If you’re headed to Florida for a family vacation, there’s a good chance you’ve got at least one of the Orlando theme parks on your itinerary. While all of the best theme parks in Orlando are so jam-packed with fun activities that you really can’t go wrong with any of them, each amusement park does have something unique to offer. Unless you’re lucky enough to have the freedom to visit them all, though, you’re going to have to make some decisions about where (and when) to spend your time.
The Best Orlando Theme Parks
Whether you’re in the market for epic roller coasters, a trip with Harry Potter on the Hogwarts Express, or the Walt Disney World Resort vacation of a lifetime, here’s everything you need to know about choosing the Orlando theme parks that are the best fit for both your interests and your kids’ age group.
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1. Magic Kingdom
Best Orlando Theme Park for Kids and Kids at Heart
The most famous of Orlando’s amusement parks, Walt Disney World Resort is still going strong after five decades of popularity and magic. Nowhere is the nostalgia factor higher than at Disney’s Magic Kingdom park. When Disney World opened in 1971, Magic Kingdom was the only theme park at the resort. And now with many vacationers who visited as kids in the early days becoming parents and grandparents themselves, Magic Kingdom is the Orlando park that most appeals to every age group.
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Between Peter Pan’s Flight, Jungle Cruise, Mad Tea Party, and other opening-day attractions that remain popular today, there’s something magical about reliving childhood memories and watching little ones experience your favorite ride for the first time. Naturally, Magic Kingdom has added quite a few new attractions and updated many classic attractions since 1971, but the fairy tale elements and kid-friendly Disney rides that appeal to all ages remain forever unchanged.
And even 50-plus years on, Magic Kingdom still keeps a few secrets that only the most dedicated Disney fans know about.
Best for Lifelong Learners
EPCOT has changed quite a bit over the years, but one thing that remains the same is that every new attraction delivers an educational component alongside its thrills and chills. From the rides and shows to the exhibits and even the dining options, every experience at EPCOT is both entertaining and enlightening. (And if you haven’t been in a while, it’s probably time to rethink your opinion of the park.)
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This is the Orlando theme park to visit if you or your kids enjoy learning about the history of civilization (Spaceship Earth), diving into the wonders of the deep (The Seas with Nemo and Friends), exploring the customs and culinary delights of 11 countries around the globe (World Showcase), or venturing to outer space (Mission: SPACE and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind).
If your travel plans allow for it, visit EPCOT during one of its seasonal festivals for a deeper dive into arts, food and wine, flowers and gardening, and other culturally enriching pursuits.
3. Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Best Theme Park in Florida for Star Wars and Pixar fans
If you want to visit a galaxy far, far away at Disney’s Star Wars Land, pal around with Buzz and Woody in Toy Story Land, or catch a glimpse of old favorites like Indiana Jones, Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the Walt Disney World Resort theme park where you can do it all (including snapping selfies with Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear or Star Wars’ Kylo Ren).
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If kicking back to watch the movies is more your thing, the shows at Hollywood Studios are a must. Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy and Muppet*Vision 3D let you experience your favorite films in a whole new way. And the Walt Disney Presents walkthrough attraction commemorates the life and legacy of the man who started it all.
For a taste of movie magic in the heat of Central Florida, none of the Orlando theme parks are better for Star Wars and Pixar fans than Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
4. Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Best for Globetrotting Explorers and Animal Lovers
Nature lovers and world travelers of all ages will feel right at home at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, where you can visit areas reminiscent of Africa and Asia, journey back to prehistoric times, or fly up and away to another world of biodiversity in Pandora: The World of Avatar.
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Expedition Everest, DINOSAUR, and Avatar Flight of Passage top the list of must-do thrill rides here, but the heart of Animal Kingdom are the amusement park’s animals who call it home. To experience the true essence of Animal Kingdom, start with an early morning ride through the African savanna on Kilimanjaro Safaris. From there, hit the Conservation Station, the Maharajah Jungle Trek, and the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail to get up close and personal with creatures and critters of all sizes.
While Disney’s Animal Kingdom is hands-down one of the best theme parks in Orlando for all ages, it really shines for elementary-aged kids. Be sure to stop by Wilderness Explorer headquarters (on the bridge between the Oasis and Discovery Island) if you’re traveling with young adventurers. There, kids in the younger age groups can pick up a Wilderness Explorer handbook and fill it with nature-themed badges from locations around the park.
5. Universal Studios Florida
Best Theme Park in Orlando for Harry Potter Fans
Universal Studios Florida at Universal Orlando Resort is all about the mega movie franchises. Protecting the planet with the Transformers? Check. Fighting off aliens with the Men in Black? Check. Boarding the Hogwarts Express to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Check. It’s all just another day at Universal Studios Florida, one of the two (along with Disney’s Hollywood Studios) Orlando amusement parks that makes you the star of your favorite films and TV shows.
