Orlando is synonymous with family fun, and what a difference a Mouse makes. Thirty-five years ago, if you planned a family trip to Florida your main Orlando vacation choices were Gatorland and Cypress Gardens. But in 1971, the 47-square mile Walt Disney World complex opened, and now on any trip to Florida Orlando tops the must-do list.
To get a grip on all Orlando offers, you can group attractions into amusement parks (Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Universal Islands of Adventure), movie parks (Disneyworld-MGM Studios, Universal Studios), animal parks (Disney’s Animal Kingdom, SeaWorld), and water parks (Typhoon Lagoon, Blizzard Beach, and Wet’N’Wild). Defying categorization is the ongoing world’s fair of Epcot.
Disney’s Magic Kingdom
The centerpiece of Walt Disney World is the Magic Kingdom. The first of many global spin-offs of California’s Disneyland, it is home to the childhood memories of generations, from Snow White to the Lion King, and everyone’s favorite rides, like Space Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Future World, dominated by the geodesic Spaceship Earth, offers popular edutainment rides like the interactive Mission:Space and Soarin’. Postcard pavilions from China, Mexico, and Morocco surround the World Showcase lagoon, where you can also enjoy a glass of wine in France or a stein of beer in Germany.
Disney Animal Kingdom
The best time to encounter the lions, elephants, zebras, and giraffes of the free-roaming Kilimanjaro Safaris is in the cool of the morning or at the late-afternoon feeding by the Lodge. In between, chill out on the Kali River Rapids, and then head indoors for the 3-D show Its Tough To Be a Bug.
Originally planned as a working film studio, thrill rides are now the draw at MGM, including the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith. During annual Star Wars Weekends, wookies pack the Star Tours ride.
Discover a world beyond Disney at Universal Studios. The toddlers can spend A Day in the Park with Barney, while bigger kids play action star on blockbuster interactive rides like Jaws, E.T., Terminator, and Shrek.
Universal Islands of Adventure
Now we’re talking thrill rides: Dueling Dragons suspends you beneath one roller coaster track as you hurtle into near misses with riders on a dual track. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man’s astounding 3-D effects makes it the best attraction in the world according to Theme Park Insider.
Shamu at SeaWorld welcomes you with a splash to this natural wonderland of belugas, penguins, manatees, and stingrays – the world’s largest zoological park. Take a thrill-dive on the Kraken roller coaster, or arrange to swim with real dolphins at Discovery Cove.
While kids (and the kid at heart) generally rule Orlando travel it can also be a grown-up Florida vacation hot spot. Explore the shops, restaurants, and nightclubs of Universal Studios’ CityWalk, SeaWorld’s Waterfront, or Disney’s Boardwalk. Downtown Disney’s Pleasure Island hosts a House of Blues and Cirque du Soliel’s La Nouba. Walt Disney World even offers theme-park ships to cruise Florida and the Bahamas.