Orlando: Top Places to Stay, Visit and Eat

Orlando is packed full of attractions, restaurants, great hotels and hospitable people. The question isn’t what to do, but where to start? We put together a list of our favorites  so that your family can have a great visit. Don’t be surprised if the kids don’t want to leave.

Where to stay

There are a lot of great options in this town, but two of our favorites include the Castle Hotel and Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando. The Castle Hotel is part of the Autograph Collection and is unique in that it’s a boutique property with Bavarian architecture. Kids will love the heated pool (don’t be surprised if they want to spend the day there) and the three on-site restaurants are as convenient as they are yummy.

The Sapphire Falls Resort will make you feel like you’re in the Caribbean with its cascading waterfalls, 16,000-square-foot pool and island theme. The resort has over 1,000 guest rooms and four on-site restaurants. But perhaps the biggest perk is that travelers staying here get early park admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, complimentary water taxis to park entrances and several other exclusive benefits throughout the parks and CityWalk. For Harry Potter fans, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Where to eat

SLATE: This open-air dining venue has a nice mix of cuisine to satisfy even the pickiest palate. Be sure to sample the meatballs, the chicken pizza and the fillet mignon. There are plenty of options here for adults and kids.

Tin Roof: You’re probably heard of Tex-Mex, now you can discover Tenn-Mex. Tin Roof blends regional flavors from Tennessee with Mexican favorites with the result being delicious, innovative dishes. Their tacos, quesadillas and chicken and waffles are hard to beat.

Toothsome Chocolate Factory at Universal: This menu has so many items, it’s hard to decide what to get. From the all-day brunch (think crepes and quiches and omelets), to hearty steak dishes and freshly-caught seafood, be sure to leave plenty of room for dessert. Gourmet chocolate and one-of-a-kind desserts (think artisanal sundaes; creative milkshake combinations; and flavors like Chocolate Brownie Bark, Bacon Brittle and Salted Caramel) are a satisfying way to end the meal.

What to do

Bowling: Main Event Pointe Orlando might just be one of the best bowling alleys in the state. With more than 20 lanes of state-of-the-art bowling they also have a high ropes adventure courses (great for kids), billiards (the adults will want to play), big screen TVs and V Play Virtual Reality (it’s the first U.S. free-roam, multiplayer virtual reality game all under one roof). If it’s too hot outside or if it’s raining, this is an ideal way to spend the day.

Wonderworks:The nice thing about this attraction is that it really does appeal to kids of all ages, and there’s a nice “edu-tainment” slant to the activities. It’s an amusement park—so think plenty of fun—with learning opportunities on top of that. There’s 35,000-square-feet of fun with over 100 hands-on exhibits. Relive the earthquake of 1989 by feeling the power behind a magnitude of 5.3 on the Richter scale. Lay on a bed of nails and get the science behind why it doesn’t hurt (it really doesn’t). In the light and sound exhibit, try moving at the speed of light. Plan to spend at least an afternoon—if not the day here.

Discovery Cove: There’s so much to do here, it’s hard to say where to start. Go swimming with the dolphins or take an underwater walking tour on SeaVenture, The Grand Reef’s aquatic adventure that allows you to experience sharks, rays and colorful fish up close and personal. Snorkel with hundreds of tropical fish, relax on a sandy beach, or traverse through a rain forest, through cascading waterfalls, and before making your way through an underwater cave. Hungry? Be sure to sample the unlimited (and included in the price) food and beverages.

ICON Park: Want lots of experiences in one place? Then ICON Park is ideal. There’s shopping, restaurants and attractions including the famous 400-foot-tall observation wheel (the massive ferris wheel was fashioned after the London Eye). The Wheel has some of the best views in Florida—get 360 degree vistas in all directions, while staying cool in a nice air-conditioned glass capsules. At ICON Park there’s also Madame Tussauds Orlando (the world’s most famous celebrity wax attraction), SEA LIFE Aquarium, the  quirky Skeleton Museum, and the Orlando StarFlyer—the world’s tallest swing ride.

Universal Studios Florida: Plan to spend a whole day here. From attractions based on pop-culture icons, blockbuster films and hit television shows to the much-talked about Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it will be hard to figure out how to cram it all in your stay. Universal’s Islands of Adventure features some of the most innovative rides and attractions ever made on seven spectacularly themed islands: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, The Lost Continent, Seuss Landing and Port of Entry. Soar above Hogwarts with Harry Potter, swing above the streets with Spider-Man, get soaked to the skin on Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges and experience Skull Island: Reign of Kong and the recently relaunched Incredible Hulk Coaster. The most popular may well be the new roller coaster Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. Wear comfortable sneakers and plan a day of fun!

Wild Florida: You can’t visit Florida without taking an airboat tour in the Central Florida Everglades where you’ll learn about the protected marshes, swamps and rivers that make up this area. You’ll get a chance to see some of the amazing wildlife in this area including alligators; a variety of birds, even eagles; as well as reptiles. With over 100,000 acres of beautiful wetlands, it’s hard not to be impressed with this natural habitat.

Gatorland : Head to the alligator capital of the world and learn more about these fascinating creatures. Get a chance to see alligators and crocodiles of all sizes, from babies, also known as grunts, to the 14-footers. Plus, there’s an aviary, petting zoo, animal shows and zip line course.  It’s a great way to spend an afternoon.

Disney Springs: Disney Springs is a great place for some shopping and eating. Plus, they have a lot of great attractions including the The Void: Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire VR Experience. Kids will love to pretend they are part of a secret mission to save the galaxy.