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Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom
Photograph: Matt Stroshane

The 8 best Orlando theme parks for the whole family

Planning a visit to these top Orlando theme parks? Here's everything you need to know.

Megan duBois
Written by
Megan duBois

When most people think of Florida, one of the first things that come to mind are Orlando's theme park – sprawling resorts filled with sugary treats, lovable characters, and iconic attractions. But we're here to tell you that there is more to Orlando's most iconic attractions than character-clad meals and long lines. 

Whether it’s your first time in Orlando or you live down the street from the storybook castles, it can be hard to decide which ones to visit because they are all so different. We’re breaking down all eight theme parks that bring people to the area to help you decide where to go, what to do at each, what’s new or coming up (like the best events in Orlando), and even a few tips on how to do the parks like a pro. Relive the nostalgia of your childhood at Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World, experience animal encounters at SeaWorld Orlando, or fly high in the sky with E.T. at Universal Studios Florida – there is a theme park for everyone in Orlando.

RECOMMENDED: Our guide to the best things to do in Orlando

Best Orlando theme parks

  • Attractions
  • Theme parks
  • Camino Real

There really is nothing like walking down Main Street U.S.A and seeing the iconic Cinderella Castle at the end of the hub. The park opened October 1, 1971, making 2021 the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World. Magic Kingdom is filled with nostalgia for young and old with rides like Space Mountain and The Jungle Cruise, and characters like Mickey Mouse and Snow White parading down the street waving to guests.

What’s new: Fireworks are returning to Magic Kingdom July 1, and TRON Lightcycle Run will debut at the park soon.

Pro-tip: Anytime you see 13 minutes as the wait for Haunted Mansion, the ride actually has no wait. This usually happens first thing in the morning or late at night when the park isn’t very busy. Hop in line to greet the 999 happy haunts.

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  • Turkey Lake

Another magical castle can be found at Universal’s Islands of Adventure – the Hogwarts castle inside The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, of course! The park plays host to wizards, witches, and goblins as they take flight on attractions like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. On the other side of the park, you’ll find a land dedicated to Dr. Suess charters, Marvel Super Hero Island (where you can fly high with The Incredible Hulk and Spider-Man), and a Jurassic Park-themed land.

What’s new: Jurassic World VelociCoaster launched June 10 with riders racing alongside velociraptors in their paddock.

Universal’s Islands of Adventure pro-tip: Take the Harry Potter-themed train over to Hogsmede Village inside Universal Studios Florida for a quicker (and air-conditioned!) route between parks. 

  • Things to do
  • The Fountains

The worlds of Toy Story, Star Wars, and classic Disney characters all come together at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The park may be the smallest of the Walt Disney World properties, but it became a prime destination when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opened in 2019. The themed land has its own original storyline that fits into the ongoing Star Wars saga. Inside you’ll find two attractions, a bar, a few restaurants and plenty of shopping. Kids will love the larger-than-life Toy Story friends who have come out to greet them, and they'll even get to ride on the back of Slinky Dog on Slinky Dog Dash.

What’s new: Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway is the latest attraction to open at the park. You’ll join Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and all their pals aboard a train and see what it’s like to be in a Mickey Mouse cartoon.

Pro-tip: Be sure to get up a few minutes before 7am the morning you plan to go to the park to get a coveted boarding pass for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. You can attempt this from anywhere as long as you have a park pass for Disney’s Hollywood Studios. If you don’t get one on your first try you can try again at 1pm from inside the park.

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  • Convention Center

EPCOT is usually known as Walt Disney Word's adult-centric park with festivals that encourage eating and drinking all day and popping in and out of shows about each country represented in World Showcase. But the park is currently undergoing a refurbishment and new attractions are set to open over the next few years, including a Moana-themed walk-through exhibit and a highly anticipated Guardians of the Galaxy coaster. With these new attractions the park will lean more kid and family friendly.

What’s new: Starting October 1, 2021 Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure will take guess on a tour of Paris with Remy. Later this year, the new nighttime spectacular, Harmonious, will light up the skies around World Showcase Lagoon.

Pro-tip: If you’re staying at one of the Disney resorts with access to the Disney Skyliner use that mode of transportation to get to EPCOT. It’s usually faster than a bus or driving and you’ll be dropped off right next to the entrance into World Showcase called International Gateway.

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  • Zoo and aquariums
  • Westwood

At LEGOLAND Theme Park everything is bigger and better than any kid could have imagined with attractions like Lost Kingdom Adventure and LEGO NINJAGO World. When it’s time to take a break head over to Pirate’s Cove to watch Brickbeard’s Water Sports Stunt Show on the lake that backs up to the LEGOLAND property.

What’s new: Brickbeard’s Water Sports Stunt Show is brand new this year, and the resort will be celebrating its tenth birthday all year long. 

Pro-tip: Make time to walk around the impressive mini models of cities like New York, Washington D.C. and Las Vegas. It takes about 30 minutes to walk through the entire display, and its least crowded first thing in the morning.

This massive theme park has lands dedicated to Africa and Asia that will make you feel like you're traveling through the real world locations. The park also has fictional lands dedicated to the world of Avatar and dinosaurs. While many people will race off to ride Avatar Flight of Passage first thing in the morning, real Disney pros know that the first stop should always be Kilamanjaro Safaris because this is when the animals are the most active. If you’ve never heard a lion roar after your morning coffee you’re really missing out.

What’s new: The most recent opening at the park is Pandora - The World of Avatar, which opened in 2017 but still garners long lines for both of the attractions inside the land.

Pro-tip: Do not miss the two animal trails at the park, Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail and Maharajah Jungle Trek. Both of these self-guided trails allow you to get up close to some of the animals while asking knowledgable animal experts any questions you may have. Both of the trails typically close a little earlier than the rest of the park so be sure to check times on a park guide or on the My Disney Experience app.

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  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Florida Center

Universal Studios Florida is home to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Diagon Alley, E.T. Adventure, and The Mummy among other attractions. Inside Diagon Alley you can zip through Gringotts Bank on Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and drink a glass of Butterbeer with your pals at The Leaky Cauldron. After channeling your inner wizard, hop on a bike with E.T. to get him back to his home planet on E.T. Adventure. Universal fans also know this is the best ride to walk through the queue because of the iconic smell that hits you the moment you walk into the forest.

What’s new: A new character interaction experience has popped up called DreamWorks Destination. The space features several characters from family-friendly DreamWorks movies and lets you dance, sing, and get photos with the characters.

Pro-tip: Just outside of the entrance to Diagon Alley the facade looks like London. You might spot Kreecher the house elf peering out of one of the top windows. You’ll know which window to look at if you can find the door numbered 13.

  • Attractions
  • Zoo and aquariums
  • Florida Center

Just because SeaWorld is last on our list doesn’t mean it’s not worth visiting. The expansive park shows off all sorts of creatures from the depths of the sea including dolphins, whales, and adorable penguins. Adults will love the high-speed coasters like Kraken and Manta, while kids will enjoy seeing their favorite Sesame Street friends at Sesame Street Land. Be sure to take a ride on Sky Tower so you can see the entire park from a bird's eye view along with panoramic views of Orlando.

What’s new: Later this year SeaWorld is expected to open Ice Breaker, which will have the steepest vertical drop of any rollercoaster in Florida.

Pro-tip: You can schedule tours to learn more about some of the animals at SeaWorld, including dolphins, sea lions, penguins, and sharks. Tours should be made ahead of time, but there are sometimes slots available day-of at the park.

Need more ideas to keep the kids occupied?

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