Scroll Top

The best theme parks in Orlando – Our comparison guide

Orlando, Florida is a paradise for theme park lovers of all ages. From adrenaline inducing roller-coasters to family parades and interactive zoo’s, the region is world-renowned for its wide selection of parks. Ideal for first timers or previous visitors that want to visit a different theme park this year, our guide compares all of the best theme parks in Orlando to help you plan your visit.

JUMP TO: Magic Kingdom | Epcot | Animal Kingdom | Hollywood Studios | Universal Studios | Islands of Adventure | Seaworld | Discovery Cove | Busch Gardens | Legoland

Disney Theme Parks

Disneyworld is huge area in Central Florida, roughly the size of San Francisco. It has over 25 official hotels, 4 theme parks, 2 water parks and countless restaurants and activities. It truly is a world of its own and visiting is something special. We compare Disney’s top theme parks to help you choose the perfect place for you, if not all of them!

Magic Kingdom

Park Map | Website

Best Orlando theme parks - Disney's Magic Kingdom Cinderella Castle

Magic Kingdom is Walt Disney’s original Floridian theme park. It’s the home of the magic and a must-see for anyone. The iconic castle in the centre is recognised worldwide and the park has retained many of its original rides, whilst adding new ones and expanding at the same time. The park is split up into themed ‘lands’, from western frontier to a futuristic ‘Tomorrowland’. There are rides across the park that suit all ages and interests, from rollercoasters to slow moving carriages and motion theatres.

The park isn’t all about the rides either. From the moment you enter, you’re in a world unlike no other. Uplifting music, street performers, parades, shows and much more is on offer at Magic Kingdom. Even the restaurants and snack bars have something special and everything is themed, from the drinks to hotdogs.

Best for: Everyone! You haven’t been to Orlando if you don’t go to Magic Kingdom – even if you’re not a big fan of Disney.

Top rides and attractions to check out:

  • Snow White mine cart ride
  • Evening fireworks display
  • Thunder Mountain railroad

Insiders tips for visiting Magic Kingdom:

  • Tour the park in an anti-clockwise route for less queuing. Start with Tomorrowland
  • Book Fastpasses in advance for the top rides you want to check out. This applies to all the other Disney theme parks too
  • Dining at the Beauty and the Beast castle is a must! Lunch and dinner reservations are hard to come by, however arrive early for breakfast and you’ll most likely get a spot.

Epcot

Park Map | Website

Shows Disney's Epcot entrance

Epcot is one of our favourite theme parks. It was based on an idea for a self-sustaining community for the ‘World of Tomorrow’. The attractions here are both fun and a learning experience in one, which makes it extra meaningful, especially for kids! Reach speeds of 60 miles per hour on the Test Track race ride, soar across beautiful landscapes on a hand glider in Soarin’ or plan a mission to save the earth on Mission Space simulator ride.

Epcot is split into two sections – a future land full of rides and learning experiences, and ‘World Showcase’, a circular lake full of small ‘countries’, inspired from locations from around the world. This is probably our favourite place to visit. You can wander from Mexico to Canada in one afternoon, stopping at lots of countries in between for cuisine and drinks on a global scale. The restaurants here are excellent.

We recommend Epcot for those that love food and drink and want to a futuristic learning experience with the family. There isn’t a great deal of rides compared to other parks, but the ones it does have are excellent!

Best for: Kids and families will learn a lot and adults can be at home sampling the fine food and drinks. The rides are for everyone!

Top rides and attractions to check out:

  • Test Track and Soarin are the most popular rides – book Fastpasses to skip queueing
  • The Seas with Nemo and Friends
  • World Showcase evening fireworks show

Insiders tips for visiting Magic Kingdom:

  • Try to dine in Epcot at least twice during your stay. The restaurant selection is excellent. We recommend Le Cellier Steakhouse or Teppan Edo.
  • Take the Epcot food and drink challenge and indulge in a snack, drink or meal in everyone one of the World Showcase countries
  • Epcot is huge and you’ll do a lot of walking! Wear good footwear and pack plenty of snacks and drinks. Plan regular rest stops to replenish and enjoy your time here to the max!

