Best theme parks in Florida

Piwee

13 April 2020

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When it comes to theme parks, Florida sets the standard! It’s absolute heaven for all theme park lovers and thrill-seekers! 

 

Most of them are located in Orlando but you will also find some in the rest of Florida

 

Florida attracts over 60 million tourists per year just for its theme parks, making Orlando the ultimate theme park capital of the world!

 

Florida’s first theme park opened in 1949 and it is … Gatorland! We will get back to that further down in the article.

But it’s in the 70s that the whole theme park mania starts getting its momentum in Florida with the grand opening of Disney Magic Kingdom. 

 

If you are going to Florida soon, going to a theme park is a must-do! You can easily spend several days in Orlando just to go to the theme parks but it’s also a good day trip from Tampa or St Petersburg for example. So let’s get down to it and discover the best theme parks in Florida!

 

theme parks in florida

 

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no extra cost for you!

 

Magic Kingdom

 

If you are a Disney fan, Magic Kingdom is a must-do!

 

Cinderella Castle magic kingdom Disney World Orlando

 

Mainly known to be the kids’ park within Disney World, it’s also a great destination for adults

 

Firstly, it’s exactly what you expect Disney to be like. Princess Castle, characters walking down the streets, parades, fireworks… it has it all! I would particularly recommend staying in the evening for the fireworks. They are amazing and extremely well-orchestrated, using lights and special effects on the castle.

 

But that’s not all! Magic Kingdom is also home to some of the best rides such as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain and Splash Mountain!

 

big thunder magic kingdom Orlando

 

It was the first Disney park to open in Orlando and is the Ultimate World Disney Experience. 

 

Magic Kingdom is formed of 6 lands: Main Street USA, Adventureland, Tomorrowland, Frontierland and Fantasyland.

 

If you ever been to Disneyland in Paris, you will recognise quite a few things.

 

You can get there by car. It will take you about 30 minutes from Orlando Downtown. Head on the I-4 and take the exit 67, go around and Epcot and you will get there! You can’t miss it!

 

There is a big parking lot at the entrance (20$ per day). If you are staying in a hotel in Orlando, you might get access to shuttles as well.

 

Plan your trip to Magic Kingdom, Disney World

 

ADDRESS: Lake Buena Vista, FL 32836, United States

 

TICKETS: You can buy tickets for Magic Kingdom on Disney World’s website or through a tour operator such as this one.

 

TIPS & TRICKS: Download the Disney App to get your fast passes. 

 

WHAT TO WEAR: Shorts and T-shirt will be perfect during the day. Remember to bring a jacket for the evening, it can get a bit chilly during the fireworks. 

You will be walking a lot so make sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring a bottle of water.

If you want to take amazing photos, you may want to get a Disney T-shirt, Disney hat or Minnie’s ears. You can buy all of these on-site but they will be way more expensive than buying them beforehand.

 

Hollywood Studios 

 

If you are a movie fan, Hollywood Studios will be the perfect theme park in Florida for you! If Magic Kingdom is the kids’ favourite Disney park, Hollywood studios is particularly loved by adults. 

In Hollywood Studios, you will find everything related to Pixar and Star Wars movies. 

 

So if you love Toy Story, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Frozen and want to visit Hollywood in Florida, this is the place for you!

 

hollywood studios florida

 

You can get to the park by car or shuttle. The park opens at 8am and during peak season, you will want to get there a bit early to be able to avoid the crowds a little. 

 

Once you pass the entrance, you will walk up Hollywood Boulevard. From there you can access the 7 lands: 

  • Echo lake
  • Sunset Boulevard
  • Animation courtyard
  • Commissary Lane
  • Grand Avenue
  • Star Wars: Galaxy’s edge
  • Toy Story land

 

As you may already know, at Disney World, it’s all about the fast passes. We’d recommend booking in priority the following rides: Runaway Railroad, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n” Roller Coaster, Star tours and Slinky Dog Dash.

 

hollywood studios twilight tower

 

Plan your trip to Hollywood Studios, Disney World

 

ADDRESS: 351 S Studio Dr, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830, United States

 

TIPS & TRICKS: Download the Disney App to get your fast passes. 

 

TICKETS: You can buy tickets for Hollywood Studios on Disney World’s website or through a tour operator such as this one.

 

WHAT TO WEAR: Shorts and T-shirt will be perfect during the day.

