The guide to planning a great Orlando theme park vacation with kids!
Do you ever feel that you need a vacation from the vacation planning? The challenge to planning the perfect vacation is often just figuring out where to go. In my humble opinion, the best type of vacation for a family is theme park resorts, and I’m particularly fond of Orlando theme parks.
I recently went on a family vacation to the Orlando theme parks. I scoured all the websites (Disney, Universal Studios, and a few others), in order to have ideas of where to go and what to do. I felt overloaded with information, and honestly, a bit overwhelmed. I felt like there was so much information out there, but not all in one place, and the websites were pretty hard to navigate. It was a real challenge to compile all the information I needed to personalize our vacation.
After I planned our vacation, I wanted to make for others what I wish I had had, something to make your vacation planning easier. “The Ultimate Orlando Theme Park Vacation (with Kids) Guide!” and this planning checklist
Before we get into the guide, I wanted to share some things I learned about going on vacation with kids. My daughters are 4 and 1, and going to theme parks with them was a real learning experience.
3 Tips on preparing your kids for their excitement filled vacation
Here are some tips on how to prep your kids for a super awesome vacation, and probably help with some of those inevitable meltdowns,
- Be flexible– every parent knows that a task that you could do yourself will take twice as long with a kid in toe. Just make sure you breathe and remember that everything is maneuverable. Make sure you actually give yourself the opportunity to enjoy the time you have off, by being super flexible.
- Pack extra, but not too much– I don’t know how it happens, but my kids always get sick at the beginning of a trip. I like to bring enough that I always have an extra outfit on hand. But you aren’t going to the middle of the desert, you are going to Orlando, and there are stores and pharmacies around, so while you don’t want to spend your vacation shopping for extra pacifiers, remember that if you lose all of them, you can buy more. Quick packing guide: 2 outfits for every day of travel for each traveller, double the diapers you usually use per day, bring some fever reducer, and a few staples that you can’t live (read:sleep) without – e.g. pacifiers, favorite teddy bear, etc.
- Plan ahead – Read the park reviews, and get ideas of the rides you want to go on, and where you want to eat before going to the park. You cannot do everything, and trying to will just make you crazy, so with my help, and your savvy planning skills, we can make sure you plan out your (flexible) vacation itinerary.
Okay, now to the planning part!
Plan Your Orlando Theme Park Vacation with Kids
Walt Disney World Resort
The Magic Kingdom was the first park built at Walt Disney World. Magic Kingdom has all the classic rides like the “Mad Tea Party” and the “Pirates of the Caribbean” and the opportunity to meet all the characters we grew up with like Minnie Mouse and Snow White. This is the park that houses Cinderella’s castle, and some great parades that feature all the princesses. When people think about Disney World, they think Magic Kingdom.
My favorite ride:It’s a Small World – an oldie but it’s a classic, and call me a romantic, I love the classics
How kid friendly is the park? Super! this is probably the most kid friendly Disney park
Ages: All ages! there really is something for everyone
My kid’s favorite ride: Under the Sea – Journey of The Little Mermaid
My favorite restaurant: Be Our Guest – I loved pretending I was Belle 😉
Epcot is all about highlighting the human experience. You also get to travel the world by visiting 11 different country pavilions. This park is a bit more low key, with lots of indoor options, and it’s super educational. It’s a great park to take it slow, but still incredibly enjoyable.
My favorite ride: Soarin’ – you get to fly over california, and you feel the mist and smell the oranges, it was a really nice ride
How kid friendly is it: There is a lot to do here for kids – but half of the park is made up of pavilions which are mostly restaurants and stores, that being said, there is still a lot of kid centric things to do and a birdie told me that a Frozen ride is coming to one of the pavilions, so obviously that will be what all children in a 50 mile radius will gravitate to…
Ages: all of them!
My kid’s favorite ride: The Seas with Nemo & Friends
Favorite restaurant in park: La Hacienda de San Angel
This park is like an immense movie studio where visitors get the leading parts in a variety of movies, from Hollywoodian classics to TV shows. Inspired by the Golden Age of American movies, this park is set in the 1930s and 1940s. What is great about this park is getting a glimpse at the behind the scenes of the movies we all love.
My favorite ride:Toy Story Midway Mania! – I love toy story…
How kid friendly is it: It’s average, there wasn’t any points where I thought oh man, shouldn’t have brought my babies, but it wasn’t made for small kids, I think
Ages: You could bring all ages but I think it’s better for young kids up to adults (like 6+, my toddler was a bit bored)
My kid’s favorite ride: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a magical realm where real, extinct and mythical animals have gathered to share their stories and create the perfect setting for a fun and unforgettable day. This park is home to almost 2000 animals and while it is still a theme park, they underline the need for humans to protect the planet. This is one of Disney’s kingdoms where amusement meets education and the result is amazing
My favorite ride: Kilimanjaro Safaris
How kid friendly is it: Very – this park is made for kids, and adults, and everyone else
Ages: all of them.
