Let’s face it, Orlando Florida is all about the theme parks. You might throw in a few days of shopping, great dining and exploring, but most of the 75 million annual visitors have one thing on their mind – visiting their favourite make-believe land, scariest ride or meeting their big screen heroes "in-the-flesh" so to speak. When we put out a shout for short but informative eyewitness stories, we got a host of responses from keen bloggers who’ve been there – done that.
So the Big Question is… which theme park won out – Universal Studios, the Magic Kingdom or the Wizarding World of Harry Potter perhaps? Apparently we all have our own favourite theme park, and they are all different! While some of our collaborators waxed lyrical about Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Animal Kingdom, others were equally passionate about why they think Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure are the best theme parks ever. Join them on a virtual trip to Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, go behind the scenes at Universal Studios, and venture to the edge of the universe with Star Wars: Galactic Edge, the latest exciting offering at Hollywood Studios.
You’ll enjoy reading the blogs for sure, but you’ll also pick up first-hand tips about the best times to visit, where to eat, what’s worth paying more for, and how to enjoy the rides without the wait. What’s more, 2021 is a great time to visit with lower park admission numbers ensuring you have the best possible theme park experience. And if you need villa rental accommodation close to the action, we have some fabulous vacation homes with complimentary theme park shuttles too!
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: A wonderful treat for all ages
Even though my husband’s and my adventures tend to skew more towards U.S. National Parks than theme parks, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was always at the top of my bucketlist, given my love for the book series since elementary school. When we planned our visit to Orlando, Florida, we waffled between attending only the Diagon Alley portion (located in Universal Studios) or the Hogsmeade portion (located in Islands of Adventure), but, unable to make up our minds, wound up biting the (fairly pricey) bullet to purchase tickets to both parks. And I’m so glad we did!
It was so much fun to see fans of all ages unabashedly run around in full-blown costumes (Hogwarts robes abound!) in Diagon Alley, stopping for a beer at the Leaky Cauldron, and riding the thrilling "Escape from Gringotts" coaster. I imagine this park would be especially fun with children – as a casual bystander, it was so enjoyable to watch little kids in the park excitedly play with wands, purchased at Ollivander’s Wand Shop, to "cast charms" at certain spots, which have "magical" interactive effects.
We then hopped on the Hogwarts Express, which connects Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade. The snow-capped roofs of the town make it look straight out of a fairy tale and the plethora of shops selling items from the books, like Honeyduke’s candy store, makes it feel like you’re really stepping into Harry Potter’s world. Although the rides in Hogsmeade, like the tame coaster “Flight of the Hippogriff”, felt definitely geared towards a younger demographic, they were still an enjoyable experience, especially for someone like me who deeply loves the books. All in all, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a purely magical experience for any fan, regardless of age!
☀️ The Wizarding World of Harry Potter tickets from $85 – save when you buy online in advance
Recommended by Jessica Schmit at Uprootred Traveler
Hollywood Studios boasts fully immersive lands that every Disney fan will love!
While Walt Disney World is one of the biggest attractions in Florida comprising of four parks, Hollywood Studios is by far my favorite theme park! The classic rides like Tower of Terror and Aerosmith’s Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster are already reason enough to visit the park, but new additions and remodels make Hollywood Studios stand out amongst the crowd!
First, Toy Story Land has some of the most fun rides. The whole land makes you feel like you’re a toy, since everything is jumbo sized. Get a glimpse of Woody and Buzz while you’re surrounded by giant TinkerToys, dominoes, building blocks, and army men. Ride Toy Story Mania, a fun 4D shootin’ game hosted by Mr. Potato Head, or Slinky Dog Dash, a roller coaster through Andy’s backyard.
Don’t miss Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, the newest ride with amazing animatronics and music, based on the original Mickey Mouse cartoon shorts!
Last but not least is the incredible Star Wars themed land called Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. It’s over the top in the best way! The rides are unforgettable, especially Rise of the Resistance. The process to ride can be tricky, as it’s a new virtual queue system, so read these tips for getting on Rise of the Resistance.
