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Orlando Guide for Families
Orlando for Families Water Parks • North America’s largest wave pool • Shark Reef fish encounter • Lazy rivers for all ages
• More than 25 rides and attractions • Family-friendly shows and live music • Packages and promotions for tickets
Waterslides, lazy rivers and wave pools abound in Orlando. Located in Disney World, Typhoon Lagoon boasts the Surf Pool, North America’s largest wave pool. Blizzard Beach, another Disney World water park, is reminiscent of a ski resort, complete with rides like Runoff Rapids and Summit Plummet, one of the steepest waterslides in the world! Outside of Disney, Wet ‘n Wild water park features a plethora of rides for all ages, and SeaWorld’s Aquatica water park has the 105-foot Ihu’s Breakaway Falls water thrill ride.
A must-see attraction, Universal Orlando Resort houses two theme parks: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. At Universal Studios, families jump into action with a Shrek 4D show, Revenge of the Mummy ride and Dispicable Me: Minion Mayhem. Islands of Adventure features the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley, with the Hogwarts Express, which transports passengers between London and Hogsmeade, and shops like Ollivabders and dining spots like The Leaky Cauldron.
I-Drive 360 • Full entertainment complex • New attractions • Home to 400-foot Orlando Eye
Walt Disney World Resort
• Four theme parks • New Disney Springs • Themed resort hotels
• Marine-themed park with rides • Interactive activities with marine creatures • Inspiring exhibits and exciting shows
Disney World features four theme parks, two water parks, dozens of resort hotels and a veritable of character encounter opportunities, as well as ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex and Disney Springs, an outdoor mall with entertainment and dining options aplenty. And the fun doesn’t stop there. The “World” continues to reinvent itself with new and updated attractions, including the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and “Frozen” meet and greets.
SeaWorld Orlando is perhaps best known for its mission of conservation and education -- and to be sure, your kids are bound to soak up plenty of animal facts without even realizing they’re exercising their brain cells. Throughout the 200-acre property, your entire crew will enjoy inspiring exhibits, exciting shows and memorable opportunities to interact with marine creatures. Additionally, the park is home to thrilling roller coasters and beautiful grounds with lots of greenery.
Universal Orlando Resort
International Drive is the epicenter for entertainment in Orlando. In 2015, the area introduced the I-Drive 360 complex, with the 400-foot Orlando Eye observation wheel at its center. New attractions include Madame Tussauds Orlando, the SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium, and the Skeletons: Animals Unveiled! museum. Restaurants, live entertainment and shopping add to the lure for families. I-Drive 360 also offers free parking, making it easier than ever to access all of this fun during a family vacation. Additionally, the complex will feature the Fun Time Star Flyer swing ride -- the tallest in the world at 420 feet! -- and the Skyscraper roller coaster, set to be more than 500 feet tall. The Fun Time Star Flyer and Skyscraper are scheduled for completion in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
10 Best Orlando Resorts for Families 1.
1. Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek
Just 10 minutes from Disney World, Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek offers rooms with views of the nightly fireworks at Epcot, as well as complimentary shuttle service to all the Disney parks. However, it’s definitely the water park -- with two zero-entry pools, a 3-acre lazy river, waterslides and more -- that makes this hotel a great option for families. Plus, there are several restaurants, a kids’ club, spa and golf course onsite -- something for everyone in your group to enjoy.
2. Floridays Resort Orlando
A Family Vacation Critic Favorite, Floridays Resort Orlando delivers affordable rates for spacious suites with kitchens, a giant swimming pool (with a separate kiddie section), a man-made beach and game room. It also provides complimentary shuttle service to Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld Orlando.
3. WorldQuest Orlando Resort
Two- and three-bedroom villas with kitchens, dining rooms and living rooms provide a home away from home at this popular resort, located just a mile from Disney World. Although WorldQuest Orlando Resort lacks the glitz and glamour of nearby resorts, it offers affordable rates for large groups. The swimming pool and complimentary breakfast aren’t too shabby either, nor is the complimentary, scheduled transportation to Disney World.
4. JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes
Part of a massive property that includes the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes, JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes offers nearly 1,000 rooms, a plethora of family-friendly restaurants and one of the best pool complexes in Orlando -- it’s 24,000 square feet in size! The hotel provides complimentary transportation to Universal Orlando Resort, too.
5. Embassy Suites Orlando - Lake Buena Vista Resort
Guests at Embassy Suites Orlando - Lake Buena Vista enjoy complimentary transportation to Epcot, plus free, cooked-to-order breakfast and Wi-Fi. The all-suite resort, which was renovated in 2014, also offers full kitchens for added savings, plus outdoor pools, a kids’ splash pad and dive-in movies.
