Orlando… with kids!
Looking for a reason to take the little ones to Orlando? We've got 10 of them.
1. Go flyin' at Epcot
The next generation of theme park rides is the hot new attraction at Epcot. Take a wind-in-your-hair flight over the natural wonders of California with the simulated hang-glider experience. Soar high above towering redwoods, snow-capped mountains, sunny deserts and rocky shorelines while breathing in aromas of orange blossoms, ocean and forest. Simply exhilarating.
Epcot: Walt Disney World Resort, 407-934-7639
2. Ride the movies
Universal Orlando's two theme parks – Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure – have everything from the tame Cat-in-the-Hat ride and Shrek 4-D to thrillers like the Incredible Hulk Coaster and the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. Both parks offer Universal Express, a real plus during busy times: Check in at the ride entrance for an assigned time; then return later to bypass the line.
Universal Orlando: 1000 Universal Studios Plaza, 407-363-8000
3. Get splashed by Shamu
Penguins, polar bears, walruses, sharks and other charismatic sea life make SeaWorld Orlando a don't-miss attraction. But, of course, the most memorable part of the day is getting splashed by 8,000-pound Shamu, the famous killer whale.
SeaWorld Orlando: 7007 SeaWorld Drive, 407-351-3600
4. Swim with a dolphin
All you need are a swimming suit and towel to spend the day at Discovery Cove, a tropical water park where you can swim with stingrays and snorkel with reef fishes and sharks. Lunch, snorkels, wetsuits and even sunscreen are included in the admission fee. The biggest thrill for ages six and up is a swift ride on the dorsal fin of a bottlenose dolphin.
Discovery Cove: 6000 Discovery Cove Way, 1-877-434-7268
5. Conquer Disney's three big mountains
If you think Central Florida is flat, you haven't checked out the “big three” in the Magic Kingdom: Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Space Mountain. The granddaddy of the Disney theme parks, the Magic Kingdom has something for everyone.
Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney World Resort, 407-934-7639
6. Shop 'til you drop
Bargain hunters love the concentration of outlet shops on North International Drive, where you'll find great bargains. But Orlando's pièce de résistance is the glam Mall at Millenia, with everything from Gucci to Tiffany. It's fun just to window shop in the air-conditioned mall with nearly 150 shops, especially when strollers are available to rent.
Mall at Millenia: 4200 Conroy Rd., 407-363-3555
7. Want a wild ride?
Leave the man-made fun behind and race across Lake Toho at up to 70 km/h in a Boggy Creek Airboat. You'll not only whiz between tall grasses, but also slow down to check out the abundant wildlife, from gators to blue herons to bald eagles. You needn't worry about the noise, as your boat captain will provide ear protection. Quick tip: To see the most critters, go first thing in the morning or in the late afternoon.
Boggy Creek Airboat Rides: 2001 E. Southport Rd., Kissimmee, 407-344-9550
8. Play at the Cirque du Soleil
La Nouba at Downtown Disney West Side is a theatrical experience like no other. The dreamy show blends circus art with street entertainment, colourful costumes and original music. The state-of-the-art theatre is the first permanent location for Cirque du Soleil in the eastern United States and their first free-standing theatre in the world.
Cirque du Soleil: Downtown Disney West Side, 407-939-7600
9. Get soaked
Forget the beach – cool off at one of the area's over-the-top water parks. Disney's Blizzard Beach boasts the world's longest and fastest free-fall body slide, Summit Plummet. Zip down this 100-metre waterslide at a whopping 90 km/h. Or gather up the whole family for the hilarious Bubba Tub at Wet 'n Wild.
Blizzard Beach: Walt Disney World Resort, 407-934-7639
Wet 'n Wild: 6200 International Drive, 407-351-1800
10. Go day trippin'
Take a break from the crowds and spend a day in historic tree-shaded Winter Park. You can view pieces from the world's largest collection of Tiffany art, shop at cool boutiques and galleries and enjoy stylish cuisine at sidewalk cafés. Or take the Scenic Boat Tour, a retro attraction that's been around since the 1930s, for a ride past the city's multimillion-dollar homes.
Scenic Boat Tour: Winter Park, 407-644-4059
(Pam Brandon is a freelance travel writer based in Winter Park, Florida.)
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