Animal Kingdom

Park Map | Website

Best Orlando theme parks - Disney's Animal Kingdom tree of life
Image courtesy of Jennifer Lynn – CC

Animal Kingdom is a visually stunning outdoor theme park that focuses on nature and animals as a theme. The centre of the park has a giant ‘Tree of Life’ and there are several off-shoot themed lands depicting different world continents, a dinosaur land and recently opened Pandora, which takes you into a journey through the world of Avatar.

Animal Kingdom is quickly becoming one of the most loved Disney parks as it expands in size and more attractions are opening up. It’s best enjoyed when the weather’s nice and it has a nice contrast between shows, rides, cool scenery and animal exhibits, rather than just rides. Wander around the amazing world of Pandora on an evening as it glows in the moonlight, join a realistic safari across the African plains or conquer the huge mountain rollercoaster, Expedition Everest.

Best for: Families and those that want a cool outdoor theme park with shows and wildlife over solely rides.

Top rides and attractions to check out:

  • The Festival of the Lion King show
  • Avatar Flight of Passage simulator ride
  • The Festival of Light – a spectacular evening show that takes place on the Africa lake region.

Insiders tips for visiting Animal Kingdom:

  • Pandora – The World of Avatar is insanely popular and simply a must-visit. Arrive at the park early and head straight there to beat the queues. Take a left just before the Tree of Life. Return on an evening to see the whole area glow in the dark.
  • Once you’ve been on the main rides, slow down the pace and soak in the outdoor atmosphere of Animal Kingdom. It’s a beautiful park to look at
  • Take time to see the animals. There are over 1700 animals in the park, which you can see on the Kilimanjaro Safari and in the close encounters areas.

Hollywood Studios

Park Map | Website

Depicts Disney Hollywood Studios street view
Image courtesy of Jennifer Lynn – CC

Hollywood Studios is Disney’s smallest theme park so it won’t take you as long to complete as the others, however it’s well worth a visit for its rides and shows. The entire park is themed around popular Disney movies, from Star Wars and Indiana Jones to animated classics such as Beauty and the Beast and Toy Story.

Hollywood Studios is also excellent for shows and live performances, ideal if you’re not a big fan of thrill rides. Experience ‘behind the scenes’ movie sets, a Beauty and the Beast musical and frequent improv acts of Hollywood stars across the park. Hollywood Studios is currently undergoing a huge renovation to extend the park, welcoming Star Wars and Toy Story areas that we can’t wait to see! If you have tickets as part of a package or you really want to check out certain rides here then you should come for a half-day, however if you’re short for time and have to pay full price, we recommend visiting another park due to the renovations – a lot of areas are closed.

Best for: Movie lovers, families and those that like shows and experiences over lots of rides.

Top rides and attractions to check out:

  • Toy Story Midway Mania interactive video game ride
  • Hollywood Tower of Terror
  • Aerosmith Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster

Insiders tips for visiting Hollywood Studios:

  • Get some of the best seats in the house at the evening Fantasmic show by booking a Fantasmic dining package. You can choose from some of the best restaurants in the park and have reserved seating for the show, which can fill up fast otherwise!
  • Hollywood Tower of Terror and Aerosmith Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster are so good you’ll want to try them more than once. Join the ‘single riders’ queues to skip the long lines.
  • If you’re arriving in the park early, leave attractions near the entrance and rides such as Tower of Terror/Rock ‘n’ Roller coaster for later in the day. Everyone dashes for these early in the morning. Instead, we recommend seeing many of the shows first.

Universal Orlando Theme Parks

The Universal Parks are the favourite for many Orlando veterans. Some people prefer Disney’s magical atmosphere; however, others love the movie theme of the Universal Parks and the wide variety of big rides and rollercoasters. There’s a lot of rides packed into the parks and you’ll need two full days to see them if you want to cover everything.

Universal Studios

Park Map | Website

Best Orlando theme parks - Universal Studios globe
Image courtesy of Edgar Alfonseca – CC

Universal Studios is the world-famous movie production brand and the first park of its type in Orlando. The entire theme park is designed around movies and movie-sets, taking you into a journey of how films are made, whilst having fun on themed rides at the same time. Universal has an arsenal of hit Hollywood movies under its belt and you’ll find themed attractions ranging from Shrek and the Simpsons to Despicable Me, Men in Black and Transformers. Even the ice creams and drinks are themed!

