Kid-Friendly Orlando

By: Heidi Tyline King

These kid-friendly Orlando attractions take you beyond the usual theme parks to the more affordable - but equally interesting - spots in the area.

In Orlando, it's all about the kids. Hotels, theme parks, restaurants, and attractions abound for the young – and the young at heart. Most visitors, of course, are familiar with Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld, but in this round-up of smaller attractions, you'll discover venues that are often more affordable and convenient than their mega-theme park counterparts, making it easy for families to slip in and out for half-day or full-day visits.

Downtown Disney

Clean streets, Disney-themed music, and interesting streetscapes made for a pleasant stroll through the souvenir shops and themed restaurants. We couldn't resist playing at the LEGO® Imagination Center, where a life-sized sea serpent, dinosaur and Disney characters are constructed from thousands of LEGO bricks. There are building stations set up around the play area chock full of LEGO bricks, so kids can create their own contraptions.

Another hands-on activity is the computerized potato head prints you can make in the Once Upon a Toy store. Children as young as three can sit down at one of the computer screens and drag and drop facial features and accessories onto their potato head before printing out a free, take-home color picture.

For `tweens and teens, DisneyQuest can easily fill an afternoon. This indoor, interactive theme park features a variety of simulated, virtual experience rides that make you feel as though you've been plopped down in the middle of a video game. Spin your way around Buzz Lightyear's AstroBlaster and fire asteroid cannons from your careening bumper car, or opt for a ride at Cyberspace Mountain, where you design and ride the roller coast of your dreams.

Green Meadows Petting Zoo

To balance our fill of fantasy, we struck out for Green Meadow Farms, a petting zoo that gives children the chance to milk a cow, chase pigs and clutch chickens. No one could have told us that we'd spend an hour in the chicken coop alone, where our girls scooped up Old English Bantams and Polish chickens, docile no doubt from being handled by children on school field trips. The hayride and train trip around the farm provide a good overview, but there's no substitute for climbing right into the pens for an intimate experience with the animals.

Gatorland Get-Down

You can't come to Florida without seeing a live alligator. At Gatorland, we had plenty of chances to get up close and personal with hundreds, from critters you can hold in your hand to the 18-footers that call the park home. Alligators are everywhere: piled high on concrete islands, content to soak in the Florida sun; lounging listlessly on the grassy banks; and even performing at gator shows throughout the park. Our favorite was the Gator Jumparoo, where park rangers dangle a chicken carcass over the murky waters. The gators take the bait, gliding over, propelling themselves five feet out of the water, then snapping their toothy jaws around their prize before sinking back down into the depths.

We also hopped aboard the Gatorland Express for a train ride around the park. We played at the Gator Gully Splash park. We mingled with the llamas, lambs and goats at Allie's Barnyard Petting Zoo. And we posed with a slithery grey python and a baby alligator so cute that when we left, my youngest planted a goodbye kiss on its bumpy (taped-shut) snout.

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