Best Things to Do with Kids in Orlando

Tots, teens & in-betweens: where to take your kids in Orlando

Welcome to Orlando, the Floridian utopia of parental promises, a place where not only childhood dreams come true, but a living time machine of sorts, where grown-ups revert back to the early day. Take in all the Orlando sights from high above aboard The Wheel at ICON Park or stay on the ground, but test your fears in a different way – by holding an alligator at Gatorland – an Orlando institution since 1949.

Options for back country exploration via canoe, kayak, foot, horseback and even ATV or zipline – with venues like Wekiwa Springs State Park and others just minutes from Disney – are many. Educational entertainment at the state-of-the-art Orlando Science Center consistently delights all ages via permanent and rotating exhibits, as well as large-screen films and laser shows at its Dr. Phillips CineDome. Thrill-seekers in search of something truly unique (yes, even those with a fear of heights) can sample the art of the skydive at iFLY Orlando's incredible indoor vertical wind tunnel. If you're still hoping to experience some Disney magic, but don't want to go to a theme park, head to Disney Springs. There's enough to do there to keep your family busy for an entire day and then some. 


Harry P. Leu Gardens is a spectacularly, beautiful 50-acres botanical oasis that inspires and educates about horticulture. There are camps and year-round classes offered (for adults as well as children). Depending on when you go, you're likely to encounter some kind of exhibit, like fairy doors or a honey bee day. Once a month, there's a movie night where you can bring your family, a picnic dinner and enjoy a film on the big screen. Tickets for those events do need to be purchased online. If you're planning a day visit, schedule to be there about two hours. There are more than 15,000 plants so you'll want to take some time to enjoy the scenery.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: There are always events for the littles, from a fairy door exhibit to movie nights. Check their website for all the info.

Michelle's expert tip: Members get reciprocal privileges or discounts to American Horticultural Society partners, which includes over 300 gardens, arboreta and conservatories nationwide.

Read more about Harry P. Leu Gardens →

Return to Florida's natural beauty at Wekiwa Springs State Park. Hike through wild, diverse ecosystems, paddle the famous Wekiva River, or camp beneath the stars. Wekiwa Springs offers nature lovers the opportunity to experience a part of Florida that is all too quickly vanishing â€" and just minutes from the theme park area. Bring your camera, because wild turkey, black bear, deer, and many species of birds call this park home. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent and guided tours are available. Those interested in exploring the area on horseback may do so on weekends (minimum age: 6). Guided trail rides are $25/per person and run about an hour long. For more information, call 407-880-4110.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: This diverse state park is an excellent break from the manufactured delights of the city. Come see what real Florida looks like.

A.D.'s expert tip: Leashed pets are welcome on the trails, so bring Fido along for the hike.

Read more about Wekiwa Springs State Park →

South Orlando
Photo courtesy of Visit Kissimmee, Florida

It bills itself as "Orlando's best half-day attraction" and we tend to agree - though increasingly it's upping its game. In a city that often puts people at odds with their budget (time and/or money) with so many amazing parks to visit, Gatorland does the day's schedule for you: half spent exploring a park devoted to Florida's most famous native inhabitants, half spent by the resort pool with a cold beverage. Of course, if you want more gator - have at it. Catch Gatorland's animals and handler shows in the afternoon, hit the splash pad with the kids, then try the Screamin' Gator Zipline, where adventurers soar at speeds approaching 30 m.p.h. over live alligators and crocodiles. There's a nighttime run, as well. Other fun add-ons include the Gator Night Shine and various into-the-swamp jaunts for up-close alligator action. Even with supplemental activities, Gatorland still ranks as a comparative theme-park bargain.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: This has been a gator staple in Orlando since 1949.

A.D.'s expert tip: Check the website. There are usually deals for Florida residents.

Read more about Gatorland →


Wakeboarding? Yes. And on top of all that exciting lake-borne action, those looking for something a little more whimsical (or folks with tots in tow) can partake in OWC's Aquapark, a LEGO-inspired flotilla of climbing obstacles, slides and more that will wear you - and more importantly, your kids - out! No special skills are required, life jackets keep things super safe, and hours of fun are virtually guaranteed. Climbing towers, monkey bars, and multiple slides await, along with other challenging floats you'll want to conquer again and again. Most activities here require some form of waiver and are booked according to time increments. The minimum age for the Aquapark is 6 and reservations are definitely recommended.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Although this isn't for the little, little ones, it's a great time for kids who are old enough.

Michelle's expert tip: Save time on visit day and fill out your waiver-related paperwork online when you book.

Read more about Orlando Watersports Complex →

Disney Springs ®
Disney Springs

Do not sleep on Disney Springs. You can easily spend a day, or more here. Start the morning at Everglazed Donuts & Cold Brew with a peanut butter explosion donut and a specialty cold brew. Head to Splitsville Luxury Lanes for some bowling in a fun environment and enjoy more great eats and cocktails. Grab some of the best seafood in town at the Boathouse and then take a spin on the amphicar, an antique car that turns into a boat. Looking for more unique activities? Make personalized M&Ms at the M&M store, create your own minifigure at the LEGO store and design and make a candle, from scent to color, for $25 at Bowe's Signature Candles. Look up and you can't miss the Aerophile, the balloon that takes guests 400-feet up for an 8-minute ride. When you're craving a snack, stop by Amorette Patisserie, one of the Disney food trucks or Erin McKenna's Bakery NYC for a gluten free, vegan treat.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Your family can get plenty of the Disney magic without going to a theme park just by visiting Disney Springs.

