The best Orlando theme parks by age group
There may be no greater mecca for traveling as a family than Orlando, Florida. Whether you’re coming or going from Orlando International Airport, you’re bound to have at least a few tykes along for the ride either eagerly anticipating their vacation ahead of them or decked out in theme-park memorabilia carting stuffed animals larger than they are through TSA.
Even though Orlando, with its wide array of theme parks and attractions, sets the scene for the perfect family destination, traveling with smaller children can always be tough if they’re unable to go on most rides. Fortunately, the parks do offer Child Swap at most attractions, which allows one parent/guardian to stay with the kid while the other hops on the ride, and then they switch off.
But it’s not all 48″ and up, either – there are plenty of incredible attractions for kids of all ages! How do you determine which parks might be best for the age groups traveling with you? Are there attractions for a three-, 10-, and and 15-year-old? It’s time to explore just that!
Best Orlando theme park for ages 0-2
There’s no way around it – traveling with children under the age of two is difficult, no matter the destination. Orlando, however, does offer some great opportunities for the youngest of fans, and they’ll still be able to enjoy the adventure.
Many rides will be inaccessible to kids of this age group, but small children can accompany parents on a variety of rides at all the theme parks. At Universal’s Islands of Adventure, ride options include Caro-Seuss-el, The Cat in the Hat, and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. Universal Studios Florida doesn’t have much for this age range, but it does have the Curious George Goes to Town play area, along with Fievel’s Playland and A Day in the Park with Barney. It also offers shows which may appeal to your child, including Animal Actors on Location and the daily Superstar Parade featuring Universal’s favorite characters.
At Walt Disney World Resort, Animal Kingdom features Kilimanjaro Safaris, which takes you on a safari seeing a variety of animals, and there is also Wildlife Express Train, Affection Section, and Oasis Exhibits, which would all be great for children of this age group. Magic Kingdom has a variety of options, including Dumbo the Flying Elephant and It’s a Small World. Epcot’s selection is more limited on this front, but it does offer The Seas with Nemo and Friends and Turtle Talk with Crush. Lastly, Hollywood Studios brandishes Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream and Muppet Vision 3D.
The best theme park option in Orlando for this swath of ages, however, might be SeaWorld. Young children will be able to interact directly with some of their favorite animals, which they’ve likely never seen with their own eyes, such as at Dolphin Cove and Stingray Lagoon. And the park also offers a wide variety of live shows that feature real animals.
Winner: SeaWorld Orlando
Best Orlando theme park for ages 3-5
This age bracket opens up many more possibilities for your children at all of the Orlando theme parks. At Disney World, ride options include Astro Orbiter, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Mad Tea Party, Peter Pan’s Flight, and Spaceship Earth. Disney also features many meet-and-greet opportunities throughout its four parks with Disney Princesses and other characters, including Mickey Mouse himself! Little ones at this age might also like the interactive Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique or the Knight Package so they can transform into their favorite princesses and princes.
Universal Orlando Resort, meanwhile, has Shrek 4D, Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, and E.T. Adventure on hand. And, for the more daring children, there is also Flight of the Hippogriff and Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster.
SeaWorld’s offerings do not change a lot for this age group, but the brand-new Sesame Street-themed land will be opening this year and is sure to please kids a great deal! What’s not to love about meeting their favorites from the most famous street of all?
Winners: They all win here – Orlando was made for kids ages three to five!
Best Orlando theme park for ages 6-9
Children go through many growth spurts in the age group of six to nine that vary between the coveted 42 to 48 inches, so the ride offerings from the beginning to the end will change dramatically. (For specific height requirements, please visit each park’s website for detailed information.)
Thrill rides will become a possibility toward the end of this age group, making it a much easier planning experience since restrictions will not be as tight. Children will also be able to enjoy shows more when they reach these ages.
While all three of the parks have great options for this age group, Universal Orlando’s expand widely, and kids will be able to enjoy everything from Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges, Jurassic Park: River Adventure, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, and Men in Black: Alien Attack (all 42″) to Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls (44″) and Revenge of the Mummy and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (48″).
Depending on your own child’s interest, each park has its possibilities, but Universal Orlando seems to be the best choice for this bracket.
Winner: Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure
Best Orlando theme park for ages 10-12
In what is known as the “tween” years, your child will like a variety of things and theme parks, depending on their own proclivities. At this point, your kid will be able to do most of the thrill rides at all of the parks, while still being young enough to not be self-conscious about riding the children’s attractions.
All three of Orlando’s theme-park locations provide experiences and shows for the ages of 10 to 12, so the choice is all yours. Take a look at all of their websites before you head to Orlando and decide as a family which one(s) would be best for you.
Winner: All of them!
Best Orlando theme park for ages 13+
Once your kid begins his or her teenage years, you’ve reached a point where you can really go anywhere you’d like, as s/he’s likely met the height requirement for all rides. Keeping this knowledge in your back pocket will be beneficial, but for the best experience with teenagers, head right over to Islands of Adventure. This park has tons of thrills, including roller coasters, fast-paced rides, and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which will excite any teenager. (Need specific recommendations? Try The Incredible Hulk Coaster, Jurassic Park: River Adventure, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.)
If you’ll be traveling to Walt Disney World, your teen will definitely enjoy Space Mountain and Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith at Hollywood Studios. And Epcot offers a lot of educational information throughout its different country pavilions in World Showcase, which your teen (and kids of all ages) may appreciate.
SeaWorld may still be of interest to your teen, especially because many options are now opened up, including roller coasters such as Manta, Mako, and Kraken.
Winner: Islands of Adventure
Mixed ages of children?
Do you have more than one child in different age groups? Spend a bit of time planning and mix up your vacation by visiting more than just one theme park so that you can mix and match your trip based on your children’s ages.
Disney World offers Park Hopper ticket packages which allow park-to-park access, allowing you to be able to see all of Disney’s four theme parks. Universal also has multiple day tickets that will enable you to hop between Universal Studios Florida and Island of Adventure – which isn’t to mention enabling you to ride one of the best attractions for all ages, the Hogwarts Express!