We all know the big names in theme parks when it comes to Orlando: Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando. But what about the other places we don’t hear about as much? Are they worth visiting? Should you be willing to give up a day at Disney for a place like LEGOLAND or Fun Spot America? In this guide we’re going to touch base on each of the major (and non-major) theme parks and attractions that Orlando has to offer as well as tips and advice on whether they are worth it and how you can save if you do decide to go.
Orlando Florida is the mecca of theme parks and attractions in the United States and really, in the world. The majority of its land is dedicated to vacationers looking for a thrilling or relaxing vacation in warm weather. That’s what makes Orlando so attractive in the first place. Pretty much all year round you can find good weather with temperatures in the 60’s or higher. This is one of the main reasons that so many resorts rooted here. It’s hard to beat a city that can offer so much with moderate weather all year round.
When you’re planning a vacation to Orlando, it’s easy to get caught up in the Disney and Universal craze and bypass so many smaller parks and attractions. Disney is the main draw for Orlando followed by Universal. Both resorts offer world-class hotels, theme parks, dining and adventures for all ages. While this is nice, there’s a price to be paid for it, literally. Disney World and Universal Orlando can be very expensive to visit, even for just 1 day (which we don’t recommend). Guests are looking at over $120 per person for a single day at the parks. It can be even more depending on when you visit and what options you add to your ticket.
So what if you aren’t willing or aren’t in a position to pay Disney’s pricing but still want to enjoy a vacation to Orlando? We’ve got good news: there are TONS of other parks and attractions to enjoy outside of the big boys that are worth visitings and cost much less. While you may be hesitant at first (which we totally understand) some of these places offer very unique experiences that you can’t find anywhere else.
Before we dive into those, let’s talk about money saving for vacations. Ultimately your budget will decide what you do including how you get there, how long you stay, where you stay and what you do overall. If money isn’t an issue, we highly recommend going full Disney and Universal on your budget and have a great time. For everyone else, planning is going to be key. If this is you, you may want to look at our Disney World Planning Guide to get a better idea of what it will take and what to expect for a Walt Disney World vacation. You can also take a look at our Universal Orlando Guide if you think you’ll be headed there as well.
If you’re budget is dictating you spend only a few days at either one of those resorts and then something else, that’s fine. If you’re not interested in doing anything else and the ultimate goal is to spend all your time at Disney or Universal, we say hold off and keep saving. It will be worth it to put your vacation on hold for an additional 6 months or so in order to achieve this. You’ll also want to be constantly looking for deals on resort hotels and tickets. This could bring your trip closer if you find the right one. Be sure to subscribe to our free newsletter where we send out all of Walt Disney World Resort’s latest offers.
If you can’t wait or you’re actually interested in doing things outside of Disney and Universal, we say good on ya and are happy to dive deeper into what you can expect from these other attractions and experiences. One thing we know for sure is that you’re going to have a blast no matter what.
THE BIG PLAYERS
We’ll make this section brief so you can move on to the Hidden Gems of Orlando. The Walt Disney World Resort is the most visited resort in the world with over 58 million guests visiting annually. Even with all these visitors somehow we make it work. Most guests who plan a vacation to Florida typically do so around this resort and typically spend about 5 days on average. There are 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, golf courses, Disney Springs and over 15 resort hotels. Needless to say, there’s a lot to do here and it can’t all be done in one trip. We recommend you take a look at our Touring Plans for ideas on how to get the most done at each park in a single day.
We recommend you spend those 5 days here if at all possible. You can purchase discounted tickets from one of the internet’s best, Undercover Tourist who offers savings of up to $72 per ticket. There’s a lot to learn about the Walt Disney World Resort so be sure to read our Planning Guide mentioned above as well as our Resort Review Guide to help you pick out the best hotel. You may even want to see what the Best & Worst Months are to visit. These can apply to many of the other parks listed below. We also dive really deep into discount tickets for Walt Disney World which can give you some great ideas on what else is out there.
