Beginners Guide to the Orlando Theme Parks

This beginners guide to Orlando theme parks will help you decide which Florida theme parks to visit during your Orlando family vacation.

Planning a family vacation to the Orlando theme parks can feel very overwhelming. It is often difficult to know where to start.

There are numerous theme parks in the Orlando area and deciding which park is best for your Orlando vacation can be tricky.

Questions I often get when people are considering which theme park to visit in Orlando are: Which characters are at which parks? Can you visit all the Orlando theme parks in one visit? Is Harry Potter at Disney?

This guide to the Orlando theme parks will help you decide what is best for you based on what you are looking for in an Orlando theme park vacation.

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I have visited Walt Disney World many times, have been a Universal Orlando annual pass holder, and have also visited the many theme parks in the Orlando area. I am here to help you plan the best theme park vacation that is right for your family.

List of Orlando Theme Parks

The best place to start is with an overview of the all central Florida parks to determine what is a good fit for you and your family. Once you decided where you want to go and what you want to see, then you can begin planning the trip.

Orlando has some of the best theme parks in the world. There are 14+ Florida theme parks in Orlando.

  • Magic Kingdom Park (Walt Disney World Resort)
  • Epcot (Walt Disney World)
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Walt Disney World )
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom (Walt Disney World)
  • Typhoon Lagoon (Walt Disney World, Water Park)
  • Blizzard Beach (Walt Disney World, Water Park)
  • Universal Studios Florida (Universal Orlando Resort)
  • Universal’s Islands of Adventure (Universal Orlando Resort)
  • Epic Universe (Universal Orlando Resort, Opening Summer 2025)
  • Volcano Bay (Universal Orlando Resort, Water Park)
  • SeaWorld
  • Aquatica (SeaWorld, Water Park)
  • Discovery Cove (SeaWorld)
  • Legoland Florida Theme Park and Water Park (Legoland Resort)
  • Peppa Pig Theme Park (Legoland Resort)

Each theme park destination has more than one theme park and you will typically need multiple days if you plan to visit multiple parks.

Each park has its own themed areas and unique attractions. Most offer new attractions, live shows, and world class entertainment.

There are also special events that run at different times of the year that are worth checking out. My favorite special event is Mardi Gras and the Holidays at Universal.

Most of the Orlando theme parks also have on-site resorts as well as activities outside of the theme parks.

For example the Disney parks have Disney Springs, a shopping and dining district. The Universal parks have CityWalk for guests to dine at when they want a break from the parks.

Read on for a full guide of the Orlando theme parks and what to expect at each one.

Map of the Orlando theme parks.

Location of Theme Parks from Orlando International Airport

Guests visiting the Orlando theme parks will arrive by car (we have made the drive from New York to Florida) or by airplane.

Most guests will fly into Orlando International Airport (MCO). From there guests will have to rent a car, Uber/Lyft, or make a reservation with a shuttle company.

We have used Mears in previous visits and both are comparable in price.

If you are planning on visiting multiple theme parks that are not at the same resort you may want to rent a car.

For example if you are visiting the Disney parks and the Universal parks, a car will make travel between the two resorts easier.

If you are staying at one resort, say the Universal parks for the duration of your vacation, you do not need a car once you arrive at your resort.

Universal and Disney both provide transportation from their on-site hotels to their theme parks.

Distance from the theme parks and MCO

  • Magic Kingdom: 22 miles
  • Epcot: 21 miles
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 19 miles
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom: 22 miles
  • Universal Orlando Resort: 16 miles
  • SeaWorld Resort: 12 miles
  • Legoland Florida: 51 miles

The Disney Parks, Universal Parks, and SeaWorld parks are all within miles of each other. Legoland is a bit further out.

Distance from Disney and Universal

This will vary based on where you are staying. Universal Studios to Magic Kingdom is 15 miles. Expect about 25-30 minutes or more to get between the theme parks.

Traffic in Orlando can be very busy at times so plan extra time if you are driving.

Tickets for Orlando Theme Parks

When looking for tickets for the Orlando theme parks be sure to shop around.

