August 2011: Orlando has hundreds of small operators hoping to collect a few dollars from tourists with free time. If you’re one of them, these smaller attractions can be found within 30 minutes of Disney World.
Important note: Since they’re skimming for tourist dollars and competing with each other, most offer some kind of discount. Many websites offer a discount coupon, or they can be found in free handouts available in restaurants and shops in the tourist district. If you arrive without any kind of discount in hand, ask about affiliations or any way to get a discount. AARP, rental cars, or something else might work. And they sometimes have a coupon flyer out front with a discount tucked somewhere inside.
Arguably an eighth Orlando theme park, Holy Land attempts to bring the Bible to life, at least in the time of Jesus. Officially, it’s a nonprofit park (for tax purposes) spreading the gospel. It has no rides and relies on shows and exhibits, which include a miniature recreation of the city of Jerusalem, and a short passion play recreating the death and resurrection of Jesus. Tickets about $35.
Once upon a time, Disney thought they could build a virtual Disney World throughout the nation, allowing guests to experience the Magic Kingdom’s Jungle Cruise and making participants actually paddle the boat to do so. Their “quest” failed, however. Now DisneyQuest is in Downtown Disney, and it’s basically Disney’s take on a video arcade, meaning the best around. It has 3-D games and interactive games, including a pinball-type thing where a large group works together. It’s a must-see for anyone who loves arcades, but most games are best enjoyed by a single player, so don’t expect a lot of family time. Ticket prices run about $40.
Does Gatorland get filed under “real Florida” or “other amusement parks”? I chose both. To many visitors, “seeing a gator” is the same thing as “seeing the real Florida,” and the main lake at Gatorland has the correct look and feel, albeit with more gators than any actual state pond. All zoo exhibits and small rides can be enjoyed in four hours or less, making it a good choice on a day pegged for relaxing. It even includes one bizarre exhibit, the Gator Jumparoo, in which they drag raw chicken across a gator pond and make the animals leap for the poultry.
Why is Orlando miniature golf always have an Hawaiian or African theme? Why are there no Florida Everglades miniature golf courses? I don’t know, but courses can be found in almost every tourist area. Most sport crashed planes and/or volcanoes and/or alligators. Disney has two miniature golf courses, Fantasia, themed to the movie by the same name, and Winter-Summerland, which has a summer and Christmas course in keeping with its location near Blizzard Beach. In general, non-Disney courses offer the greatest golfing challenge, while Disney courses offer the most interesting theme. Check local discount books for savings at the non-Disney courses.
Fair-type attractions like Ferris wheels, bumper cars, and other rides can placate kids upset to be taking a day off from touring theme parks; however, multi-tiered go-carts dominate the fun. Fun Spot also has arcades and food.
Located along the banks of Lake Monroe in Sanford about 30 minutes from the big attractions, the Central Florida zoo gives guests a glimpse of the “real Florida” while touring. It’s not big – certainly no Animal Kingdom – but it offers a reasonable number of animals in a Florida atmosphere that isn’t faked. It feels like an attraction tourists might have visited before Walt Disney changed their expectations.
The WonderWorks building draws your eye on International Drive, mainly because it was designed to do so – it looks like an upside down courthouse, with the sidewalk on the second story and palm trees facing down. Inside, it’s pseudo-science, and guests can experience earthquakes and hurricanes through hands-on exhibits. While it looks slightly worn, more than one exhibit sparks the interest of kids and adults.
By turning a building upside down, WonderWorks did Ripley’s building one better. Ripley’s merely tilts, as if a Florida sinkhole started to devour it. Inside, everything – if it works as it should – inspires visitors to say: “Eww, that’s weird.” Or: “How did they do that?” Or just as often: “Why would anyone do that?” The original Ripley’s is in North Florida’s St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest city. Now with locations around the world, however, you might forego this one if you have a similar exhibit closer to home.
It’s tough to define Old Town because it’s more a destination than an attraction. It’s a Main Street, U.S.A., (Disney’s Magic Kingdom) knock-off, with affordable restaurants and specialty shops. It has a handful of amusement rides and live entertainment on selected days. A big draw: Visitors with a special interest in motorcycles or cars can enjoy weekly events that allow them to share the hobby with other enthusiasts – check the website for details.
At its heart, Fantasy of Flight is a must-see museum for anyone who loves planes. For others, maybe not so much. It hosts vintage planes and “immersion” experiences (their term) on a self-guided tour. It’s about a half-hour drive west of Disney (away from Orlando) but easily reached by way of I-4.
Visitors with young kids can see and/or pet more than 300 farm animals at this Kissimmee-area attraction. Farmers won’t get the appeal as they marvel at the number of people willing to pay $19 to pull on a cow’s teats, among other farm-related experiences. City folks’ kids love it.
In Orlando, a lot of things end with the word “World.” For better or worse, Flea World is unique in a town where that adjective gets thrown around too much. Imagine a garage sale with hundreds of vendors, a few of which specialize in shirts or colognes or tattoos. Flea World is mainly indoors, but it has a lot of large and small rides, free entertainment, an arcade, and decent carnival-style food.
Go-carts, amusement rides, arcade, etc. Located in the heart of north International Drive.