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How to plan the best vacation to Orlando Florida for your family

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Family Vacations in Orlando

Orlando is even more magical than you imagine. And we have everything you need here to make sure the magic happens on all your family vacations in Orlando.


Picture Orlando and in your mind’s eye it’s all fairy tale castles, parades and fireworks. Of course, it is all those things, but it’s a lot more besides which is what makes it Florida’s most popular family vacation. That, and the fact that there is no age limit to feeling the magic in Orlando, you are never too old to pop on some Mickey ears. And if you don’t believe the hype, you’re in the minority, almost 76 million people visit Orlando every year and for many of them it’s far from the first time.


What happens beyond the theme parks in Orlando

It goes without saying that you want to make plenty of time for the big hitters on vacation in Orlando. By that, we mean of course Walt Disney World® Resort and Universal Studios – home to the astonishingly authentic Wizarding World of Harry Potter, if it’s possible to claim your imagination is, ‘authentic’. Then take a breath and discover what old hands at the Orlando game know only too well: there is life beyond the theme parks, which makes it as outdoorsy and adventurous as more beachy Florida destinations.

Book one of our recommended family hotels in Orlando


Discover different parks in The City Beautiful

There’s the city of Orlando for a start. To say colourful doesn’t quite encompass thousands of years of history that pulls everything into its orbit from indigenous peoples to conquistadors, cattle ranchers, citrus farmers and even a sprinkling of astronauts. If you want to get an overview of the multi-cultural vibe, visit the Orlando Museum of Art – ORLANDOMOA or grab a map and browse the street art or just take to Lake Eola Park on a sunny afternoon: also the best place to find out why Orlando is nicknamed The City Beautiful.


Think you’re too far north for the Everglades?

Everglades National Park might be in the south of Florida, but the Everglade headwaters are further north, and in Orlando they give any of the waterparks a run for their money, not least because they come with real wildlife and airboat tours. Alternatively, or also, there are legends like Gatorland where the critters are equally as  fearsome as they are in the wild, you’ve just got a better chance of a close encounter – at a safe distance, naturally.

Book one of our recommended family hotels in Kissimmee


This is also the Vacation Home Capital of the World

Plenty of families want to stay in the thick of the theme parks and it’s no surprise that some of Orlando’s most dazzling resort hotels belong to the Disney brand. But many hotels operate free shuttle buses to the parks, and there are always good deals to be had on iconic drags like International Drive. For the more independent minded, it’s also worth remembering that Kissimmee (theme park heartland) is known as the Vacation Home Capital of the World, good to know, particularly if you’re planning for a larger family: Kissimmee rental mansions can sleep up to 20, without a squeeze.

Why Go to Orlando

  • Easy to Reach

    Direct flights to Orlando from several Canadian airports, including Vancouver and Toronto, take from 2 hours, 20 minutes year round.

  • Year Round Sun

    January is the coldest month of the year in Orlando and temperatures seldom fall below 20°, and highs of 29° are normal in October and November.

  • Theme Parks

    Home to Walt Disney World® Resort and Universal Studios, Orland is the undisputed theme park capital of the world.

  • Vacation Rentals

    Kissimmee leads the world in vacation rentals with over 18,000 homes available from apartments to mansions sleeping up to 20.

  • Wild Adventure

    Airboat tours of the Everglade headwaters bring you up close to some of the wilder Orlando residents, including iconic Florida alligators.

  • City of Orlando

    Sometimes forgotten in the rush to amusement parks, multi-cultural Orlando city is green and artistic with a great culinary scene.

  • Natural Highs

    Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve, Kissimmee Chain of Lakes and Ocala National Forest are all within 40 minutes drive of Orlando.

  • Beach Days

    The Atlantic coast is an hour’s drive from Orlando for legends like Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach, Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach.

Where to go in Orlando

Walt Disney World® Resort alone could fill an entire family vacation in Orlando, but you probably want to do more than one amusement park, particularly as the competition gives you Universal Orlando Resort, Universal Islands of Adventure and, the upcoming, Universal Epic Universe, not to mention The Wizarding World of Harry Potter which spans all the Universal Orlando theme parks. Take a look at our quick ‘where to go’ guide to get your bearings and help you get the most out of every minute.

Walt Disney World® Resort

The original and, many would say, still the best, Walt Disney World® Resort is the Orlando vacation must-do for most families. However, you might not want to focus all your attention here, in which case it’s good to know what’s what.

  • Disney Hollywood Studios is where to find Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, alone with Toy Story Land, the gorgeous and pyrotechnic-packed Fantasmic! after dark, as well as ultimate thrill ride, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and funsters like Slinky Dog Dash.
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom makes a great starter park for younger kids. All the classic characters converge here from Mickey Mouse to Donald Duck and it’s the park to indulge a love of The Lion King, Finding Nemo and Avatar. Although it’s not all down to clever animatronics, just head out on a Kilimanjaro Safari to see the real wildlife.
  • If you only do one Disney, it probably should be Magic Kingdom Park. The home to Cinderella’s Castle, character meet ‘n’ greets, parades, Main Street USA and rides ranging from Big Thunder Mountain Railroad to TRON Lightcycle.
  • EPCOT promises to make the impossible possible, and if that means space flights and getting real with Guardians of the Galaxy, it doesn’t disappoint. Lovers of immense firework displays don’t want to miss this one either.

