Travel & Culture

Central Florida: Family-Fun Travel Itinerary

June 5, 2024

Seeking a good time for the whole clan? In Central Florida, family fun is in no short supply. Keep reading to find out why. —Noa Nichol


Central Florida’s Polk County, between Orlando and Tampa, is the Sunshine State’s “sweetest spot”—close to top attractions, but far from the crowds. The major must-do here is the LEGOLAND Florida Resort. The resort hotel is a LEGO wonderland, with the colourful toy bricks everywhere (and we mean everywhere: on the walls, in designated areas on the floor and on activity tables). Parents will appreciate the family-friendly suites, with bunk beds in a separate-but-connected space; kids will love details like a whoopee cushion simulator (with realistic sound), disco-dance elevators and an in-room LEGO treasure hunt. The resort also includes restaurants, pools and daily activities to keep everyone LEGO-ccupied. A short stroll away, LEGOLAND is sprawling, with themed areas (we loved Fun Town and Pirates’ Cove best), imagination stations, rides, fair games, food and more. Hot tip: keep your face-painting receipt and get touch-ups free all day long. Don’t forget to visit the new Peppa Pig Theme Park, where you can tour Peppa’s house and ride Daddy Pig’s roller coaster—look out for “muddy puddles”! 

Once you’re LEGO-ed out, access activities that bring you closer to nature—and others that are educational in nature. Living Water Cruises offers tours of the famous Winter Haven Chain of Lakes. Visit several lakes, spotting alligators, otters, Blue Herons, Anhingas, White Ibis and more along the way, and learn the history of the famous Cypress Gardens (LEGOLAND’s current site) while cruising by the old bridge where the southern belles once stood in times long past. A 45-minute drive away, in Lakeland, Bonnet Springs Park is a breathtaking urban oasis—a reclaimed train yard that’s blossoming with beauty and art. There are slides and swings and colourful things that twirl and whirl all around the park, along with a nature centre, tree house and butterfly house. Stop by the on-site Florida Children’s Museum, featuring a pint-size play city (complete with a grocery store, fire station restaurant and vet), a music-making gallery and a 100-foot climbable alligator, Blinky.


Thanks to a certain mouse, Orlando will forever be synonymous with Disney. Consider, however, the many other amusements, activities and attractions the area has to offer. First, check into the Grove Resort & Water Park Orlando, boasting huge family suites (ours had three beds and three baths, a kitchen and laundry) and Surfari Water Park— free for guests, with a surf simulator, dual water slides and a lazy river. In the evening, ICON Park, 40 minutes away by car, is a 20-acre, open-air entertainment destination with restaurants, funky bars, boutique shops and can’t-miss attractions, all anchored by The Orlando Eye—a jaw-dropping observation wheel that stands 400 feet in the air. Then, prepare to have your world turned upside down (literally) at the Museum of Illusions—a gravity-defying attraction with jaw-dropping, walkthrough exhibits that invite you to step outside the laws of nature. 

Orlando is also home to the Orlando Science Center, and it’s really not hard to see why this is one of America’s top hands-on science centers, where learning is always fun. Even mom and dad got a kick out of the exhibits, racing a recumbent bike against an upright model (mom, on the former, won), practising landing a spacecraft on the moon, and helping our daughter write, prop-make and act in her own mini movie. Hungry? Down the street, staff at Black Rooster Taqueria have got Mexican food down to a science, squeezing their avocados not once but twice daily to ensure their guacamole is perfect (and it is). Then, switch from science to art at the Morse Museum, which houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Colourful and light-filled exhibits include Tiffany jewelry, pottery, paintings, art glass, windows, lamps and a gorgeous, elaborate chapel interior created for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. End the day on another “light” note with an Epic Paddle Adventure guided Night Glow tour of Lake Ivanhoe. Hop into a clear kayak and let multicoloured LED lights reveal the enchanting underwater world below, all set against the sparkling Orlando cityscape. 


Want a home base that feels like home—but more luxe? Magic Village Yards is a collection of villas (ours was huge, with three large bedrooms, four bathrooms (one for each of us, plus an extra!), a full kitchen, washer/dryer, an outdoor barbecue and patio), with an on-site restaurant and pool for guests’ use. With Walt Disney World Resort and Universal Studios Florida just minutes away, it’s the perfect place from which to explore the area. We kicked off the Kissimmee leg of our family trip by taking in a first-of-its-kind creative collaboration between Cirque du Soleil and Disney. Drawn to Life is a love letter to the art of Disney Animation—a live acrobatic journey where the stage is transformed into a giant animator’s desk. Arrive early with the kiddos, and they could (like ours did) be part of the pre-show! After a standing ovation, take an evening stroll through Disney Springs; clustered around dreamy blue-green springs and a shimmering lake, this collection of boutiques, celeb-chef eateries and attractions (bowling, balloon rides) appeals to all ages. Cap off the night with dinner at Summer House on the Lake at Disney Springs, where the Cookie Bar is famous for fresh-baked, oversized cookies like Fudge Bomb, Crispy Rice Chocolate Chip and Birthday Cake. 

For something completely different, a Spirit of the Swamp airboat tour sets you gliding through a beautiful natural paradise of swamps and marshes that are home to stunning birds and critters of all kinds; keep a keen eye out for alligators! Another unique must-do: dinner and a show courtesy of Medieval Times, which will take you back to the 11th century for feasting (fair warning: no cutlery) and an epic medieval tournament, with horses, knights, falcons and a queen. 

Finally, it’s time for what some consider the main attraction. Walt Disney World Resort—the size, in acres, of San Francisco—includes four theme parks; we opted for the classic Magic Kingdom experience, complete with teacups, flying Dumbos, a midday parade and fireworks. Universal Studios also includes multiple parks and, with express access, we skipped virtually every line and happily screamed our way through many thrilling rides; some drenched us, some made our heads spin (figuratively speaking) and some just messed up our hair. All, like Central Florida itself, are fun, fun, family fun.


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