All Ages

12 Best Theme Parks in Florida

See recent posts by Beth Luberecki

Many families head to Florida for its theme park thrills, and with good reason. Orlando is known as the Theme Park Capital of the World, and there are options all over the state for everything from high-speed rollercoasters to throwback kiddie rides. And within the big Florida theme parks like Walt Disney World Resort and Universal Orlando Resort, there are multiple parks to explore. These are the 12 best theme parks in Florida for families with kids of all ages.

Disney’s Magic Kingdom; Courtesy Disney

1. Disney’s Magic Kingdom

There’s a reason why this original entry onto Florida’s modern theme park scene remains a classic today. Offering up plenty of nostalgic feels, Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom is ideal for families with younger kids (since none of the thrills are too extreme) or anyone with an active fantasy life. The park will turn 50 in 2021 and is gearing up for that major milestone with a makeover of Cinderella Castle. Must-rides include the trio of Space, Splash, and Big Thunder Mountains, plus longtime staples like Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Peter Pan’s Flight, and Pirates of the Caribbean. The highly anticipated TRON “lightcycle” rollercoaster is under construction and expected to open sometime in 2021.

Recommended Hotel: Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa

Universal’s Islands of Adventure; Courtesy Universal

2. Universal’s Islands of Adventure

This perennial Florida theme park favorite—it’s the Tripadvisor Travelers’ Choice #1 Amusement Park in the World—first brought Harry Potter to Orlando, allowing visitors to walk through a highly realistic Hogsmeade Village and feel like they’re traveling by broom through Hogwarts on the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. The new Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure also gets rave reviews. Islands of Adventure is a great park for families with older kids, with ride options like the Incredible Hulk Coaster and Skull Island: Reign of Kong. But the little ones will also enjoy several Dr. Seuss–themed rides, and there are lots of ways for the whole family to get wet when the weather’s warm.

Recommended Hotel: Loews Royal Pacific Resort

Disney’s Hollywood Studios; Courtesy Disney

3. Disney’s Hollywood Studios

There was no escaping the buzz around the recent opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. And the hype is definitely deserved for the totally immersive feel of the land and for rides likes Rise of the Resistance. (This is worth getting up early to ride, as it’s not currently part of the park’s FastPass+ options.) If you’re not a Star Wars fan, there’s still plenty to love at this park that celebrates all things movies, from the super-fun and kid-friendly Slinky Dog Dash coaster in Toy Story Land to the thrilling drops on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The whole family can “let it go” with Elsa at the Frozen Sing-Along or hop aboard the newest ride at the park, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway.

Recommended Hotel: Disney’s Art of Animation Resort

LEGOLAND Florida; Courtesy LEGOLAND Florida

4. LEGOLAND Florida

Ideal for the elementary and preschool set, LEGOLAND Florida offers all kinds of fun for brick-loving kids. In 2020 the entire LEGOLAND Florida Resort celebrates the year of the pirate, with its new Pirate Island Hotel opening, plus a new water ski show and PirateFest Weekends. If swashbuckling’s not your thing, this Florida theme park also has areas dedicated to the LEGO Friends, the Ninjago characters, and The LEGO Movie. All rides and attractions are geared toward younger kids, so nothing’s too scary to experience. Don’t miss Miniland, where you can admire highly detailed LEGO versions of everything from the Kennedy Space Center to the Las Vegas Strip.

Recommended Hotel: Legoland Florida Hotel

5. Disney’s Epcot

A major transformation is currently taking place at Walt Disney World’s Epcot creating three new neighborhoods—World Celebration, World Nature, and World Discovery—that will join World Showcase. Introduce the kids to new foods and cultures by strolling World Showcase, where Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure will open at the France pavilion in summer 2020 and where Disney will be developing its first attraction inspired by Mary Poppins at the United Kingdom pavilion. Iconic rides like Spaceship Earth will get a refreshed look, while new attractions like Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind will join bigger-kid favorites like Test Track and Soarin’ Around the World. Little ones love singing along on Frozen Ever After and the Seas with Nemo & Friends.

Recommended Hotel: Disney’s Beach Club Resort

 Universal Studios Florida; Courtesy  Universal Studios Florida

6. Universal Studios Florida

Feel like you’re in the middle of your favorite movies at Universal Studios Florida, which has rides based on popular films like Transformers, E.T., Men in Black, and the Fast and Furious series. There are big thrills here for teens and tweens like the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit rollercoaster, plus attractions for TV lovers based on The Simpsons and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Rides for little ones are limited here, but there are options like Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster. You can also take the Hogwarts Express from Islands of Adventure (park-to-park tickets required) to take in the magic of Diagon Alley and survive a wild journey on Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (watch out for the fire-breathing dragon).

