We have all seen the viral videos where parents gather the kids together and in announce “Kids we are going to Disney”. Joyous Rapture ensues and the parents are heroes. There is laughter and tears of joy. Everyone is hugging. Its great and kinda what I expected. Reality check, when I made the announcement, I got crickets. Yep, nothing. Shocked I probed for answers. WHY?? This was purely for them, I am not a parent who finds any joy in the thought of Walt Disney world. I was willing to suck it up and go so they could have that amazing experience and here they are slightly irritated by my surprise gift.
Finally, my seven-year-old says on behalf of her and her four-year -old brother. “We want to go to Legoland instead. We don’t like Disney.”
I am not going to lie, there was a bit of relief in that moment. The long lines and huge crowds at Disney had been the main reason I had avoided that destination for years. I have three older kids and so far we have skipped the famed amusement park. Its also kind of funny how in the age of accessible technology young kids are able to essentially plan out vacations with the help of their favorite youtubers. Shout out to Ryan and FGTvee. So, we agreed. Orlando here we come, minus the mouse.
The trip was fantastic. We all thoroughly enjoyed every minute and did not once regret by-passing the city’s main attraction. I asked the kids to rate the activities starting with their favorites. So here they are in that order.
We visited this location on the last day and it was an unexpected hit. It was located about 35 min outside of Orlando. This was the unanimous favorite. I choose this place because I wanted to treat myself to an airboat ride. What we got was fun and well-rounded experience. Here is what the website states: We believe that by proactively promoting Central Florida’s natural resources that we can have a positive impact on the future. We are dedicated to protect, conserve and enhance Florida’s diverse ecosystem. We do this because it’s our responsibility and generations to come are relying on us so they can also enjoy the wonders of Wild Florida.
The airboat ride did not disappoint. I was expecting a thrilling ride but what I didn’t expect was the richness of Florida’s natural beauty. It was simply breathtaking. We saw alligators and huge beautiful birds. They really made good on their mission statement and we all came away with a new appreciation for American Wildlife. In addition to the airboat ride there is a very cool nature park with lots of exotic animals. There were zebras, birds, sloths, huge African cows, dozens of alligators and many more creatures. Older kids, for and extra fee, can interact with certain animals and even be a zookeeper for the day. My daughter chose the sloth encounter and was over the moon. My younger soon was able to do the bird encounter, which was included in the price. Overall, we wished we had more time there. You could absolutely make a whole day of it.
Universal Islands of Adventure
Coming in at second place was Universal. Even though I am not a fan of huge amusement parks I was pleasantly surprised by this place. The entire complex houses 4 attractions; Universal Studios, Universal Island of Adventure, Citywalk, and Volcano Bay Waterpark. That being said there are thousands of people converging at the entrance and yet they were fast and efficient, making sure everything ran smoothly. I was vey impressed. My son is autistic, and that part could have been a disaster, but they made it as painless as possible. Also, on that note we were able to obtain a free accessibility pass to reduce wait times in lines which turned out to be absolute lifesaver.
The rides were fantastic and nothing like I have ever been on before. My son is just 42 inches and was able to ride almost everything. Kids shorter than that will be very limited in what they can ride. A word of caution, the rides could be overwhelming for younger kids and others on the spectrum. If you have concerns about this, please look into the details before going.
Both kids rated this park as a top choice. My daughter loved the Kong ride, which I admit was also the favorite of mom and dad as well. It was absolutely incredible. My son loved the flying pterodactyls and in my opinion is one of the coolest, made for kids rides, I have ever been on. Universal really carves out a nice family experience with rides that parents and kids will equally enjoy. And I wouldn’t be the nerd that I am if I didn’t mention how freaking awesome Jurassic Park was. That portion of the park was well done and had lots to do besides the rides.
Full disclaimer on my kids review of this park, it rained that morning. Hard. We did manage to salvage the second half of the day. WE really had a good time despite the weather and the waterpark being closed. As a mother I will say Legoland is the cleanest most well-maintained park I have ever seen. And when it comes to accessibility, they go a few steps further than any other place I have been to. They have a “hero pass” that allows you to skip the line. I appreciate them not focusing on calling it a disability pass. In addition to that they provide you with a chart advising which rides have effects on riders and places to calm down and have a respite. They also provide sensory devices upon request to soothe overwhelmed guests. Wow right!!!
