Top Things to Do in Orlando

01 of 19

Coming Soon to Walt Disney World

Disney World
wcdumonts/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

At twice the size of Manhattan, Walt Disney World encompasses four theme parks, 24 resorts, two waterparks, five golf courses, as well as dining and entertainment galore. Best of all, there's always something new to look forward to.

02 of 19

Orlando Resorts with Fabulous Lazy Rivers

Lazy River
Grande Lakes

If your family loves to float along a lazy river, you'll be spoiled for choice in Orlando. Of course, you'll find fabulous lazy rivers at many of the area theme parks and waterparks. Or you can up the ante by staying at one these resorts where you can relax in an inner tube and let your cares drift away.

03 of 19

Diagon Alley: Opening Summer 2014

Diagon Alley
Ferne Arfin

The highly anticipated Diagon Alley is slated to come to life at Universal Orlando Resort in summer 2014. Diagon Alley will be located at Universal Studios Florida, where 'London' has been recreated. Diagon Alley and 'London' will feature shops, dining experiences, and a new ride called Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. 

04 of 19

Walt Disney World

The It's a Small World Ride at Disney World
Gene Duncan, photographer/The Walt Disney Company

Orlando has so many outstanding attractions: see below for fifteen suggestions including the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and much more at Universal Orlando, terrific shows such as Cirque du Soleil, unusual theme parks such as Discovery Cove. Top of the list, however, is indisputably:
The Walt Disney World Theme Parks
Mickey's still king of the hill -- or, rather, of the very flat land. Spread over an area the size of Boston are:

  • Four theme parks ( The Magic Kingdom, the top place for those with little kids; EPCOT; Disney's Hollywood Studios; and The Animal Kingdom)
  • Two excellent water parks
  • 22 themed resorts that are fun in themselves...

Each of the theme parks is giant and has a unique character: head to Disney World Vacations for an introduction. Given the sheer size of it all, make sure you have a game plan before you enter the World! See Top Tips for Visiting Walt Disney World.

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05 of 19

Disney World: The (Free!) Extras: Parades, Shows, Fireworks...

Photo of the terrific "Finding Nemo" live stage show, courtesy of Walt Disney World.
Photo of "Finding Nemo" live stage show, courtesy of Walt Disney World.

You might say that some of the best things to do in Orlando are free -- at least ​after you pay for your theme park tickets. The Disney World theme parks are about much more than "rides" and guests can enjoy excellent live performances and other experiences in each of the four theme parks.
Parades: parades take place in the daytime at several of the theme parks. At night, head to the beautiful night parade in the Magic Kingdom. During peak periods, Magic Kingdom stays open until midnight or later, and a second parade may be scheduled.
IllumiNations: this unique night-time spectacle, IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth happens every night over the lagoon in the Epcot theme park, and is followed by beautiful fireworks. Not to be missed!
Fantasmic! Also not to be missed, unique, and difficult to describe is the night-time Fantasmic! show in Disney's Hollywood Studios, a combination of lasers, images projected on towering "screens" of water, real-life pirate ships, pyrotechnics, and more "Wow!" special effects.
Fireworks: in addition to the nightly fireworks in Epcot after IllumiNations, families can enjoy a spectacular display every night over the Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom.
Live Stage Shows: a major bonus at Disney World is the chance to see Broadway-quality shows, all included in your ticket price. In the Animal Kingdom, be sure to see the stunningly imaginative staging of Finding Nemo and the spirited production of Festival of the Lion King. Meanwhile, Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park has daily performances of Beauty and the Beast.

06 of 19

Disney World: Water Parks

Disney Blizzard Beach
Walt Disney Parks

A favorite thing to do in Orlando (for locals as well as visitors) is to spend a day at one of these giant water parks. Wacky in their theming, ​Blizzard Beach and ​​Typhoon Lagoon are both (a) tons of fun, and (b) lovely tropical places to hang out.
Arrive early; stake out a shady bower; then enjoy the lazy rivers, giant water slides, and family raft rides each park offers. Blizzard Beach is known for a crazily steep water slide "ski jump" on "Mt. Gushmore". Highlights at Typhoon Lagoon are a giant surf pool, and snorkeling over a (usually crowded) coral reef.
For those buying a single-day pass, admission price to one of the water parks is much less than a day at the theme parks. For those buying a Park Hopper pass, it will get you into the water parks as well as the four theme parks.

