Last updated: 29th July 2023
We started our 15 day Florida road trip in Orlando with 3 fun filled days. Orlando is the world’s capital of theme parks, whilst we’re not exactly die hard park devotees, we do love the adrenaline of a good theme park ride. We’ve previously been to Disneyland Paris and the Disneyland Park in Los Angeles. Now our challenge was to see the best of Orlando in 3 days. In this post we’ll show you how to see and do Florida’s best 3 theme parks in just 3 days.
Table of Contents
Our Orlando Challenge – 3 Parks In 3 Days
There is so much choice of theme and water parks in Orlando and so many choices of ticket types, it’s all quite overwhelming. There are basically 10 main theme parks, the biggest are the 2 main resorts of Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando which have various theme parks within them to choose from, a brief summary below. It’s impossible to see and do every park even if you had weeks, so you definitely have to decide before you go which parks you want to visit. If you only have a few days, follow our Orlando itinerary and we’ll show you how to see the best of Orlando in 3 days. We’ll show you what to expect to see and do in the time we had in each theme park we chose.
Overview of Orlando’s Top Theme Parks
- Walt Disney World – 4 individual theme parks – Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot & Hollywood Studios
- Universal Orlando – 3 individual theme parks – Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure & Volcano Bay (water park)
- SeaWorld – Aquatic themed park rides and controversial marine life experiences (they are shifting their focus)
- Legoland Florida Resort – Theme park offering 50 rides, botanical garden plus a water park
- Busch Gardens (Tampa Bay) – An hour away this theme park is an African themed animal park.
- Discovery Cove – All-inclusive ‘water’ park for swimming with dolphins in the water.
Orlando In 3 Days Itinerary
Day 1 – Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World
There is something totally magical about a Disney theme park, they are the world’s most popular family attractions. They are also a place for us grown-ups to be transported back in time to the excitement and fun we felt as kids. Whisked off to an imaginary world where everything is perfect – even down to the details like Mickey shaped ice creams and balloons.
For our first day in Orlando we chose Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. We drove to the park for opening at 9am and purchased a 1 park 1 day pass, for an eye-watering £100 ($125) each. We were given a FreePass+ with 3 reservations but all the slots were booked up for the day. Apparently they can get booked up to 60 days in advance. So it pays to book a ticket in advance! Our strategy was to choose rides with the shortest wait times using the ‘My Disney Experience’ app, which is excellent and very accurate for wait times, armed and ready we were off!
Magic Kingdom is the Disneyiest of all Disney parks and a must for first time goers. It’s not about the adrenaline rides but more about the atmosphere and the experience of Disney dust sprinkled everywhere. Magic Kingdom has over 40 attractions split up over 6 ‘lands’ – Adventureland, Fantasyland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Main Street USA and Tomorrowland. Be prepared without a fast-pass it’s a long wait for some rides in long queues. Here’s what we fitted into one day at Disney’s Magic Kingdom and how long we waited:
Main Street USA
As you enter the Magic Kingdom park gates you’re on Main Street USA, you can’t help but smile, it’s really quite magical as we both caught our first glimpse of the iconic Cinderella Castle in the background. We both just stood there giddy with excitement taking in all the wonderful fantasy of sights from twirling girls in huge costumes to masses of Disney balloons and the souvenir shops, we had arrived at the perfect place to be big kids! The design of Main Street USA was inspired by Walt Disney’s hometown of Marceline in Missouri.
The smell of candy floss and popcorn is in the air everywhere we walked in Magic Kingdom. We were surprised at the number of families and couples wearing themed and customised T-shirts especially for their visit. If only we knew this was a thing! Garth could have designed us some special T-shirts too.
Big Thunder Mountain at Frontierland
20 minute wait time, not too bad. Our first ride was an epic one! This rollercoaster is for adults and teenagers. Designed to look like a flooded scene from the gold rush days of the Wild West set in Monument Valley. This ride is ace because it feels like it lasts for a long time. (It’s actually 4 minutes) We loved the thrill, getting tossed from side to side in our mine cart whilst screaming and waving our arms in the air.