You will be walking a lot so make sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring a bottle of water in your backpack.

If you want to take amazing photos, you may want to get a Star Wars or Frozen T-shirt. You can buy all of these on-site but they will be way more expensive than buying them beforehand.

 

Animal Kingdom

 

Recommended by Margie from DQ Family Travel

 

As one of Disney World’s four theme parks in Orlando, Florida, Animal Kingdom is the newest opened in 1998. Located about 20 miles from Orlando’s MCO Airport, it is a short ride from the airport and just off I-4. 

 

Disney’s Animal Kingdom gets my vote for the best theme park in Florida for a few reasons. Not only does it have unique ride experiences and themed lands, but it also allows guests to take a safari into the African savannah

 

Animal Kingdom is much more than a Disney park with a zoo attached. This theme park’s creativity and Imagineering are evident in the centrepiece Tree of Life, with animals carved into the trunk, and with one of a kind rides like Expedition Everest and Avatar’s Flight of Passage. A free Fastpass to these attractions is highly recommended if guests would like to ride the popular attractions with less wait.

 

animal kingdom disney world

 

Thanks to the expertly themed lands of Asia and Africa, the variety of food and drink options at Animal Kingdom are probably the best in all of Disney World. For those who enjoy animals, there are plenty of viewing areas, one of a kind encounters, and walkthroughs in addition to the famed safari ride – Kilimanjaro Safari. I highly recommend a visit to this park on your next trip to Walt Disney World. 

 

Plan your trip to Animal Kingdom, Disney World

 

ADDRESS: 2901 Osceola Pkwy, Orlando, FL 32830, United States

 

TICKETS: You can buy tickets for Animal Kingdom on Disney World’s website or through a tour operator such as this one.

 

TIPS & TRICKS: Download the Disney App to get your fast passes. 

 

WHAT TO WEAR: Shorts and T-shirt will be perfect during the day. You will be walking a lot so make sure to wear comfortable shoes. You should also bring a bottle of water and a light jacket in your backpack.

As anywhere else in Florida, it can get quite sunny and you should also wear a hat. Again, if you want to take amazing photo captions, you may want to consider some Lion King accessories.

 

Epcot

 

Recommended by Darcy from Plan, Ready, Go 

 

Epcot (which stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) is one of the four theme parks that make up Disney World. Epcot has two distinct areas: Future World and the World Showcase. Future World is where you’ll find popular rides such as Test Track and Soarin’, while the World Showcase is made up of several smaller areas designed to show off the culture and food of a particular country. The highly popular Frozen Ever After ride can be found in Norway in the World Showcase. 

While the Future World rides are fun, exploring the World Showcase should not be missed, especially for adults looking for things to do at Disney World. It’s full of great dining options and fun shops to explore.  

 

epcot disney world orlando

 

For a table service meal at Epcot, I highly recommend Via Napoli (Italy) or Biergarten (Germany). Biergarten is great if you’re looking for a buffet and/or entertainment with your meal. A top choice for a quick service meal at Epcot is Tangierine Café in Morocco. And the best snack in all of Epcot has to be the croque glace at L’Artisan des Glaces (France). It’s essentially an ice cream sandwich made with a warm brioche bun. You simply have to try it. Vegetarians and those who have allergies (such as gluten) will have no trouble finding excellent dining options in the Epcot World Showcase

 

You can easily get to Epcot by car if staying outside of the Disney World property (keep in mind you’ll need to pay for parking). If staying at a Disney World resort you can take a bus from your resort to any park. Other options include taking the monorail from the Magic Kingdom or the Skyliner gondola from Hollywood Studios and select resorts.

 

Plan your trip to Epcot, Disney World

 

ADDRESS: 200 Epcot Center Dr, Orlando, FL 32821, United States

 

TICKETS: You can buy tickets for Epcot on Disney World’s website or through a tour operator such as this one.

 

TIPS & TRICKS: Download the Disney App to get your fast passes. 

 

WHAT TO WEAR: Epcot is not really about rides. Or at least, not as much as the other Disney World parks. This means that you can be more creative with what you wear. Of course, shorts and t-shirts are always a good option but the ladies can also wear a dress or skirt.

You will find many photo spots at Epcot. If you want to follow the theme, you can get some accessories such as a french beret, sailor t-shirt or if you really want to push it, a dirndl!

