12 Awesome Non-Disney Things to Do Near Orlando

It’s not such a small world after all.

things to do near orlando florida

A visit to Discovery Cove is one of the best non-Disney things to do near Orlando, Florida. Photograph by Richmond Gibbs/Discovery Cove

1. Kiss a dolphin at Discovery Cove.

After you take a lap in the pristine lazy river, get personal with exotic birds, and snorkel with thousands of tropical fish, you can cuddle with a dolphin.

2. Bike through orange groves.

An old rail line is now a fantastic bike trail that winds you through small towns and orange farms and deposits you in quaint Winter Garden, where you can lunch in a brewery, hit up the playground, get ice cream, and shop. Rent bikes and pull trailers at Killarney Station trailhead.

3. Take a spa day at the Four

There’s one massage that’s designed to put you in a deep sleep and another that utilizes birchwood massage sticks, but what makes treatments here worth the high tariff are the lounging areas you have access to all day.

4. Cool down in a water park.

It feels like there are more water parks than gators in this part of Florida. Disney has Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach; Universal has Volcano Bay; Aquatica’s lazy river takes you under a pool of tropical fish; and the Orlando Watersports Complex has an inflatable obstacle course and wakeboarding on a lake.

5. Be a local in Winter Park.

Orlando is a beautiful city, but head to the toniest part of town. Stroll the shops on Park Avenue, take a boat tour to ogle the sprawling waterfront homes (including where Mister Rogers lived!), and dig into handmade pastas at Prato.

6. Chill with Elmo at Sesame Street Land.

SeaWorld is diversifying its options (thank you, Blackfish) with this charming mini-park that’s Sesame Street come to life. The tiniest members of your group will love Super Grover’s mini coaster, story time with Big Bird, and selfies with that beloved red monster.

things to do near orlando florida

Bok Tower Gardens. Photograph by Sean Pavone/iStockphoto/Getty Images

7. Get a little nature in at Bok Tower Gardens.

This green space has a huge bell tower and an old mansion, plus flowers, birds and trees that you won’t see in the Northeast. And yeah, it’s named after our Bok: The Ladies Home Journal editor built the place and opened it to the public in 1929.

8. Scream your head off at Universal Studios.

Doctor Doom’s Fearfall, the Incredible Hulk Coaster, Revenge of the Mummy, and everything in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, including the new you-might-pee-yourself Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.

9. Get high at Kennedy Space Center.

See where shuttles launch, learn about our space history, step inside the Atlantis, and then buy one of those cool NASA tees from the authentic source.

10. Hang in a swamp on an airboat ride.

The closest you’ll get to wrestling a gator is on an airboat ride. Book at Wild Florida because it has Gator Park, where you can pet a sloth, too.

11. Get creative at Legoland.

This is most definitely not the Legoland Discovery Center in the Plymouth Meeting mall. At the theme park, kids can drive Lego cars, ride in a Duplo train, build a boat to race down rapids, and so much more.

12. Get out of the sun at the Orlando Science Center.

This museum has all sorts of stuff for little kids to explore, including an indoor climbing gym, a pretend orange factory, and pneumatic tubes that send scarves high into the air. (It’s like a giant game of catch.)

Published as “12 Awesome Non-Disney Things to Do Near Orlando” in the September 2019 issue of Philadelphia magazine.