Planning a vacation to Orlando or just looking for a quick getaway? With the recent changes at Walt Disney World, many have even decided to cancel or postpone their Disney trip on their own due to the limitations and guidelines that Disney has put in place upon their reopening. BUT, just because you aren’t visiting Disney doesn’t mean that you can’t have a WONDERFUL Orlando vacation!
Families, couples, or groups of friends can still enjoy a full Orlando vacation without stepping foot inside a Walt Disney World park. There are so many attractions in the Orlando area, so if you are ready and comfortable traveling, there is no reason you can’t still have a fully enjoyable vacation!
Below is a MEGA list and our recommendations and tips to help with planning your next trip to Orlando.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Currently many attractions, hotels and theme parks are operating at limited capacity and/or have implemented safety guidelines and measures. Please review each company’s website or call them prior to visiting.
Universal Orlando Resort
This may be the most obvious and one that you have already thought about! Universal Orlando Resort is open with restrictions, but on our recent visit, we found that most attractions, shows, and activities are still available. There is a face covering requirement and limited capacity in place, but if you stay at one of the Universal resorts, you will receive a guaranteed entry.
Since there are two Universal theme parks, one water park, and CityWalk, an entertainment complex, this could easily be a multi-day experience. Universal also has multiple resorts to choose from, and several, including Hard Rock, Cabana Bay, Lowes Sapphire Falls, and Lowes Royal Pacific, offer wonderful pool areas.
Universal is also home to our favorite water park, Volcano Bay. This Polynesian-themed park is a great spot to spend a hot summer day! There are multiple experiences for families with teens or small children as well as adults. Currently, at Volcano Bay, a mask must be worn on the shuttle bus, entrance into the park, in retail stores, and food ordering areas. There is no mask requirement while you are riding slides, walking around to the attractions, or lounging!
If you have small children, LegoLand could be an excellent option for a fun getaway! Many people don’t realize that LegoLand is comprised of a theme park, a water park, and THREE hotels, including the recently opened Pirate Island Hotel! The hotels are very themed and will quickly immerse you into the world of Lego.
LegoLand is located approximately 45 minutes from Orlando, making it a great add-on option for your vacation.
SeaWorld and Aquatica
SeaWorld and Aquatica are both good options for the entire family. There are many great resorts located close to the area, and the location makes it’s easy to combine activities on International Drive.
SeaWorld is known for shows and marine animals, but you can also find many high-thrill roller coasters and attractions. The recently added Sesame Street Land also offers entertainment for young children.
The theme parks are open and operating with safety guidelines in place, including the requirement of a face covering, but keep in mind that a reservation is required.
Sometimes a fun resort can be a vacation in itself, especially if it involves floating in a lazy river or playing a round of golf! Orlando certainly has a huge array of large resorts, and at many, you will find oasis-style pools, celebrity chef restaurants, and kid’s activities. Some of our favorite resorts with awesome pools include Hyatt Cypress Creek, Orlando World Center Marriott, Hilton Bonnet Creek, Gaylord Palms Resort, and the Grove Resort. At these resorts, you can find multiple room types, and some even offer large one or two-bedroom condo units.
One of the latest resorts to open in the Orlando area is Margaritaville Resort. This Jimmy Buffet themed hotel features standard hotel rooms as well as townhomes and cottages that can accommodate large groups or families. There is a large resort pool, multiple restaurants, music and of course margaritas! Island H20 Live is a fun waterpark located directly at Margaritaville Resort.
For families, Coco Key Resort has a large waterpark that is available for guests to use. This recently renovated resort, is also very centrally located on I-Drive.
We love the idea of spending a few action-packed days in Orlando then jetting off to the beach to relax and soak up the waves! Since Orlando is centrally located, you have your choice of great beaches on either side of the coast.
The closest beach to Orlando is Cocoa Beach on the Atlantic coast. Since this beach is only an hour from Orlando, you could easily take a day trip. North of Cocoa Beach, you will find Daytona Beach as well as the local’s favorite, New Smyrna Beach.
There are multitudes of gorgeous beaches on the Gulf Side. Since the drive time to most beaches in this area is 2 – 2 1/2 hours, we recommend spending at least a night. If you are looking for a beautiful beach with a lot of activity, Clearwater Beach is a great choice. Or head to the Sarasota area where you will find the quieter Anna Maria Island or Siesta Key.
Regardless of the direction you take, combining some time at the beach with your Orlando vacation is a great option!
Single or Partial Day Experiences
The below are either single full or partial day experiences that are great to add-on to your theme park vacation or piece together! Keep in mind that a car (and a good GPS!) will be necessary for these experiences.
If all-you-can-eat food, swimming with dolphins, and laying on a sandy beach area is for you, then Discovery Cove is a GREAT option! It is an attraction that many people aren’t aware of and is a wonderful way to spend a hot summer day in Orlando. It is best described as an all-inclusive tropical oasis where you will find lagoons, sandy beach areas, dolphins, stingrays, and tropical fish. There are also add-on options and packages available for swimming and interacting with dolphins and an unlimited alcoholic drink package.
