15 New Orlando Experiences That Will Blow Your Kids Away

Last updated 26th July 2022

A whopping 75 million people traveled to Orlando last year, making it the most visited vacation spot in America and one of the most popular places on earth. Sure, Disney World and Universal grab a lot of headlines, but they’re only two of many reasons to visit the Theme Park Capital of the World. My favorite kid reporter, my 6-year-old daughter Lucy, and I recently went down for a fun-packed trip to check out all the new reasons to plan a trip to Orlando now. Here’s the low down on the best new things to do, from thrill rides to cool hotels to restaurants that the whole family will eat up. And a tip: when you’re planning a trip to Orlando, make sure to check out tourism bureau websites and social media channels like visitorlando.com and @visitorlando for tips and special offers. Now read on for my favorite 15 new Orlando experiences — they’re guaranteed to blow your kids away.

1/15 For Star Wars Nuts: Galaxy’s Edge

Probably the biggest news of all is Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which just opened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Less-frequented (though not for long), this park has previously been known for attractions like the Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Toy Story Land. With the new Star Wars-themed land, the Magic Kingdom can expect competition. You’ll find an out-of-this-galaxy experience that brings Star Wars to life with cool rides like the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, where guests climb into the cockpit, and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, where kids can battle with Kylo Ren. There are also themed treats, like the Green Milk that Luke Skywalker drank onscreen, and plenty of souvenirs. At Savi’s Workshop, guests have the opportunity to craft and customize their very own lightsabers. Whatever you do, don’t leave before dark — the nightly fireworks are otherworldly.

2/15 For Thrill-Seekers: Hagrid’s Roller Coaster

Lucy is a Potterhead, so she went nuts for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Ever since our visit last year, she has been coveting one of the magic wands that activates hidden tricks and brings things to life. Too bad she couldn’t wave that wand and get us in the front of the line for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, an all-new roller coaster thrill ride that takes you deep into the Forbidden Forest. It’s the longest roller coaster in Florida, clocking in at 5,053 feet (nearly a mile) long and hitting speeds up to 50 mph.

3/15 For Animal Lovers: Discovery Cove

Who doesn’t adore a baby dolphin? Discovery Cove, a tropical island oasis where we spent the day, is home to two new baby dolphins who you’ll see playing in the water. At this reservations-only spot, families can interact with and learn about all the dolphins who call Discovery Cove home, snorkel with tropical fish, swim with stingrays and hand-feed exotic birds. We got to meet a baby sloth, which was the next best thing to going to Costa Rica. I also got a chance to check out the sea life with SeaVenture, a cool diving adventure that takes you under the waves. Another great thing about Discovery Cove: It’s all-inclusive, so everything is included: food, cocktails, snorkel gear, wet suits, towels, lockers, beach umbrellas, chairs and hammocks. Be sure to get there early and leave plenty of time for chilling out on the white-sand beach.

4/15 For Little Ones: Sesame Street

Fans of Elmo, Cookie Monster and Big Bird will flip for the new Sesame Street at SeaWorld Orlando, which opened its doors this spring. Kids can immerse themselves in Sesame Street’s iconic neighborhood: Explore Abby Cadabby’s garden, shop at Mr. Hooper’s store and sit on the famous stoop. All your furry pals do meet-and-greets and take part in SeaWorld Orlando’s first-ever parade. Look for exciting rides, wet and dry play areas and plenty of interactive experiences.

5/15 For Lego Fans: Lego Movie World

Lego lovers won’t want to miss Lego Movie World at Legoland Florida Resort. The park brings Lego to life, showcasing three new attractions based on the iconic film: Unikitty’s Disco Drop, Battle of Bricksburg and The Lego Movie Masters of Flight, a unique 180-degree rotating theater space with 4D elements such as smells and water sprays.

6/15 For Kids with Special Needs: Certified Autism Centers

The wonderful thing about a destination like Orlando is that the parks and attractions understand how to cater to everyone, including autistic travelers. In fact, Discovery Cove, Sea World Orlando and Aquatica have been designated as certified autism centers. What does this mean? You’ll find ambassadors who have received specialized training in assisting guests with sensory needs. Sensory guides are available for various experiences, and there are designated quiet spaces for guests who need to get away from over-stimulation. At Discovery Cove, the park also limits the number of guests each day to ensure that it never feels crowded.

7/15 For Speed Demons: Hollywood Studios

As if Star Wars wasn’t enough. Hollywood Studios is attracting speed demons with two high-throttle new attractions. The new live show, Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy, features characters from the Cars movie series, including McQueen himself, plus buddies Mater and Cruz Ramirez. On the horizon is the first-ever Mickey-themed ride-through attraction, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, opening this fall. And a secret: There are more Hidden Mickeys on this train than anywhere else in the park.

