20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Orlando
Many first-time visitors to Orlando are often surprised to find that this small and surprisingly quiet Florida city is one of the largest and most diverse cities in the country. Orlando is the capital of the Central Florida region, which spans more than 300 square miles and has a population of over a million people.
During a first visit to Orlando, it can be tempting to stick to the main attractions like Disney World and SeaWorld; but this can become quite dull and predictable.
A better approach is to explore the more alternative sights in and around the city. With a population of only over a hundred thousand, downtown Orlando is a wonderfully authentic city center that feels like it has never changed in hundreds of years. Although there are a lot of places to eat, explore, or shop in Orlando, the residential areas and the town center offer some of the best attractions in the region, not to mention the chance to enjoy some of the world's best museums, most famously the Orlando Science Center, within a one-block radius.
Plan your visit to Orlando using our list of the top attractions in Orlando.
Staten Island Ferry
The Staten Island Ferry is the only remaining ferry system in the US that crosses New York Harbor between Manhattan and Staten Island. It was opened in 1834, during the formative years of the city, and remains the oldest operating ferry in the country. It crosses the North River, which separates Manhattan from Brooklyn, and is considered a tourist attraction in its own right. The Staten Island Ferry, which takes about two hours to cross, offers a view of Manhattan that can be seen from New Jersey. It is well worth the trip to see the city from such a unique angle. The Staten Island Ferry has a new stop and drop-off at Whitehall St, a five minute walk to South Ferry and the South Ferry subway station.
Walt Disney World
Florida's biggest theme park, Walt Disney World, combines storytelling and innovation in this popular resort city. Walt Disney World is home to four of the biggest attractions in the world, including the Magic Kingdom theme park, the Animal Kingdom theme park, Epcot, and Disney's Hollywood Studios. Each park has its own characteristics. The Magic Kingdom, located at the hub of the four parks, is the first stop on a tour, with rides and entertainment that symbolize classic stories such as Cinderella's Castle, Frontierland, and Sleeping Beauty's Castle. It also has two parks, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, that feature interactive rides, a safari park, a water park, and shows with Disney characters and rides. Epcot is similar to Walt Disney World, though it has much more of a science-fictional flavor. Disney's Hollywood Studios offers shows with classic characters and films, such as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Epcot features attractions in its Innoventions pavilion such as Mission: Space and the Spaceship Earth. This parks are incredibly popular and sell out very quickly, so get here early and make sure to book a trip, especially during holiday times.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Whether you prefer a booming, glamorous nightlife scene or a laid-back summer vacation, North America has you covered. Check out the bright lights of the big city in Las Vegas, Florida, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and enjoy an afternoon shopping in the endless retail-laden outlets of the Mall of America in Minneapolis, the Mall of America in Bloomington, and the Westfield Century City in Los Angeles. Or take a weekend break and party with the locals at a college town in Dayton, San Diego, St. Louis, Portland, Montreal or New York. Check the websites of US cities or the world travel section in your local bookstore for more details on the ones mentioned in this book.
Disney's Hollywood Studios
Disney's Hollywood Studios, Orlando is a theme park that pays homage to movies and the Hollywood studio system, specifically the movie studios of the 1920s. It has a look and feel very much of a 1920s movie studio, complete with period props and facades, and continues to grow with its annual expansions. A sister park to Disney's Epcot at Disney World in Florida, Disney's Hollywood Studios has a similar themed zone and the original theme park, Florida Theater, and one of the world's most famous soundstages, the George Lucas/Steven Spielberg Star Tours. The park has made a number of improvements over the years, most recently the 10-story Tower of Terror, inspired by one of Universal Studios Hollywood's original attractions.
The people who built Lego, invented by Godfred Bensdorf, were little spacemen with long-nosed dogs on roller skates and thought nothing of building a giant model city of gothic buildings and tunnels for the amusement of children. You can now do so too at LegoLand in central Florida and spend the day doing your own model "street" that combines Lego-like houses, shops, restaurants and ferris wheels to let the children share the fun of building their own imaginative world.
