Here's the thing about the best theme parks in Orlando: a definitive list is hard to pin down. It really does all depend on your interests.
But, alas, we're here to help and try to suss out all the noise because, after all, you're in the "theme park capital of the world."
Here are some certainties: movie buffs will enjoy the cinematic adventures that inspire Disney’s Hollywood Studios while thrill seekers should opt for Universal Studio’s Islands of Adventure (they might scratch their itch for adrenaline at some of the best events in Orlando as well). Animal lovers will rejoice at the sight of exotic creatures when visiting Animal Kingdom (for more water-prone animals, spend some time at the best beaches near Orlando).
Whichever attraction you choose, you're sure to have a memorable time. And here's a pro tip: staying within the theme park’s property for the entirety of your stay usually comes with a bunch of desirable benefits, like early park access.
RECOMMENDED: Our guide to the best things to do in Orlando
Best theme parks in Orlando
We must kick off our list with the park that started it all. Still represented by that iconic Cinderella’s Castle you’ve been gazing at since you were little, this nostalgia-heavy destination is great for kids and grownups like. Home to six themed lands—think Frontier Land and Fantasy Land, for example—the area will host Mickey & Minnie’s Surprise Celebration starting January of 2019: expect new merchandise, food, entertainment and an energetic dance party.
Tweens, teens and adults flock to this exhilarating theme park for heart pounding thrills. By day, escape Death Eaters and dragons in Hogwarts on the state-of-the-art Forbidden Journey ride. At dusk, don’t miss the castle’s magical transformation, when the Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts show takes guests on a magical journey through the houses with lights, projections and music. Although all those activities are part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade, guests might opt to hop on the Incredible Hulk Coaster and partake in other themed activities.
Two unique areas, Future World and World Showcase, comprise Disney’s 305-acre park recognized all over the globe by the giant golf ball-like structure that calls the area home, Spaceship Earth. While adults are drawn to the park’s many special events, such as the fall’s International Food & Wine Festival, younger guests challenge their creative genes with the innovations of Future World. Coming soon: the highly anticipated Guardians of the Galaxy Rollercoaster and a new nighttime spectacular, replacing the 20-years-old Illuminations.
Universal Studios gets it right: thrust into The Fast and Furious or race through New York alongside Jimmy Fallon. For some real magic, though, enter the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Even the waits here are tolerable, thanks to the immersive and entertaining queue areas that folks on lines get to enjoy. The park’s newest nighttime lagoon show, described as an “epic cinema under the stars,” and the annual Halloween Horror Nights deserve special mentions as well.
Movie buffs, this is your park. Step back into the glamour of show biz with a walk down Hollywood Boulevard or go on a high-speed journey through Tinseltown with Aerosmith on the Rock ‘N’ Rollercoaster. The highlight of the park has guests shrinking to the size of a toy in the newest creation, Toy Story Land, where a family-friendly coaster and amusing adventure through a carnival midway brings out the kid in all. Stay tuned for a new Star Wars land in 2019.
With over four million trees, plants and shrubs imported from all around the world, this park is a masterpiece. Trek on an open air safari while observing exotic animals as they roam the faux African savanna or explore the park’s latest addition: Pandora - the World of Avatar, where you’ll soar on the back of a banshee and journey into a bioluminescent rainforest.
Orlando’s newest, most spectacular and tech-forward water park delivers the feels, from thrilling to the most serene. Adventurers will don the TapuTapu wearable on their wrists, a waterproof device exclusive to the park that will allow them to virtually wait in lines while enjoying other park activities. The gadget will also allow them to make cashless purchases. Now, in terms of adrenaline: those who dare can drop 120 feet at a 70-degree angle on one of the plenty rides here. Sign us up.
The low-key vibe at SeaWorld is a welcome change of pace and, don’t tell the kids, an education experience as well. The park is diverse, making it a great destination for guests of all ages: small kids will love Sesame Street Land (coming soon), teens will act macho on the tallest, fastest and longest coaster in Orlando while adults will contently drink the grownup beverages served on premise. The best part of it all? Tickets purchased in advance will cost you a relatively inexpensive $80.
Escape the Florida heat in the massive wave pool or glide through a rainforest and a grotto along Castaway Creek’s lazy river. The water park is home to one of the world’s largest surging lagoons and a slew of other ones ideal for the younger set. Kids 2 to 5 will enjoy Ketchakiddee Creek, an open-air water play area, while teens will love to spend time at the three speed slides, three rafting adventures and host of other rides.
What happens when you put a snow resort in Florida? You get Blizzard Beach. Best suited for older kids, daring adventurers can plummet down a 120-foot-high slide at 55 miles an hour on the world’s fastest free-fall water slide. There are plenty of family-friendly activities to partake in as well, like one of largest white water raft rides in the world. Get on this.
Catch a live gator wrestling show, hold exotic snakes or zipline over 1,200 feet of treetops and an alligator breeding marsh filled with 130 gators at this reasonably priced (just under $30 per person) and family-friendly destination right off Orange Blossom Trail. This is a great way to explore the theme park world outside of the meticulously manicured Disney grounds.
An intimate, all-inclusive park, Discovery Cove has guests swim with dolphins, snorkel with exotic fish and dip into the 85-degree waters of pristine beaches. While tickets will set you back about $199, the limited number of guests, the complimentary breakfast, lunch and unlimited snacks (including alcohol), make this a worthy splurge. It’s a lot cheaper than a trip to the Keys, after all.
The resurrected Christian-based park inspired by biblical events is a step back in time that keeps things interesting with a mix of drama and humor. Don’t expect thrill rides. Rather, musicals are set up on premise and bring Moses and Jesus to life while Roman soldiers peruse the streets. Bored? The Mall of Millenia sits right across the highway.