Everybody knows Orlando is the Theme Park Capital of the World – thanks to Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, we now have a themed diversion for every age, budget and taste – but the big parks aren’t the only game in town. Check out the listings for more info on Orlando’s parks, gardens, museums, airboats, wildlife and oddities.
Walt Disney World
Includes four theme parks – Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom – and two water parks, Disney’s Blizzard Beach and Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon.
The various parks are located along Buena Vista Drive and Epcot Center Drive in Lake Buena Vista; 407-939-7211; disneyworld.disney.go.com
Price of one-day ticket: $99 for Magic Kingdom; $94 for Epcot, Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom; $53 for Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon
Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure
Includes both Universal Studios, where the new Simpsons-themed Springfield land is now open, and Islands of Adventure, where the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is located.
6000 Universal Blvd.; 407-363-8000; universalorlando.com
Price of one-day ticket: $96 for each park
Includes SeaWorld, as well as the Aquatica water park.
7007 SeaWorld Drive; 407-363-2200; seaworldparks.com
Price of one-day ticket: $82 for SeaWorld, $46 for Aquatica
Includes LegoLand, as well as the LegoLand water park.
1 Legoland Way, Winter Haven; 863-318-5346; florida.legoland.com
Price of one-day ticket: $84, plus $14 for parking or $5 for shuttle
Bok Tower Gardens
1151 Tower Blvd., Lake Wales
A botanical and historical masterpiece designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., crowned with a neo-Gothic/art deco 205-foot bell tower. Open daily 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. $12 for adults, $3 for children.
Harry P. Leu Gardens
1920 N. Forest Ave.
Three miles of paved paths wind through truly gorgeous botanical displays, including the largest formal rose garden in Florida, a bamboo forest and a butterfly garden. You can also visit the historic on-site house museum. Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. $10 for adults, $3 children.
Mead Botanical Garden
1300 S. Denning Drive, Winter Park
This green oasis features bike paths, boardwalks and picnic areas full of native plants and wildlife. The park also features restored wetlands and riparian forests. This unique ecological oasis is a hidden gem in Winter Park. Open daily, 8 a.m. to dusk, free.
2267 Hempel Ave., Gotha
This unique garden was once the home of pioneering horticulturist Henry Nehrling, who liked to experiment with tropical and subtropical plants – he tested more than 3,000 types of plants here for the USDA. The gardens and Nehrling’s historic home are currently being restored, but private tours are available by appointment.
Central Florida Railroad Museum
101 S. Boyd St., Winter Garden
A cool little museum located in adorable, walkable downtown Winter Garden. This museum features the finest collection of Florida railroad memorabilia in the state, housed in the former Tavares and Gulf railroad depot. Free, but donations are appreciated.
Fort Christmas Historical Park and Museum
1300 Fort Christmas Road, Christmas
An interesting little regional history museum that showcases pioneer life in Florida, housed in a replica Seminole War-era log structure. You’ll also find seven restored Florida cracker-style homes, as well as picnic pavilions, playgrounds and basketball courts. Free.
Florida Air Museum
4175 Medula Road, Lakeland
This museum, adjacent to the Lakeland Regional Airport, isn’t too far from Dinosaur World, so you can combine a visit to both and make a day of it. Check out the collection of Howard Hughes memorabilia on permanent display, including leather flying suits, scrapbooks and personal artifacts that once belonged to the world’s most notorious recluse. Admission: $10.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
State Road 405 east of Titusville
You really can’t get a feel for how massive a Saturn V rocket is until you take a stroll under one suspended just a few feet above your head, and this is the only place in the world to do that. Take guided tours of launch areas, see historic rockets, ride the Shuttle Launch Experience and see the Astronaut Hall of Fame. Admission: $50 gets you a ticket, plus admission to the Astronaut Hall of Fame.
Kissimmee Air Museum and Warbird Adventures
233 N. Hoagland Blvd., Kissimmee
See classic planes from the early days of flight to the height of the Cold War. Then fly a real World War II-era trainer plane, with an instructor in the rear seat. Admission: $7 to the museum, $250 for a 15-minute plane ride.
Orange County Regional History Center
65 E. Central Blvd.
The 1927 county courthouse includes permanent exhibits from natural Florida through Disney’s coming. Traveling exhibits broaden its appeal, and a local history archive awaits scholars. Admission: $15.
