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Nine times out of ten when you tell someone you’re taking the kiddos to Orlando the first thing they ask you is if you are going to Disney or any of the other theme parks. Orlando vacations have become one with the theme park world and it is just assumed that is why you’re going taking a family trip there.
Because most people only focus on Disney and the like they end up missing out on all the amazing things to do in Orlando with kids that does NOT involve theme parks. Which is such a shame really. But, since you’re reading this right now I am going to assume that you’ve had this epiphany about Orlando as well, what exactly does Orlando have to offer the kids? Lots, actually and I can’t wait to help you discover the hidden gems of family fun that Orland has to offer.
How to Plan a Family Vacation to Orlando Florida Without Visiting Theme Parks
I am not gonna waste your time and go into the whole “Book a flight, find a hotel or vacation rental, line up transportation spiel”. I am going to assume that you have gone on vacation before and or have a general idea of what you need to do to go on one, and since you most likely have kids no one needs an extra 5 minutes of reading time added. So, just, you know, make sure you do all that stuff.
Now, what I find a tad bit harder to do is plan out an itinerary for vacation days, especially with kids who always bring the unexpected to a family trip.
Things to Think about when planning your Orlando Family Vacation Itinerary
Before you can really start mapping out all the things you’re going to do in Orlando there are a few logistics you should consider.
- Age of the children traveling with you. Unlike planning a Disney Vacation when you pretty much know you’re going to be spending all day at the parks you have a little wiggle room in your itinerary here. Are your kids still taking naps? Do they get bored easily? How often do they need to eat? You are able to carve out time for individual needs and decide how full of a day you’re going to have or if you will be moving at a more leisurely pace.
- Make a list of the top 5 or 10 things you want to do while in Orlando. Depending on the length of your vacation you want to make a list, prioritizing what you and your kids would like to do the most. This keeps things a little more relaxed and if there is a blip in your day then the pressure is off.
- Find out how long you expect to spend at each attraction/activity. This is a must! Do a little digging and find out if it only takes an hour to run through an amusement or if it’s a 4-5 hour experience. This will help you narrow down your list of things you want to do even more and give you a better idea of what your day is going to look like.
It may feel like a pain in the rear now to plan everything out, just for it to not work out, because, you know.. Kids! But, the benefit of mapping out an Orlando vacation itinerary that most likely won’t get followed is that you know what you can pick and choose from it to best suit your needs on any given vacation day.
You’ll thank me later! Alright, so now, let’s dive into some of the things that I love to do with my girls in Orlando and that I think you will really enjoy doing with your kids too!
The Best Things to Do in Orlando Besides Theme Parks
Hang- Gliding at Wallaby Ranch
Did you know you could go hang-gliding in Orlando? This was something I always thought you needed mountains for but the people at Wallaby Ranch found a solution to the mountain-less terrain in Florida! You are actually brought into the air by your hanglide being attached to a small plane that takes off and brings you high enough until the captain releases your hang-glide. This is an activity almost the whole family can participate in as they’ve taken kids as young as 3. My daughters were 6 and 7 when they did this and my youngest loved it so much she went twice! Talk about a thrill you can’t get at a theme park in Orlando!
Andretti Indoor Karting and Games
Looking for something to do in Orlando when it’s raining or the sun is baking? Andretti Indoor Karting and Games is the perfect thing to do in Orlando besides theme parks. When we visited my daughter wasn’t tall enough to do the go-karts but we still had a ton of fun. She personally loved doing laser tag, singing in the karaoke booth and playing the arcade games. Andretti also has a bowling alley, ropes course, and wine room!
How much is Andretti Indoor Karting and Games?
Pricing varies at Andretti, it’s more of an “a la carte” style of pricing and if you’re going with a large group it can get expensive. They do have different packages and it is cheaper to go Monday-Friday. Weekend pricing is $2-3 dollars more on every attraction. That may not seem like much, but it adds up. So it’s best to add this to your list of things to do during the week!
Go on A Hot Air Balloon Ride
Even though we’ve been to Orlando a hundred times until a recent trip I had no idea hot air balloon rides were a thing in this area. When I think of hot air balloons I think of Arizona, Cappadocia and Luxor so it was great to find out this could be done here too. There are a few companies in the area that offer the rides, Bob’s Balloon Rides, Maverick Balloon Adventures, and Painted Horizons.
If you are a sucker for a good photo opp like I am you will love Wall Crawl. They have lots of backdrop to take photos in front of and you can take your own or upgrade your ticket to include a photo package. The walls change every season so even if you’ve been once, the next time you visit you could have new options. This Orlando attraction only lasts for an hour and is something that teenagers will really like!
Wonderworks is a mix of so many things. There are exhibits where you can learn facts, test out experiments, and look at optical illusions. You also have the opportunity to complete a ropes course, compete in a game of laser tag and ride an astronaut simulator. Be sure to look on Groupon for discounted rates or get a Go Orlando Card which grants admission to 25 places for 50% off general rates including Wonderworks.
The Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show
Inside of WonderWorks is the Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show. It’s geared towards kids so come here to let them laugh the night away. It’s very interactive and kids can volunteer to go on stage and participate. The show includes all you can eat pizza and salad and comes with desert. For adults you can choose wine or beer in addition to soft drinks. My daughter had a great time and so did the adults. This attraction is also included in the Go Orlando Card.
How much do The Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show tickets cost?
Ticket prices start at $32 for adults, Kids 4-12 and Seniors over 60 are $21. Children 3 and under are free. Given that you get dinner and a show it’s pretty reasonable. Pricing does vary throughout the week. They have two shows at 6pm and 8pm. You can expect to be there for an hour to an hour and a half.
Take a Trapeze Class at the Orlando Circus School
By far the coolest thing to do in Orlando besides theme parks is taking a trapeze class at the Orlando Circus School. We booked a private class for our two kids for an hour for $150 but they let the four of us participate at no extra cost and whew the thrills. Full disclosure I am terrified of heights but it was so much fun once I relaxed and actually breathed.
The coaches are so patient and after our girls were done with the trapeze they took them to the trampolines. Here they hooked them to a harness to help them learn how to do backflips. This was an experience like no other and we can’t wait to do it again!
If you like thrills another fun family activity in Orlando is Gatorland. We originally came solely to zip-line over the gators, yes you read that right, but we discovered there is a lot more to do here. But let’s start with the zip-lining which is rated top ten in the United States. There are only 5 lines here but believe me it’s just enough! Click here for an full-day admission ticket.
After we put our feet back on the ground we walked around the park that has thousands of Gators. A lot of them have been brought here after being taken out of neighborhoods, like the one that kept eating peoples dogs. Besides gators they have crocodiles, snakes, birds and more.
If you’re not into holding alligators or snakes there is also a petting zoo with goats that might be more your speed. For $2 a cone you can get food to feed them. Don’t worry there is a hand washing station here to wash up before exiting.
If you need to cool down during your visit, Icebar Orlando is the perfect place. Coats and gloves are included in admission so no need to worry about that. Enjoy sitting on ice seats and seeing all the amazing ice sculptures. Kids who are at least 8 can visit from 5pm-9pm.
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Clear Kayak at Rock Springs
After using a clear kayak on out trip to Aruba I’ve been hooked. I was very excited to find out you could do this about 30 minutes North of Orlando at Rock Springs. We took a 2.5 hour tour with Get Up and Go Kayaking and it was amazing. The water is crystal clear and we even saw three otters swimming through the springs, lots of turtles and pretty birds. There is an opportunity to get out and swim during the tour.
Island H2O Live Waterpark
Who doesn’t love a good water park? While most of the water parks in Orlando are associated with theme parks, Island H2O Live is not. Located onsite the Margaritaville Resort Orlando it’s free of Disney characters and the mayhem that comes with that. It’s open to the public so you don’t have to be staying at the resort to visit. It’s also significantly cheaper than the other water parks in the area.
Ripley’s Believe it or Not!
The name says it all but Ripley’s Believe it or Not will stun you with the crazy things that are true in this world. From shrunken heads to the tallest person on earth, Ripley’s is filled with bizarre and mysterious truths. It’s located on iDrive near tons of restaurants and other things to do in Orlando. You can expect to spend about 2 hours in the museum. This would be a good morning attraction followed by lunch! This pass gives you up to 50% off local experiences, including Ripley’s Believe it or Not!
Medieval Times Dinner Show
One of my kids favorite things to do in Orlando besides theme parks in the Medieval Times Dinner show. They even made us go again on our trip to Myrtle Beach when they found out there was one there. This 90 minute show includes knights competing against each other in a tournament with jousting and more. It includes a feast that must be eaten with your hands as they don’t provide utensils. The meal is a starter of tomato soup and garlic bread followed by chicken, potatoes and corn on the cob. For dessert it’s normally ice cream and a brownie or cake and they do provide a vegetarian option.
If you want to see wildlife in their natural habitat Blue Springs is the place to go. It’s a designated Manatee Refuge in the winter and there are over 400+ manatees in the area. You can do a ton of water activities here like tubing, swimming or canoeing down the river. This 3 hour kayaking tour takes you through Blue Springs State Park where you will see a wide variety of native wildlife including one of Florida’s largest manatee populations.
Kennedy Space Center
If you’re child loves space and/or astronauts you have to visit Kennedy Space Center while in Orlando. It’s a 45 minute drive from the airport but worth every second. You’ll be able to see tons of rocket ships, a reenactment of the moon landing, what it’s like to be in zero gravity and meet astronauts that have been to space. Plan to spend the whole day here because there is tons to do. Admission is also included in the Go Orlando Card and with normal tickets costing $57 it’s a no brainer to purchase the card especially if you plan to visit both here and LEGOLAND. Click here for other options to consider when visiting Kennedy Space Center.