Start by checking the website of the parks you are planning on visiting. Then start pricing out different ticket offers, we use Undercover Tourist.

I always book with who is offering the best deal for our visit dates.

Walt Disney World Parks

Walt Disney World is the largest of the Orlando theme parks with 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, a dining district, and over 30 on-site resorts.

They offer complimentary bus transportation throughout the resort if you are staying on-site. You need to provide your own transportation to and from the airport.

Once you arrive at Disney World it is easy to stay there for the duration of your vacation.

If you decide to visit the Walt Disney World resort start with reading our Best Disney World Itinerary Planning Guide for Families.

disney world tips for first timers arriving at disney
Entrance to Walt Disney World.

Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom is the first Disney theme park to open in Orlando. It is what most people think of when they visit Disney World.

Magic Kingdom is home to Cinderella’s Castle and classic attractions like Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, and Peter Pan.

Articles about Magic Kingdom


Epcot is divided into four areas World Nature, World Discovery, World Celebration, and the World Showcase.

Guests can ride Soarin’, Finding Nemo, Test Track, and the new Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout Coaster.

World Showcase allows guests to visit 11 different countries and experience their culture. The most popular attractions here are Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and Frozen Ever After.

Articles about Epcot

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a fun park with themed lands. They have recently opened Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge which offers an immersive Star Wars Land where guests can ride Star Wars attractions and meet Star Wars characters.

Hollywood Studios is also home to Toy Story Land, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, the first Mickey themed attraction ever, and the Tower of Terror.

There are many shows and characters to meet at Hollywood Studios too. It is a great park especially for kids 7 and up.

Articles about Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Disney’s Animal Kingdom has attractions and animal exhibits to explore in this unique park. This is a large park where guests will walk a lot.

There are different areas to explore animal exhibits and attractions. Animal lovers should definitely visit this park.

Our favorite area is Pandora: World of Avatar. The Flight of Passage attraction is one of our favorites.

Lines will get long for this attraction and I highly suggest booking a Lightning Lane pass or riding at park opening.

When visiting Animal Kingdom you should plan on taking your time to explore everything and see all the shows.

We also enjoy participating in the Wilderness Explorer Club, a free activity where kids can earn patches at different stops throughout the park.

Articles about Animal Kingdom

Typhoon Lagoon

Typhoon Lagoon is a water park at Disney World. The theme is that the island has been washed away by a typhoon and what is left is this peaceful beach themed park.

Articles About Typhoon Lagoon

Blizzard Beach

Blizzard Beach is the second water park at Disney World. This is themed to a beach taken over by snow. The theme is really fun and the park is a great choice for visiting a water park during your Disney vacation.

Our friends at Raising Whasians have a great article about what to expect at Blizzard Beach for your visit.

There is so much to do at Walt Disney World with 7 theme parks to visit. We have stayed on-site during our Disney vacations.

A few of our resort reviews to help you plan: Disney’s Pop Century Resort Review for Families, Disney’s Grand Floridian Review with Kids, and Disney Riviera Resort Review.

Check out our Best Tips for Visiting Walt Disney World for the First Time to help you start planning your visit.

Universal Orlando Parks

Universal Orlando Resort has 2 theme parks and 1 water park. They also have 8 resorts and an entertainment district.

I go into more details in this article about the Universal Orlando Resort Parks and Hotels.

Universal will be opening a third park in 2025 called Epic Universe.

Universal Studios Florida

Universal Studios is the original of the Universal Orlando parks. It is set up like a working studio but not much, if any filming is going on at the parks anymore.

Universal Studios has attractions like E.T. the Adventure, Transformers, The Mummy, and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Diagon Alley.

Articles About Universal Studios

Islands of Adventure

Islands of Adventure opened in 1998 and it has received great reviews since day one. Universal’s Islands of Adventure has a bit more thrilling rides than Universal Studios and is home to The Incredible Hulk Coaster, Jurassic Park attractions, and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.

You will also find a theme Dr. Seuss area, Seuss Landing, that kids will love as well as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Hogsmeade.

