When you say you are going to Orlando, people will instantly ask you, “Are you going to the Disney?”. It is a no brainer because Orlando, Florida is the home of Disney World. Not only that, Universal Studios is also here. It is nicknamed “The Happy Place” for all those obvious reasons. Officially, Orlando is called the “City Beautiful”. Indeed, besides those gigantic and popular theme parks, the city has so much to offer.
5 Things You Can Do In Orlando Besides Theme Park
If the city has so much to offer, then why only five? My wife and I went to Orlando to attend a four day Every Nation Family of churches world conference in the mammoth Marriott World Center Orlando. In between those days, we were able to get a glimpse of the city.
1. Orlando International Premium Outlet/Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets
If you are looking for a retail therapy, head on to any or both of the two premium outlets in the city. International Premium Outlet (180+ shops) is located in International Drive while Vineland Premium Outlet (160+ shops) is in Vineland Avenue. Both has designer and name-brand outlet stores. From clothes to shoes to bags to gadgets, you have wide selection. Prices are really low. They offer between 25% to 75% discounts. Sample brand selections are: Nike, Puma, Adidas, Lacoste, Perry Ellis, Vans, Under Armour, Coach, Samsonite, Bose, etc.
Both outlet malls are in an open air setting. So it can get really hot. Stores are air-conditioned so you’ll have some relief. If you are hungry, they have an indoor food court and a handful of food stores and coffee shops scattered within both property. Give yourself 3-4 hours in each of the outlet mall. Brands present in each location are almost the same. So choose whether you want to go in one or both. We did go on both by the way. I like Vinelands layout but International is also good.
There are stores offering free WiFi just in case you don’t have any access to data.
2. Disney Springs
Disney Springs is located in one corner of the vast Disney World property. This is open to anyone and doesn’t need any ticket to enter. It is a different destination in itself. It offers myriad of dining, shopping and entertainment selection that is open between 10:00am and 2:00am. You can go shopping in over 110 shops plus the World of Disney store. It is the worlds largest Disney merchandise location. The Springs is also a nice place to watch sun set.
Entertainment and family fun is the core of this place. They also have the worlds largest tethered helium balloon. You can take a ride for a fee and see the beauty of the nearby Walt Disney World Resort. Be on the look out, because you might just encounter live musicians and other talented performers on stages and on the street corners. The Rolling Piano is just one of them.
Free WiFi is present almost in every part of the property so you can actually download the MyDisney Experience mobile app to help and guide you as you explore.
3. Icon Orlando 360
Icon Orlando is a 400 feet tall observation wheel on the East Coast of the United States. It is so tall that you can see it from miles away. It offers a great view of Downtown Orlando, theme parks from afar and the surrounding Central Florida landscape. It could be even more beautiful at night because the lights on the wheel changes its color. Night time cityscape can also be mesmerizing.
You can prebook online or get your ticket in the park. They offer ride only or packaged with other deals and attractions. You can pay for the whole capsule and ask them to set up for dinner on whatever occasion you would want to celebrate with your spouse or partner. The capsule can fit 15 individuals, however, when we went there at 3:00pm, we literally owned one. The wheel is moving slowly and a complete rotation will take 22 minutes. It is open from 10:00am to 2:00am.
Within the same complex, you can find other attractions and things to do. The Orlando Star Flyer is here. $10 for a single ride which will take around 5 minutes of swinging in the 450 feet tower. SEA Life, Madame Tussauds and Skeletons: Museum of Osteology. I paid a total of $87.24 for two for the wheel plus SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium. There various restaurants as well to get your tummy fill.
Icon Park as it is also called, is located along International Drive. I-Drive is known for various shopping and entertainment places outside of all the famed theme parks.
For more information including tickets, check out Icon Park Orlando and plan your visit. WiFi is available in the entire property.
4. SEA Life Orlando Aquarium
SEA Life Orlando is a nice aquarium with 360° tunnel. Life under the sea or under the ocean is spectacular. Fortunately, we have this kind of attractions, it is the closest thing that enables us to experience this incredible dimension.
Watch in awe as fish, sharks, turtles, and eels swim above, beneath, and all around you. The aquarium has various exhibits. Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans to name a few. You can see numerous species of fish, sharks, turtles, sea horses, etc.
On the Indian Ocean exhibit you can meet Ted, the turtle who helped develop the Turtle Excluder Device (TED). The device allows the turtle to escape when caught in a fisherman net, in particular those nets used in commercial shrimp industry.
For more information including tickets, check out SEA Life Orlando and plan your visit.
5. Universal City Walk
The City Walk is Universal’s version of the Disney Springs. Entrance is free, but you have to pass through Universal Studios security check. The City Walk is located in front of the theme park. It features various restaurants and shopping options.
The iconic Universal globe is right after the bridge before entering the ticketed section. You can pose and snap a few photos. WiFi is available including at the security check area. Check out there website Universal Studios and plan your visit.
Getting Around Orlando
If you know how to drive, you can rent a car from Avis, Hertz, Budget, etc. Taxi is also an option, but prices can really go out of your budget. There are also registered private car owners who are just waiting in hotel lobbies or at the airport.
However, the most economical mode of moving around is through Lyft. Check their website here Lyft or download their app in Google Play and Apple Store. You can buy a sim card with data for a minimum of $30 and you are good to go. Although hotels and most of Orlando attractions are offering free WiFi. In our case, I just made myself resourceful in patiently looking for WiFi connections. Lol.
Where to stay?
Orlando is peppered with hotels and resorts. The most strategic place to look for accommodation is within Lake Buenavista (Where Disney is located.) or International Drive (Where ICON and Universal Studios are located) as they are just minutes away to most attractions. We stayed at HOLIDAY INN RESORT ORLANDO-LAKE BUENAVISTA. It is an IHG operated resort. You can check Holiday Inn Resort for further information. For $99 per night for two, the hotel is already a nice find. This includes buffet breakfast for two at Applebees restaurant also located within the property. However, food isn’t great. The menu stays almost the same daily. The only thing being served alternately are the hot dogs and burger patties. I call each day as Hotty Day or Patty Day. Lol. Other than that, the restaurants server are great. They are very accommodating and are always asking, “Everything Okay?”. Now, I just smiled narrating that because I literally heard the voice of the server in my head. Lol.
Holiday Inn Resort may not be the cheapest but I feel I was able to get the value on my hard-earned money. The location is great. It is near the Springs and Vineland. There are other restaurants and fast food chains nearby which are 5 to 10 minutes walk from the resort. Wendys, Chick-fil-A, Subway, Starbucks, etc.
Overall, you can enjoy Orlando without the theme parks. Wife is 17-week pregnant when we went there so Disney and Universal are a no. Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral is in my list but we were not able to go because of time constraint.
Thinking of going there soon? Checkout Visit Orlando and start planning. Even if you stay for a month or two, most probably you can’t explore the whole of the city. So much to see and do, but so little time. Orlando can really get hot in the summer but I still love it. It is hitting as high as 93°F and the feel can get as high as 101°F (33 to 40°C). Drink a lot of water to avoid heat stroke and dehydration.