There are certainly a ton of things to keep you entertained in-and-around the Orlando area. Central Florida is jam-packed with fun things for people of all ages. Here are some of our favorite recommendations ranging from the world famous attractions to the hidden gems.
Walt Disney World
The area’s flagship attraction, WDW has four major theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom), two water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach), six golf courses, and the Disney Springs shopping/nightclub/restaurant complex. Use the entrance off Route 192, 10-15 minutes away. https://disneyworld.disney.go.com
Disney’s arch rival has two major theme parks (Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure) and a water park. Both parks are as impressive as Disney. Located off of I-4 about 25 minutes north.
A complex with rides, exhibits, shows and entertainment, all revolving around sea life. Located off exit 71 of I-4 on the Central Florida Parkway between International Drive and Sea Harbor Drive, 15-20 minutes away. https://seaworldparks.com/en/seaworld-orlando
A sister theme park to SeaWorld, this highly-rated park lets you swim with dolphins, try snorkeling, explore a watery landscape and more. Also on the Central Florida Parkway, near SeaWorld. 15-20 minutes away.
Holy Land Experience
A Christian theme park featuring a Jerusalem street market, a temple, a Sea of Galilee fountain display and other Bible-based exhibits. At 4655 Vineland Road, Orlando, not far from Universal. 20-25 minutes away.
Legoland Florida Resort
A theme park with 50 rides, attractions and exhibits plus entertainment, all geared to ages 2-12 and themed around Legos building toys. At 1 Legoland Way, Winter Haven, about 45 minutes south.
Busch Gardens Tampa
What? Haven’t had your fill of theme parks yet? This ride-rich, coaster-filled complex is an hour away in Tampa. It’s big, intense and more geared to teens and up.
They’re everywhere, but some of the most popular are:
- Cirque du Soleil La Nouba, amazing acrobatics, trapeze, juggling, stunts, etc. Takes place at Disney Springs.
- Blue Man Group, a blend of art, technology, music, comedy and theater by performers painted blue. At Universal Studios. www.universalorlando.com/Shows/Blue-Man-Group.aspx
- Sleuths Mystery Dinner Show A 2½-hour dinner show that’s a comedy/murder and the audience is the detective. At 8267 International Drive, 20-25 minutes away. www.sleuths.com
- Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament. A dinner theater where the setting is a Medieval castle and the entertainment is a jousting tournament on horseback. At 4510 W. Vine St., Kissimmee, about 20 minutes away.
- Pirates Dinner Adventure Another dinner show that takes place on a replica 8th-century pirate ship and features acrobatics and song. At 6400 Carrier Drive, Orlando, a block east of International Drive. 20-25 minutes away. Note: Gets mixed reviews.
- Capone’s Dinner and Show
A dinner theater that combines a 1930s Chicago-gangland-themed show and an Italian-American buffet. At 4740 W. Irlo Bronson Highway, Kissimmee.
Kennedy Space Center
The actual site where shuttles and the Apollo moon mission blasted off is an hour and 15 minutes east and well worth the drive. Take the bus tour to the launch pads, see an actual shuttle (and ride in a shuttle simulator), touch moon rocks and more. Located at the east coast just north of Cocoa Beach.
One of the few remaining pre-Disney attractions, this is a 110-acre and non-crowded preserve that lets you walk trails to see alligators, crocodiles, snakes, birds, cats and other creatures you’d expect in a Florida swamp. At 14501 S. Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando, just south of Route 417. 30 minutes east.
Florida Mall. A huge indoor mall with Nordstrom, Dillard’s, JCPenney, Lord and Taylor, Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Abercrombie and Fitch, and much more. At 8001 Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando.
You’ll find three of them nearby. The biggest is the Orlando International Premium Outlets with 189 stores at 4951 International Drive.
Not far from that is the Orlando Vineland Premiums Outlets with 160 stores at 8200 Vineland Avenue. www.premiumoutlets.com/outlet/orlando-vineland).
And just minutes from Disney is the smallest of the three, the Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores, with 45 stores along Route 535. www.lbvfs.com
Also interesting to shoppers is a place called Artegon Marketplace, which features “anti-ordinary” specialty shops, galleries and artisans in an indoor mall setting at 5250 International Drive, near the Orlando Premium Outlets.
One of the pluses of the Orlando/Davenport area is that it’s located only 90 minutes from both the East Coast (Atlantic Ocean) and West Coast (Gulf of Mexico) beaches.