Universal’s Islands of Adventure has attraction that are great for thrill seeking older kids.

Articles About Islands of Adventure

Read Next: Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure (Best Universal Park)

Epic Universe

Epic Universe will join the Universal Orlando theme parks in 2025. From what I have seen so far this is going to be an incredible additions with rides and attractions inspired by classic monsters, Mario, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Articles about Epic Universe:

Volcano Bay

Volcano Bay is Universal Orlando’s water park. This water park is unlike any I have ever visited. It is themed so well and you feel like you are at an island oasis, not in the middle of Orlando.

You could spend the entire day relaxing at the wave pool overlooking the volcano. It is a stunning park.

Articles About Volcano Bay

Universal Orlando is becoming a destination in itself. We have spent a few Orlando vacations staying on-site at Universal’s Cabana Bay and Universal’s Surfside Inn and Suites as well as Hard Rock Hotel Orlando Review.

It is a great place for your family vacation. Check out How to Plan Your First Universal Orlando Vacation Guide for great tips and tricks.

SeaWorld Parks

SeaWorld has three parks in Orlando as well as Busch Gardens in Tampa. The original park SeaWorld has rides and attractions. Aquatica and Discovery Cove are water themed parks.

seaworld orlando

SeaWorld is home to some of the largest roller coasters in Orlando. We visited during the holidays for their Christmas events and really enjoyed ourselves.

Recently we spent a day at SeaWorld during the Seven Seas Food Festival. Read this post for the best things to do at SeaWorld.

If your family loves roller coasters you will enjoy the top notch ones at SeaWorld. Check out our visit to SeaWorld during the holidays to learn more.


Aquatica is a water park in Orlando. It has fun rides for the entire family and often lower crowds than the Disney or Universal Parks.

Learn more about Aquatica from this article on Why You Should Visit Aquatica with Kids.

Discovery Cove

Discovery Cove is not really a theme park. It is a fully inclusive day that includes animal encounters, swimming, and food and drinks for the day.

This experience only allows a limited amount of people a day to make it a completely immersive and relaxing day. Learn more about visiting Discovery Cove in this article.

Outside of Orlando

If you want to take a day trip out of Orlando you can also visit Busch Gardens in Tampa or LEGOLAND Florida. Both are over an hour drive but are great parks for families.

Legoland Florida has 3 on-site resorts as well as the theme park, a water park, and the Peppa Pig theme park.

Tips for Visiting the Orlando Theme Parks

Don’t expect to do all of the theme parks in one visit. It is really difficult to visit all the theme parks during a typical one week vacation.

Not only is it exhausting, it is also more expensive then staying at one theme park resort for the duration of your trip.

Universal and Disney World follow a “more you stay, less you pay (per day)” ticket structure. This means 5 days at Disney World will likely cost less than 3 days at Disney/2 days at Universal.

Pick the theme park that interests you the most. Decide on the attractions you want to see and focus on those for your trip. Don’t waste time worrying about what you don’t get to see. Focus on what you do experience.

Consider the age and height of your kids. If you are traveling with small children consider the height requirements of the attractions at the parks.

These article go into more details about what parks are best for small children:

FAQ’s about the Theme Parks in Orlando

Is there public transportation?

Yes, the city of Orlando does have public transportation but I would not rely on it for transportation within the parks.

Most theme parks have buses within the resorts to take guests from their resorts to the theme parks.

Is Harry Potter at Disney World?

No, Harry Potter is not at the Disney parks. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is at the Universal parks. The Disney parks and the Universal parks are not the same destination.

What parks have Star Wars?

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is located at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This is a fully immersive land where guests can build a Droid and ride the Millennium Falcon.

Can you purchase one ticket for all of the Orlando theme parks?

As far as I know the answer is no. You may be able to work with a travel agent to bundle your tickets but I do not know of any seller that offers all parks at a discounted price.

I hope our Orlando theme park guide helps you decide what Florida theme parks are the best choice for your family vacation. With great attractions at each park, any choice will be a fun trip to Orlando.

If you are looking for specific information go directly to our Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando archives for more information. You can also try the search bar.

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