Guest blogger and award-winning journalist Miriam Porter shares why her family can never get enough Orlando (The Wheel at ICON Park® pictured).
If you think you can see all of Orlando in one visit, think again. New attractions are always popping up in this exciting city, and I have been amazed over the years that every time my son, Noah, and I return, there is a fresh adventure waiting for us.
Plus, as Noah gets older and his interests shift (the teenage years are just a moment away!), we can do activities that we couldn’t when he was a toddler. That’s one of Orlando’s best features — there is literally something for every age. Here are a few of our favorite things to do, and why we keep going back to Orlando!
New Attractions at Walt Disney World® Resort
It’s no secret that Noah and I love Walt Disney World® Resort; if we were Florida residents, we would have an annual pass. On our last visit, we secured a FastPass+ for Avatar Flight of Passage at Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park. We were super excited to check out the ride based on fellow vegan James Cameron’s blockbuster movie, Avatar.
Discover: Eating Vegan at Orlando Theme Parks
I’m not going to lie; I was a bit nervous, as I was firmly strapped into a seat for this thrilling, motion-simulated adventure to another land. But kids half Noah’s age were riding, so I didn’t wimp out. (As long as your offspring are 44 inches or taller, they can participate.)
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This epic, 3D journey was one of the highlights of our visit and truly inspiring. Of course, with Toy Story Land now open at Disney’s Hollywood Studios®, it’s first on our list for next time!
Universal Volcano Bay at Universal Orlando Resort
I am glad we waited until Noah was older and a stronger swimmer so we could enjoy the exhilarating rides at Universal Volcano Bay together. Noah is a bit — OK, a lot — more adventurous than me when it comes to heart-pounding water slides, plunges and drops. I am more of a winding-lazy-river kind of momma, and loved the beach and wave pool at this Universal Orlando Resort water theme park.
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Plus, Universal Volcano Bay has a wristband called TapuTapu that allows you to wait in a virtual line while you are out swimming, floating and soaking up the sun. So, while Noah “put up” with floating down the river on inner tubes, he was super excited when our bands vibrated and it was time to line up for some thrills.
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Explore International Drive
Day or night, a visit to Orlando’s vibrant International Drive, aka I-Drive, will keep kids of all ages happy and engaged. There is so much to do along this strip, you can go back annually and still not see it all!
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We first checked out this cool resort area years ago with a spin on The Wheel at ICON Park® — the biggest observation wheel on the United States’ east coast, standing 400 feet tall with magnificent views of the city. As usual, I was more nervous than Noah, but his excitement at trying something new always inspires me. Before no time, we were laughing at the top of the world like two birds.
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These days, this area has grown even more with the latest attractions, and you can take the I-Ride Trolley up and down the district’s miles of fun. There are tons of other attractions to choose from, including I-Drive NASCAR (for older kids), Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, WonderWorks (our personal favorite!) at Pointe Orlando, and Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf for some putt-putt fun.
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Disney Springs® at Night
Noah and I always include a nighttime trip to Disney Springs at Walt Disney World Resort and each time, we have a completely different experience. On our last visit, we walked by the water, listening to live music and browsing original trinkets. But when Noah was younger, we spent hours inside The LEGO® Store, and I bought him his first glowing lightsaber at Star Wars Galactic Outpost.
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Arrive hungry, because delicious restaurants are a huge part of Disney Springs. One of our favorite meals was at Morimoto Asia, where we devoured fresh, Pan-Asian cuisine grilled to perfection. Younger kids will love the Marketplace’s Carousel and Train Ride, and brave souls can check out the world from 400 feet up on the Aerophile balloon. For more entertainment, check out House of Blues, Exposition Park, Marketplace Stage and the AMC Dine-In Disney Springs 24 movie theater, with the brand-new NBA Experience coming in summer 2019.
Road Trip to Winter Park
Several years ago, we took a road trip to explore Winter Park, a quaint, charming town about 20 minutes north of downtown Orlando. It’s a fun way to experience different aspects of Central Florida, and keep it fresh and interesting if you visit annually.
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After checking out the mini train station, we explored a few of the city’s 70 green parks and walked along the adorable streets. Noah was a bundle of energy back then, so I got a coffee to keep up, and we grabbed several delicious cookies from Ethos Vegan Kitchen for a snack. I also highly recommend taking the Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour along Lake Osceola and cruising through narrow canals and lakes, and under mossy trees.
Orlando Science Center
For any parents seeking to add some good, old-fashioned education to their Orlando trip, the Orlando Science Center is the place to be. It’s ideal for all ages and perfect for families traveling with younger kids.
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The Center has many interesting exhibits, too. KidsTown is for children up to age 7 and packs 11,000 square feet with fun, skill-based activities. There is also Kinetic Zone, The Hive: A Makerspace, and Fusion: A STEAM Gallery — no time for boredom here, ever, especially as traveling exhibits change over time.
Wekiwa Springs State Park
Wekiwa Springs State Park provides a unique back-to-nature experience about 25 minutes northeast of downtown Orlando. Noah couldn’t have kept up with this activity when he was younger, but for older kids who can paddle a kayak, it’s the perfect day trip.
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The park is located at the headwaters of the Wekiva River, with 13 miles of rustic trails for biking, hiking and picnicking. (No fast-food stands here, so bring your own healthy lunch!) We rented a bright blue kayak and paddled past trees, marshes, wetlands, turtles, fish, lizards and other wild creatures. And if they get too wild, you can always just keep paddling!
Stay Connected to Orlando!
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