The other big Florida player is Universal Orlando Resort which is only about 15-20 minutes away from Disney World. It consists of 3 parks: 2 theme parks including Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure and 1 water park called Volcano Bay. This resort has become known unofficially as Harry Potter World due to 90% of visitors wanting to do just that. In our opinion, there’s nothing wrong with this. Almost all the best attractions at this resort have to do with Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.
Most guests tend to spend about 2 days here and will usually get the park-to-park ticket that allows them to take the Hogwarts Express from one park to the other. We haven’t spent much time at Volcano Bay but from our initial experience it’s pretty cool. We would recommend adding it to your ticket if you plan to be there for 3 days or more and you’re visiting during the summer time.
If you can fit these parks into your vacation we highly recommend it as there is a lot to experience. You can save $30+ on your tickets by using an authorized third party seller. Be sure to read our complete guide on Universal Orlando Tickets for more details on how to save.
ORLANDO’S HIDDEN GEMS
We like to call these places hidden gems because they are worth visiting but are constantly overlooked by most visitors. This can be a good thing for you though as it typically means less crowds. Some of these might seems crazy or “lowly” for a place to visit but we can assure you that they are not. We’ve personally visited each one and are giving our honest opinion about them. If they were dull and boring, they wouldn’t be listed.
One of the best things about these places are the minor crowds compared to the big theme parks. It’s just a regular day for these guys and a normal amount of people visiting. It helps when you need a break from the weaving and the dodging or even just to be able to let out a deep breath and relax. Whatever your goal is, these smaller attractions will do the trick. They are especially great for families with little kids who normally wouldn’t make a height requirement in the parks. They can get bored very easily when they can’t go on things everyone else is so this is their redemption.
Our top attractions in Orlando are all over the place, not specifically theme parks-only. This adds to the variety of stuff you can do while vacationing. Take a look:
- Wild Florida – Gator Park and Airboat Tours
- Discovery Cove
- Blue Man Group
- SEA LIFE Aquarium
- Busch Gardens
WILD FLORIDA – GATOR PARK
You’ve probably seen Youtube videos or shows on the Discovery or Travel Channel about gators. And you’ve probably thought about how crazy some people are for the things they do with them. But you’ve probably also had a moment where you thought you’d like to see one in person. This is where Gator Park comes in. It offers guests the opportunity to see, be around and even interact with Alligators. Just hear us out.
Our first visit to this place seemed a bit odd at first. We felt like we we’d be going into some ghetto “park” where some guy kept alligators in cages and let you look at them. This place is not that. It’s actually a very big habitat where you have the opportunity to see and learn about the gators all while feeling safe.
While we enjoyed visiting, our kids got the most out of it. They thought is was the coolest thing to see real live alligators walking around, swimming and eating. They especially like the interactions that the hosts do with them. They are very friendly and very knowledgeable about them. Trust us, you’ll get a kick out of this place!
And if you thought this place was only about gators, think again! Gator Park Orlando features over 100 exotic animals including lemurs, zebra, sloths and other animal native to Australia, and Africa.
Best part of all is that prices are very reasonable for a half days visit. They start at only $7 per ticket for a child and $10 per adult. You can save even on these prices by purchasing through our recommended wholesaler, Undercover Tourist. Wild Florida is located at, 3301 Lake Cypress Rd Kenansville, FL 34739.
WILD FLORIDA – AIRBOAT TOUR
The same company that does the Gator Park is also in the business of offering airboat tours across swamps, lakes and rivers. You actually meet in the same place as the park so if you want to make it a whole day just add an airboat tour and you’re set! While we loved seeing all the animals the airboat was definitely our favorite part of the park. If you’ve never been on one, they are a lot different than a regular boat.
These are powered by large fans that blow very loudly and quickly, powering the boat forward at high speeds. This helps them make it through brush that would be in the way and that regular engine propellers would get tangled in. While the fans are loud, you’ll be given ear protection during the entire trip. If you want to bring your own in-ear protection it’s not a bad idea.
You’ll spend the entire time out on the water looking at alligators, turtles and other animals that are native to the waters. It’s one thing to see an alligator in a cage or land but it’s completely different when they are in the water, in their natural habitat. You’ll learn about how they swim, protect their territory and even hunt.
You can save on tickets for the airboat tour by either adding it in with your Gator Park tickets or just using the same link above to get a discount.
