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Think of Orlando and Disney World is the first thing that comes to mind, then Universal. But Central Florida has so many wonderful places to explore beyond the famous theme parks. Here are 30 family-friendly, kid-approved fun things to do in and around Orlando.
Whether you’re looking for parks, zoos, museums or nature trails, Orlando offers so many options for family adventures. TravelingMom’s list of the fun things to do in Orlando includes popular favorites and off-the-beaten-path suggestions from local experts on kid-friendly fun – my niece and nephew!
Orlando Theme Parks for Family Fun
1. Walt Disney World Resort
Many families visit the Orlando area because it’s the theme-park capital of the world, and the most popular of these theme parks can be found at Walt Disney World Resort. You can spend a couple of days or an entire vacation visiting Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. As a Florida native, I still feel the magic every time I go.
TravelingMom Tip: For the best Disney World experience, create an itinerary in advance for each day at the park. My family’s smoothest days at Disney have always been when we followed a game plan. And consider taking a day off from the parks to visit one of these beaches close to Disney World.
2. Universal Orlando Resort
Universal Orlando Resort is home to the next two top-attended theme parks in the United States—Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Universal’s popularity is owed in no small part to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where visitors can wander Hogsmeade, marvel at Hogwarts Castle and shop on Diagon Alley.
Roller coaster fans will also appreciate some of biggest thrills in Orlando on rides like Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, The Incredible Hulk and Revenge of the Mummy. The new Jurassic World VelociCoaster, which includes a 155-foot tower and 100-foot-long zero-gravity stall, opens at Islands of Adventure in 2021.
3. LEGOLAND Florida Resort
At LEGOLAND Florida Resort, kids can immerse themselves in all things LEGO. The 150-acre park includes rides, shows and interactive experiences. Don’t miss Miniland USA, which recreates famous cities and monuments from around the world, all made of LEGO bricks.
TravelingMom Tip: For a pleasant break in the day, take a stroll through the historic botanical garden located inside the park. It was formerly an attraction called Cypress Gardens, which opened in 1939.
4. SeaWorld Orlando
For families fascinated by sea life, SeaWorld Orlandois a must-do. With shows, rides and animal experiences, there’s something for everyone. SeaWorld boasts three roller coasters—the Mako, the Kraken and the Manta—along with kid-sized amusement rides.
TravelingMom Tip: Have your kids wear or bring bathing suits to SeaWorld. On a hot summer day, little kids will love cooling off at Rubber Duckie Water Works, a splash park located in Sesame Street Land.
Zoos and Animal Encounters Near Disney World
5. Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens
The Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens, located just north of Orlando in Sanford, Florida, is home to more than 100 species of animals. The 116-acre zoo includes a petting zoo with alpacas, llamas, goats, chickens and donkeys, and offers giraffe feedings and rhino encounters for an extra charge. Families can also try the Seminole Aerial Adventures zipline and ropes course located on-site.
TravelingMom Tip: My kids loved the Kids Course at Seminole Aerial Adventures. It’s the perfect size for adventurers aged five and up and at least 36 inches tall.
6. Brevard Zoo
The Brevard Zoo, located in Melbourne, Florida, is about an hour’s drive from Orlando. Get face-to-face with giraffes on the Expedition Africa platform or feed tropical birds in the free-flight aviary. Brevard Zoo is also the only zoo in the country to offer kayaking tours within its exhibits. During a paddle trip, visitors can spot lemurs, rhinos, zebras, ostriches and more.
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TravelingMom Tip: The giraffe snacks at Expedition Africa cost $2 per treat and are worth every penny. My kids were awed (and a little disgusted) by the giraffes’ enormous tongues, which can reach up to 18 inches long. According to my niece and nephew, the kayaking is also a must-do at Brevard Zoo. They were thrilled that the animals walked along beside them as they paddled.
7. Wild Florida
Forty-five minutes south of Orlando, families can experience Wild Florida, a preserve on Lake Cypress with a drive-thru safari park, a gator park, airboat tours and animal encounters. Visitors take their own vehicles through the safari park, and the tour takes about an hour.
TravelingMom Tip: Do the drive-thru in the morning or late afternoon to see the animals at their most active.
8. Black Point Wildlife Drive
The seven-mile Black Point Wildlife Drive on Merritt Island is a great place to see Florida’s birds, snakes and alligators in their natural habitat. Merritt Island, a national wildlife refuge, is about an hour and 15 minutes from Orlando. The one-way auto tour takes about 45 minutes, and visitors can do the drive as many times as they wish with a $5 daily pass.
TravelingMom Tip: According to my niece and nephew, Black Point Wildlife Drive is teeming with wildlife just before sunset. On their last visit, they spotted animals crossing right in front of and behind their vehicle.
