When it comes to thrills, spills and mouse ears, Orlando delivers big time. This city in central Florida is the theme park capital of the world, attracting over 68 million visitors per year.
But, contrary to what you might think, there’s more to Orlando than Mickey and magic. I’m always looking for new and unusual things to do wherever we go, which is why I was delighted to partner with Dealchecker to discover some of the best things to do off the beaten path in Orlando.
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Orlando, located in the central part of Florida, is one of the most popular places to visit in the United States. Although these days it’s famous for rollercoasters and log flumes, the city was once the main hub for Florida’s citrus industry. Today most of the citrus farms are located to the south of the state but you can still visit a working one in Orlando at Showcase of Citrus.
Orlando is also home to over 100 lakes. Some of them, like Wekiwa Springs State Park, are great for cooling off on hot days. Wekiwa in particular has been attracting visitors for more than 150 years who come to hike, canoe and swim in the 72-degree spring water.
Other popular lake activities include waterskiing and wakeboarding. Aktion Park is a great place to do both of these activities – and more! There’s also a fun aqua park here.
If you’re looking for more Orlando hidden gems then read on for our top tips on discovering the other side of the city.
Art in Orlando
Orlando’s art scene is flourishing with exciting galleries celebrating local and international artists. For families, the Mennello Museum of American Art is a great option. Housed in what was once a private home, the space features American art of all genres. Every second Sunday is Family Day with free admission, kid-friendly activities and tours just for children.
Downtown is the Orange County Regional History Centre which features regular rotating exhibits, many that are perfect for kids. Check their website for exhibition details.
In nearby St Petersburg is the Dali Museum, the largest collection of Salvador Dali paintings outside of Europe. The museum features over 2,000 works from every moment and medium of the Spanish artist’s career including plenty of his signature surrealist pieces that will have kids saying, “what?!”.
Animal encounters in Orlando
Some people might get their kicks hurtling down a rollercoaster at 60mph but there are other ways to get an adrenaline rush in Orlando. At Gatorland, visitors can roll up their sleeves and and wrestle an alligator! If that sounds like one daredevil step too far, try their Trainer For A Day program where you can hold and feed baby alligators.
For animal encounters of a different kind there’s the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens. Home to more than 400 animals, this is a fabulous day out for families. Little kids in particular will love the pygmy goats and llamas at the Barnyard Buddies Children’s Zoo and all children will enjoy the splash park and talks by the zoo keepers.
Safari Wilderness is home to hundreds of animals from large herds of water buffalo and the second-largest collection of Oryx in North America to lemurs, zebra, llamas and more. Visitors can tour the ranch on a specially outfitted vehicle that seats 20 passengers. For something a little more adventurous, take a trip on a kayak or even by camel!
Adventures in Orlando
For a journey to another dimension, visit the Kennedy Space Center. Located around an hour’s drive from downtown Orlando, the complex offers visitors the chance to experience life as an astronaut – without blasting off into space.
For more adventures, visit the Orlando Science Center where kids – and their parents – can learn through exciting, interactive exhibits.
If you do feel the need for speed then a ride on an airboat through the Everglades is sure to delight; twist and turn through the mangrove tunnels and keep an eye out for alligators!
Discover the Great Outdoors in Orlando
There are lots of ways to make the most of the Florida sunshine. Orlando boasts plenty of family-friendly beaches, including the sandy white beaches and stunning sunsets of Clearwater Beach and the surfing scene at Cocoa Beach.
Another option for a day on the water is a cruise along Clearwater Harbour where you may just spot dolphins swimming alongside you. In downtown Orlando itself, there’s Lake Eola, home to swan-shaped paddle boats, plenty of green spaces and amazing views of the city skyline.
Of course, there are also the parks and if you’re visiting Orlando with kids, it’s unlikely that you won’t visit at least one of the city’s most famous sights – whether that’s the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Animal Kingdom or one of the myriad other amusement parks. But if rollercoasters and rides are not your thing, know that Orlando also delivers families a lot more.