Orlando Travel Guide – Theme Parks Not Included
There is no doubt Orlando is one of the most visited cities in the US by national and foreign travellers. It is a destination for those looking to have fun, and with over 95 attractions you will certainly need to spend more than three days there if you want to enjoy it properly.
And as you all know, Orlando is famous for its themed and amusement parks. Hence, since you probably have heard soo much about it, I will not be giving you tips related to it in this blog post. Don’t get me wrong, I love going to the these parks and letting my inner child out - they are so much fun! But this post was created for those of you who are looking to do something a bit different in Orlando, those who perhaps have been there before and/or want to try something less touristy and more local – in this case, this is the right blog post for you ;)
Below I will describe other alternatives on things to do in this city (things you might have not thought about hopefully!), and also tips on where to eat and stay, in case you are looking for a different experience rather than arriving there, staying in one of the Disney Hotels, go to the parks, eat at its restaurants and leave.
If you have found me on Instagram, you probably already know that I am a firm believer of experiencing the places more like a local and making the world your oyster, so there you go guys, I hope you find some of these other activities interesting!
Things to Do
The great thing about Orlando is that it has predominantly good weather all year around, although it can get very hot and humid in the summer, but if you are OK with that you will be just fine (but don’t forget to use your sunscreen).
Another point to keep in mind while trying to experience this area as a local is that this is the South of the U.S., so do expect to see a lot of the Southern traditions and points of view mixed with its own Florida’s elements.
To make this easy for you, I have created a list of some of the activities and things to do there, so you can skim through it and find those that best match your tastes:
Orlando Science Center – if you are looking for museums and are a little bit of a science geek, this is a great place for both kids and adults, with hands on experiences and planetarium shows.
Water Parks – now when looking to enjoy the warm weather, this is a great way to spend your days, especially when it’s too hot outside. There are several water parks in this city, and some examples are the Disney Typhoon Lagoon and Universal’s Volcano Bay.
Orlando Museum of Modern Art – if you are more into arts and would like to engage in something with a little more culture while in Orlando, this museum can be a great choice, as it has a lot of exhibitions showing some interesting modern American graphics.
Go out in Downtown Orlando – now if you are looking to do some partying and want to meet more of the locals, I would suggest going to bars in Downtown Orlando (instead of Downtown Universal, for example). In the center of Orlando you will find many nice streets with Southern style architecture, and the bars will line up next to each other, offering a wide arrange of entertainment.
Chocolate Kingdom – for those looking for a delicious and fun activity to do with the whole family, I would recommend visiting this chocolate factory and taking one of their interactive tours.
La Nouba Cirque de Soleil – I love going to different concerts and performances when visiting a new city, and I think, in Orlando's case, the Cirque de Soleil is one of my favourite options when doing so. You are all probably familiar with the Cirque De Soleil brand, so you know you will have a great time. This is not representative of the local culture per se, but I think it's worth to check out.
Giraffe Ranch – this is such a great opportunity for all ages if you want to see giraffes and get in touch with different animals. This ranch will not only allow you to encounter giraffes, but you can also go on customized vehicle safari camel expedition, go on a Segway safari, take a Llama trek, feed ring-tailed lemur, bongos and otters, go on a camel mini-safari, and encounter rhinos.
Go on a Balloon Ride – this one is not for the faint of heart and it is perfect for those who would love to see the Orlando area from above. I have to tell you it was a great experience waking up early and watching the sunrise over the horizon. You get to see all the nature, swamps and how the city is organized, finalized by a glass of champagne, making it an unforgetable experience. This is a perfect option for a romantic pursuit as well ;)
Main Event – this is an all American fun space that combines dining, virtual and interactive game play, high ropes adventure courses, billiards, 61 big screen TVs and state-of-the-art bowling in nearly 50,000 square feet.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex – I haven’t been to this place in many years and it is not located exactly in Orlando (it is located about one hour driving from there), but I could never forget the visit. This is where NASA made history, and even if you are not an astronaut fanatic, it is so interesting to learn the different aspects of space exploration. Definitely worth the visit.
Ice Bar Orlando – another way to get away from the hot weather outside (or to just enjoy a cocktail), is by visiting this Permanent Ice Bar, which is considered the largest in the World, with over 70 tons of hand-carved ice, which can definitely add to your fun and unique experiences while there.
Visit One of the Many Nearby Natural Springs – one really interesting and quite local activity to do around Orlando is visiting one of its nearby springs. These places can be super fun if you want to enjoy natural water and see wild animals from really close. This last time I was there I went to Blue Spring, located about 30 minutes driving from Orlando, where I was able to enjoy a picnic and jump in clear waters, as well as spot a manatee for the first time! Other nearby places are Silver Springs and Rainbow Springs.
SAK Comedy Lab – if you are looking to have some funny type of entertainment, this comedy place located in Downtown Orlando is a great choice and features live improv comedy performances most days of the week.
Kissimmee Swamp Tours – Florida is famous for its swamps, and a unique and different adventure would be to ride on a quick airboat through the lakes and rivers in towns and explore more of this landscape, as well as spot those famous alligators.
Play Golf – Florida also offers some amazing and first class golf courses, and even if you have never played before, you can sign up for a class in one of the many options and learn a bit more about this sport.
Where to Stay
Orlando is also one of those cities that offer a lot of accommodation options. There are a number of hotels in this city and the prices can be very affordable. But if you are looking to get away from Disney World or International Drive spots, and experience more of the local way of living, a great way to do it is by renting a room or even a whole house through Airbnb.
One of the great advantages of booking a house like that is that you can stay in one of the city's gated communities or streets, and really experience the all-American way of living. A lot of these places will have a pool and other facilities, which can be even better than hotels. In addition, you can save a good amount of money, especially if you are coming in a group. You will also be surprised that the prices you will see of the hotels won’t include other taxes and surcharges, which won't happen when you book through the Airbnb site.
In addition, you will be able to cook if you want to, as well as explore your local surroundings. Just by visiting the local supermarkets, restaurants and facilities, you will certainly be getting a much more honest experience of the area than if you would stay at one the resorts.
What to Eat
I have to be honest that this city can be a little bit annoying when it comes to food (and being a foodie), as I am not a fan of the amount of chain restaurants that there are in this city. I hope one day Orlando wakes up to a more locally produced and freshly made food scene, as well as offer healthier restaurant options. In this case, what I can recommend is search for more local places if you want to experience the local southern cuisine or even international ones (such as South American or Asian).
A good area to find less "chainy" type of venues or food is around downtown Orlando or around the Thornton Park district and farmers market.