Top 10 Things to Do in Orlando When You're All Disney'd Out
PHOTO: Orlando cityscape. (Photo courtesy of Thinkstock)
Look, I'm a parent. I get it.
You and the family are in Orlando for another day, but you can't fathom the idea of going back into a Disney attraction for the fifth or sixth straight day. Your feet and legs are crying out for respite, and if you see your toddler turn her nose up at one more $10 hot dog, you'll break. We've all been there, and I'm here to help.
Although the Mouse and Co. get all the buzz when it comes to a Florida vacation, let me assure you that Orlando is an absolutely fantastic town worth a second look when the fairy dust wears off and you're no longer thinking happy thoughts.
I know, I just proposed a break from Disney, but this attraction (formerly known as Downtown Disney) is free, and really more of an outdoor mall than an amusement park — but with a variety of free entertainment and things to see, your kids might not realize the difference! Score doubly big with gratis parking and some of the best dining experiences in all of Disney at restaurants that usually have some sort of online coupon or discount you can hunt down. The AMC movie theater is extra cool when the midday Florida sun simply gets too hot for your fair skin.
If you're strapped for cash or aching after days of walking, this might not be the best option, but there are other parks in Orlando. You know Universal and Sea World, but “Discovery Cove” is an even more educational and up-close sister park of the latter, while Aquatica is more of a water park for thrill-seekers. There's also Legoland, which has some of the best rides in the state.
Dads who aren't looking forward to a full-on week of princesses can bust out the eyeblack, since Orlando is one of the most underrated sports cities in the country. Though the NBA's Orlando Magic is the only team most people think of, there are fantastic options for Major League Soccer and Arena Football as well! Plan your trip around college football bowl season or around baseball spring training when you can check out half of the major league within a day's drive!
Looking for even more contact? Winter Park is the home of WWE's NXT developmental league, so a good wrestling match is never far away.
Meet Some Wildlife Not Named Shamu
Gatorland is a park you probably think you won't like until you've spent 20 minutes there and realize you're having the time of your life, making memories you will never, ever forget. Want to get even closer to rarely seen wildlife? Blue Spring State Park is about 45 minutes north of Orlando and is a haven for Manatees looking for warmer waters in the winter.
If you're from anywhere other than the Deep South, Florida Wetlands Park will be a lot like stepping onto the surface of an unknown planet. Meanwhile, Safari Wilderness will actually be like driving through another country as it's one of the biggest and best wild life preserves in the country. You and your entire family can even explore it on camelback!
Orlando may not have the culinary street cred of South Beach or the fame of being the American birthplace of the Cuban Sandwich like Tampa, but there are a ridiculous number of amazing places to grab a bite — all for the fraction of the price of corndogs inside Magic Kingdom. My personal recommendations: Four Rivers Smokehouse will hand you some of the best barbecue you could ask for, while “Cress” in nearby DeLand has the distinction of having the only chef-owner who is both a James Beard semi-finalist and a full-time professor with a Ph.D. in mathematics.
Orlando has a burgeoning distilling and brewing scene, but the warmer climate is perfect for growing grapes, and a day-trip to a winery may be just what mom and dad are looking for! Let the kids stomp on grapes as you check out one of dozens of family-friendly tours in the area. “Quantum Leap Winery” is Florida's only sustainable winery, and Lakeridge in nearby Clermont has complimentary tours and tastings.
What to plan for the oldest kid who has lost his or her gusto for Buzz, Woody or Elsa? At the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, one can actually plan the day around a chronological order of the books! A young tween who isn't looking forward to “kids stuff” will be motivated to re-read some favorite stories, and a glass of butterbeer will be just what the Muggle-healer ordered. Don't worry, it's non-alcoholic!
Listen to Some Excellent Music
The aforementioned Disney Springs houses Orlando's “House of Blues” venue, which will be perfect for the whole family or even better for a potential date night if you've brought someone who can watch the kids. Meanwhile, the entire city has become a hotbed for live music from folk music, jazz and country all the way to hip-hop and salsa.
Head to the Coast
You didn't come all the way to Florida to not see the ocean, did you? Orlando is smackdab in the middle of the state, so a short jaunt to the Atlantic is just an hour away and the Gulf Coast is only an hour more in the other direction. Cocoa Beach, Daytona Beach, Canaveral National Seashore and Clearwater Beach are all destinations in their own right, and you can score huge points with the family for fitting two vacations into one!
More by Michael Schottey
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