A Family Friendly Guide To Orlando, Florida.

About a year ago I started planning a trip to Orlando, Florida, which would end 2016 on a high and start 2017 with a massive bang! This was a family trip that included my two younger sisters, aged 7 and 12, who we’d decided to keep this a big secret from until Christmas Day. As you can imagine, it was such hard work keeping my big mouth shut for an entire year, but seeing their little faces light up on Christmas morning to the news that they were about to head to Disney World was priceless!

Since booking the holiday, I’ve spoken to a lot of people who’ve thought about booking a trip to Florida, so I thought I’d create a family friendly guide with some important tips for those heading to the Sunshine State!

Before you go!

Firstly, the main reason why most people want to visit Orlando is to check out the theme parks and world-famous attractions including Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld. With this in mind, I would highly recommend purchasing tickets before you go as you can buy 7, 14 or 21 day passes. This may take a bit of time as you’ll need to research the places you want to visit and find a suitable package to match, but this can actually be quite fun as you can have all of your friends and family over for an exciting evening of holiday planning! Once you’ve purchased your tickets, you can then enjoy the flexibility of visiting any of your chosen attractions at any time throughout your trip. You can, of course, wait until you arrive in Orlando to buy your tickets but you’ll be paying a lot more on the door, so it’s best to be prepared!

Getting around!

We stayed on International Drive which is a popular resort in Orlando. It has great links to all of the best attractions and has plenty to offer in terms of shopping and eating out. Once you’ve checked in at your hotel make sure you read the manual in your room – this has some really useful information about free hotel shuttles to parks and how to get around the area (I didn’t discover mine until the second week!). It’s also a good idea to head to your hotel concierge as they’ll give you loads of coupons and discounts for local attractions and restaurants!

Having visited Florida previously, I knew all about the I-Ride trolley which is a cute little bus that travels up and down International Drive, stopping near Universal Studios, SeaWorld, Aquatica and the Premium Outlets. It’s an absolute lifesaver and you can pick up a two-week pass for around $16, using it as many times as you want, whenever you want!

Universal Studios

Universal Studios is a working film and TV studio with a whole host of family friendly rides and attractions. First to mention are The Simpsons Ride; Transformers 3D and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. These three rides are absolutely fantastic but are either 3D or virtual reality, so if you suffer from motion sickness you’ll probably feel a little queasy at the end - You’ve been warned!

In this park you’ll also get to slay the dragon in Shrek 4-D, zap aliens in Men in Black and catch a live screening of Fear Factor Live. For the thrill-seekers amongst you there’s the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit - a high-speed rollercoaster where you get to choose your own music as you ride. It also films your journey, so you can have a good laugh watching this back at the end – just make sure your makeup game is on point!

If you’re a Simpsons fan, this is definitely the place for you as they have a whole Springfield section dedicated to the sitcom. If you’re in need of a beer you can head to Moe’s Tavern for a pint of Duff or if you just fancy a sugary treat, make sure you sample one of the supersized donuts from Lard Lads! Make sure you spend a bit of time in this area as you’ll also have the chance to grab a photograph with the Simpsons characters too, who regularly appear throughout the day.

For those travelling with younger children, there’s the Woody Woodpecker Kid Zone with smaller rides and popular children’s entertainment stars including Barney & Curious George! If you’re looking for a good parade, then Universal is for you. The performances are out of this world – I personally thought that this parade was better than the one at Disney! 

Finally, there’s the Wizarding World of Harry Potter- Diagon Alley which is absolutely incredible – you don’t even need to be a Harry Potter fan to enjoy this experience. From here, you can take an incredible journey on the Hogwarts Express from platform 9 ¾ over to Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure. When you first arrive at the park it’s worth picking up a park map as Diagon Ally is very well hidden behind a brick wall - I didn’t even know it was there until visiting the park for the third time and almost completely missed it! 

Universal’s Islands of Adventure

Islands of Adventure is the second park within the Universal Studios Resort. This is aimed more at the thrill seekers as it’s home to The Incredible Hulk Coaster, voted the third best rollercoaster in Orlando. You can get another Harry Potter fix by exploring the shops of Hogsmeade, sampling Butterbeer and Chocolate Frogs along the way. There’s also the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride which takes you on an absolutely fantastic, thrilling adventure. A tip here though – this is an extremely popular ride so it’s best to head here first thing in the morning to avoid ridiculously long queuing times!

