Our most recent family travel expedition was to Florida where we spent time in Orlando, Kissimmee and Clearwater. What we didn’t do however was the incredible Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando Theme parks.
We had lots of reasons for this but one big one being there are lots of things to do in Orlando and indeed Central Florida besides Disney and besides theme parks. We have been to Florida before and we have done all of the Disney Parks and Universal Studios and they are fantastic. I would recommend them to anybody. But for us, this time we had a three and four year old in tow and Disney and Universal do not come cheap. We resolved we would rather spend this money on them in a few years time when they are a bit older and, to our mind, will enjoy it more, get more out of it and remember it. They are not huge Disney fans as it is, they don’t really understand the magic and just how exciting it is whereas I suspect they might in years to come. What is more my eldest who is a thrill seeker was an inch too small for the ‘bigger’ rides and she was always upset when she wasn’t allowed on rides at some of the parks we did attend so it would have been a real shame to be so limited at Disney, especially having spent a lot to be there.
We, therefore, spent two weeks filling our time in Florida making the most of all the other attractions and experiences that there is to offer. I have compiled a comprehensive list of what you can get up to in Orlando and Central Florida, some obvious some not so, so do look through to the end.
Things to do in Orlando besides Disney
I will start with this one as it is quite an obvious one. We didn’t have time to visit Seaworld on our last trip and I am so glad we did this time. I know it is not for everybody but absolutely loved Seaworld. It was such a nice park that offered more than just coasters and standing in line. There were Orka shows and Dolphin shows timetabled, an aquarium, dolphin nursery and more. It has a dedicated children’s area called Sesame Street. It is bright and colourful and full of attractions for younger family members. It also has a wonderful water play area which is perfect on those hot Floridian days. Seaworld isn’t without its big thrill seeker rides either, with plenty of big, faster and scary rides for adults.
A few words of wisdom – you have to pay for parking at $25.00 a day. We purchased advanced 14-day tickets i.e. we could go as many times as we wanted in 14 days, which included free parking. We were grateful for this. You could definitely spend more than one day here if you have time. There are ticket deals out there and I do believe we found a good one for our entry to Seaworld, Aquatica and Busch Gardens. We had unlimited entry over 14 days and free parking and pre-paid tolls. For these, we used FloridaTix.com and found them to be of great value. Although it is my understanding prices fluctuate throughout the year.
For a glimpse at Seaworld check out my vlog below.
This is a water park the is not part of Disney or Universal, rather the Seaworld chain and is directly opposite Seaworld on International Drive. It is a great waterpark with lots of areas for both young children and thrill-seeking older ones. I loved our days at the waterpark it was just a shame our eldest wasn’t quite tall enough for some of the bigger rides. It is home to the best rapids I have experienced. A fast but steady loop around the park where you and your little ones can glide along at speed. It is also home to the infamous Breakaway Falls where you stand in the waterslide and the floor disappears from beneath you and you race down a tube slide.
Both Aquatica and Seaworld offer all-day dining plans, $40.00 for adults and $20.00 for kids and you can’t take large picnics in. On one of our visits, we brought one child’s dining plan. Essentially they can eat from select restaurants every hour. The choice was limited but it was certainly a big enough portion of chicken tenders and extra fries to feed our three and four year old. What is more, they could get drinks and snacks throughout the day.
This is essentially a large fair or small theme park. There are two in and next to Orlando. There is one just off I-Drive and one in Kissimmee Old Town. The one in Orlando seems a little bigger with slightly more ride options but your tickets or passes give you access to both. Incidentally, we spent our first 10 days staying within walking distance of Fun Spot Kissimmee and it proved to be invaluable. Our kids absolutely loved it and it was a great place to fill a few hours. It was great for our age kids but there is still plenty for the older ones. What is more, it is very quiet during the days with virtually no queues for anything. It is only at night it gets busier. You could always tie in a visit here to Kissimmee Old Town classic car show, which I mention further down.
We actually brought season passes when we were there as it worked out to be so much cheaper than paying per ride or per day and gave us access to both parks. We also had chaperone passes included in our tickets, which meant we could go on the rides that require children of a certain height to be accompanied by an adult. Mr Tammy loved this as it meant he had unlimited access to the go-karts.
To see more of Fun Spot you can catch it only vlog at the bottom of the post.
4. Suhl’s Rodeo
Suhl’s Rodeo is actually just outside Orlando in Kissimmee but it is well worth the journey. It is every Friday night and it is a real cowboy, lasso swinging, country music playing rodeo. I was always sceptical about rodeos but actually I had a great time. It wasn’t gimmicky or touristy as I thought it might be but a genuine competing rodeo that participants and owners take great pride in. It was a real ‘one off’ experience for us and I am so glad we got to watch it. Food and drink are available on site, there is post rodeo country music and dancing where you can hang out with the cowboys and participants and there is half time entertainment for the kids, including things they can get involved in.
We really enjoyed the rodeo and for a glimpse into what it was like do check out my Youtube video below.
