The challenge for families vacationing in the Theme Park Capital of the World is digging through the overwhelming options and inflated rhetoric to find what best suits your time, budget and family. If time is limited, stick to Disney's iconic Magic Kingdom and the edgier, less-stressful Universal Orlando Resort, boasting the marvelously themed Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Though part of the Disney magic is how it magically makes your money disappear, there are plenty of inexpensive highlights in and around Orlando. Tubing at Kelly Park, canoeing at Wekiwa Springs State Park and a visit to the lovely Bok Tower Gardens make perfect day trips. The free outdoor movie at Disney's Chip 'n' Dale Campfire Singalong is one of the best things at Disney.

Everything in Orlando is an opportunity to attract tourists, and eating is no exception. There are character meals both inside the parks and at resort hotels; dinner shows at Walt Disney World®, Universal Orlando Resort and venues around town; and themed restaurants offering everything from dining under asteroid showers to burgers and milkshakes in a mock drive-in theater.

You may be ready for bed once the sun sets, obsessively checking your watch to see if it's time yet to collapse, but there's more fun to be had. With the exception of Animal Kingdom, all of Disney's theme parks offer light shows or fireworks; Orlando's performing-arts scene includes excellent children's theater, Disney's Cirque du Soleil La Nouba performs nightly, and Universal's Blue Man Group is full of silly shenanigans. Disney's BoardWalk, Disney Springs and Universal Orlando Resort's CityWalk all make for a festive evening, with street performers and plenty of eye candy, but if you've had enough adrenaline for one day, kick back in small-town Celebration or Winter Park. Children appreciate the slow pace, and on a summer evening, after a day slogging through parks, sitting with a glass of wine while the children play in Celebration's lakefront fountain may just be heaven.

Sprinkle in the big-bang, high-energy fun judiciously. Yes, you might ride the Winnie the Pooh seven times in a row, and yes, you may never make it to the Finding Nemo musical in Animal Kingdom. If only we had gotten up earlier, if only we hadn't waited in line for that Mickey ice cream, if only we had scurried out of the park after the fireworks: if only, if only, if only we'd seen this, that and the other thing.

Forget it. There's too much, and you'll never win that game. In the end it's what you do that kids remember, not what you missed.

Practical Tip: Baby Basics at the Parks

Hitting Orlando's theme parks with a baby in tow? Children three years and younger do not pay admission. Once in the gates, a few things help navigate your day.

Child Swap (Walt Disney World® and Universal Orlando Resort) Allows caregivers to wait in line together, and then take turns staying behind with a baby or child while the other rides. Perfect for families traveling with multiple-age children or for kids who want a parent to check out the scare-factor before riding. Other parks offer similar options, but can be a bit complicated, so ask the ride attendant.

Disney's Baby Care Centers (Disney theme parks) Toys and Disney cartoons. You can purchase diapers, over-the-counter children's medication and more, and there's a full kitchen.

SeaWorld's Baby Center (SeaWorld) The cute house with rocking chairs on the porch in Shamu's Happy Harbor, with similar facilities to Disney. Women only.


Kid’s Nite Out Private in-room childcare or an extra pair of hands at the theme parks for children aged six months to 12 years.

Disney’s Children Activity Center Drop-off childcare centers at five Walt Disney World® Resort hotels. Reservations required but you don’t need to be a guest at the hotel.

Kids’ Camp Drop-off childcare center at Universal Orlando Resort hotels.