Road Trip USA

10 Unique and Unusual Things To Do in Orlando

Lego dragon at Disney Springs. Image by Ella Buchan
Written by Kirstie Pelling

10 Unusual Things To Do in Orlando

Orlando is so much more than Disney. Yes really! If you are planning a Florida trip then it’s worth sticking around beyond the parks to explore the quirky Orlando experiences on offer. From alligators to flying simulators, check out some of the favourite activities suggested here by Orlando regulars… 

Orlando beyond Disney

Plan to visit Orlando? For those who go regularly and even those still considering a first trip, it’s one of those places that seems so familiar. We think we know what to expect. But it takes a regular visitor to know some of the quirkier places. And there’s always new and surprising things on offer in this centre of fun and adventure. Which is probably why people keep returning to the theme park capital of the world. From discovering the new dining scene in downtown to tracking down hidden Mickeys, here’s a pick of the best and most unusual things for families to do in Orlando.

If you thought Orlando was just theme parks, think again. Image by Ella Buchan

If you thought Orlando was just theme parks, think again. Image by Ella Buchan

1. Discover Downtown food tours

From pillow like doughnuts topped with pink icing to gooey cookies the size of a child’s head, downtown has a vibrant food scene says journalist Ella Buchan. “Pack your appetite for a morning of grazing with Orlando Foodie Tours, which offers a family-friendly jaunt around the best brunch spots. The vegan doughnuts come from Valhalla Bakery in the hip Milk District, and queues regularly snake out the door. And those cookies, from Gideon’s Bakehouse in East End Market, are the result of owner Steve Lewis’ quest for the perfect recipe. It isn’t all for sweet teeth. Stops can include Swine & Sons for avocado toast with coffee-smoked bacon, ending at Osprey Tavern for a sit-down meal, if you have room.

Top tip: For a self-guided taster, make a beeline for East End Market. The bright, light indoor space has those giant cookies, cheese and prosecco at La Femme Du Fromage, topped toasts by Farm & Haus and craft coffee from Lineage.

Vegan doughnuts from Valhalla Bakery. Image by Ella Buchan

Vegan doughnuts from Valhalla Bakery. Image by Ella Buchan

2. Eat the world at Epcot Food and Wine Festival

If you a confirmed foodie then Epcot International Food & Wine Festival is a must. This celebration of food around the world happens every year in the autumn. Stalls round the lake sell goodies like bratwurst, cheese plates, and falafel. The Festival Center has tastings and chef demonstrations, and there are Eat to the Beat concerts and dining packages. And the most enticing part for me; cheese seminars. Whats not to love?.

Top tip: The Swan & Dolphin Hotel holds its own Food & Wine Classic at the end of October, with samples from top chefs and seminars on pasta making, sushi and craft beer.

BBQ Mickey at Epcot. Image by Ella Buchan

BBQ Mickey at Epcot. Image by Ella Buchan

3. Get soaring at iFly Orlando

When you think of Orlando you probably think of being turned inside out and upside down. Therefore it only seems logical to send you to iFly Orlando after the coasters. This simulated flying experience is a treat for all ages, and we have done it on several continents. They provide all the kit. You just turn up and relax. I said RELAX!

iFly Orlando

Cameron waits slightly nervously to test his wings at iFly Orlando

4. Dine with characters at Garden Grove

Ticking off the Disney ‘Big 5’ – that’s Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto and Goofy – is high on many Orlando wish lists but, just like a real safari, can be as expensive and time-consuming. Often, if you haven’t booked in advance, queuing can dominate your time in the park. And character dining experiences often have a six-month waiting list. So how do you avoid sad faces? Ella Buchan suggests finding a hotel that offers a quick hello over breakfast. “A few hotels have regular meet-and-greet opportunities. Garden Grove at the Swan has character dining every evening, with characters also joining guests for weekend breakfast. You can reserve in advance but there’s often room for walk-ins.”

Ella’s Top tip: Spot Mickey everywhere. The original mouse’s image was dotted cleverly around the parks when the rides were first built, from a lock with ‘ears’ to a shadow in the shape of Mickey’s head. New Mickeys still pop up today – search online for fan sites that obsessively list sightings.

Goofing around in Orlando. Image by Swan and Dolphin

Goofing around in Orlando. Image by Swan and Dolphin

5. Ride swan boats at Lake Eola Park

Who wouldn’t want to take to the lake in a swan? In downtown Orlando, Lake Eola Park has wide walking paths and swan-shaped pedalos. You can pack your family of five in for just for $15 (£12) for a half-hour. As you pootle around you can check out the real swans swimming circles around you. On land, there’s around a mile of pretty paths. There are lots of bird sculptures too. It’s a great way to see some Orlando nature, particularly lovely at sunset, where the fountain is in full flow.

Top tip: Head to the park on Sunday morning, when the popular farmer’s market sells street food, fresh local produce, preserves and artwork, often with live music.

