In 1964 a series of unknown companies started buying up plots of land in varying sizes in the heart of peninsula Florida. It wasn’t until the end of the following year, when Walt Disney arrived in Orlando and announced that the companies were in fact a front for the Disney Corporation, that the plans were revealed: the land was required to build the world’s most spectacular theme park - "even bigger and better than Disneyland". On 1st October 1971, Mickey Mouse escorted the first visitor into Disney World. He was closely followed by ten thousand excited thrill seekers along with numerous celebrities, from Bob Hope to Rock Hudson and Julie Andrews. At this time Disney World consisted of just the Magic Kingdom, based on Disneyland in California, but it has since been joined by sister parks EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.
On the back of their success over on the West Coast, SeaWorld and Universal Studios were next up to make their presence known in Florida’s playground, firmly cementing Orlando’s reputation as the theme park capital of the world. When planning a trip to Orlando, there’s a very good chance it’s with a theme park or two in mind! The biggest decision you’ll have is whether to be Disney-focused over in Lake Buena Vista or Kissimmee, or closer to the entertainment and parks around the International Drive area.
With so much attention placed on the phenomenal, incomparable entertainment opportunities, a visit to actual Downtown Orlando has become an increasing rarity. It is now very much the hidden gem among an ever-expanding fantasy world, revealing a surprising variety of attractive neighbourhoods and providing a complete change of scene brimming with personality and charm. The celebrated Church Street District offers a glimpse of the past with all the excitement of modern venues, trendy restaurants and nightclubs: Mills 50 is an expanding enclave of authentic Asian eateries, shops and markets, while Ivanhoe flies the flag for the art and culture scene and provides one of the city’s most popular retreats with Gaston Edwards Park.
Things to do
Theme parks of Orlando
Walt Disney World Resort is by far the largest entertainment complex in the world with the main draw being its theme parks: Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.
Universal Orlando Resort has two theme parks – the original Universal Studios Florida is now joined by Universal’s Islands of Adventure, featuring some of the most innovative and technologically advanced thrill rides and attractions. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter straddles both parks, while Universal City Walk is a 30-acre entertainment complex of restaurants, night clubs and cinemas.
SeaWorld has been entertaining guests since 1973 and is the world's most popular marine life adventure park, featuring 200 acres of sea-themed rides. SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove offers up a completely different experience as an exclusive island oasis where guests swim with dolphins, snorkel with tropical fish and rays and hand-feed exotic birds. It is an all-inclusive reservations only adventure that includes a full day of activities, swim/snorkel gear, breakfast and lunch, plus a 14-consecutive-day pass to SeaWorld Orlando and Aquatica water park. This does get very booked up so to avoid disappointment allow plenty of time to make your reservations.
Water parks of Orlando
SeaWorld’s Aquatica is a one-of-a-kind water park, home to some of the world’s most thrilling water rides, featuring more than 40 slides, rivers and lagoons and 84,000 square feet of sparkling white, sandy beaches.
Disney has two fun-filled water adventure parks. Blizzard Beach Water Park features one of the world’s tallest, fastest free-fall speed slides in a whimsical “winter” setting. It is the largest of Disney’s water parks, with 22 water slides and “icy” bobsled runs that stay comfortably warm and thrillingly fast. Typhoon Lagoon Water Park offers guests twisting tides, roaring rapids and relaxing rivers. Whether navigating the seven water slides, swimming with sharks and tropical fish or conquering waves in the largest wave pool in the U.S., this exotic paradise promises to be the wettest water adventure ever.
Wet ‘n Wild Orlando offers a variety of multi-passenger thrill rides with loads of special effects. The park’s newest ride, the Aqua Drag Racer, is a four-lane race where riders accelerate head first down 350 feet of twisting track.
Nearby Theme Parks
Busch Gardens Tampa – With nearly 300 acres of fascinating attractions based on exotic explorations around the world, this theme park offers thrilling rides, one of the country's premier zoos (with more than 12,000 animals), Broadway-style shows, one-of-a-kind animal interactions, restaurants, shops and games.
LEGOLAND Florida Resort is located in Winter Haven, 45 minutes southwest of Orlando and is an interactive theme park with more than 50 rides, shows and attractions designed for families with children aged 2-12. The resort features themed roller coasters, family rides, hands-on building activities, oversized LEGO creations, an all-new toddler attractions area and an adjoining water park.
