11 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Orlando
The city of Orlando is located in one of the world's most visited tourist regions, which draws tens of millions of visitors every year. Among its principal tourist attractions are Walt Disney World, SeaWorld Orlando, and Universal Orlando. Within easy reach, too, is the Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral. The establishment of these mega-amusement parks has encouraged other investors, and there are nearly limitless hotel and motel beds in the Orlando area, thousands of restaurants, dozens of golf courses, and numerous other attractions and things to do. Orlando has a subtropical climate, with hot and rainy weather from May to October and cooler temperatures from November to April and it's at risk for hurricanes due to its location.
See also: Where to Stay in Orlando
1 Walt Disney World Parks
Walt Disney World is Florida's most popular family attraction and has been for many years. Of its four parks, Magic Kingdom is the most iconic, with Cinderella's Castle standing at the center of the park. Epcot's Spaceship Earth geosphere stands at the entrance of this exposition-style park, which includes Future World and the World Showcase, an around-the-world experience that gives visitors a chance to peek at different cultures and meet popular international Disney characters like Mulan, Belle, and Mary Poppins. The Hollywood Studios park gives visitors the opportunity to see into the world of movie magic, with exciting stunt and special effect shows and even tours through actual studio space. The Kilimanjaro safari experience at Animal Kingdom is an amazing way to see African animals run free in a natural habitat, and the massive Tree of Life makes the perfect backdrop for family photos.
Fireworks and parades are nightly events throughout the parks, and there are special events year-round. Although lines for the top attractions and rides are notoriously long, there are Fast Pass options that can help you get the most out of your visit. If you are going to be visiting multiple parks, leave a minimum of one day for each and be sure to use a park map to plan ahead. Disney's many resort hotel complexes make the experience complete and offer a full range of themed destinations from budget resorts like Pop Century to the Port Orleans Resort and Downtown Disney, which cater to a more adult crowd, with shopping, restaurants, theaters, and music venues.
Location: Orlando, Florida
2 Universal Theme Parks
Universal Studios Florida is a combination theme park and working studio that was designed in consultation with Steven Spielberg to give visitors an interactive experience with the filmmaking industry. Universal's Islands of Adventure has seven themed island parks that are each dedicated to a film franchise. These include Seuss Island, The Lost Continent, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, Skull Island, and Marvel Superhero Island. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the park's newest addition, complete with Hogwarts Castle and Hogsmeade. Diagon Alley extends into the Universal Studios park, where visitors can join Harry's escape from Gringotts bank. Universal Studios also has regular events and celebrations for the whole family. City Walk, also part of Universal, is a huge entertainment complex, featuring dining, shopping, movies, and other day and night entertainment.
Location: Universal Blvd, Orlando, Florida
Orlando's SeaWorld is known for its massive aquariums, dolphin and whale shows, touch pools, and many exciting rides. Although guests may no longer feed the dolphins, you are still able to reach into the interactive dolphin pool and pet these beautiful, intelligent creatures. Those who want to get even more hands-on can sign up for an up-close tour with the dolphins, killer whales, sea lions, penguins, or sharks. Other special tours include a behind-the-scenes look at SeaWorld operations and tours of the manatee rehabilitation center or the dolphin nursery, where the park's youngest dolphins are cared for. In addition to the plethora of sea life, the park has many exciting rides for all ages, including several water rides that are refreshing on a hot Florida day. The park's most popular thrill rides are its roller coasters, including the Mako hyper coaster, the Manta Coaster, and the Kraken Virtual Reality Coaster.
Address: 7007 SeaWorld Drive, Orlando, Florida
4 Discovery Cove
Located next to SeaWorld Orlando, Discovery Cove is one of the area's premier attractions. Visitors to the park can interact with the natural ocean life, including snorkeling along a coral reef, exploring underwater with a full dive helmet, wading among stingrays, and swimming with the dolphins. There is also a large aviary where you can interact with exotic birds, a relaxing river that you can explore and snorkel in, and a tropical swim area where you can splash in the pools or relax in a lounge chair on the sandy beach. Visitors can purchase an all-inclusive, one day pass, and due to the extreme popularity of Discovery Cove it is best to book a reservation well in advance during peak season.
Address: 6000 Discovery Cove Way, Orlando, Florida
5 Typhoon Lagoon
Typhoon Lagoon is Disney's biggest and most popular water park. There are a wide variety of attractions for all ages, including kiddie rides and swimming and splash areas, like Ketchakiddee Creek, a play area designed for young children. Surfers will love the huge wave pool, and those who want to give it a shot can sign up for surfing lessons. Other attractions include a peaceful ride down the lazy river, whitewater adventures on Miss Adventure Falls, and thrill rides like Humunga Kowabunga. There are also multiple waterslides throughout the park for various age levels, and even a sandy beach where kids can play while parents relax. An alternative water park is Disney's Blizzard Beach, which has a ski-resort theme and features a long, winding river that circles that park, as well as a variety of water rides for the whole family.
Address: 1145 East Buena Vista Boulevard, Orlando, Florida
6 Volcano Bay
Volcano Bay is Universal's water theme park, and like the other area resorts, there are play-and-stay options for those who want to truly immerse themselves in the experience. Krakatau sits at the center of the park and houses the popular Aqua Coaster thrill ride. Waturi Beach faces the volcano, where guests can relax on a sandy beach and swim in the large wave pool. Here, guests can use one of the provided lounge chairs, upgrade to padded loungers, or even rent a cabana. Exciting park attractions include huge waterslides, tubing, and thrill rides, and there are also plenty of areas dedicated to younger guests, including a zero-entry wading area. As an added convenience, the park has introduced the TapuTapu, a waterproof wearable device that allows guests to electronically get "in line" for one ride at a time, and then spend their wait time relaxing instead of standing in the hot sun in a line. The device is free and given to each guest upon entrance.
