If you do a little word association, Orlando is likely going to be very close to Disney for a lot of people. This is doubly so for anyone with a family. To be fair, the theme parks here are internationally known, and with good reason. Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking that this is all there is to Orlando. Whether you’re traveling with little kids or looking for a different type of vacation, Orlando has many attractions, highlights, and more. You may have to do a little bit of looking off the beaten path, though. Here’s some of the things to look out for.
Cape Canaveral is well known, but on the way is one of the top bird-watching destinations in the country — Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. This barrier island south of Orlando draws in all type of wintering birds from the peak season (November to March). If you’re outside of the season, there are still plenty of local animals to see, including endangered species like wood storks, manatees, and the gopher tortoise, the only tortoise east of Texas.
If you’re looking for a more controlled way to take in the local fauna, Gatorland may be more your speed. This 110-acre area combines a theme park and wildlife preserve, complete with exhibits of animals including the signature leucistic (white) alligators. Along with the animals, enjoy 1,200 feet of ziplines, a train ride, and an observation tower to overlook the area.
There are also many recreational activities you can do to take in the natural sights as well. Cycling, kayaking, hiking, paddleboarding, and more are all viable options. One particularly Floridian way to enjoy yourself is on an airboat ride. Take a ride at sunset for a combination of stunning view and thrills.
Dining And Shopping
Winter Park is an upscale area only 15 minutes from downtown Orlando, but visiting this area provides an experience all its own. On top of restaurants, boutiques, and wine bars, this neighborhood is also popular for boat tours when the weather is warm. Winter Park is also home to the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, home to the largest collection of Tiffany glass in the world.
Orlando is a welcome shopping destination for international visitors as well, but anyone can enjoy taking a little time to shop. A good start is one of the two major malls in the area: the upscale Mall at Millennia with several of luxury brands and The Florida Mall. There are also a wide set of outlet stores offering name brand clothes and home goods at discounted prices. Orlando Premium Outlets International Drive and Orlando Premium Outlets Vineland Avenue are the two main outlet malls.
Hunting For Values
While you’re checking out the various different side of Orlando life and fun, don’t forget the housekeeping of any vacation—the planning portion. Being a tourist-friendly city, you want to choose wisely what and why you spend your money. In some cases, it may make sense for you to cut money out of one aspect of your vacation to afford another. However, don’t let your love of low prices handicap you from true value.
By value, I mean getting the most for your money, not just spending the least. For example, staying in a cheaper hotel makes sense on paper. At the same time, you have to think of what you trade for that. If you’re far from any sort of attractions, and there’s no complementary travel service, you are spending extra money and time just getting to where you want to go. In addition, large groups are going to have a hard time finding a bargain arrangement.
For these reasons, booking a luxury hotel or resort package is a great way to get value. One company that has such offerings is Westgate Reservations, who serve travelers to major cities around the country, Orlando included. You can see some of the offerings that Westgate Reservations has at this site. Notably, vacation suites and villas provide adequate space for travel groups of up to 12 people. On days where your normal plans aren’t available, there are plenty of activities and amenities at all. In fact, a resort may be just the secret gem you were looking for during your Orlando stay.