Orlando is a popular vacation destination. Yes, it has frogtastic theme parks such as Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld, but there’s so much more fun to be had outside the resorts. Plus even if you are theme park junkies like our Frog family, you might want to take a day or two to relax, kick back and see some of the other sights. Maybe you want to hit the beach or meet some alligators (socially distanced, of course) and other Florida natural wildlife. It’s a whole new kind of thrill! We find taking a break or enjoying nature rejuvenates us and makes our vacation even more memorable. Here’s what to do in Orlando besides the theme parks!
What to Do in Orlando Besides the Theme Parks
Carrying backpacks, pushing strollers for miles, riding roller coasters and being on your flippers all day can take a toll on the body. When we visit Orlando, we love to plan some relaxation and low-key days in between hitting the parks we love so much. These breaks save our backs, and the tadpoles enjoy the downtime and variety of things we do. Here are a few of our favorite things to do in Orlando outside the theme parks. (Psst ... if you're planning on hitting a few of these awesome options, be sure to check out the Orlando Pass Go Card!)
Working Out Transportation
Keep in mind that some of these destinations may require additional transportation. Not only should you figure out the logistics of how to get there, but you should factor in added costs such as a car rental, parking fees at your resort, gas and possible toll fees. Hop over to our Orlando transportation guide to get a good look at your options and tips to save some green on a car rental bundled with a hotel stay or ticket purchase.
We are breaking up our list of things to do in Orlando outside of the theme parks by distance from the resort areas. That can help you determine whether you need a car or can rely on other forms of transportation to get there. Plus knowing how far you need to go can help you determine whether you need to add that toll package when you are at the rental car counter.
If you are leaving the main resort areas of Orlando, look up driving directions in advance to find out if you'll be encountering tolls. The toll roads do not accept cash. If you do not get a package or pay online, you'll get the cost of your tolls plus a fine charged to your credit card through the rental car company when you get home. Yep, even the Frogs make rookie mistakes sometimes. But the good news is that you can learn from our mistakes and avoid headaches. Ribbit! You might also find alternate routes that avoid tolls. They may make for a slightly longer ride, but if you budget the driving time, you'll be good.
Things to Do in Orlando Near the Theme Parks and Resorts
Here are a few of our favorite things to do in Orlando outside of the theme parks, but generally less than 20 minutes away.
This gem is like making a visit to a cruise ship’s private tropical island without seasickness. With white sandy beaches, tropical drinks, all-you-can-eat food included, plus the chance to swim, feed or interact with the animals and go snorkeling, it’s a slice of paradise. If you want to relax on a chaise or be swept away in the natural lazy river, that’s your prerogative too! Plus Discovery Cove limits capacity, so you can escape the crowds. Hop over to our post on Discovery Cove to get all of the hoppin’ details. We jumped for the Day Resort With Dolphin Swim package and it was toadally worth it! (Psst … you can save money and time when you purchase discount Discovery Cove tickets from Undercover Tourist.)
You do not have to travel far to get to Discovery Cove. It’s right across from SeaWorld and about 15 minutes from Disney World or Universal. Parking is free!
The Wheel ICON Park Orlando
See Orlando from a whole new perspective — from above! Step into the calm capsule and be slowly swept up in the 400-foot-tall observation wheel. You’ll get breathtaking views of Central Florida from the theme parks to the lush landscapes. Save a few dollars when you purchase ICON Orlando tickets from Undercover Tourist. The SeaLife Orlando Aquarium and Madame Tussauds wax museum are nearby if you want to visit some aquatic friends or get a selfie with some famous people. It's about 10 minutes away from Universal on International Drive. Parking is free.
Get Some Retail Therapy
If shopping is how you unwind, hit the Orlando International Premium Outlets. Located on International Drive, it’s just a few minutes away from Universal. You can get some Disney souvenirs at Disney’s Character Warehouse for less than you’d pay at the theme parks. Closer to the theme parks, you can enjoy shopping at Disney Springs and Universal CityWalk.