Pirates Of The Caribbean at Adventureland
30 minute wait time. This is an 8 minute ‘dark’ ride, however it’s not scary. Set on water, a boat ride takes you through a 17th century story of a band of pirates who once ruled the seas using life size animatronic wizardry. This ride is what the Pirates of the Caribbean movies are based on. The character of Jack Sparrow makes an appearance, he was later added to the ride after the success of the movies.
Haunted Mansion at Liberty Square
55 minute wait time. This is another dark ride. Sadly none of our photos came out as it’s so dark inside! For 10 minutes a slow moving cart takes you through this spooky mansion where walls stretch in front of you and a cemetery comes to life. Our favourite part were the waltzing ghost illusions in the ballroom, so creative.
Space Mountain at Tomorrowland
1h 45m wait time. This is a 2 minute high-speed rollercoaster in the dark! and we mean complete darkness. Only the dim light from stars in the sky are what you can see. It’s seriously high speed and scary, so you will scream your heart out! we loved it, a shame it’s so quick.
Festival of Fantasy Parade
After a bite to eat for lunch we grabbed a spot away from the crowds on Main Street to watch the spectacular parade of colourful costumes and floats. Mickey mouse and all your favourite Disney characters pass by, it’s an amazing open-air show. Whilst we were watching the parade was suddenly stopped as Donald Duck was poorly and was taken off the parade, but still managed to wave his way off the street!
Mickey’s 3D PhilharMagic at Fantasyland
10 minute wait time. PhilharMagic is a 15 minute 4-D theatre show, where we donned our 3-D glasses for a sensory and immersive experience. It’s showtime! get ready for smells, motion and a few surprises like getting slightly wet at times! Donald duck starts the show with some help from Tinkerbell. The computer animation is just brilliant, obs. it’s Disney after all.
Take A Bite From Mickey
There’s millions of things that have Mickey shaped ears all over Magic Kingdom, especially in the souvenir shops! Apparently there’s even camouflaged ‘hidden Mickeys’ we don’t remember seeing any. Garth’s favourite were the Mickey shaped ice creams and Phil’s were the Mickey pretzels.
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Fantasyland
Heigh-ho! a 2 hour wait for a 3 minute ride! ouch. This ride typically has the longest wait times because it is designed for all ages. The rustic looking carts actually swing from side to side up and down small drops. It’s a cute ride, especially when the speed drops and it goes slow underground inside the mine. We were surrounded by colourful jewels sparkling in the rock, as the dwarfs are hard at work chipping away.
Splash Mountain at Frontierland
50 minute wait time. Be prepared to get wet for Disney’s classic log flume ride. It lasts 10 minutes and is based on Disney’s 1946 film, Song of The South featuring the shenanigans of Brer Fox. Now get ready for the climax, a 5 storey drop! Be warned if you sit at the very front you will get absolutely soaked.
Dinner at Tony’s on Main Street USA
Time for dinner and we ate at Tony’s Restaurant as featured in Disney’s 1955 Lady and Tramp movie. So of course we had to eat spaghetti and recreate those famous animated scenes!
Happily Ever After Fireworks Show
The last thing to do is at night and find a good spot to watch the amazing fireworks and projection-mapping display over the iconic Cinderella Castle. The show is amazing especially the fireworks that explode into the shape of a heart! just wow, we didn’t even know that was possible. We had goosebumps and were completely mesmerised by the show. Famous Disney characters are projected on the castle, there’s also lasers and lights that dance. As the show reaches its finale keep watching the top turrets for a special surprise.
Day 2 – Kennedy Space Center
For our second day in Orlando, we decided on an alternative theme park – The Kennedy Space Centre. It’s just a 42 mile drive from International Drive – the main strip in Orlando where we were staying. Whilst it may have the look of a theme park The Kennedy Space Center is much more of an experience. You will spend the day in awe of the engineering and bravery of the people who helped send men and women into space.
