Orlando is an exciting destination, and with its diverse range of entertainment, this is a place which is ideal for every type of traveler; young singles, baby boomers, foodies, and outdoor adventurous types too.
The city is home to more than a dozen theme parks, that’s true; you’ll find the likes of Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando among the funnest things to do. But once you come down from the coasters there’s also an incredible mix of cultural events, fantastic nature preserves, high-end outlet shopping centers, and fabulous food.
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a trip to the theme parks, but we’ve put together a list of things to do once you’re ready to explore Orlando itself.
Things To Do in Orlando (Beyond the Theme Parks)
Meet an Astronaut
If you want to meet an astronaut and tour real launch sites, one of the only places you can do this in the world is at Orlando’s Kennedy Space Center.
The Space Center is organized into Mission Zones, which sees you move through the U.S. Space Program in chronological order: Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Shuttle and beyond. There are thousands of attractions here and things to do, so you could easily spend a full day, if not two.
You can try out a spaceflight simulator, visit the US astronauts hall of fame, or walk among giant rockets from NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. But it’s actually meeting an astronaut that is usually the highlight of the day.
Each day visitors get the rare opportunity to meet veteran NASA astronauts. During Astronaut Encounter, commanders, pilots, mission and payload specialists who have lived and worked in space share their experiences during a live presentation and question & answer session.
Your Astronaut Encounter involves personally shaking hands and taking a photo with one of the few who have traveled to space. You might also visit the Astronaut of the Day in Space Shuttle Atlantis at the Shuttle Express for their autograph.
The cool thing about Kennedy Space Center is that it’s actually a working spaceflight facility. This does mean though that tours and times are subject to change without notice, so keep this in mind if you’re visiting from around the State, or catching a bus from Tampa to Orlando.
Orlando has a huge range of museums, with everything from sophisticated art and culture, to educational science, and wax figures at Madame Tussauds. If you’re looking for a unique museum experience though, Orlando has quite a few.
The Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins is the only museum in the city that showcases European art. They have over 700 paintings from the 14th through the 21st centuries, and they run free tours that teach you how to observe and appreciate works from different time periods and cultures.
Other art museums in Orlando include the Orlando Museum of Art, the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, the The Mennello Museum of American Art, and the Art & History Museums.
The Orlando Science Center is a fantastic hands on science museum that has four floors of interactive exhibit halls, labs and workshops. It’s tonnes of fun for both kids and adults, especially the flight lab, which is a Virtual Reality simulator that puts you in the cockpit of a plane for a real-world-like training mission.
And then there’s the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum where you can take a self-guided tour of the strange, the shocking, and the truly bizarre. You can pose with the world’s tallest man, lose yourself in some mind-boggling visual illusions, and even see a vampire killing kit.
This is not a theme park, but it is an entertainment complex, where you’ll find everything from the Sea Life Aquarium, Madame Tussaud’s, a range of different rides, and SKELETONS: Museum Of Osteology.
SKELETONS: Museum Of Osteology is a natural history museum with over 500 real animal skeletons on display across 40 different exhibits. It’s actually one of only two skeleton museums in the whole country, and not only can you see skeletons from a 2” shrew to a 22’ killer whale, you can watch flesh-eating beetles in action!
The ICON Wheel is also here, and this is the tallest observation wheel on the United States East Coast. It’s 400 feet tall, and weighs in at 3 million pounds, which is 300 school buses! Float effortlessly above the idyllic Orlando skyline for breathtaking views.
Boggy Creek Airboat Tours
An airboat ride through the awe-inspiring Florida Everglades is something you shouldn’t miss when visiting Orlando. The Everglades are completely wild and unpopulated, and speeding through the “Amazon of North America” is a surreal experience.
Dominated by grassland and swamp, dotted with tree islands, forests and rivers, the whole area has a very wild beauty about it, and is a perfect example of what “old Florida” used to look like before development began.
The Everglades provides an important habitat for a number of rare and endangered species, and you’re sure to catch glimpses of endangered wildlife as you skim across the glassy water. Keep an eye out for Alligators lurking in the swamps!
The best time to see alligators is early in the morning (before 10:00 AM) during hot weather, or later in the day in the cold. If you’re wanting to kick the adventure up another notch, you can opt for the tour where you actually drive the boat!
Swim With Manatees
Just north of Orlando, Blue Springs State Park is a great opportunity to spend time in nature, while also swimming with manatees. This is one of the largest winter gathering sites for manatees in Florida, and you can see hundreds of them in the colder months.
If you’re overwhelmed with trying to put together your own itinerary, Ocean Florida offers different tour options for exploring the city, and yes, theme parks!
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