While this park is geared toward a younger child the rides were for parents and kids to ride together and I really enjoyed them. They used a lot of virtual tech and it really worked well to provide a unique experience. Our favorite was the virtual roller coaster. It was fashioned like the Wild Mouse ride and was a great choice with and without the virtual headset. Another great thing the park does is provide lego tables at rides with long line to occupy the kids during the wait. High Five! This is a great park and still made number #3 on the list despite the morning rain.
My daughter rated this very high on her list. When I told her we would be visiting this place she squealed with delight. Finally! I had never even heard of it and decided to go on a whim but apparently this has been a choice place to visit for many youtube families. And I can see why. Here is the description from the website: WonderWorks is an amusement park for the mind with 35,000 square feet of “edu-tainment”. The attraction combines education and entertainment with more than 100 hands on exhibits that challenge the mind and spark the imagination.
Think of this place as super cool science museum. There are several floors in the “upside down” building filling with fun educational activities. You can experience a hurricane or an earthquake, as well a virtual roller coaster rides. There are tons of activities that appeal to guests of all ages. My daughter’s favorite was the massive sky ropes course. I must admit I was impressed by how fearless and fast she was on the tight ropes. Another family favorite was the bed of nails, which most of us tried. A great advantage to this place is that this place is open until midnight. We actually went at 9pm and there were no crowds or lines, it was perfect.
Pirates’ Dinner Adventure
Don’t get it twisted being 5 on the list does not in any mean this wasn’t awesome. This is exactly as it sounds, a Pirate dinner show. You are entertained by pirates, rebels, mermaids and a princess while you enjoy dinner. There is a life size ship on the stage surrounded by a mini moat. The actors swordfight, dance, sing, perform acrobatics and swing across the theater. Audience participation is encouraged and adults and kids both will enjoy this engaging experience.
Everyone gets a full meal with the entrance fee and adults can upgrade to an optional drink package. Come early for pre-show meet and greets and stay late for a Pirate dance party. I really enjoyed the quality of the show and the kids were captivated as well. It’s a must see for all land lovers.
Crayola Experience and Skeletons
I am combining these last two together not because they lack in fun but because they aren’t really enough to fill the day. Both are located in Orlando and are close to lots of other activities, so its easy to add these on to a day of sightseeing.
The Crayola Experience was lots of fun. I really hope they start adding these to malls in other cities. It’s a great indoor play space for kids to let out energy and creativity. There are several stations that allow you to create custom crayons and coloring pages. Plus, jungle gyms and other fun physical activities. It was a super way to pass the time in between other stops. Both kids had a great time and I am glad we squeezed it in.
Skeletons is exactly what it sounds like. It is a museum filled with human and animal bones but trust me it’s worth stopping by. The setup is like a mini natural history museum with lots of different animals and a few human specimens. If you are still wondering why I took two kids here, well my seven-year-old wants to be a forensic anthropologist. She was in heaven. My son loved it too. There were a ton of interesting things to see and the atmosphere was fun and inviting. Like I said before its not an all day thing, however it is located in ICON Orlando. ICON is central entertainment space with tons to do and any family could fill their day here. It has a beautiful greenspace that lets you lounge and enjoy the Florida weather as well lots of dining and entertainment choices.
Mom Pro Tips:
- Some folks maybe think this is seems like all the admission fees could really add up. And yes that is true, but Groupon was a life saver. We decided to purchase the Orlando Sightseeing pass on the site. It was on sale for about $70 and we used it to obtain admission to everything but Universal and Legoland. It saved us hundreds of dollars. We were allotted five attractions off their list of dozens of places to visit. You can choose from a variety of things from dining to nascar racing to waterparks. There are several different companies that offer similar passes and one even includes Legoland.
- If you don’t mind flying Spirit Airlines, consider flying from Latrobe. For a short flight to Florida I’m totally ok with a budget airline but that’s a personal preference. I loved Latrobe airport for traveling with the kids. There was no lugging kids and bags through a huge place and parking was free. Yes!!! The line moved fast, and everyone was super helpful even after our first flight got cancelled due to weather.
All in all, we had a great trip and I don’t for one second regret ditching Walt Disney World. My daughter is 3 for 3 on picking great vacation spots so she gets the prize. I wonder where she will pick next.