You could honestly spend the whole day just in Galaxy’s Edge discovering all the nooks and crannies. Download the Disney Play app to interact with the land! You can hack into radio signals, unlock secret doors, and even decode secret rebel messages.
I visited Hollywood Studios with my whole adult family and we have people ages 15 to 86 and everyone loved this park! It was so special and even non-Star Wars fans appreciated the detail in Galaxy’s Edge.
☀️ Hollywood Studios tickets from $114 – save when you buy online in advance
Recommended by Alanna Koritzke at Periodic Adventures
Best theme park ever – Islands of Adventure
If you are headed to Orlando and want to experience an amazing amusement park, check out Universal Orlando. This park is geared both to adults and families. Older kids and teenagers will probably enjoy it a little more than younger kids because of the height restrictions on most rides.
Universal Orlando has three parks: Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay. All of these parks are fantastic, but Islands of Adventure is the best. Islands of Adventure has the best rides including: The Hulk, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.
There are different "islands" located around the park. Harry Potter World, Jurassic Park, Seuss Landing, Toon Lagoon, Marvel Superhero Island, and Skull Island. Harry Potter World is by far my favorite area in the park. There is so much detail that you actually feel like you are in the books. Make sure to get some butterbeer and check out Ollivanders Wand Shop. If you purchase a wand you can "perform" magic throughout the park. Seriously, you could spend your entire day at Harry Potter World.
Islands of Adventure is more than just Harry Potter, every "island" is so detailed! We love Jurassic Park and the Marvel franchises. These areas offer amazing rides and fun interactive experiences.
When it comes to tickets, one day at Universal can be expensive! However, they usually offer great deals if you plan to stay longer. A common promotion is "buy 2 days get 2 free". The longer you play the better the price.
If Islands of Adventure wasn’t on your radar, I hope it is now! It is one of the best parks in Orlando and worth visiting!
☀️ Islands of Adventure tickets from $85 – save when you buy online in advance
Recommended by Lisa Manderino at PlanningAway
Epcot is totally worth a whole day
One of my favorite Disney Parks is Epcot. I think it’s one of the most under-rated parks at Walt Disney World and I smile every time we enter. We’ve been a few times with our kids and it’s just so special because it really does transport you to different places across the world. Our family travels a lot so it’s nice to reminisce about our past trips. We actually love doing family photo shoots at Epcot because there are tons of amazing backdrops and we always get a variety of awesome photos to use for our Christmas card.
A lot of people don’t realize that Epcot has rides. One of the coolest things to do at Epcot is the Frozen Ever After ride. It’s completely immersive and there’s an exciting part where you go backwards down a little hill. Plus, there’s Soarin’ Around the World, Test Track, and Mission: SPACE. And something else special about Epcot is that you can meet Disney princesses in their home country (so Mulan in the China Pavilion, Belle in the France Pavilion, etc.)
However, one of the biggest reasons people come to Epcot is to eat. They have some of the best restaurants at Walt Disney World right at Epcot, with a variety of international cuisines. I highly recommend visiting Epcot during Christmas time because they do a fabulous job of incorporating Christmas traditions, foods, and events from many different countries. Another fun time to visit Epcot is during the Festival of the Arts, which has really amazing photo spots, specialty food items, hands-on activities for kids, and cool art displays.
☀️ Epcot tickets from $94 – save when you buy online in advance
Recommended by Marcie Cheung at Marcie and the Mouse
Connect with nature at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
As a theme park lover, I always try to squeeze in a theme park on my trips. However, on my last visit to Florida, I did not only visit one, not two, but six theme parks around Orlando! One of my favourites was Disney’s Animal Kingdom, a Disney park with a unique twist and focus on nature.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is full of experiences that allow you to learn more about animal life and the natural environment. Most of the rides are for the whole family, and although I visited the park with my partner and we are both into thrill rides, we thoroughly enjoyed our time there.
