Orlando, a perpetual top domestic destination, especially for families, welcomed 72 million visitors in 2017 – a five percent increase over the previous year, according to Visit Orlando, the city’s convention and visitors bureau. Various experiences, from theme parks to the Everglades, museums and nearby beaches is, once again, making Orlando one of this summer’s most popular vacation spots, according to a survey of travel agents in the Travel Leaders Network of retail travel agency organizations. Orlando took the second spot as the most-booked domestic vacation destination behind an Alaskan cruise and just ahead of Las Vegas. The network has more than a thousand travel agents who specialize in Orlando as a vacation destination.
Here are tips from several Travel Leaders Orlando specialists on what to see and do in the area:
- A visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort is a chance to “shirk the tedium of muggledom,” says Travel Leaders travel agent Leilani Adams of Tacoma, Washington, who has visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade at Universal’s Islands of Adventure and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida.. Some of the thrill rides include Harry Potter and the “Escape from Gringotts” at Diagon Alley and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Hogsmeade. Plan on eating in Diagon Alley, says Adams. “The food is not your usual theme park fare. Try the Egg, Leek and Mushroom Pasty for breakfast at Leaky Cauldron or the Beef Pasties at The Hopping Pot for lunch. Make sure to leave lots of space in your luggage for candies such as Chocolate Frogs, Fizzing Whizzbees and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.”
- Universal Orlando Resort. Michelle Baxley, a Travel Leaders agent in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, and a Universal Orlando Resort specialist, recommends a trip to all three Universal Orlando Resort theme parks: Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Universal’s Volcano Bay. “There is plenty to see and do at Universal Orlando Resort, including roller coaster thrills and family-friendly attractions,” she adds. Her tip: “Staying in hotels on-site allows park visitors the convenience of being nearby with Early Park Admission.” Some on-site hotels also include Universal Express Unlimited Passes that will let you skip the regular lines at most attractions in Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Volcano Bay. Another option is the Splash, Stay and Play vacation package as one of the best ways to experience everything Universal Orlando Resort has to offer.
- Walt Disney World Resort. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park is turning 20 this year and will feature a variety of special festivities, including Donald’s Dino-Bash! a prehistoric party in DinoLand USA Area hosted by Donald Duck and friends and UP! A Great Bird Adventure, an all-new bird show inspired by Disney•Pixar’s Up film. There are discounts for those who visit more than one Disney Theme Park. So head over to Magic Kingdom Park to celebrate the Supers and for the first-time ever interact with Edna Mode during the Incredible Tomorrowland Expo. At Epcot, a move with Star-Lord, Gamora and an alien band at the new concert series Guardians of the Galaxy – Awesome Mix Live!
- The Kennedy Space Center, permanent home to the Space Shuttle Atlantis and other space-age attractions, is less than an hour away. Visitors can enjoy lunch and a guided tour of either the Apollo or of the Saturn V Center, where they’ll view the launch pads, Vehicle Assembly Building and the most powerful rocket ever built.
- Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures is a chance to see the Orlando area’s wild side. On an airboat experience visitor’s will travel deep into the protected swamps, marshes and rivers that make up the Central Florida Everglades. After the boat tour they’ll be able to explore the towering Chickee huts in a Native American village. This is a great way for children and their parents to learn about the daily workings of a Florida Native American tribe and grow their appreciation for the culture.
- Gatorland. A visit to the greater Orlando area is not complete until one learns how it became known as alligator country and a great place to see alligators and crocodiles of all sizes is at Gatorland: Alligator Capital of the World. Gatorland also has a free-flight aviary, petting zoo and various animal shows.
- International Drive offers 14 miles of hotels, shopping, dining and exciting attractions. Along this route, visitors can tour Wonder Works, Central Florida’s only upsidedown attraction featuring over 100 interactive exhibits, the Coca Cola Orlando Eye observation wheel, Madame Tussauds Orlando wax museum and Sea Life Orlando aquarium. Visitors may also enjoy additional shops and restaurants that complement this family fun destination along Orlando’s “Main Street.” Or those into Go Karts and virtual reality roller coasters, can try Fun Spot America Theme Park.
- Legoland. “A trip to Legoland is a truly wonderful experience for all Lego fans,” said Woodbury, Minn.-travel agent Jaime Buss, who recommends staying at the Legoland Hotel. “In addition to oozing with Legos (including giant floatable, stackable Legos in the pool and Lego play areas) there are a number of other wonderful features. My favorite has to be the Lego Master Builder’s Workshop. A Master Builder provides each child with the appropriate Lego pieces and instructs them on how to create a Lego model. The children can even keep the model!” She added, “There is also a scavenger hunt set up in your hotel room. Upon arrival, you are given a letter in your suite with several clues to solve the hunt and unlock the safe, which includes Lego Pixels, treats, a Lego magazine, juice box, and an activity booklet. In the hotel lobby they host a pajama dance party, complete with a D.J., followed by story time. A Lego newspaper is delivered to the room each morning with all of the up-to-date Lego info. It is folded up like a real newspaper and my son felt so mature reading his paper each morning!”
- Fairy Tale Destination Wedding. “Not much sounds more enchanting than pulling up to your flower-drenched wedding gazebo in Cinderella’s horse-drawn carriage,” said Buss, who is also a honeymoon and destination wedding specialist. She has helped many of her clients plan their nuptials in Orlando. “From fine dining, to reserved seating for special events, and Fast Passes for major rides and attractions, I am there to assist couples with all of the extra touches that will ensure a smooth and relaxing honeymoon,” said Buss.
- New this summer: For those planning on visiting the major theme parks, there are new attractions to be explored.Visitors can experience Toy Story Land, which opens June 30 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, part of the Walt Disney World Resort. The entire “land” has been created as a celebration of toys of all kinds. Adults and children alike can join in the fun in Andy’s backyard with Woody, Buzz and the rest of the “Toy Story” characters, go for a thrilling ride on the Slinky Dog Dash roller coaster and take a spin on Alien Swirling Saucers, then head inside Andy’s room to play games in a carnival-themed arcade.There is also the new Fast & Furious – Supercharged ride at Universal Studios Florida. Guests can join the Fast & Furious family.
- Other entertainment options include, but are not limited to:
- Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament, includes the show, meal and entry to the medieval village
- Chocolate Kingdom – Interactive Factory Adventure Tour
- Visit to Stetson Mansion, Florida’s first luxury home and the grandest home ever built in Florida during the 19th century
- Pack reusable water bottles. “Save money when visiting one of the theme parks by packing your own snacks and reusable water bottles,” advised Cynthia Schutt, a Bel Air, Maryland-based Travel Leaders travel agent. “Most places throughout the parks have cups of ice available for free – use them as an alternative to buying plastic bottles of water. And always check your receipt for coupons.” Another tip for the best views for parades and fireworks: “Keep an eye out for folks setting up tripods and camera equipment,” she added. “They often have an eye for the best vantage points. For Magic Kingdom parades in particular, consider camping out at the start point in Frontierland or the end point by the front of the park. Many indoor shows have better views from the back, so don’t worry if you’re not the first in line.”