There’s plenty of interactive exhibits (especially to entertain kids), plus a theme park style ride where you get to experience a ‘real’ shuttle launch. Our favourite part was the guided bus tour of the actual Space X and Shuttle launch pads. We also loved the inspiring IMAX films and you can even meet veteran astronauts! You can read our full review of attractions at the Kennedy Space Centre here. It’s also good on your pocket, very reasonably priced compared to the big resort theme parks.
Day 3 – Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando
For our last day of Orlando in 3 days, we wanted a theme park with epic rollercoaster rides! The best place is Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando. Just like Walt Disney World, it’s not exactly cheap, we paid for a day pass £95 ($119) each. As much as we would love to pay to skip the queues by upgrading to Express Pass, we didn’t as we wanted to keep some money back for our Florida road trip.
We both thought Universal’s Islands Of Adventure is a brilliant theme park and much better than we thought it would be too, because the rides are not at all dated and use the latest technology. The park is split into 8 ‘islands’ – Port of Entry, Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Skull Island, Jurassic Park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, The Lost Continent and Seuss Landing. Here’s what we fitted into one day (not quite as much as Disney’s Magic Kingdom)
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade
The village of Hogsmeade at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is amazing because it feels so real. The attention to detail and the winter setting makes you feel like you are in the movie. Visit Honeydukes for sugary treats or the Three Broomsticks for something to eat or a glass of the signature Butterbeer at The Hog’s Head. Some of the shops are so small that you will have to queue to go in!
What was really magic about Hogsmeade was watching kids wave their wands making spells at different shop windows to make props animate. We heard one girl scream with delight when she finally made the correct spell and the book in the shop window opened.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is actually split between 2 of Universal’s theme parks – Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. We only had the day pass for Islands of Adventure but if you have a multi park pass you can take the Hogwarts Express train to Diagon Alley at Universal Studios. We didn’t feel like we missed out because we have previously seen the real Diagon Alley and Great Hall sets at the Warner Bros Studio Tour in London.
Harry Potter And The Forbidden Journey
Now time for the main event – The Forbidden Journey – this is easily the best ride we’ve ever been on. It’s a combination of 4D (films and real motion) where a gigantic robotic arm ride system takes you through scenes from Harry Potter, it’s incredible wizardry, which is I guess what they want you to believe. The engineer in Phil was so impressed he had to Google how it all worked when we got back to the hotel. It made us feel like we were really flying through Hogwarts and the real dementors were something else, so scary! The queue is long, we waited about 90 mins. However it’s not that boring as they take you through lots of different rooms of Hogwarts including Dumbledore’s office where you are presented with visits from Dumbledore, Harry, Ron and Hermione along the way. We giggled at people “what are they saying?” we think some of the Americans queuing with us didn’t understand the English accents! 🤣. Oh and the paintings on the wall come to life just like in the movies, magic! very creative and all this is before you’ve even got on the ride. The ride lasts 4 minutes.
We came out of Hogwarts buzzing, completely exhilarated asking each other how did they do that?! We really want to do the next ride, Flight of the Hippogriff located next door, but sadly the advertised queue time was 2+ hours so we skipped it.
Jurassic Park River Adventure
Based on Spielberg’s 1993 film, this is a 7 minute ride. We got into our river boat where things start out innocently with the iconic Jurassic Park theme tune as you enter through the gates, it’s all very tranquil. Suddenly we were with the dangerous animals in the restricted area! trying to escape the jaws of a T-rex. Oh no what’s going to happen?! Well things go horribly wrong and it all ends with a super steep plunge into darkness and gallons of water! Brilliant!
