Explore a whole new world of fun with hands-on STEM and STEAM experiences for kids at Orlando theme parks and attractions (Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex pictured).
Innovation is at the heart of everything we do in Orlando, from our groundbreaking roller coasters and attractions to our high-tech hotels and imaginative dining scene. Inspire the next generation of innovators with hands-on learning at Orlando-area STEAM attractions where science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics take center stage. With STEAM-inspired learning, it’s one small step for kids, one giant leap toward a better tomorrow.
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The Importance of STEAM Attractions
What are STEAM attractions and why do they matter? We spoke to a few local experts to find out more.
“STEM encompasses educational disciplines in science, technology, engineering and math,” says Gloria Meeks, education curriculum manager at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. In recent years, the acronym STEAM has also picked up … well, steam, with an additional emphasis on the arts for their playful, creative approach to critical thinking and problem-solving.
“STEM is everywhere and plays a part in all of our lives,” says Taylor Geraghty, marketing development manager at WonderWorks. “Whether it’s as grand as inspiring the next generation of scientists or as simple as using critical thinking to solve everyday problems, STEM/STEAM education is the foundation of forward progress. STEM attractions, like our own, highlight a world of possibilities many don’t know about.”
Meeks agrees. “STEM attractions are a great way to demonstrate the infinite possibilities for human advancement when creative minds work together to find a solution.” She also stresses that it’s important for kids to be exposed to STEM attractions so they can visualize that all advancements are due to the creative and tireless people who have worked in one of the fields of STEM.
STEAM Attractions Throughout Orlando
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Just one hour east of Orlando on Florida’s Space Coast, Kennedy Space Center is the site of countless historic shuttle launches, including Apollo 11, the 1969 space mission that famously landed the first man on the moon. “From the dawn of space exploration to current and ongoing missions, you can get an up-close, hands-on feel for the story of humans in space,” says Meeks.
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Come nose to nose with the real Space Shuttle Atlantis, relive a historic shuttle launch, walk on Saturn’s rings, embark on a virtual journey to Mars and explore even more far out wonders. “Our S.T.E.A.M. Team gives guests the chance to learn more about science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics through fun experiments,” says Meeks. “Fun, colorful and simple demonstrations have made complex STEM concepts quite easy to comprehend without watering down the learning experience.” Depending on when you visit, you might even meet an actual astronaut, see restricted areas like launch complex 39B, or catch a modern-day shuttle launch, all included with admission.
The complex also has a number of paid add-ons and full-day events to enhance your learning experience, including the Astronaut Training Experience (ATX), Camp KSC, Fly Like an Astronaut, and Mars Base I, in which you’ll operate mini robots, grow and harvest your own food in space, and learn the skills needed to travel to another planet.
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You might recognize WonderWorks as that famous upside-down building at Pointe Orlando on International Drive, but its gravity-defying exterior is just the beginning of the story. Inside, you’ll find over 100 hands-on exhibits for all ages spread across six engaging Wonder Zones. “Often times when our guests are interacting with our exhibits, they’re having fun without even knowing they’re learning” shares Geraghty. “We like to lead with excitement and intrigue, and then we encourage [you] to dig deeper to better understand what’s really going on with the exhibit.”
“Aside from our eye-catching, upside-down exterior, WonderWorks takes a closer look at the science behind classic, beloved attractions. While we offer things like our virtual roller coasters, the glow-in-the-dark ropes course, and our Hurricane Shack, we also highlight the science behind them. Our virtual coasters highlight physics and technology. Our Bed of Nails exemplifies the principles of pressure. Our Bubble Lab incorporates chemistry and atoms … and the list goes on and on and on.”
Orlando Science Center
Moments from downtown Orlando, the Orlando Science Center has been thrilling families with interactive fun for over 60 years. Explore the science of combustion in the explosive Kaboom! live show, unleash your inner scientist at Dr. Dare’s lab, and witness your own starry night via Florida’s largest publicly accessible telescope.
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Kids under 8 can also explore new scientific principles in KidsTown while their older counterparts play with 3-D modeling software, 3-D printers, circuit boards and more in The Hive: A Makerspace. Along with dynamic live shows, a STEAM-inspired art gallery, a CINEDome and four floors of hands-on learning, Orlando Science Center hosts frequent events designed to explore foster curiosity and exploration in visitors of all ages.
Orlando Museum of Art
Lean into the arts aspect of STEAM learning with hands-on fun at the Orlando Museum of Art. An Orlando staple for almost 100 years, the Orlando Museum of Art is home to a dozen permanent and rotating exhibitions. Enrich your experience with special educational events and programs throughout the year, including family-friendly stroller tours, cultural celebrations and hands-on art workshops for kids, families and visitors of all ages and learning abilities.
Museum of Illusions Orlando
Step into a world of mind-boggling fun at Museum of Illusions Orlando at ICON Park®, home to over 50 insane exhibits that will trick your eyes — and then teach you about the brain science behind each illusion. From classic 2D illusions to brain-tickling installations and photo-worthy themed rooms, this is one spot that’s sure to have your whole family in stitches.