6. Nickelodeon Suites Resort
Before you meet up with Mickey and Minnie, spend time with SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer at Nickelodeon Suites Resort. Afterward, check out the giant water park (but beware of the dump buckets that dispense the famous green slime), play a game of laser tag or let little ones get a treatment at the kids’ spa. You’ll hardly want to leave the resort, but when it’s time, a complimentary shuttle will take you to Disney World; shuttles to Universal Orlando Resort can be arranged for a fee.
7. The Point Orlando Resort
You can’t get much closer to Universal Orlando Resort (unless you stay at a resort hotel) -- The Point Orlando Resort is within walking distance of it. The hotel also offers scheduled shuttle services to Disney World, along with onsite dining options, an outdoor pool, and family suites that sleep up to eight guests.
8. Fairfield Inn and Suites Orlando Lake Buena Vista
The Fairfield Inn and Suites Orlando Lake Buena Vista offers affordable accommodations just 1 mile from Disney World, and is within close proximity of Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld Orlando. A Walt Disney World Good Neighbor Hotel, it also offers complimentary breakfast, a food court and swimming pools, which include a kids’ splash zone.
9. Radisson Hotel Orlando - Lake Buena Vista
Less than a half mile from Disney World, Radisson Hotel Orlando - Lake Buena Vista is within walking distance of the parks, yet it still offers shuttle services. It also features family suites, free Wi-Fi, an outdoor pool and an onsite restaurant, where you can fuel up before a day with The Mouse.
10. Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World
Be careful if you decide to stay at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World -- you may never make it to the theme parks, considering the expansive property touts a 5-acre water park, complete with waterslides and a lazy river, plus kids’ clubs, five onsite restaurants, a spa and more. Guests also receive early park entry, character breakfasts and complimentary transportation to the parks.
4. Discovery Cove
Best Orlando Attractions Off the Beaten Path
1. Gatorland - Orlando
What began as a small tourist attraction in 1949 has evolved into the “Alligator Capital of the World.” Gatorland offers a look at Florida tourism when gators were considered exotic enough to be the main attraction. However, it has progressed into a 110-acre theme park and wildlife preserve, showcasing thousands of alligators and crocodiles, an aviary, petting zoo and breeding marsh with an observation tower. Besides observing the various animals in their habitats, kids can take a train ride or play at the Gator Gully Splash Park, while teens zip line above the various animals or try their best at the Rookie Wrestling experience (yes, they wrestle real alligators)
2. Orlando Science Center - Orlando
Discovery Cove may be located in Orlando, but families will feel like they’ve been transported to an island oasis filled with marine animal encounters and underwater adventures. An entire day is needed to soak up all the fun that is offered here. Experiences and activities include Dolphin Lagoon, where kids ages 6 and older can swim with dolphins; Explorer’s Aviary, with a variety of exotic birds landing on arms and heads begging to be fed; Freshwater Oasis, an underwater experience that brings guests face to face with otters; Serenity Bay, an 80-degree pool and water playground; the Grand Reef, where kids can swim with stingrays and colorful fish; and Wind-Away River, for guests who want to float along and take in the various wildlife around them. Aditionally, entry to SeaWorld Orlando and Aquatica are included in your Discovery Cove admission.
5. Medieval Times - Kissimmee
Medieval Times offers a family-friendly evening out in a themed surrounding that carries through to the live, interactive show, which you watch from your table while you dine. The dinner attraction in Kissimmee, Florida, is inspired by an 11th-century feast and tournament. The action takes place in a castle -- one of the nine located throughout the U.S. and Canada -- which is surrounded by a moat and drawbridge. Guests are served a four-course banquet in the arena while cheering for one of six knights competing in the joust and other tests of skill. Expect almost two hours of jousting, swordsmanship, hand-to-hand combat, horsemanship and falconry, set to a story of the King Don Carlos and Princess Catalina.
The Orlando Science Center introduces kids to physical and natural sciences in the most effective ways possible, with plenty of opportunities to experiment and interact with the exhibits. A life-size Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton greets you near the entrance of the DinoDigs exhibit gallery. Guides in lab coats give walking presentations about this and several other reproduction skeletons of dinosaurs and prehistoric sea creatures. There are two fossil dig areas, which include a waist-high table and a pit on the floor, where kids can brush away dirt to reveal dino bones.
6. Kennedy Space Center Visitors Center - Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
3. Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens - Sanford, Fla.
