Orlando City Guide

Over the past 40 years, the Floridian city of Orlando has become a Mecca for theme park lovers! It started with Walt Disney World opening in 1971, but has grown to be much, much more. Add to the theme parks the incredible climate, the Florida Keys and the Kennedy Space Center and you have the recipe for a great holiday. Here are our recommendations of what to see…

WHAT TO DO IN ORLANDO

Orlando Disney Castle

Disney’s Magic Kingdom – This park is a newer version of Walt Disney’s original ‘Disneyland’ park in LA with Cinderella’s castle at its centre. The attractions are split into areas like Adventureland and Tommorowland and there really is something for everyone here. There are fast roller coasters like the the Runaway Mine Train and Space Mountain, family rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and simple steamboat cruises on the mini lake. In our party of 7 people the ages ranged from 12 to 55 and we all felt that this was the best park.
Disney’s Magic Kingdom: Full Review, Hours & Tips…

Orlando Animal Kingdom Entrance (www.free-city-guides.com)

Disney’s Animal Kingdom – A park which is a celebration of wildlife from around the world grouped in various ‘lands’ around a giant Tree Of Life from the Lion King. Although there are lots of rides and experiences here, the safari ride is the biggest attraction. Other highlights here include the new Avatar world, Everest Expedition roller coaster, the puppet version of Finding Nemo, a back-in-time dinosaur ride and a great rapids ride. All in all, we were really impressed with this park and at some times of the year there is a night time show too.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom: Full Review, Opening Hours & Map…

Orlando Hollywood Studios Tower (www.free-city-guides.com)

The Hollywood Tower Hotel

Disney’s Hollywood Studios – This park is laid out like Hollywood from yester-year and has lots of experiences and attractions around the theme of movie-making. Dominating the park is the huge Tower of Terror from the Twilight Zone and the ride inside is both exhilarating and scary. Other rides include one based around Toy Story the impressive Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster. There are a number of Star Wars experiences here now too along stunt shows and musicals.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Full Review, Hours & Best Priced Tickets…

Orlando Epcot Globe (www.free-city-guides.com)

Epcot – This park is very different to the others. The recipe here is a mixture of science lesson and travel experience. Around the huge lake, many of the countries of the world are re-created including some of their most recognisable features. Then, in the science area there are experiences based on technology. It’s a strange mix, but there’s still plenty to do and see and you’ll be especially rewarded if you can stay for the fireworks show on the lake at the end.
Disney’s Epcot: Full Review, Tickets & Map…

Orlando Universal Globe (www.free-city-guides.com)

Universal Studios Florida – This park has some of the best rides and experiences you’ll find in Florida all based around different movies like Despicable Me, Men in Black, Shrek and Transformers. There’s also a huge motion-master experience based around the Simpsons. One of the newer parts of the park is the Harry Potter area with a re-creation of Diagon Alley and you can board the Hogwart’s Express to take you to the Islands of Adventure park next door.
Universal Studios Florida: Full Review, Cheap Tickets & Map…

Orlando Islands of Adventure Hogsmeade (www.free-city-guides.com)

Universal Studios Islands of Adventure – This park is best known for the Harry Potter world that’s been built here including a re-creation of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. There’s an impressive ride inside Hogwart’s, but there are great rides elsewhere in the park too. We particularly enjoyed the Jurassic Park water ride. This park is the newer of the two Universal parks, but you really need to visit them both.
Universal Studios Islands of Adventure: Full Review, Pictures & map…

Orlando Sea World Shamu Close (www.free-city-guides.com)

SeaWorld Orlando – This park has evolved into a mix of marine-life conservation and themed rides but there are also still the shows here that you will be familiar with. Take you seat early for the shows – they’re always popular, but whilst in the past this park was not known for its rides, it certainly is now. We enjoyed the multi-loop Kraken in particular.
SeaWorld Orlando: Full review, Tickets & Map…

Orlando Typhoon Lagoon wide (www.free-city-guides.com)

Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park – There’s no doubt that Disney does water parks really well! This one was our favourite with astonishingly big waves, fast slides and a host of more gentle water rides, usually involving inflatables. Like all Disney parks, everywhere you look no expense has been spared on making everything fit the ‘theme’. If waves are your thing, then choose this park over Blizzard Beach which has a smaller pool and more water rides.
Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park: Full Review, Wave Pool Video & Tickets…

Orlando Blizzard Beach Ski Jump (www.free-city-guides.com)

Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park – The beach theme runs through everything here, but it’s a Blizzard beach, so expect fake snow to cap buildings and take a trip up the mountain on the ski lift! If water rides are your thing, then choose this park over Typhoon Lagoon. Summit Plummet is the ride you’ll remember, dropping you 120 feet down in just 5 or 6 seconds. There are plenty more slides too, along with a circular river-style ride where you float around the park in a rubber ring.
Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park: Full Review, Videos & Tickets…

Orlando Wet n Wild Lazy River

Wet ‘n Wild Water Park – This water park on International Drive is all about the rides and slides. There are loads of them, but with less of a ‘theme park’ atmosphere that you get at the Disney water parks. The central feature is a huge wave pool, and around it you’ll find a host of other slides like “Bomb Bay” where the floor that slides away from underneath you and you then fall down an almost vertical drop. There are plenty of multi-person rides like too along with more leisurely experiences and a sandcastle themes play area for kids.
Wet ‘n Wild Water Park: Full Review, Best Prices Tickets & Hours…

