When you're planning a family trip to the Orlando area, the first thing that undoubtedly comes to mind is Disney World. Or perhaps Universal Orlando. But there's plenty to do outside of the massive theme parks. Here, your guide to unexpected spots to stay, eat, and play.
Red Lion Hotels
Where to Stay with Kids in Orlando
Red Lion Hotel Orlando Lake Buena Vista South
This budget-conscious option, which aims to be the home base for travelers on an adventure, is located 15 minutes from Disney World and 20 minutes from Universal Orlando caters to families in a major way. Following a recent 2.5-year, $20 million renovation, the hotel now features a heated outdoor pool and lazy river, with 410 hotel rooms, including 10 suites, each featuring a 55-inch flat screen TV. You can also grab a cappuccino in the lobby or hit the Tortilla Rica Mexican restaurant to enjoy their breakfast buffet before heading out to explore. Guests can also take advantage of the property's tennis court, basketball court, children’s playground, fitness center, guest laundry, complimentary shuttle to Disney, ticket desk for area attractions, free onsite parking, as well as a gift and snack shop. For rates and more info, head to RedLion.com.
Red Lion Hotel Orlando Kissimmee Maingate
This second Orlando-based Red Lion property was featured on Lifetime's Military Makeover. It spans 16 landscaped acres featuring three pools, two fitness centers, as well as a sports bar-style restaurant and, coming soon, a Pizza Hut. For more rates and info, go to RedLion.com.
RELATED: 10 Best Theme Parks for Kids
Courtyard Orlando Lake Buena Vista in the Marriott Village
This upper-middle-range business hotel is one of three Marriott properties set in the Marriott Village (the other two hotels are the Fairfield Inn & Suites and Springhill Suites). It boasts a modern rooms with smart TVs and charging docks (some with balconies), a swimming pool with access to sister property pools and hot tubs, as well as Starbucks in the lobby. For rates and more info, head to Marriott.com.
The Holiday Inn Resort Orlando Suites – Waterpark
Located one mile from Disney, the Holiday Inn Resort Orlando Suites - Waterpark has a special for kids 11 and under: They eat for free! The property also offers a complimentary, scheduled shuttle to the park. Guests can also take advantage of free high-speed Internet access, microwave, mini-fridge, and 42" HDTVs, two pools, the 4-D Experience, Bank Heist Laser Challenge, resort entertainment, and Arcade. For rates and more info, head to IHG.com.
RELATED: 10 Best Vacations for Kids Under 10
Orlando Restaurants the Kids Will Love
The winner of the Best Seafood Restaurant in the 2018 Orlando Magazine Readers’ Choice Awards, this faux riverboat seafood restaurant docked alongside Disney Springs is just as fun for parents as it is kids. Mom and Dad can order from a wide range of fresh seafood, wine, and cocktails, while kids can order faves like chicken fingers and burgers, as well as desserts like warm cookies and milk. Mom of one Sarah S. from Brooklyn attests, "Paddlefish is actually a great dining experience for adults but super kid-friendly." For more info, head to the Paddlefish website.
Also located in Disney Springs, this themed restaurant offers "face-to-face encounters with life-sized dinosaurs, hands-on educational activities, delectable food and phenomenal retail." A mom of one from Scottsdale, Arizona named Jessica N. shares, "My son loved it. It’s kind of like Rainforest Cafe, but with dinosaurs." Sarah S. adds, "They take reservations up to 30 days in advance, which is both useful AND necessary." Visit TRexCafe.com.
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Carraba's Italian Grill
Visiting ICON Park, a 20-acre entertainment destination located right in the travel district? Check out this family-friendly Italian chain that offers tasty, comfort food options, like lasagna and wood-fired pizza, at a reasonable price point. Visit Carrabas.com.
Family-Friendly Activities in Orlando
The Wheel at ICON Park
One of the coolest activities to do outside of a theme park: taking a ride on this observation wheel that towers over Orlando at 400 feet tall. The Wheel has 30 climate-controlled capsules that accommodate up to 15 people. Each rotation takes about 22 minutes, which allows you to check out all of the city's awesome views. Visit IconParkOrlando.com.
SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium
SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium
Also located in ICON Park, this interactive, educational aquarium is a great spot to cool off and explore ocean creatures with the whole family. From enormous turtles to jellyfish and octopus, the aquarium features a wide variety of species of sea life and will fill everyone with awe. Check out VisitSeaLife.com.
Winter Summerland Miniature Golf
Located steps from Blizzard Beach Water Park on the Disney property, moms praise this mini golf experience that features "Santa and his elves at their off-season retreat for two 18-hole adventures." For more info, head to Disney's site.
This spot is the world’s first totally mechanized team sport, WhirlyBall, which is best described as a combination of bumper cars, basketball, Jai-alai and hockey. The game is typically played 5-on-5, with players piloting WhirlyBugs (high tech bumper cars) as they use a scoop to pass and shoot a plastic ball at their opponent’s goal while bumping and blocking their way around the court. WhirlyBall Orlando offers visitors with two courts available for play. For more info, head to WhirlyDome.com.
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Florida Fire Frogs Minor League Baseball
If you're visiting Orlando during baseball season, you can take in a Florida Fire Frogs game. Founded in 2017, the team plays as a member of the Florida State League in Kissimmee, Florida, part of the Greater Orlando metropolitan area.