Florida has stunning and varied scenery, and it would be a shame to come to Orlando and not venture beyond the theme parks. There are plenty of activities to tempt you to explore further afield. Whether you fancy lazily floating down river or prefer a more high-octane way to spend your time, Central Florida has something to offer everyone…
It’s around a four-hour drive from Orlando to the Everglades National Park, so an authentic Airboat trip around the Everglades would require an overnight stop. However, Wild Florida offers the Airboat experience a little closer to Orlando. It’s in Kenansville, about an hour’s drive south from Orlando. It offers Airboat tours arounda 15-acre Central Florida wildlife park.
Gatorland is surprisingly close to Orlando’s main theme parks, just north of Kissimmee, and a really memorable day out! As well as the free-flight aviary, the petting zoo and, of course, the alligator marsh, you can enjoy such shows as the ‘upclose encounters show’ and the ‘alligator wrestling show’. This year, a new ‘Screamin’ Gator Zip Line’ opens; giving you the opportunity to fly down the wires suspended over swamps full of crocodiles and alligators, should that float your boat. A really unusual taste of Florida life!
Helicopter Tours operate out of Orlando and the wider area. Flying from Orlando or Kissimmee provides a totally unique view of the Orlando theme parks – you can fly over the Disney or Universal parks or, for a really memorable experience, watch Epcot’s award-winning fireworks from the sky! Some tours will fly you over downtown Orlando – a novel way to see Lake Eola, the Florida Citrus Bowl, AMWAY Arena, Orlando Expo Centre, Bob Carr Auditorium. Alternatively, fly out over the Florida wilderness and from your aerial viewpoint get a sense of the beauty and vastness of the everglades and mangroves of Central Florida.
There are many great trails criss-crossing the Central Florida area that can offer some equally amazing ways to experience wild Florida at its most beautiful. Local stables in Orlando or, a little further afield, authentic Floridian ranches give avid horse riders and novices alike many options for exploring Florida’s stunning parks and scenery on horseback.
A more chilled out and eco-friendly way to experience Florida’s amazing natural environment and wildlife is by kayak. Even within an hour’s drive of Orlando there are some amazingly peaceful and beautiful lakes, rivers, and natural springs to explore. There are a number of local kayak tour operators who will arrange day trips or kayaking by the hour. Paddling around some of Florida’s unique natural habitats shows you a whole other side to the region.
The Orange Flower State
While officially the Sunshine State, Florida is also famous for its oranges. The orange season runs right through the Winter months and into Spring, so if you are visiting Orlando between November and April there’s an opportunity to really get a feel for Florida’s agricultural heritage by visiting a ‘U-Pick’ (pick your own grower) and in amongst those sweet Florida orange groves picking the fruit right off the trees.
If paddling a kayak isn’t your style, then how about tubing? There are a number of locations where you can hire inflatable rings (inner tubes, hence ‘tubing’) at sites along the river. Leave your car where you hire the tube and the operators will take you and your inflatables (plus drinks, a picnic and plenty of suntan lotion) upriver so you can lazily float back downstream again, hopefully spotting some amazing wildlife on the way… One of the most well-known tubing spots is a two-hour drive north from Orlando in the Ichetucknee Springs State Park where, on a quiet day, it’s not unheard of to spot woodstorks, otters, deer, turtles or even ibis.