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Universal Orlando Resort

Spread across 700 acres, Universal Orlando Resort is big, though not even close Walt Disney World® Resort. That said, it’s home of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and for many families that has become a reason in itself for an Orlando Vacation.

  • The Wizarding World of Harry Potter gives you everything from shopping and sipping Butterbeer in Diagon Alley to 3D thrill rides like Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, and it extends across all the Universal Orlando Resort parks.
  • Seven themed Islands of Adventure should keep you all busy whether you’re up for Marvel Super Heroes, more into Toon Lagoon or down for thrillers like Velocicoaster on Jurassic Park island. Cute as a button Hogsmeade Village is here too and younger kids have plenty to get excited about at Seuss Landing.
  • Universal Studios Orlando is a working studios with six sound stages to tour. If that sounds too tame, there are eight different areas packed with white knuckle rides to fill in the thrills. If you dare, don’t miss 17 storey high, 65mph Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit.

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SeaWorld Orlando

SeaWorld Orlando might be best known for its killer whale shows and ridiculous splash capes, but it’s also one of only two places in Orlando where you can see manatee.

  • Between eyeballing hundreds of flamingos and cooing over calves and their moms in the Dolphin Nursery, SeaWorld has wide range of animal encounters which you can just dip into. Alternatively, you can book a tour and go behind the scenes to find out more about how the animals are cared for and rehabilitated and speak to the trainers and the marine biologists who work here.
  • It’s Orlando, so of course there are thrill rides, in fact quite a few of the big hitters in terms of knuckle whitening are full-time residents, we’re talking about Kraken and recently launched, Pipeline: The Surf Coaster.
  • Live presentations include the world famous Orca Encounter -splash capes optional – as well as Sea Lion and Otter Spotlight, and the most popular of all, Dolphin Adventures.
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Apart from being the Vacation Home Capital of the World, with over 30,000 vacation rentals available, Kissimmee is also the home of most of Orlando’s theme parks. All that aside it’s also one of the most family-friendly areas, with chill dining and shopping districts, as well as almost every outdoor activity you need to antidote the manmade thrills of all those amusement parks.

  • Catch your breath and take in the scenery at Shingle Creek Regional Park. It’s a perfect place for some leisurely paddling, but if you’re up for a hike there’s a 32 mile long trail with your name on it.
  • You don’t have to go as far south as Everglades National Park to hop an airboat ride. Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures are almost as famous in Kissimmee as the theme parks and their wildlife tours are phenomenal – alligators aren’t promised, but highly possible.
  • If you don’t see alligators in the wild, then your next stop should be Gatorland where encounters are guaranteed.
  • If you want thrills that don’t involve rollercoasters, Orlando Tree Trek Adventure Park aerial rope courses are just what you need.
  • Old Town Kissimmee is a must-do for a bit of nostalgia, kid-friendly rides, vintage cars, classic American diners and good old fashioned fun. It could turn out to be the theme park you love best of all.
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International Drive

International Drive, or I-Drive as it’s known locally, is the 11-mile strip which runs from Orlando Premium Outlets, south to Highway 192. More of an experience than a boulevard, it’s home to some 20 attractions, along with six theme parks, over 200 restaurants and 100-plus hotels. And if you don’t visit at least once on your Orlando vacation you are seriously missing out.

  • Start with Icon Park which lives up to its name by having The Orlando Eye Ferris wheel at its heart. You’ll also find Madame Tussaud’s here, as well Arcade City and Sea Life Aquarium.
  • For wooden rollercoasters and heart-pumping go-kart action head for the Fun Spot.
  • Turning the world upside-down one US destination after another, WonderWorks is another attraction making a statement on I-Drive.
  • History lovers will like the Titanic Experience and for a classic experience, still nothing compares to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.
  • I-Drive is also home to the world’s largest McDonalds. You can’t miss it, just look for the stupendously large box of fries.
  • Orlando Premium Outlets features over 180 outlet stores ranging from Armani to Gap Kids.
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Downtown Orlando

Often overlooked in the rush for rollercoasters, Downtown Orlando definitely deserves your attention. For a start it has an entire lake, complete with fountain, right at its heart and if you feel like a walk, you can stroll round the entire circumference.

  • Lake Eola covers over 20 acres in the centre of Downtown Orlando and its famous fountain plays day and night, visit on a Sunday and you’ll catch the weekly market here too.
  • If looking at the lake isn’t enough of a joy, hire one of the iconic swan paddleboats and go for a sail in the sunshine.
  • Arty types are in for a treat as Downtown Orlando is home to nine street sculptures, make sure to spot them all and record the moments on Instagram.
  • If you think of Orlando as all new, new, new, drop into Orange County History Center in Downtown to learn the truth about 1000s of years gone by.
  • Get a glimpse of multi-cultural Orlando at The Wells’ Built Museum of African American History and Culture on South Street.
  • The Orlando Science Center has been around for over 60 years and it’s still astonishing kids (and parents) on the daily in Downtown Orlando.
  • Catch a spot in Eola Lake Park with a view of the fountain and watch the sun go down, it’s one of the city’s best free shows.
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Getting Around Orlando

For families flying into Orlando International Airport, a rental car is the easiest way to get around. The large interstate highway system makes Orlando a very drivable city. Many of the theme park resorts, including Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, offer shuttle transportation to and from the airport. Plus most theme parks offer complimentary shuttle services from their resort hotels to the attractions, and many Orlando resorts and hotels include theme park shuttles in the cost of your stay.

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