If it’s a hot day and you’re looking to cool down, then head to the Marvel Super Hero Island and take a ride on Storm Force Accelatron. This is the ultimate log flume in both speed and height and YOU WILL GET WET!! A slightly calmer flume can be found in Jurassic Park on the River Adventure. This does have a very steep drop, but it’s definitely the family friendlier option of the two.

Other attractions in this park include Suess Landing which is aimed at a younger audience, along with Toon Lagoon.

Sea World

Sea World is one of my favourite attractions in Orlando. There’s just so much to see and do that it’s totally worth creating a schedule beforehand. Following a lot of criticism over the captivity of the whales, SeaWorld has recently announced that they’re putting an end to the orca shows, with plans to unveil a new educational encounter experience as a replacement. I really enjoyed the show and was so lucky to be able see this for one final time, but completely understand why SeaWorld have made the decision to end it.

Other performance shows will remain in place, including the Dolphin and Sea Lion Shows. Another must-see is Pets Ahoy - a 30-minute show featuring dogs, cats, birds and a big pig! It’s absolutely brilliant and what makes this show extra special is that all of the animals were rescued from shelters and now have a happy home with a brand new lease of life!

Again, there’s something for the thrill-seekers at SeaWorld with a selection of fantastic ride including Manta, Kraken and Mako, which is said to be the fastest, longest and tallest ride in Orlando with a staggering 200ft drop! Definitely not for the faint-hearted!


A holiday isn’t complete without a waterpark and in Orlando you’ll be spoilt for choice. Aquatica is definitely the one I’d recommend though as it’s really accessible and is situated on the I-Ride route. For those of you who aren’t a fan of the water slides, like me, there’s the lazy river, a wave pool and a large, sandy chill out area. For the thrill-seeking maniacs looking for something a bit more adventurous there’s a load of high-speed slides and even some death drops – no thank you!

As a trip to Orlando can be pretty exhausting, Aquatica is the perfect way to spend a much needed rest day – it’s also a great opportunity to work on the tan!

Walt Disney World

We decided to visit Disney’s Magic Kingdom to watch the fireworks on New Year’s Eve. As we’d been planning our trip for so long we were really looking forward to it, picturing a magical evening under a beautiful firework-lit sky. No - It was hellish! At 11am on New Year’s Eve the park was at maximum capacity, meaning no-one else could enter. It was a blazing hot day, we were battling through the crowds and faced three-hour queues (and that was just for the teacups!) At this point we decided to leave and head elsewhere.

The Disney Resort includes Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Disney Springs, Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom. You can also purchase tickets to include the waterparks; Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. All of the Disney parks are fantastic and a must-see, but if you’re travelling over the New Year Period then please avoid these parks until at least the second week of January. We did end up heading back to the parks at a later date and had a completely different experience, but I’d suggest creating a plan of what you’d like to see and do beforehand as they’re just so busy.

If Disney is on your to-do list, then make sure you check out the Disney Memory Maker and FastPass+ apps. They’re definitely value for money as you can get up to three fast track passes per person, per day. The Memory Maker also allows you to send all of your park photographs straight to your phone, saving you a lot of time and money! 

Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom, home to Cinderella’s castle, is the most popular Disney park to visit and is probably at the top of everyone’s list. You can access the park from the main transportation centre either by monorail or a short ferry ride. For anyone who has been to Disneyland in Paris, you’ll find the layout and attractions very similar! Again, there’s fun for all the family here including It’s a Small World and Space Mountain. It’s also a popular park for meeting all of your favourite characters and of course, watching the famous parade!

Hollywood Studios

After leaving Magic Kingdom on New Year’s Eve we decided to head to Hollywood Studios which was equally as busy with long queuing times for rides. It was a very long day and we were absolutely exhausted but luckily there was plenty for us to see and do. Similar to the other Disney parks, there are fun rides for all ages including a heap of Star Wars attractions and Toy Story Mania. You’ll also be able to watch live shows including the Voyage of the Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage. For the adrenaline junkies there’s the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror!