 

Universal studios

 

Recommended by Jenna From I know the pilot

 

Universal Studios is located in Orlando, Florida and is one of the most popular theme parks in the world, with over eight million visitors annually. It is part of the Universal Orlando Resort complex, along with Universal’s ‘Islands of Adventure’ and ‘Volcano Bay’, as well as a variety of accommodation options. 

 

universal studios orlando

 

Easy to find, the park is located at 6000 Universal Boulevard, roughly twenty minutes from Orlando Airport. Universal Boulevard is the main strip through Orlando, and there are plenty of signs to help you find the park (though it is hard to miss!). There are also a variety of hotels and resorts along Universal Boulevard that offer free transport to the parks. 

 

With a focus on movies, television and pop culture, Universal Studios features a range of rides, activities and interactions with our favourite characters, ranging from the Marvel Universe, Transformers, E.T, Harry Potter, The Simpsons, Shrek and more. The park has something for everyone – fast-paced thrill rides for the grownups (and brave kids), more relaxed rides for the little ones, character meet-and-greets, live shows, play areas, shopping and themed dining. 

 

universal studios orlando

 

Many of the rides at Universal incorporate a variety of technology to create the ultimate experience. The ‘Transformers: The Ride 3D’ gives you all the tummy turns without the scary heights, and ‘Revenge of the Mummy’ is an oldie but a goodie – immersive and thrilling. If you want old-school excitement, the ‘Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket‘ is the ultimate classic coaster, which also lets you select your own tunes for the ride.

 

There are a variety of ticket options, with either single-use entry to the individual parks or multi-pass/multi-day options which allow entry to multiple parks across several days. This is a must if you want to utilise the ‘Hogwarts Express’ train ride, which takes you across to ‘Islands of Adventure’ – it’s pretty cool (even if you’re not a HP fan), so we highly recommend getting a multi park/multi day pass, so you also have plenty of time to explore. If you’re able, it’s also a great idea to take advantage of their express passes (which are at an extra cost to the park ticket), which allow you to get to the front of the queue. If you’re visiting in peak season, or only have limited time, this will ensure you are able to experience everything – not just the queues. Also, a stay at one of the park resorts allows you early entry to the parks

 

If you’re visiting in Summer, try doing all your outdoor rides/attractions during the morning. People don’t often expect this in the ‘sunshine state’, but the tropical weather can sometimes bring some stormy afternoons. Also, the park has an app that you can download with a broad range of information, helping you get around, as well as keeping you up to date with all the live shows, character appearances and even ride wait times. 

 

Enjoy your visit – Universal Studios is one not to be missed!

 

Plan your trip to Universal Studios

 

ADDRESS: 6000 Universal Blvd, Orlando, FL 32819, United States

 

TICKETS: You can book on the Universal Studios website or through a tour operator such as this one.

 

WHAT TO WEAR: Shorts and t-shirt are ideal for Universal Studios. No matter what, don’t forget to pack a bottle of water in your backpack and to wear comfortable shoes.

In terms of accessories, you may want to take a couple of things. Clearly, Universal Studios are one of the most instagramable places in the USA. There will be many photo opportunities and you may want to spice up your photos with some Marvel or Harry Potter accessories.

 

Islands of Adventure

 

Recommended by Shannon from Adventuring with Shannon

 

One of the best theme parks in Florida is easily Islands of Adventure, Universal’s sister theme park. 

 

In fact, the two parks are actually connected by a Harry Potter interactive train ride! 

Islands of Adventure is located in the heart of Orlando right near Universal, the waterparks, and about 15 minutes away from Disney. 

 

As a Florida native and an Orlando resident, I frequent all of the parks in the area, and I must say, I prefer Islands of Adventure to all of them, even Disney! There are way more things to do in Orlando than just Disney!

 

My favorite rides are actually all located in the Marvel Studios section of the park. Even though Disney owns Marvel, Universal owns the rights to use it in a theme park as they bought them long before Disney acquired the Marvel film rights. One of the best rides in the park is “The Hulk” which is a roller coaster that launches you out of a tunnel going 0 to 60 in a matter of seconds, immediately launching you into a corkscrew loop. 

 

But Superhero Island isn’t the only awesome aspect of this park! They have an amazing Kong ride as well as a Jurassic Park water ride. Both make you feel like you are in the movies living the adventure as if it were real. I’ve been to Islands of Adventure more times than I can count, and these rides never grow old. 

