When one thinks of Orlando, it’s pretty hard not to envision Disney World. Being Orlando’s most visited attraction, Disney World sees more than 20 million visitors per year.
But is there more to Orlando than just Disney and the other theme parks like Universal and Discovery Cove?
If you’re wondering how to fill any downtime in Orlando when the theme parks may be closed or when you simply need a break from Mickey, there are thankfully a number of non-Disney things to keep you entertained.
Try checking out these other great nearby attractions to fill any downtime you may have.
Tips for Filling Your Downtime on a Trip to Walt Disney World
Gambling in Orlando
If you’re a gambler, sadly there aren’t a lot of options for you in Orlando despite it offering almost limitless entertainment. Not only do theme parks like Disney and Universal not offer casinos or gambling of any kind, Florida’s greyhound racing was also recently banned with all venues like the one in Orlando ceasing its races and wagers.
The chances of a Casino coming to Orlando any time soon are very low thanks to a new bill that would require 60% of Floridian voters to vote in favor of one being built. That means visitors will have to stick to online gambling at sites like royalvegascasino.com, to get their gambling fix while in Orlando.
You do have the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, one of the largest casinos in the US, however it’s a bit too far for most to visit from Orlando.
Your only real option for placing a bet near Disney is at the Orange City Racing & Card Club which offers weekly and monthly Texas Hold’em Poker Tournaments as well as daily Vegas-style poker games including High Card Flush Poker, Face Up Pai Gow Poker, and Ultimate Texas Hold’em.
With both Disney World and Florida’s Seminole tribe both teaming up against new casinos in the area due to potential competition for both gambling and entertainment revenue, gambling via your smartphone while visiting Orlando may be your best bet.
Shopping in Orlando
For the shopaholics, there’s definitely no shortage of shopping in Orlando. A great option for when the weather isn’t cooperating, there are a number of large shopping centers to load up an anything you may want or need.
The Florida Mall is Central Florida’s largest and one of the largest single-story malls in the U.S. Right now, they even offer a free drive-thru Covid-19 testing clinic set up in the parking lot.
Meanwhile, at The Mall at Millenia, you’ll discover a luxury shopping experience with over 150 stores which include many luxury boutiques selling top luxury designer brands such as Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, Chanel, Rolex, and more.
For large discounts on an enormous range of designer brands, head to the Orlando International Premium Outlets on International Drive where you’ll discover nearly 200 stores including the Nike Factory Store, Last Call by Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th.
As an alternative to the Southeast’s largest outlet center, the nearby scaled down stores of Orlando Vineyard International Outlets offers even more great deals.
You can save even more as a tourist or Florida resident by planning your Orlando shopping trip during one of Florida’s sales tax holidays where you can avoid paying the state’s 6% sales tax on many goods.
Getting Artsy in Orlando
There are a surprising amount of quality art museums in Orlando that give the city a bit of culture.
The Mennello Museum of American Art is a Smithsonian American Art Museum which displays a fine collection of works from contemporary American artists including once Florida resident and American folk painter Earl Cunningham.
Mennello charges a small entrance fee, but its outdoor sculpture garden is free for the public to enjoy. You can also sign up for one of their Sunday Yoga in the Gardens sessions where you’ll be downward-dogging amongst an array of sculptures and the 350-year-old Spanish moss covered oak they call The Mayor. The cost of the yoga session includes a pass to see the inside galleries.
Fans of Tiffany will want to check out the Morse Museum of American Art which contains the world’s most comprehensive collection of works from the American Art Nouveau artist Louis Comfort Tiffany. Louis was a design director for Tiffany & Co., yes the jeweler store, and worked in stained glass, ceramics, and of course jewelry.
In addition to the many works of Tiffany including his famous leaded-glass lamps and windows, the museum also displays early painted portraits of prominent American figures, American pottery, and Chinese blue and white porcelain.
Meanwhile, over at the Orlando Museum of Art, visitors can browse an extensive collection of ancient art from the Americas including pottery, textiles, and ornate precious metal ornaments from civilizations like the Inca and Maya. The museum also has a nice collection of paintings from America’s colonial period right up to the mid-1900s.
You can also catch a bit of ballet, comedy, and musicians at Downtown Orlando’s Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
Step Aboard the Titanic
OK, you won’t be able to step aboard the actual Titanic in Orlando since it still mostly lies at the bottom of the sea, but you can enjoy the next best things at Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition.
Step back in time more than a hundred years to experience one of the grandest ships that ever was, thanks to either a self-guided or 2-hour guided tour with an artifact specialist.
Part museum and part interactive experience, the exhibition not only features detailed replicas of the many rooms and features of the famous ship including the Grand Staircase, it also features costumed actors which offer up intriguing facts about the Titanic. You may run into the Captain or one of the many characters portrayed in the famous film.
You can also lay your eyes upon hundreds of authentic artifacts recovered from wreck recovery expeditions including a giant piece of the actual Titanic’s hull.
All up, there are 17 galleries to explore and they also host special Titanic First Class Dinner Galas which include a Captain’s cocktail party, first-class dinner, and reenactments of the night the ship went down.
Learn About Early Orlando
Want to know what Orlando looked like before Mickey and the gang became residents? A visit to the Orange County Regional History Center will provide you with detailed knowledge of more than 2,000 years of Central Florida and early Orlando history.
The history center is housed in a nearly 100-year-old county courthouse with three floors of exhibits. You’ll be able to see how Orlando went from being a simple agricultural region of orange groves and cattle ranches to a mega-tourist destination full of world famous theme parks.
Learn about the lives of Central Florida’s first indigenous peoples and how they were eventually influenced by the early Spanish invaders.
You also gain insight into early African Americans living in the state as well as how the first travelers to the area arrived, be it via steamboat, train, or horse.
Image credit: Miosotis Jade, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Spot Some Gators
You’re likely to spot gators basking around nearly any body of water in Florida, but for guaranteed sightings you can head out on either an adventurous airboat tour or check out Gatorland.
Gatorland is the closer option to Disney World and offers up the chance to see hatchling gators, giant 14-foot monsters, and even albino gators. In addition to simply viewing the gators, you can also zip-line over them, watch feeding shows, or become a trainer for the day.
There are also endangered Florida panthers onsite, a free-flight aviary, and their famous boardwalk through one of Florida’s largest and most accessible wading bird rookeries.
The gators at Gatorland have been rescued or relocated to the park after being deemed a nuisance in neighborhoods as an alternative to being culled for their meat and skin.
For a more natural alligator viewing experience, head 40 minutes south of Orlando to hop on an airboat with Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures in Kissimmee.
You’ll hover over the headwaters of the Everglades in search of gators and other native Florida wildlife. Choose between half-hour and hour tours or opt for a special sunset or night-time airboat tour.
As you can see, Orlando offers much more than just Disney World and I haven’t even yet suggested hanging out with celbs at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, practicing your skydiving at iFly Indoor Skydiving, or riding the giant 400-foot-tall observation wheel at ICON Park for aerial views of Disney World, Downtown Disney, and the rest or Orlando.
Be sure to check out these great Orlando attractions the next time you have a bit of downtime during your Disney getaway or simply need a break from crying and screaming children and possibly a few adults.