Or the upside-down house as we referred to it. From the outside it looks fantastic, it is an upside-down house. It was something we didn’t do last time and wanted to this time. It is very accessible in the Centre of I-Drive. Within Wonderworks, there are some very cool and interactive science, space and nature exhibit that my kids really enjoyed. There is a high ropes course – that you need to be a certain height for and be wearing closed-toe shoes. There is also a couple of simulator style rides that my 3 and 4 year old were tall enough for and a 4D cinema that the 4-year-old was tall enough for and loved. Whilst there are some fun interactive elements and games to Wonderworks I did feel that my children were just a little too young to get the most of out of it and there was not quite as much to do there as I hoped. We probably only spent about 2 hours there. Had we paid full price for our tickets I think I would have been left a bit more disappointed
We brought our tickets through Groupon and only paid £36.00 for two adults ALL ACCESS tickets, which on the door would cost $33+tax. We paid the door price for our 4 year old ($22.00 + tax) and under 4s are free, so we didn’t pay for the three-year-old. Obviously. If you would like to see a little bit more on Wonderworks then here is a link to a vlog of ours in which it features.
6. Classic Car Show & Kissimmee old town
We were staying next to Kissimmee Old Town so we spent a lot of time there. It is a small section of independent shops, bars and restaurants. All cladded and colourful. You can buy anything from dreamcatchers to every flavour of popcorn under the sun. It is quaint and full of charm. I would definitely recommend visiting on a Friday or Saturday night as it is when the place really comes alive. There will be crowds, atmosphere, live music and outdoor cinema. Arguably the best part is the classic car show. Classic American cars old and new all drive through the centre of the Old Town to music and a host. You might even spot the actual Lightning McQueen. Our children loved it.
Before our trip to Florida, I spent many hours researching alternative activities to Walt Disney World the above are the ones that we did manage to fit into our two weeks. Below are more activities that we, unfortunately, didn’t get round to but were certainly on our to-do list and will be for our return visit.
More things to do in Orlando besides Disney
I read so many good things about Gatorland I am really upset we didn’t manage to fit it in. It is a place you can learn everything there is to know about Alligators, see them, even touch them I believe. There are also plenty of other activities and animals to learn about and visit. There is a petting zoo, screaming zip wire course (that looks amazing, but you do pay extra for it), off-road adventures, animals shows and more.
8. Lake Eola
Lake Eola is situated in Downtown Orlando and is perfect for a few hours away from the hustle and
bustle of the parks and I-drive. The lake is surrounded by a public park, perfect for strolling around, playing in or having a picnic. Or, you can take a paddleboat out of the lake itself. If picnics aren’t your thing or, like me, the organisation is not always on point then you won’t be stuck for somewhere to eat. With plenty of cafes, restaurants and bars within walking distance.
9. West Orange Trail Bike Ride.
I really really wanted to do this but we just couldn’t fit it in. Essentially it is a bike ride with plenty of stops en route. You can cycle the full 44-mile round trip if you’re up to it or simply go as far along the route as you like taking in the scenery, which I am told is beautiful. I contacted Bikes and Blades to hire bikes (and trailers for kids) when we were considering doing this but they do need 24 hours notice for hires. Without it, it is a first come first serve basis.
10. ICON Orlando
This is a new addition to I-Drive since our last visit but it looks to be a great and full day out. Within ICON Orlando you can visit the Orlando Eye or The Wheel – a huge Ferris wheel promising to give you unbeatable views of Orlando. Madame Tussauds, The Sealife Centre, Skeleton Museum, Arcade Centre, 7D cinema and the Orlando Star Flyer but you could not pay me to go on that. Within ICON Orlando you will also find plenty of places to eat, drink and shop.
11. Dinner shows
If you’re looking for something to do in the evening then there are plenty of great family-friendly dinner shows to choose from. We had intended to try the Pirates Adventure Dinner Show. A family-friendly interactive pirate show. I recall going to something similar whilst on holiday in Spain as a child and thinking it was fantastic. The reviews for this show are all really positive and I have no doubt my children would have enjoyed it.
Other shows include The Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show at Wonderworks. Again a show promising to be an interactive, hilarious night for all ages. Or one for the older members of the family is Sleuths Mystery Dinner Show . An interactive comedy crime-solving dinner shows that is said to have you in stitches whilst attempting to crime-solving at the same time.
Mr Tammy is most upset we didn’t get to try this. Although situated in Kissimmee it is a very short distance from the hotels and attractions of International Drive. You can partake in pre-booked tours from half an hour on an airboat learning about the wildlife, alligators at speeds of up to 45 mph.
This is based at the Florida Mall and looks fantastic for kids. A great excuse to get out of the tropical downpours or the scorching heat. With plenty of activities to keep your little ones busy for hours, including painting, colouring, interactive activities and a play area.
14. Helicopter Tours
Finally, one thing we did on our first visit but not our second was the Helicopter tour. There are loads in Orlando and you can find some at quite good prices. For me, it was an unforgettable experience. Whilst we didn’t tour for long – or far it was something I won’t forget
So if you’re looking for a family vacation with city elements, theme park attributes, non-stop fun and adventure then Orlando is definitely the place for you. This comprehensive list of things to do in Orlando besides Disney and Universal is no by means complete. I haven’t managed to include the Kennedy Space centre or the Orlando science center for example. There is plenty more to see and do that I just cannot fit into this post. Orlando is a holiday destination fun spot and we have always loved our time there.
Catch more of our time in Florida and the things to do in Orlando besides Disney in this holiday vlog. There are more of our time in Florida over on my channel.
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