When you live where everyone vacations, it can be easy to want to avoid the typical tourist spots. Yet, once in a while it can be fun to visit the places the vacationers go, just to get a taste of what draws tourists here. ICON Park Orlando is one of my favorite touristy places to visit every so often.
The variety of dining means everyone can find something they like or a pub crawl is easy to do. There's live music all around. And there are lots of fun things to do, even if they are totally touristy.
ICON Park Attractions
Being at the heart of the attractions area, ICON Park Orlando has multiple attractions. Some of these things to do may seem geared toward families, but couples will find their own fun here too.
- Madame Tussaud's Orlando
- The Orlando Sea Life Aquarium
- The Wheel (formerly The Orlando Eye)
- Museum of Illusions
Madame Tussaud's Orlando
I admit, that my skepticism about Madame Tussaud's Orlando kept me at bay for many years. I'm not some who keeps up with the latest Hollywood news, so I assumed that this “wax museum” wouldn't interest me.
However, once my husband and I set foot inside the first main room of Madame Tussaud's I realized it was a lot more fun than I assumed. The first few rooms involve around historical figures. Then the onslaught of celebrities began, yet each room created an exciting atmosphere.
Audio, lighting, and decor match a cohesive theme for each room to highlight groups of celebrities from current pop music stars to some of Hollywood's best and brightest.
The photo opportunities are endless. And thankfully my husband and I are total goofballs who have no shame in acting silly for some good photos and video. If you're not a couple who does silly things together, try getting out of your comfort zone a little and see if you can get creative with some photos.
The Orlando Sea Life Aquarium
Orlando has a number of ways for you to experience the aquatic world from SeaWorld Orlando to EPCOT's Living Seas Pavilion. Sea Life Orlando Aquarium is a great option if you want to venture under the sea. It is relatively affordable and has multiple exhibits.
Each room is themed to a different part of the world, and the aquatic animals of each region are shown in beautiful ways, including Florida’s only 360° Ocean Tunnel.
The walkthrough ocean tunnel is definitely a highlight. Sea Life Orlando is perhaps more family-focused than some of the other ICON Park attractions, but it is still fun for couples to visit. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to experience the entire attraction, but you can take as much time as you want.
Some of the rooms get a little cramped so if this is a concern, try to visit on a weekday, and as early in the day as possible. You may feel rushed as throngs of guests come and go through each room, but it is totally okay to take your time.
For an epic date idea, book the Behind the Scenes Tour which is a 30-minute experience. You'll get to see a day in the life of an aquarist. It is just $10 and you'll get to visit multiple areas that are not part of the normal Sea Life experience. My husband and I were invited to do this tour with our son, which exceeded our expectations. Get a view of the ocean tanks by walking above the surface at the Ocean Overlook. And wrap up the tour by feeding some fish.
The Behind the Scenes Tour takes place near the center of the aquarium experience. It is recommended that you book your tour at least one hour after your aquarium entrance time so you have enough time to explore the entire aquarium, then you can backtrack to the Behind the Scenes tour desk near the Pacific Ocean exhibit.
For a unique experience together, it is worth the $10.
The Wheel (formerly The Orlando Eye)
Although it has had many names over the years, The Wheel at ICON Park is a must-do. Truly an icon of Orlando, The Wheel is a towering observation wheel that offers a 20-25 minute ride. On a clear day, you can see all Orlando has to offer, and even out towards the Space Coast.
As a native of the area I love that this jaw-dropping observation wheel is in the heart of Orlando. It's impossible for me to resist stopping at the newly refreshed Sky Bar for some wine or champagne. There is a special that I love – $40 for a bottle of wine to enjoy in the private capsule with a second rotation aboard The Wheel. Just stay in your capsule for a second turn and enjoy your bottle of wine as you take in the views including downtown and the theme parks.
Theme Park fans should flock to The Wheel because you get a bird’s eye view of Walt Disney World from all four parks and Disney Springs to nightly fireworks! Universal fans can catch a glimpse of Hogwarts, Universal's roller coasters, and Volcano Bay. And SeaWorld Orlando is just down the road and has Ignite 360 fireworks.
If you have valid theme park tickets to any of Orlando's theme parks or you're an active annual passholder, you'll receive 40% off your ticket to The Wheel at ICON Park. Proof of theme park ticket required at time of redemption.
Epic date idea: If you want to impress your date, book the “I'm Sweet on You” date night package. This package provides a private capsule on The Wheel for two with (2) rotations [approximately 40 minutes], plus a bottle of sparkling wine or cider with keepsake koozie, and digital copies of your pre-ride photos to commemorate your special evening. Reservations are required.
Museum of Illusions
If you're a photogenic couple then this one's for you. With over 50 exhibits, Museum of Illusions Orlando offers a plethora of photo opportunities. Some couples even hire or bring along a dedicated photographer to visit the museum and get all the great photos – just know everyone needs a reservation and admission.
Be sure to watch for the orange circles on the floor that show you where to stand to get the optimal angle for each photo. There are usually instructions too. Some photos should be shot in portrait and then rotated to landscape or turned upside down. Look for instructions near the photo op or look for a staff member for assistance.
How Much Does It Cost?
There are Florida Resident discounts for most attractions, particularly when you buy online. There are some blackout dates. The best deal is the Florida Resident Combination Ticket which combines three attractions into one discount.
Madame Tussaud's Orlando, The Orlando Sea Life Aquarium, and The Wheel can be purchased together. If you're not a Florida Resident, this combo ticket is a good deal at $54.99. And if you are a Florida Resident it is $49.99 to visit all three.