Long before there was Walt Disney World or Universal Studios, there was Gatorland. Founded 72 years ago, Gatorland is a classic Old Florida attraction. Dubbed the “Alligator Capital of the World,” the park’s attractions include alligator shows and exhibits, a petting zoo and a free-flight aviary. Daredevils can also soar over alligators and crocodiles on 1,200 feet of zipline.
TravelingMom Tip: Gatorland’s boardwalk provides a quiet break in the day and has a natural feel while providing an amazing view of dozens of gators.
10. LunaSea Alpaca Farm
LunaSea Alpaca Farm is located in Clermont, Florida. The Fowler family breeds alpacas and llamas and offers tours of the farm by reservation. During the tour, visitors can feed and pet the animals and interact with the baby alpacas in the nursery. The Fowlers also operate a shop on-site offering alpaca-fleece products for sale.
TravelingMom Tip: My niece and nephew said that after petting and holding the alpacas, the next best part of their visit was interacting with the funny and caring owners of the farm.
11. Discovery Cove
Discovery Cove, part of the SeaWorld Parks, is an animal attraction where families can swim with dolphins, snorkel with tropical fish, and wade with otters. Included in day resort admission are unlimited food and drink, snorkel gear and towels.
12. Crystal River
Crystal River is known for being home to the world’s largest population of manatees in the winter months. To spend time with the manatees in their natural habitat, book a swim and snorkel trip with one of the Crystal River tour operators.
My niece and nephew recommend River Ventures, which provided them wetsuits, snorkel gear and knowledgeable tour guides. On their trip, they were not only able to swim with the manatees, but also explore the nearby caverns of Jurassic Spring.
TravelingMom Tip: Plan to purchase the photo package at the end of your tour, which includes amazing underwater photos taken by the guide.
Central Florida’s Kid-Friendly Gardens
13. Harry P. Leu Gardens
Located near downtown Orlando, Leu Gardens offers 50 acres of tropical and semi-tropical gardens. Paved paths meander around 200-year-old oaks and the Leu House Museum, a nineteenth-century historic home. The garden often hosts special events such as outdoor concerts, scavenger hunts, movie nights and other fun things to do with kids in Orlando.
TravelingMom Tip: After a visit to Leu Gardens, head down the street to one of the many hip eating establishments on Corrine Drive. Choices include East End Market, an eclectic mix of local eateries with outdoor seating, Lobos Coffee Roasters, Kelly’s Ice Cream and The Salty Donut.
14. Mead Botanical Garden
Mead Botanical Garden sits on 47 acres in Winter Park, Florida. Nature trails and boardwalks circle two ponds, a creek and a marsh. Several geocache sites and a picnic pavilion are also located on the property. The park often hosts shows, concerts and yoga.
TravelingMom Tip: Spend some time after your garden visit in the Park Avenue Shopping District of Winter Park. Have lunch at one of the European-style sidewalk cafes and do some shopping at the boutiques lining Park Avenue’s quaint brick streets.
15. Bok Tower Gardens
About 30 minutes from Orlando stands Bok Tower, a 205-foot-tall tower with 60 carillon bells that play on the half-hour. The tower is set within 50 acres of lush gardens designed by famous landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.
TravelingMom Tip: Bok Tower Gardens participates in the North American Reciprocal Museum Association and the American Horticultural Society Reciprocal Program. Through AHS, we received free admission during our visit thanks to our membership with Atlanta Botanical Garden.
Museums and Learning Centers
16. Orlando Science Center
Families will find interactive exhibits galore at the Orlando Science Center. Hands-on experiences include the Kinetic Zone, DinoDigs and Nature Works, featuring live animal meet-and-greets. Kids up to the age of seven can explore the 11,000 square-foot KidsTown, which encourages role-playing and skill-based learning. My kids, at the ages of five and seven, also got a kick out of presenting their own weather forecast at the center’s replica WFTV 9 Severe Weather Center.
17. Mennello Museum of American Art
The Mennello Museum of American Art is located just across the street from the Orlando Science Center in downtown Orlando. Every second Sunday of the month, it hosts Free Family Funday, with free admission all day and a free take-home art project. Regular admission is also a bargain. Tickets for children ages 6 to 17 are only $1, while children under 6 are free.
TravelingMom Tip: The grounds of the Mennello Museum are also a great place for a picnic!
When they were little, my kids couldn’t take their eyes off WonderWorks’ remarkable upside-down building façade on International Drive. Inside the museum, families will find even more to marvel about. With more than 100 interactive exhibits on weather, space, light and sound and more, kids can learn while having fun.
19. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Kennedy Space Center is sure to fascinate aspiring astronauts and aerospace engineers. Admission includes a bus tour that shuttles visitors past rocket launch sites and the massive Vehicle Assembly Building, which alone spans eight acres. The center also showcases the space shuttle Atlantis and a Rocket Garden where you can walk among real spacecraft. The center’s IMAX movie theater regularly showcases impressive space-themed documentaries.
