Are you planning a holiday to Orlando, Florida? Not sure where to start? Let me guide you with my list of the Top 10 Things To Do In Orlando, Florida! Orlando may be called the theme park capital of the world, but there is so much more to see than Mickey Mouse!
Things To Do In Orlando
If you are a long time reader of The Purple Pumpkin Blog, you will know that pretty much every vacation we have taken in the last 7+ years has been to Orlando, Florida. Our “once in a lifetime” trip in 2011 has become so much more than that one time – but back then I planned to get as much done as we possibly could.
Even with 6 trips under our belt (totalling 16 weeks in all!) we still haven’t done it all, and seen it all – and I think that’s why we keep going back. So if you are planning to spend a week or two in Florida let me tell you my top 10 things to do in Orlando (and a couple of them an hour or so outside of the city) so you can add some of them to your plans.
Speaking of plans, make sure you download my free printable Walt Disney World + Orlando Vacation Planner to help you keep track.
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1. Visit Walt Disney World
Of course, I have to start with the obvious one – and our main reason for visiting Orlando nearly every year since 2011! Of all things Orlando this is where my expertise lies, so any questions you have about Walt Disney World, just ask in the comments, or send me a message – I’m always happy to help!
Walt Disney World is huge – like 40 square miles huge. That’s the size of San Francisco!
It’s made up of 4 theme parks:
- Magic Kingdom – for all round family fun, and take you back to your childhood magic! Where you will see Cinderella Castle!
- Epcot – two for the price of one here! Future World with rides like Soarin’ and Test Track; and World Showcase with 11 pavilions representing different countries around the world. Also home to the Festival of Arts; Epcot Flower & Garden Festival; and Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. It’s also where you see the “giant golf ball” – or as it is called, Spaceship Earth.
- Hollywood Studios – Home of the movies! A lot of construction at the moment, but Toy Story Land is due to open June 2018; and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge to open in 2019. It’s going to get very busy here!
- Animal Kingdom – a zoological theme park with rides and animal attractions and encounters. Home to [the new] Pandora: World of Avatar and the gorgeous Tree of Life.
2 water parks:
- Blizzard Beach
- Typhoon Lagoon
As well as Disney Springs – an entertainment & shopping district, plus lots lots more things to do – like mini golf, water sports, spas, golf, and more!
It would be impossible for me to write about it all in one blog post, but never fear because there is a ton of stuff on my blog for you to read!
- Everything Disney!
- Walt Disney World Tips
- Disney Pre-Trip Planning Reports
- Disney Trip Reports
- 10 Tips For Your First Trip To Walt Disney World
- 20 Tips For Visiting Walt Disney World With Kids
- Ideas For An Adults Only Trip To Walt Disney World
2. Visit Universal Studios + The Other Theme Parks
I’ve already said how Orlando is the theme park capital of the world, so that includes several others in the Orlando area:
- Universal Studios Orlando
- Universal Islands of Adventure
- which both now include The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Legoland Florida
- SeaWorld Orlando
- Discovery Cove
- Busch Gardens (in Tampa, about an hours drive)
We have visited all of the above, apart from Legoland and Gatorland, so can’t give personal recommendations on those. However, we did mean to go to Gatorland on our first trip, as my then 12 year old was gator mad! Maybe next time…
Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure are definitely geared towards older children and teens compared with Disney – but I think they can all be enjoyed by kids of all ages – including us grown up kids!
It’s at Universal Resort that you’ll find The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Hogsmeade is in Island of Adventure, and Diagon Alley is tucked away in Universal Studios. You can even ride the Hogwarts Express between the two – not to be missed!
SeaWorld Orlando offers roller coasters, rides, shows, tours, attractions & family-friendly activities for thrill seekers and animal lovers.
Discovery Cove is a SeaWorld’s sister park, and is limited to around 1000 guests per day – you have to book in advance. It can be a pricey day out for the tickets, but when you combine them with SeaWorld, Aquatica (SeaWorld’s Waterpark), and Busch Gardens, the price can be very reasonable. It’s at Discovery Cove where you can enjoy animal encounters – like swimming with a dolphin, feeding tropical birds, and swim in a reef of tropical fish and rays in the Grand Reef. The Grand Reef is by far my favourite part of the day! Read more about our days at Discovery Cove in 2011 (swim) and 2013 (non swim). 2016’s visit is coming soon!
Busch Gardens is going back some years for us now – we’ve only visited once, in 2011, much may have changed since that visit though! If they still do the Serengeti Safari Tour where you can feed the giraffes, it is well worth paying for that as an extra. It was one of the highlights of our trip! Busch Gardens is located in Tampa on the Gulf Coast of Florida. It’s about an hours drive away.
3. Get Wet At The Water Parks
With all of that hot Floridian sunshine you are going to want too cool off in the water – most hotels and resorts have a swimming pool or several; but if you want to have a ton of fun, heading to a water park for the day is a great way for the kids to burn off a ton of energy, a place where the adults can chill out on the [man-made] beaches, get your thrill on by going down one of the slides, or just float the day by traversing a lazy river!
Walt Disney World has two water parks – Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Both are fun, and themed wonderfully! Both have a variety of slides, kiddies play areas, a lazy river, and wave pools. Plus places to buy food and drink. You can read more about them both in my Disney Trip Reports.
SeaWorld has a water park called Aquatica, and as a family, this is our favourite of all the water parks! For one reason – the Roa Rapids which we can go round and round on all day long! They also have an all-you-care-to-enjoy buffet which is great value for money. We’ve been here a few times too, and on our 2016 trip hired a private cabana as it was a kid free trip!
