Whether you have just arrived in Orlando, or leaving, sometimes you might need a short stay at an airport hotel or a day room due to a delay or spend some time before a flight. If you are searching for some fun activities to while away some time, there are still plenty of things to do near Orlando Airport. This guide details facilities within the airport, places to eat, attractions close to MCO and Orlando Airport hotels with swimming pools.
The “Theme Park Capital of the World” has a lot more to offer than just theme parks too! Across the city, there are tons of options for some fun under the Floridian sun.
If you’re flying into Orlando, chances are you’ll be arriving at the Orlando International Airport, more commonly known as the MCO. The MCO is the busiest airport in all of Florida, with most tourists opting for it due to its close proximity to many of the city’s highlights. If you’ve got some time to spare on the day you land or have an extra day before your return, you’ll be glad to know that there are plenty of things to do near Orlando Airport.
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Finding Things To Do Near Orlando Airport When Incoming Flights Are Delayed
Recently, my mom was coming to Orlando for a short visit. Instead of taking Uber from the airport to us, we decided it would be much more fun to head to the airport to pick her up. I headed out just before dinner with my kids to pick her up thinking we would meet her in the baggage area and head to a restaurant for dinner.
On the 25 minute drive to MCO my kids and I were witness to some of the most incredible lightening storms we’ve ever seen. However, due to nature’s awesome show, my mom’s flight got stuck on the tarmac for about an hour. No flights going out meant no open terminal for her plane to unload. So, we found a parking spot in short term parking and decided to head into MCO to waste some time.
Things To Do In Orlando Airport Itself
The Orlando Airport has recently gone through a pretty incredible transformation (as of this writing there is another wing/terminal that is in the process of being built with plans to open by the end of 2022) and we could have easily spent a few hours enjoying ourselves.
First and foremost, everything we did was before the security check. On the floor where check in and security is, the airport has two Disney stores (potentially the only ones still open in the country outside of the Disney Parks), two Universal Studios gift shops, and a Sea World gift shop among many other stores that you’d find in any decent mall.
There is also a significant food court with everything from Dunkin Donuts to Panda Express. According to the website, there are over 150 shops and restaurants throughout the airport; this does include everything before the security check as well as in each of the terminals.
Things To Do In Hyatt Regency MCO Hotel
Connected to all of this in a central courtyard, is the MCO airport hotel run by Hyatt Regency. The welcome area is just that — welcoming! It is open to anyone coming through the airport. All within the general area of the airport before security, travelers will find benches, greenery, and fountains to enjoy.
The hotel features a rooftop pool, a fitness center, laundry services, their own restaurant separate from the airport food court, and the hotel is even pet friendly. The best part is that they offer “Day Use Rooms”; families can spend as much or as little time as needed in these rooms to refresh and recharge in between flights.
Family Attractions near Orlando Airport
If there is enough time between flights, there are plenty of places to spend a few hours within a 30 minute drive from the airport grounds (for most parks and attractions, there is an admission fee, however some parks have free entrance).
Gatorland is one such place that is fairly close to MCO and easy to access. It’s about a 20 minute drive from the airport and there is plenty to do for all ages. Get ready for everything alligator at Orlando’s very own theme park and wildlife preserve for – you guessed it, alligators!
There’s the obvious in getting to see alligators and crocodiles and even having the chance to feed them, but there is also a train that takes you through the park to see other animals like cows, bulls, emu, and deer.
There is a zip line course, a 15 minute “off road” adventure where you get to board a custom-built monster truck that takes you through the swamps where the gators dwell, a splash pad, a barnyard petting zoo, and an aviary where you can get up close to some spectacular birds.
Get ready for everything alligator at Orlando’s very own theme park and wildlife preserve for – you guessed it, alligators! Established in 1945, Gatorland is a 15-minute drive from Orlando International Airport and is a fantastic experience for the NatGeo enthusiasts in your bunch. Between the ziplines that take you across pools of alligators and the swamps that let you get up close to feed them, you’re sure to lose track of time at this exotic hub of reptiles.
Things To Do Near Orlando Airport: The Florida Mall
The Florida Mall, which is also about a 20 minute drive from MCO, is a great indoor option. Not only is the mall a great place to walk around, shop, and get something to eat in their well stocked foodcourt, but the mall is host to the Crayola Experience.
The Crayola Experience
Attention dilettantes and connoisseurs alike! Welcome to the most colorful spot (quite literally) in all of Orlando. The Crayola Experience is an interactive play zone where families get to spend hours doing wacky activities such as creating coloring pages and snapping photos with a life-sized crayon! Spread out over 70,000 square feet, this funhouse is just 8 miles away from the MCO and filled to the brim with hands-on interactive experiences.
