February 25, 2017

What to Do in Orlando (Besides Walt Disney World)

This may sound crazy, but you can go to Orlando and not go to Walt Disney World. There’s so much to do – some things you didn’t even realize you could do – that you may not even find time for Mickey Mouse. From zipline adventures to airboat rides to stand-up paddleboarding, even professional football, you won’t be wondering what to do next in Orlando.

My 9 y.o. daughter, Molly, and I flew down to Orlando in late-January for the Pro Bowl. The Pro Bowl. I seriously had no idea you could watch an NFL game in Orlando (the closest team is in Tampa), much less a game played by all the very best players in the league, but Molly is a major football fan, so we had to go.

This is the first year that the Pro Bowl was played in Orlando and it was a huge to-do. There were loads of fan-friendly activities at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, like the 40-Yard Dash and Run-A-Route where you had to dodge around players (cardboard cut-outs) before catching a pass. So much fun.

We even got to watch the NFC and AFC teams practice, which was a must for Molly since she’s a massive Kirk Cousins fan and he was picked to play in the Pro Bowl. He was an alternate, but when a couple of other Redskins players dropped out due to injuries, he was in. Incredible. And, of course, there was a Pro Bowl parade at Magic Kingdom (so yes, we did end up going to the Walt Disney World).

We also didn’t stay on-property at Walt Disney World during our stay in Orlando. We camped out at the Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek for a few nights. I just wish we had more time to play while at the hotel given they have several swimming pools, a lazy river, waterslides and mini golf. Next time, for sure.

But seriously, what else can you do in Orlando that does not involve Mickey Mouse? Here you go.

Fly Down a Zipline. A couple of years ago, I took my older girls (then 9 & 11) to Forever Florida. It’s not far from Orlando and we had the best time flying down seven ziplines. For an extra $19.99, you can have a GoPro camera attached to your helmet to record it all.

Bike Ride All Around Orlando. It’s not always possible to bring your own bike, especially when flying to Orlando, but thanks to Juice Orlando Bike Share you can rent bikes all across downtown Orlando. Just look for the orange bikes at the Juice Stations around town.

Stay at the LEGOLAND Hotel. We love LEGOLAND and now that the LEGOLAND Hotel is open next door to the park, it’s even more reason to go to LEGOLAND. Kids will love the pirate- and medieval-themed rooms, and the Disco Elevator is a favorite. As a bonus, you can make s’mores every single night.

Learn About Pioneer Life. Make a stop at Fort Christmas Historical Park to explore seven historic homes and learn how early pioneers lived. Watch a short video on the Seminole Indian Wars and learn more about cattle, hunting, fishing and trapping.

Explore a Botanical Garden. Enjoy free admission to the Harry P. Leu Gardens the first Monday of each month. Look for palm trees, azaleas and various tropical plants. Also, keep your eyes open for various sculptures on display throughout the gardens.

Go on a Family Hike. There are several parks and forests that are ideal for easy hikes as a family. Grab a water bottle for each member of the family and head to Ocala National Forest or Enchanted Forest Nature Sanctuary. Or, hop on the Florida National Scenic Trail.

Watch a Musical Fountain Show. Head to Lake Eola Park in Downtown Orlando for a nightly fountain show at Lake Eola Fountain. Also, be sure to bring along some bread so you can feed the swans that make Lake Eola their home either before or after the show.

Go on a Helicopter Tour. Sign up with Air Florida or Air Force Fun for a fun way to explore the area, including the theme parks, lakes, even celebrity homes. My daughter, Kate, and I did a helicopter tour in Niagara Falls and can vouch for the fun and amazement of an aerial tour by helicopter. It’s a must.

Go on a Gator Tour. Whether you choose airboats or swamp tours, let your adventurous side come out and see the natural flora and fauna. The gator tours can be done in nature or you can find one of the many mini zoos that operate in and around Orlando. One to try is Spirit of the Swamp Airboat Tours.

Try Stand-Up Paddleboarding. This is been on my list for ages, and Paddleboard Orlando can help me cross off stand-up paddleboarding. They’ve got alligator-free (thank goodness for that) SUPing, including lessons, tours, even paddleboard yoga.

If you plan to fly to Orlando on Southwest, don’t forget about Southwest Check-In online. It’s a great way to ensure a good flight boarding position, which is a must when flying with kids. Many flights also have Southwest WiFi and you can check ahead of time on their website.

Photo Credits: L. Sloan (Harry P. Leu Gardens), Michael Schroeder (Lake Eola Park), Ed Schipul (Florida Gator)

Disclaimer: My daughter and I were guests of Visit Orlando. However, all opinions expressed here are my own and I was not compensated for this article.


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