Did you know there are a lot of fun things to do in Orlando with kids outside the theme parks? It’s true! So if you are looking for a relaxing beach or animal encounters, there’s all of this and more! Heather from I Love Family Travel shares the best things to do with kids in Orlando, her home town!
Activities in Orlando for kids
We recently moved to Orlando from South Florida, but before that we traveled up frequently because we have a lot of family in the area. This has provided us with the opportunity to experience Orlando both as residents and tourists (we say “travelers”).
As residents, we might know some nooks and crannies in the area so we can offer some great advice if you are planning to stay here awhile. As travelers, we understand the experiences you are looking out for and the logistics of getting things done.
When you think of Orlando, your mind probably automatically heads towards the thoughts of Disney, Universal or SeaWorld, but Orlando offers so much more. It is actually much larger than people might think. In fact, we live in Orlando and it takes us 40 minutes to get to Disney. This leaves room for so many fun things to do.
We should probably add a disclaimer to the title like “Best Things to do in Orlando with kids (Besides the Major Theme Parks)”. By now, the parks appear on so many top lists for the area that we would do you no justice by repeating them here. For now, let’s assume you are renting a car and are willing to travel around a bit.
1. Visit ICON Park
ICON Park is an entertainment district located off International Drive. I-Drive stands for International Drive. (Many hotels offer a shuttle to International Drive because of Universal Studios, so even if you can’t rent a car, you may still be able to get here). ICON Park offers multiple attractions and they are all worth a visit.
The first attraction is the Orlando Eye. The Orlando Eye is a 400 ft observation wheel that provides an all-around view of central Florida. For those who worry about their kids wanting to climb out, there is no worry as each of the 30 capsules is fully enclosed. If you are timid about getting aboard, you can always check out the pre-flight 4D Cinema Experience first. (Traveling to London, you might find this wheel’s sister, The London Eye).
The second major attraction is Madame Tussauds Orlando. This celebrity wax museum is a favorite destination that provides your family the opportunity to hob knob with Hollywood’s elite from both past and present.
The third attraction is the SEA LIFE Aquarium. Give your children the opportunity to learn about and even touch some wonderful sea creatures. (There are actually SEA LIFE aquariums throughout the US and we visited one in Minnesota in June. They had a lot of unique experiences that I had not seen before).
There is a pass that allows visitors to see two or three attractions or you can purchase the attractions individually. Parking at ICON Park is free, and if the rides and attractions are busy you can always visit the shops and restaurants.
2. Go shopping
Maybe having your kids in tow, is not how you envision your time shopping, but there are actually some fun things you can experience while shopping here in Orlando. While you could probably catch a shuttle to one of the great Outlet centers in the area, there are other places you can shop and have fun too!
I love visiting Waterford Lakes Town Center. You might think I am biased because I live in the area, but you should also consider that we moved here because we liked what was offered here.
Waterford Lakes is located just off the 408, which you can catch from I-4. It might be a small drive, but you can plan your day here. Every time I go, I discover a new store that I didn’t see the last time. They probably have almost every store and restaurant you could think of. Even if they don’t, you’ll probably find it across the street or nearby on Alafaya or Colonial.
Besides shopping in the stores, you can watch a movie, have the kids play at the play area inside Chick-fil-A, stop by the two pet stores so they can play with the puppies or let them run wild at Chuck E. Cheese. We also love the frozen yogurt at Sweet! By Miss Holly (made famous by Cupcake Wars). Throughout the winter, there is a Carnival with rides and more.
Other cool places to shop include the Mall at Millenia and Disney Springs. The Mall at Millenia offers tons of different stores and restaurants. They have a currency exchange, and it’s located close to many of the attractions.
At Disney Springs, you can find a Lego store to build Lego creations, say hi to Disney characters, catch some live music, go bowling at Splitsville and see a movie too!
3. Venture out to the Central Florida zoo
The Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens is about an hour drive, but totally worth it. With over 500 animals and 23 acres of native gardens, this place offers a chance to delve into Florida’s natural side.
My son loves the Insect Zoo and the Herpetarium, especially because we have a pet lizard. There are so many educational programs and demonstrations too! We’ve learned so much about animals and plants from them.
Our favorite part is the live animal encounters and also they have a splash playground to cool down on those hot Florida days. Other favorites are the KaBoom playground, the little railroad and the carousel! They also have a children’s zoo where your kids can feed and pet the animals.
If you are feeling adventurous, you can even zipline through the tree tops with the ZOOm Air Aerial Adventures course, bungee jump or roll around in the WOW balls. It all makes for an awesome and fun experience.
Another fun animal experience is Gatorland where the kids can learn all about alligators, other native animals, and even ride a zip line over the alligator swamp!
4. Get Wet!
Obviously there are water parks at the big theme parks, but there are other places around to cool off. A favorite in the area is Universal Volcano Bay, my kids could stay here for hours!
Orlando’s central location means you can travel to either coast in about 2 hours. If you want to visit the beautiful Clearwater Beaches close to Busch Gardens, check out Cocoa Beach close to the Kennedy Space Center, or sunbathe on Daytona Beach.
There are tons of lakes here where you can go jet-skiing and boating too! Most hotels have pools, but some even have mini water parks at their resorts. You won’t need to travel far to find water for sure!
5. Learn about Florida history
Florida has tons of history that you are free to explore. Like the beaches, St. Augustine is a two hour drive, but totally worth a day trip. A community that has survived for almost 500 years is sure to bring you face to face with our past. In fact, it is the oldest continuously occupied community in the US. With its pirate museum, ship encounters, forts, and colonial-styled village areas; you will feel transported back to a different century.
Near LEGOLAND, you will find the Bok Tower. It is one of those hidden gems that you won’t have to travel too far to reach. Not only is it a National Landmark, it has the “Best Garden” in Florida with over 50 acres designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.. For the kids, they have a children’s garden with almost three acres for them to explore, as well as a water play area. For the parents, they offer daily concerts, an Outdoor Kitchen and an Edible Garden.
Everyone can get together and experience The Wild Garden that showcases four of Florida’s ecologies, along with natural wildlife, lush plantings, a boardwalk and a bog. The prime feature is the 205 ft. Singing Tower, which sings with 60 bells every half hour. Made with pink marble and coquina stone, it is both beautiful to listen to, but to see as well.
6. Try something new
For those wanting to see a different side of Orlando, consider spending time in Kissimmee where you can visit the Kissimmee Lakefront Park (there’s a great playground) and enjoy a smaller and more manageable amusement park (Fun Spot). In nearby Celebration you can wander a town built by Walt Disney Company and take a bike ride through the town for a fun adventure!