10 Non-Park Things You Should Do While Vacationing Near Disney World


When people hear the name “Orlando” Walt Disney World will usually be the first thing that comes to mind. Plenty of people visit each year and only hit the theme parks. That is their loss, because the Orlando area is filled with fun and excitement. My family and I live in Orlando and we always have something to do, even when we’re not spending a day in a theme park. Here are ten things that you might want to try yourself. For some of these activities you might not have to leave Disney property, but for most you’ll have to venture outside of the magic for a little while.

10) Lake Eola

In the heart of downtown Orlando is a beautiful slice of tranquility. Lake Eola takes up approximately 23 acres, and the path around it is just short of a mile long. You can take a walk, rent a swan boat, or watch the amazing fountain for a little while. There are outdoor movies on select summer nights, a farmer’s market on Sundays, and T’ai chi & Kung Fu classes during the week. Lake Eola is a popular place for weddings as well, it’s that beautiful.

9) Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

Not too far from Lake Eola is this elaborate destination. The first thing that you might notice about the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts is the striking architecture. The second thing could be the near perfect acoustics. Since the Center opened in November, 2014, it has hosted Broadway quality plays, internationally known comedians, popular musical acts, and more. Work on the complex has not yet been completed, but the main building is fully operational.

8) Miniature Golf

Here is something that you can do on or off of Disney property. Walt Disney World has two miniature golf courses; Fantasia Gardens and Winter Summerland. If you feel like leaving Disney property for a few hours there are plenty of miniature golf courses nearby. You can play while on an African safari or a pirate adventure. If you really want to put your skills to the test you can play on a glow in the dark course. Miniature golf is fun for the whole family, and there are so many choices in Orlando that you might decide to try more than one place.

7) Beaches

One of the nicest things about Florida is that you are never too far from a beach. If you’re visiting Walt Disney World and want to spend a day in salt water there are many great choices. Daytona Beach bills itself as “The World’s Most Famous Beach” and always has something going on. Cocoa Beach is known for surfing. Those are just two of the choices. The water temperature is comfortable a good portion of the year, and even if it’s too cold to swim you can still walk in the sand and enjoy the sun.

6) Dinner Shows

There are some great dinner shows at Walt Disney World. They usually require you to book months in advance. In Orlando and Kissimmee there are some entertaining alternatives. Medieval Times features sword fights, horses, and knights. Pirate’s Dinner Adventure will make you feel as if you’ve stepped onto a pirate ship. Sleuths Mystery Dinner will put you in the middle of a mystery. Treasure Tavern is strictly for the adults. You can also dine on the Titanic, meet a gangster, or laugh at improvisational comedy. There is plenty of food, and it will be an experience that you never forget. Reservations are recommended for some shows, but you should be able to find something last minute.

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5) Shopping

If you love to shop, you’ll want to see what you can find while in Central Florida. If you don’t plan to leave Disney property, you will want to check out Disney Springs. There are outlets seemingly around every corner, including Orlando Premium Outlets and Prime Outlets International. These can provide huge savings. If you want something more upscale, stop by Mall at Millenia. You can enjoy the air conditioning while you browse. Another mall that you might want to check out is Florida Mall. It has plenty of stores that you’re already familiar with, and some unique options such as M&M’s World. Old Town in Kissimmee has dozens of specialty stores. You can look around while the kids take a spin or two on the rides.

4) Airboats

An airboat ride is different than anything else that you might do on your vacation. You and your party will head out into the bogs, swamps and rivers. The boats travel approximately 45mph. You’ll see live alligators in their natural habitat, birds, and other wildlife. You’ll have a glimpse into what Central Florida looked like before Walt Disney started buying land for “The Florida Project”. Airboats are loud, and may not be for every member of your family. For an added thrill, make a reservation for a night tour.

3) Museums

There are some fun and unique museums in Central Florida. Many of them are located along International Drive. Ripley’s Believe It or Not features, according to the website, “exhibits, artifacts, and oddities from around the world”. WonderWorks isn’t quite a museum, it’s more hands on, but it’s fun for the whole family. A new addition to the Orlando museum scene is Madame Tussauds. If you’d prefer a more traditional museum, visit the Orlando Art Museum. These are just a few of your choices.

2) Gatorland

While Gatorland claims to be the area’s oldest theme park, it is not even close to what you’ll experience at Walt Disney World or even SeaWorld. You’ll see alligators and crocodiles, as well as birds, reptiles, and more. There are live shows, a petting zoo, a train, and an observation tower. Gatorland also features a 1,200 foot zip line that will take you over crocodiles and other wildlife at 30mph. For a different type of thrill schedule a night tour in the park. A day at Gatorland will be one that your family talks about for a long time.

1) The Orlando Eye

The Orlando Eye officially opened in May, 2015. This Ferris Wheel takes passengers 400 feet into the air for a view of the city below unlike any other. The wheel turns slowly and the enclosed capsules are air conditioned. There is an iPad in each capsule so that you’ll be able to learn more about what you’re seeing. The price also includes the 4D Cinema Experience before you ride. Even if you don’t ride, you’ll want to see the wheel at night. The Orlando Eye may be new to the area, but it already fits right in.

About PaulaK

I grew up in Western Massachusetts. When I was nine my family went to Disneyland and I was hooked. I grew up, attended New England College in Henniker, NH and eventually moved to Virginia. I worked as a disc jockey, married and became a full time mom when our daughter was born. Fast forward several years. In 2010 we moved to Central Florida and my Disney obsession grew. I now work as a freelance writer and spend my spare time in the parks. Under the name Paula Brown I penned the novels Dream Wanderers and The Coffee Cruiser. I also am a co-author of Dining at Walt Disney World: The Definitive Guide. I'm obsessed with Star Wars, so this is a good time to live in Central Florida. I've been a vegetarian for well over a decade, a choice that my daughter eventually made as well. While my husband still hasn't joined us fully he has given up most meats except for seafood. I was relieved to find that vegetarian dining is not difficult at Walt Disney World.