Many of the attractions feature animal encounters, such as the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail and the Kilimanjaro Safaris. The first one allows you to leisurely walk into the trail and spot different animals, such as gorillas, tigers, or meerkats. On the other hand, the safari experience takes you around a wildlife reserve or on a special vehicle and you can spot giraffes, zebras and hippopotamus.
In terms of the more traditional attractions, you can still find them in this park. The Avatar Flight of Passage and the Expedition Everest are two of them. However, keep in mind that they can become extremely popular during busy times, so I suggest you use your available Fast Passes to have a quick entry. Remember to book your slot in advance as they tend to sell out quickly.
Lastly, before leaving don’t miss watching the light show at the Tree of Life or around the Discovery River.
☀️ Animal Kingdom tickets from $105.44 – save when you buy online in advance
Recommended by Elina Michaelidou at Empnefsys & Travel
Discover Disney World Magic Kingdom, "The happiest place on Earth"!
It would be impossible to talk about theme parks in Florida without mentioning the iconic Magic Kingdom! Located in Lake Buena Vista, Magic Kingdom is the biggest (and oldest) park within Disney World. It’s a must-do for all the Disney lovers out there.
If you love princesses and all original Disney characters, it will be the best place to discover them. It’s also home to the stunning Cinderella Castle as well some fantastic rides.
The park is split into six areas, all featuring a different theme.
To make the best of your time, make sure to download the Disney World app and book as many fast passes as possible. Ideally, head to the busiest attractions as soon as you enter the park. The line only gets longer during the day especially at the Seven-Dwarf Mine Train. There are many tips and tricks to get the best fast passes and although it may feel like you’re spending a lot of time on your phone, keeping an eye on the Fast passes available will save you a lot of time.
For food, head to Pecos Bill Tall. Prices are reasonable and the tacos are excellent!
The great thing about Magic Kingdom is that it’s suitable for everyone. I personally visited with a friend and we had so much fun on the rides, but it is also the best park to visit with kids.
Make sure to stay until the end of the day so you can fully appreciate the wonderful fireworks above the castle.
☀️ Magic Kingdom tickets from $110 – save when you buy online in advance
Recommended by Pauline Vergnet at BeeLoved City
Universal magic: Not just for kids!
I am not a big theme park person, mainly because of my size I don’t always fit in the seats, but Universal Studios has lovely big seats for me to get my bum into – haha. Other than the seats, the two parks are just amazing. Each zone feels like you are going into another world full of opportunities for fun.
My favourite is, of course, Harry Potter World. I got an interactive wand from Ollivanders and ran around Diagon Alley looking for the gold discs to cast spells like the biggest five-year-old, high on sugar.
Then we got the Hogwarts Express into Hogmead. It was amazing walking through the streets; it felt like a real town, just with really strange buildings. Then there it was, Hogwarts Castle sitting up on top of the hill… breathtaking!
Can you tell I’m a Harry Potter fan?
I love that there is always something going on. Live shows like when the Blues Brothers pulled up in their car and put on a street show for us! Parades, actors walking around in costumes as your favourite characters from films, things that make you jump like the dragon on top of Gringotts breathing fire – there is just always something going on.
The best thing that I can suggest is getting the express line passes. Some of the rides will have you waiting for hours if you have a normal pass so by having the express pass you will get on a lot more rides. Oh, and get a map. You will need it, believe me.
☀️ Universal Studios tickets from $119 – save when you buy online in advance
Recommended by Suzy at Suzy The Explorer
A galaxy far, far, away
My absolute favorite Florida themepark is one of the Disneyworld ‘lands,’ Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge at Hollywood Studios. I grew up with the first Star Wars Trilogy, so to be a part of that Universe and to see, touch, and walk-through parts of the story was beyond exciting for me. My hubby and I journeyed to another universe on a recent trip to Florida and the Disneyworld Theme Parks. I call myself a Disney-lover, so getting my Disney Fix anytime we are in Florida is always a part of our itinerary.
