- Courtesy photo
Formal Gardens and Botanical masterpieces
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. Admission: $10.
Mead Botanical Garden
1500 S. Denning Drive, Winter Park
This green oasis features bike paths, boardwalks and picnic areas set amongst native plants and wildlife, restored wetlands and riparian forests. This unique ecological oasis is a hidden gem. Open daily, 8 a.m. to dusk, free.
2267 Hempel Ave., Gotha
This 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 & Gulf railroad depot. Free.
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.
Fantasy of Flight
1400 Broadway Blvd. S.E., Polk City
This one’s a haul from downtown Orlando, but if you’re a plane buff, it’s worth the drive. See how old planes are restored, tour hangars holding more than 40 airplanes – some them are the last of their kind – or climb into the cockpit of a flight simulator. Admission: $25.95.
Florida Air Museum
4175 Medulla Road, Lakeland
This museum, adjacent to the Lakeland Regional Airport, isn’t too far from Fantasy of Flight, 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
Geek out over space exploration? Then you’ll love the Space Center. 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 a day of free
admission to the Astronaut Hall of Fame (must be used within seven days of original ticket purchase).
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: $9.
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 flat lines? 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: $27.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
8201 International Drive
You’ve probably seen Ripley’s “odditoriums” before; this one is home to a full-sized car made out of matchsticks, a portrait of Beyonce 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: $19.99.
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 & 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, malls, downtown Orlando and more. A variety of tours are available starting at $20.
Fun Spot Action Park
5551 Del Verde 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
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 $30 to $400.
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 noon-11 p.m.
5519 W. Highway 192, Kissimmee
Tours run from 9 a.m. to sunset daily, staring at $40.50
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 Wednesday and Friday night. Check the schedule online for events.
Wet ’n Wild
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 extreme motion ride and more. Open 9 a.m. to midnight. Admission is $24.99.
Airboat Rides at Boggy Creek
2001 E. Southport Road, Kissimmee
Thirty-minute tours start at $26.95, with others available, day and night.
Air Boat Rides at MidWay
28501 E. Colonial Drive, Christmas
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 a.m. daily, night tours available. Tours start at $37.56 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 Jesup start at $25.95. There’s a fish restaurant on premises that serves mean fried seafood, and there’s a few caged gators for tourists to gawk at.
Central Florida Zoo & 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 really cool zip lines (check the sports and recreation section for details) and botanical gardens in one package. Admission: $14.95.
6000 Discovery Cove Way
If SeaWorld doesn’t get you close enough, try heading across the road where you can actually swim with fish and dolphins. Prices vary, but start at $169. 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: $24.99.
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: $21.95.
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
2271 E. Irlo Bronson Highway, Kissimmee
Times are flexible. Lake Toho tours start at $49.95 for one hour.
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.
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 to see how the other half lives. Tours leave hourly. Admission: $12 adults.
Boing! Jump Center
532 S. Econ Circle, Oviedo
The jump center contains 13,000 feet of giant trampolines. Play Boing! dodgeball, bounce on a trampoline half-pipe or hold your birthday party in a trampoline room. If you’re not into the organized activities, just show up for open jump. Admission: $12 for the first hour.
Blue Man Group
Aquos Theatre, CityWalk at Universal Orlando
What does Orlando have in common with Boston, New York, Las Vegas and Berlin? Blue Man Group, that experimental theater/comedy routine performed by three guys painted blue from head to toe. It’s comical, it’s loud, it’s a spectacle at times, and it’s always good fun. The Orlando show is a family-friendly affair, though super-young kids might find the loud percussion, flashing lights and other elements of surprise a little startling. Admission: $69.
Cirque du Soleil: La Nouba
Downtown Disney, 1478 E. Buena Vista Drive, Lake Buena Vista
It’s a circus, it’s an acrobatic adventure, it’s a magic show and more. Orlando’s Cirque troupe is everything you’ve come to expect from this Canadian band of performers. It’s colorful, it’s lively, it’s occasionally breathtaking – and just like everything else in the Disney family, it’s suitable entertainment for the whole family. Admission: $61.
Congo River Mini Golf
various locations around Orlando
You’re in Central Florida – how could you pass up the opportunity to play miniature golf on a course that’s also home to alligators you can feed, an arcade, a faux African safari and more. Answer: You can’t. Fun for everyone. Except the gators. Admission: $11.99.
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
1780 E. Lake Buena Vista Drive, Lake Buena Vista
Parents, here’s something you’ll want to know: 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. Open daily.
Green Meadows Petting Farm
1368 S. Poinciana Blvd., Kissimmee
Get your shoes dirty with 300 farm animals, petting them and learning how to do a variety of farm tasks. Admission: $23.
Holy Land Experience
4655 Vineland Road
Stories from the Bible reenacted in a high-tech mock-up of ancient Jerusalem. You can even witness a simulated crucifixion, which is held daily at the park. Admission: $40 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: $5.