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Younger kids will enjoy Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and Shrek 4-D, and there’s Revenge of the Mummy and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts for the older set. You can also see mega stunts up close at The Bourne Stuntacular and get a peek behind the scenes of movie makeup at the Horror Make-Up Show. When you’re ready to kick back, take in the musical stylings of The Blues Brothers, Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees, and Marilyn Monroe.
Harry Potter fans take note: The only way to get the full Wizarding World experience at Universal Orlando Resort is to visit both Universal Studios Florida and the neighboring Islands of Adventure. Guests who purchase multi-park passes can hop on the Hogwarts Express, which connects the two parks.
6. Islands of Adventure
Best of the Orlando Theme Parks for Fanboys and Fangirls Everywhere
Each area at Universal’s Islands of Adventure is themed to a different fandom. Whether it’s Jurassic Park (and the thrilling Jurassic World VelociCoaster), Marvel super heroes, King Kong, Harry Potter, Dr. Suess, or ancient myths and legends, there’s bound to be something to dazzle all fans. It really feels like a half dozen mini amusement parks in one.
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Aside from the rides and immersive theming, there are also plenty of opportunities to get interactive in each land. You can greet your favorite heroes on Marvel Superhero Island, meet Blue the Velociraptor in Jurassic World, and let the wizard choose the wand at Ollivanders wand shop in the Wizarding World’s Hogsmeade. Don’t forget your robe or Quidditch jersey so everyone knows which Hogwarts house you represent.
7. SeaWorld Orlando
Best for Ocean and Conservation Enthusiasts
There’s so much more to SeaWorld Orlando than speeding roller coasters and wild water rides, though of course there’s plenty of those as well. SeaWorld Orlando’s animal habitats, live shows, and educational encounters are just as exciting as its thrill rides. At the Manatee Rehabilitation Area and Pelican Preserve, visitors can learn more about this Orlando theme park’s animal rescue programs, while Stingray Lagoon and the Dolphin Nursery offer an opportunity to observe natural animal behaviors up close.
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And for kids in the youngest age group, no trip to SeaWorld Orlando is complete without a visit to the preschool-friendly Sesame Street Land, where the rides, entertainment, and play areas are all designed with little kids in mind. And when it comes to thrills, big kids and adults have plenty of options, including the Journey to Atlantis water coaster and roller coasters like Ice Breaker and Mako.
8. LEGOLAND Florida
Best of the Orlando Theme Parks for Little Kids with Big Imaginations
LEGOLAND Florida is the ultimate vacation destination for fans of the popular building bricks, and is fun for every age. The rides, play areas, and even the amusement park’s onsite hotels and nearby water park look as if they’re made from giant LEGO bricks. And, of note for those with kids in the younger age group, many of the rides have no height requirement. There’s lots of chances to meet your favorite LEGO characters, too.
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Since opening in 2011, LEGOLAND Florida has continued to introduce new attractions, including the Pirate River Quest boating adventure, water sports stunts, and new stage shows. Certain ticket packages also include access to the LEGOLAND Water Park, a great place to cool off from the hot Florida sun. For parents of very little ones, the world’s first Peppa Pig Theme Park is located right next door to LEGOLAND as well.
9. Discovery Cove
Best for Getting Up Close with Sea Life
Orlando’s only all-inclusive theme park, Discovery Cove is the place to visit if your family’s dream vacation involves swimming with dolphins, feeding exotic birds, and kicking back and relaxing on the beach all in the same day. Do it all or go deep on a few activities here—you could easily spend an entire day snorkeling with tropical fish and other aquatic creatures like stingrays. Virtually all amenities are included with your ticket, including unlimited food and drinks, towels, sunscreen, snorkeling gear, wetsuits, and life vests.
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For an additional fee, you can add premium experiences like an underwater walking tour, flamingo mingle, or swimming with sharks. You can also spend a little extra for a premium drink package or private cabana. Thanks to its affiliation with other nearby Orlando theme parks, Discover Cove offers some ticket packages that include admission to SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica Orlando, and Busch Gardens Tampa.
10. Busch Gardens Tampa
Best of the Florida Theme Parks for Thrill-Seeking Animal Lovers
Speaking of Busch Gardens, it’s true: This park is not technically in Orlando. But at less than two hours down the road from Orlando’s theme parks, Busch Gardens Tampa is definitely worth a visit for families who’ve rented a car and want to enjoy other things to do in Orlando and the surrounding areas.
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Busch Gardens Tampa is the only Florida theme park where you can ride some truly extreme roller coasters and take in a Serengeti Safari all in one day. (The rides at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando are a lot of fun, but no Orlando theme park enthusiast would ever call them extreme.)
Aside from trekking through the Serengeti, amusement park guests at Busch Gardens Tampa can feed flamingos, pet a giant tortoise, and make friends with a sloth. The park also holds a variety of festivals throughout the year, including the foodie-friendly Food & Wine Festival in the spring and Bier Fest in the fall, and Sesame Street Kids’ Weekends twice a year.