Disney is often depicted as the land of imagination, but I didn’t need much of that to make-believe that I was on another planet in the Star Wars galaxy. I walked right past Chewbacca while on the other side of me a Tie Fighter was docked with Stormtroopers patrolling around it. Later, while at Oga’s Cantina, we dined on snacks from different planets and all kinds of drinks that were bubbling, smoking, and turning colors! I indulged in blue milk, the same milk that Luke Skywalker drank.
The theming is done expertly, from the attractions and the cast members’ attire to the delicious food served at each restaurant. We felt like we were truly immersed and present on this new planet.
The Galaxy’s Edge attractions are top-notch. We battled the evil empire, faced off stormtroopers and flew at light-speed – well, there were a few damages to the ship that will now need to be repaired after I piloted it! A smile was always plastered on my face throughout the rides, perhaps even a few happy tears in my eyes.
The vision of flying through space stayed with me for the rest of the night, into dreamland, and for many, many days afterwards. For the many memories at the happiest place on earth, you must include Disney’s Galaxy’s Edge when you plan your trip to Disneyworld!
☀️ Hollywood Studios tickets from $114 – save when you buy online in advance
Recommended by Michelle Moyer at MoyerMemoirs
Classic Disney magic at Magic Kingdom
Magic Kingdom is the most popular theme park in Florida and for good reason! It is full of classic Disney attractions like Peter Pan’s Flight and newer more modern attractions like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
Magic Kingdom is very busy, but there are ways to cut down on the lines. Being at the park for rope drop is the best way to get the most done.
If you’re not a morning person, purchasing an After Hours ticket is the best way to maximize your time. It is a three-hour exclusive event where only a few thousand people are allowed into Magic Kingdom, and no rides have a wait longer than 15 minutes!
Magic Kingdom is the best place in Disney World to celebrate Halloween and Christmas. Mickey hosts parties multiple times a week, and you get to celebrate with him and all his friends! The parties come at an additional price, but it is well worth the splurge.
One of the reasons I love the Magic Kingdom so much is because it is so welcoming to solo travellers. I normally visit Disney World by myself, and the park where I forget I am alone the most is at Magic Kingdom. The magic surrounds you at every turn, and you can’t help but feel part of one big Disney family.
☀️ Magic Kingdom tickets from $110 – save when you buy online in advance
Recommended by Erica Riley at Travels with Erica
Universal Orlando: Thrills for the whole family
At Universal Orlando, you have plenty of options of how to spend your day. Purchase tickets that get you into one, two or all three of their theme parks (Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay waterpark). There are also a variety of ticket types: single day, multiple days, single-park, or park-to-park.
Universal Parks are the perfect choice if you are into thrill rides like we are; there are so many of them! At Universal Studios, the Hulk rollercoaster will make your head spin. You’ll also feel like you’re walking through different movie favorites, with something for everyone as their features span generations. There are classics such as E.T, kid favorites like Despicable Me, or the realistic Skull Island: Reign of Kong. And, of course, there’s a water ride where you get soaked, at Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls. Islands of Adventure features the Wizarding World Of Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, and Marvel Super Hero Island.
To get the most out of your visit, upgrade to an “express ticket”. While it does cost extra, you will save a lot of time by being able to skip the regular lines. Also, when visiting with family, there is no better perk than the child-swap. When the kids aren’t tall enough to ride, the others do not have to lose out, or wait in line a second time. This was so helpful when visiting with three kids five and under. It really saved us a lot of time when we combined the express tickets and child-swap!
If you’re considering what theme parks to add onto your Florida vacation, Universal Orlando is a great day (or two) out with plenty of variety; there really is something for everyone!
Want a break from the park? Take in the shops, restaurants and fun at the CityWalk.
☀️ Universal Orlando tickets from $85 – save when you buy online in advance
Recommended by Debbie Fettback at World Adventurists
So which is your favourite Florida theme park or is the jury still out?