Orlando is called the Theme Park Capital of the World for good reason. The sheer amount of thrill rides, water slides, performances, and live animal exhibits provides a themed experience for every visitor to explore.
This guide features my family’s list of the best theme parks in Orlando to help narrow the vast options down whether your crew is looking for animal encounters or adrenaline rushes.
Magic Kingdom was the first of the four theme parks at Walt Disney World resort in Orlando. It’s one of the best theme parks in Orlando for those in search of a classic Disney experience. The park features six themed lands, where your kids will love seeing scenes from their favorite Disney films in between running into princesses and other beloved characters as they explore the park (it is very similar in layout to Disneyland Resort, Hong Kong Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, and Paris Disneyland).
There are plenty of slower, fun rides like Dumbo, Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise and more for your little ones to enjoy. But also Space Mountain and Splash Mountain for those who’d like some thrills.
Tip: You can hire a guide to skip the lines and also buy discount tickets.
Universal Studios Florida™
Universal Studios Florida is one of the best theme parks in Orlando if your family is obsessed with Hollywood or Harry Potter. Here you’ll find rides and attractions dedicated to all your favorite films, from “Despicable Me” to “Men in Black.” The park invites you to experience movies through rides, live shows, and attractions. Take a ride on Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts™ in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™, watch “Shrek” in 4-D, and don’t miss the Tales of Beedle the Bard performance.
Whether you’re protecting the world from aliens or going on adventures with minions, this park features movie-inspired fun for the whole family to enjoy. If you want to spend more time exploring and less time waiting in line, check out ways to skip the lines at the park. Also, don’t miss out on the many opportunities to score discounted tickets.
Tip: If you would like to ride the Hogwarts Express (it’s a full-scale replica so we do recommend it) between Universal Studios Florida and Universal Islands of Adventure, you will need to purchase a Park-to-Park ticket.
There are also some perks to staying at the Universal Orlando Resort hotels like Loews Portofino Bay including early entry and Universal Express passes.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
It’s no easy task choosing the best Disney park in Orlando, but if you’re looking for a park with a little bit of everything, Disney’s Animal Kingdom will do the trick. If your family can’t decide between visiting animals and getting the Disney experience, they don’t have to here. The park combines real animal exhibits with Disney-themed attractions.
Currently the world’s largest theme park, it’s split into seven themed areas, such as Pandora – The World of Avatar, Asia, Africa, Rafiki’s Planet Watch, and DinoLand U.S.A. To give you an idea, in the Africa exhibit, you’ll come face to face with gorillas, hippos, and monkeys, while the Asia area features komodo dragons, large flying foxes, and even tigers.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure™
In the mood for an adrenaline rush? Universal’s Islands of Adventure has its fair share of heart-racing rides. The Incredible Hulk Coaster® reaches speeds of up to 67 miles per hour, while the Doctor Doom’s Fearfall® shoots you 185 feet into the sky. However, you don’t have to muster up the courage to hop on all the rides at this park.
There are plenty of calmer rides and attractions for movie buffs, such as the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™ ride, or The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man®. This one tops the list for Orlando thrills.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Disney’s Hollywood Studios is similar to neighboring Universal Studios in that it brings to life some of the most popular films, shows, and performances.
The theme park features seven themed areas, many of which are inspired by real-life Los Angeles areas and fictional places in iconic stories, such as Sunset Boulevard and the brand-new “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.” If you’re looking for a thrill, step right up to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror™, but if you’re visiting with much younger kids, take a spin on the “Toy Story” inspired Slinky Dog Dash ride.
Walt Disney’s original vision of Epcot, previously called Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, was meant to be a futuristic utopian city. However, the idea later transformed into a theme park focused on technological innovation, much like the World’s Fair.
Today, you can explore two areas: World Showcase and Future World. Go on and ride Spaceship Earth and visit ImageWorks: The What-If Labs, among various other fascinating and science-themed attractions. What it lacks in thrill rides it more than makes up for in interesting and thought-provoking exhibits.
We quite enjoy seasonal events like the Epcot Food and Wine Festival and Epcot Flower & Garden Festival. Note that a massive transformation of this Orlando theme park has been announced that will involve more characters, event space, and interactive exhibits.
Universal’s Volcano Bay™
Volcano Bay is the newest water park on the scene, and it shows. This park is full of cutting-edge technology. Suit yourself up with their TapuTapu wearable technology, which virtually secures your place in line and alerts you when it’s your turn to ride. With a spot held in line, you and your crew can explore all 19 attractions.
Float down the not-so-lazy TeAwa The Fearless River, which has built in wave machines, making for a rocky ride. Then venture into the capsules of the Kala & Tai Nui body water slide — complete with trap doors — and race to the bottom.
LEGOLAND® Florida Resort
Though LEGOLAND® Florida is technically not located in Orlando, it’s roughly a 45-minute drive away and totally worth the ride. Inspired by the popular building blocks, this park lets your imagination run wild. Your kids will love marveling at the tiny worlds made from LEGO®s, based off of real cities, and building their own designs.
The park includes play areas and rides galore, but do keep in mind that this park is geared toward tots. If you’re visiting with tweens or older kids, you may want to give this one a miss unless they are LEGO enthusiasts. You can also buy discounted tickets.
Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon
Though just as fun as Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon has some calmer attractions that are great for when you’re visiting with a younger group of kids. Perhaps one of the most popular features is the Shark Reef, where you can snorkel around real marine animals (and even small sharks).
Head to the Ketch-a-Kiddie Creek play area or float along peaceful Castaway Creek. If your kids are tall enough — and brave enough — they can plummet down the Humunga Kowabunga slide.
Maybe you have some future marine biologists on your hands or perhaps your kids are simply obsessed with “Finding Nemo.” Whatever it is, SeaWorld Orlando is a great spot for families that want to get up close to some sea life.
Part aquarium and part amusement park, it features animal exhibits, live shows, hands-on experiences, and aquatic-themed rides. It’s no wonder it is one of the best amusement parks in Orlando. Make a splash on the Journey to Atlantis®, search for the Pacific octopus in the Manta aquarium, and touch the velvety skin of a stingray. Check out my tips for finding discount tickets to the park.
Disney’s Blizzard Beach
The best Orlando water park is a toss-up between Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, but the former squeezes into #1 if you’re traveling with older kids because of its more thrilling water experiences. Brave the Summit Plummet, one of the world’s tallest and fastest free-body water slides, or zip down the 90-foot Slush Gusher slide.
With that said, the park does have toddler areas and slides geared toward younger children so everyone can have a blast.
While technically not an amusement park, Gatorland is a wild attraction theme park with some real-life gator action. The park is a wildlife preserve, dubbed the Alligator Capital of the World™. It’s home to more than a thousand gators and crocodiles.
The park features all kinds of adventures, from zip-lining over 130 alligators to exploring the swamps in an off-road vehicle. While you’re here, don’t miss the alligator feeding shows (check the schedule to plan your trip) and the chance to visit the Alligator Breeding Marsh.
Whether you’re traveling alone, with friends, or with your family, you’ll find that the theme parks in Orlando have something to offer for everyone — from toddlers to teens to adults. Choose your favorite or see how many you can squeeze in on your next visit to Orlando with kids.
You can also read my round-up of best Orlando family hotels which includes my favorite — Four Seasons Orlando.
Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).
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