The Museum of Illusions operates separately from the other attractions but does have combo tickets available with The Wheel as well as Wonderworks just down the road. Single admission to just the Museum of Illusions is $25.
When to visit ICON Park
Weekends are much busier than weekdays. So if you can visit ICON Park during a weekday, do so. However, much of the live entertainment is reserved for Thursday – Sunday.
Summer time and major holiday weekends like 4th of July, Easter, and so on will be busy no matter the day of the week.
If the attractions are your focus, early in the day is best to avoid crowds. However, if you want to have a nice dinner or create your own pub crawl, then evening will be better suited for you.
I have visited some of these attractions on my own dollar, like The Wheel at ICON Park and Sea Life Orlando Aquarium. I did receive complimentary admission to the Museum of Illusions when it first opened and was recently invited to Sea Life Orlando and Madame Tussaud's to visit complimentary.
Best Restaurants at ICON Park
There are over 15 different restaurants at ICON Park, plus multiple spots for snacks and treats. You could easily make your own pub crawl here as many of the restaurants have indoor and outdoor bars.
These are my picks for ICON Park restaurants for date night.
- Tin Roof Orlando
- Tapa Toro
- Blake Shelton’s Ole Red
- Sloppy Joe's Orlando
- Uncle Julio’s Mexican
If you're on a budget, fear not. The entrances to The Wheel, Sea Life, and Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum are all in the same building, known as The Wheelhouse. There is a small food hall and a small arcade. The Wheelhouse Market includes Brick and Fire Pizza and Let's Jess Bake. There is a bar here too, and snack kiosks around, so it is easy to make a relatively affordable date night.
Oktoberfest Weekends at ICON Park
Fridays – Sundays 2pm – 10pm, Sept. 16 through Oct. 2, 2022
(Fridays start at 5pm)
Beer flights featuring four seasonal brews will be available at The Lawn Bar for $16. If you’re looking for a nice souvenir, a commemorative 32 oz glass stein filled to the brim with your favorite selection can be purchased for $22. Plus live music and special promotions for The Wheel at ICON Park.
Sloppy Joe's Orlando
One of the newest restaurants at ICON Park Orlando is one that has a long history. Sloppy Joe's Orlando is the latest outpost of this Key West Tradition. With a dining room that is full of vintage Key West and Orlando photos, and an outdoor patio with tropical vibes, this is a great place to soak up that vacation feeling. The drink menu of fruity cocktails, cold draft beer, and even a specialty rum flight urge you to relax. Try The Greene Street – a fruity blend of vodka, pineapple juice, rum, and other juices.
We were invited to try out Sloppy Joe's Orlando, and dined complimentary. Our server recommended the Firecracker Shrimp to start, and he did not steer us wrong. My husband could not resist ordering the 1 lb. BLT Sandwich. It is true to its name. A massive mound of bacon piled high on a bun with lettuce, tomato, and mayo made his eyes go wide.
I opted for something more refreshing, the North Palm Beach Salad with crab, shrimp, avocado, diced tomato, corn, mixed greens, and other delicious freshness. We both ate every last bite on our plates.
As we dined, a musician played the steel drums. Sloppy Joe's originated in Key West, and to continue that island culture, the Orlando location broadcasts a live stream from Mallory Square all day. Then there is a countdown sign that ticks away the hours, minutes, and seconds until the sun sets in Key West (which is essentially when the sun sets in Orlando).
Prior to our dining experience, I spoke with DJ Mariello, Senior Manager of Sloppy Joe's Orlando. DJ explains, “Each and every day we simulcast from Mallory Square Key West. We also have a sunset toast, we have a clock that counts down to the sunset in Key West. We also have the ability to live stream the stage and entertainment at Sloppy Joe's Key West.”
The menu at Sloppy Joe's Orlando is a great balance of casual American classics like burgers and sandwiches, as well as beach-inspired tastes. DJ Mariella shared, “When we brought Sloppy Joe's to ICON Park we wanted to have a lot of our coastal favorites, a lot of seafood, we have a lot variety in our appetizers and entrees. We wanted to bring some variations and options to the guests that are coming here. We wanted to give them the best of our coastal favorites and beachy drinks.”
While you're wasting away in the beach atmosphere of Sloppy Joe's see if you can spot any interesting pictures on the walls. I am born and raised right here in Orlando so I found quite a few photos that are meaningful to me. And Disney fans with a keen eye may even spot Walt Disney somewhere on the walls.
Where is ICON Park Orlando?
One of the great things about ICON Park Orlando is it is nearly at the center of International Drive. And Universal Boulevard runs right behind it, which is a good side road to avoid some of the traffic.
8375 International Drive
Orlando, FL 32819
International Drive is fairly walkable. And ICON Park is ideally located. You can head down the street to ICEBAR Orlando, Pointe Orlando, and many other restaurants.
So many resorts and hotels are along International Drive, ranging from budget-friendly to extravagant. You can even access some of the hotel pools without being an overnight guest.
Parking and What to Bring
One of the things I love most about ICON Park is that the parking is free! With so much going on along International Drive it is a treat to have a place that has free parking. There is paid premium parking on the first two levels, however. Each spot has a QR code to pay for parking. Or, just head up to the 4th level and above for free parking.
ICON Park Orlando is easy to walk and is essentially T-shaped, with one central promenade and two sections on either side with additional restaurants and a few small shops. If you want to dress up and forgo something ultra-comfortable, you'll be okay. Though, if you do decide to partake in one of the many ICON Park attractions, comfortable shoes will make a big difference as you will be standing and walking quite a bit.
This is the ultimate tourist spot in Orlando, so perhaps a tacky tourist outfit is in order. Either way, it's the perfect place to try something new.