Orlando Science Center
777 E. Princeton St.
How can you not love a museum that’s home to SimMan, a life-sized simulated sick person whose vital signs you can follow until he flatlines? The science center also has Florida’s largest refractor telescope and all sorts of hands-on learning experiences that’ll appeal to kids and adults alike. Admission: $19.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
8201 International Drive
You’ve probably seen Ripley’s “odditoriums” at pretty much every tourist trap you’ve ever visited; this one is home to a full-sized car made out of matchsticks, a portrait of Beyoncé made out of candy and an actual human shrunken head, all housed inside a building that looks like it’s falling into a sinkhole. Admission: $16.99.
Titanic the Experience
7324 International Drive
The 20,000-square-foot interactive museum offers a guided tour of authentic artifacts by costumed actors portraying the famous passengers and crew of the “unsinkable” ship. Admission: $21.95.
Rides and Adventures
Air Florida Helicopter Charters
8990 International Drive
You’ll be surprised how exhilarating it is to go up in a ’copter right off I-4. Tours give you a bird’s-eye view of the theme parks, the malls, downtown Orlando and more. A variety of tours are available starting at $20.
Fun Spot America
5700 Fun Spot Way
Go-karts, bumper boats, carousels, slides, an arcade and more make this park worth taking the kids to check it out – there’s no admission fee here, either. Pay by the ride or buy an armband for unlimited riding fun.
6805 Visitors Circle, Orlando
Skydive without a plane: Fly in the vertical wind tunnel. Training session and use of flight gear included. Reservations are suggested. Admission: $59.95.
12651 International Drive
Tours run 9 a.m. to sunset daily, ranging from $26.99 to $269.99.
5770 W. Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway, Kissimmee
A pay-as-you-ride amusement park set in an Old Florida-style downtown setting. From bumper cars to roller coasters to Ferris wheels, Old Town has rides suitable for all ages. There’s shopping, dining, music and special events, too. Open Monday-Friday, 2-11 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday 10 a.m.-11 p.m.
5519 W. Highway 192, Kissimmee
Tours run from 9 a.m. to sunset daily, starting at $26.99.
Orlando Speed World Dragway
19442 E. Colonial Drive
If you’re into drag racing, this is the place to be. Check out street dragsters, motorcycles, old hot rods and even school buses as they go flat-out. Street drags every Friday and Saturday, and drifting events, too. If you’re into Nascar, you’ll want to check this place out. Check the schedule online for ev
Wet ’n Wild water park
6200 International Drive
The water-park person’s water park: Experience thrill rides with vertical drops, multi-person tubing rides, toboggan slides and more. If you like your water rides on the milder side, float along the lazy river or splash in the wave pool. Admission: $48.99 (half price after 2 p.m. on specified days).
9067 International Drive
Housed in an upside-down building, this attraction has high-tech effects that simulate earthquakes, hurricanes and a hang-gliding experience. Plus indoor zip lines, a 4D theater ride and more.
Open 9 a.m. to midnight. Admission is $24.99.
Boggy Creek Airboat Rides
2001 E. Southport Road, Kissimmee
This airboat company offers scenic nature tours, night time rides and more. Thirty-minute tours start at $26.95.
Air Boat Rides at MidWay
28501 E. Colonial Drive,
You are almost guaranteed to see gators – lots of them – on this popular airboat tour. It’s the one we always take visitors from out of town to experience. Open 9:30 a.m. daily, night tours available. Tours start at $40 for one hour.
Audubon Center for Birds of Prey
1101 Audubon Way, Maitland
This rehab center for these cool birds, located in a 1920s bungalow set on Lake Sybelia, is where you get up close and personal with the awesome raptors. There’s a walking trail and aviaries housing injured birds that can’t be released back into the wild. Admission: $5.
Black Hammock Adventures
2356 Black Hammock Fish Camp Road, Oviedo
Airboat tours of gator-choked Lake Jessup start at $26.95. There’s a fish restaurant on premises that serves mean fried seafood, the Lazy Gator bar where you can have a beer and catch live music. There are even a few caged gators for tourists to gawk at, too.
Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens
3755 N.W. Highway 17-92, Sanford
Home to more than 400 animals, not counting the Insect Zoo. They also have a couple of really cool ziplines (check the sports and recreation section for details). Admission: $14.95.
6000 Discovery Cove Way
If SeaWorld doesn’t get you close enough, try across the road where you can actually swim with fish and dolphins. Prices vary, but start at $219. Reservations are required.
4755 N. Kenansville Road, St. Cloud
Eco-safaris of a 4,700-acre Florida nature preserve by horseback, open-air coach or zipline offer views of a traditional Cracker-style ranch, gators, black bears and other wildlife. Overnight horseback tours available. Safaris start at $32 (open-air coach) to $85 (zipline).
