When people think of Orlando, they often immediately think of Walt Disney World. And while I’m not going to lie, Disney is fun, there is so much more to Orlando than the House of Mouse. We spent 3 weeks in Orlando and after a few days, we just needed to do something else. Here are the top 20 things we found to do that aren’t Disney-related, but still family-friendly.
- Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure – Universal is our family’s hands-down favorite theme park. Anywhere. There’s the big, scary roller-coasters for my husband, and Harry Potter, Spongebob, Curious George, Dr. Seuss and other great fun for me and the child. There are so many great rides and experiences condensed into just 2 parks, AND if you if you have teens that like to go off on their own, they’re not far away, even if they are in the other park. Read our tips on Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure for more details.
- SeaWorld – My son is a huge animal lover, and SeaWorld is his hands-down favorite theme park. There’s Shamu… need I say more? Of course I will say more, because there is a ton to do here with kids. They love the sea lion pirate show, Pets Ahoy, and the shark Encounter. Husband loves the rides – Kraken and Manta are awesome, he says. I love the dolphins and the stingrays. Like Universal, this park is compact and easy to navigate, which is a huge plus.
- Aquatica – Water park off SeaWorld with sandy beaches, pools for all ages, water slides and rides, and animal encounters!
- Discovery Cove – Snorkel park off SeaWorld that is the ultimate in animal encounters. Swim with dolphins, stingrays, a huge variety of tropical fish, feed tropical birds, meet Key Deer (the tiny deer native to the Florida Keys), and swim near sharks (while they are safely behind glass). Play, swim or relax on sandy beaches, or walk the many bridges over the snorkel areas to view the animals without getting wet.
- WonderWorks – upside-down building at Pointe Orlando – hands-on science museum that is really fun for ages 7 and up. There is an earthquake simulator, bubble factory, music lab, laser tag, and so much more!
- Volcano Bay – Brand-new tropical-themed water park at Universal Studios. With 18 water rides and plenty of sandy or shady places to relax, your family can spend an entire day of refreshing fun no matter how hot the Florida sun can get.
- Kennedy Space Center (about an hour east of Orlando, but worth the drive. See Daytona post for more to do here) They are celebrating their 50th birthday this year so expect some great deals and exciting behind-the-scenes events!
- Mini Golf – Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf – mini golf with a cool pirate theme, Congo River Golf & Exploration Co. has a jungle theme and live alligators.
- LEGOLAND Florida (Winter Haven – about 45 min southwest of Orlando) – The largest LEGOLAND theme park to date, and now includes a water park and 2 hotels. Aimed at ages 2-12, but any LEGO addict will have a great time here. Since we have a LEGO addict… we have a few posts on LEGOLAND, but I would suggest starting with this one.
- Model trains, helicopter tour – We come for the model train exhibit… there is a scavenger hunt that our son really likes. Haven’t done the helicopter tour, but if you like that sort of thing, it’s available here. There’s no website for the trains, but if you check the address for the helicopter tour, on the building you’ll see the sign “Model Train Exhibit”. The train shares a lobby with the helicopter tours. Across I-Drive from Walgreens, near Pointe Orlando. There’s a rumor that it’s closing, so if you don’t find it, let me know in the comments.
- Dinner Theater Shows: Dinner and a show is always fun, but the emphasis is typically on the show and less so on the food. There are currently 4 shows worth seeing though: Medieval Times, Pirate’s Dinner Adventure, The Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show, and Sleuths Mystery Dinner Show. Sleuths is a murder mystery dinner on steroids, so probably best for ages 10 and up. The Magic Comedy Dinner show is at WonderWorks and serves unlimited pizza, beer, wine, soda and dessert. The pizza alone makes this my #1 pick since I know I won’t have to be buying dinner after the dinner show for my picky eater.
- I-Ride Trolley – A must for train lovers and more fun than taking the bus. Multiple stops along I-Drive including the Prime and Premium Outlet malls, SeaWorld, Pointe Orlando outdoor mall (shopping, restaurants, theater), and several more. Kids under 12 ride free with paying adult.
- Monkey Joe’s – Super fun indoor inflatable playground… slides, bounce houses, obstacle courses, etc. Ideal for kids under 10 all the way down to toddlers. The only caveat: hose your child down immediately after coming here. All of these types of places are breeding grounds for the latest flu bug or virus, and you don’t want to spend the next 3 days with a sick kid. Been there, done that.
- Blue Man Group – in a word: AWESOME! This is one of my favorite live shows anywhere. It’s funny, musical, messy (if you sit up front), and wildly entertaining for ages 8 and up (might be a little over-stimulating for younger kids) – at City Walk at Universal.
- SEA LIFE Aquarium – We have a SEA LIFE in Minneapolis at the Mall of America and absolutely LOVE it!! The aquarium is top-notch with an amazing tunnel to walk through to see tons of fish. There are several hands-on exhibits and learning spaces as well as opportunities to go behind the scenes or even get in the water. You can also get tickets here for Madame Tuseaud’s Wax Museum and the Coca-Cola Orlando Eye (giant Ferris wheel).
- I-Drive NASCAR – Indoor go-kart racing. We haven’t done this, so if you have, let me know what you think in the comments below.
- La Nouba by Cirque de Soleil – Downtown Disney is an admission-free area filled with shops and restaurants, and this amazing energetic Cirque de Soleil show. Of course, there is admission fees for the show, but it’s so worth it! It’s closing at the end of 2017 after 25 years, so if you haven’t gone, now’s the time!
- iFLY Orlando Indoor Skydiving – near Universal Studios – safe for ages 3 and up. This, to me, looks fantastic! I am such a chicken, I know I’ll never jump out of an airplane on purpose. Especially not just for fun. So to get the feeling of skydiving while still being a safe distance from the ground is very appealing to me.
- Gatorland – Animal encounters or view from a distance. You’ll find gators, birds, and reptiles. There’s Critters on the Go where they bring the cute and cuddly animals around the park for kids to pet, watch the Gator Wrestlin’ alligator wrestling show, ride the Screamin Gator zip-line, or meet some native species (including some dangerous creatures) at the Upclose Encounters.
- Fun Spot Action Park – outdoor go-karts, bumper boats, and carnival rides for the whole family from preschoolers to teens.
I could actually list about 20 more… and someday I might. 😉 As you can see, there is an endless amount of things to do in Orlando without Disney passes. Some are cheap, others not-so-much, but all will give your family a great time on your vacation.
Share your favorite kid-friendly Orlando attractions in the comments below!