Guide to Orlando's theme parks with young kids

How to get the most of Orlando's theme parks before the summer crowds.


There are lots of reasons not to wait until kids are in elementary school to bring them to Orlando’s theme parks, especially when there’s plenty to wow the littlest park goers and their parents.

Families with young kids are trekking to LEGOLAND Florida, about 45 minutes from Orlando, where the entire park is geared to young kids. Duplo Valley, an area within LEGOLAND that’s targeted at children ages 2 to 5, is scheduled to open this month.  It’s designed so even toddlers can drive a tractor and help farmers plow a field. There’s an adjacent splash area set among larger-than-life farm toy animals.

I love the Fresh from Florida, an interactive section that features produce grown in the state, that shows kids how food goes from farm to table. LEGO City allows kids to explore a town scaled down just for them, and even attend a junior driving school.

And at LEGOLAND Water Park, you and the kids can build your own raft and float down a lazy river.  

At Disney World, The Magic Kingdom has classic rides like “It’s a Small World,” which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and new attractions like The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, the family-style roller coaster located in the New Fantasy Land.  Kids will have the chance to meet their favorite princesses at A Princess Fairytale Hall, walk through the Enchanted Mirror in Belle’s cottage to the Beast’s castle and  cool off at the Casey Jr. Splash ‘N’ Soak station.

Let your little paleontologists dig for fossils at the Boneyard at Dinoland U.S.A. at Animal Kingdom or see the show Turtle Talk with Crush, that loveable animated creature at Epcot’s The Seas with Nemo & Friends.  

Kids love the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which recreates the set from the classic Disney movie as a huge playground with 30-foot high blades of grass, and LEGOS as big as houses.

At Sea World, Shamu’s Happy Harbor includes a four-story play area of climbing nets, tunnels, water slides and a water maze, a Sea Carousel, and more.

Of course you want to catch the Shamu show, but young kids especially like the always-hilarious sea lions Clyde and Seamore and Pets Ahoy!, where dogs and cats take the stage.  

If the lines aren’t too long, Antartica: Empire of the Penguin starts  with an adorable animated penguin named Puck taking you on a tour of the South Pole and ends with a visit to a live penguin colony.

Universal, of course, is famous for its thrill rides, but at its Islands of Adventure there’s a lot for young kids, starting with Seuss Landing, that has The Cat in the Hat attraction where you ride your couch through the pages of the famous book.

Also at Islands of Adventure, board the Me Ship The Olive, three-story boat-themed play area where kids can run around and shoot water cannons.

Next door, at Universal Studios  Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone is complete with Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster. And Curious George Goes to Town offers a water playground with pipes, spray guns, giant roof buckets that dump water on those below, a foam-ball playground with chutes, tubes and more.

But remember it’s going to be warm and kids will get tired and cranky. Leave when everyone has had enough for one day. Good thing all of the Orlando hotels have such great swimming pools.

Eileen Ogintz is the creator of the syndicated column and website Taking the Kids. She is also the author of the ten-book Kid’s Guide series to major American cities and the Great Smoky Mountains. The third-edition of the Kid’s Guide to NYC has just been released.