And finally there is the new Universal’s Volcano Bay – which on our 2016 trip wasn’t open and still being built!
4. Play A Round Of Miniature Golf
Orlando has a lot of golf courses – Disney even has resorts built on golf courses, so it’s quite a big deal. If you are a golf player, check out the tee times and courses here.
If miniature golf is more your thing, then you are also in luck, because both Universal and Walt Disney World have them. Hollywood Drive-In Mini Golf at City Walk at Universal Studios Resort has two different courses to choose from, as does Disney’s Winter Summerland Minature Golf. Disney also has Fantasia Gardens, which as well as the 18 holes themed after the film Fantasia, there is also a literal miniature golf course – Fantasia Fairways with sand traps, bunkers, water hazards and sloping greens and where par-3 and par-5 holes range in length from 63 to 109 feet long.
And finally, as if that isn’t enough to choose from, you will find other mini golf courses on International Drive, and Highway 192 (Kissimmee), like Pirate’s Cove, and Congo River.
5. Watch a Dinner Show
There are lots of dinner shows to go to in the Orlando area including Pirates Dinner Adventure, Capone’s Dinner and Show, and Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament – but we’ve not been to any of those so can’t personally recommend… However, we have been to two of the three Disney Dinner Shows – Spirit of Aloha, and Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue. The latter being our favourite! I’ve written about the Disney Dinner Shows here.
6. Go Watch A Sports Event
If you want to watch sport on the screen, there are several sports bars you can go to, including the NBC Sports Bar & Grill at Universal Orlando’s City Walk and Miller’s Ale House, which has a family-friendly atmosphere (and where we have dined before).
For live sports in Orlando, check out the Sporting Events on the Visit Orlando website for dates and when you can see a game. Local teams are Orlando City (soccer), Orlando Solar Bears (ice hockey), Orlando Magic (basketball) and Orlando Pride (women’s soccer).
Florida has three American Football teams – Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the third being the closest if you wanted to see a live football game.
For baseball, you have to head to Tropicana Field, home to the Tampa Bay Rays team (just under 2 hours drive)
Going to see a sports game is on our bucket list of things to do in Orlando, but my good friend Sam has written all about A Day At The Baseball on her blog, Memories & Mayhem, so why not head over there for a read?
7. Visit Kennedy Space Center
You don’t have to be a space geek to enjoy a day at Kennedy Space Center – it’s one of the most fascinating places we have ever visited! The bus tour is a few hours long, but so worth it. You just cannot fathom the sheer scale of a Space Shuttle, or the buildings, or the size of the transporter until you are up close – and even then it’s still unbelievable! It’s less than an hours drive to the Cape Canaveral and if you have time in your plans to visit, add this attraction!
I’ll never forget the moment I saw the actual – not a replica – the actual Space Shuttle Atlantis – I cried. What a marvel of human engineering, exploration, and spirit!
Want to read more about Kennedy Space Center? Read my trip report here.
8. Go On An Airboat Tour
Now, before we went to Florida for the first time, we really didn’t envision the scale of it. I thought the Everglades were just down the road a bit. Nope, they’re a 4 hour drive away! But if you dream of going on an airboat tour, skimming across the swamp at high speeds, and maybe sneaking a glimpse of a gator and other Floridian wildlife, there are options for you! Check out Boggy Creek Airboat Rides, Spirit of the Swamp, and Wild Florida.
We have been meaning to go on an airboat tour for years, but haven’t managed it as yet… maybe next time! Therefore all I have is a photo of a baby gator from Animal Kingdom…
9. Get Some Retail Therapy – Go Shopping
Back when the exchange rate was super awesome – £1 = $2 you could grab some serious bargains to bring back home! On our 2011 trip we got about $1.75 to the £; last year it was like $1.35… but that doesn’t actually stop me spending money like it’s going out of fashion! I do a lot of Disney shopping at Disney Springs, at the parks, and resorts – I collect pins, and mugs, and Christmas ornaments, and lots of other Disney merch! I also like to stock up on craft supplies, as well as seasonal supplies for Halloween and Christmas, and strangely… food stuffs!
Our favourite supermarket is Publix – just search for one closest to your accommodation. I also LOVE Super Target which is at Rolling Oaks in Kissimmee. Michaels is an amazing craft store – again check for one closest to you. If you want to hit up WalMart a huge new supercenter has opened up off the 192, W. Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway. Seriously, it’s huge!
If you’re looking for the American shopping mall experience, there is Orlando Premium Outlets – popular brands at affordable prices; designer brands at the Mall at Millennia; and the popular Florida Mall.
Just make sure you have enough room in your suitcase to bring back your purchases! Or you may have to buy a new one out there (like we always seem to have to!)
10. Head To The Beach
If you didn’t know, Orlando is kinda in the middle of the State of Florida. The closest beach – Cocoa Beach – is about an hours drive away. Some of Florida’s other famous beaches – Clearwater Beach on the Gulf Coast, and Vero Beach on the Atlantic Coast are about 2 hours ish drive.
If you’re looking for a bit of down time from the craziness of theme parks and rollercoasters then spending a day or two at the beach is a great way to go. I can be done as a day trip, but with a few hours drive either side, if you can find a hotel for the night it’ll make things a lot more relaxing!
We stayed at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort for a few days in 2016, and it was sheer bliss! We had the most gorgeous view of the ocean, and truth be told – we didn’t want to leave!
I hope that my list of top 10 things to do in Orlando has helped you with your holiday plans – although, there are certainly more than ten things here – and so many more things I could have added too! I think there will have to be a part two to this list!
Once again, if you need help with anything at all, then please feel free to send me a message, or leave a comment in the comments section below!