This small central Florida city is without a doubt the world's theme-park capital. In and around Orlando there are as many as 15 parks for a variety of ages and tastes - and if you rent a car, in a week you could manage to visit nearly half of them (including if you're a driver under 21).
In order to make this work, you of course need to decide in advance which parks you want to visit (and in some cases also reserve ahead). The main half dozen or so are of course the ones operated by Disney World and Universal Studios, but they're far from the only game in town. Here's a rundown of five which I think are especially worth at least a day of your vacation time.
This all-inclusive tropical-themed resort where visitors spend the day is comprised of artificial lagoons with coral reefs and wrecks, beaches, and a tropical river. You can snorkel or have a helmeted stroll along the reef and into an underwater cave; swim with dolphins or stingrays; float on a lazy river; and have tropical animal encounters with otters and tropical birds (including hand feeding). Loungers, umbrellas, and tropical surroundings await you on the beach. The ticket price includes everything you need: breakfast, lunch, snacks, drinks, equipment, boats, sunscreen, towels, and parking. You only need to bring a swimsuit and a change of dry clothes. From $149 per person.
Fantastic for families with young children and located in Winter Haven, less than an hour's drive from Orlando, 145-acre LEGOLAND is, yes, based on millions of the colorful Danish bricks so popular with the little ones (and not a few bigger kids, too). In addition to amazing LEGO constructions and mini cities, there are more than 50 rides, plus an adjacent water park with slides and pools; a botanical garden; colorful, interactive shows; race tracks; restaurants; and shops (including one of the world's largest LEGO stores). While waiting for their turn on the rides, kids can collect LEGOs, and there are also three fun hotels on the premises. From $52.50 per person; $25 more for theme park plus water park.
Here aquarium/zoo meets theme park, where animal displays like Wild Arctic and exciting shows focus on the fauna from various aquatic environments, including polar bears, walruses, seals, sea lions, killer whales, dolphins, stingrays, giant marine turtles, manatees, pelicans, alligators, penguins, sharks, myriad fish species, and much more (in some cases including opportunities to, say, feed sea lions or swim with dolphins). In addition, there are more than a dozen rides and themed areas like Sesame Street Land for younger children; they range from mild to wild, with the most popular including the Kraken roller coaster and Journey to Atlantis. Ticket price from $89.99/person
An acronym for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, this "edutainment" park symbolized by the geodisic sphere dubbed "Spaceship Earth" is all about scientific and cultural discovery - served up, of course, in a highly entertaining way. Epcot is divided into two primary zones:
- Future World: Its pavilions show how the latest, innovative technologies can be applied. It includes fascinating shows as well as exciting rides and simulators such as “Mission: Space,” in which you'll experience starting overloads and weightlessness, then maneuver among asteroids and overcome obstacles to fight the enemy together with your crew. Others include a race car test track, a journey through the human body, and a Guardians of the Galaxy ride.
- World Showcase: Here visitors can get a taste of the culture, food, and drink of 11 countries including China, France, Germany, Mexico, and Great Britain.
Tickets from $109 per person.
Straddling Universal's Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida parks, this 20-acre zone brings to thrilling life the world of Harry, Hermoine, Ron, and the rest of the gang from the wildly successful eight-book-and-film franchise. Centered around recreations of Hogsmeade village and Diagon Alley, its half dozen or so rides are a mix of roller coasters and interior extravaganzas utilizing 3D projections (the flagship example being Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, housed in a bewitching recreation of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry). You can also watch five live shows; browse shops such as Ollivanders where you can buy a variety of wands; and in restaurants like Three Broomsticks and The Leaky Cauldron quaff intensely sweet butterbeer with your fish and chips, shepherd's pie, and other typical English fare. Come in the morning, before most of the crowds show up. From $154.43 per person.