Orlando Downtown Disney walkway (www.free-city-guides.com)

Downtown Disney – This lakeside area is a kind of city center with restaurants, experiences and shops. Parking here is free, and it really comes alive at night when the atmosphere is brilliant. The centrepiece ‘experience’ is a huge balloon which raises groups of people up to the sky for what must be a fantastic view of the Disney parks but it was closed because of the wind on most of the days we visited.
Downtown Disney: Full Review, Restaurant List & Map…

Orlando Universal CityWalk Lake (www.free-city-guides.com)

Universal CityWalk – This is Universal’s version of Downtown Disney with a smaller range of restaurants and experiences. There is a huge Hard Rock Cafe here tough which is said to be the biggest in the world. There wasn’t enough here to make a special journey to visit, but when we went to the Universal parks we enjoyed wandering around the CityWalk too.
Universal CityWalk: Full Review, Bars & Attractions…

Orlando Florida Mall external (www.free-city-guides.com)

Florida Mall – If shopping is your thing, this is the biggest Mall in central Florida and it’s only a short journey by car from International Drive. It boasts 250 stores including all the big names you’d expect like Macys, Dillards, jcpenney and Sears.
Florida Mall: Full Review, Store List, Directions & Hours…

Orlando Old Town Clock (www.free-city-guides.com)

Old Town, Kissimmee – A shopping complex styled around old America which has seen better days. At night there’s still a decent atmosphere though and there’s a fun park with rides for the kids at the rear, and some ride experiences for adults at the front.
Old Town, Kissimmee: Full Review, Ride tickets & Map…

Orlando Kennedy Rocket Garden (www.free-city-guides.com)

Kennedy Space Center – The home of all things space and launch pad for many shuttle missions and NASA rockets over the years. On a visit here you get to experience what a launch day is like, along with getting up-close with space relics from the past. Definitely recommended if you’re a child of the space race generation, but fascinating even if you’re not. Organised trips from Orlando are widely available if you don’t have a car.
Kennedy Space Center: Full Review, Tours, Location & Pictures…

Orlando Key West Beach

Miami & The Florida Keys – Some of the most beautiful bits of Florida are within easy reach if you’re staying in Orlando. We’d recommend getting away for a few days to explore the Florida Keys and Miami. The keys are stunning and Key West in particular has a real hipster Cuban feel. You’ll also get to see the impressive road bridges and call in at Miami Beach with its famous Art-Deco sea front.
Miami & The Florida Keys: Read More, Pictures & Map…

Florida on a Budget – Visiting Florida can be expensive but there are a number of things you can do to reduce the costs. This page features some of our top tips for saving money, but still having a great time. Also, see our guide to Tipping in the USA.

OUR TOP TIP IN ORLANDO

Orlando Celebration Restaurant (www.free-city-guides.com)

Celebration – A purpose-built community with plenty to see and do. You’ll find identical houses here and an old-American style town centre with it’s own cinema, fire station and restaurants. Some people feel this place is a bit too ‘manufactured’ but we loved spending time here, popping into the shops and walking around the lake. It feels a little like a film set.
Celebration: Read More, Pictures & Map…

MORE THINGS TO DO IN ORLANDO

Florida Everglades Tour with Alligator Encounter
Character Breakfast at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
Orlando Helicopter Tour from International Drive
Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Tour

ACCOMMODATION

There are really only two options for staying in Orlando, either you rent a villa or stay in a hotel. We chose the villa option and had a lovely house in a residential neighbourhood with a private pool. The kids loved the pool and went in it everyday and it was only about 20 minutes drive from the Disney parks.

The hotels tend to be much more expensive, especially if you choose Disney resorts, but they’re often much better located. It’s even possible to avoid renting a car if you choose the right hotel. There are also many motels or suites that can offer you a cheaper option, but you very much get what you pay for in Orlando.

GETTING AROUND ORLANDO

Orlando is a huge city and although most of the theme parks are in one area, they’re still very spread out. Getting around the city very much depends of where you’re staying. If you’re not in a centrally located hotel, you’re probably going to need a car to get around. On the plus side, driving here is a fairly pleasant experience as all the roads are wide and the traffic jams only occur at peak times. If you are in a centrally located hotel you can use the bus services to the theme parks from International Drive. This is even easier if you’re staying in a Disney resort hotel, as there’s an entire network of buses linking each of the resorts and Disney parks.

There are two airports serving Orlando and we’d recommend trying to get a flight that lands at Orlando International rather than Sanford which is much further north. There are very cheap bus services to major areas from the airport, and other alternatives include taxi companies and shared vans. You can also see a range of transport option to book in advance here.

MORE ON ORLANDO

More Things To Do In Orlando
Walt Disney World Tickets – See best prices in GB pounds
Orlando Explorer Pass
Orlando Hotels – We recommend Hotels.com for the best service and prices
Car Hire Comparison for Orlando – From Opodo
Orlando – VisitOrlando.com
Orlando Airport – Official Website
Orlando Guide Books – Amazon.co.uk
Orlando Guide Books – Amazon.com

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