Animal Kingdom

This is a great park with loads to see and do! There’s a great high-speed rollercoaster called Expedition Everest but other than this, the majority of the rides are aimed at a younger audience. The highlight for me was the Kilimanjaro Safari which was fantastic. You’re driven around in a jeep and it honestly feels as though you’re in Africa, getting up close and personal to the Giraffe, Elephants, Lions and many more. A word of warning for anyone visiting this park though – due to the amount of animals on site there are loads of insects roaming around, so please stay safe and make sure you wear some insect repellent! I was bitten to death!

There are some great restaurants in this park also. We chose to eat at the Rainforest Café which is designed to make you feel as if you’re really in the rainforest. With animals hidden across the restaurant and a lively bunch of singing staff, it’s a great experience! As this is located in Disney you can expect it to be quite expensive though, so perhaps include this as one of your holiday ‘treat’ meals.


I was actually quite surprised by Epcot, which turned out to be another of my favourite parks. I think it’s quite underrated as there’s so much to do and definitely worth a visit. Spaceship Earth is a fantastic ride within Epcot’s iconic giant globe, taking you on a tour from the Stone Age to the computer age. There are also some great simulator rides, as well as the fantastic Soarin’ ride where you get to see and smell some of the world’s most iconic destinations, whilst flying around in your own little hand glider! Another family friendly park, accessible via monorail from Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

Eating Out

There are some amazing places to eat in Orlando, particularly in and around International Drive. You could easily go to a different place every single night and have a satisfying meal. One thing I will say is that it’s quite difficult to eat healthily, but what are holidays for?! 

Sometimes it’s nice to have a bit of a treat and if you’re a fan of steakhouses, make sure you head to Long Horn and Tony Roma’s. They can be a little pricier than other restaurants but you can expect high quality food and a higher level of customer service than you’d get in the UK. Most servers will go above and beyond to exceed your expectations and nothing is ever too much trouble. If you’re heading to the parks to eat you’ll be spoilt for choice but again, be prepared to pay a lot more than you would elsewhere.

One place you have to visit is the cheesecake factory! You will need to book in advance as we had a two-hour wait, but it was totally worth it. There are pages and pages of different cheesecakes options and you’ll never see or taste anything else quite like it!

If you’re looking for a cheaper (or even just a quicker) alternative then you’ll find a load of diners and fast food outlets on International Drive itself including McDonald’s, I-Hop, Denny’s and CiCi’s Pizza – who can argue at all-you-can eat pizza for $6!?

A final point to remember is that tax always needs to be added to everything you buy and you’ll also have to factor in a 15 – 20% service charge - It’s not like the UK where if you get shit service you just don’t tip!


Shopping in Orlando is fantastic. There are premium outlets located at either end of International Drive with mainly high-street stores including American Eagle, Calvin Klein, DKNY, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren and UGG. In terms of beauty there’s the Cosmetics Company but they’re quite limited with stock – so you’re best heading to Sephora or Macy’s at the Mall at Millenia for a wider offering of makeup. Outlets have discounted prices all year round but I was lucky enough to take advantage of the January sales with up to 70% across many stores! 

For groceries and day-to-day snacks, you’ll find Walgreens at most bus stops. This is a much cheaper alternative to buying snacks in parks as you’ll end up paying double the price. If you’re self-catering or looking to bring a few bits home then I’d definitely suggest heading to a Walmart, which is like an absolutely huge ASDA, stocking absolutely everything at ridiculously cheap prices!

Useful tips and tricks 

  • Make sure you purchase your park tickets before going on holiday! 
  • If using taxis, always use a reputable company such as Mears. 
  • Eating in the parks is quite expensive, you are allowed to take your own food to most. 
  • In December / January, the weather can drop 20 degrees over-night. Prepare your wardrobe for all kinds of weather! 
  • If you’re making your own way from International Drive to Disney, pick up a Link 50 bus from opposite SeaWorld (North 27) for just $2. 
  • Take comfortable footwear. There’s a lot of walking involved! 

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