DISCOVERY COVE – SEAWORLD
SeaWorld can be a fun park to visit with all of its animals and thrill rides. They are especially good with kids and tweens. However, we’re not here to talk about that park. The real hidden secret of SeaWorld is Discovery Cove. This is an all-inclusive resort that offers an all day experience for all ages. That’s a lot of “all’s” but it’s true; everyone can enjoy this resort. Here’s what they offer:
- Swim with Dolphins
- Unlimited Food and Drink
- White Sand Beach & Tropical Lagoons
- Wetsuits and Snorkel Gear
- Snorkeling with Fish & Rays
- Hand-Feed Tropical Birds
- Up-Close Animal Encounters
- Winding Rivers & Waterfalls
- Sunscreen & Towles
So yeah, that’s a lot of stuff to do in one day but it’s all possible at Discovery Cove. We spent one day here back in 2019 and had an absolute blast with our kids. Everything about this resort is easy: navigating, experiences, gear. You just grab what you need and jump right in! And your dolphin experience is going to be the best. How many people can say they swam with dolphins? By the time you’re done here you’ll be able to, and much more!
We highly recommend bringing the entire family here as there is plenty to be done for everyone. You will probably want 1 adult for each child as this has proven to be easier when it comes to swimming and keeping track of the kiddos. If not, let one adult take out a child and have the other hang back on the beach while the kids play. This also makes the Dolphin Experience easier as you can only have 1 person in the water at a time.
DISCOVERY COVE DISCOUNT TICKETS
While Discovery Cove isn’t on the cheap side of things, it offers more than Disney can for a one day experience at the same price. A one day ticket will run you $170 up to $260 depending on what you want to do:
- Day Resort Package – Includes one day at Discovery Cove + 14 Day Ticket to SeaWorld + Aquatica – $170
- Day Resort Package With Dolphin Swim – $215
- Ultimate Day Resort Package – 1 Day Discovery Cove + 14 Day Ticket to SeaWorld + Busch Gardens + Aquatica – $215
- Ultimate Day Resort Package With Dolphin Swim – $260
The best place to save is to purchase discount Discovery Cove tickets with Undercover Tourist who can save you up to $53 per ticket. Keep in mind that each of the list options above include an unlimited 14 day admission ticket to SeaWorld and Aquatica, SeaWorld’s Water Park. The last 2 tickets include that and admission to Busch Gardens for 14 days as well. So for the price of a 1 Day Disney World ticket you can essentially get 2 weeks at SeaWorld. It’s a crazy deal but Discovery Cove alone is worth it.
BLUE MAN GROUP
There’s a reason this show has been going on for over 10 years; it’s incredible! While this show doesn’t offer all day fun, if you find yourself at Universal Orlando and have the time to stop and see this show, do it. It features some fantastic music, lights and of course, paint. It’s full of inventive comedy, original instruments and scores, and audience interactions. Kids to adults can enjoy this one of a kind experience.
The show is about 2 hours long so when you’re trying to decide who to bring (kid wise), make sure they can sit for that long. We wouldn’t recommend bringing anyone under 4 as is may just go right over their heads. We would recommend arriving about 45 minutes early so you can grab any snacks you want pre-show plus get to your seats. Once the show starts you won’t want to get up to go to the bathroom or anything so do this before hand. Some seats in the auditorium can get a little..sticky so choose them wisely unless you want that to be a part of your experience.
BLUE MAN GROUP DISCOUNT TICKETS
You’ll want to make sure you purchase your tickets in advance for the show as it tends to sell out, especially in the busy summer season. You can get discounted tickets to Blue Man Group with our friends at Undercover Tourist. Savings run between $10 and $15 per ticket depending on the night you see the show. Earlier shows are typically less expensive. You can also add on extras like meals and drinks. We tried this once and didn’t find the additional cost worth it so it may be a good idea to eat before you go to the show. It’s all located at Universal’s CityWalk so there are a lot of options available to you.
