[With special thanks to our Orlando expert, Suzy Lamoreux]
If you and your family prefer non-Disney activities in Orlando, we’ve got the list for you! Tourist activities abound in Orlando, but we asked our on-the-ground expert for the very best experiences outside Disney, and she provided this extensive list of first-rate alternatives – including local science centers, nature tours, and local art and architecture. Take a look.
1. Free Memorabilia Tour at Hard Rock Orlando
Very close to Walt Disney World, and still within the very busy Walt Disney World/Universal Studios amusement park business area, Hard Rock Cafe Orlando at Downtown Universal offers a free rock and roll memorabilia tour. Request the free VIBE tour from the host to see rooms filled with unique memorabilia associated with legends of rock and roll. The tour starts in The Attic which is filled choc-a-bloc with concert tour props, photos, and autographs, continues through the dining room, and ends in the John Lennon room, a magnificent collection of John’s drawings and personal items. The tour is available from 2-9 pm except days that a live performance is scheduled at the attached Hard Rock Live. You can also pop into the Hard Rock Hotel, which has several artifacts on display as well.
- Hours: Hard Rock Cafe: daily, 8:30 am – Midnight; Memorabilia Tour: daily, 2 pm – 9 pm
- Admission: Free.
- Location: 6050 Universal Blvd, Orlando, FL 32819
2. The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
This Winter Park museum contains the most comprehensive collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass in the world, as well as a fantastic collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century American Art. The collection includes pottery, including 300 Rookwood pieces, painting, and some fine furniture (notably Gallé, Majorelle, and Stickley), jewelry and silver (Gallé, Lalique, and Fabergé highlighted). Combine this with a visit to Casa Feliz Historic Home Museum and take a stroll to window shop the beautiful upscale boutiques on nearby Park Avenue, and enjoy a leisurely lunch at one of the restaurants (from blu on the avenue to Bosphorous Turkish Cuisine to Ethos Vegan Kitchen), It’s a nice, quiet day away from the amusement parks.
- Hours: Open every day except Mondays; Tue – Sat 9:30 am – 4 pm; Sun 1 – 4 pm.
- Admission: Adults: $6, Seniors: $5, Students: $1.
- Location: 445 North Park Avenue, Winter Park, FL 32789
3. Casa Feliz Historic Home Museum
Just a couple minutes’ walk from the Morse Museum, Casa Feliz, built in 1933 for Robert Bruce Barbour, is the signature work of local Winter Park architect James Gamble Rogers II. He designed the 5,400 sq. ft. house to mimic an old Spanish farmhouse, using details like repurposed bricks, pegs, handmade roof tiles from Barcelona, and an intentional sag in the roof line. The self-guided house tour makes an interesting addition to an afternoon at Morse Museum, although you can book a private tour for 8 or more with advance notice.
- Hours: Casa Feliz offers open houses Tues and Thurs 10 am – noon, as well as Music at the Casa Sundays Noon – 3 pm.
- Admission: Free
- Location: 656 North Park Avenue, Winter Park, FL 32789
4. Orlando Science Center
If you enjoy science and engineering, the Orlando Science Center comprises four floors of hands-on science experimentation, accessible and interesting to all ages. Exhibits and experiences include Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Secrets of the Sewer, NatureWorks (showcasing the ecosystems of Florida), Kinetic Zone (Engineering Design Process), The Hive: a Makerspace, Fusion (featuring STEAM art in the gallery), DinoDig (hands-on dinosaur exploration), and Our Planet (featuring information about the biosphere, atmosphere, and more). Scheduled experiences include Flight Lab, Dr. Dare’s Lab (open chemistry experiments) as well as an observatory. When your legs get tired, take in a film in one of two special theatres capable of showing 3D films, IMAX films, as well as regular Hollywood releases.
- Hours: Open daily from 10 am – 5 pm.
- Admission: Adult-$21, Child (3-11)-$15, Senior (55+) / Students with ID-$19.
