Take a Virtual Vacation to Orlando

BY Skye Sherman TIMEApril 26, 2020 PRINT

Orlando trip off the calendar due to an unexpected global pandemic? Unfortunate, but you’re not alone. Thousands of people around the world had a much-anticipated trip to the City Beautiful on their calendars and had to cancel or postpone in order to comply with stay-home orders, park closures, and our newfound civic duty to flatten the curve.

Luckily, you can still get an Orlando fix at home to tide you over until visiting in person is finally do-able again. All around this popular Florida vacation city, there are virtual thrills, Facebook Live broadcasts, and YouTube how-to videos to help you feel plugged into the magic, even from your couch.

Want to plummet down a 200-foot roller coaster, watch fireworks light up the sky over Cinderella’s castle, zipline over alligators, and learn to draw Mickey Mouse—all without booking a ticket to Orlando? Thanks to Visit Orlando’s blog, where more than 20 virtual experiences in Orlando are compiled for easy reference, virtual visitors can check out all of these activities and more.

And, best of all, there’s no need to plan out a painstaking minute-by-minute itinerary that accommodates each family member’s conflicting interests: this time, you really can fit it all in one trip.

In addition, on the Virtual Tours page of Visit Orlando’s website, there are 85 different Orlando experiences available for you to explore, all filmed in 360 so you can “look around” and feel like you’re there. Whether you want to hit theme parks, restaurants, shopping, hotels, Downtown Orlando, International Drive, or all of the above, take a virtual vacation to Orlando this weekend.

Theme Park Fun and Adrenaline-Pumping (Online) Adventures

Orlando is perhaps best known for its many theme parks, especially the Disney and Universal parks. Thanks to 360-degree videos filmed from a first-person view, you can still squeeze in a little park action from home: zip line at Gatorland, have Disney World’s Main Street all to yourself, finally snap that crowd-free selfie in front of Cinderella’s Castle, wander around Seaworld, “ride” LEGOLAND’s indoor-outdoor Dragon roller coaster, and more. 

For more (virtual) Walt Disney World, you can catch character meet-and-greets, a sneak peek of new rides like Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, and lots more on the Disney Parks YouTube channel.

disney castle
Until Disney theme parks are re-open, you can still experience some virtual fun through 360-degree videos filmed from a first-person view. Above, Walt Disney World Resort Security cast members Jack Cooper (L) and Branland Vaughn (R) hold “thank you” signs for medical workers while standing in front of Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom Park in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Disney)

More of a Harry Potter fan? Visit his spellbinding realm with the click of a button: head to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley in 360 and enjoy roller coasters, special events, and the chance to have Harry Potter’s enchanting world all to yourself. Sure, there’s no Butterbeer, but at least you don’t have to wait in line.

If you want even more action, head to Universal Orlando Resort’s YouTube channel for peeks behind the scenes into the science behind several crowd-favorite rides, like Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit and Revenge of the Mummy. Engineers explain how the ride works and how the experience came together in a series of short videos.

Those who desire more of a high-octane online adventure can opt for an indoor skydiving experience—through the screen—in the vertical wind tunnels at iFLY Orlando. You might not float, as you would in the real thing, but you can sure use your imagination. After that, hop into the driver’s seat and push the pedal to the metal in a virtual race at Andretti Indoor Karting & Games.

Use Your Noodle

Orlando isn’t all fun and games—okay, yes, somehow the city has a way of making even educational opportunities a blast. Thanks to various virtual learning opportunities, kids who have newly found themselves as unwitting homeschoolers can convince their parents that a “trip” to Orlando can be not only fun but mentally stimulating, too.

Due to the circumstances, IMAX films that are typically shown only in the cinedome of the Orlando Science Center are now available to stream at home. MacGillivray Freeman Films such as “America’s Musical Journey” are family-friendly documentaries now available on YouTube; you can also watch favorites like “Dream Big,” “Humpback Whales,” and “National Parks Adventure” on Vimeo on Demand, complete with an educator guide and other resources for digesting the material.

Those wanting a total break from this planet can learn about Mars and outer-space living through a new series of Facebook Lives from Kennedy Space Center. Videos also cover a tour of Space Shuttle “Atlantis” and, yes, rocket science.

Budding scientists and creative types young or old will enjoy the chance to learn from Disney’s famous Imagineers, thanks to a free online program created in partnership with the Khan Academy and Pixar; the program’s interactive activities and lessons in theme park design and engineering culminate in the opportunity to design a theme park experience of your own.

Lastly, another activity the whole family can enjoy: learn to draw Mickey Mouse himself through a series of tutorials on the Disney Parks YouTube channel. Follow along as Disney cast member Stephen Ketchum provides tips for drawing the world’s most famous mouse in his various iterations over the years, from the original 1920s version to today. The How to Draw YouTube series also has drawing lessons for other favorite characters, from Elsa to Simba to Winnie the Pooh.

Take a Break From the Action

With action-packed fun and lots to learn, you may find yourself tired after long (virtual) days in Orlando. Slow the pace a bit and plan a period of virtual relaxation: you can float down the lazy river of the five-acre Four Seasons Resort Orlando waterpark (totally solo and socially distant, even in the virtual realm, or even explore Lake Eola Park on a giant swan boat. Using VR-like technology, you’ll paddle around the downtown Orlando lake as if you’re there. Another float opportunity awaits at Roa’s Rapids inside the Aquatica Orlando waterpark. There are geysers and rapids, but you won’t get wet.

For an even quieter activity, sans water, take a virtual tour of Winter Park, a charming and ritzy neighborhood just outside the hubbub of Orlando.

Skye Sherman is a freelance travel writer based in West Palm Beach, Fla. She covers news, transit, and international destinations for a variety of outlets. You can follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter @skyesherman

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Skye Sherman is a freelance travel writer based in West Palm Beach, Fla. She covers news, transit, and international destinations for a variety of outlets. You can follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter @skyesherman
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