There’s a reason families flock to Orlando on vacation. It’s packed with popular theme parks, sure, but that’s just the beginning. The roads are wide and well-marked, making it easy to drive around. Every restaurant has a kids’ menu. And the tourist areas are just about burst with attractions that make children smile — and their parents, too. Here’s a guide to three awesome yet not-too exhausting days that will leave your crew with many happy memories of your getaway. Expect to take lots of pictures.
Day 1: Jump into a Toy Story
Head straight from the airport to Legoland Florida. Unlike other theme parks, this one is made for families and only families. In fact, it’s packed with stuff that 2 to 12-year-olds love to do. Here, you’ll find mini cities, mild roller coasters, areas themed to Ninjago and Heartlake City, and an adjacent water park that are all pint-sized and full of color.
Even the two onsite hotels make families happy. At Legoland Beach Retreat, parents can chill on shaded loungers outside their rooms, sipping cold beverages, while watching the kids climb and giggle their way around a playground that’s close by. Spend the morning and afternoon exploring the park, and in the evening, enjoy the resort and rest up for tomorrow.
Day 2: Let Your Day Bloom
Before heading into Orlando proper, steer the car to Bok Tower Gardens. The kids can run free through acres upon acres of flowers, bushes, and trees that have been growing there for almost 100 years. Every so often, music magically appears in the background. That’s because a “singing” Carillon tower emits tunes via 60 enormous cast-bronze bells.
Day two is all about classic Orlando attractions (sans theme parks, of course). Once you reach Orlando’s International Drive or Lake Buena Vista neighborhoods, head toward any miniature golf course — putt-putt offerings are top of the line in this town, since so many families drive through.
Pirate’s Cove has two crazy-lush Central Florida locations. Yo-ho-ho together as you try for that hole-in-one while gawking at waterfalls and buccaneers’ ships. Stop for lunch at McDonald’s, located at 6875 Sand Lake Road. It’s got the largest PlayPlace in the entire world, including a singing Mac Tonight and a toddlers-only section. After refueling, head north to Fun Spot. It’s a timeless family play amusement park with bumper boats, go-karts, thrills rides, and an arcade.
End the day with a family-friendly dinner show such as Wantilan Luau, which is a good one because it gets the kids involved. You might all end up dancing around the dining room in a conga line to upbeat Polynesian music in between bites of South Pacific fare.
Day 3: Be an Explorer
On your last day in Orlando, travel back in time to the adventurous days of the early settlers. Get an idea of how Florida’s original ranchers lived at Forever Florida, where you can take a buggy tour through a working ranch and nature reserve. You’ll see alligators, learn about Spanish moss, and discover the story behind the ranch’s endangered cattle. Older kids will go nuts for the zip line center, which even has a roller coaster version. To get a bit of history for less money, tour the Osceola Heritage Park. It has both restored older buildings and other new models that were built to look like originals.
Florida’s early ranchers got through the “wetlands” — what locals call swamps — on airboats, and you should too. Strap yourselves in tight, and then just sit back as a captain whooshes you over reeds to see water birds, gators, and other native creatures. At Boggy Creek and Black Hammock, you can snack on gator bites after your boat ride; they’re like chicken fingers, except for the gator part.
End your trip at Disney World — for free. A huge area called Disney Springs has stores that are fun to browse, loads of live entertainment every evening, and free parking. Stroll around and you might come across a roving piano player (the piano is on self-propelled wheels), open-air concerts, and stage shows that get the audience involved. Just walk up and listen.
As for shopping, Once Upon a Toy and The Lego Store let kids play with toys at their leisure. Make time for the World of Disney, where the displays are so gawk-worthy that the inside is its own destination. A spray park lets kids run around and get splashed, and sometimes “cast members” even organize games.
If it’s in your budget, splurge on royal makeovers at the Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boutique. If that’s not up your kid’s alley, another option is a “hyper-reality” experience called The Void, with a Star Wars theme. When it comes to dinnertime, all kinds of big-name restaurants have to-go windows with more budget-friendly food. Some options include Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ Kitchen, Morimoto Asia, and Rick Bayless’ Frontera Cocina.
Want more inspiration for you next family excursion or long weekend? Check out our other Family Fun guides to cities all across the U.S.!