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It’s no secret that zoos and aquariums are some of the best spots for kids to learn STEM concepts about the natural world, thanks to engaging exhibits, dedicated zoological experts and plenty of hands-on fun. One of the top options here in Orlando is Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens, which hosts daily keeper chats, frequent themed conservation days, up-close animal encounters, and over 100 unique animal species, including native creatures like the Florida black bear and American alligator. Brevard Zoo on Florida’s east coast and ZooTampa to the west are also options if you’re up for a road trip.
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You can also learn about thousands of alligators and crocodiles at Gatorland, where action-packed shows, bustling aviaries and animal encounters, serene nature walks and paid upgrades like the Trainer for a Day program give you a first-hand look at the science of caring for wild animals.
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If your kiddo is into marine life, explore nine interactive zones of underwater fun at SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium, part of the ICON Park entertainment complex on International Drive. Learn about micro-habitats and touch invertebrates at the Coastal Rockpool Exhibit, take a deep dive on the Undersea Explorer virtual reality experience, and get a new perspective on life under the sea at Florida’s only 360-degree ocean tunnel. For the ultimate learning experience, embark on a 30-minute Behind the Scenes Tour — just $10 — to discover a day in the life of a SEA LIFE aquarist.
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You can also take a deep dive into marine conservation at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, located two hours southwest on Florida’s Gulf Coast. This working rescue and rehabilitation center is home to bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles, otters, sharks and more rescued marine life. Explore native Florida ecosystems, discover the science of hydroponics, and stop by the state-of-the-art Rescue Deck to see some of the newest residents. You can even take a guided eco-boat tour of beautiful Clearwater Bay to learn more about the native dolphin population and witness data collection by field scientists.
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Lonely Dog Experience
Art, technology and creativity combine at the Lonely Dog Immersive Experience, a dynamic new attraction that centers around the whimsical work of artist Ivan Clark. Discover the story of the titular Lonely Dog through an immersive theater experience that marries cutting-edge digital storytelling, art and music. After the show, create your own visual masterpieces, hit up the Lonely Dog Selfie Salon, and take flight in a 360-degree virtual reality lounge. It’s a howling good time for all ages!
Discover: Immersive Orlando Attractions
STEAM Attractions at Orlando Theme Parks
Spark your imagination and celebrate the wonders of nature, science and technology at EPCOT®, home to the largest concentration of STEM-inspired attractions at Walt Disney World® Resort. The park’s central landmark, a 180-foot-tall geodesic sphere, is an engineering marvel. Head inside to explore the history of communication aboard Spaceship Earth, catch a glimpse of the future, and explore hands-on gaming at Project Tomorrow.
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You’ll find even more STEM-inspired fun throughout the park, particularly in the new World Discovery and World Nature pavilions. Design your own high-performance vehicle at Test Track Presented by Chevrolet®, pilot a rocket to Mars on Mission Space, see agricultural innovation in action aboard Living With the Land, discover a world of underwater fun at The Seas Pavilion, and explore the boundless possibilities when you Journey into Imagination with Figment. You can even blast off on the new Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind and dine among the stars at Space 220.
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Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park
Meanwhile at Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park, you can celebrate the magic of nature, come face-to-face with exotic animals, explore a prehistoric world, and immerse yourself in the otherworldly beauty of Pandora — The World of Avatar.
Embark on a guided tour of the African Savanna aboard Kilimanjaro Safaris®, spot captivating creatures along the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail and Maharajah Jungle Trek, and chat with animal experts to learn more about your favorite wild animals. Kids can also have a blast digging for dino fossils in The Boneyard, earning nature-themed Wilderness Explorer badges, and boarding the Harambe Wildlife Express Train to learn about conservation at Rafiki’s Planet Watch.
LEGOLAND® Florida Resort
Harness the power of play at LEGOLAND® Florida Resort, where you can construct and test your own LEGO® creations in real-world scenarios. Design buildings, bridges, spacecraft and cars at The Imagination Zone, discover pulley power at Kid Power Towers, customize your own raft and go tubing at LEGOLAND® Water Park, pedal your way to freedom on the Technicyle, and let your imaginations run wild at Rebuild the World. Little ones can learn a thing or two at the Technic Tot Lot or DUPLO® Valley Schoolhouse, or head to Peppa Pig Theme Park for even more pint-sized fun.
Discover: Things to Do at LEGOLAND Florida Resort
A world of aquatic wonder awaits at SeaWorld® Orlando, where you can see dolphins, beluga whales, sea turtles and more. Head to the SeaWorld Rescue Center to learn more about learn more about SeaWorld’s marine rehabilitation and conservation efforts — they’ve cared for over 40,000 rescued animals in the past 50 years — then meet some of your favorite creatures at mesmerizing encounters and aquariums throughout the park.
Discover: Things to Do at SeaWorld Orlando
Little ones can also play their way through a world of interactive fun at Sesame Street Land™. Create beautiful melodies at Rosita’s Harmony Hills play area, control a virtual tricycle, create your own digital monster, whip a meal with Cookie Monster and Gonger, and play with Elmo and the gang on one of the most educational streets in town.
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