It will come as no surprise that Orlando, the theme park capital of the world, is a hugely popular holiday destination with UK families. Fantastic resorts, thrilling adventures, wild rides and other mind-boggling amusements blur the line between magic and reality, making it a place where reality and fantasy can be impossible to separate. However, this is not purely a land of rollercoasters and water parks, while the theme parks are without doubt the big draw, venture just a little outside of the big attractions and you’ll find richly rewarding museums and exhibitions, a thriving and diverse restaurant scene, outstanding shopping, some of the best golf courses in the USA and an endless choice of outside activities and adventures.
But we’ve just got to start with Orlando’s most famous attractions, there is so much to do and see many of our holidaymakers will never leave the Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando bubble.
Most people rightly associate Walt Disney World with Mickey Mouse and theme parks as it’s the incredible rides, shows, parades, firework displays and universally adored characters that have made this magical place so famous. There’s no doubt Disney’s four amazing parks will keep you very busy and leave young and old laughing and smiling in delight, but with water parks, championship level golf courses, boating, fishing, biking, horseback riding, sporting events and adventure golf there is so much more. And that still leaves a retail paradise at Disney Springs and a huge eclectic and varied selection of dining options including world class restaurants and character experiences.
The original and most iconic park at Walt Disney World is Disney’s Magic Kingdom, ‘The Most Magical Place on Earth’. Taking inspiration from all the timeless movies and beloved characters that first made Walt Disney famous and boasting over 40 mesmerising attractions spread across six themed lands. You’ll make unforgettable memories meeting Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and all his famous friends, marvel at the spectacular parades and extravagant firework displays, conquer Magic Kingdom’s three mountains, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Space Mountain, shootout with family and friends on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and visit Captain Jack Sparrow on one of Disney’s all times classics the Pirates of the Caribbean.
EPCOT will take you on a journey of wonder and learning throughout the world, exploring the past, the future, global culture, outer space, the oceans and mother nature. Adventure into EPCOT’s World Celebration, World Discovery, and World Nature each offering its own unique experiences. Visit Mission: SPACE ®, take a trip into the stars with Figment, and discover the world we call home as you visit Awesome Planet. And now, a family-friendly, out-of-this-world adventure through space and time called Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind has arrived at EPCOT’s new Wonders of Xandar Pavillion. Continue to explore and you will reach World Showcase where you can learn and experience the culture, and dine in style, at eleven worldwide destinations.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios takes inspiration from bustling sets that are home to world-famous movies and TV shows. Behind the scenes tours, spectacular shows and thrilling rides will stimulate all of your senses and keep you on the edge of your seat. Big recent additions include Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge where you’ll take in the sights, sounds, and flavours of a cantina that’s located in a galaxy far, far away and for more traditional Disney excitement Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park wows guests with six themed lands spread over a mind-boggling 580 acres with attractions, rides and real-life wildlife that showcase the natural world’s enchantment and our special bond with animals in a light-hearted and engaging way. Explore a world alive with magic, travel to a faraway world with mountains that float in the air, or stay here on Earth and observe millions of creatures in their natural habitats.
Theme park fans will also be excited to visit the Universal Orlando resort, two huge interconnected parks that drop you into the world of your favourite movies, TV shows and characters.
Universal Studios is a real, working film studio which is littered with film sets, rides and shows. Visitors can step into the world of Harry Potter, The Simpsons and Despicable Me, lend a hand to the valiant Transformers in their fight against evil, and even help the adorable E.T. on his quest to reach home.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure is where thrill-seekers will find their fun with soaring roller coasters and white-knuckle rides inspired by your favourite Universal movies. Try and out run the Velociraptors on the Jurassic World VelociCoaster, the high-speed, red-line rampage Incredible Hulk Coaster smashes its way through the skies at over 60 mph and be ready for a huge splash and likely soaking as you plunge down Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls. At The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you can explore Hogsmeade village, taste Butterbeer and chocolate frogs, ride Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, and enter Hogwarts Castle to experience Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. And be sure to have your camera ready, the park is full of famous characters, superheroes and villains who can’t wait to meet you.
They’ve even got their own water park; Volcano Bay. This looks like a tropical paradise but don’t let this dreamy aesthetic fool you, drop slides and racing flumes are around every corner so prepare for an action-packed day. Once you’ve exhausted the Universal theme parks head down to the Universal CityWalk, here you’ll find live musical acts which entertain the crowds that come for the bustling restaurants, bars and shops.
And there’s still more, you can play, learn, laugh and scream at SeaWorld, Aquatica and Discovery Cove. At SeaWorld you can also immerse yourself in the ocean by visiting their world-famous aquarium, watch jaw-dropping animal shows and get your adrenaline fix on their sea-inspired roller coasters or maybe head over to Sesame Street Land and just chill with some old friends. The Aquatica water park is right next door plus there’s Discovery Cove where you can make memories that will last a lifetime and experience the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to swim with dolphins and other exotic fish.
The International Drive Entertainment District is ideally located between the Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld and is less than 15 minutes away from Walt Disney World. This 11-mile entertainment zone is jam-packed to the gills with one-of-a-kind attractions, bustling restaurants and nightlife, hotels and resorts to suit every taste or budget, and a vast selection of shopping and activities such as the Wheel at ICON Park and WonderWorks.
If you prefer a natural kind of park, don’t worry they’ve got heaps of those too. Orlando has many picturesque national parks and stunning gardens. Blue Spring State Park, the Harry P. Leu Botanical Gardens, Lake Eola Park, Lake Toho, and Ocala National Forest are some of favourites. And be sure to go see our friends at Wild Florida Airboats in the headwaters of the Everglades to ensure you get the full Orlando outdoor experience.
In need of a little retail therapy? Orlando is just the place. From the Lake Buena Vista, Kissimmee and International Drive Outlet Malls to Main Street in Winter Park to Disney Springs and Celebration, there is a whole feast of shopping options to choose from, including upscale brand names, quaint local stores, and big discount factory outlets.
So you’ve shopped and are now ready to eat and drink, Orlando offers an expansive range of dining opportunities, from award-winning culinary experiences created by celebrity chefs such as José Andrés and Richard Blais to uniquely themed Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen. There are options for all budgets and tastes throughout the whole Orlando area. And the nightlife is outstanding there’s live music, comedy, magic, dinner shows and a number of exciting and vibrant walkable entertainment districts.
Just a short drive from the main tourist areas is the Downtown Orlando area where you’ll find a whole new world of neighbourhoods, shopping, entertainment, sport, art and culture to experience. Don’t miss out on the Ace Café Orlando, a three-acre facility that has live music and fantastic food and is ideal for people who are passionate about rock and roll, automobiles, and bikes. Be sure to pay a visit to Lake Eola Park, which is considered the most beautiful green space in the downtown Orlando area and rent a swan styled paddleboat. And make sure you carve a little time for the Parramore District home to Orlando’s big sports teams, NBA’s Orlando Magic, NAL’s Orlando Predators, ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears plus the MLS’ Orlando City Soccer Club.