Universal’s variety of movies will appeal to all age groups and the park is always introducing new rides and attractions, so you’ll find something new every time you visit. As the park is one of the originals and has some excellent rides, we’d recommend it as a ‘must-see’ for anyone, kids and adults alike. The new Diagon Alley and Harry Potter world attractions are latest attractions that are not to be missed. Universal Studios is one of the best theme parks in Orlando for an ‘all-rounder’ appeal; there’s something for everyone here!

Best for: Families with older kids and teenagers / adults

Top rides and attractions to check out:

  • Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
  • Fast & Furious – Supercharged
  • Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon

Insiders tips for visiting Universal Studios:

  • If you’re visiting during a busy time such as the summer or a bank holiday, buy an Express Pass. It’s a little costly but will save you a lot of time
  • Take your time on the rides and have snack breaks and see shows in between. The park has a lot of rides and you may feel sick if you do too much at once.
  • Arrive early and head straight to the Harry Potter attractions first. They’re the most popular and can get very busy. Alternatively, see them at the very end of the day.

Islands of Adventure

Park Map | Website

Best Orlando theme parks - Islands of Adventure Harry Potter Hogwarts castle

Islands of Adventure is a slightly smaller park than Universal Studios, however in our opinion it’s just as good. Start your visit on an island of Marvel and DC superheroes, pay Popeye a visit in a comic themed area and then head on to our favourite, Jurassic Park. You’ll also find the original Harry Potter rides and Hogwarts Castle, the main reason many people love this park.

Islands of Adventure has an excellent collection of movie inspired rides and themes that you’re sure to love. We particularly like eating in the replica museum restaurant from Jurassic Park whilst overlooking the lake. The park also has a strong appeal for kid’s compared to Universal Studios. Dr Seuss landing features popular characters such as Cat in the Hat and small rides for the little ones. It’s a small park packed with plenty of do and we recommend a visit for anyone that hasn’t been.

Best for: Families with older kids and teenagers / adults

Top rides and attractions to check out:

  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
  • Jurassic Park River Adventure
  • The Incredible Hulk Coaster

Insiders tips for visiting Islands of Adventure:

  • If you’re visiting during on a less busy day, you can complete both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in one full day. We recommend starting in Universal Studios in the morning and then catch the Hogwarts Express train to Islands of Adventure in the afternoon.
  • Visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter late afternoon. The park quietens down at this time so you’ll get a better experience of the most popular area of the park.
  • Islands of Adventure has lots of rides that will get you wet! Bring a change of clothes so you’re not uncomfortable for the rest of the day.

Busch Theme Parks

The Busch brand have theme parks across North America, many of which are in Orlando. Delve deep into a sea-life adventure in SeaWorld or Discovery Cove or hold on tight as you challenge yourself to ride on some of the most terrifying roller-coasters in the country in Busch Gardens. Booking a multi-park Busch theme park ticket in UK before arrival can save you lots of money if you plan on visiting all the parks (more on that later).

SeaWorld

Park Map | Website

Best Orlando theme parks - Seaworld dolphin show
Image courtesy of Steven Depolo – CC

SeaWorld has gotten a bad rap over the past years since it was featured in the eye-opening documentary ‘Blackfish’. They’ve since tried to change opinions on the park and have re-thought a lot of attractions and animal care processes for better conversation and animal treatment. We recommend researching for yourself whether you want to see SeaWorld in light of the recent changes.

Ethics aside, SeaWorld can be a fulfilling experience for a theme park and the animal attractions here are plentiful. Feed the dolphins, marvel at the sea life and watch a variety of interactive dolphin, sea-lion and bird shows. SeaWorld also has some fun rides and 3D simulators, fitting with the animal conversation and underwater theme and appealing to all interests, whether you’re a thrill seeker or want something a little tamer and more visual. Visit Seaworld for the unique animal interactions and shows, with some fun rides as a bonus.