Gatorland's main attraction is the World of Limbats. This feature allows visitors to see the world's largest collection of alligator eggs, including some that are estimated to be 500 years old. In addition, there is the American Alligator Park, the Alabama Alligator Farm, the Alabama Marsh, the Alligator and Reptile Exhibit, the Gators on Parade, and the Inland River Theater, which features kid-friendly shows and plays. At Gatorland, you can also enjoy rides, including the Momma Gator, the Lazy Alligator, the Swamp Crawler, and the Freak Out Water Flume.
Universal Studios Florida
Universal Studios Florida (USF) is a company town located about 20 miles northwest of Orlando. Its theme parks are Universal Studios (a movie production company), Islands of Adventure (theme park), and Volcano Bay (water park). However, Universal Studios is the site of the 1960s TV series, "The Munsters," and almost everyone interested in horror, comedy, or old-fashioned family fun starts their journey at the Universal Studios theme park. Entry to USF requires a purchase of a park-ticket for the duration of your stay. One of the many on-site hotels is a Universal Studios Hotel that provides guests with complimentary access to the entire Universal theme park complex.
With theme parks, golf courses, shopping malls, exciting nightlife, and miles of bustling, neon-streaked highway, the Orlando area is one of the world's most popular destinations for those looking for all the above. The most visited places are Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, Orlando's other theme parks, and the newer and quieter Universal's Islands of Adventure. The city also offers a number of hotels and bed-and-breakfasts as well as charming townhouses and condos.
Orlando is a premier destination for mountain biking. The flat terrain of the park makes for a great bike ride and makes Orlando a great destination for all cyclists and their gear. The area is one of the few locations in America where mountain biking is popular in such a big city. The National Bike Park and the Village are excellent places for this type of activity.
Don't be deceived by the tourist-oriented name: at the Florida Aquarium, visitors see the seas in action in underwater pools and see sharks, rays, starfish, anemones, and crustaceans up close. The Aquarium has been educating visitors since 1935 and today houses more than 100 species. Although the Aquarium is definitely geared toward families, kids will love the variety of exhibits. Many of the exhibits look natural and are as close to being a "wild" setting as any aquarium could get. Take a trip on the SeaLab AUV submarine, which, due to its environment-friendly technologies, can stay underwater for as long as six hours.
Central Park, the crown jewel of Orlando's tourist attractions, was built in the 1860s and re-built in the 1930s. It was designed to be a resort city's answer to the health and social attractions offered by European spas. If you like to do your own exploring, then a walk through the park will take you to many of its main attractions. The focal point of the park is Bethesda Fountain. Take the paved path leading from it to the Wintergarden, which is home to two important garden statuary, Adagio and Allegretto, statues of nymphs, the latter of which is a replica of the iconic bronze statue created by Antonio Canova. Also worth seeing in the park is the Conservatory. This is home to a thriving plant life, with 250 species, including more than 400 plant species, spanning 19 acres. The park also houses the 990-foot-high Himalayan Tree House, a restaurant and observation tower that opened in 1983. At the top of the tower, you can see the spectacular lake, lake houses, waterfalls, foliage, and topiary designed to mimic the Himalayas.
Universal's Volcano Bay
Conveniently located at Universal Orlando Resort, Volcano Bay features an open-air lagoonside, a water coaster known as "Rivers of Destruction," water slides, and a wild zone featuring a tram, a midway-style experience, and a 4D movie theater. It's the first theme park to feature four different attractions in one: Sumer (explores the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia), Jungalow (takes visitors to a castle on a mountain), Ooh Rife (provides 3D relief), and Ali'i Kai (the only Hawaiian-themed attraction in the world, located in an ancient canoe). A 500-acre water park adjacent to Universal's Islands of Adventure and a 16-acre amusement park, two hotels, and a spa have also been added to Universal Orlando Resort.