The grand Rosen Shingle Creek is a huge hotel with excellent facilities and is well-linked to the many exciting attractions Orlando has to offer.
Located between Epcot and Hollywood Studios, the impressive Swan and Dolphin Resort puts you right in the heart of the Disney World attractions.
Whether you are planning a quick week of magic or two to three weeks of joy and excitement, choose Disney’s Ultimate ticket to experience all that ...see more
Top tips for visiting Orlando
1. Choose your theme parks
• The first thing to realise is that you can’t do absolutely everything that Orlando has to offer in just one trip. Once this is understood then you can plan – and plan you must!
• Multi day passes to theme parks work out the best value option but only if you are going to take full advantage of them. It’s important to get an idea which parks you want to visit and how many days you want to spend at each one.
• The official Visit Orlando web site will assist you with your travel plans http://www.visitorlando.com/things-to-do/
2. Remember to take a break
• When it comes to quality of theme parks, Orlando is second to none; it really does have the largest collection of the finest theme parks in the world. However, if you are planning a very park-centric vacation, do try and give yourself a break from them. This can be hard – especially due to family pressures from some of the younger members – but it does help you recharge your batteries. You can expect to walk a mile for every hour you are at the park and it can be exhausting.
• There is no shortage of other entertainment on offer in the Orlando area, or you could opt for a more relaxing day altogether and take advantage of your hotel/resort/villa’s facilities. You will find that you enjoy the theme parks so much more, and remember: it is impossible to cover everything in one trip, making Orlando the perfect return holiday destination.
3. Best time to visit Orlando
• The busiest times of year are at Christmas and Easter, June to September due to summer holidays, and the last week in February. During these times parks can reach near full capacity. However, all the rides do operate and the parks stay open longer accordingly.
• Things are a little easier during the off-season but this is the time the parks carry out their maintenance so some of the rides can be closed.
• Bear in mind that being in the subtropics, July and August are humid so thunderstorms are to be expected. Between October and March the temperatures are much more comfortable, allowing a much easier and more manageable schedule.
4. Get your FastPass+
• In order to avoid long queues at the Disney parks, the complimentary Disney FastPass+ is a service that lets you reserve access to the various attractions, entertainment and more.
• When you have purchased your ticket, you can start making selections from 30 days prior to arrival. You can make up to 3 FastPass+ selections per day (in each of the four Disney parks) in advance, either online or using the mobile app; or you can do this on the actual day at one of the park’s FastPass+ kiosk.
• Once you’ve redeemed your initial 3 picks, head for one of the kiosks, where you’ll be able to make another selection.
• For a more comprehensive guide on FastPass+, click on the following link: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/help/fast-pass-plus/
5. Kennedy Space Centre Visitor Complex
• Just an hour’s drive from Orlando takes you to the site of NASA’s space programme and the location for shuttle launches to the international space centre until 2011.
• The $100-million Space Shuttle Atlantis attraction lets guests get nose-to-nose with the historic spacecraft and “be the astronaut”, with never-before-seen multimedia presentations and more than 60 interactive, touch-screen experiences and high-tech simulators.
• Visitors feel what it’s like to blast into space in the Shuttle Launch Experience. The Apollo/Saturn V Centre provides an inspirational look into America’s quest for the moon and features an actual Saturn V moon rocket, one of only three in the world.
• There is so much to do – make sure you allow a full-day’s visit and arrive as early as you can.
• For a comprehensive list of the incredible attractions on offer, click on the link to the official web site: https://www.kennedyspacecenter.com/
6. The Orlando Eye
• The Orlando Eye is poised to become Orlando’s newest icon. Standing at 400 feet tall, it is the tallest observation wheel on the east coast of the U.S.
• Located at the I-Drive 360 entertainment and dining complex, guests are lifted away in an air-conditioned glass capsule as they take in 360-degree views of Central Florida and get a real perspective of all the theme parks and the surrounding swamp land.
7. SeaWorld etiquette
• At SeaWorld, you are allowed to feed many of the animals but do note this food must be purchased at the park and you cannot use your own food for this purpose.
• Also be aware that when watching some of the shows, you will get splashed so do make sure you protect any electronic equipment.