Best for: Families with kids of all ages

Top rides and attractions to check out:

  • Turtle Trek – an immersive 3D experience of the life of a turtle
  • Manta and Kraken – two exhilarating rides than can be seen a mile away!
  • Clyde and Seamore’s Sea Lion High – a comedy show about a Sea Lion and his friends

Insiders tips for visiting SeaWorld:

  • Show seating fills up quickly, especially when the park is at full capacity. Arrive eating to score the best seats in the house
  • In addition to the standard park entrance and attractions, SeaWorld offers special tours such as up-close encounters with dolphins, penguins and ‘behind the scenes’ operations. They’re well worth checking out if you can afford the extra cost.
  • Ride the rollercoaster’s Manta and Mako first thing on a morning. The queues build up fast and you don’t want to miss the shows!

Busch Gardens

Park Map | Website

Depicts Busch Gardens rollercoaster
Image courtesy of Jeremy Thompson – CC

Unlike the other parks we’ve listed, Busch Gardens isn’t in the Orlando area. It’s just over an hour’s drive away in Tampa Bay and many people often overlook the park in favour of Disney and Universal due to its location. Busch Gardens is well worth visiting if you haven’t been! It’s a huge, African themed park with more roller coasters than any of the other parks; awesome if you like thrill rides! Just like a theme park in the UK such as Thorpe Park or Alton Towers, you’ll find big drop rollercoasters, multiple loops and everything in between.

Roller-coasters aside, the park is set in a natural environment to give the impression of being in Africa. You can see animals roaming around in a zoo-style open complex or watch a captivating acrobatic show with vibrant tribal costumes. As the park is so large, you’ll find plenty of rides, shows and attractions to suit all ages and interests. It’s not all about the terrifying roller-coasters, but they’re definitely the highlight!

Best for: Thrill seekers and families with older children. One of the best theme parks in Orlando for exhilarating roller-coasters.

Top rides and attractions to check out:

  • Cheetah Hunt launch-style rollercoaster
  • Kumba, a spiralling high-speed rollercoaster in the Congo area of the park
  • SheiKra, the US’ first dive rollercoaster and probably the most popular ride in Busch Gardens

Insiders tips for visiting Busch Gardens:

  • If you’re staying in the park the whole day, and you probably will do as it’s so big, eating and drinking costs can add up fast. The All Day Fining Plan can provide good value!
  • Visit the animals first thing in the morning. As it’s cooler around this time, the animals are more active and you’ll catch a better view. They become sleepy in the hot afternoon sun.
  • As tempting as it may be to dash ride-to-ride all day, don’t forget to see some shows! The production quality is excellent and it’s a nice break from the sun.

Discovery Cove

Park Map | Website

Shows Discovery Cove lagoon
Image courtesy of Michael Lowin – CC

Discovery Cove isn’t a typical theme park with rides. It’s an immersive animal ‘meet and greet’ experience where you’ll swim with dolphins, snorkel with tropical fish and meet a whole variety of other sea life. It’s an animal encounter that will stay in your memories for life and many visitors pick Discovery Cove as their favourite park.

Don your wetsuit and spend the day meeting the animals and learning about different species, taking part in feeding time, and relaxing in a tropical environment. There’s even a beach where you can wind down with a cocktail in hand. Discovery Cove is an all-inclusive park so unlimited food and drinks is included in the price and it’s a fun day out whether you’re with your partner or your whole family!

Best for: Families or couples

Top attractions to check out:

  • Swimming with dolphins is an experience you won’t forget. Make this top of your priority list!
  • Swim with sharks (with only a glass panel to separate you)
  • Snorkel the Grand Reef, which is packed full of tropical fish

Insiders tips for visiting Discovery Cove:

  • All food and drinks are included in the admission price so arrive hungry and make the most of it! The food is delicious and plentiful.
  • Arrive at the park early to eat breakfast before everyone arrives. You’ll also get an extra hour in the water and can catch the early morning Stingray feeding.
  • On a similar note, head to the ‘Explorer’s Aviary’ early to feed the birds. They’re more receptive on a morning as they’re hungry.

