Orlando, Florida, is arguably one of the most magical and fun-filled cities and a great place to vacation. However, with all the attractions and theme parks available, it might get a little overwhelming and confusing, especially for first-time travelers.
But don’t worry! We are here to make sure that you don’t miss out on anything and will experience the most magical and incredible trip. Here’s the ultimate list of the top 20 things you must do while in the Sunshine State:
1. Relive your childhood at Universal Studios Florida
Dreams come true at Universal Studios, Florida. It has something for both adults and children alike. Watch all your childhood memories of television come alive, and go behind the screens and beyond the screens to jump into the action and adventure of your favorite movies.
At this working film and TV-production facility you’ll find an amazing array of rides, shows, movie sets, and attractions that put you right in the picture. You can battle alongside Optimus Prime and Bumblebee from Transformers on an exciting 3D rollercoaster ride, visit Springfield and have a meal at Krusty Burger, join Gru and his minions on their latest misadventures, and so much more.
The dining and shopping are all themed, and there’s always something exciting happening at Universal Studios Florida.
Meet your cartoon friends in real-life!
2. Come face to face with dinosaurs at Islands of Adventure
Islands of Adventure is a recent expansion of Universal Studios, and, while it is similar to the old one, Islands of Adventure provides all-new thrilling rides and unique themes. It is home to the world’s most cutting edge rides, attractions, and interactive shows, once again allowing you to live (or re-live) your favorite fictional stories, myths, and tales.
You can join the battle of good versus evil at Marvel Super Hero Island, or even come face to face with the larger-than-life dinosaurs from Jurassic Park and walk along the pages of Dr. Seuss’ colorful and quirky children’s books. Whatever you choose, you are guaranteed to have an epic time.
3. Feel alive at Disney’s Magic Kingdom
It’s easy to have a great time at Orlando, but there is one place where times become magical and your vacation truly turns into an adventure. That’s right, you guessed it. Walt Disney World. Start off your magical journey at the aptly named Magic Kingdom Park, commonly known as the Magic Kingdom. This is the first-built of the four theme parks at the Walt Disney World Resort. Awaken to a world of wonder, where the word ‘impossible’ doesn’t mean much, where castles and flying elephants come true, and where everyone who is young, or young at heart, is sure to have a wonderful time. The Magic Kingdom offers an endless list of unbelievable and thrilling rides, including the Haunted Mansion, the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, and the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. While you’re maneuvering through Magic Kingdom, look out for Disney characters that come to life and be sure to bring your camera for a lasting memory of this magical place.
4. Marvel at technology in Disney's Epcot
Epcot is the second of four theme parks built at Walt Disney World. Sometimes referred to as a ‘Permanent World’s Fair’, this theme park truly celebrates technological innovation as well as international cultures. Explore exciting attractions, enchanting international pavilions, award-winning fireworks, and seasonal special events. Epcot has 2 distinct realms: Future World, which features technological innovations, and World Showcase, which shares with guests the culture and cuisine of various countries. Enjoy 11 countries from around the world: Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, the United States, Japan, Morocco, France, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Climb aboard a Deep Space Shuttle, or visit the Forbidden City, and let your imagination run wild.
5. Walk with wildlife at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the fourth of four theme parks built at the Walt Disney World Resort, and it is one of the largest animal theme parks in the world. It is home to more than a whopping 2,000 animals from 300 species, and the creatures roam freely around the compound. This park reflects Walt Disney’s dedication to conservation and commitment to animal care and awareness. It’s a great place to get up close to live animals and teach children through hands-on experiences. You can even hug a goat or feed a donkey! There are plenty of opportunities for fun, with a total of 6 ‘lands’ to explore, namely Oasis, Discovery Island, Africa, Rafiki’s Planet Watch, Asia, and DinoLand. Each one offers something unique and special, and guarantees a fun learning experience for children.
6. Step into the action at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Here is where ‘movie magic’ is taken to a whole new level. Dive into a whole other world of glitz and glamour and relive Hollywood’s Golden Age. The attractions here are all based on blockbuster movies and top TV shows, like The Muppets and Star Wars. Step into the shoes of Walt Disney himself, and be inspired by seeing the priceless artifacts he created, or catch a live production in a theater. You can even learn how to use The Force at the Jedi Temple. With all this and so much more to offer, be sure to visit this gigantic, vibrant movie-set park. It features 7 different sections: Hollywood Boulevard, Echo Lake, Muppet Courtyard, Sunset Boulevard, Commissary Lane, Pixar Place, and Animation Courtyard. Lights, camera, action!
7. See the magic come alive at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is actually located in Universal Studios, but we feel we have to explain what this remarkable place has to offer in more detail, obviously! This is heaven on earth for all you Potterheads out there.