8/15 For Surfer Wannabes: Aquatica Orlando

Always dreamed of being a surfer? Head to the Aquatica Orlando water park, where you’ll find the just-opened KareKare Curl, which combines the thrill of surfing and the adrenaline of a high-speed water slide. This wild new attraction features two-passenger rafts and allows riders to ride a vertical wave wall. You’ll get a feeling of weightlessness that is usually only reserved for the surf set.

9/15 For a Bird’s Eye View: Disney Skyliner

Look up in the air. There’s a cool new way to get around Disney World: the Disney Skyliner, a high-tech gondola transportation system opening in September 2019 at Walt Disney World. Guests will get thrilling bird’s-eye views as they ride throughout the park. The system will connect Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios to Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, Disney’s Pop Century Resort and Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, and — in the future — the Disney Riviera Resort.

10/15 For Car Nuts: Orlando Auto Museum

There’s a lot to discover in the Theme Park Capital beyond the parks. Being a family of car nuts, Lucy and I are excited for the new Orlando Auto Museum, one of the largest privately-owned collection of automobilia in the world. It’s going to be located at Dezerland Action Park, Orlando’s largest indoor entertainment complex. The sprawling, 250,000-square-foot space will have over 100 cars from TV shows and movies, including 007 James Bond, Batmobiles and more.

11/15 For Safari Lovers: Wild Florida

Who needs to go to Africa when you have the new Drive-Through Safari at Wild Florida. The gator-loving park is adding another 75 acres to its existing 13 acres. As you drive your car along a two-mile trail, you’ll be able to check out giraffes, wild boars and more. (You can also borrow a park-supplied buggy.) For brave souls, there’s a new zipline across the grazing area. And don’t miss one of wild Florida’s classic experiences: an airboat ride to check out Florida’s native exotic species — gators.

12/15 For Foodies: Disney Springs

Want to have an amazing meal? Head to Disney Springs, a dining, entertainment and shopping complex spread across 120 acres. José Andrés, the Nobel Peace Prize-nominated chef, recently opened Jaleo, transporting the flavors of Spain to Florida. Can’t decide what to eat? Just ask for “José’s Way,” and you’ll get a selection of the chef’s classic dishes. Lucy gobbled up the Jamón Ibérico, which is carved tableside. We also loved James Beard Award-winning chef Tony Mantuano’s Terralina Crafted Italian, which is inspired by Italy’s Lake District. Look for dishes like homemade lasagna and brick chicken. Kids love the artisanal pizzas made in a wood-burning oven. Another fun find for sporty families: the new NBA Experience, which is a slam dunk with its interactive games and competitions, retail store and sports-themed restaurant.

13/15 For Adventurous Eaters: CityWalk

Universal’s CityWalk is lined with delicious restaurants. We were excited to discover The Cowfish, a fusion spot with sushi for mom and burgers for Lucy. Their signature creation is something called “Burgushi,” which mixes burgers and sushi. Think: sushi rolls created with burger ingredients, and sandwiches with sushi. Another CityWalk favorite: the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen, known for its decadent signature milkshakes.

14/15 For News Junkies: TODAY Cafe

I’ve appeared as a guest on NBC’s TODAY Show many times, so I was delighted by the TODAY Café, which recently opened at Universal Studios Florida. With its stage lighting and anchor desks, I can confirm that the cafe feels like you’re stepping into the iconic Studio 1A at Rockefeller Center. Snack on New York-inspired sandwiches and salads, plus avocado toast (of course) as you catch up on top headlines from TODAY’s live broadcast.

15/15 For Everyone: Hotel News

There are so many amazing places to stay in the Orlando area. The latest Universal opening is Surfside Inn and Suites, the first of two new affordable hotels that will make up Universal’s Endless Summer Resort. Look for rates starting at $100 per night, free transport to the parks and early park admission — which means you’ll be hanging with Harry Potter earlier than anyone else. Over at Disney, the Coronado Springs Resort, is adding a 15-story tower with a new rooftop restaurant and lounge offering panoramic views of the nighttime fireworks. Coming in December is Disney Riviera Resort, which is connected to the Disney Skyliner gondola line and will also have a rooftop restaurant with fireworks views. Beyond the theme parks is the new waterfront Margaritaville Resort Orlando, with hotel rooms and Margaritaville-themed vacation homes. The resort is adding a dining and entertainment district and a 12-acre water park.

By Laura Begley Bloom