Disney's Blizzard Beach
Disney's Magic Kingdom theme park is the largest in the world and, while offering many opportunities for guests to dress up in character, the park also has a children's amusement park. So, if you want to escape the characters, bring your kids to the largest water park in Florida. Located outside Orlando, Blizzard Beach is an indoor theme park with a mixture of water attractions, lots of body slides, and lazy river rides that encourages visitors to lie around the lazy river and catch some rays. Of course, it's also a great place to get wet on a warm summer day.
Foundations of a large house complete with indoor swimming pool, museum, and a moat were laid when Stuart finished building Coral Castle in 1936. He used mostly native Florida materials in his design. Today the home stands as one of Florida's largest architectural monuments. Many of the house's rooms, including the large ballroom and some of the bedrooms, are filled with artifacts. There's also an extensive art collection, a library, and a café on the site. Guests can check out a range of activities, including golf, hiking, fishing, tennis, and horseback riding.
Despite its moniker, Times Square isn't the center of the universe; Disney World is. Disney World in Orlando, Florida, is the only destination in the world that's part of a major tourist attraction. Walt Disney World features three theme parks: Disney World proper, Universal Orlando, and SeaWorld, and a water park, Wet 'n Wild. The Magic Kingdom, with more than 60 rides, and Animal Kingdom, the wildlife sanctuary, attract more visitors. Many tourists just pass through, but Disney World attracts 35 million visitors annually. Satellite cities nearby include Orange County, Florida, just 30 minutes from Disney World; and Kissimmee, which has a large selection of attractions and shopping.
Grand Central Terminal
It's hard to miss the striking glass and steel facade of the Grand Central Terminal located in Orlando, Florida. A monolithic building that has been a functioning airport for more than 50 years, the building is famous as a movie set and has been featured in many films and TV shows. Situated at the end of a long marina, the terminal is part of the Miami Cruise Center that is home to nine cruise ports and the Miami Marine Stadium. It is about 20 km from the beaches and central to all tourist attractions in Orlando.
Universal Orlando is an indoor theme park set inside the historic Universal Studios Florida theme park. The hotel area of the park is actually three different hotels set in themed neighborhoods. The Grand Tower Hotel is at the center of the park and has a number of restaurants, a bowling alley and a rooftop bar with a view of the park's large fireworks display. The Springfield neighborhood is populated with restaurants and accommodations of the casual variety, such as The Lost Village Inn. It's home to Universal Studios Italy and is open to the public. For those willing to endure the elevator rides or wait in line for hours to ride the rides at Universal Studios Florida, the fictional town of Hollywood is home to some of the park's most popular rides, like the Fast and the Furious: Supercharged. Universal Orlando also includes CityWalk, a colorful collection of restaurants, shops and entertainment venues along the busy tourist corridor of US 192, a thoroughfare that connects Universal Orlando with the surrounding cities. The park is served by four major airline hubs, including Orlando International Airport, and daily flights from many US cities.
SeaWorld Orlando is the theme park of choice for visitors to Orlando, home to Orlando's numerous popular attractions including the Orlando theme parks, Daytona, Shark's Cove, Aquatica and SeaWorld. SeaWorld and its attractions range from live animals and shows to virtual-reality experiences. Opened in 1964, it is one of the largest water parks in the world. A SeaWorld Orlando ticket grants admission to the park's attractions, along with a list of coupons to earn discounts on food, shopping and services.
America's home of basketball doesn't lack in size, and the Amway Center (officially called the Florida Life Event Center) is no exception. Built in 1999 at a cost of $250 million, the facility is home to the Orlando Magic of the NBA, the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL, and the Orlando Predators of the CHL.
Only 40 miles south of Orlando, Kissimmee is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Orlando area, with plenty to do for all interests. Kissimmee is also a good base to visit Disney World, Florida's largest theme park. A visit to the park, with its mouse ears, provides the main Disney experience. It is possible, however, to go beyond Disney and visit some of the other major attractions in the Orlando area. One of the best things to do in Kissimmee is to head for the swamps and canallands in Osceola National Forest and to go on canoe or kayak tours with the knowledgeable guides. You can also watch manatees in Clearwater Lake.