Step into the iconic Hogwarts Castle, and visit the Forbidden Forest too, where there are tons of surprises and rides for you to truly immerse in an authentic Harry Potter experience. After you’re done, climb aboard the Hogwarts Express and explore the quaint little village of Hogsmeade, or journey to Diagon Alley. You can shop for actual items mentioned in the series, including sweet treats from Honeydukes, or try some famous Butterbeer, or even buy your own magic wand from Ollivander’s.
Get ready to explore more of Harry Potter’s world than ever before!
8. Explore the watery wonderland of Disney’s Blizzard Beach
Disney’s Blizzard Beach water park, was a one-time ski resort that has melted into a watery wonderland. Get your adrenaline fix from zipping down the slushy slopes of Mount Gushmore on one of the world’s tallest and fastest waterslides. If you want a more relaxed experience, float down the tranquil river and sunbathe on the white-sand beach. There’s something for everyone, even small children under 48 inches (122 centimeters) tall can splash around in their own water play area, complete with a cute little snow-castle fountain and kid-sized waterslides. All water areas are heated, except for the ice cave of the Cross Country Creek, which offers a chilly experience.
9. Old Town
If you feel like you need a break from theme parks, Old Town is the perfect place for you. Built in 1986, Old Town is a re-creation of a classic Florida town, featuring historic architecture and really unique storefronts. At Old Town you can experience shopping, dining, and entertainment that breaks from the typical theme park experiences in Orlando.
Old Town is conveniently located just minutes from Disney, Universal, SeaWorld and International Drive. It is a unique walking district that transports visitors back in time. Stroll down beautiful, tree-lined brick streets and take a journey to the past while exploring more than 50 unique shops, restaurants, bars, and family-friendly amusements.
Old Town is the perfect destination for an afternoon or night of fun with friends and family. You can mine for gold at Black Market Minerals, buy handmade craft soaps at Soap Company, or even catch a good old-fashioned magic show at Great Magic Hall. Alternatively, simply relax with a cocktail of your choice while enjoying a concert at the grand Main Stage.
10. Orlando Science Center
This might not boast hair-raising rollercoaster rides, but it’ll still blow your mind. The Orlando Science Center is a private science museum, with the vision of providing experience-based opportunities for learning about science and technology. If you visit the center at night, be sure to use their largest public refracting telescope to catch a breathtaking glimpse of the Florida night sky, glimmering with millions of stars. The Cinedome screens educational films in its state-of-the-art spherical theatre. Apart from its permanent exhibits, the science center hosts several temporary exhibits based on current trends, like a Star Wars exhibit or a dinosaur exhibit, so be sure to find out what their latest exhibition is, and be prepared to be awed.
11. Bounce in the AirHeads Trampoline Arena
If you are looking for something fun but also want to get some exercise, AirHeads Trampoline Arena is the premier entertainment option for you. It caters to people of all ages and the arena itself is just EPIC. The whole indoor compound is just one big trampoline, made up of smaller trampolines, and that just spells fun. This is a place that will inspire kids and allow them to expand their imagination, and literally experience the thrill of flying and bouncing through the air. And here’s the best part: adults can join in too! Once you’ve jumped around long enough and worked up quite an appetite, they also serve food that will please everyone’s palette. All in all, AirHeads Trampoline Arena guarantees good, family fun for everyone.
Gatorland is a 110-acre (44.5-hectare) theme park and wildlife preserve that combines that sweet ‘Old Florida’ charm with new exciting twists and entertainment spots. It offers affordable family fun, and stays true to Florida’s name of the ‘Alligator Capital of the World’. Gatorland showcases thousands of alligators and crocodiles, including four extremely rare leucistic ‘white’ alligators. They also offer other enclosures for you to experience different creatures, including the free-flight aviary, a petting zoo, and very carefully-choreographed animal shows. The pièce de résistance? A thrilling Screamin’ Gator Zip Line! Gatorland is sure to make your day be filled with fun and let you create happy memories.
13. Dine at a supersized McDonald’s
Florida is home to many things, and one of them is a remarkable, better-than-any-other McDonald’s outlet. First of all, the outlet is in the shape of a giant bag of fries. Everything in the outlet is very high-tech. To accommodate the large number of Mcdonald’s-enthusiasts, this outlet features a touch-screen ordering system that makes fast food even faster. As for the food, while they have fan favorites like McChickens and McWings, they also sell really good pastas and pizzas! As if that’s not enough, they also offer a full dessert bar, with every type of sweet treat you could possibly think of. To amp up the fun, this restaurant has plenty of cheap arcade games to keep everyone entertained.