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While they do sell astronaut costumes at Kennedy Space Center I recommend buying in advance. You’ll save a lot of money buying it online on Amazon, about 50% savings. My daughters came with a helmet as well but she prefers to “show her face”. You will definitely see this outfit again come Halloween!
Electric Ocean at Sea World
Ok so while Electric Ocean is in the theme park Sea World it is a completely different event. It’s a huge dance party with special lights and a lot of fun for kids. Watch the promo video here for a better idea. It goes on from 5:30-9:30pm. You can get SeaWorld park admission tickets here.
We did our first escape room on our trip to Fort Myers and Sanibel Island and we had so much fun we had to do it again in Orlando. It’s especially great on a rainy day, which happen quite often in the summer time. Since we have younger kids we did the playground themed room but we all had a great time. We even escaped with 8 minutes to spare!!
If you’re looking for things to do in Orlando besides theme parks that get you one with nature check out Weikiva Island. You can kayak, canoe, paddle board, and swim on the island.
The Crayola Experience
While I do think Disney is great for toddlers if you’re looking for things to do in Orlando besides theme parks because you’re traveling with younger kids The Crayola Experience is perfect. I took my daughter when she was two and she loved it. There are two play areas along with crayon experiences. You can create your own crayon labels, make your own coloring book pages from pictures you take, make your own crayons in different shapes, and more. Be sure to check Groupon as they usually offer discounted tickets. Get Your Guide also offers tickets that allow you to skip the line.
Fun Spot America
Even though you may be looking for things to do in Orlando besides theme parks it doesn’t mean you don’t want to go on rides. So if you want some thrills without the theme park crowds spend a day or afternoon at Fun Spot America. They have a location in Orlando and Kissimmee and you can pay per ride or purchase an all day pass. If you buy the Go Orlando Card you’ll get four rides included.
Boggy Creek Airboat Tour
Living in Miami we’ve visited the Everglades there and done an airboat tour and my daughters loved it. You can do the same in Orlando at Boggy Creek Airboat Tour. It’s such a different activity than what most people come up with when thinking of things to do in Orlando. Admission is also included in the Go Orlando Card.
Pirate Adventure Dinner
If your kids are as obsessed with pirates and mermaids as mine are they will love the Pirate Adventure Dinner. They have a 6pm and 8pm show filled with crowd participation and aerial acrobats. While their website has tickets for $63 we found this on Groupon for $25 for kids and $29 for adults which includes your meal. The Groupon did come with a surprise tax add-on when we called to make our reservation, $15 total for our 4 tickets. Still we enjoyed the evening and the kids had so much fun.
iFly Indoor Skydiving
If you’re not ready for the real thing iFly Indoor Skydiving is a great way to prepare yourself or just have some fun without jumping out of a plane. Kids as young as 3 years old can participate and my daughter had the time of her life. She did two 1-minute flights and wanted to do more.
If you like chocolate you’ll enjoy the tour at Chocolate Kingdom. It’s an interactive tour that not only give you a history of chocolate but gives you a taste in various states and forms. If you have kids they will love the part of the tour where they get to catapult marshmallows into a dragons mouth. At the end of the tour you can customize your own chocolate bar for an additional fee. Before the tour I thought we would get to mix our own ingredients and chocolate together but they do it for you. For the extra $7 it costs for the bar we could have skipped it and just bought some pre-made chocolate, still we enjoyed the tour.
Kayaking at Shingle Creek
While the water isn’t as gorgeous as at Rock Springs this kayaking at Shingle Creek is a closer option for things to do in Orlando besides theme parks. Here you can go on a guided tour or just rent the kayaks on your own and explore the creek. You honestly don’t feel like you’re in Orlando at all which is insane because you’re just a few minutes from International Drive!
Farris and Fosters Chocolate Factory
Yes, there is more than one chocolate experience in Orlando. The one at Farris and Fosters is much more hands on as you make you entire chocolate bar on your own. You also have the ability to make other chocolate goodies like strawberry, pretzel, and marshmallows covered in chocolate. There are also various molds to make chocolate lollipops. There isn’t any educational background on chocolate like Chocolate Kingdom but you can make a lot more things here. Monday’s are family night and up to four people can join for one low price.
Take a Day Trip to Tampa
Tampa is only an hour drive from Tampa and also has a ton for kids to do. Pack your bathing suits because they have beautiful white sand beaches at Clearwater. If your kids are into mermaids they can even become one during a Be a Mermaid Experience. Read more on that and other things to do in Tampa with kids in my guide here.
Take a Day Trip to Ocala
Just one hour from Orlando Ocala is the perfect day trip. Now if only spending a day you’ll have to decide between visiting the gorgeous springs, horseback riding, or exploring Ocala National Forest. Either way you’ll enjoy this adventure from Orlando. Check out my guide to Ocala here to see what to spend your day doing.
There are so many things to do in Orlando besides theme parks. Even hanging out at your resort can be fun. Our favorites are the Holiday Inn Vacations Club at Orange Lake, Hyatt Regency Cypress Creek and Margaritaville Orlando Resort. Did you find this helpful? Please share it!
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