 

Lastly, Islands of Adventure is home to Hogwarts, Hogsmeade, and all of the magic of Harry Potter. One half of Harry Potter World is in Islands of Adventure while the other is in Universal. In the Islands of Adventure Park, you can ride on Hagrid’s motorbike, play quidditch in Hogwarts with Harry, drink Butter Beer, and perform magical spells in real life! Islands of Adventure is the best park in Florida and the place to be.

 

Plan your trip to Islands of Adventure

 

ADDRESS: Universal Blvd, Orlando, FL 32819, United States

 

TICKETS: You can buy tickets on the Universal website or through a tour operator such as this one.

 

WHAT TO WEAR: Shorts and t-shirt are ideal for Islands of Adventure. If you are going in summer you may want to take a rain jacket as well. No matter what, don’t forget to pack a bottle of water in your backpack and to wear comfortable shoes.

There will be many photo opportunities inside Islands of Adventure and you may want to spice up your photos with some Marvel or Harry Potter accessories.

 

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios

 

Recommended by Pamela from Directionally Challenged Traveler

 

The Harry Potter book series captured the imagination of millions of people around the world. If you’re a fan like me, then actually stepping foot into the stories is a wonderful experience. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is actually two ‘parks’ within the Universal Studios park in Florida. Hogsmeade, the wizarding town, is located in Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Diagon Alley is in Universal Studios Florida. 

 

harry potter in the world florida orlando

 

I suggest starting at Diagon Alley for no other reason than to trace Harry Potter’s steps through the brick wall (while they don’t actually move, the sound effects are pretty awesome) into the village. 

Every aspiring witch or wizard will be in awe at the detail that went into bringing this to life – from Ollivander’s wand shop where you can get your own wand to do magic throughout the park, to the dragon atop Gringotts that breaths fire every fifteen minutes or so. In Diagon Alley you can meet the Knight Bus conductor, talk with the goblin at Gringotts before exchanging money to bank notes (which can be used at both Harry Potter parks), and of course riding the intense “Escape from Gringotts” ride!  There are also plenty of shops to get your wizarding gear, but my favorite is the Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes!

 

harry potter orlando florida

 

Once you’ve gotten your fill of Diagon Alley, it’s time to head to Kings Cross Station to take the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade! (You will need a park-to-park ticket for this ride). Hogsmeade has a few more rides to enjoy – Harry Potter & the Forbidden Journey and Flight of the Hippogriff! Get your first look at the Hogwarts castle here as well as numerous performances throughout the day. Indulge your sweet tooth at Honeydukes and embrace the darker side of magic at Borgin and Burkes.  

When you’re done at Hogsmeade, I highly suggest taking the Hogwarts Express back to Diagon Alley – it’s a completely different experience than the way there! Be prepared to spend almost a full day at these two ‘parks’. Leaving the parks was hard, but it’s a great feeling to know there is magic in the world.

 

Plan your trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

 

TICKETS: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in your Universal ticket.

 

WHAT TO WEAR: If you are a true Potterheads and want to get the full experience, you can come with your favourite house’s hat, scarf, T-shirt or with Harry Potter leggings and bag!

 

MORE ABOUT HARRY POTTER: If you are interested in discovering more Harry Potter places in the world, check out the articles about Harry Potter in London and in Edinburgh.

 

Legoland

 

Recommended by Melissa from Navigation Junkie

 

Legoland is located just 45 minutes outside of Orlando’s main hub of theme parks. Legoland is the perfect theme park destination for those seeking to avoid the crowds of the Disney theme parks and makes for a fun-filled, slower-paced day. The park is home to over fifty rides as well as a variety of different shows and interactive attractions for the young ones. Legoland also features a waterpark. 

 

legoland florida theme park

 

Legoland is located in Winter Haven, Florida. If travelling to Legoland from Orlando, take I-4 West to exit 55 (US Highway 27 South), then turn right off of US Highway 27 South at State road 540. The park will be on the left. Parking is available for $33 for the day. 

 

A must-see at Legoland Florida is Miniland USA, which consists of over 32 million legos making up scenes from across the country, from California to NYC and Washington D.C. Miniland USA contains many moving exhibits and sound effects. 

 

Depending on who you are visiting with, there are several must-do rides. If travelling with older children/adults don’t miss out on the several thrills rides the park has to offer, including Flying School (a suspended roller coaster), The Dragon (roller coaster), and Unikitty’s Disco Drop (a drop tower). If visiting with younger children there are plenty of rides geared towards them, including Royal Joust (a horseback riding themed ride), Safari Trek, and the Duplo train. 

