If you’re heading to Orlando, home to more than a dozen theme parks, you may be under the impression that you have to spend your whole family holiday park hopping. Sure, that can be fun! But, you can also mix in some less obvious – and more low-key – local attractions for a truly unique trip. My 7-year-old, Matilda, and I spent a few glorious days in The Sunshine State and we definitely left with a sunshine state of mind – and an appreciation for all the gorgeous city of Orlando has to offer. Read on for our top 5 must-see attractions in Orlando Florida!
Crayola Experience is a wonderland of creativity for little colouring enthusiasts with 29 hands-on attractions to explore. Kids can make splatter paintings with melted Crayon wax and even name their own Crayons. (Matilda made a pink one called “Maisie Rosie” for her little sister, Maisie Rose!). Parents will enjoy checking out the old Crayola print advertisements and snippets of the company’s history lining the walls. Moms and Dads will also appreciate the very reasonable price tag of just $24.99 USD a person, for general admission! Best of all, it’s indoors, which is perfect if the weather is poor, or if you could all use a little break from the hot Florida sun.
The Milk District is a former pasture land (named for the dairy that anchored the area back in the 1920s) turned progressive, inclusive and culturally-rich neighbourhood that’s home to artists, musicians, families and small businesses. Think independent clothing stores, bookstores, ice cream shops and loads of casual kid-friendly (and budget-friendly) dining options. Matilda and I stopped at neighbourhood favourite Se7en Bites to brunch on some fried green tomatoes and other Southern comfort food classics. The no-fuss vibe and delicious eats are hard to beat.
Speaking of interesting neighbourhoods, the nearby up-and-coming Hourglass District has the best coffee shops, like Foxtail Coffee Company, which in my opinion can boast that it serves the city’s coolest, and tastiest, cold brew!
Walt Disney World Resort is an obvious choice for any trip to Orlando, but there are some new things to see and do at this forever favourite. Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy, a live show now open in Hollywood Studios, features the beloved characters from the Cars movie series. We were blown away by our first visit to Toy Story Land (which opened in 2018). The Alien Swirling Saucers ride (based around The Claw and the Little Green Aliens from the first flick) was, according to Matilda, totally out of this world. Then, there’s all the character encounters and Mickey-shaped treats to be eaten throughout the parks all day long. (You know, the pretzels, doughnuts, chocolate-dipped ice cream bars – and so much more!). We spent one jam-packed day at Disney and it was as magical as I could have hoped for.
LEGOLAND Florida Resort has debuted Lego Movie World and it’s official: everything is awesome! Fans big and small of the popular 2014 flick will think it’s totally brick-tacular, from the more the “pink knuckle” roller coaster to the Duplo-themed area for preschoolers. Big kids will love the Movie Masters of Flight, a unique 180-degree rotating theatre with 4D elements, and little kids will enjoy the spaceship-themed playground. All that, plus the rest of the park, adds up to more than enough to keep families occupied all day. I enjoyed the two-tiered slow-and-steady carousel, situated smack in the middle of the park, for its spectacular views of all things LEGO. Matilda was really wowed by the water park. It’s hard to go wrong with a wave pool on a steamy day and the lazy river is the perfect recovery ride for tired parents. Be sure to stop at the Big Shop on the way out for hard-to-find LEGO sets and park exclusives. The gold LEGO brick keychain I had engraved with “mom” is one of the best souvenirs I’ve ever picked up anywhere.
After a busy – and expensive – day at one of the big theme parks, it’s nice to balance things out with a free-wheeling (and actually free) morning at a local park. There’s so much to discover in this gorgeous green space, smack in the middle of downtown Orlando. As you stroll the almost-mile-long loop around the lake be sure to pause to admire the art scattered around the park. I was really impressed by “Muse of Discovery,” a limestone sculpture of a larger-than-life woman nestled into a grassy knoll at the park’s edge. It reminded us of the character Te Fiti from the movie Moana. If the kids have more energy to burn, you can also rent a pedal-powered swan boat (for $15 USD for 30 minutes) and take spin around the lake to get a closer look at the historic fountain.
Where To Stay Hyatt House Hotel is casual, clean and easy to get to after a day at any of the parks or area attractions – and literally right across the street from Universal Studios. This mom and her little fish truly appreciated the hotel pool – the perfect spot to relax before dinner. Thanks to our suite’s kitchenette (and a stop at Trader Joe’s for all of the can’t-get-in-Canada favourites!) we were able to have a simple and nutritious dinner in when we were too pooped to go out to a restaurant. It’s a truly perfect spot for busy families on holiday!
The author and her daughter travelled to Orlando in September 2019 with Visit Orlando. She was a guest at Hyatt House Hotel, Crayola Experience, Disney World and LEGOLAND. None of these facilities reviewed or approved this article prior to publication.