Orlando, America’s playground, sparkles with endless fun and showcases some of the best theme parks in the world. The mega multi-sensory rides, the thrilling adventures, the awesome sights and sounds. It’s a world-class theme park showcase, from Walt Disney World and Gatorland to Universal Studios Orlando and SeaWorld. Plus, you can eat your way through a mouth-watering array of international cuisine at Epcot Center, browse Downtown Disney’s shops, or immerse yourself in space travel at the Kennedy Space Center. Are you ready? Then check out our Top 10 list of the best things to see and do in Orlando.
10. Spend a day at Universal Studios Orlando
I can’t say enough about Universal Studios Orlando. Indeed, the rating it gets as the number one movie- and TV-based theme park in the world is justified. Spend a day and immerse yourself in an intoxicating, exciting blend of breathtaking rides, attractions, and cutting edge special effects and technology. Thrill seekers can test their mettle on the high speed Incredible Hulk Roller Coaster, overload their senses on the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, or zip through the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the park’s newest ride. See movie sets come to life on a behind-the-scenes movie tour or take in the fun 4-D Shrek show. It’s an essential experience.
9. Day Tripping to Kennedy Space Center
An hour east of Orlando, the Kennedy Space Center provides a fascinating respite from the Orlando wonderland. After all, American journeys into space only happen here. But you don’t have to be an astronaut to enjoy the myriad hands-on exhibits, IMAX movies, and the collection of full size Titan rockets, engine replicas, and 363-foot Apollo Saturn 1B rocket. Space fans can even get strapped into a cockpit and given a ride on the Shuttle Launch Simulator. And if that isn’t enough for budding astronauts, the NASA astronauts will give hands-on training and prepare you for space flight in the new Astronaut Training Experience. Time for take off!
8. Swimming with Gentle Giants
When not splashing on the water slides in the Orlando theme parks, get back to nature with a swim with a manatee or dolphin on the Crystal River. You’ll zip along the river on an airboat, then don a mask and snorkel for a swim with these gentle giants under the guidance of a certified diver. After this, you’ll be treated to a picnic, then it’s back on the airboat for a 45-minute ride on the Homosassa River, where you may spot more manatees and dolphins frolicking about.
7. Get Hands-On at SeaWorld
Enclosed in an expansive 200-acre park, SeaWorld provides thrilling water coaster rides, flamingo and pelican ponds, and a lush tropical rainforest. You can catch a rock n’ roll performance by SeaWorld resident star, Shamu the Killer Whale, or watch acrobatic dolphins, soaring birds, and stunt actors create breathtaking spectacle. But the real treat is the interactive programs, where you can feed stingrays, sea lions and dolphins. The more intrepid can try the Sharks Deep Dive, in which you can take a 30-minute encounter inside a cage for a close-up look at a pool of sharks.
6. Splishing and Splashing at Wet ‘n Wild
For those who love water-packed attractions, Wet n’ Wild provides endless splashy fun! Thrill rides are the big draws here: check out Brain Wash, a high-tech tube ride with a 53-foot drop into a 65-foot domed funnel; Der Stuka, a 6-story, nearly vertical speed slide; or The Storm, which sends you spinning through a chute into a giant bowl of water. Dizzy yet? If so, you can splash in the small pool or float in the Lazy River. A smaller version of the most popular rides is perfect for kids.
5. Day-Tripping to Clearwater Beach
For a brief respite from the thrills, chills, flash, and glitz of Orlando, head to the silky white sands of Clearwater Beach on a day trip from Orlando. Spend a day kayaking, shelling, swimming and sunning by the gentle, warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Off the beach, stop for a bite then browse the shops on Mandalay Avenue. Later, watch sea otters at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, take a pirate cruise on the bay, ride the Jolley Trolley, or watch jugglers and magicians perform at Pier 60.
4. Explore Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Imagination and adventure come together at Animal Kingdom, the largest of all Disney theme parks in the world. It is park, zoo and carnival rolled into one fascinating experience. It’s a place to wander through re-created exotic natural lands like Africa, Thailand, and India, while spotting zebras, Bengal tigers, Komodo dragons, lions and birds along every path and trail. It’s a place where you can watch Disney’s big-as-Broadway music shows, like Finding Nemo the Musical or Lion King, explode in vibrant colors and effects. And when not enjoying the spectacle, keep your eyes peeled for the playful presence of Mickey, Goofy and other Disney characters.
Bengal Tiger, Animal Kingdom.
3. Gator Fun in Gatorland
Get past the gaping alligator jaws of the main entrance and you’re in for a most awesome family adventure at Gatorland. Inside this 70-acre scaly sanctuary are thousands of alligators and crocodiles, as well as a healthy population of snakes, toads, insects and turtles. You can explore the park on a wooden boardwalk, which winds through a marsh filled with gators and birds, or tour the park on the Gatorland Express Train, which will enthrall younger kids. Come at night for the Gatorland Nights Shining Tour, where a flashlight gives you an intimate peak at these fascinating creatures.
2. Go Globe-Trotting through Epcot
For a low key yet international experience, the Epcot Center provides an enriching journey around the world. Take a trip through the sights and sounds of 11 different countries – including Norway, Morocco, Canada, Japan, China and Germany – in the World Showcase, which includes shops, restaurants, native architecture and cultural performances and attractions. For a peek at tomorrow’s technology, Future World provides a fascinating glimpse of worlds past, present and future. You can’t miss it, as it looks like a giant golf ball. Epcot can be overwhelming, so you may need more than a day to explore all the wonders here.
Everest Expedition, Epcot World Showcase
1. Escape to the Magic Kingdom
A visit to Orlando is not complete without a stop at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. It’s iconic, after all, and magical! Think Cinderella’s Castle, Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Never Neverland, and Mickey’s Toontown Fair. Here you can zip through outer space, travel the shadowy world of pirates, or sail around the world by boat. It’s all here – the Walt Disney World you imagined times 10!
- William Travis
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