7. Wekiwa Springs State Park - Apopka, Fla.
With more than 400 animals, the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Sanford, Florida (about 35 minutes from Orlando), offers a full day of entertainment for families. In addition to the menagerie of mammals, reptiles and amphibians in residence, there’s also the Barnyard Buddies Children’s Zoo and an impressive collection of bugs in the Massey Services Insect Zoo. The Herpetarium houses the Southeast’s largest collection of venomous snakes and non-venomous reptiles. Zookeepers offer several programs a day, such as bird shows, reptile demonstrations, feeding observations and encounter programs with raptors, camels, primates and felines.
About an hour east of Orlando, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex pays tribute to space travel, with a remarkable collection of authentic rockets, launch pads, interactive programs and the opportunity to meet real astronauts and view rocket launches. The facility includes the Rocket Garden, two IMAX theaters, a Children’s Play Dome, the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and the neighboring Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. For a relaxing escape from the bustle of the Orlando theme parks, head to Apopka, Florida, about 30 minutes from Orlando, where you’ll find the Wekiwa Springs State Park. The park borders the Wekiwa River and offers families a plethora of outdoor activities, from hiking, biking and picnicking, to water sports and swimming. There are 13 miles of trails to explore and 60 spacious campsites for families who want to spend the night. Canoeing and kayaking are popular at the park and rentals are available. Swimming and snorkeling can also be enjoyed in the clear spring water, which is 72 degrees year-round.
4. Bok Tower Gardens
Best Orlando Family Day Trips 1. LEGOLAND, Florida
Located about an hour from Orlando in Winter Park, Florida, this 150-acre park delivers a thrilling water park, “white-knuckled” rides and attractions, a pirate water ski show, sophisticated 4D LEGO movies and, of course, an opportunity to build with LEGOs! But the engineering marvel that took 300 people three years to build is Miniland USA, featuring New York City, the Kennedy Space Center, Miami South Beach, Washington D.C. monuments and more -- all created in staggering LEGO detail.
2. Daytona Beach
Daytona Beach, also known as “the birthplace of speed,” is located about 60 miles northeast of Orlando. Spanning 23 miles along central Florida’s Atlantic coast, Daytona Beach offers rich history, the tallest lighthouse in Florida, boardwalk fun with games and rides, and more. Visit ruins of old sugar mill plantations and Rockefeller’s Ormond Beach home. Check out the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum, which stands 175 feet tall, towering over all other lighthouses in Florida. And stop by the Daytona Beach Boardwalk and Pier for old-fashioned roller coasters and Ferris wheels, pizza and ice cream shops, and picturesque views of the coast.
Green space is plentiful in Florida, so if your family enjoys spending time outdoors, there are countless parks, forests, preserves, public gardens and nature trails to explore. One of the best-known public gardens is Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida, about 70 minutes from Orlando. You can tour 250 acres that include an endangered plant garden, reflection pool, the Pinewood Estate and more. Time your visit to coincide with the 1929 Bok Tower carillion concerts. The 205-foot, 60-bell “singing tower” is made from marble and coquina shell.
5. Old Town
Kissimmee, Florida, is located next door to Orlando and families can easily make the drive to the city’s Old Town theme park, which will transport everyone back in time. The retro vibe comes from the various details, from brick-lined streets and classic cars to arcades and soda shops. Don’t miss the weekly car shows, which include live music and lots of dancing -- they’re free! Seasonal events also take place, with haunts for Halloween and holiday cheer during Christmas.
6. Melbourne/Cocoa Beach
Located just over an hour from Orlando, both Melbourne and Cocoa Beach, Florida, offer families soft sand and outdoor adventures. Melbourne is home to the Andretti Thrill Park, with go-kart tracks, mini-golf courses, laser tag and more. For a quieter, less adrenaline-pumping experience, visit Cracker Creek for a relaxing pontoon boat ride down Spruce Creek. In Cocoa Beach, families can search for fossils, play arcade games and see live alligators at the Dinosaur Adventure Zone, and then soak up a sunset after a waterfront dinner at the Cocoa Beach Pier.
3. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, located about 90 minutes southwest of Orlando, is home to one of the largest zoos in the U.S. and is a sprawling and beautifully manicured landscape of roller coasters, water rides, themed kids’ play areas and character interactions. Catch a live show, get a thrill on one of the many roller coasters and then grab a bite at one of the many eateries in and around the park. If you have the guts, climb aboard the 335-foot Falcon’s Fury -- as of 2015, it is America’s tallest drop tower ride.
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