14 Central Florida Theme Parks That Aren’t Disney but Are Worth a Visit

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Things To Do In Kissimmee, Florida can include visiting the Gatorland
Entrance to Gatorland – Photo credit: Robin O’Neal Smith

Walt Disney World attracts visitors from around the world and for good reason. But, as a long-time Florida native, I know that it isn’t the only great theme park worth your time and money. My personal favorites:

  • LEGOLAND Florida (a regular stop when my grandkids were younger)
  • Discovery Cove (where you can take an underwater stroll wearing a diving helmet)
  • Aquatica (the must-visit water park for those steamy Florida summer days)

Here is the complete list of my favorite non-Disney theme parks in central Florida.

Excited young boy in front of Hogwarts Castle at Universal Studios Hollywood, one of the things to do with kids in Los Angeles
My son excited to check out Hogwarts Castle at Universal Studios Hollywood. Photo credit: Margot Black

Universal Orlando Resort

This is home to two terrific theme parks — Universal Studios Orlando and Islands of Adventure — and the awesome Volcano Bay waterpark. A fourth park, Epic Universe, is under construction and slated to open in 2025. (Check out this preview of Epic Universe.)

Universal Studios lived in the shadow of Disney World for years. Then it joined forces with a certain wizard to open the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventures. It became the theme park favorite of muggles everywhere, including SheBuysTravel Editor-in-Chief Cindy Richards.

The towering Hogwarts castle gates, familiar passageways, classrooms, corridors, and the shops of Hogsmeade make WWOHP Cindy’s favorite section of the park. But she also loves the movie- and TV-themed CGI rides like Men in Black: Alien Attack, the silly The Simpsons Ride and the sweet E.T. Adventure that are unique to Universal.

For the littles, there’s the wonder of Seuss Landing—always a favorite of my youngest grandson, Benjamin.

Jill Robbins, a SheBuysTravel contributor, says Volcano Bay is a favorite of her waterpark-loving family — and it’s a must-do on Florida summer day. She says it’s beautifully landscaped (which the kids don’t care about that, but she does), and thrilling yet relaxing. She has a full list of tips for making the most of a day at Volcano Bay.

Going to Driving School is still a hit when visiting LEGOLAND with kids over 10.
LEGOLAND’s Driving School is a perennial hit with my boys!. Photo credit: Maria Smith


Kids all over the world spend an astonishing five billion hours a year building with LEGOs. Central Florida’s LEGOLAND provides the ideal place to celebrate LEGO mania. Built on part of the former site of Cypress Gardens, Florida’s original theme park, LEGOLAND brings all those hours of building with LEGO bricks to life.

Spread over seven themed areas, Miniland USA astounds with miniature LEGO replicas of American cities. Look for street musicians in Times Square and find movie stars in Los Angeles. Watch a shuttle launch at the Kennedy Space Center complete with smoke and rumbling. The Las Vegas display showcases the city’s famous resorts and casinos while Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood’s salsa dancers spice things up.

A favorite of my grandkids, New York City landmarks include Grand Central Station, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and Central Park. They love pointing out the places I’ve taken them when they’ve visited me in the city.

When the grandkids aren’t marveling over the LEGO structures, the little thrill-seekers look for roller coasters to ride. Favorites include Coastersaurus in the Land of Adventure and the uber-competitive Ninjago.


In the scorching summer heat of Central Florida, the LEGOLAND Water Park is the place to cool off. With body slides, tube slides, a lazy river and several pools, it’s easy to spend an entire day here. On our recent visit, we split the day by doing the rides in the morning, cooling off at the water park in the heat of the day and adding a few more rides at the end of the day.

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We spent time chilling in the wave pool with floating LEGO bricks. Then we cruised along the Lazy River. But the Twin Chasers tube water slide garnered the most praise from my three.

SheBuysTravel Tip: LEGOLAND Florida park admission is required for admission to LEGOLAND Water Park. The water park ticket is an additional $25. If you and the grandkids want to extend the LEGOLAND Florida experience, spend the night at the LEGOLAND Florida Resort.

peppa pig theme park
Photo credit: Z. Kelly Queijo

Peppa Pig Theme Park

Tiny fans of the British children’s show will love this theme park but there is plenty of charm to keep the whole family entertained. It’s located in Winter Haven and is part of the LEGOLAND park complex. Bundled ticket packages are available.

Designed for preschoolers, the Peppa Pig rides are tame compared to the spine-cracking thrills you’ll find at other Orlando area theme parks. If you are dragging along teens to indulge a younger sibling, they’ll love the Insta-worthy aerial selfies they can snap on Peppa Pig’s hot air balloon ride. And the Muddy Puddles Splash Pad is hard to resist on a scorching summer day (wear swimsuits and quick dry clothes/sandals!)

The park is a Certified Autism Center, developed to meet the needs of autistic children. Sensory guides at each of the rides and attractions can help parents assess whether an experience will delight, or overwhelm, their child.

Orlando Military Discounts at SeaWorld Orlando
Photo: SeaWorld Orlando

SeaWorld Orlando

SeaWorld is the place to be entertained and amazed by killer whales, dolphins, manatees, sharks and thrilling rides. The SeaWorld Kids Shamu close-up experience allows the kids to look into the eyes of a killer whale. And, the Dolphin Nursery introduces them to newborn calves.

Thrilling rides add to the fun at SeaWorld. Want to feel what it’s like to be a giant stingray? Check out Manta, a flying roller coaster that spins, glides and skims like a giant ray.

SeaWorld has two sister parks, Discovery Cove and Aquatica:

family underwater with breathing helmets at discovery cove orlando's SeaVenture
The huge smiles are underselling how great this experience is. Photo courtesy of John Vanda

Discovery Cove

SheBuysTravel contributor John Vanda says Discovery Cove is an all-inclusive oasis where you can find it all. It’s a relaxing, tropical paradise where he and his family were able to dive with the dolphins, snorkel with the sharks, visit an island of marmosets, and take an underwater stroll in a diving helmet.