14. Drive to the birthplace of speed
Daytona Beach is THE beach to be at while in Florida. Sunny skies, pristine sands, and warm waters. It’s the perfect place to have some fun in the Florida sun. Experience all the fun water activities offered, including swimming, surfing and snorkeling. There are also luxurious beach resorts and thrilling rides and attractions around the area. Be sure to visit the newly-renovated Daytona Beach Pier, which is quite often overlooked by visitors. It is, in fact, a place of historical importance and, honestly, a beautiful place to relax and watch the sunset.
15. Visit the Kennedy Space Center
The Kennedy Space Center is an official NASA visitor complex, and is perfect for anyone who is even a bit interested in science. The different exhibits in the center will broaden your horizons and blow your mind. The Space Center offers IMAX movies, interactive space-flight simulators, a Shuttle Launch Experience, and the Astronaut Hall of Fame, just to name a few. Visitors get to see where the rockets are built, as well as they way they are transported to the launch area. The bus driver furnishes good information during the bus tours, and, along the way, there are several short videos giving visitors interesting facts about the space program. The center also has numerous life-sized rockets on display. There is a lot to see, and it’s especially brilliant if you’re a science enthusiast!
16. Be awed by the Mennello Museum of American Art
The Mennello Museum is located on the shore of Lake Formosa. It has multiple gallery spaces that are used to showcase art exhibitions featuring American art of all genres and from diverse time periods. The museum is affiliated to the Smithsonian, so it also incorporates Smithsonian resources in its art collection, making it the largest public art collection in the state of Florida.
The surroundings of the Mennello Museum gives it an undeniable charm. The Sculpture Garden is always open to the public and is most recognized for the 350-year-plus sprawling live oak tree, that they playfully named “The Mayor”. Apart from the oak tree, numerous sculptures can be found in the surrounding Old Florida landscape, and there are nice walking paths, which makes it perfect to take a nice stroll around and enjoy the scenery.
17. Shop at the Mall at Millenia
The Mall at Millenia offers an extraordinary experience for both Floridians and visitors alike. It is an upscale and contemporary mall, home to over 150 luxury brand stores, services, and eateries, providing an unparalleled shopping experience. The mall features an international collection of luxury brands, including Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Chanel, and Cartier. These coveted retail offerings are presented in a dramatic architectural environment complemented by superior amenities and guest services. Indulge in an environment created with impeccable details and adorned with exclusive art. Enjoy a place that is home to relaxing fountains and breathtaking glass-ceilings, surrounded by style, elegance, inspiration, creativity, freedom, and the latest trends from Paris, London and Milan!
18. Have a splashing time at Wet 'n Wild Orlando
This water park attracts crowds with thrilling slides, a wave pool, a lazy river and a kiddie beach. Just minutes away from Universal Orlando Resort, Wet ‘n Wild gives you more rides and more multi-person slides than any other Orlando waterpark. Share the excitement with family and friends while you experience park favorites. Race head-to-head on Aqua Drag Racer, the tallest and fastest ride of its kind in Florida. Share a dance on Disco. Have a blast at Blastaway Beach, Florida’s largest water play area.
19. Visit Lake Eola
Lake Eola is located in downtown Orlando, a 1-mile (1.6-kilometer) serene oasis away from city life. There are several activities, from feeding the swans to watching a show at the park’s Walt Disney Amphitheater. No trip to Lake Eola would be complete without a ride on the park’s iconic swan paddle boats. Revel in the surrounding scenery while on the swan ride. After you’ve worked up an appetite, grab a bite at Relax Grill, a casual lakeside eatery that serves lunch and dinner. On every Sunday, the park boasts the city’s best market, featuring fruits and vegetables, breads, an assortment of local cuisines, beer, wine, and a variety of artwork and stellar entertainment.
20. Visit International Drive
International Drive is your one-stop-shop for all things fun. It is a major 11.1-mile (17.9-kilometer) stretch, and is the city’s main tourist strip. Be prepared to spend an entire day there, and, even then, it might be difficult to wrench yourself away from all the exciting experiences International Drive has to offer. From extensive shopping in countless outlet stores, to so many restaurants that you’ll be spoilt for choice, and not to mention that it is home to several attractions like SeaWorld and mini-golf. The nightlife is also very exciting and has a lot to offer, with the city’s best bars located right here, including ICEBAR Orlando, the world’s largest permanent ice bar! There is truly something for everyone at International Drive, with increased convenience and extra fun.
Always fun in Florida
The city of Orlando, Florida, is truly a vacationer’s paradise. The places are sure to spark the imagination of children, as well as reignite the child in every adult. While Orlando is famous for Disney World, be sure to venture out and discover all the other things that this beautiful, fun-filled city has to offer.
This article was originally published on May 17, 2016
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