My kid’s favorite ride: The same as mine! we all loved seeing the animals!
Favorite restaurant: Tusker House Restaurant
The Disney Waterparks
This water park has a cute backstory, and lots of different things to do. It’s also home to the world’s largest outdoor wave pool, crazy fun water rides and a shrimp boat. This water park really understands families.
My favorite ride: Blustery Bay
How kid friendly is it: Super kid friendly. even the baby had fun.
Ages: All ages
My kid’s favorite ride: Ketchakiddee Creek
Favorite restaurant: Leaning Palms
This awesome waterpark is presented like a ski resort! It’s a cute and original idea that lends to a really unique water park experience. They have some great “grown up” options as well as places for the youngens to play, so the whole family really gets to enjoy this waterpark
My favorite ride: Teamboat Springs
How kid friendly is it: Super kid friendly, Like I said, there is something for the whole family
Ages: All ages
My kid’s favorite ride: Tikes Peak
Favorite place to eat: Lottawatta Lodge
SeaWorld Lot Orlando Resort
SeaWorld is an Orlando classic. There are a variety of unique rides and you get the opportunity to see wild sea life up close. You also have the opportunity to meet the animals and learn about them. I am big on vacations being educational experiences as well as super fun, so this place is really a good combo.
My favorite ride: Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin – it’s the newest and most interesting ride at the park and it’s also suitable for kid
How kid friendly is it: Kids love this park
Ages: all ages – something we didn’t talk about it was the elderly – and this park is very calm, and enjoyable without going on rides, which is great for the more faint hearted
My kids favorite ride: Dolphin Cove – my kids love Dolphins
Favorite place to eat: Voyager’s Smokehouse BBQ
Aquatica Orlando is a SeaWorld park, an aquatic paradise that recreates the fabulous sceneries which can be admired along the southern coast of the Pacific. The park welcomes visitors with an impressive number of water rides and two wave pools. There are also cute mascots at the park that my kids just loved!
My favorite ride: Tassie’s Twisters
How kid friendly is it: It is kid friendly, but older kid friendly
Ages: I think it’s great for ages like 6 and up, also the wave pool beaches are sand, so keep that in mind for strollers/wheelchairs
My kid’s favorite ride: Walkabout Waters
Favorite place to eat: Banana Beach Buffet
Discovery Cove is a sister park of SeaWorld Orlando and Aquatica, but you won’t find the tourist frenzy you usually discover there. The access to this park is limited to a certain number of people each day, so you can be sure you will enjoy a magical experience, intimate and tranquil. During your day here you will get a chance to encounter a variety of fascinating creatures, especially the friendly dolphins in the Dolphin Lagoon. This park welcomes visitors with exotic sandy beaches, perfect for those who want to be a bit lazy in the sun, and all inclusive deals for a carefree experience.
My favorite ride: Freshwater Oasis
How kid friendly is it: It pains me to say this, but I wouldn’t go with young kids – they just won’t get the most out of it
Ages: ages like 10+ – all ages are allowed, but I think older kids would get more out of the experiences
My kid’s favorite ride: Serenity Bay – it was like going to the beach all day
Favorite place to eat: Laguna Grill
Universal Orlando Resort
Universal Studios takes its ideas from their movies and shows so that the park houses a themed ride or live show based on their productions. It is an amazing place that encompasses shows, rides, and other attractions in order for you to spend time with the characters you love. This park really allows you to get to feel part of the movies, and even see how they are “done.”
My favorite ride: Diagon Alley – (I know it’s a land, and not a ride, but…#sorrynotsorry Potter head)
How kid friendly is it: really kid friendly. There is something for everyone
My kid’s favorite ride: Curious George Goes To Town
Favorite Restaurant at the park: Lombard’s Seafood Grille. You can get a cool deal there to see the after-dark show with a delicious dinner
This is Universal Studios sister park – connected, but different thematically. Islands of Adventures is all about thrill seeking and having, well, adventures!
My favorite ride: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Ooops did it again, it’s a land, not a ride, still not sorry)
How kid friendly is it: Surprisingly, super kid friendly
Ages: All ages – really something for every age.
My kid’s favorite ride: The Cat in the Hat
Favorite food place: The Three Broomsticks
I really believe that the key to a great vacation is planning. Knowing where you want to go, how much you can spend, and that you are spending your money on things that will actually work for your family are critical to actually enjoying your vacation once you are on it.
I hope that this Orlando Theme Parks: Vacation with Kids Guide can help you be more fun-focused, and that our (totally free) planning check-list, will help you keep you on track! (Download it here!)
So, what parks are you planning to visit? Let us know in the comments.