With guest access restricted to 1,300 per day, Discovery Cove feels more like an exclusive resort than a theme park. Up-close animal encounters with dolphins, stingrays, tropical fish, sea otters and exotic birds make this a family favorite. It’s all-inclusive too, so you won’t have to worry about food, towels or snorkeling equipment.


When the Central Florida heat gets to you, head over to Aquatica, SeaWorld’s Waterpark. A state-of-the-art climate system adjusts the water temperature according to the weather so that it’s always just right. Cool off by riding the surf at Roa’s Rapids. Or take a break and watch the kids splash about in the waters from your personal oasis – a shaded cabana.

And for the little ones 48inches and under, don’t miss Kata’s Kookaburra Cove with water spouts and several silly spilly water slides. Be sure to stop by Conservation Cabana across from Loggerhead Lane (don’t you love that name?) to get up close with the amazing animals or the surf and sand.

two young african american girls posing with arms outstretched in front of a lion topiary and sign saying busch gardens, location busch gardens tampa bay florida
Welcome to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay! Photo credit: Marquita Smith

Busch Gardens Tampa

Central Florida’s theme park fun extends outside of the Orlando area with great attractions like Busch Gardens Tampa. The park offers 335 acres of African-themed fun. A zoo without walls, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay earned the Humane Certified seal from American Humane, the world’s largest certifier of animal welfare.

The park’s primary focus remains the well-being of its more than 200 animal residents including several critically endangered species. Celebrate the animals with a train ride on the Serengeti Express. Or, choose one of the behind-the-scenes tours for up-close encounters with these fascinating animals.

When you’re not marveling at the amazing animals, the park’s exciting roller coasters like the triple launch Cheetah Hunt and the extreme inverted coaster, Montu, will keep thrill-seekers entertained for hours. Note: Kids must be 54″ tall to ride the Montu.

Two alligators rest together at Gatorland
Watching the world go by at Gatorland. Photo credit: Gatorland


From roadside attraction in 1949 to a full-fledged theme park, Gatorland offers old-style Florida entertainment. Start with a photo op in a giant alligator’s mouth near the entrance. Then head inside to check out hundreds of alligators, crocodiles, snakes, lizards, spiders and even some adorable petting zoo animals at this classic amusement park.

The Gatorland Express train delivers you to the Gator Wrestlin’ Arena, where real live cowboys wrestle the snapping gators and climb onto their backs. Think you can conquer a gator? Step in the sandbox in the Gator Wrestlin’ Arena and give it a shot with the “Rookie Wrestlin’” experience.

The Screamin’ Gator Zip Line soars through the air over the breeding marsh where some of the theme park’s reptile residents hang out. The Gator Gauntlet delivers the same exciting experience with an accessible zipline.

On a visit with my grandson Benjamin, we checked out the Stompin’ Gator Off-Road Adventure. We boarded the Bonecrusher, one of three 12-foot-high custom-made, off-road monster vehicles. Led by hilarious guides, we stomped our way through Gatorland’s crazy characters and across the breeding marsh right alongside those big gators. Wide-eyed and holding on tight, Benjamin had a blast…and so did his GiGi!

Old Town Kissimmee

Take a step back in time at Old Town Kissimmee. This re-creation of a classic Florida town offers one-of-a-kind rides and attractions. An amusement park classic, the Old Town Ferris Wheel rises 86 feet in the air. For haunted house buffs, Mortem Manor keeps the thrills and chills going all year long.

Stroll 18 acres of tree-lined brick streets, lined with affordable shops and unique restaurants. Then, on the weekends, roll into town to catch the Friday Nite Muscle Car Cruise and the Saturday Nite Classic Car Cruise.

Wild Florida

Gators turn up everywhere in Central Florida and if you’re looking for more wildlife experiences, check out Wild Florida. From an aviary to airboat rides and sloth encounters, there’s always something interesting to experience.

My grandkids fed the baby gators hot dogs from fishing poles. Next, the aviary kept them entertained as they held up popsicle sticks covered in birdseed to attract the colorful birds. The sloth slowly won our hearts because isn’t everything a sloth does slow? Of course, the airboat ride always adds a measure of excitement as we explored the headwaters of the Everglades keeping an eye out for baby gators and other wildlife.

Adventure Island

Tampa Bay also brings its own water parks to the Central Florida theme park lineup. Race your friends down the Rip Tide slide at Adventure Island. Or, brave the high-speed Caribbean Corkscrew as you splash your way to fun. If you and your kids would rather take it easy, try the Rambling Bayou. This calm rafting experience winds through tropical waterfalls in a colorful rainforest environment.

Based in New York City, Terri Marshall is an award-winning writer covering cultural travel, multi-generational travel, road trips, soft-adventure, camping, cars and characters. From hanging out with penguins in Antarctica to fishing for piranhas in Peru to road-tripping through the jungles of Belize, Terri’s always up for an adventure. Drop her into a landscape filled with mountains, towering evergreens, waterfalls and a glacier or two and she’ll be in heaven. But what thrills her most of all is traveling with her teenage grandkids. Terri serves on the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Committee for the North American Travel Journalist Association (NATJA). She also serves as the First Vice-Chair of the Eastern Chapter for the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). In addition to writing for SheBuysTravel, Terri’s publication credits include AARP, Island Soul, Girl Camper Magazine, A Girls Guide to Cars, CHILLED, World Footprints, North Hills Monthly, Alaska Business Monthly, Alaska Contractor and more. Follow her on Instagram at TrippingWithTerri.
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