Kids can check out some of Crayola’s new products and innovations in art; learn about how crayons are made; create personalized coloring sheets and crayon names and even take a break from the creative and climb on the indoor jungle gym.
Feast your eyes on Bluetiful, the largest Crayola crayon in the world that weighs over 1,300 pounds and stands at a staggering height of 15 feet, or take an entertaining tour of how a Crayola crayon is made. Craft your own superhero suit or turn yourself into a princess; the possibilities here are limited only by your imagination. If you have budding artists among you or are a doodler at heart, Crayola Experience is definitely a must-visit stop.
For babies thru to 12 year olds, Kidiverse is another great indoor place to spend some time to get those wiggles out. One fee covers the entire day, so the kids can play as long as they’d like.
There are activities for everyone. Parents are encouraged to play but can also feel free to take a break if needed in their resting zones with free Wi-Fi connections. Attractions include a toddler play area, jungle gym, interactive game room, ninja warrior course, and climbing walls.
Orlando Water Sports Complex
Water thrill seekers have no fear, there’s a few places for you too! Orlando Water Sports Complex is just west of the airport by about 15 minutes. This water park features a boat lake, beach area, wakeboarding, aqua park, and a dock side grill.
They have lockers available for storage (although I don’t think they are big enough to hold suitcases), as well as a pro shop with everything needed for rentals or purchasing.
Tired of all the walking? How about some wakeboarding instead? Ocean lovers and daredevils alike are guaranteed to have an adventurous time at the Orlando Watersports Complex. Be it wakeboarding with cables or getting tugged around the lake in tubes, there’s something for every member of the family here.
If you’re in the mood for something a little more younger-kid-friendly, head to the Aquapark for some splashy fun with the whole family. Complete with its own beach area and play zone with slides, wall climbing corners, and more, the floating park resembles a mini “Wipeout!” obstacle course. Located just 12 minutes away from the Orlando International Airport, the Orlando Watersports Complex is the perfect fun alternative to an air-conditioned hotel room on a hot summer afternoon!
Nona Adventure Park
A little closer and on the south side of the airport is Nona Adventure Park. Similar to the Orlando Sports Complex, Nona Adventure Park has wake boarding, an aqua park, and a bistro. This park also has a climbing tower as well as a ropes course for those who want to stay dry.
Watching your favorite mammals from a distance just not enough? How about a place that lets you dive in with them? Discovery Cove is an all-inclusive day resort, that lets you get up close to your favorite marine animals and even swim around with them!
The resort is a sanctuary to many dolphins, exotic fishes, and birds, many of which guests are free to interact with during their visit. Take a dip in Dolphin Lagoon as you swim around with its bottlenosed inhabitants, snorkel with the rays, and seize the opportunity to hand feed the resort’s winged friends. For the more daring and extravagant ones, there is a pool where you can swim with sharks and take part in an amazing underwater walking tour. Don a dive helmet and take a stroll with the fish!
Discovery Cove is only 13 miles away from the airport and a one-of-a-kind experience to spend a spare day with the most lovable creatures on the planet.
Fans of the 1997 film “Titanic” should absolutely go visit this amazing exhibition that is complete with actual artifacts and remnants recovered from the crash site of the “Ship Of Dreams.” With entire rooms modeled after the ship, actors in costumes, and props to match, the exhibit takes you to the world of Jack and Rose and lets you experience class and elegance from over a century ago.
The 2-hour exhibit includes guided tours for adults and special tours for kiddos too. You’ll be taken through an interactive stroll through the display of artifacts and remains, and hear real stories from aboard the RMS Titanic. If you can’t get enough of the elegance, consider opting for the first-class dinner. The Titanic Dinner Gala is a four-course meal (separate for kids) that is held with some of the first-class passengers of the ship, allowing you to experience the events of that night firsthand.
Walt Disney World Resort
The largest entertainment complex in the world and a destination that needs no introduction, Disney World is where dreams turn into reality. The Walt Disney World Resort is home to a splendid spread of theme parks, resorts, attractions, and more, and is located only 20 minutes from MCO.
Sprawled out over 50 square miles, Disney World comprises four theme parks, namely Magic Kingdom Park, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and EPCOT. Stroll around the parks and you’ll get to meet your favorite Disney characters ready in their iconic poses for snapshots. The park is designed to give its visitors the most comfortable and exhilarating experience of their lives. Cinematic experiences, hair-raising rides, movie-themed restaurants, jungle safaris, and fireworks displays – there’s more than enough to keep you coming again and again to the most magical place on Earth.
