Coaster, and the Kraken Virtual Reality Coaster.
Located next to SeaWorld Orlando, Discovery Cove is one of the area's premier attractions. Visitors to the park can interact with the natural ocean life, including snorkeling along a coral reef, exploring underwater with a full dive helmet, wading among stingrays, and swimming with the dolphins. There is also a large aviary where you can interact with exotic birds, a relaxing river that you can explore and snorkel in, and a tropical swim area where you can splash in the pools or relax in a lounge chair on the sandy beach. Visitors can purchase an all-inclusive, one day pass, and due to the extreme popularity of Discovery Cove it is best to book a reservation well in advance during peak season.
Typhoon Lagoon is Disney's biggest and most popular water park. There are a wide variety of attractions for all ages, including kiddie rides and swimming and splash areas, like Ketchakiddee Creek, a play area designed for young children. Surfers will love the huge wave pool, and those who want to give it a shot can sign up for surfing lessons. Other attractions include a peaceful ride down the lazy river, whitewater adventures on Miss Adventure Falls, and thrill rides like Humunga Kowabunga. There are also multiple waterslides throughout the park for various age levels, and even a sandy beach where kids can play while parents relax. An alternative water park is Disney's Blizzard Beach, which has a ski-resort theme and features a long, winding river that circles that park, as well as a variety of water rides for the whole family.
Volcano Bay is Universal's water theme park. Krakatau sits at the center of the park and houses the popular Aqua Coaster thrill ride. Waturi Beach faces the volcano, where guests can relax on a sandy beach and swim in the large wave pool. Here, guests can use one of the provided lounge chairs, upgrade to padded loungers, or even rent a cabana. Exciting park attractions include huge waterslides, tubing, and thrill rides, and there are also plenty of areas dedicated to younger guests, including a zero-entry wading area. As an added convenience, the park has introduced the TapuTapu, a waterproof wearable device that allows guests to electronically get "in line" for one ride at a time, and then spend their wait time relaxing instead of standing in the hot sun in a line. The device is free and given to each guest upon entrance.
Kennedy Space Center
About an hour's drive away, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is one of the most popular day trips from Orlando. It gives tourists the unique opportunity to see one of NASA's best-known operations centers. Here, you will find the Heroes and Legends exhibits, which introduce guests to the lives and careers of those who made the space program possible, from engineers to early space explorers. This also includes the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, as well as the Rocket Garden where you can see the rockets from some of NASA's most famous flights, including the Apollo and Gemini programs. Other exhibits include lunar exploration, mock astronaut training, the shuttle launch experience, and an IMAX theater. If you time your visit right, you can even watch launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Gatorland has thousands of alligators, crocodiles, and other reptiles, some of which perform in daily shows and demonstrations. The "Alligator Jumparoo" show and "Gator Wrestlin'" are two examples. The facility is also home to rare leucistic alligators, which are white. A small train does rounds on the grounds, and an observation tower provides views of the breeding marsh and surrounding region. One of the more recent additions to Gatorland is the zipline that runs over the top of alligators and crocodiles. For the less adventurous there is still the self-guided swamp walk, and kids will enjoy the Gator Gully Splash Park.
Exotic Animal Experience
Orlando's Exotic Animal Experience offers visitors the chance to have personal encounters with some of the world's most interesting animals. Residents at the park include several species of kangaroos and lemurs, owl monkeys, kinkajou, deer, and two-toed sloths. All visits are by reservation only, and guests have the choice of a group experience, private visit, and special packages that allow you to spend extra time with the animals. There is also a "Simply Sloths" option for those who want to spend all their time hanging out with the world's most adorable critters.