Those who visit Orlando in the center of the US state of Florida usually do so because of the amusement parks. Walt Disney World, Sea World and Universal Studios have created their own worlds in the city. Thousands of visitors flock to the parks every day.

The Walt Disney Group alone operates there, among other things, Magic Kingdom, where Mickey Mouse and Co. entertain families, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and two water parks. There is also Disney Springs, a kind of pedestrian zone with numerous restaurants, theaters and shops.

In addition to the large amusement parks, there are also numerous smaller facilities – some of them are fantasy worlds, some are remnants of old Florida, where Americans vacationed in the 1950s and 1960s.

Gatorland is such a park. It is on the Orange Blossom Trail south of Orlando. Owen Godwin opened it in December 1949. It took a few years for the park to become a tourist attraction – people were initially skeptical that they would want to see alligators in a park when the animals were ubiquitous in the surrounding swamps.

But the tourists came, looked at snakes and alligators. Success finally came with a giant alligator that Godwin bought from a Miami breeder. “Bone Crusher” was the name of the alligator, which was around five meters long and weighed 450 kilograms, and which Godwin praised as the largest that had ever lived in captivity.

The attraction along the highway became more and more popular – also because a huge alligator mouth in pastel mint and pink attracts attention at the entrance. Godwin’s son Frank built the alligator skull after spending weeks studying a specimen on his kitchen table.

One of the newest parks that belongs to Legoland is also animalistic: In the Peppa Pig Park in Winter Haven, everything revolves around the bright pink pig family, which is known in Germany as Wutz. The park, which opened in February 2022, is aimed at smaller children and their families.

The area is clear, the paths are short and the rides are suitable for two to six year olds. In the largest and wildest carousel in the park, Papa Pig takes children and their parents with him in his red car – on an imaginary shortcut, which of course only leads in circles.

During Mrs. Mümmel’s balloon ride, a small carousel takes off a few meters into the air and slowly rotates in a circle. There is also a water playground in the park and a covered meadow where a larger-than-life plush Peppa is available for photos several times a day.

For larger children, teenagers and adults, there is Discovery Cove. The artificial lagoon is located in the middle of Orlando – pretty much exactly in the middle of Florida. The park is just over an hour and a half’s drive from both the beaches on the Gulf Coast and the so-called Space Coast.

Discovery Cove is part of the Sea World group and is referred to as a day resort. The entrance fees are steep. Visitors get an all-round carefree day on the artificial sandy beach.

You can snorkel among more than 8000 fish at the Grand Reef including various rays, puffer fish and other tropical species. Keepers regularly feed and count the fish there – a good opportunity, especially for children, to ask questions about the animals and their habitat.

For an additional fee, visitors can swim with the marine mammals at the Dolphin Lagoon. The trainers tell a lot about the animals, which can be up to five meters long. The dolphins are partly from Sea World Park and are slowly being accustomed to interacting with guests.

There are many water parks in Orlando that do not require animals. Disney operates Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Sea World’s is called Aquatica.

And Universal Studios built Volcano Bay. The central element there is Krakatoa, a 61 meter high artificial volcano. It is also best seen from Orlando’s highways.

It gets really exciting in the park. There are around 18 water slides there. The Aqua Coaster, similar to a roller coaster on land, provides a special thrill.

At the entrance to the amusement park, which opened in 2017, visitors are given a TapuTapu – a kind of wristwatch that can be used to check in at the slides. Guests can use it to queue in a virtual queue.

When it’s your turn, the clock buzzes and you can go to the slide. While waiting, visitors can rush through the rapids of the Lazy River or cool off from the humid Florida heat in the huge wave pool at the foot of Krakatoa.

Another water park called H2O is located in Kissimmee, south of Orlando, in the Margaritaville complex, which takes its name from musician Jimmy Buffett’s hit song. This park is aimed at the Instagram generation and has colorful slides with and without oversized seat rings, which slide through colorful tubes, in addition to the wave pool and lazy river.

So that visitors can share on social media what they have achieved in the H2O, there is also a wristband at the entrance that records the sliding experiences.

Destination: Orlando is pretty much in the middle of Florida. Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater on the Gulf Coast are approximately 120 kilometers away and the Space Coast and Cape Canaveral are approximately 80 kilometers away. There are twelve major theme parks in Orlando and numerous smaller parks in the surrounding towns.

Climate: Orlando is warm all year round, with summer temperatures reaching 40 degrees. The humidity is high.

Arrival: Lufthansa and United Airlines fly directly from Germany to Orlando. Other airlines bring passengers to Orlando with a stopover on the US east coast.

Entry: Germans need a valid passport and have to obtain an entry permit (Esta) online. As a rule, proof of a full Covid-19 vaccination must be provided. The Federal Foreign Office offers further information on its website.

Accommodation: There are around 500 hotels in various price ranges in Orlando. If you only want to visit certain theme parks or neighborhoods, you should look around for accommodation there – whether on the park grounds or in the surrounding area, there are many accommodation options.