Just a couple minutes from Universal, you can pretend you are Jeff Gordon at I-Drive NASCAR. Reach speeds of up to 45 mph on your high-performing electric go-kart. If you have older kids who need to escape the sun or rain, then zip on over to this indoor experience. With the I-Dive NASCAR: Race Play & Eat package (you'll save some green when you purchase through Undercover Tourist), you'll get one race heat, one play card with 30 credits for arcade games or bowling and choice of one entree and one nonalcoholic beverage. Racers must be at least 55 inches tall.
Make a Splash at a Water Park
You can relax, cool off or make waves at a water park. Disney World has two water parks on property: Blizzard Beach (now open!) and Typhoon Lagoon (temporarily closed). About 10 minutes from Disney World in Kissimmee, you can make a splash and share the moment on social media at Island H2O Live! (now open!). This park is the first of its kind because it is themed around social media. When you sync your wristband with the H2O Live app, you can make all of your friends and family at home super jelly as you capture your photos and videos of you zipping down slides or cruising down the lazy river. If you are staying closer to Universal, then Volcano Bay is just a hop, skip and jump from the Universal hotels.
Hit the Links
If you are traveling during the cooler months, when your own greens are looking pretty white with a dusting of snow, pack your clubs. Orlando has several golf courses, and Disney even has its own course on property!
What to Do About 30 to 60 Minutes from Orlando
Just outside the resort areas, you can find some amazing nature experiences that you can't really find anywhere else but Florida. Take the opportunity to experience Florida wildlife with these exciting options.
Gatorland is technically in Orlando, but it’s about 20 to 30 minutes away from the theme park areas. Where else can you get up close and personal with wildlife such as alligators, crocodiles, birds, deer, zebras and more? You can enjoy shows, a petting zoo a swamp walk and more. Still up for thrills? Try the Screamin’ Gator Zip Line.
If you’ve never been on an airboat, you’re in for an adventure. You’ll glide through the Florida Everglades, consisting of marshes, rivers and swamps and get to see wildlife. You might catch a glimpse of eagles, turkeys, wild boar or even an alligator! At Wild Florida, you can also hop in the car after your airboat ride to go through the Safari Park drive-thru. At the Gator Park, you and your tadpoles can watch, touch and feed native Florida animals and watch an alligator demonstration.
We took an airboat tour on a recent visit and saw so many alligators! The smaller the airboat, the more places you can access. Our hearts leaped when we slid across the land! So exciting!
What to Do About an Hour (or Two) from Orlando
Sometimes you have to travel a little farther to get to your destination. We promise that some of these activities are worth the drive or bus ride!
Hit the Beach
Florida has beautiful white sand beaches about one to two hours away. Cocoa Beach is about an hour away on the Atlantic side. Take a day to rest with your feet in the sand — or your toes hanging ten on a surfboard! It’s just five miles from Cape Canaveral. About 90 minutes from Orlando (still on the Atlantic side and further north than Cocoa Beach) is Daytona Beach with its lively boardwalk, arcades and fun.
If you want to head west to the Gulf of Mexico, two hours from Orlando you can get to Clearwater Beach. Known for tadpole-friendly, calm waters, it’s a popular place to snorkel, go jet skiing or try parasailing.
Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral
Kennedy Space Center is about 60 miles to the east of Orlando in Cape Canaveral on the Atlantic Ocean. You could easily spend six to eight hours here, so you are not likely to fit both a beach day and a space visit in the same day. Gain access to historic launch sites, celebrate early space pioneers, visit the Space Shuttle Atlantis, learn about the Hubble Space Telescope, remember the astronauts who lost their lives on the Challenger and find out about the Journey to Mars. If your tadpoles are anything like Tad and Lily, they’ll enjoy shopping for souvenirs that are out of this world!
Swim with Manatees
Have you ever met a sea cow? Here’s your chance to snorkel and swim with these gentle giants. Rumor has it they like to have their bellies tickled! It’s about a two-hour drive to Crystal River, but your bus ride is included on this all-inclusive Swim with the Manatees Experience. After your swim and lunch, you'll get to explore the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Attend a manatee feeding session and visit bears, panthers, alligators and even a hippo!
Hopfully our list of favorite things to do in Orlando besides the theme parks has given you a few ideas about how to enhance your own vacation during your days off from theme parks. We may be theme park frogs, but we do offer some hoppin' discounts on other experiences so you can save money and skip the lines at other locations around Orlando.