While Central Florida is widely known for its big three—Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld (see our Theme Parks story in this issue)—there are many other attractions you want to experience on your next visit.
In Lakeland, book a tour of the 260-acre Safari Wilderness Ranch and marvel at more than 450 exotic African and Asian animals. Nearby, you’ll find the Water Ski Hall of Fame and Museum 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. They are currently expanding from 13 acres to 88 acres, which will include the addition of a two-mile drive-though safari and a zip line. Old Town in Kissimmee offers a Ferris wheel, a haunted house, themed restaurants, an arcade and shopping. For more rides and go-karts, head over to Fun Spot America–Kissimmee.
The Showcase of Citrus in Clermont is a family-owned roadside citrus farm and cattle ranch at which families can pick grapefruits, lemons, tangerines and oranges. Don’t forget the handcrafted creamsicles. At Clermont’s Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards, kids and adults can take turns stomping grapes.
The Crayola Experience in Orlando’s Florida Mall is a family attraction offering more than 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 home to the SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium, Madame Tussauds wax museum and The Wheel, a 400-foot-tall observation wheel at ICON Park. Opening in Spring, Dezerland Action Park is an indoor theme park featuring the Orlando Auto Museum which will include cars from James Bond and Batman movies. At nearby iFly Orlando, test your bravery at this indoor skydiving experience. Don’t tell the kids, but at WonderWorks indoor amusement park on International Drive, they can learn while having fun in this 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 around 10,000.
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 attraction, known for its famous glass-bottom boats.