When you think of Orlando, Florida a few things probably come to mind. A famous mouse, perhaps? A movie-centric theme park? Shamu? Yep, Orlando is famous for theme parks and attractions, but there’s more to the sunshine state. Follow my guide to lesser-known attractions, and you’ll find a new Orlando favorite while avoiding headache-inducing crowds and never-ending lines.
1. Jump Out of an Airplane (or at least act like it!)
One of Orlando’s most unique attractions is iFly Orlando, an indoor skydiving facility. It’s the perfect place to get the rush of a freefall without actually having to jump out of a plane. With the help of skilled instructors, I was able to float, spin and fly through a vertical wind tunnel with ease. Okay, so I might have felt little to no control over my body movements but the feeling of weightlessness was without a doubt unforgettable. It. Was. Awesome.
2. Get Your Gator On
Central Florida may be famous for a certain mouse, but the real mascots of Florida can be found at Gatorland. The 110-acre wildlife preserve showcases thousands of alligators, as well as a one-of-a-kind zipline over gators. Yes, you read that right! Make sure that harness is tight because when I zipped on the Screamin’ Gator Zipline they looked hungry!
Have you ever witnessed gator wrestling? How about gator jumping? With alligators and crocodiles being the central focus of Gatorland, you can watch these powerful creatures perform peculiar yet entertaining feats. You know what else gators are good at? Eating hot dogs! Buy a pack at the park and watch them go wild during a feeding frenzy. I also recommend holding a baby gator for a facebook-worthy photo-op.
3. Go Wild with Outdoor Adventures
Many travel to Orlando without ever experiencing the natural, outdoor-based attractions available. What a mistake! Discover the picturesque countryside at Forever Florida. Located southeast of Kissimmee, outdoor adventures range from The Rattlesnake – a zipline/roller coaster combo – to the Panther Pounce, a freefall challenge of 68 feet! These daring activities are also complemented by milder ones.
Saddle up for a horseback ride on historic trails. Trek through a charming ranch via coach safari. Forever Florida celebrates a side of Orlando many miss, which makes it all the more worth a visit.
4. Take to the Water
Tempted to visit a water park while in Orlando? Mix it up with a lesser-known attraction instead: The Paddling Center at Shingle Creek. Located in the headwaters to the Everglades, this natural attraction beats the man-made ones any day.
Choose from solo and guided kayaking, canoeing and paddle tours. You’ll float down Shingle Creek, passing under oak tree canopies and spotting wild animals along the way, creating one of those I-can’t-believe-I-didn’t-do-this-before experiences.
5. Visit Earth’s Spaceport
Only a select few are able to leave our planet. But for the rest of us, still fascinated by outer space, Kennedy Space Center is an amazing addition to your Orlando itinerary. Drive about an hour east to Florida’s Space Coast. Explore the only place on Earth where you can tour launch pads, meet actual NASA astronauts, train in space flight simulators and view actual rocket launches.
Get up close to Space Shuttle Atlantis, experience Astronaut Training and check out the Launch Control Center. It may on Earth, but Kennedy Space Center still provides outta-this-world insight into space exploration.
6. Glide through the Glades
Cruise through the Central Florida Everglades aboard an airboat, It is a high-speed yet safe way to see the wetlands of Orlando. You’ll find yourself in the middle of nowhere, which is exactly the point! Outfitters such as Boggy Creek Airboat Rides, Wild Florida Airboats and Wild Willys Airboat tours excel at traversing the diverse terrain. With the wind whipping through your hair, you’ll idle down the canals of Lake Toho or Cypress Lake. Then, prepare to soar over swamp waters at speeds up to 45 mph. Keep a look out for gators and rare birds like Bald Eagles too.
7. See Modern Art Come to Life
Maybe you think you’re not a show person? I get that — some people aren’t the sit-back-and-clap type of entertainment enjoyer. If that’s the case, DRIP might appeal to you. It’s not that much off the beaten path, as it’s located on International Drive in Orlando, but the show is certainly unusual. Set in an Industrial Drive bar, DRIP is part rock concert, part art installation. Dancers use sand, paint, water and other elements to create an explosive demonstration. Be prepared to get messy, a little wet and have a whole lot fun!
Ashley Dickey is a Reserve Orlando’s travel expert, visiting Orlando to find the best travel tips, money-saving deals and insider information.