Walt Disney World—Walt Disney World, which marked 50 years of fun in October 2021, operates four top-drawer theme parks every day of the year. Magic Kingdom, the most popular theme park on Earth, is a more spacious iteration of the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California, and is brimming with cherished attractions; Epcot, which began as a new-brew version of an old-style world’s fair (it’s now much more amorphous), has two of the newest big-ticket rides; Disney’s Animal Kingdom blends animal habitats with theme park panache and offers a gorgeous Avatar-themed land, Pandora, with two rides. Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which in recent years opened the whimsical indoor ride Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway and the blockbuster Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, is back on the boil as the second-hottest Disney World park after the Magic Kingdom.

Universal Orlando—When kids outgrow Disney’s princess scene but still demand adrenaline and high quality, Universal Orlando takes over. Its two full theme parks, Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, plus its newish Volcano Bay water park, command respect, get the blood pumping, and feature two immersive sections devoted to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Universal seems to go from strength to strength these days: In 2019, the Potter-themed Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure ride hit a home run with guests at Islands of Adventure, and in 2021, the rip-roarin’ Jurassic World VelociCoaster blew away coaster fans around the world. 

Beyond Disney and Universal: Venture beyond the Big Six theme parks in those two resorts and you’ll find more breathing room and more focused experiences. The gardens and marine mammals at SeaWorld Orlando can make for a slower-paced excursion. It recently opened a high-velocity but compact coaster, Ice Breaker, and a superb kids’ area based on Sesame Street. Six water parks (including state-of-the-art Volcano Bay) flow with energy: Typhoon Lagoon and Aquatica for family-friendly slides, Blizzard Beach for more aggressive ones, and Discovery Cove for VIP swims with dolphins and reef fish.

South of town, Legoland Florida, one of the best parks for small children, charms with Old Florida touches and a new Peppa Pig Theme Park. Legoland Florida ambles pleasantly on a lakeside that was once home to Cypress Gardens, Florida’s original mega-park and a haunt for everyone from Esther Williams to Elvis Presley. Its historic botanical garden has been prized since the 1930s. 

Gatorland celebrates the region’s original locals. Kennedy Space Center, east of town, is still a glowing testament to what the United States is capable of when it focuses on a goal—in purely historic terms, it’s the most important complex to visit.

Florida, Your Eden—Although theme parks now define Orlando, Central Florida has a long tale of its own, if you’re willing to listen. There are more fresh springs here than in any other American state. You’ll always remember swimming in the 72 F (22 C) waters of De Leon Springs State Park, canoeing at Wekiwa Springs State Park, or meeting at-risk manatees in their natural habitat at Blue Spring State Park.

Florida, the Gilded Age Idyll—Of course, Orlando’s identity as a sunny theme park mecca only began in 1971, but visitors from the north have been coming for a century. Sample the fine art collected by high-society settlers at Winter Park’s Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art (including a massive collection of Tiffany glass) or the Cornell Fine Arts Museum (with lush decorative arts of every description). Peep at their historic mansions, whose lawns slope invitingly to the tranquil lakes of Winter Park, on the long-running Scenic Boat Tour.

Florida, Land of Flowers—The reason all those blue bloods migrated here? The fine weather and beautiful water. The horticultural achievements at Harry P. Leu Gardens, practically smack in the middle of downtown Orlando, remind you just how bountiful the soil here can be. Or lose yourself at Bok Tower Gardens, whose builder set out to create a Taj Mahal for America; its landscaping is by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., whose other work includes the White House grounds and the National Mall.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.