07 of 19

Universal Orlando: For Tots - Seuss Landing

Blue Man Group at Universal Orlando
Universal Orlando

Orlando's other multi-park destination is Universal Orlando, which -- like Disney World-- offers several top things to do in Orlando.
All the Universal Orlando attractions and resorts are close together and within walking distance; also, free and frequent water shuttles transport guests from the resorts. The two theme parks -- Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida -- are side by side, and are linked by the CityWalk public area with shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues.
The Islands of Adventure theme park has a top zone for little kids: the 10-acre Seuss Landing, based on the beloved books of Dr. Seuss. It's a bit odd to see The Lorax (with its anti-commercial message) in a theme park, but kids will love the Seuss characters, The Cat in the Hat and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish rides, and more. Over the Holiday Season families also have a chance to see the Grinch, during several Grinchmas weeks. (Meanwhile, the Universal Studios Orlando theme park has a daily Macy's Parade -- see Orlando Christmas.)

08 of 19

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Photo © Teresa Plowright.
Teresa Plowright

Universal Orlando has many top attractions, but since the summer of 2010 the peak experience for most visitors has been the theme-park-within-a-theme-park, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, located in the Islands of Adventure. Finally, we Muggles can enter Harry's magical universe.
Fans rave about the "Harry Potter theme park", which instantly became one of the top things to do in Orlando. Detailed and highly "authentic" theming immerses visitors in the world of Gryffindor and Ollivanders and owl posts. The area has two parts, the village of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts Castle. Inside Hogwarts Castle is the state-of-the-art "Forbidden Journey" ride. Coaster fans will like the Dueling Dragons ride.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is hugely popular, so be sure to read tips about visiting to make the best use of your time.

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09 of 19

Universal Orlando Theme Parks: Thrill Rides for Teens

The Hulk, roller coast in Islands of Adventure. Photo © Teresa Plowright.
Teresa Plowright

Another top feature at Universal Orlando is its focus on thrill rides: great for teens and 'tweens who want to scream.
The Hulk, above, in the Islands of Adventure theme park, is guaranteed to thrill. Also not to be missed is its neighboring attraction The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, which is not a thrill coaster but a 3-D simulator experience plus a 4th dimension of surprise sensations.
Meanwhile, sister park Universal Studios Orlando has a terrific Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit coaster with a 90-degree ascent at the start, and also the exciting Revenge of the Mummy dark coaster.

  • Read more about Universal Orlando
10 of 19

Discover Discovery Cove

Discovery Cove
Darrell Taylor /cc / flickr

Want a quick trip to the Caribbean? Here in land-locked Orlando, Discovery Cove -- a sister park to the SeaWorld Orlando theme park -- is a deluxe simulation of a Caribbean isle.
Snorkel at the Coral Reef, and see not only colorful fish, but giant harmless stingrays (- my son was thrilled). The river float is beautiful; visitors can swim under a waterfall and float through the aviary. Take a break on the white sand beach and don't worry about crowds, as attendance is limited to 1000 guests per day in Discovery Cove.
The highlight for many is the Dolphin Swim Experience. Discovery Cove is pricey, but at least the price is all inclusive. Even drinks and meals are covered, which makes it even more like being at a Caribbean resort!

  • Read more about Discovery Cove
11 of 19

Aquatica Water Park at SeaWorld Orlando

Photo courtesy of Aquatica.

Related to the SeaWorld Orlando theme park, but with separate admission, Aquatica is a giant water park with state-of-the-art attractions. Choose from tube slides, bowl rides, racing slides, family raft rides, wave pools, lazy river, action river, play areas for younger kids, and lots more.

12 of 19

See Blue Man Group

Blue Man Group
Ethan Miller / Getty Images

Blue Man Group is an indescribable mix of mime, percussion, and antics involving the audience. You can see performances in New York, Las Vegas, London, and in a dedicated theater at Universal Orlando.
The location is at one side of the Universal Studios Florida theme park; performance-goers can enter directly from CityWalk without entering the theme park.
Read more about Blue Man Group, and about seeing Blue Man Group at Universal Orlando.

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13 of 19

La Nouba - Cirque du Soleil

Cirque du Soleil
Courtesy Cirque du Soleil

Trapeze artists, jugglers, acrobats, phantasmagorical costumes - these words only hint at the Cirque du Soleil experience. Orlando is one of the few places where a Cirque du Soleil show plays at a permanent venue; the "La Nouba" show was created for this location in Downtown Disney.

14 of 19

Orlando at Christmas

Gaylord Palms Resort.

The world's top spot for family getaways year-round gets even more top things to do during the holiday season.
For starters, visitors are treated to displays of millions of lights in the major theme parks. And of course, the theme parks also have major special events going on: Disney World has Holidays Around the World, the Candlelight Processional, Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party...
Universal Orlando, meanwhile, has Grinchmas, a daily Macy's Holiday Parade, and a blockbuster Christmas concert series. And there are other events in Orlando as well-- such as Ice!, above.