Universal Orlando Resort
Universal Orlando is the second largest titan in the entertainment parks industry and is a 17-mile drive from the MCO. It has three theme parks within its grounds, Volcano Bay, a tropical waterpark complete with a lava-flowing volcano; Universal Studios, where the reels are real, and the Islands of Adventure, the show-stopper of the park.
Say hi to Spider-Man, Optimus Prime, and your favorite Minions, and hold your little one tight when you meet the T-Rex at Jurassic Park. Potterheads are sure to lose their minds at the Wizarding World where you get to try butterbeer and choose a wand at Diagon Alley. Keep your eyes peeled for the larger-than-life dragon that spews real fire at Gringott’s!
Free Things to do near Orlando Airport
Besides the various things to do in the airport, there isn’t much that is close to MCO that is free. However, there are two parks that aren’t very far that travelers can take advantage of in order to stretch and get some fresh air.
Airport Lakes Park
Airport Lakes Park is an outdoor area with free admission that is about a 30 minute bus ride from the airport or a 20 minute drive by car. It’s accessible by using one of three of the buses in the Orlando Bus System (Lynx) that picks up right from MCO.
There are hiking trails, areas to play soccer or throw a frisbee, a boardwalk, fishing spots, and biking trails.
Southport Community Park
Southport Community Park is about a 10 minute drive from the airport and open to the public. It is a 52 acre park that used to be a navy recreation area.
It features walking paths, baseball diamonds and softball fields, picnic areas, and playgrounds. There are public restrooms that are well kept and easily accessible for the guests of the park.
Family Friendly Restaurants In and Near Orlando Airport
Aside from the food court that I mentioned earlier, MCO features well more than a handful of restaurants before the security check as well as in each terminal. Including the foodcourt before the security check point, there’s also the McCoy’s Bar and Grill within the Hyatt Regency, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, and Chili’s Grill and Bar.
In each of the four terminals, travelers can choose from various food courts along with different sit down restaurants including but not limited to; Outback Steakhouse, On the Boarder Mexican Grill & Cantina, Bahama Breeze, Bonefish Grill, and Urban Crave.
Taking food to go is an easy option if travelers choose to explore any of the areas surrounding MCO that have been discussed, but as previously mentioned, some parks and attractions have their own bistros/restaurants.
Best Places to Eat for Kids near Orlando Airport
Muster up the loudest roar you’ve got and make your way to one of the most popular and kid-friendly restaurants in town. With interior decor elements modeled after a prehistoric cave (including lifesize models of dinosaurs!), the restaurant serves an amazing spread of dishes. Indulge in burgers, pasta, soups, and desserts that are made to delight you and the little ones. There’s even a gluten-sensitive menu, so ask about that if it applies to your bunch.
When you’re done with your meal, check out the joint’s in-house gift shop to grab some dino-themed merchandise. From great food and photo ops to t-shirts and toys, this popular restaurant is sure to give you and your family the most delightful memories. The T-Rex Cafe is located at Disney Springs in the Bay Lake Area, close to Disney World, so plan accordingly to save yourself another trip out.
Dixie Belle’s Cafe
Dixie Belle’s Cafe is run by a couple that loves to serve amazing food to families! The restaurant features vibrant options for you to choose from, including homemade Southern favorites, American classics, and a few Mexican delights.
Settle down and take in the ambiance and charm of a classic diner as you relish some fresh hot soup, egg scramblers, toast, and meatloaf. The signature sweet potato biscuits are everyone’s favorite and even the fussy eaters are sure to love the pancakes and waffles at this warm eatery.
If you’ve got a furry friend with you on vacation, Dixie Belle’s Cafe is pet-friendly and entertains canines on the front porch where you can sit with your family while being served by their hospitable staff. It’s a 9-minute drive from the airport and is open only during select hours so make sure to check prior to your visit.
If fine dining isn’t really your thing, how about an outdoor street-style dining experience with some live music and a little beach volleyball to get your appetite going? With lawn games and a playground to keep everyone entertained, Boxi Park serves food that is curated by Michelin-rated restaurant chefs.
Boxi Park serves seafood, chicken sandwiches, dishes made especially for kids, as well as crispy tacos, juicy burgers, and Japanese handrolls for those that want to get their hands messy. Aside from fresh drinks and tropical juices, the venue also serves ice cream at a soft serve counter! Choose your favorite flavor and go crazy with your toppings at this truly unique experience, just ten minutes away from the MCO.
