As a city, we Orlandoans are very proud to be home to Disney World, Universal Studios, and Sea World (with Legoland not much farther out of town). However, Orlando, without its theme parks, is still a fantastic place to explore.
This is especially true if you are willing to travel to more than just south Orlando. With not much more than an hour drive outside of Orlando in any direction, there are so many things to do and see.
Orlando museums are top quality. They range in content from the history of Florida to art and everything in between.
Some are great for families with little kids and others are great for a date night. When you have such big theme parks to contend with, you have to be pretty great to attract a crowd. So if you are looking for things to do in Orlando with kids, check these museums out!
Museums in Orlando That are Family Friendly
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Orlando Science Center
Orlando Science Center is a fantastic place to start. This museum is hands on and kids from as young as toddler age through to early teens can be easily amused for hours.
Located south of downtown Orlando (but north of the theme parks), the science center has three stories of learning and exploring rooms. Some of the areas are under construction and renovation, however, there is still plenty to see and touch.
Starting with the “market”, children under the age of 6 can manipulate their environment with wind tunnels and plastic balls. In the next room over, older kids can climb up, down, and through larger tunnels.
As guests get farther in the museum, they’ll have opportunity to test out hurricane strength winds, create small buildings to test their structural capabilities in an earthquake, and dig for dinosaur bones. Some of the exhibits are traveling and change through the year, so check the website before going to see what new adventures are there.
Museums in Orlando at Icon Park
One exit away from SeaWorld is the ICON Park complex. ICON Park is made up of different sections and has something for everyone.
The main feature at Icon Park is The Wheel. This is a 400 foot Ferris Wheel fashioned from the London Eye.
It takes about 20 minutes to complete a full rotation and from the very top of the wheel you can see for a few miles in each direction (when the weather is clear).
Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum
Madame Tussaud’s is a walk through museum great for school age children and older. There are a ton of historic figures ranging from Einstein to Walt Disney.
Each “person” is life sized and set in their own life sized diorama with some information on their background and accomplishments. Plus, there are sports figures, pop culture figures, and even superheroes for those who get a little bored with the history.
The Sea Life Aquarium
The Sea Life Aquarium is not among the biggest aquariums (Long Beach Aquarium in Long Beach, CA and the Boston Aquarium in Massachusetts are two of the largest I’ve been to) but it is one of the most interesting.
Guests walk through the deep ocean and feel like they are in the sea life environment of the creatures featured here.
There is a 360 degree viewing tunnel, a touch tank with sea anemones and starfish, and an area to go behind the scenes and see what it takes to run an aquarium.
Museum of Illusion
Finally, there is the Museum of Illusion. This is one of 20 locations around the world.
Guests are invited into this wacky world and free to take as many pictures as possible showcasing the oddities and illusions of things like “walking upside-down” or making your way through a “vortex tunnel”.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not
Down the street from ICON Park is Ripley’s Believe It or Not. In this 10,000 square foot facility visitors are greeted with the extreme oddities of the world.
The exhibits have meteorites to touch, the original Lightsaber used by Luke Skywalker, a variety of “weird Florida” items like a shrunken head owned by Ernest Hemingway, and a whole warehouse of Ripley’s Believe It to Not artifacts.
There is also a maze of mirrors outfitted with LED lights and mirrors to confuse even the most experienced explorer. According to the website, they send out a search party every 30 minutes.
Titanic: The Artefact Exhibition
Still on International Drive (or I-Drive as the locals refer to it) but north of Sand Lake Boulevard is Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition.
Not only can you step back in time with a guided tour of the Titanic, but you can enter the famous dining room and experience a “first class” sit down dinner like one aboard the infamous ship.
There are a variety of guided tours for every age including the building of the Titanic, love stories of the Titanic, and stepping onto the ship from the point of view of a child with a scavenger hunt!
The diner features food from the menu of the first class passengers as well as reenactments of the night of April 14th, 1914.
Drive another few minutes north on I-Drive to Dezerland. This is one of the newer Orlando museums.
Dezerland officially opened in 2002. However, it has only recently become a formidable opponent to the myriad of attractions in Orlando.
This is more of an indoor amusement park than museum as it boasts a trampoline park, bowling alley, go-carting, pinball palace, and arcade to name a few. But, Dezerland also features an incredible museum of cars.
This car collection includes cars from movies as well as cars from around the world. Entrance to Dezerland is free but each attraction has its own cost.
Orange County Regional History Center
Right in the heart of downtown Orlando is the Orange County Regional History Center. This museum has over 32,000 square feet of space for all ages to enjoy.
The exhibits here cover Florida’s rich history including the indigenous people of Florida, the Spanish explorers, and African American history of Central Florida. There is a section on aviation, tourism over the last 100 years, discovering our natural environment, and following the transformation of the theme-park era.
Their mission (according the website), “To serve as the gateway for community engagement, education, and inspiration by preserving and sharing Central Florida’s continually unfolding story.”
Central Florida Railroad Museum
Located in Downtown Winter Garden, 20 minutes north west of central Orlando, is the Central Florida Railroad Museum. Owned and operated by the Central Florida Railway Historical Society, this museum offers free entry (with suggested donations) Tuesdays-Saturdays from 11:00 am – 3:00 pm.
There are maps, signs, charts, photos, and artifacts to see, along with a hands-on Thomas the Train layout. There is limited wheelchair access, so keep that in mind when planning your visit.
What You Need To Know About Museums in Orlando
When I was a kid, I thought museums had to be boring. All there was to do was walk through an area with art exhibits or something of the sort.
It’s a joy to be able to bring my children to these outside the box museums to learn about Florida’s rich history and to be able to explore what Orlando has to offer outside of the theme parks.
Over all, this is just a small selection of the many museums in the Orlando area, albeit my family’s favorites.
- Author Kelila: Staff Writer and Orlando Resident
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