Recommended Hotel: Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort

Disney’s Animal Kingdom; Courtesy Disney

7. Disney’s Animal Kingdom

One part zoo and one park theme park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom offers a wild time on rides and attractions like Kilimanjaro Safaris, where the whole family can spot giraffes, elephants, lions, hippos, and other animals. Thrill seekers can take on rides like Expedition Everest and Dinosaur, while younger kids can fly through the air on the TriceraTop Spin. The park’s Pandora—The World of Avatar land draws crowds for its oh-so-cool Flight of Passage ride and the bioluminescent glow it gives off at night, while the Maharajah Jungle Trek and Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail make it easy for all ages to spot lots of fascinating creatures at their own pace.

Recommended Hotel: Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

Falcon's Fury Drop Tower in Busch Gardens on a cloudy day with blue sky in the background. The ride has reached the top of the 300 ft tower and has inverted in.
; Courtesy  Dolores M. Harvey/Shutterstock

8. Busch Gardens Tampa

No matter the age of your kiddos, you can have a good time at Busch Gardens Tampa. Take toddlers and preschoolers to the Sesame Street Safari of Fun, where they can meet some of their favorite characters and get their pint-sized thrills on rides like the Air Grover rollercoaster and Big Bird’s Whirly Birdie (a small Ferris wheel–type ride). Teens will go crazy for all the high-octane experiences here, which include Florida’s tallest launch coaster, a 335-foot freestanding drop tower, and a coaster with a 90-degree drop. Still to come in 2020: Iron Gwazi, which will be North America’s tallest hybrid coaster and the fastest and steepest hybrid coaster in the world. Take a break from the action by checking out the more than 200 species of animals at the park, which you can view via a train ride or skyride as well as on foot as you walk through the park.

Recommended Hotel: Holiday Inn Express & Suites Tampa, USF, Busch Gardens

9. SeaWorld Orlando

Originally known for its animal encounters, SeaWorld Orlando now also has a reputation for serious theme park thrills, thanks to high-speed rides like the Mako hyper coaster and the Manta coaster with its head-first, face-down inverted nosedive. Opening in spring 2020 is the Ice Breaker launch coaster, which will feature “the steepest beyond vertical drop in Florida.” Families with younger kids can see the classic children’s TV show come to life at the newish Sesame Street Land, which has all kinds of smaller-sized attractions and character meet-and-greet options. There are still ways to learn about aquatic animals of all kinds via shows that are putting education at the forefront, along with various aquarium areas.

Recommended Hotel: Renaissance Orlando Resort at SeaWorld

10. Fun Spot America

With two locations in Orlando and Kissimmee, Fun Spot America offers an alternative to the pricier Florida theme parks. At the Orlando location, families can chill out on the Ferris wheel and carousel or amp things up on rides like Headrush 360 and White Lightning, Orlando’s only wooden rollercoaster. In Kissimmee, park visitors can brave the Sky Sled (the world’s tallest skycoaster) and the Hurricane rollercoaster or enjoy old standbys like bumper cars and the fun slide. Both sites also have plenty of kiddie rides, multiple go-karting options, and midways full of classic carnival games.

Recommended Hotel: Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center

Race City; Courtesy Race City

11. Race City

This Panama City Beach amusement park is a little more old-school than cutting-edge, with classic carnival-style attractions like the Scrambler, Spider, and bumper boats. The Hurricane Rollercoaster offers mid-level thrills, reaching speeds of 35 mph, while the Skycoaster offers a free-falling flying experience. And Race City isn’t just a clever name—the site is also home to the fastest, tallest, and steepest go-kart track in Panama City Beach. For some slower-paced fun, play a round at the indoor (and air-conditioned) mini-golf course or play some Skee-Ball at the arcade.

Recommended Hotel: Holiday Inn Resort Panama City Beach

Sam’s Fun City

12. Sam’s Fun City

Opened in 2000, this smaller Pensacola amusement park has lots of rides for little ones, like the Frog Hopper and a kid-sized train. There are also old standbys like a carousel, Ferris wheel, and Tilt-a-Whirl. Beyond the rides find go-karts, bumper boats, a mini-golf course, and laser tag at the Crossroads Arcade, which also has 75 games for some friendly-family competition. The indoor, three-story Play Zone offers slides and lots of bouncing and climbing fun for the kiddos.

Recommended Hotel: Holiday Inn Resort Pensacola Beach

Beth Luberecki is a Florida-based freelance writer who writes about travel, business, and lifestyle topics for a variety of publications and websites. She enjoys exploring destinations close to home and farther afield with her husband and teenage daughter. Visit her website at bethluberecki.com or find her on Instagram at @bethluberecki.

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