7 Day Trip to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
About an hour's drive away, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is one of the most popular day trips from Orlando. It gives tourists the unique opportunity to see one of NASA's best-known operations centers. Here, you will find the Heroes and Legends exhibits, which introduce guests to the lives and careers of those who made the space program possible, from engineers to early space explorers. This also includes the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, as well as the Rocket Garden where you can see the rockets from some of NASA's most famous flights, including the Apollo and Gemini programs. Other exhibits include lunar exploration, mock astronaut training, the shuttle launch experience, and an IMAX theater. If you time your visit right, you can even watch launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
8 Orlando Science Center
The Orlando Science Center showcases several branches of science from mechanics to biology and applied technology. There are a variety of themed exhibits. Among the top favorites is "Kids Town". Kids Town is available to children under 48 inches tall with stimulating interactive exhibits. There are also laser shows and large format films at the Dr. Phillips CineDome.
In addition to the exhibit galleries the Science Center presents touring exhibits from across the country.
Address: 777 East Princeton Street, Orlando, FL 32803-1291, United States
Gatorland has thousands of alligators, crocodiles, and other reptiles, some of which perform in daily shows and demonstrations. The "Alligator Jumparoo" show and "Gator Wrestlin'" are two examples. The facility is also home to rare leucistic alligators, which are white. A small train does rounds on the grounds, and an observation tower provides views of the breeding marsh and surrounding region. One of the more recent additions to Gatorland is the zipline that runs over the top of alligators and crocodiles. For the less adventurous there is still the self-guided swamp walk, and kids will enjoy the Gator Gully Splash Park.
Address: 14501 South Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando, Florida
10 Wet 'N Wild
One of Florida's first water parks, Wet 'N Wild contains enough fun and thrill rides to entertain people all day long. On site are a wave pool, water slides, chutes, raft rides, and flumes. There are both individual and multi-person rides. Some of the highlights include "The Surge," a six-story speed slide, and "Bomb Bay," where the rider is dropped in a capsule from a great height. For those looking for a little less adventure but just as much fun, there is a Lazy River where you can drift down a man-made river in an inner tube.
11 Exotic Animal Experience
Orlando's Exotic Animal Experience offers visitors the chance to have personal encounters with some of the world's most interesting animals. Residents at the park include several species of kangaroos and lemurs, owl monkeys, kinkajou, deer, and two-toed sloths. All visits are by reservation only, and guests have the choice of a group experience, private visit, and special packages that allow you to spend extra time with the animals. There is also a "Simply Sloths" option for those who want to spend all their time hanging out with the world's most adorable critters.
Location: Quinlan Street, Orlando, Florida
Where to Stay in Orlando for Sightseeing
Most first-time visitors to Orlando come to visit the famous theme parks: SeaWorld, Walt Disney World, and Universal Studios, about 10 to 20 miles from the downtown area. A short drive from the theme parks, the popular tourist area around International Drive is home to large outlet malls, water parks such as Wet 'n' Wild, and other tourist attractions. Below are some highly-rated hotels, with swimming pools, in convenient locations for visiting Orlando's top tourist sites and outlet shopping malls:
- Luxury Hotels: Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort, in a gated community at the namesake theme park, ensconces guests in serene rooms and suites with views of the fireworks and an array of enticing spa services. Waldorf Astoria Orlando is another top luxury option, a five-minute complimentary shuttle ride from Walt Disney World. Guests can use the facilities at the more affordable yet still top-notch Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek next door, including a three-acre lazy river pool and waterslide. Also close to the Disney theme parks, as well as outlet shopping malls, Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress is another family-friendly and more affordable luxury option.
- Middle-Range Hotels: A free shuttle whisks you to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure from Drury Inn & Suites, a good value mid-range option. Close to Walt Disney World and outlet shopping, Marriott's Cypress Harbour has two-bedroom suites and villas with fully-equipped kitchens that are great for families, while Homewood Suites Orlando/International Drive/Convention Center sits in a convenient location 15 minutes by car from Walt Disney World and only 10 minutes by car from Universal Studios and SeaWorld.
- Budget Hotels: In a fantastic location, about four minutes by car from Walt Disney World, Hampton Inn Orlando/Lake Buena Vista offers great value with free parking and a complimentary shuttle to the park. From the Fairfield Inn & Suites Orlando Universal Studios, you can take advantage of the free shuttle to Universal Studios or walk to the park in about 15 minutes, and the Comfort Suites near Universal Studios offers large, clean rooms within walking distance of restaurants.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Orlando
- Multi-Day Universal Park Passes: To get the most flexibility out of your visit to Orlando, residents of the U.S. and Canada can purchase Universal Orlando Tickets that are good for entrance during a seven-day period of your choice. Options include two-, three-, and four-day passes for the two main parks or for all three, including Volcano Bay.
- Helicopter Tour: One of the most unique ways to see Orlando and the surrounding area is from the air. A Helicopter Tour from Walt Disney World Resort Area offers a chance to gain a bird's-eye view of the theme parks and get a true picture of their size and layout.
- Day Trip to Kennedy Space Center: One of the biggest attractions in Florida can be easily visited on the Kennedy Space Center Day Trip with Transport from Orlando. This comprehensive tour allows plenty of time to explore the many exhibits at this large complex and includes IMAX films, a tour of NASA's Launch Headquarters, a private tour of the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit, and hotel pickup and drop-off. For a slightly shorter and more economical tour with a few less perks, try the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral Tour.