Here’s solid advice for first-timers wondering how to “see it all” on an Orlando vacation: You can’t.
Some people love Disney. Others love Universal. Sea World often ranks at least three or four. You can’t visit all parks in one week without throwing in a coronary, especially if you still hope to enjoy a dinner show, putt some miniature golf, visit a museum, or stop to smell the alligators.
The following list is different than most. It’s designed to help you pick a theme park to ignore. Make peace with the fact that you’ll miss something and plan to return next year:
Disney’s Magic Kingdom
Why: The Magic Kingdom defines Orlando and ranks at No. 1 or No. 2 on everyone’s list. It has the greatest number of iconic rides, and most kids younger than 10 want to meet a Disney character that calls Magic Kingdom home. If nixing only one park during a seven-day stay, it probably won’t be this one.
Why not: Magic Kingdom rides don’t have the speed (coasters) or pizzazz of some Universal rides. And the Magic Kingdom is “G” rated while Universal is more “PG,” which appeals to teens.
Why: Epcot embraces life and humanity, celebrates different cultures and showcases technology that makes us go “wow.” It’s the only park with a smorgasbord (literally at times) of fine dining options. It feels more like a World’s Fair than a theme park.
Why not: Epcot has only a few rides that focus on body thrills, and most exhibits/shows come with subtle messages about the environment, the history of man, science, etc. Kids generally enjoy the front of the park, but the World Showcase countries in back have few rides and feel more like school. Epcot does not have a roller coaster and only one fast-moving ride: Test Track. (Mission Space doesn’t count.)
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Why: Hollywood Studios is a must-visit for Star Wars fans and kids who live for The Disney Channel, since it’s the only Disney park with the TV toons. Hollywood Studios is smaller than most parks and takes a bit less time to see – ideal for a third or fourth theme-park day. While Hollywood Studios and Universal Studios both have a movie-making theme, it’s not a reason to avoid either. In both parks, the “how we make movies” theme is subtle and ignorable.
Why not: While the park has a handful of high-profile, gotta-do rides, it could be ignored for a vacation if willing to give up Tower of Terror, The Great Movie Ride, or Rock ‘n Roller (coaster). The how-we-make-a-movies angle does not make it a must-see.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Why: Animal Kingdom demands a lot of walking yet is Disney’s most relaxed park. Stare at an elephant ambling for ten minutes and your blood pressure goes down. The park has a handful of must-do rides, with Expedition Everest a somewhat new calling card that sells more than one tourist on an Animal Kingdom visit.
Why not: Zoos exist everywhere, and while Disney does a great job avoiding obvious cages and replicating the natural environment, visitors who live near a good zoo may decide to watch animals without using a valuable theme-park day. To get a free peek at non-carnivorous animals, visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom lodge. Animal Kingdom also has fewer rides than other Disney parks. If ignoring, be prepared to give up Everest, It’s Tough to be a Bug, and Dinosaur.
Why: Universal has few small rides and lots of blockbusters. Most visitors find at least one or two must-do rides based on a favorite movie. Kids love getting soaked, and the Curious George section makes those dreams come true. Most rides have cool special effects. The park itself is slightly edgier than anything at Disney and a break from all the wholesomeness.
Why not: Universal does not have the same magic as Disney – the feeling that it’s more than another park – but most guests don’t care or don’t notice. In busy seasons, almost everything has a long line, though the payoff is generally worth the wait. If ignoring, prepare to give up The Mummy, Men in Black, Jaws, and The Simpsons Ride.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure
Why: Islands of Adventure has the best action rides and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Technologically, Harry Potter and Spiderman are two of Orlando’s top how-do-they-do-that attractions. Kids must go; parents must tag along.
Why not: Adults who hate speed and/or getting wet will skip a significant number of the attractions and probably prefer Universal Studios. At least two rides soak guests, which is great in August but a day-killer in January. Take a poncho you can wrap around your shoes.
Sea World Orlando
Why: Sea World is relaxing. It’s an entire park devoted to a single theme, offers big-scale shows, and pushes a noble save-the-planet message. It’s also the only park with a living animal big enough to take your breath away.
Why not: As a single park, many people ignore Sea World because Disney and Universal’s ticket packages make “one more day” a lot cheaper. Ride aficionados could also be disappointed since Sea World has a handful of thrill rides but primarily relies on theater-type shows.