Orlando with Kids: A Perfect Family Day
Orlando, Fla., has become wildly popular as one of the world's top vacation destinations for families with children. The perpetual sunshine and abundance of family-friendly attractions contribute to Orlando's ever-increasing appeal.
If you'd like to experience the best that the self-described "City Beautiful" has to offer, let a local resident provide a step-by-step guide. This diverse journey is surprisingly convenient and accessible, covering both popular attractions and hidden gems only known to locals.
Here is our suggested itinerary for the perfect family vacation day in Orlando with kids:
First Watch. While there are a handful of locations around Orlando, grab a seat at the Plaza Venezia location (7500 W. Sand Lake Road; 407-363-5622). First Watch is based in Florida and has consistently been voted one of the best breakfast chains for years. Take advantage of an early start to your day as it opens at 7 a.m., seven days a week.
At First Watch, you'll love the range of tasty choices from traditional, like eggs Benedict and pancakes, to the less-than-traditional, like the healthy fresh fruit crepes and mushroom caps. Most of the menu consists of unique variations of good ol' American breakfast standbys. Kids love their pancakes, especially the chocolate-chip version. Meals are well proportioned, with no heavy items such as gravy and biscuits. Plus, for the well-connected parents, the unlimited coffee and free Wi-Fi are sure to get you going.
Next, take a short ride east on Sand Lake Road and north on International Drive -- or I-Drive to the locals -- to Wonderworks (9067 International Drive; 407-351-8800). At Wonderworks, the hard-to-miss upside down building, you'll see over 100 exhibits designed for all ages. Why is it upside down you ask? It's all part of this well-themed adventure to spark your imagination. Wonderworks opens at 9 a.m., and general admission includes all exhibits, a 4D motion ride, and ropes course. In addition, laser tag is available as an add-on. Discount coupons are available from their website.
Insider tip: If time permits during your family vacation, return to Wonderworks for The Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show with award-winning entertainer Tony Brent. His distinctive sense of humor coupled with his incredible magic and impersonations are sure to engage everyone in laughter and amazement. His show was designed with the whole family in mind and includes unlimited salad, pizza, popcorn, dessert, and drinks. This is your chance to say "I knew Tony Brent when he had a show in Orlando."
Lunch at the Yellow Dog Eats (1236 Hempel Ave., Windermere; 407-296-0609) is a must. The Yellow Dog Eats is a gourmet cafe nestled in a more-than-a-century-old rustic farmhouse. It bursts with personality and flavor -- and as you might expect, features a canine theme. Menu choices may have you chuckling but these creative titles will only make this delicious food more memorable. Adults love the fresh salads, sandwiches, wraps, and smoked barbecue chicken and pork. While the menu may not seem to have been designed to include those items young kids love, just ask their friendly staff what they can whip up. Kids love the Puppy Love sandwich, which is the most over-indulgent PB&J you'll ever sample, and they put together a tasty grilled cheese sandwich. If Fish, the owner and chef, is working in the dining room, his witty comments will complete your Yellow Dog Eats experience.
Of course, no trip to Orlando with kids is complete without a visit to Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Reach the Magic Kingdom just after lunch, as many who arrived early in the day return to their hotels for a much-needed break.
Insider tip: To save precious time, let the kids nap in the car as you take a leisurely drive to the Magic Kingdom in Lake Buena Vista via State Road 535. You won't encounter traffic this way, but you will meander through the quaint downtown Windermere, known as the Land between the Lakes. Windermere has become home to many pro athletes and celebrities over the last 20 years. You'll also see citrus groves -- you are in Orange County after all.
At the Magic Kingdom, climb aboard the Walt Disney World Railroad and ride the rails behind an early 1900s steam-powered locomotive over to Mickey's Toontown Fair. Your stop at Toontown provides a condensed opportunity to interact with the most popular Disney characters. Also, you'll enjoy rides like the Barnstormer, an exciting coaster for young children.
Then make your way over to Fantasyland for classic attractions, such as It's A Small World, Mad Tea Party, and Dumbo the Flying Elephant, that children -- young and old -- will thoroughly enjoy. And you won't want to miss a photo op in front of Cinderella's Castle. If the line at Dumbo is too long, head over to Adventureland for The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, which provides the same experience amid different themes. Plus there you can cool off with a world-famous Dole Whip, a concoction of soft-serve vanilla and pineapple ice creams. These have been "doled" out for decades.
Once the kids have had their fill of rides and excitement, take the monorail around the Resort Monorail Line to rest as you get another view of Cinderella's Castle and some of Walt Disney World's original resorts including the Contemporary and Polynesian. Disembark at the Polynesian for dinner at Ohanas. Ohana means "family," and this is a great family dinner attraction where kids are invited to join in hula hoop contest and coconut races. However, reservations are required well in advance. Ohanas oozes with Disney heritage and the feel of the Polynesian island culture.
All of the food is prepared over an oak fire pit that is the iconic centerpiece of the restaurant.
Insider tip: Be sure to request window seating because you'll cap off your night with the most spectacular view of the Magic Kingdom fireworks that end every night at Disney World.
And there you have it: a formula for the perfect vacation day with young children. Your friends and family will be asking how you discovered such a creative way to explore Orlando with kids. Just tell them a "local" sent you!
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