*Guest Post*: Top 5 things to do with a family in Orlando (…that have nothing to do with theme parks)
Dawn Sabato is Marketing Coordinator for Contempo Vacation Homes and creator at comeseeorlando.com – here she shares some of her insider expert knowledge.
On the Contempo Vacation Homes blog, we’ve been publishing a series of sample itineraries, based on themes such as adventure, sports, education, food, and much more. Everyone knows about the Orlando theme parks, and they are certainly the primary lures that draw throngs of visitors to The City Beautiful each year, with amazing consistency. However, you may be surprised to learn how much more there is to Orlando, and the surrounding areas as well!
Many of us who reside in Orlando find ourselves going to the theme parks less and less as time goes on. Personally, I was quite the dedicated hold-out in this sense for quite some time, but even I (the definition of a Disney obsession) have pretty much abandoned the big parks in favor of things I’m finding greater overall value in. Having lived here off and on for more than 15 years now, I’m ashamed to say that it took me until just a few years ago to even opt to explore the area’s other attractions!
“Other attractions??” Yes, we do have more than Harry Potter, killer whales and a six foot tall talking mouse in a tuxedo…. and if you didn’t realize that, you’ve been missing some of Orlando’s best amusements!
Talk about efficiency! Your average meal can become a full evening’s experience if you consider adding a dinner show to your Orlando visit. When comparing the prices to table service dining at a theme park, there is very little (if any) cost difference, but the experience is quite a departure from the traditionally crowded, rushed dining you often experience at the theme parks. We have dinner shows with diverse themes, and hardy meal options – choose from pirates, mobsters, circus acrobats, medieval knights, and more. Any of these shows will easily cover two or more hours of time, and most offer opportunities for audience participation to some degree.
Not everyone gets excited about a museum, but Orlando’s definition of “museum” stands to convert even the most hesitant of visitors. Certainly, we have traditional art and history museums of notable quality, but we also have an assortment of more hands-on museum-like experiences that double as attractions. We like to call this education-disguised-as-fun “edutainment”, and Central Florida has a lot of it! Consider spots like Titanic, Kennedy Space Center, Orange County Regional History Center, and Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium for interactive, smart fun of epic proportions!
If your Florida holiday is timed right, our outdoor adventure options are definitely worth considering. I’m not a Florida native, and I know how easy it is to assume that Florida is just a flat, boring stretch of earth with no real WOW factor in terms of natural inspiration. Shockingly, this isn’t entirely true. We have a few gorgeous gardens in the Central Florida area that serve as unique grounds for exploring and enjoying some peaceful beauty and natural wonder.
Bok Tower Gardens and Harry P. Leu Gardens are local favorites! If you want to take advantage of Florida’s access to diverse waterways, consider Weeki Wachee Springs or a bioluminescent kayak tour. Of course, we’re famous for countless airboat tour outlets as well! True thrill seekers will appreciate the hidden challenges among the towering forests at Orlando Tree Trek.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the outdoors – or oppressive humidity, or the tendency for intense summer rain showers here in Orlando! Luckily for me, there are many clever indoor adventures to be had as well. Escape rooms are all the rage at the moment, and I can’t say I don’t understand why. They are wildly addictive fun, and each game you play at each location will be different. Perhaps this is why there are well over a dozen of them in the general Central Florida area at this time! Fans of horror and combat may appreciate options like Zombie Outbreak, a live-action video game with laser tag roots.
We’ve also been seeing a trend of moving go-kart racing attractions indoors, while increasing the flair of the cars and expanding the size and features of the venues to be more entertainment complex than typical go-kart track. Check out Andretti Indoor Karting and Games for example, opening soon!
There are numerous ways to interact with, observe, and appreciate an array of critters here in Central Florida. Gatorland is arguably our most famous animal attraction, and easily our most historic tribute to authentic Florida and our swampy beginnings. BUT – we’ve got more than just alligators around here! Safari Wilderness takes you through 260 acres of preserved wilderness on an expedition to mingle with a menagerie of animal species from Africa and Asia. Green Meadows Petting Farm keeps things a little more country – even offering guests a chance to milk a cow, and round up chickens.
If you were a fan of the now-defunct Arabian Nights dinner show, you may be thrilled to know that the famous, award-winning horse stars of the show are still here in the area. They reside at the Al Marah Arabian Horse Farm with Arabian Nights founder, Mark Miller, and you can enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime, limited-admission experience with these remarkable horses on the farm – grooming, training, riding, and even painting them!
Next time you journey to the Orlando area, think twice before you take advantage of staying on-site at Disney while using Disney transportation and length-of-stay Disney park tickets – You DO realize that you’re basically consenting to being taken hostage by a rodent, right?
As much as I love our Disney parks, it seems so tragic to overlook the worthy alternatives that are equal in value, and potentially less in cost! Keep your mind and itinerary open to new discoveries and unique experiences. You may be fabulously surprised with the results of your bold explorations, and you will surely return home with memories and tales to share that are certain to leave your friends and family in awe of your adventure!