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What's Fun for Kids in Orlando?

whatsfun_art
Don Ramussen

1. SPLASH! At SeaWorld Orlando, you'll have a full day of fun watching (and in some cases touching) penguins, sharks, manatees, stingrays, and the famous 8,000-pound killer whale, Shamu. But beware: The "splash zone" in Shamu Stadium is more of a soak zone, so choose seats carefully. 7007 SeaWorld Drive, Orlando; 407-351-3600

2. MOVIE MAGIC Known for thrill rides, Universal Orlando's two theme parks also include plenty of attractions for little ones. At Universal Studios, head for Woody Woodpecker's Kidzone and Shrek 4-D; at Islands of Adventure, try the Cat in the Hat ride at Seuss Landing. Universal Express lets you check in at many rides and return later to bypass the line. 1000 Universal Studios Plaza; 407-363-8000

3. DOLPHIN DELIGHT All you need is a swimsuit to spend the day at Discovery Cove, a tropical water park where you can swim with stingrays and snorkel with reef fish and sharks. Lunch, snorkels, wetsuits, and sunscreen are all part of the entry fee. Admission is limited; reservations are necessary. 6000 Discovery Cove Way; 1-877-4-DISCOVERY

4. ASTRONAUT TURF Don't miss a visit to the Kennedy Space Center (45 minutes east of Orlando), where kids can walk through a space-shuttle model and see rockets and launchpads (321-449-4444). At lunchtime, check out the fresh seafood and corn fritters at Dixie Crossroads in Titusville (1475 Garden St.), then head to Canaveral National Seashore, one of the state's most pristine beaches.

5. GATORS UP CLOSE Kids love kitschy Gatorland, where they can handle snakes, feed colorful parrots, and watch alligators leap from the water to snatch their dinner. 14501 S. Orange Blossom Trail, 407-855-5496; 800-393-JAWS

6. IMAGINE THAT You'll do a double-take when you see Wonder Works' building: It appears to be upside down! Inside, kids can participate in more than 100 amazing (and weird) activities, including designing a roller coaster. 9067 International Dr.; 407-351-8800

7. CRUISE CONTROL Race across Lake Toho in a Boggy Creek Airboat, whizzing up to 45 m.p.h. between tall grasses and slowing down to check out gators, herons, and eagles on a 30-minute tour. The boats are noisy, but your captain will provide ear protection. 2001 E. Southport Rd., Kissimmee; 407-933-5822

8. RIDE 'EM COWBOY Orlando was once cow country, and you can still see barrel racing, calf roping, and bull riding every Friday night at the Kissimmee Sports Arena and Rodeo. Kids 10 and under can get in the ring for the calf scramble, racing for ribbons tied to the calves' tails. (Wear old shoes!) 958 S. Hoagland Blvd., Kissimmee; 407-933-0020

9. RAINY-DAY FUN A planetarium, eight-story-high CineDome, and three floors of exhibits (including a fascinating 7,000-square-foot reproduction of Florida's ecosystem) keep kids busy for hours at the Orlando Science Center. 777 E. Princeton St., 407-514-2000

10. SUPER FLAPJACKS It's worth the hourlong drive to have breakfast at the historic Old Spanish Sugar Mill restaurant in DeLeon Springs. You make your own pancakes on a tabletop griddle, with yummy mix-ins like chocolate chips, blueberries, and bananas. The setting is delightful DeLeon Springs State Park, with a crystal-clear natural spring steps away from your table. (Bring a swimsuit!) 601 Ponce DeLeon Blvd., DeLeon Springs; 386-985-5644

HOLIDAY INN SUNSPREE RESORT This popular resort offers "Kidsuites," including a separate room for little ones outfitted with bunk beds, TVs, video and CD players, and Nintendo systems. There's an oversize pool, two Jacuzzis, and a movie theater. Kids get a goody bag on arrival and eat free at the restaurant. Suite prices start at around $109. 13351 S.R. 535, Lake Buena Vista; 800-366-6299

MARRIOTT'S GRANDE VISTA This property is a time-share resort, but its family-friendly villas are available for nightly rentals. The accommodations are spacious, with full kitchens and whirlpool tubs, plus five swimming pools, four tennis courts, and a Kids' Club activity center. Rates vary by season but start at around $142 a night for a one-bedroom villa. 5925 Avenida Vista; 800-845-5279

PEABODY ORLANDO This luxurious hotel offers the spectacle of a twice-a-day march through the lobby by a group of trained ducks, a ritual made famous at the Peabody's sister property in Memphis. Centrally located across from the Orange County Convention Center, the hotel provides buses to Disney World and boasts a near-Olympic-size swimming pool with a waterfall for kids. Rates start at $149 a night if booked through the Web site. 9801 International Drive; 407-352-4000

HARD ROCK HOTEL Located within walking distance of Universal's theme parks, the Hard Rock has a swimming pool with a 260-foot slide, fountains, and an underwater audio system. Inside, you can choose from five hip restaurants and lounges, including the Palm steakhouse. Rates start at $229 a night. 5800 Universal Blvd.