15 of 19

Spend a Day at Your Resort

Nickelodeon Resort Suites

The pace at theme parks can be grueling, especially for little kids. Many a parent has returned from Orlando and said, "All [child] wanted to do was play in the pool at the resort."
So give the kids a day to do just that. All of the Disney Resorts have fun themed pools to enjoy. Also, the Disney World resorts have large properties with recreation and activities such as kayaking, riverboat rides, horse-riding... Several resorts are located on the Seven Seas Lagoon, near ​the Magic Kingdom, where guests can even try boat rentals and watersports.
Disney World's Deluxe resorts have an evening kids' club, character meals, spa, and kids' activities. Meanwhile, the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground has campfires and outdoor movies and the Hoop-de-Doo Revue barbeque plus dinner show... In short, families can have lots of fun at Disney World without setting foot in a theme a park!
At Universal Orlando, each of the three resorts has a large "beach" pool with fun features such as a small waterslide, and the Royal Pacific resort has a waterplay zone and also an on-property luau.
Another well-known and very fun Orlando resort is Nickelodeon Family Suites, which has two water parks, along with theming, pool games, and evening entertainment by Nickelodeon (a giant in kids' television programming). Other Orlando resorts variously have a lazy river pool, or 1500 acres with nature trails and horse-riding, or an annual winter event with ice sculptures...

16 of 19

Do Downtown Disney

View of Downtown Disney at the Holiday Inn Downtown Disney Resort Area in Disney World
Charlyn Keating Chisholm

So you've spent a day having fun at your resort...
Now evening comes and you want to go somewhere fun, without an admission price. Downtown Disney is a shopping and entertainment zone that takes up 120 acres in Disney World. Eat at the Rainforest Cafe, stroll past full-size Lego figures outside the Lego Imagination store, and buy chocolate at Ghiradelli's (free samples!)
If money burning a hole in your pocket, head to DisneyQuest Indoor Interactive Theme Park. Downtown Disney is also home to the acclaimed La Nouba Cirque de Soleil show, mentioned earlier.

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17 of 19

Eat at CityWalk Theme Restaurants

Photo courtesy of Universal Orlando.
Photo courtesy of Universal Orlando.

You'll also find a shopping and entertainment zone at Universal Orlando: CityWalk, which has the advantage of actually adjoining its two theme parks.
Much of CityWalk is geared to partiers, but kids will get a kick out of the theme restaurants, such as NASCAR Cafe with game area; the Hard Rock Cafe, with its giant desserts, music videos, and fab rock memorabilia; and NBA City, complete with with video games and a giant screen showing basketball matches.
CityWalk is also the venue for the unique and entertaining Blue Man Group shows, mentioned earlier.

18 of 19

Character Meals

Disney Character Meals with Grandkids
Walt Disney Parks

Another thing families like to do in Orlando is have a "Character Meal", i.e. a meal that features favorite tv and movie characters, who sing and dance and pose for pix, and generally thrill their little fans.
Disney World has many places for dining with Disney characters, and while these meals tend to be expensive, food is generally costly in the theme parks anyway, and a Character Meal gives you a lot for your dollar. Character meals typically serve a huge buffet with a kids' section. A late breakfast can serve as lunch; late lunch can serve as early dinner.
Different Character Meal venues feature Mickey, Pooh and Eeyore, and other Disney celebs. Cinderella's Royal Table is a favorite breakfast spot. Note that families can enjoy a Character Meal without entering a theme park: the Grand Floridian Resort, for example, has a Mary Poppins-based Character Meal.
Universal Orlando has Character Meals at least one venue, and other places have Character Meals as well. Nickelodeon Family Suites, for instance -- the popular family resort with Nickelodeon theming and two waterparks -- has a character breakfast with Nick characters.

19 of 19

What's Your Top Thing to Do in Orlando?

This is by no means the end of the list...'s Guide for Florida Travel, for instance, praises Wet'n Wild Orlando as Orlando's "most exciting water park". She has a long list of Things to Do in Orlando including the Orlando Science Center, Titanic The Experience, and The Holy Land Experience theme park.'s Guide for Orlando also has a long list of attractions, which includes dinner shows that kids love, such as Medieval Times.
If you've got an opinion, take a moment for this quick poll:
What's your favorite thing to do in Orlando?
Disney World - Magic Kingdom  | Disney World - Other Theme Parks  | Universal Orlando  | Cirque du Soleil  | Blue Man Group  | SeaWorld  | Discovery Cove  | Have Fun at a Water Park | Something Else!  |
-Check prices for Orlando resorts and hotels, at
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