It’s a common thread on this blog that I am an outdoor enthusiast, but what you might be a little less aware of is that I am a massive nerd (and I always have been). So, while I have been posting about exploring the wilder side of Florida lately, I have been dreaming about spending a week at the Orlando theme parks with my family for as long as I can remember.
I know that there are millions of posts on Orlando, Disney, and Universal, so I am going to post a short list of my 10 favorite things from the theme parks of Orlando, Florida. I hope to inspire all you theme park nerds out there to take the plunge and go see these parks for yourself in the new year!
#1: You Can Fly on a Dragon in Disney’s Animal Kingdom
I don’t know about you, but I’ve ALWAYS wanted to fly. Better yet, I’ve dreamed about flying on a dragon since I was old enough to start reading the Dragoniders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey. I never really imagined that I would get the chance to experience what that would be like! But at one Orlando theme park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, anyone else that has had this daydream can finally make it into a reality!
How exactly do you do this? Hop right on the Flight of Passage Ride and take a mountain Banshee from the Avatar universe for a spin. While it has been a bit hard to get on this ride, because of the insanely long lines that form up just a few minutes after the park opens, you can make it on. The most preferable way to do so is to plan ahead, find out the earliest that you can schedule a fast pass and then get one squared away for yourself. If that fails (for me it did), get to Animal Kingdom early in the morning and get in line for the ride at the first opportunity. You will avoid most of the line this way.
#2: You Can Be a Tourist in the Universe of Harry Potter (and Star Wars!)
Flying on dragons is number one, but I’ve also always loved the idea getting to visit some of the places in fantasy and science fiction movies. Orlando theme parks are the perfect place to do this! First, the World of Harry Potter is a thing that you can freely explore at the Universal parks. The one unfortunate thing is that if you’d like to visit all of the Harry Potter world locations, you will actually need to buy tickets to two different parks. To save a little money, we just visited Diagon Alley and I didn’t regret it one bit. While Universal isn’t as well known for its themeing as Disney, this part of the park is AMAZING. Even the food is themed. It is very fun to visit.
If Harry Potter isn’t your thing, you can also enjoy the world of Star Wars at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. You can see my full review of the Disneyland version here. In either case, explore the wild and wonderful in the new year.
#3: You Can Explore Some Amazing Corners of the World at Epcot
Of course, having the opportunity to really travel the world is the best thing in the world (in my opinion). But that isn’t everyone’s priority, and having the chance to visit all the amazing Orlando theme parks is the trip of a lifetime anyway. Luckily, whether you ride that line or not, Disney’s Epcot has you covered. At this park, when you wander the grounds you will take a spin around the world. It’s the Disney version of the world, but it’s fun anyway, and the park actually hires people from the countries that it features to work in their respective lands. I also hear that the consulates are involved in determining what is at the park for their country.
If nothing else, enjoy Epcot for all of the different kinds of foods and neat little souvenirs that you can pick up across the park. It’s a really great place to spend the day exploring and learning about new places.
#4: You Can Experience 0 to 60 in the Dark at Hollywood Studios
I love a good roller coaster, and I have a need for speed. Back in my neck of the woods, this makes California’s Incredicoaster (or as I still refer to it- Screamin’) one of my favorite rides. Why, you ask? Because you get a hard 0-60mph at the beginning of the ride, and it is amazing!! So, what do Orlando theme parks have to offer? The Rock n’ Roller Coaster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios has that AND it’s in the dark!
I absolutely love this ride, and if you like roller coasters, you will too. And if that’s your thing, be sure to check out Expedition Everest in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It’s also exhilarating!
#5: You Can Learn About How Disney Supports Biodiversity Conservation
My day job (and life passion) is biodiversity conservation, or the work that it takes to keep as many different species and their habitats happy and healthy in this time of human impacts on the world. Due to that, I am very excited by the fact that Disney (one of the main Orlando theme park attractions) supports conservation through its Conservation Fund. Support the efforts and learn more at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
#6: You Can Re-experience the Wonder of Pandora (but in person this time)
I know that I sort of already covered this in the Flight of Passage (#1) reason above, but hear me out! Disney’s Animal Kingdom Pandora is an amazing place to visit even if you can’t or don’t want to deal with the line for the rides. The Imagineers have literally found ways to make the prop mountains look like they are floating. It’s a feat of engineering and utterly beautiful!
Beyond that, I would argue that Pandora is the most stunning place to be after dark in all of the Orlando theme parks. This is because Pandora slowly transforms as the sun goes down. During the day, this place looks like an alien jungle and at night it comes alive with all kinds of bioluminescent plants, and glowing stones. It is a true work of art and it really deserves to be explored as much as any other architectural wonder.
#7: You Can Eat Foods from This World and Beyond
One thing I love about traveling and exploring in general is trying new food. Not only can you give new restaurants a try in the many Orlando theme parks, but you can give food from other worlds a try too. I think you will get the most innovative flavors when visiting Galaxy’s Edge in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. That’s because Galaxy’s Edge is designed to immerse you in the Star Wars universe, and we all know from the blue milk that food in Star Wars is not like food here on Earth. If you like experiencing new and innovative foods, this is the place for you! For picky eaters, however, you might find yourself struggling with some of the stranger flavor combinations.
If you still want to explore, but want to stick with more familiar flavors, the World of Harry Potter has some great options for you. Many of the stores have great candy to try, and if you stop into the restaurants you can get some British food with a Potterworld twist. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest that you try some butterbeer while you are visiting Universal’s Harry Potter themed areas! It is so sweet and good hot or cold!
#8: You Can Hang Out with Thousands of Other People Who Love Theme Parks as Much as You
I don’t like crowds, I really don’t. However, there is something really special about being surrounding by people who love where they are as much as you do. Of course, there will always be someone somewhere who is cutting in line, or thinking mean thoughts about visitors without children. BUT in general, I think the vibe at Orlando theme parks is great. I love having the opportunity to people watch and see the majority of people having the time of their lives. You get to see people introducing young kids to the wonders of theme parks. And there’s something beautiful about friends frolicking through crowds, and significant others holding hands as they dodge between people. There is just so much joy when you visit these places and it is honestly contagious.
#9: You Can Spend Time With Your Family- Exploring, Laughing, and Making New Memories at Orlando Theme Parks
I know that not everyone has a family tradition of going to theme parks, but for me, Disney parks will always have a special place in my heart for all of the special memories that my family has made there. When I was little, we would visit Disneyland as often as we could afford, and that has left an indelible mark on my heart. Every time I go now, I still feel that child-like wonder, and being there with my family members continues to be one of my favorite things to look forward to.
Even if that hasn’t been the case for you in the past, if you like theme parks for the rides, the food, and just the general joy of being there, it is never too late to start making memories with your favorite people. The New Year might just be the perfect time to plan a trip together, no matter who you consider your family to be.
#10: Have Another Something to Look Forward to in 2020
I have to admit, sometimes life is pretty hard. For me, it’s the ebb and flow of chronic illness, and general anxiety on the day to day. We all have our challenges to face, and I am sure, if you are like me, you need something to look forward to to keep you motivated. Planning fun things for 2020 (or any time really) can be a great way to give yourself something to look forward to. Perhaps Orlando theme parks are a little too expensive of a treat for this year, but you still want to go somewhere.
I love planning trips around cheap airline prices when I can find them, or adding weekend adventures to work conference trips. I also absolutely love trying to explore more and more corners of my home state. Whatever it is, I hope that you plan something beautiful for yourself this year. Go somewhere new at home or abroad. Explore solo and/or with friends and family. Just be sure to give yourself something to look forward to and cherish in 2020, or any time that you need it.