DFWChild / Articles / Things to Do / Travel / Orlando Theme Parks: A Guide for Families

Orlando Theme Parks: A Guide for Families

Orlando has such a great variety of theme parks that there really is something for everyone, but not every age is ideal for every park. What is the best age for Disney? Is my child too young for Universal Studios? What about LEGOLAND? Use this guide to find the best bets at every theme park for every age and stage.
Babies and Toddlers Ages 0–2
They can be endlessly fascinated by an empty roll of toilet paper, but that doesn’t mean that the littlest travelers should be left out of the theme park fun. Babies up to the age of 2 can still enjoy many attractions, and since most parks admit children 2 and younger for free, there are savings for the entire family.
Best in Show: SeaWorld Orlando
In terms of volume, Seaworld offers the most activities that are accessible to families with babies. Friendly animal pals performing in brightly colored shows will mesmerize the little ones, and there are plenty of up-close encounters that let babies use all their senses to explore the animal world. Shamu’s Happy Harbor is specifically designed for young children and includes gentle rides and waterpark fun. Ask for a Very Important Kids brochure when you arrive at the park, which highlights the kid-centric shows and up-close encounters that are perfect for babies.
Runner-Up: Disney’s Magic Kingdom
There is something for everyone at the Magic Kingdom, including babies and toddlers. Most of the rides in Fantasyland are little kid-friendly, and offer the opportunity for kids to ride close to Mom and Dad if they have any fears. An easy rider switch program means you can enjoy some of the big rides, too.
Honorable Mention: Universal Studios Florida
A park that is known for thrill rides doesn’t offer much for the littlest tykes, but if the kids are big fans of Curious George or Barney, they will love the Curious George Playland or Day in the Park with Barney.
Preschoolers Ages 3–5
When you are a preschooler, the world is your oyster, at least until your parents make you take a nap. From ages 3–5 children change so much in their understanding and ability to communicate, so this is a perfect time to consider harnessing the magic and heading off to the theme parks.
Best in Show: Disney’s Magic Kingdom
It’s right there in the name. The Magic Kingdom is magical at any age, but the innocence of the preschool set might make those younger years the best time to visit. At this age, kids are old enough to enjoy the vast majority of the rides in the park, but still young enough to believe that the costumed characters are the real deal. Character meals offer the best chance for little ones who are too impatient to wait in autograph lines to meet their favorite characters in an unhurried environment.
Runner-Up: LEGOLAND Florida
LEGOLAND is designed with kids ages 2–12 in mind, and that means that younger kids will find plenty of places to play. Many of the rides have height restrictions that accommodate preschoolers, but the new Duplo Valley section of the park has created even more opportunities for this age group, like farm-themed rides, an air-conditioned indoor playground, and a preschool-sized waterpark. You can also purchase a “Preschool Pass” to get a discounted rate on a weekday visit.
Honorable Mention: Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Hollywood Studios is generally more of a big kid’s playground, but if your preschoolers are fans of Disney Junior, there is no other place to be. Disney Junior – Live on Stage! shows are performed throughout the day and feature characters from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Sofia the First, Jake and the Never Land Pirates and more. For a more personal encounter, schedule a character dining experience at Hollywood and Vine to meet friends from Doc McStuffins, Handy Manny, Sofia the First and Jake and the Never Land Pirates.
Elementary Ages 6–9
By the age of 6, the theme park options really start to open up for kids. Kids will find they are the right size for the majority of rides, and this is also an age where you can still save some cash. Once kids hit double digits, you will have to pay adult prices for admission, so going to the theme parks at the elementary age means savings for the whole family.
Best in Show: Disney’s family of parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom)
In the elementary years, kids definitely begin to form their own opinions and they have no problem letting you know what they like. That unique personality makes it hard to choose just one park that is perfect for this age, and why should you have to? Disney offers a Park Hopper option, allowing families to move from park to park.
Runner-Up: LEGOLAND Florida
You probably know if you have a LEGO lover in the house based on the number of colorful little bricks you step on daily. At this stage, elementary kids are squarely in the target demographic for LEGOLAND, and with good reason! Six-to-nine-year-olds will find that they are the right size for every ride in the park, and that feels good to kids who want to feel big.
Honorable Mention: SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove
Discovery Cove, a sister park to SeaWorld, invites a limited number of visitors each day into the serene tropical surroundings to interact with some of the most amazing animals of the sea. A 30-minute Dolphin Encounter is the main draw of this park, and this experience is available to kids beginning at age 6. Other animal encounters include swimming with stingrays, playing with otters and snorkeling amongst tropical fish.
Tweens Ages 10–12
If there is a sweet spot for kids and theme parks, this is probably it! In the tween years, they are old enough to ride just about anything, but still young enough to enjoy riding just about anything. Preference for the best parks depends on what the kids love and what will fit the whole family.
Best in Show: Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure
Universal Studios has a reputation of having the big rides for big kids for a reason. Home of the most thrill rides in Orlando, it is also best known as the home of Harry Potter. The addition of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter bumps this park from “totally awesome” to “best day ever” in the eyes of a tween. Kids will also love the 3-D effects of rides like The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and screaming their way through The Incredible Hulk Coaster and Revenge of the Mummy.
Runner-Up: Epcot
Epcot gets a bad rap with families for being too big for little ones and too boring for the elementary-age crowd. Tweens and into the teen years is the perfect time to enjoy a slower pace than the average park, but also offers greater depth and unique learning opportunities. Tweens are old enough to appreciate lessons like hydroponics in Living with the Land, or learn about the history of communication in Spaceship: Earth. But it’s not all just learning at Epcot. Mission: Space and Test Track are two high-speed rides that tweens will ride again and again. Other unusual attractions are sprinkled throughout the imagination-filled pavilions of Epcot. Club Cool offers the tasty opportunity to sample Coca-Cola products from around the world, while Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure leads kids on a cellphone-based scavenger hunt through the countries of Epcot.
Honorable Mention: SeaWorld’s Aquatica
Aquatica, a waterpark designed by SeaWorld, is the perfect combination of thrilling water rides and animal encounters. It is ideal for the tween set because it is small and contained enough to let kids this age have a little freedom without parents worrying about them getting lost. Families can set a central meeting area by renting a cabana, and let the kids have some time to race through the clear water slides that plunge into a dolphin habitat or brave the fast-flowing Roa’s Rapids that encircle the park.