How about a burger with a side of fries right next to the lakeshore? The Waterfront is a modern grub spot located on the edge of Lake Jennie Jewell that is known for providing the most picturesque backdrop to your meals.
The restaurant serves classic American dishes, from burgers and sandwiches to yummy seafood bites, such as crab cakes, fish nuggets, fried shrimp, and more. There’s also a separate brunch menu, and the kids are sure to love their breakfast burrito, stuffed with cheese, sausage, and eggs. For dessert, check out the signature Red Velvet Donuts, or choose from the spread of desserts that includes puddings and pies. Adults will appreciate trying things off the drinks menu like craft beer, house wines, and cocktails, some even bottomless!
Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers
The popular fast-food chain makes an appearance in Florida, serving the yummiest grubs and desserts in town. Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers in Orlando is a little farther away from the airport than the rest of the spots on this list but is also one of the best kid-friendly spots in town.
Its classic dishes include a wide range of delicacies that are enjoyed both by adults and kids alike, including burgers, chicken fingers, and hot dogs, as well as a splendid choice of desserts. Switch out the conventional ice cream for some frozen custard of your favorite flavor. Chocolate, fudge, Oreo, or the kid-favorite classic, Dirt ‘n’ Worms Sundae, decorated with ground-up cookies and gummy worms!
Best Airport Hotels with a Pool near Orlando Airport
Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport
Hyatt Regency is located inside the airport’s main terminal and offers some of the best amenities and room service you will receive in all of Florida. Go swimming in their outdoor heated pool, head to the fitness studio, or treat your family to a relaxing massage this vacation, all of this without leaving the comfort of your hotel premises.
Being located inside the airport comes with its pros and cons. The constant buzz of a busy airport will mean you’re trading in the silence of a recluse resort for amazing airport views. You and the kids will get to enjoy the view of airplanes in the sky throughout the day.
Marriott Orlando Airport Lakeside
Located just a mile away from the MCO, the Marriott Orlando Airport Lakeside is one of the best options for accommodation in the vicinity. It includes free shuttle services to and from the airport, excellent rooms with comfy beds, and four restaurants. If you plan to spend most of your time here, you might even consider taking part in some of the hotel’s outdoor activities like swimming at its outdoor and indoor heated pools, or hiking and canoeing for an additional charge.
Embassy Suites Orlando
Embassy Suites is another popular option for tourists on vacation primarily due to the privacy the hotel offers. Complimentary shuttle services, spacious rooms, amazing service, world-class amenities, and friendly approachable staff – Embassy Suites checks all the boxes when it comes to the best airport hotels with a pool near Orlando Airport. Within a driving distance of a little more than 2 miles from the airport, the hotel also offers parking facilities if you bring your own rentals.
Choose from their amazing list of suites, depending on what your family needs. With microwaves and refrigerators available in-room, you’ll be able to handle your baby’s basic food requirements from the comfort of your room. As for the adults, there are a handful of grub spots within walking distance of the hotel, including an Outback Steakhouse. Guests of Embassy Suites claim that the complimentary breakfast is praiseworthy so make sure you make the time to enjoy a hearty meal in the morning.
Renaissance Orlando Airport
With a mighty reputation for excellent service, Renaissance Orlando Airport is located just a little over 3 miles away from the airport and still offers free shuttle services. Between its four room options, even large families can find comfortable accommodation here. For those who want to spend their days in the sun and not in their rooms, comfy lounge chairs are available along the pool for you to relax. Aside from the pool and fitness center, Renaissance also has a jacuzzi for its guests. With a coffee shop on-site along with a restaurant that serves both buffet meals and a la carte, the hotel is perfect to spend hours relaxing and for a warm recharge after a tiresome day.
Ramada by Wyndham Suites Orlando Airport
With a coffee maker, a microwave oven, a refrigerator, an iron, and a television in your room, Ramada Orlando Airport gives you the most homely setting you could ask for during your staycation in Orlando, and the best part of it is that apart from the cost of the room, it’s all complimentary! From studio suites to King Studio Suites, there’s ample space for everyone in the bunch to kick back and relax.
If top-notch facilities are not enough to impress you, then the ambiance of the hotel surely will. Set out amidst swaying palm trees and complete with an outdoor pool, the view outside is just as peaceful and serene as the interiors and decor of the hotel. Housekeeping rounds are done daily to ensure clean and hygienic indoor spaces and dining with kids is made an easy task for parents with a kid-friendly buffet and even a convenient snack bar.
By Kelila Green for VOWK