Beyond the Rollercoasters in Orlando, Florida
Featured destinations: Florida
Published 06 September 2016
In 2014, Orlando, Florida, became the first destination to surpass 60 million visitors within a year – a new record for Visit the USA. And with more than a dozen theme parks in its repertoire and Kissimmee on its doorstep, it instantly gives the air of magic (and that’s not just because Disney World lives here!). But as much as I love its theme parks and mind-blowing hotels, Orlando also has plenty of other treasures to entice active families across the pond. As a repeat visitor to ‘The City Beautiful’, here are some of my favourite gems to add to your holiday itinerary:
Known as the Alligator Capital of the World, this 110-acre park and wildlife preserve offers a refreshing, outdoorsy break from the rides and attractions of theme parks like Universal Studios and Disney World. As well as ‘gators and the crocs, it is also home to an aviary, a petting zoo and a breeding marsh with observation tower.
Orlando Science Center
Great if you’ve got the kids in tow, at the Orlando Science Center you’ll be greeted by a life-size T-rex skeleton near the entrance. It’s a great place to introduce youngsters to the natural sciences with interactive exhibitions which focus on magnetism, electricity, lasers, sound waves and much more. There’s also a planetarium with a huge 8,000-square-foot screen, allowing you to watch the stars, laser light shows or even have a supersized movie experience.
Whether you’re five or 55, this wacky building is designed for all ages and houses over 100 hands-on exhibitions to challenge scientific minds – including an attraction that lets you land a space shuttle. But my favourite? The 5.3-magnitude earthquake in the Natural Disasters zone.
Forever Florida is definitely something you should look at when planning your break to the Sunshine State. It’s not exactly in Orlando – in fact, it’s in neighbouring St Cloud – but it’s worth the hour’s detour. There are so many activities to choose from here, including the epic Zip-line Adventure which is high, fast and lasts for three hours. You can even do the zip-lines after dark, with the Starlight and Moonlight experience, available on Saturday nights (book in advance). If you prefer to be closer to the ground, you can also try horse riding through some of Florida’s most beautiful vistas – your chance to be a cowboy or cowgirl for the day!
If getting on horseback isn’t for you, then you can always take to the skies with Kissimmee’s Warbird Adventures. There are no simulators here – this is the real deal: you’ll be taking to the skies in an aircraft of yesteryear, enjoying a leisurely flight through the clouds or cranking it up a notch to undertake a thrilling aerobatic adventure. Booking in advance is essential and opt for a morning session if you can, before breakfast. The skies will be clearer and there’s less chance of your cereal making a reappearance.
Take an airboat ride
An iconic Floridian experience but sometimes overlooked when making the theme park rounds, perhaps an airboat ride is more up your stream. You’ll glide across waters at over 40mph and have the chance to experience the Everglades; one of Florida’s most spectacular waterways. Best of all, the boat rides are safe and fun for all ages, so feel free to bring the entire family along.
Step back in time for dinner
If you’re not tired after a jam-packed day, then look no further than the Medieval Times Dinner Show in the evening. This family-friendly outing will see you eat your meal in historic 11th-century surroundings while soaking up an interactive show of jousting, swordsmanship, falconry and many other delights, hosted by King Carlos and Princess Catalina. You’ll be served a four-course banquet in the arena while you support one of the six knights who fight for your entertainment.
Give yourself a break
With an action-packed itinerary on the cards it’s worth giving yourself a few days with nothing to do but hang out by the pool, making the most of your hotel. After all, Orlando is all about its luxurious, grand and amenity-packed properties – perfect for families, friends and couples alike. The staff are friendly and keen to help you with anything you need (don’t forget to tip!), and with the year-round warm temperatures you’ll always be blessed by the sun under Florida’s skies.
Explore the best of this lively region on our Orlando to the Keys Journey. If you want to add visits to any of the places mentioned above, speak to our Travel Experts about creating a tailor-made holiday to suit you.
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