Although most people associate Orlando with theme parks, don’t sell this Florida city short. Orlando boasts world-class parks, zoos, museums, and offbeat attractions. Add a few extra days to your Orlando vacation itinerary so you can experience Orlando beyond the borders of the amusement parks, and you’ll be rewarded with some unforgettable adventures.
For a chance to swim with dolphins, snorkel through a coral reef teeming with tropical fish, and feed the birds at a free-flight aviary, spend an afternoon at Discovery Cove. Operated by the same company as SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, this park creates an immersive experience, allowing you to interact directly with a wide variety of tropical and marine creatures. Admission is all-inclusive, covering food and drinks, snorkeling equipment, towels, and lockers. Be aware, though, that Discovery Cove only sells a limited number of entry passes per day, so be sure to book in advance.
Escape the heat of the Florida sun and bask in the beauty of one of the area’s most notable museums. Founded in 1942, the Morse Museum holds the world’s most comprehensive collection of the works of master decorative artist Louis Comfort Tiffany, with examples of the artist’s work in every medium. Don’t miss the reconstructed Tiffany Chapel from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, famous for its breathtaking stained-glass windows and mosaics. Round out your Orlando visit with a look at works by other decorative artists of the period—the museum has a particularly strong collection of pieces in the Arts and Crafts style.
Find tranquility right in the heart of Orlando at Lake Eola Park. For over 100 years, residents have walked along the shores of this lake, reveling in the shade of the palm trees and the view of the lake’s iconic fountain, which lights up with a rainbow of changing colors at night. You can sample the wares at the Sunday farmers’ market, or rent a swan-shaped paddle boat and float by the park’s bright red pagoda. The park also houses the Walt Disney Amphitheater, which regularly hosts concerts and other events.
Curious about Florida’s famous, fearsome alligators? Visit Gatorland, the self-styled “Alligator Capital of the World,” which has been family owned and operated since 1949. Home to thousands of alligators, crocodiles, and other reptiles, the park thrills and educates visitors with close-up access to these toothy, intimidating creatures. If the gators themselves don’t offer enough excitement, try the 1,200-foot zipline, which whisks you from a height of several stories across a pool full of alligators. People of all ages can enjoy an animal show, or a stroll around the alligator breeding marsh.
Get the exhilarating feeling of skydiving while on solid ground (more or less) at iFly Orlando. The attraction’s wind tunnel generates enough air pressure to keep you floating above the ground, recreating the feeling of a free-fall within a controlled environment. You’ll never be more than a few feet in the air, so even those with a fear of heights can get a taste of what skydiving feels like. The whole experience takes about an hour. Use an itinerary planner to ensure a spot during your vacation, and book in advance.