Head west to try the Tampa-area beaches, especially the popular St. Pete Beach just southwest of St. Petersburg, the Treasure Island beach (due west of St. Petersburg), or what TripAdvisor readers rank as America’s best beach, Clearwater Beach. If you like your beach more serene than hopping, cross the causeway from Clearwater Beach to Sand Key Park, where the beach is free and parking is cheap. www.pinellascounty.org/park/15_Sand_Key.htm
Head east, and the closest Atlantic beach is Cocoa Beach. Just north of there is Daytona Beach, famous for the Daytona 500 auto race and for allowing cars to drive on the beach.
This area is a golfer’s paradise crawling with all sorts of courses, including Highlands Reserve just 3 minutes down Route 27 (www.highlandsreserve-golf.com), the Reunion (www.reunionresort.com) and Champions Gate (www.championsgategolf.com) resort courses, the links-style Grand Cypress (www.grandcypress.com), the ritzy and gorgeous Waldorf-Astoria Golf Club (www.waldorfastoriaorlando.com), and Disney’s six courses. A good rundown on the options, prices, etc. is online at www.orlandogolf.com/courses.
Baseball Spring Training
If you’re here in March, this is spring-training time for major league baseball. About half of the teams train in Florida, and three of them are in the immediate area.
One is the Atlanta Braves, who play and train at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, just off of the Route 192 entrance to Walt Disney World. The second is the Houston Astros, who play and train at Osceola County Stadium, about 40 minutes east at 631 Heritage Park Way, Kissimmee. And the third is the Detroit Tigers, who play and train 35 minutes to the southwest at Joker Marchant Stadium, 2301 Lakeland Hills Blvd., Lakeland.
Several very nice public gardens are within day-trip range. Consider these:
- Harry P. Leu Gardens
50 acres of palms, camellias, roses, citrus and other subtropical beauties. At 1920 N. Forest Ave., Orlando. 40 minutes north. www.leugardens.org
- Bok Tower Gardens
The centerpiece of these 50 acres of mostly shade gardens is a 205-foot granite “singing tower” that houses a carillon organ. At 1151 Tower Blvd., Lake Wales, 45 minutes south.
- Hollis Garden A small but beautiful formal garden set on glittering Lake Mirror at 702 E. Orange St., Lakeland, 40 minutes to the southwest.
- Marie Selby Botanical Gardens Beautiful trees, shade gardens, koi pond and one of the country’s best children’s gardens, patterned after a rain forest. At 811 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota, an hour and 45 minutes southwest.
- Florida Botanical Gardens A free but nicely done Pinellas County-run 10-acre collection of theme gardens and Florida plants, plus a neighboring Heritage Village that houses a collection of, well, 31 houses from Florida’s past. At 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo. www.flbg.org
Besides the athletic-field-heavy park that’s a stone’s throw up Route 27 at Northeast Regional Park, central Florida is scattered with scores of county and local parks. Two favorites are:
Lake Iola Park, a beautiful park along a big lake with fountain in the city of Orlando. It also has a mile-long trail around the lake. Located 30 minutes north at 512 E. Washington St., Orlando. www.cityoforlando.net/parks/lake-eola-park
Lake Parker Park, a great place to take a shady walk through wooded trails and along a lake loaded with birds and other Florida wildlife (maybe even a gator or two). Also has playground equipment, pavilions for picnics, and educational exhibits. Located at 901 E. Granada St. in Lakeland, about 35 minutes to the southwest. www.lakelandgov.net/parkrec/lake-parker-park
Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center
Here’s another low-key (and free) idea to mitigate Disney/Universal hustle and bustle. This discharge lagoon from a power plant produces warm water that attracts lumbering, elephant-like manatees – hundreds of them sometimes. It’s also a good place to see Florida birds and sea life as well as native plants. It’s a little over an hour’s drive west at 6990 Dickman Road, Apollo Beach. www.tampaelectric.com/company/mvc
Lots of interesting things to see and do in this cute town to the northwest of Tampa (90 minutes to 2 hours away), but the main draw is sponges. OK, that might sound boring, but kids are fascinated to find out where real sponges come from (which you can see first-hand). Grownups might like the cluster of excellent Greek restaurants, stemming from the many Greek immigrants who built Tarpon’s sponge heritage. www.ctsfl.us/visitor%20guide.htm
A Florida Farm Market
To get a taste of fresh Florida citrus and produce, try the Parkesdale Farm Market, which is in the heart of Florida’s strawberry country in Plant City. It’s quirky and has some of the best strawberry milkshakes and other tasty strawberry concoctions. At 3702 W. Baker St., Plant City, about 45 minutes southwest. www.parkesdale.com