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Visiting Orlando: 5 Things to Do That Aren’t Disney (and Theme Parks)

Need a day off from the theme parks? Check out these alternatives which range from a beach day to a shopping spree!

Wallace Ting | @TingWallace
December 6,  2019
Travel

Each year, thousands of tourists are drawn to Orlando, The City Beautiful, to visit its world-class theme parks. Disney WorldUniversal Studios, and Sea World are three of the largest theme parks in the area, offering an endless stream of attractions, rides, entertainment, and food.

For some visitors, consecutive full days of enduring the heat, lines, and being on your feet call for a “day off” from the parks. The good news is that Orlando and central Florida have no shortage of recreation options not named Disney World. Having recently relocated to the area, here are some ideas for your “theme park off day”:

The Beach

Orlando is centrally located, and that means it is only about an hour’s drive to either coastline. To the east lies Cape Canaveral (also the home of the Kennedy Space Center) and Daytona Beach. To the west is my personal favorite, Clearwater Beach. Clearwater Beach is located just west of Tampa Bay and recently voted America’s #1 Beach. Its white sand, excellent restaurants, and family-like atmosphere make it an ideal visit any time of the year.

Cleawater Beach, Florida, USA.

Golf

What visit to Florida would be complete without a round of golf? The majority of golf courses are located in the southwest area of town in the Disney World vicinity.  The courses are generally kept in good condition and open throughout the year due to the Florida sunshine. Disney World itself has a golf resort with two 18-hole courses, but if you’re willing to drive out about 30 minutes, I’d recommend Highlands Reserve Golf Course. It’s an 18-hole, par 72 course that has almost no water, which is quite rare for Florida. Greens fees and tee time waits are very reasonable for the area with excellent playability.

A round of golf might be the ideal day off from the parks, particularly during the Winter season when the weather is exceptionally pleasant.

Outlet Malls

In addition to the typical shopping options one might find in a large metropolitan area, Orlando is fortunate to have two large shopping outlet malls as well. Orlando International Premium Outlets and Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets are both located on Interstate 4, with the former right across the highway from Universal Studios and the latter essentially across the street from Disney Springs. Both outlet malls have Disney’s Character Warehouse stores, which might be a good option to pick up Disney memorabilia and toys at a discounted price.

Shop till you drop: Orlando has no shortage of shopping options, including two large outlet malls near the major theme parks.

Hiking Trails

The months of November to March are absolutely gorgeous in Florida, with temperatures ranging from 49 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit (9 to 26 degrees Celsius). While most of the country is facing freezing temperatures and inclement weather, why not head out and connect with mother nature during your Winter escape to Orlando?

One of the more underrated trails in the area is Shingle Creek Regional Park. Located only 15 minutes from Disney World, the park has several hiking trails and offers boat rentals to paddle up and down the creek. Although the creek eventually leads to Lake Tohopekaliga to the south (which then feeds into the Florida Everglades), be sure to ask the park employees about the water level, as at the time of this writing the creek is only open 1.5 miles to the north and south due to lack of rain this past season.

Shingle Creek Regional Park.

Museums

Orlando has a number of high-quality museums, such as the Orlando Museum of Art and the Mennello Museum of American Art. For those with children, it’s worth your while to check out the Orlando Science Center. There is a nice “Orange Grove” area for younger children, and older ones will be delighted by the exhibits, hands-on activities, and planetarium shows.

All three of the museums are located within walking distance of each other at Loch Haven Park, a 45-acre park that serves as a pleasant place for a stroll. Loch Haven Park also hosts the Orlando Fringe Festival, a two-week arts festival held in May and another mini-festival held in January. The Orlando Fringe Festival lays claim to be the longest-running Fringe Theatre Festival in the United States and has been named the best festival in Orlando for 22 consecutive years.

Orlando Museum of Art.

I first visited Orlando and Florida as most others do: a tourist on a weekend visit visiting the theme parks. Certain circumstances in my life have consistently drawn me closer to central Florida, and I’m proud to call Orlando my new adopted home. While I am certain there are more places and experiences to discover in the city, these are some of my favorites, thus far not named Disney, Universal, or Sea World.

Dr. Wallace Ting is originally from Dallas, Texas and began his career in education as a public school mathematics teacher in Texas and New York City (as part of the NYC Teaching Fellows program). He has also worked in international education for a total of 10 years as a Principal, Deputy Director, and Director in Guatemala, Colombia, and Nigeria. Currently, Dr. Ting resides in Orlando, Florida with his young son, Phillip and enjoys playing tennis, camping, and hiking.

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