Lake Eola Park. Image by Ella Buchan

Lake Eola Park. Image by Ella Buchan

6. Go topsy turvy at Wonderworks

From its exterior onwards WonderWorks will confuse your brain. That’s what it is designed for. A top-secret lab that apparently ‘landed’ upside down on Orlando’s International Drive, the fun building has lots of activities for all ages. You can design and ride your own roller coaster and lie on a bed of nails. But not at the same time. My son was seven when we visited and could have spent all day there.

Top tip from Ella Buchan: If you hit a rainy day, drive the short distance from WonderWorks to I-Drive 360, which houses Madame Tussauds (without the crowds of the London equivalent), SEA Life Aquarium and the Orlando Eye, for views over Disney and beyond.

WonderWorks. Image by Ella Buchan

The whacky world of WonderWorks. Image by Ella Buchan

7. Float in a vintage car

The Boathouse restaurant in Disney Springs boasts the largest collection of vintage Amphicars in the world says Ella Buchan. T”he amphibious autos drive on land before splashing into the water for a 20-minute captain’s guided tour around Village Lake. The pristine vehicles, in aqua, scarlet and spearmint, look brand new – but these are the real deal. Less than 4,000 Amphicars were made in the 1960s, and the Boathouse has 10 of the few remaining today.”

Ella’s Top tip: If you fancy a jaunt on the water but don’t want to splash out over $125 (around £100) for the tour, many Disney World Resort hotels offer free water taxi rides to guests. The Walt Disney World Resort website has a guide to free transportation.

Amphicars at Boathouse Restaurant. Image by Ella Buchan

Amphicars at Boathouse Restaurant. Image by Ella Buchan

8. Be a wizard at Universal

Buy an interactive wand at Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter to perform magic ‘spells’ around the cobbles of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. The translucent tip reflects and glows so it can be picked up by receptors at each spell-casting location, marked by medallions set into the pavements. There are some hidden spots, too. The wands are sold at Ollivander’s Wand Shop.

Ella’s top tip: Part of the Wizarding World map has illustrations of the spells and hidden magic locations in invisible ink, revealed in the black light of Knockturn Alley.

Get wizarding at Hogsmead. Image by Ella Buchan

Get wizarding (and drinking butterbeer) at Hogsmead. Image by Ella Buchan

9. See the world’s largest Tiffany collection

In Winter Park, one of the swankiest downtown neighbourhoods, the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art features the world’s largest collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, including jewel-encrusted keepsake boxes, paintings, leaded lamps and dreamy glasswork. There’s even a chapel, lovingly moved and restored from his Long Island home.

Top tip: Go on Friday evening (4-8pm) between November and April for free admission. Entry is always complimentary for under-12s.

one of ten unique things to do in Orlando Image by Ella Buchan

Tiffany lamps for all the family; seeing them is one of our top 10 unique things to do in Orlando. Image by Ella Buchan

10. Cruise through canals

A short walk from the boutique shops and chichi cafes of Winter Park is a bold blue chain of lakes and a world of hidden canals overhung with Spanish moss. Winter Park Scenic Boat Tours run on the hour from Lake Osceola for guided cruises past sprawling estates, palm trees, ‘snake birds’ and the occasional sunbathing alligator. Thousand-year-old cypress trees seem to float on Lake Maitland, the biggest of the three lakes on the tour. At Christmas, some of the boat captains decorate the branches with baubles.

Top tip: The ticket office only accepts cash or cheques, and get there at least 15 minutes early – they will leave without you.

Scenic Boat Tours Winter Park. Image by Ella Buchan

Scenic Boat Tours at Winter Park, one of the more fun and unusual things to do in Orlando. Image by Ella Buchan

Useful Information

Find more inspiration at visitorlando.com.

More reading: Interested in the quirky US? Check out our post on the characterful Charleston Festival of Houses and Gardens.

 

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.

8 Comments

  • Now that would be an amazing road trip – we had a great time doing a bit of the Pacific Coast Highway, so the east coast would be a good twist. And although I’ve visited a few spots in Florida, including the Gulf coast, I haven’t been to Orlando or the keys. You’ve got me plotting for next year…

  • So many wonderful things to do in Orlando? Wow! I am really got fascinated. It will be a treat to visit there with my kids. They will really enjoy meeting their favorite cartoon characters in real and using Harry Potter’s magical wand. I will soon plan to visit Orlando with my family.

  • Nice Tips! We were lucky that kids experienced the dining with goofy and they are very happy about it. The green oasis on Lake Eola Park is breath taking we did a lot of pictures and strolling on the park while having tacos on a near by stall. We also did a last minute cruise on the canals and it’s an hour of fun and adventure.

  • I’m going to Orlando later this year (my second time visiting) so this post is extremely useful! Lake Eola Park looks fantastic and a place that you could definitely spend a few hours in. WonderWorks looks like something I’d enjoy too! I might have to rearrange my plans and thoughts!

  • nice sharing. I also enjoyed these most amazing things during my last journey and have a joyful time with my whole family.

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