TravelingMom Tip: Admission to the center includes Planet Play, an indoor, multi-story play area that appeals to younger and older kids alike.
20. Crayola Experience
The Crayola Experience is an indoor play area located in the Florida Mall, making it the perfect place to spend some time on a rainy day. It has two play zones, as well as hands-on craft stations where kids can make drip art or their own personalized crayons.
TravelingMom Tip: Get free admission to the Crayola Experience within seven days of your birthday with proof of birth date, such as a driver’s license or birth certificate.
Parks and Nature Trails
21. Orlando Tree Trek Adventure Park
Orlando Tree Trek Adventure Park is set in a pine forest in Kissimmee, Florida, close to the Disney theme parks. Its zip line and ropes courses include ladders, hanging nets, swinging logs and suspension bridges. The park offers four different adult courses of varying skill levels, and two separate kids courses featuring 21 challenges.
22. Lake Eola Park
Lake Eola Park sits in the heart of downtown and offers tons of fun things to do in Orlando with kids. Run or walk around the paved mile-long lake trail or rent a swan paddle boat. On Sundays between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., the park hosts the Orlando Farmers Market.
23. Lake Luisa State Park
Thirty minutes from Orlando is scenic Lake Luisa State Park. One of the best ways to explore the park’s scrub forests and wetlands is to go horseback riding. One or two hour guided rides are available. Participants must be aged eight and up. Lake Luisa is also a terrific park for biking and hiking.
24. Lake Apopka Loop Trail
Love biking? Then check out the lovely Lake Apopka Loop Trail. The trail stretches 18.2 miles through marshlands and floodplain forests. For the best experience, families should focus on the section that runs along the lakeshore. Start at Magnolia Park Trailhead and head to the Historic Pump House and back again, a round-trip of eight miles. You’re sure to see alligators, birds and other Central Florida wildlife.
TravelingMom Tip: Last year, we biked from the Green Mountain Trailhead in the middle of June, and the marshlands were gorgeous but unshaded. Consider going in the morning and avoiding the summer months. No matter which portion of the trail and what time of day or year you choose, bring lots of water, and wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
25. Wekiwa Springs State Park
Wekiwa Springs State Park is about 20 miles north of Orlando. With a water temperature of 72 degrees, its shimmering emerald springs are particularly inviting on a summer day. Families can swim or snorkel in the springs or rent canoes or kayaks to paddle the Wekiva River. The park also includes a nine-mile off-road bike trail, nature trails, a boardwalk, a playground and a sand beach volleyball court.
TravelingMom Tip: The area around the springs can get busy, so bring your own camp or beach chairs for lounging on the shore. Also arrive early because the park limits the number of visitors and it often reaches capacity during the summer months.
26. Blue Springs State Park
Blue Springs State Park is another park that offers the opportunity to swim or snorkel in crystal-clear spring waters. Visitors can also take a two-hour narrated nature cruise on the St. Johns River through concessionaire Blue Spring Adventures. During the winter, hundreds of manatees gather in the spring and can be viewed from the tour boat or from a short boardwalk from the park. Each January, the park hosts a Manatee Festival with games, activities, and entertainment.
TravelingMom Tip: Blue Springs State Park does not allow kayaking in the winter months while the manatees are congregating. This park also often reaches capacity and limits visitors.
27. Kelly Park’s Rock Springs
Kelly Park’s Rock Springs offers yet another way to enjoy central Florida’s beautiful waters. Visitors can rent tubes from vendors outside the park or bring their own. My nephew told me that tubing at Kelly Park’s Rock Springs is like having “your own amazing lazy river.” He was also fascinated to see the natural springs bubbling up from the underwater passageways.
TravelingMom Tip: Note that Kelly Park, operated by Orange County, is different than Rock Springs Run State Reserve, which is a Florida state park. Admission to one does not allow admission to the other.
Orlando’s Water and Amusement Parks
28. FunSpot America
With locations on International Drive and in Kissimmee, FunSpot America is an old-school amusement park. It offers thrills and family fun by way of roller coasters, go-karts, kiddie rides and a midway. If you dare, try the Kissimmee SkyCoaster, which straps one to three people together, lays them face down, then raises them 300 feet in the air before dropping them from a tower bungee-style.
29. ICON Park
Also on International Drive is ICON Park, home to the Wheel, a Ferris wheel rising 400 feet over the Orlando skyline. Other attractions at ICON Park include Madame Tussauds Orlando wax museum, the SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium and Orlando StarFlyer, a 450-foot-tall swing ride.
30. Volcano Bay
There are numerous water parks in Orlando, but one of the coolest is Volcano Bay. Part of Universal Orlando Resort, Volcano Bay is situated around a 200-foot-tall artificial volcano named Krakatau. The volcano houses several rides including the Krakatua Aqua Coaster and Ko’okiri Body Plunge.