Discovery Cove is fun for an entire family with kids of all ages, but keep in mind that reservations are required, and the pricing fluctuates depending on the time of year. Nevertheless, Discovery Cove is one our highly suggested activities for your Orlando vacation.
If you are driving on I-Drive, you won’t be able to miss the huge ferris wheel that lights up at night. This is located at Icon Park, where you will find a lot of great activities for a day of entertainment. Our favorites include Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, SeaLife Aquarium, Orlando StarFlyer, and the Wheel at Icon Park.
In this area, you will find also find many excellent restaurants, including Yardhouse, Tapo Toro Spanish Restaurant, Ole Red by Blake Shelton, and Sugar Shack! One of our favorite activities is listening to live music at the open-air venue, Tin Roof.
Parking is totally free, and Icon Park is located right off of I-Drive and close to Universal Studios.
Do you love old-fashioned county fair and carnival rides? FunSpot is one of Orlando’s smaller theme parks but is full of roller coasters, go-karts, arcades, and even a funhouse! There are two locations in Orlando close to I-Drive and in Kissimmee, and the parks are typically open very late. One of the best parts is that you have the option to either purchase an all-day fun pass or you can pay for each ride separately. This is a great economical option and a fun way to enjoy a few rides without spending a fortune.
Wild Florida is a wonderful outdoor adventure park featuring airboat tours, an alligator park, petting zoo, and a drive-thru safari where animals such as giraffe and zebra will come right up to your window. If interacting with a sloth is on your bucket list, Wild Florida is the spot for you. You can choose to add-on one of the sloth encounter experiences to get up close. Wild Florida is a terrific interactive and educational experience for the family!
Kennedy Space Center
If you are pumped about the recent SpaceX launch, then Kennedy Space Center could be a great option for you! Although not operating at full capacity, Kennedy Space Center is still welcoming guests. Experiences are gradually opening back up, so check the website to see which experiences will be open on the day you are interested in.
Kennedy Space Center is located 45 minutes to an hour from Orlando, and reservations are highly recommended.
If you are still looking to get your Disney fix then Disney Springs is always an option and a great opportunity to spend a day close to the magic! There are some retail stores closed, but most, including World of Disney, are open. The hot air balloon experience is operating, and we’ve seen some of our favorite restaurants, including Raglan Road, Art Smith’s Homecomin’, and Morimoto open back up.
You typically don’t think of outdoor activities when you visit Orlando; however, the Central Florida area has some great options to get out and see some of the real Florida.
From water, land, or air, there SO many experiences to choose from. Here are a few of our recommendations.
If kayaking is your thing, there are many kayaking tours offered throughout the area. A very unique option is the Bioluminescence kayaking tour. Check out BK Adventures for some great tours and options.
If riding in a hot air balloon is on your bucket list, check out Orlando Balloon Rides. They launch balloon rides in Clermont, not far from Walt Disney World.
Looking for outdoor obstacle courses and zip lines? Orlando Tree Trek Adventure Park offers up a whopping 97 aerial challenges and a 425′ zip line!
If sticking to the ground is more your thing, how about an ATV tour, archery lessons, clay shooting, or a ride on the Mucky Duck, an eight-wheel vehicle that drives on both land and water! All of these can be found at Revolution Off Road.
International Drive, known as I-Drive for short, is full of entertainment options. In this busy area, you can find an abundance of activities to choose from, including:
Wonderworks – Over 100 hands-on exhibits, laser tag, and 4D simulator
Ripley’s Believe it or Not – Museum with unusual artifacts
I-Fly – Indoor skydiving simulator
TopGolf – Golfing simulator experience
Andretti Indoor Karting and Games – Indoor go-karts, bowling, and arcade
Putt-Putt – Multiple mini golf locations
Go-Karts – Multiple go-kart locations
Pointe Orlando – Entertainment venue with multiple restaurants, movie theater, and comedy club
Dinner Shows – You can find various entertainment dinner shows include the Pirates Dinner Adventure and Sleuths Mystery Theater.
Whether you are looking for some great deals or the latest designer items, Orlando has multiple shopping venues to choose from. Orlando Premium Outlets offers discounted items from many top retailers. There are two Premium Outlet locations to choose from – one on I-Drive and one on Vineland close to Disney.
Gucci, Chanel? Check out Mall of Millennia, a fully indoor mall with many high-end and luxury stores.
The Florida Mall has a little bit of everything and houses American Girl as well as other popular retail stores.
Want to get away from the tourist attractions and see the real Orlando? There are many great tours where you can see and learn about areas such as downtown Orlando and Winter Park.
Book a tour with Original Orlando Tours and encounter unique experiences such as a Mister Rogers Walking Tour, Florida Citrus Farm, Historic Sanford, or even a train ride to Mt. Dora.
If you want to visit some local areas on your own, we suggest taking a trip to downtown Orlando, Winter Park, and downtown Sanford and Winter Garden.