SEA LIFE ORLANDO AQUARIUM
This aquarium is better than most. They offer hands-on and touch experiences for all ages and face-to-face encounters with the oceans wildest animals including sharks! They also have a 360 degree ocean tunnel which is amazing to walk through. They also have a big focus on how they preserve and rescue sea animals which we think is really great. Our Kids have a blast here and as adults, so do we. The best part is is that it’s very budget friendly and can be an all day activity.
When you arrive, you’ll notice right off that this aquarium isn’t messing around when it comes to sea life. They have over 5,000 different creatures for you to learn about which means you better get started right away. Time tends to fly by as you go from one area to another. Add in the shows and it’s closing time before you know it. The best way to get it all done is to follow their map which shows where everything is plus a times guide. Narrow down what you’re most interested in and then set your reminders so you don’t forget. Fill in the rest of your time walking around and looking at all the different habitats and animals.
SEA LIFE AQUARIUM DISCOUNT TICKETS
Getting discounted tickets to Sea Life Aquarium is easy and can save you up to $7 per ticket. Buy them in advance and redeem them from your phone for entry. Sea Life can also be included with other Orlando attractions like ICON Park and the Orlando Go Card. If you think you’ll be doing more than one attraction like this it may be worth looking at the Go Pass as it tends to save you a little more money.
BUSCH GARDENS TAMPA
We love this theme park because it offers a lot to do for all ages, it’s clean, it’s not crowded and the price is right for one day of entry. Busch Gardens Tampa is technically part of the SeaWorld Group so you’ll find it’s surrounded by lots of other activities too. We tend to spend 1 day with our girls here when we’re checking out the newest stuff that SeaWorld has introduced. They have fascinating attractions for kids and adults as well as lots of animal encounters. It’s kind of like a smaller version of Animal Kingdom theme park but less busy.
One of the coolest things that we recommend you do is the Serengeti Safari which takes you and your group on an open-air safari. You’ll see tons of exotic animals like zebras and rhinos plus you’ll be able to hand-feed giraffes. This is something very unique that our kids love to do. The tour lasts about 30 minutes and you’ll have a guide with you the entire time explaining facts about the animals and answering any questions you have.
Busch Gardens has always claimed that they have Florida’s best thrill rides; and we’re not saying they’re wrong. While Disney and Universal have them here and there, Busch Gardens does have the greatest concentration of roller coasters. Tigris, Cobra’s Curse, Sheikra and Kumba are all fantastic coasters that will get your heart racing. And coming is 2021 is Iron Gwazi, the world’s fastest and steepest hybrid roller coaster and North America’s tallest. We’re actually really excited for this one!
For the kids there are tons of things to do including roller coasters, animal experiences, and water rides.
BUSCH GARDENS DISCOUNT TICKETS
There are always great promotions going on for this park so never expect to pay gate pricing. Typically 1 Day at the park will cost you less than $100 and include some other perks like free dining. Our friends at UCT can always save you even more so be sure to look at their website for discounts between $25 and $70. After purchasing them you’ll receive a printable ticket that you can take straight to the gate without having to stop at a box office.
Like everything else above, you don’t want to purchase your tickets from eBay or a classifieds website. Cash deals are a big no no. Authorized wholesalers like UCT provide the exact same ticket you’d purchase from the park but for a small discount. Don’t ever expect 50% as this is usually a sign of fraud. Don’t lose your hard-earned money just to save a little bit more.
Just because you’re in Orlando doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to go to Disney or Universal. There are plenty of other attractions and parks to experience for a lot less money. And all of them have a place where you can save on your tickets when compared to gate pricing. Discounts are a great way to put something back into your wallet, even if it’s just $10. However, most savings will be more than this so be sure to buy your tickets in advance and save upwards to $70 per ticket.
Many of these attractions are less busy than the bigger players which can be a nice reprieve from the crowds. They also offer kid-friendly activities and unique experiences that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. They can be additions to your Disney World and Universal stays or a good replacement if you’re looking to save some money without sacrificing your entertainment level.
Dean has been writing and blogging for over 10 years. He specializes in Disney theme park news including updates, openings, special events and general advice for travelers. He doesn’t shy away from the good, the bad and the ugly. His previous work includes being a Cast Member at Disneyland and working as a travel agent.