For most people, holidays to Orlando are synonymous with trips to Florida’s amazing selection of world-class amusement parks. If you want to scratch beneath the surface and avoid the hordes of thrill-seeking roller coaster enthusiasts, the Sunshine State is home to a plethora of other interesting places and activities for any budget or taste. Whether you are after a blast of culture, looking to sample some of the world’s most diverse shopping opportunities or seeking to reconnect with your natural side, Orlando has something for you. Read on for a list of the best ways to fill your stay in the city.
1. Kennedy Space Center
For anybody who is enchanted by humanity’s ongoing journey to understand the cosmos and humanity’s role in it, there is the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The Kennedy Space Center has been NASA’s primary launch station since 1968 and offers the chance for visitors to witness regular rocket launches at first hand. The complex also includes the opportunity for wannabe space travellers to get a realistic glimpse into what it must be like to take off from Mother Earth and live on a space shuttle. There are loads of interactive exhibits featuring augmented reality to give you an incredible insight into the daily life of an astronaut on a space mission.
2. ICON Park
After a day at the Space Center, why not take a trip down to one of Orlando’s most fashionable entertainment centres? Situated not too far from the downtown area just off I-4, ICON Park is a state-of-the-art facility which houses a number of top attractions, including over 40 fantastic restaurants, trendy bars and boutique shops. For those who are not afraid of heights, there is an enormous big wheel with glass capsules complete with a Sky Bar that offer incredible views over the city while you sip on your martinis as the sun goes down.
No animal is more characteristic of the State of Florida than the ferocious alligator. If large amphibians are your thing, the Gatorland theme park will definitely tick all boxes. If you ignore the ubiquitous “Trespassers Will Be Eaten” signs placed around the park and are not too intimidated to get involved, there are loads of great opportunities to get hands-on with real Floridian nature. The park is jam-packed with tortoises, tropical birds, snakes and wild cats, as well as crocs and alligators, which you hand-feed if you are feeling brave enough. Just make sure you do this under the supervision of a park ranger!
4. Discovery Cove
Discovery Cove is a unique all-inclusive resort which offers the chance to experience breath-taking encounters with a wide array of Florida’s native aquatic wildlife. There is the chance to kick back and relax alongside the resort’s pool, swim in a tropical river, snorkel with rays and tropical fish in the resort’s very own reef, swim with dolphins and hand-feed parrots, toucans and many other exotic birds.
5. New Smyrna Beach
Not far from the city of Orlando is a real jewel of the State of Florida. Nestled on the Atlantic Coast, the surfers’ paradise of New Smyrna Beach is popular with the locals for its golden sands, great waves and its low-key local wining and dining possibilities. Definitely worth a trip for those who want to avoid the crowds found at many of the more famous beaches in the area. For those who have taken a long flight to get to Orlando, the beach is often the best place to start the holiday. Make sure you organise your ESTA visa before travelling to avoid any nasty complications at the airport on your arrival. Check out this useful ESTA guide for a smooth visa process.
6. Forever Florida
Forever Florida is the most important conservation program in the state. In recent years, a vast amount of investment has gone into preserving Florida’s natural and cultural heritage. The state government has bought over 814,000 acres of land, including natural flood plains, fragile coastline and wetlands, much of which provides a habitat for an incredible variety of endangered species of plants and animals. The whole family can enjoy an eco-tour complete with a chance to take a ride on a hair-raising zip line through the canopy before settling down for some delicious food from the top-notch restaurants in the park.
There is so much more to Orlando than its theme parks. Do not miss out on everything the amazing city has to offer!