Orlando: what to see and do. A fun family trip to theme parks Disney, Universal, SeaWorld and more

Why go

It may not be a quiet and relaxing spa retreat or five-star sandy island, but with warm and sunny weather all year round – boasting summer highs of 32C plus and comfortable 22C plus in the winter – Orlando, in central Florida, is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world.

There really is something for everyone to do here no matter what your age. With some of the world’s top theme parks including Disney, Universal and SeaWorld, it’s easy to see why it’s such a family favourite. There are also huge sprawling malls where you can buy the latest fashions for a fraction of the price and beaches lie just an hour away.

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What to do
Riverboat Disney Magic Kingdom flickr M Gleason
Go on a riverboat in Disney’s Magic Kingdom

This is theme park heaven. Disney has four parks – Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot – where you can rub shoulders with your favourite characters. If you’re a Marvel fan and love rollercoasters head to Universal Studios and its sister park Islands of Adventure.

For anyone who loves animals, a trip to SeaWorld is a must for a mixture of thrilling rides, animal shows and up-close encounters with wildlife. If you get tired of the heat and the big crowds, head to places like Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum and the famous Titanic exhibition.

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Where to stay
Grand-floridian. Disney. Orlando.
Stay at the five star Grand Floridian

Major hotels have good outposts here, though large parties may find a private villa works better. Disney has its own resorts, from the five-star Grand Floridian to the cheaper Disney All Star Music resort. If you are looking to be bang in the middle of the tourist area, look for hotels on International Drive, which is a hub of restaurants, places to stay and things to do.

Where to eat

Classic American chains, steakhouses and pizza outlets rule. Buffets are also big business here. If you are in search of a belly buster head to Texas de Brazil, a Brazilian steakhouse on International Drive where for under $50 you can eat as much meat, salad and bread as you can fit in.

Disney has many restaurants in its resorts, which are well worth a visit. Be careful, though – some are pretty pricey so you might want to save a visit to those for a special occasion.

Getting around

Orlando is a big city and the tourist areas are spread out, so car hire is essential. You can get great deals from your travel agent or by booking direct with the company before you leave the UK. Taxis are another option, though they tend to be expensive.

When to go
The Orlando Eye
The Orlando Eye

You can go virtually any time during the year and enjoy the sunshine and heat. If you like the sun but can’t stand peak temperature, November to March is a wonderful time to visit. Florida can get cold in the winter but you will still get the sunshine and theme parks and shopping malls will be much less crowded.

If you don’t mind the heat or have kids and have to travel during the summer, be prepared for high humidity levels that can turn an otherwise pleasant day into an endurance test.

Three things we like
  1. It’s sunny all year around – makes for a great tan.
  2. You can save a bundle on designer clothes for the whole family.
  3. Beaches are within close driving distance for those days when you really need to take a rest away from the hustle and bustle of the parks.
Something we don’t like

Orlando can get very busy with tourists, particularly in the summer during the school holidays. Theme park queues can take several hours so go prepared and try to book queue hops online.

Don’t miss

The Orlando Eye has just been built – like the London Eye, it boasts terrific views and on a clear day you can see all the way to the coast.

Shop at the Prime Outlets for the designer clothes bargains you won’t see anywhere else.

The Orlando Eye. Photo; The Orlando Eye
See central Florida from The Orlando Eye

 

Travelling with family

Orlando was built for families. Water parks such as Aquatica are popular with families wanting to cool down and kids will love spending down-time in their hotel or villa pools.

High50 insider tips
  • Don’t take too many clothes, as Orlando’s culture is casual. T-shirts, shorts, a pair of jeans and flip-flops are the norm.
  • Turn your holiday into a two-centre vacation by spending one week doing the theme parks and the second week at the beach.
  • There’s not much time for relaxing if you want to do the parks, so stay cool, drink lots of water and go with the flow.

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Need to know
  • Flying time from the UK is around nine hours.
  • The airport is about 30-45 minutes from the main tourist areas.
  • You will need a travel plug adapter if you are bringing your own electronics.
  • Orlando is five hours behind the UK (GNT -5).
  • The currency is the US dollar.
  • The weather is sunny all year-round s0 pack plenty of sun-tan lotion
  • A visa is needed to enter the USA.