I’ve been doing a little bit of an ongoing series on my blog over the last few years that we have been going to Orlando and I am back now with Part Four. I think when people think of Orlando they automatically think of Disney World and Universal, and with good reason- they are such a huge part of the city and what it is has to offer. But Orlando has so much more than that. We are the hugest Disney fans, we love Universal, but we couldn’t go to Orlando and do just those parks for the week. We like to find the other things to do, the ones that perhaps you don’t know as much about.
To start off with if you want to read my previous posts in this series you can find them here-
So today I am back with Part Four! I think we could go to Orlando every single year for the rest of our lives and still not get around all there this is to do there. But here are a few things that we got up to on our recent trip that are well worth a visit.
De Leon Springs State Park
De Leon Springs State Park is about an hour away from Orlando but it is definitely worth the trip if you want to get away from the craziness of Orlando and its theme parks. We originally found out about De Leon Springs from the Visit Orlando website, and as we are big fans of exploring and not just staying in one place the whole time, we decided to give it a go.
De Leon Springs has lots of activities to keep you entertained for the day. There’s a 50 minute boat tour where you can go through the State Park and then also the Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, there’s miles of hiking, kayaking, a kids playground, picnic areas and a nature trail. But most people come for the swimming and the pancakes!
De Leon Springs has a large outdoor pool which is just perfect for a dip. The day we went typically it was the first drop of rain we had experienced all holiday. On the way in the car we were tempted to turn around, but in the end decided we would just go for some of these well renowned pancakes. In the end we decided that we would just go for it and swim in the rain. We were the only ones in the pool (bar a hardcore elderly gentleman) and it was one of the best experiences I have had- swimming in the rain in the great outdoors with my little people. It was just so much fun.
A lot of people also head to De Leon Springs for the pancakes. There is an incredibly unique restaurant there called the Sugar Mill Restaurant which was one of the highlights of our trip, and judging by just how busy it was it seems that a lot of other people come here for this restaurant too. You are given a pancake mix and various different toppings and you can cook pancakes on a griddle in front of you, it was so much fun and the children loved it (more importantly the pancakes were delicious!).
I definitely recommend a trip here if you fancy escaping Orlando for a little while and seeing what other parts of Florida have to offer.
I should probably start by saying that I wasn’t sure how much we were all going to get from Madam Tussauds before we visited. I had been to the London one many years ago (it could have changed now to be fair) and while it was good fun, I felt there were better things we could have spent our money on. However we were kindly given tickets to visit the Orlando one so we thought we may as well give it a go. Our children were 7, 5 and 2 at the time of visiting and we weren’t sure how much they would get from it, as of course they don’t necessarily know the people featured.
However my initial assumptions couldn’t have been more wrong. We all had a fantastic experience at Madam Tussauds Orlando, in fact I would probably go as far as to say that it was one of the favourite moments of our trip for my five year old daughter. Not only did they recognise a fair few of the wax work celebrities, it was also incredibly interactive. There are lots of different photo props you can use, or outfits you can try on, and we had such good fun walking around and getting immersed in the experience. It was lots of fun and I definitely recommend a trip here.
Also I mentioned ICON Orlando back in the first post I did, but it’s a great place to hang out, have some food (there’s over 40 different food places) and spend the day.
Gatorland was a first for us on our recent visit to Orlando and it was one we would definitely repeat again should we ever be lucky enough to go back. Gatorland is dubbed ‘The Alligator Capital of the World’ and it’s easy to see why- there are alligators everywhere. No trip to Orlando is complete without learning a little more about the most famous Florida residents. Gatorland has hundreds of alligators and crocodiles, from tiny babies up to 14 foot monsters. But it is more than just a Gator Park, it has animal shows, other species to see, it’s Stompin Gator Off-Road Adventure and it’s Screaming Gator Zip Line.
Unfortunately when we went I wasn’t feeling too well so I don’t feel we made the most of our day, but we still had a great time. Our favourite part was definitely the zip line- you fly over 1200 feet of ziplines above alligators swimming around in the water below you. Even my five year old had a go and I couldn’t believe how brave she was. It was so much fun and I would love to do it again.
I think you could plan to spend a whole day at Gatorland if you took it easy and spent a lot of time wandering around/having a break for lunch etc. But also you can equally go and see most of what you need to see in a few hours. We loved it and would definitely recommend a visit. You wouldn’t believe it but alligators are actually incredibly interesting to learn more about.
If you are looking for a relaxing afternoon away from the craziness of the theme parks but want to still be in Orlando itself, you can’t go far wrong with Lake Eola. Situated in Downtown Orlando, Lake Eola Park is a public park which is nice to walk around, with the centre piece being the lake itself where you can hire a swan boat to take out for an hour or so. There’s also an amphitheater which shows a lot of shows, music and concerts, as well as lots of wildlife and pretty flowers as you wander around.
Nearby there are lots of local restaurants to grab a bite to eat. We ate at a great pizza place called Anthony’s in nearby Thornton Park, which was casual and a nice place to sit and watch the world go by on their outside patio. Lake Eola is a lovely place to spend the morning or afternoon, we have been a couple of times while we were waiting to go to the airport for our flight back in the evening.
Even though I said this wasn’t about the main theme parks, I did mention Disney Springs in my last blog post in this series. So it is only right to mention Universal’s version- Citywalk. It was our first proper visit to Citywalk (other than walking through to get to Universal Studios) this trip and we weren’t disappointed. Much similar to Disney Springs but on a smaller scale, Citywalk has an abundance of restaurants, shops, entertainment and more.
There is an array of eateries, including Hard Rock Cafe which we ate in and was very nice with a lively atmosphere, as well as more quick food options too such as Starbucks. You simply cannot go to Citywalk and not get a Voodoo Donut– their strapline is ‘Good things come in pink boxes’ and they definitely aren’t wrong. They were delicious and lots of fun.
Even if you aren’t coming to either of the two Universal theme parks on your trip, I definitely recommend a trip to Citywalk. It’s a great place to grab some lunch or dinner (or one of their many sweet options), and just chill out and people watch for a bit. Also don’t forget to have your photo taken next to the famous Universal globe.
Remember to check out my previous posts in this series too…
NB: Thanks to Visit Orlando for working with us on planning our holiday to Orlando, we have a great relationship with them from over the years. All words, photos, videos and opinions are entirely my own and they haven’t asked me to write about anything- all content has been decided by me. For a couple of attractions (Gatorland and Madam Tussauds) we were kindly given press tickets. You can follow Visit Orlando over on twitter, instagram and Facebook, plus download their amazing app to help you plan your trip here.2