14501 S. Orange Blossom Trail
Gatorland is a roadside attraction turned eco-preserve. The flesh-eating monsters roam (almost) free, along with many more scary things. Watch them swim, eat, sleep, wrestle and jump. Learn about them. Embrace them. Well, not literally. You know what we mean. Admission: $23.99.
Jungle Adventures Nature Park
26205 State Road 50, Christmas
Kind of like Gatorland, but smaller and more intimate, this roadside attraction takes in injured and abandoned wildlife for rehab. Enter through the mouth of the “largest gator in Florida,” a 200-footer that used to double as the home of the park’s original owner. Inside, you’ll see rarities such as a Florida panther and gray wolves. Admission: $23.95.
Kissimmee Swamp Tours
4500 Joe Overstreet Road, Kenansville
Day and evening times are flexible. Sixty- to 90-minute tours on Lake Kissimmee start at $47.
Old Fashioned Airboat Rides
Christmas (directions provided after reservation is made)
Look for gators and otters and spoonbills on this 90-minute ride through the marshes of the St. John’s River in a six-person airboat. Reservations only. Admission: $50.
Marsh Landing Adventures
4275 Neptune Road, St. Cloud
Times are flexible. Lake Toho tours start at $49.95 for one hour.
Reptile World Serpentarium
5705 E. Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway, St. Cloud
Founded in 1972 as a research facility for the production of venom, this working snake farm opened to tourists in 1976. If you like watching deadly snakes get milked, this is really your only option in Central Florida. Admission: $8.75.
St. John’s Rivership Co.
433 N. Palmetto Ave., Sanford
Cruise on Lake Monroe and the St. Johns River. Lunch cruises start at $43.39 most days, and a 7:30 p.m. Saturday moonlight dining and dancing cruise starts at $60.19.
Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour
312 E. Morse Blvd., Winter Park
Take a 12-mile pontoon boat tour on three lakes and two canals winding through the city. You’ll skim by Rollins College and several mansions to see how the other half lives. Tours leave hourly. Admission: $12 adults.
5145 Harvey Tew Road, Plant City
More than 150 life-size outdoor models of dinosaurs rule over a fossil dig, museum and lots of paleontological-themed activities. Admission: $14.95 adults.
Walt Disney World Resort
1490 E. Lake Buena Vista Drive, Lake
Parents, Downtown Disney is on the Walt Disney World campus, it’s got Disney-related decor that changes with the seasons and it’s got fun stuff for kids to look at, including cool stores and restaurants that’ll make them think they’re actually at Disney. Best part: Admission to Downtown Disney is completely free.
Green Meadows Petting Farm
1368 S. Poinciana Blvd., Kissimmee
Get your shoes dirty with 300 farm animals. Kids can ride ponies, go on a hayride and pet donkeys, geese, chickens and even an Asian water bufallo. They’ll even get to learn a little bit about how a farm works.
Holy Land Experience
4655 Vineland Road
Stories from the Bible re-enacted in a high-tech mockup of ancient Jerusalem. Admission: $45 for adults.
Pinocchio’s Marionette Theater
451 E. Altamonte Drive, Altamonte Springs
A full-time marionette theater offering daily shows great for kids ages 3 through 10, but still good, clean fun for kids of all ages. Showtimes vary. Call or visit the website for more information. Admission: $6.
Some suggestions for making the most of your theme-park experience
Do your research before you go
You probably won’t be able to make it to every attraction, so think about which attractions in each park interest you the most and plan your visit accordingly. There are tons of useful apps for iPhone and iPad that can help – we like Disney Mobile Magic, My Disney Experience, Disney World Wait Times and Universal Orlando Wait Times, all of which are free.
Get the best deal possible
You should also get online and compare the prices for multi-day tickets versus single-day tickets – you’ll almost always get more bang for your buck if you buy a multi-day pass.
Trust us, you don’t want to be lugging around any extra crap on a sweaty afternoon at a crowded park. If there’s anything you really need that you didn’t remember to bring, you can probably buy it at the park.
Make restaurant reservations in advance
Way in advance. Unless you’re cool with the cafeteria-style fare offered at the food pavilions at the parks. Some of the better restaurants at the parks have insanely long waiting lists – as in six months long.
Don’t expect a discount just because you live here
Gone are the days when the parks courted locals. With the exception of Universal, which offers an annual pass to Florida residents for $174.99 (regular price is $199.99), none of the parks offer Florida resident discounts anymore.
That’s the goal of going to the parks, right? So many people seem to forget that and allow themselves to get stressed out by the lines, crowds and frustrations of being out of their element. It’s supposed to be a good time, you guys. Don’t let it get to you.