Reign of Kong on Skull Island
Another long wait over an hour and a half queuing in the dark next to dozens of skulls. However it was quite funny at times as we watched live-action actors scare the life out of people! Eventually we arrived at our safari vehicle complete with an animatronic tour guide. This 6 minute ride is amazing and based on a 1930s expedition deep into the jungle. It starts with the vehicle heading outside to the entrance of Skull Island through some gigantic doors. Time to don our 3D glasses for some epic fight scenes as Kong battles dinosaurs and other creatures. It’s a totally full on immersive experience where we both really felt like we were risking our lives watching the fighting action from our safari truck. Garth thought at times it felt a bit over the top like a video game, but was still impressed with the ride.
The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
Over on Marvel Superhero Island is where you’ll find the Amazing Adventures Of Spider-Man ride. Islands Of Adventure tries to make each of their park ride queues more interesting by snaking the line through various themed rooms. The Spider-Man queue takes you through the various offices of the Daily Bugle, whist it’s tedious it does get you in the mood for the ride. We queued for over an hour (yawn).
The Spider-Man ride is very cool. It’s a 5 minute dark ride, you’re not allowed to take photos so we can’t show you. We put on our 3D glasses and were taken on a virtual ride swinging through the rooftops of New York’s skyscrapers and fighting villains on the streets below. It’s not that scary but the illusions are very realistic. It certainly got our spider senses tingling!
The Incredible Hulk Coaster
The last rollercoaster was the most epic coaster of our 3 days in Orlando – The Incredible Hulk. You have to put all your belongings into a locker as it’s too dangerous to take anything, not even in your pockets. So again we don’t have any shots from the ride. It was a super long queue 1.5 hours to be exact for a 2 minute ride. Eventually we boarded, OMG adrenaline kicked in and the nerves were shaking as we looked up at the launch shoot. All of a sudden we were propelled a warp speed into the daylight and taken to some stomach churning loop the loops. AMAZING! yet absolutely terrifying! It reaches speeds of 67mph!
Exhausted! Universal CityWalk for Dinner
We could have stayed longer and done more rides like Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls and Poseidon’s Fury but we called it a day. We were both pretty exhausted from standing up queuing for hours and hours and spending each day waking up early and going to bed late. So we agreed to head out early and explore the free shopping and dining area of Universal CityWalk instead, which is just outside Islands Of Adventure. We ended our night with beer, burgers and chips at the Hard Rock Cafe. Phil was very excited to find the original gold pants from The Rocky Horror Picture Show! (they are downstairs outside the loos incase you’re wondering).
Is it possible to see the best of Orlando In 3 Days?
Yes it’s pretty easy to do 3 parks in 3 days, however it’s is full on and exhausting at times! Orlando is a fantastic place, just like Las Vegas it’s all about having fun. However the theme parks are expensive (it must be crazy expensive as a family taking your kids!) Despite the high prices the parks are fabulously fun places where we made lots of memories to take home.
Orlando Practical Information & Useful Advice
Phil and Garth’s Top 5 Orlando in 3 Days Tips
- Tip #1: Take a water bottle and fill up at watering stations in preparation for the long queues for rides.
- Tip #2: You will do a lot of standing in queues so wear comfortable trainers, not flip flops.
- Tip #3: January has the least crowds, kids are at school, accommodation is cheaper. It’s sunny but cold.
- Tip #4: Book a dinner reservation in Magic Kingdom as soon as you arrive. Restaurants get booked up very quickly.
- Tip #5: Take hand sanitiser with you and use it regularly as you’ll be touching lots of hand rails.
How We Did It
- We visited in April, from Easter Sunday. The temperatures were perfect, not too hot and low humidity about 25ºC (78F).
- We stayed at the budget friendly Best Western International Drive.
- We hired a car with Alamo. They were one of the cheapest at the time of booking.
- We flew with Virgin Atlantic and paid for an upgrade to premium Economy to fulfil Garth’s bucket list of sitting upstairs on a 747 – the queen of the skies. It was an amazing experience, especially as we knew the fleet would soon be retired for good.