While Central Florida is widely known for its big three—Walt Disney World, Universal Studios (which debuted its new 28-acre water park Volcano Bay in 2017) and SeaWorld—there are many other attractions you want to experience on your next visit.Whether nature-made or artificial, the Central Florida region is home to plenty of options that make it easy for the family to cool off or explore.
In Lakeland, drop by the 260-acre Safari Wilderness Ranch and experience 400 species of African, Asian and American animals. Nearby, you’ll find the Water Ski Hall of Fame in Polk City.
For an airboat ecotour, check out Wild Florida Airboat & Wildlife Park in Kenansville on Cypress Lake. Get an in-depth look at the ’gators, birds and eagles. Later, head north to Old Town in Kissimmee, where you’ll find rides for the kids, go-karts, a haunted house, themed restaurants, an arcade and shopping.
The Crayola Experience in Orlando’s Florida Mall is a family attraction offering 25 hands-on experiences. Or take part in the Grande Lakes Orlando catch-and-release fish program and help track data for the Florida Wildlife Commission. Orlando’s International Drive is now home to the 25,000-square-foot Sea Life Aquarium, Madame Tussauds wax museum and the Orlando Eye, a 400-foot-tall observation wheel.
Don’t tell the kids, but at WonderWorks Indoor Amusement Park on International Drive, they can learn while having fun in its 35,000 square feet of edutainment. Fun Spot America, a family-owned theme park in the area, features multi-level go-karts, thrill rides, family rides and an arcade. (There is also a Kissimmee location.) Just north of downtown Orlando, the Orlando Science Center offers four stories of interactive, hands-on exhibits, an observatory, a café and the Dr. Phillips CineDome, a 300-seat theater for films and planetarium shows.
Venture over to Black Hammock Adventures in Oviedo for airboat rides on Lake Jesup, home to the largest alligator population in Florida, estimated at 9,000. Take the family waterskiing, wakeboarding, wakeskating, wakesurfing and kneeboarding at the Orlando Watersports Complex. A short drive west, Lake Louisa in Clermont is the largest in a chain of 13 lakes and designated an Outstanding Florida Water Way. Grab a pole or canoe and relish in the beauty of Lake County.
Excellent outdoor activities await north of Orlando, including Lake Apopka Loop Trail, offering 15 miles of family biking where the odds of seeing a ’gator are fantastic. Want to tube down a crystal-clear river fed by natural springs? Located in Apopka, local favorite Rock Springs Run at Kelly Park offers swimming, hiking trails, picnicking and concessions.
The Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Sanford is home to more than 400 animals and the Barnyard Buddies Children’s Zoo. Feed the giraffes, then cool off in the Wharton-Smith Tropical Splash Ground.
Near Ocala, a must-visit in this region is the venerable Silver Springs State Park, Florida’s first tourist attraction, known for its famous glass-bottom boats.
Another attraction for adventure-seekers is Blue Spring State Park, home to hundreds of manatees, where the clear 73˚F water temperature welcomes swimmers, snorkelers and scuba divers. Picnic on the beach or stay the night at the campground. In the Ocala National Forest, the southernmost forest in the United States, dozens of campgrounds and 600 lakes await.
For water enthusiasts, Highlands County is home to 95 crystal-clear lakes. In Polk County, the Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park covers more than 8,000 acres of scrub, sandhill and flatwoods land.
Like fishing? In Osceola County, Lake Tohopekaliga, known as Lake Toho, covers 19,000 acres, spans 42 miles in diameter and is a hotbed for bass.
Zoos, tours, tubing, hiking, swimming—what’s not to love about the many attractions in Central Florida?
Now it’s your turn! Which places have you been? Where do you want to go? Please share your thoughts and experiences with us all!