A theme park in the sun with scant lineups, no crazed teenagers, a lengthy amount of fun, and a delightful hotel only steps away. That covers a lot of the appeal of Peppa Pig Theme Park, where the experience is tailored for toddlers, unlike most of the other attractions in the Orlando area. What that means is the rides offer excitement and wonder but not shriek-inducing thrills or frightful encounters that are good fun if you’re older but could cause tears or nightmares for the young.
Perhaps best of all is the ease of the experience. The park is manageable for four-year-old legs to cover in its entirety. We arrived less than two hours before closing time and my son, Gabriel, was able to enjoy all the rides and some even more than once.
It was a contrast to the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, two of Disney’s most popular parks, where lineups are often painfully long — so much so that a skip-the-line add-on is tempting to purchase. LEGOLAND, too, also has queues that can last more than an hour for its popular rides — which are for all age groups. Peppa Pig Theme Park, though, is only for the little ones and that niche keeps the lines mercifully short and the experience thoroughly adorable. [Read More: “A Toddler’s First Disney Experience Spins a Tale of Family Togetherness”]
It’s a bargain, too, compared to the bigger, better-known parks. A one-day ticket, which includes admission to Peppa Pig Theme Park and its next-door partner, LEGOLAND, costs just $34. (The one-day ticket price to a Disney park starts at $109.)
Located in Winter Haven, a city about 90 minutes by car south of Orlando, Peppa Pig Theme Park is an example of why travelers are so often enticed to return to Central Florida. While the Magic Kingdom and the Disney brand is the eternal magnet, families with young kids have options beyond the region’s best-known attractions.
Along with Peppa Pig Theme Park, here are four others to explore:
The sprawling park includes numerous themed sections with gentle rides that can be empowering for toddlers. Gabriel was thrilled with the safari experience where he is at the wheel of a zebra-colored jeep that circles around a short fabricated jungle with large LEGO animals. The jeep is tethered to a track so there’s no chance of it veering off-course but the little drivers don’t know that. They feel much older having the belief they’re steering their parent through the jungle.
The best part of LEGOLAND, I found, was the hotel experience. We stayed in the Pirate Hotel (which is attached to the primary LEGOLAND Hotel and shares the same amenities). The large room featured a king-size bed and a bunk bed and amazing decorations, including a marvelous LEGO parrot perched overhead.
The food experience was smartly off-beat. The dinner is a massive pirate-themed family-style platter with your option for meat, seafood, or plant-based selections. It’s served in a skillet by a waiter or waitress dressed in the garb of buccaneers. It’s good-quality food, far superior to the Disney experience and a fun way to get kids into enjoying their plates.
Location: 1 Legoland Way, Winter Haven, Florida
Admission: You can access LEGOLAND, Peppa Pig Theme Park, and the adjacent LEGOLAND Water Park for $119 for a two-day ticket; hotel packages including meals and park admission are also available. Check the attraction’s website for details.
The most surprising stop on our visit to Orlando was the crayon-making, crayon-crazed experience inside the Florida Mall. The 20 interactive experiences are sharp and feed into the kids’ desire to learn through play. It has many stations for each activity so there’s no waiting for a turn.
Gabriel loved the Crayon Factory where you can select a single crayon and have a label printed with whatever name you want. Being a superhero fan, he named the green crayon “Hulk” and the red one “Spider-Man” and reserved blue, his favourite color, for his own name.
The computer experiences include Silly Selfies which is kind of like a digitized version of the photo booths that are popular at parties and events. Kids select pre-designed digital crayon accessories — like pirate eyepatches, sunglasses, and fluffy eyebrows — and once their styled version of themselves is complete they can upload it for display on a big wall.
And, there’s also old-fashioned paper-and-crayon stations where kids can color printouts made of themselves and their family, or set their imaginations free on a blank sheet.
A snack stand that serves fast-food staples, a skeet-bowling game, a climbing tower, and gift shop round out the visit. It’s a fun, inexpensive half-day entertainment center that’s easy to reach — and to adore.
Location: 8001 S. Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando (the Florida Mall)
Admission: Purchase your ticket online and save $3. You’ll pay $25.99 versus $28.99 in person. Admission is free for kids 2 years and younger.
Disney’s top competitor for theme-park revenue is the one whose headliners include characters from blockbuster movies — including the superheroes from Disney-owned Marvel Entertainment — and a number of high-flying thrill rides. For little kids, the Dr. Seuss Character Zone and the Islands of Adventure Park have the most soft-adventure rides.
In Gabriel’s case, though, it was The Avengers and X-Men meet-and-greet experiences that made the visit to Universal the self-proclaimed “best day of his life.” Not simply a handshake and a high-five, the actors who play Spider-Man and Captain America spent minutes chatting with my mesmerized toddler. Located in Islands of Adventure, the superhero character encounter is within a setting that resembles the main street of small-town USA. Comic-book shops, eye-catching murals, and diners named after Captain America and the Fantastic Four are part of the zone, as are some popular rides.
“The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man” is one of those 4D experiences that’s borderline in terms of intensity for young kids. Scary moments include animated versions of Spider-Man’s villains like Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus leaping in front of the carriage, a couple of steep drops, and the tickle of heat on your skin when one of the bad guys hits the carriage with a flame-thrower. Though he would never admit to it, Gabriel was scared. He kept his head down for long stretches of the ride and held on tightly to my arm. But he realized it was entertainment and by the next day he wanted to try more encounters, largely to feel older than he is.
For those park-goers who are more mature, like his parents, the Universal outing is the most enjoyable of the Orlando attractions because there are a number of highlights that are geared for adults. These include restaurants like Pat O’Brien’s and the Bob Marley Tribute to Freedom Experience. We walked through the gates on February 6, Bob Marley’s birthday, and were treated to a reggae performance as well as cocktails that were a pleasant way to transition from kid fun in the day to evening entertainment for moms and dads.
Universal also has the best thrill ride I’ve ever been on and the only one I have ever wanted to do a second time. “The Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon” is incredible fun. The riders are the audience for “The Tonight Show” host, who races virtually in a kart around the Big Apple while you follow. He stops for pizza, dives past a shark in the Hudson River, and spots his house band, The Roots, playing on the moon. All at high speed with ticklish plummets and delightful touches of humor. It’s a must-do.
Location: 6000 Universal Boulevard, Orlando
Admission: A single-day ticket to Universal Studios includes admission to Islands of Adventure. The cost is $109 for an adult ticket and $104 for a child’s ticket (ages 3-9). Packages for multiple parks and hotels are also available.
A beautiful, historic town about 2 1/2 hours north of Orlando, St. Augustine is notable for its nature excursions and appealing educational tours. Among them is the Alligator Farm, a wildlife preserve that dates to 1893 and makes a point of giving back to the animals in its care.
Beyond just alligators, the farm has exotic birds, a Galapagos tortoise, and a number of species native to Florida, including a ball python. The animals evoke wonder in the kids who arrive to observe them. Best of all is after all of the days spent at theme parks with artificial fun, the chance to be amazed by animals is a fine way for kids to come back to earth and the realities of our planet.
Location: 999 Anastasia Boulevard, St. Augustine
Admission: Tickets cost $34.99 for adults and $19.99 for kids (3-11).