- Location: 777 East Princeton Street, Orlando, FL 32803
5. Gatorland Florida
At first glance, Gatorland seems like mid-century kitsch. The reality? While some aspects are charmingly retro, the attention to not only the alligators, but also crocodiles, reptiles, birds (in a free-flight aviary), wild cats, and some giant tortoises is first-rate. Gatorland is a leading conservation center, taking in “nuisance” alligators that would otherwise be sold and killed for their skin and flesh. The park has three different shows, all educational as well as engaging. You can walk along the boardwalk and/or climb the observation tower to see the breeding marsh, which also serve as a natural bird rookery for a plethora of migratory birds, from cattle egrets to cormorants. The park also has a 2 hour zipline experience, as well (additional charge applies), a narrow gauge train ride, and a themed off-road adventure (additional charge applies).
- Hours: Daily 10 am – 6 pm.
- Admission: 13 and over – $29.99, 3-12 years – $19.99, 55+ – $24.99, children 2 and under – free. Gatorland also offers a combined ticket (the Grunt Package) which includes alligator meet-n-greet, train rides, and gator feeding for a few dollars more per admission.
- Location: 14501 South Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando, FL 32837
6. Beefy King Orlando
This local restaurant specializes in hot steamed sandwiches, including roast beef, ham, turkey, pastrami, corned beef, BBQ beef, and BBQ pork. Family run since 1968, Beefy King offers a few vegetarian options (mainly a selection of salads, and a veggie sandwich), as well as some tasty sides, such as beefy spuds, cole slaw, onion rings, and more. Their milkshakes are also divine!
- Hours: M-F 10 am – 5:30 pm, Saturday 11 am – 3 pm.
- Location: 424 North Bumby Avenue, Orlando, FL 32093
7. Rock-n-Roll Heaven Vinyl Shop
Rock n Roll Heaven vinyl shop carries a vast array of good condition used records and albums, 45 rpm singles, as well as cassettes, CDs, DVDs, VHS, Laserdiscs (!), and accessories for your new turntable. Albums start at $1. The staff is engaging and helpful. A fantastic spot to hunt for your favorite 1970s band, as well as every other genre you may prefer.
- Hours: M-S 10 am – 7:30 pm, Sunday 11 am – 4:30 pm
- Admission: Free
- Location: 1814 North Orange Avenue, Orlando, FL 32804
8. American Escape Rooms – Orlando
Four challenging 60 minute team puzzles in “locked” rooms, American Escape Rooms Orlando rates highly with everyone who experiences it. Currently offering 4 storylines (BOMB! Cold War Crisis; VIRUS! Zombie Apocalypse; TWISTED! Mind-Boggling; and MADNESS! Mad Professor’s Asylum), and very close to the major amusement parks, AER can be a good alternative when you and your group get tired of large crowds and outdoor heat.
- Hours: 3 pm – 10 pm, weekdays, 11 am – 10 pm weekends.
- Admission: Prebooked – $26.25 Mon-Thur/$29.25 Fri-Sun, Walk-in – $35 Mon-Thur/$39 Fri-Sun. Under 14s must have an adult accompanying. 14-18 need signed consent from a parent/guardian.
- Location: 12074 Collegiate Way, Orlando 32817
9. WonderWorks Orlando Science Center
An experiential science center with over a hundred different entertaining and educational exhibits, categorized into Natural Disasters, Physical Challenge, Light & Sound, Space Discovery, Imagination Lab, and Far Out Art Gallery. Experience everything from a Tesla steam-powered electric generator, to hurricane force winds, to laying on a bed of nails. You can try a ropes challenge course, enjoy a 6D motion simulation ride, and with an upgraded ticket, play laser tag.
- Hours: Open daily, 9 am – midnight.
- Admission: 13+ – $33.99 + tax, 4-12 – $24.99 + tax, under 4 – free.
- Location: 9067 International Drive, Orlando, FL 32819
10. Kennedy Space Center
The space center, an hour’s drive from the major amusement parks in Orlando, is large enough to spend multiple days exploring but if you want just a taste of space exploration, a day out at Kennedy may fit the bill. From historical exhibits (Astronaut Hall of Fame, Rocket Garden, Mission Control, and more) to various bus tours of the restricted area, including of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, where the first launches occurred, to current work and future plans of NASA, as well as experiential exhibits (gyroscope ride, and more), the Space Center has something for everyone – scientist, engineer, historian, and naturalist (we saw eagles nesting on our bus tour, for instance). Kennedy, combined with the nearby beach towns of Cocoa Beach, Melbourne, and others, makes a great few days’ add-on to a Disney/Universal trip.