 

In order to maximize your time at Legoland, be sure to do a little research, find out what shows are going on at what time, and which ones you want to view. Also, take a look at what rides are offered to get an idea and day plan of what you want to do that day. While Legoland is much less crowded than the Disney parks, it is still helpful to have a game plan to maximize your time!

 

Plan your trip to Legoland

 

ADDRESS: 1 Legoland Way, Winter Haven, FL 33884, United States

 

TICKETS: You can buy tickets on their website or through a tour operator such as this one.

 

Gatorland

 

Recommended by Kalyn from All American Atlas

 

Gatorland, Florida is one of the most unique theme parks around, as the thrill rides here are zip lines taking you over gator infested lakes and off-roading in giant 4-wheelers through gator-infested waters.

 

gatorland entrance florida

 

Gatorland has been a staple in Orlando since 1949 and caters to families who want an authentic Florida experience. Not only will you learn about Florida’s alligator population and the work that Gatorland does to conserve them, but you’ll get to walk through natural swamps, get up close to other unique Florida creatures and learn from the animal keepers during feeding times. 

 

gatorland theme park florida

 

If you’re really in the mood for some thrills, the “Screamin Gator” zipline is a great way to see the park from above, and the children’s splash pad and water park is a wonderful way to cool off in the Florida heat. There’s also a charming train that goes around the property. 

 

Gatorland is just south of Orlando, and the easiest way to get there is by driving. There is ample free parking on-site. 

 

If it’s your first time to the park, prepare to spend about half a day here, though if you do the additional experiences like the zipline and off-roading, it can easily be a full-day experience. 

 

Plan your trip to Gatorland

 

ADDRESS: 4501 S Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando, FL 32837, United States

 

TICKETS: You can buy tickets on their website or here.

 

 

Busch Gardens in Tampa

 

Recommended by Cris from Wander Florida

 

Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida is one of the state’s oldest theme parks. Would it surprise you to know it’s older than the best-known theme park in Florida, Disney’s Magic Kingdom? It is! Busch Gardens opened in 1959 as a free attraction for the Anheuser-Busch brewery. It was located on the brewery’s grounds and included bird and animal shows in a tropical setting after which visitors exited to the beer garden for a free beer. The gardens and shows remain and adorn the existing park.

 

busch gardens tampa roller coaster

 

Today, Busch Gardens is one of the most popular theme parks in Florida. It features 16 rides and roller coasters. The most popular of those are Sheikra, which includes a 200 foot straight down drop; Montu, an inverted roller coaster; and my personal favorite, Congo River Rapids, a whitewater rafting experience. 

 

busch gardens tampa florida

 

More than 200 animals live at Busch Gardens, and many can be seen on the Serengeti Express ride, up-close animal encounters, or in the animal shows. 

A day at Busch Gardens transports one to a fantasy African land. Street performers pop up in various places around the park to entertain with song, dance, or amazing feats with swords and other objects. 

 

For the best experience, try the park on a weekday and during off months such as October, November, and February. The park holds concerts every weekend in March and April and evening fireworks in the summer. Take a break by riding the Serengeti Express and the Skyride to get you off your feet. Pay a little extra for unlimited ride photos and bring a water bottle. 

To get to Busch Gardens, take I-75 to exit 265 and go west for 2 miles, or take I-4 to I-275 and get off on Busch Boulevard.

 

Plan your trip to Busch Gardens, Tampa

 

ADDRESS: 10165 McKinley Dr, Tampa, FL 33612, United States

 

TICKETS: You can buy tickets for Busch Gardens here.

 

Florida is crawling with all things theme parks. Millions of tourists come each year to have fun in some of the most famous amusement parks in the world! Disney World, of course, is a must-do but as you saw in this list, there is so much more than Disney in terms of theme parks in Florida!

 

The best theme parks in Florida are not just Disney and it’s very important that you choose a park that you will like and reflect your personality. That’s how you’ll have fun! 

 

You may also be interested in:

Things To Do In Orlando, Florida

Disney World Orlando, Magic Kingdom

Things to do in the Florida Keys

Things to do in St Petersburg, Florida

Where to stay in St Petersburg, Florida

 

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best theme parks in florida

 

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