Michelle's expert tip: You need more than half a day at Disney Springs. Trust us. There's way more to do here than you realize.

Read more about Disney Springs →

Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens

From goats at the petting zoo to the super cool insect zoo (your enthusiasm will depend on your comfort level with creepy-crawlies), this Sanford Zoo isn't as small as it may seem. More than 500 animals representing roughly 200 species call this place home, including elephants, llamas, cheetah, apes and a whole house full of reptiles to ooh and ahh over. Active visitors may want to take a turn on the on-site aerial adventure course and everyone enjoys the weekend Keeper Chats. Who wouldn't want to learn more about the zoo's colorful, beautiful residents?

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: This charming zoo offers up wondrous animals, many up-close and personal. Active pursuits are in store for the thrill-seekers in your group, as well.

A.D.'s expert tip: One exceptional feature of the CF Zoo: lots of pretty, shady places to sit. A plus in any season, but summer in particular.

Read more about Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens →

Local are always talking up how cosmopolitan Orlando is. We're not denying it, but just outside the city sits acres of wetland wilderness so loaded down with wildlife â€" alligators, bald eagles, wading birds and more â€" you may spot more animals than at the zoo. Of course, you'll need an expert guide and Wild Willy's can help with that. Tours are exciting (if you've never glided over the seas of grass before, you're in for a treat) and uber-educational. Photo-ops with the "on-staff" gators are available, as well. Florida nature is unlike any other, it's well worth a quick side-trip from the parks (and close by, too).

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Most people don't live in a region where airboats are prevalen.t As such these soaring skimmers turn passengers into wide-eyed kids. Even the old ones!

A.D.'s expert tip: Wear a hat for the sun, but hang onto it! Their 500-horsepower, six-passenger airboats really know how to fly!

Read more about Wild Willy's Airboat Tours →

Fear of heights? No worries. Live your dream of experiencing the adrenaline-infused skydiver's high of freefall in the controlled environment of iFLY Orlando's vertical wind tunnel. Adventurous adults and even seniors enjoy this attraction as much as the children, who can be as young as 3 to fly! How real is the experience? World champion skydiving teams have been training here since 1993. Packages for first-time single flyers begin at $59.95 and include instruction, gear and two one-minute flights in the wind tunnel with trainer assistance. Discounts are available for groups and return customers. This is as close to human flight as you can get sans airplane and kids, even the cautious ones, delight in finding their wings and soaring.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Skydiving sans vertigo! This exciting attraction suits would-be jumpers looking for a taste. Be careful, though, it may kick-start loftier aspirations!

A.D.'s expert tip: iFLY Orlando often runs near capacity, so reservations are highly recommended. Make one online or call ahead of time.

Read more about iFLY Orlando →

Giant screen movies and planetarium shows, towering dinosaur skeletons, four floors of interactive science exhibits in the realms of weather and space, lights and lasers, electricity and magnetism, live animals and live science programming throughout, not to mention limited engagement exhibits of all kinds depending on when you visit make the Orlando Science Center an ideal place to spend a day â€" with or without children. Experience the gale force winds of a Category 1 hurricane firsthand, watch a live gator feeding, discover the real-life sea monsters that ruled the prehistoric seas and take in a giant-screen movie or laser show in the Dr. Phillips CineDome. You can even plan an evening SkyWatch at the Crosby Observatory (check the OSC website for this and other special events).

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: SCIENCE! Is there a soul alive that isn't inspired by the wonders of weather, space, dinosaurs...? OSC showcases all of these and more.

A.D.'s expert tip: Plan accordingly and you may be able to hit one of OSC's wonderful neighboring museum or theater attractions.

Read more about Orlando Science Center →

Photo courtesy of Michelle Spitzer

ICON Park (formerly I-Drive 360) is a relatively new entertainment complex on International Drive, and an easy one to locate sans GPS as its icon is visible for miles. The glittering Wheel at ICON Park towers at 400 feet. One circuit takes about 20 minutes and passengers ride in climate-controlled capsules allowing for 360-degree views. Down at terra firma, other attractions abound: Madame Tussaud's world-famous wax wonders allow for selfies with everyone from E.T. to Donald Trump, Superman to Samuel L. Jackson, Justin Bieber to Jimmy Fallon to Johnny Depp. The SeaLife Aquarium's wonders, however, are very much alive, representing bodies of water far and near and Skeletons: Animals Unveiled? Well, not a lot of life in here, but this brilliantly entertaining museum satisfies cravings for science fact and a bit of fiction (cryptozoology), its residents staged in poses that almost bring them back to life. The complex houses a host of restaurants, as well, along with an arcade. Whether your kids are 3 or 23, I-Drive 360's a safe bet for fun, food and photo-ops.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: With activities and attractions that suit toddlers, teens and everything in between, this one is a can't miss.

A.D.'s expert tip: Free covered parking in its on-site garage: bonus!

Read more about ICON Park →


Meet Michelle Spitzer

Michelle Spitzer grew up in South Florida taking many family vacations to the Orlando area. For the past 14 years, she's called central Florida home.

A journalist for more than two...  More About Michelle