Legoland Florida

Park Map | Website

Best Orlando theme parks - Legoland
Image courtesy of RangerRick – CC

What kid (and adult) doesn’t love Lego? We’re a big fan of the Lego brand and they now have a theme park in the Orlando area, located just under an hour’s drive south of Lake Buena Vista (Disney). Legoland is one of the best theme parks in Orlando for children and families, with lots of small rides designed around creation and having fun.

The park is themed to different Lego sets and characters and it’s a unique experience away from the vast thrill rides of the other Orlando theme parks. We recommend Legoland for families with small children that want a fun day out with less crowds, less walking around and plenty of fun activities.

Best for: Young kids / pre-teens

Top attractions to check out:

  • Don’t miss Miniland – an amazing world of miniature US towns and landmarks built using Lego bricks. The whole family will be impressed by this.
  • The Lego Movie 4D, a fun spin-off of the beloved Lego movie  
  • Driving School – there’s two driving schools in the park where kids can take control of the wheel in a Lego car and whizz around to their desire

Insiders tips for visiting Legoland Florida:

  • You’ll find ‘build stations’ around the park. Use these as rest stops to re-charge or unleash your creative side
  • There’s an on-site water park. It’s a great way to cool down with a cold drink whilst the kids have fun
  • You can trade Lego mini characters with other guests and the employees at the park. It’s a cool way to interact with the Lego staff and earn some new toys

What are the best theme parks in Orlando?

This all depends on your interests and the type of theme park rides you like. Our top 3 recommendations for anyone that hasn’t visited before would have to be the following three parks. They have something for everyone!

  • Disney’s Magic Kingdom
  • Disney’s Epcot
  • Universal Studios

Where and when should I buy my Orlando theme park tickets?

It’s much cheaper to buy your tickets as part of a package in the UK, before you arrive in Orlando. As many of the ticket re-seller sites offer similarly priced packages, we recommend Attraction Tickets Direct. They’re reliable and have some excellent multi-park packages.

Read more about booking Orlando theme park tickets in our guide here.

If you only plan on visiting one or two theme parks during your stay, it may be better value to just book single entry tickets on the theme park’s official website.

What are the opening hours for the Orlando theme parks?

Opening hours vary depending on the season when you’re visiting and the day of the week. You can view the latest opening hours by clicking on the website links for each park listed above.

Tips for visiting the Orlando theme parks:

  • Take advantage of Fastpasses to skip the queues. They’re available in all parks, some paid and others free and bookable online. Less queuing means more rides!
  • Arrive early if you can. Getting to the park for arrival gives you a chance to get on the rides and attractions before the crowds arrive and leave the park before it gets really hot if you’re all done.
  • Theme parks are fun but can be quite tiring. Take plenty of rest breaks in the shade and pack a small backpack with the following items:
    • Snacks
    • Water
    • Sun cream
    • Sun hat
    • Water spray for cooling down
  • If you have flexible theme park tickets (highly recommended), why not visit one theme park on a morning, return to the hotel for a rest and then venture to another theme park on an evening? It can be tiresome walking around all day.
  • On a similar note, wear good quality trainers or walking shoes. Your feet will thank you!
  • Pack a compact rain-mac in case of a flash Floridian rain storm. They can happen when you’d least expect!
  • Stay in a Disney or Universal resort to gain access to extra park benefits such as longer opening hours.
  • Be sure to check out some of the themed restaurants, drinks and snacks. It’s all part of the theme park fun!

We hope we helped you compare the best theme parks in Orlando. Every park is different and worth visiting in their own way and you should try to visit them all. If you’re short on time or have lots of other things you want to do, prioritise based on your interests and you can do the rest when you return next time. We’re positive you’ll be back!

If you haven’t booked your Orlando holiday yet and are looking to find the best prices, follow our Ultimate Guide to Booking a Holiday in Orlando here.


Flying toucan image - World Travel ToucanTHANKS FOR READING! IF YOU LIKED OUR ARTICLE, SHARE WITH YOUR FRIENDS OR PRINT IT OUT FOR YOUR TRIP. FEEL FREE TO CONTACT US WITH ANY QUESTIONS YOU HAVE…

Related Posts

Leave a comment