- Hours: Varies by time of year, but generally open at 9 am. Closes either at 6 pm or 7 pm.
- Admission: 12+ 1-day admission: $52, Under 12 1-day admission: $42, 55+ and military 1-day admission: $50. KSC offers 2-day and multi-day admissions, as well as various packages (dine with an astronaut and more).
- Location: Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Space Commerce Way, Merritt Island, FL 32953.
11. Black Hammock Adventures and Airboat Rides, Oviedo
About a 45 minute drive from Walt Disney World, Black Hammock Fish Camp is a slice of Old Florida. The camp itself has a few pet alligators and birds, as well as a restaurant and bar. The airboat tours, captained by experienced Coast Guard-certified pilots, circle Bird Island, home to a diverse bird population (including various types of egret, heron, pelicans, ibis, storks, as well as bald eagles). You’ll see alligators, birds, and turtles on your ride, and get comprehensive and engaging commentary from the airboat pilot. The airboat tour is offered as 30-minute, 45-minute (private), and 1-hour rides, as well as a 1-hour night tour. Ear protection and life jackets are mandatory for children under 6, provided for 6+, and eye protection is recommended for everyone. The wildlife is more active in the morning and evening in the summer, and mid-afternoon in winter.
- Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 am – 9 pm; Friday, 11 am – 9:30 pm; Saturday, 9 am – 9:30 pm; Sunday, 9 am – 9 pm.
- Admission: Pricing varies by tour length, but starts at Adult: $29.95 + tax, Child: $24.95 + tax for a 30-minute tour. Private tours ($325 for 45-minutes for up to 6 people) can be arranged, call ahead.
- Location: 2356 Black Hammock Fish Camp Road, Oviedo, FL 32765
12. Tubing and Swimming at Alexander Springs Recreation Area
Florida is blessed with an overabundance of natural springs, the majority clustered from the northwest down to mid-central of the state. Several of these are close enough to Orlando to make a day trip for tubing, canoeing, swimming, and hiking. Our pick? Alexander Springs, just over an hour north of Disney World. The recreation area, in the Ocala National Forest, boasts a swimming area, beach, kayak and canoe rentals, flush toilets and showers, and both a short and two long hiking trails. The water is a constant 72F (22C) year-round, and exceptionally clear. Alexander Springs offers the only area to SCUBA in the Ocala National Forest, and is one of 27 first-magnitude springs (discharges at least 100 cu. ft. of water per second) in Florida, and the easiest to access. Walking along the Timucuan Trail (1 mile loop) through a jungle of palm trees, you can learn about the indigenous people who lived here. You can also rent a canoe or kayak from the concessions area, and paddle easily down the six miles of spring run, then paddle back with minimum effort (no shuttle back). A visit to this recreation area is a wonderful day out in Florida nature, with a natural water park to swim and snorkel in, and a clean bathhouse to shower in at the end of your day.
- Hours: 8 am – 8 pm daily, but check the website for confirmation, as hours can change.
- Admission: $5.50 per person day use fee, $6.50 SCUBA fee, $16 for 2 hrs/$24 for 4 hrs/$38 for day canoe rental fee.
- Location: 49525 County Rd 445, Altoona, FL 32702
NOTE: If the Alexander Springs Recreation Area is full, nearby De Leon State Park is also an excellent choice, with swimming, wildlife viewing, kayak and canoe rental, a 50-minute boat tour, and 6,000 years of human history artifacts, including evidence of an antebellum mill. The Sugar Mill Restaurant is onsite and offers both breakfast and lunch (9 am – 5 pm weekdays, 8 am – 5 pm weekends), including “make your own pancakes” at your table.
- Hours: 8 am – sunset, daily.
- Admission: $6 per car. Additional charges for kayak and canoe rental.
- Location: 601 Ponce de Leon Blvd, De Leon Springs, FL 32130
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