13 Best Things to Do in Orlando Besides the Theme Parks

There's more to a Florida vacation than just the theme parks. After all the roller coasters and butterbeer, enjoy these other fun things to do in Orlando with kids.
Orlando Ferris Wheel
(Photo: Katrina Dandridge)

Orlando isn’t just one of the most popular family vacation spots in the U.S., it’s also a bucket list destination for many families from around the world. And while visiting the best Orlando theme parks sits atop most family vacation ideas wishlists, it doesn’t have to be the only memorable part of your Orlando vacation.

A day on the water is super easy to plan and just a few miles from Disney and Universal. There’s a lot to do in some of the smaller Orlando neighborhoods, too. So, after you’ve had your fill of Disney roller coasters and Orlando water parks and Harry Potter’s butterbeer, here are some other fun things to do in Orlando with kids.

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1. Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures

Sunset_tour
For families, one of the best ways to do that is on an airboat ride at the mouth of the Florida Everglades (Photo: Visit Orlando)

No Orlando vacation is complete without getting a good look at the area’s unique biodiversity and wildlife. For families, one of the best ways to do that is on an airboat ride at the mouth of the Florida Everglades. Each of the Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures will take your family on a high-speed ride through the rivers and creeks around Orlando to see gators, birds, fish, turtles, and more in either a half-hour or hour-long tour. (You also have the option of a private tour.)

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Gliding across the water certainly offers the same kind of rush as many of the best rides at Disney, but Boggy Creek isn’t just about airboats, either. Kids will love the butterfly garden, fossil and gem mine, and BBQ restaurant. Seventeen butterfly species live in the tranquil garden, and Boggy Creek offers miners all the tools they need to seek their fortune in a 70-foot mine.

2. Winter Park and the Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour

The Winter Park Playhouse
Winter Park Playhouse is Florida’s only professional theater dedicated to musical theater (Photo: Visit Orlando)

Driving northeast from downtown Orlando will land you squarely in Winter Park, a tony village complete with high-end al fresco dining, bespoke clothiers, independent movie theaters, and luxurious wine bars. This isn’t a great option for families with little kids, but teens and young adults may relish the experience.

Stroll along the cobbled streets of Park Avenue or get a different view of the town’s magnificent waterfront homes via a Winter Park Scenic Boat tour. You’ll also find golf courses, art museums, sculpture gardens, and entertainment venues here, including Winter Park Playhouse, Florida’s only professional theater dedicated to musical theater. Additionally, a Center for Performing Arts and the Opera Orlando offer lots of options for your evening experience.

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If a relaxing day on the water is more your speed, don’t miss the Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour on your Orlando vacation. The 18-person pontoon boat tour launches from historic Winter Park, about 30 minutes away from the theme parks, and the tours offer excellent lakeside views of the homes of the rich and famous.

Lake Osceola and the chain of lakes in Winter Park give your family an opportunity to enjoy subtropical flowers, local cypress, and lush ferns. The Rollins College crew team trains on these waters, and you may even spot a resting alligator along the shores. Be sure to stop by the nearby Buttermilk Bakery for a flaky pastry breakfast or lunch and eat before or after your scenic boat tour. Don’t worry, the line moves quickly!

3. The Crayola Experience

The Crayola Experience
For indoor fun with little kids on a rainy or extra hot day in Orlando, it’s hard to beat The Crayola Experience (Photo: Visit Orlando)

For indoor fun with little kids on a rainy or extra hot day in Orlando, it’s hard to beat The Crayola Experience, a colorful entertainment complex dedicated to all things crayons. Visit the indoor activity center for more than two dozen hands-on experiences, including learning how crayons are made and wrapping your own crayon. Take advantage of Crayola’s partnership with OceanX to enjoy your colorful experience while exploring the hues of the deep blue.

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With a host of ways to engage with and about crayons, your family can easily spend a day here. The facility houses the world’s largest crayon (over 1,300 pounds), presents a Chaos and Creativity Show, and offers a coloring page photo booth. With a playground, a cafe, a factory show, character meet-and-greets, and a craft studio, kids and adults alike will be entertained. The Melt and Mold studio and Modeling Magic activity turn your crayon experience into an active one.

4. ICON Park

SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium at ICON Park in Orlando (Photo: SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium)
SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium is one of the top attractions for families at ICON Park in Orlando (Photo: SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium)

Rarely is the word “free” associated with Orlando attractions, but ICON Park, located in the heart of International Drive’s commercial district, offers free daily admission and parking. Once inside, you can enjoy delights at a multitude of restaurants and bars, spend time shopping at unique boutiques and stores, or take in the nightly entertainment and dancing fountains. 

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Though strolling through the Park is free, ICON also has paid attractions within the park. The 400-foot Wheel at ICON Park offers a unique view of the Orlando skyline; you can also visit Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium, a bone museum, an arcade, and various other thrill rides. Reduce costs by getting an Attraction Combo ticket or Play Pass.

5. Orlando Balloon Rides

Get a bird’s eye view of the most magical place on earth with Bob’s Balloon Rides. A one-hour trip will amaze the kiddos as they take in the theme parks, swamps, and orange groves of central Florida from the basket of a giant balloon. With reduced fares for kids under 12 and a champagne brunch option, Bob’s welcomes every member of your family. All of Bob’s balloon pilots are FAA certified. Most flights are at daybreak to avoid midday heat, though there are occasional late afternoon offerings as well. 

6. Lake Eola Park

Lake Eola Park
The park today is an idyllic oasis for locals and visitors (Photo: Visit Orlando)

Give your kids a break from the action at Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando. Created in the late 19th century just as Orlando was taking shape, the park today is an idyllic oasis for locals and visitors. Lined with weeping willows and brightly colored flowers, Lake Eola Park’s mile-long paved walking path offers the perfect spot to watch swans and other local fauna cool off in the lake.

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Given its central location, visitors of the park can get a unique view of the Orlando skyline. Every Sunday, you’ll find the Orlando Farmer’s Market in Lake Eola Park from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Grab some fruit then stay the day to rent a swan-shaped paddle boat. Be sure to check the park’s website for notices about band performances, outdoor movie nights, and more at the bandshell. 

7. Orlando Science Center

Din Digs Exhibit
In Kids’ Town, visitors up to age seven can build, make, and splash their way through hands-on science learning (Photo: Visit Orlando)

At the Orlando Science Center, kids can discover the natural world through touch, play, and exploration. The hands-on exhibits allow kids to “hike” across Florida’s ecosystems, discover how the Earth’s atmosphere makes life possible, and get an up-close view of dinosaur fossils and prehistoric mega animals.

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Admission includes access to four floors of science and two theaters. In Kids’ Town, visitors up to age seven can build, make, and splash their way through hands-on science learning. The Tiny Green Home teaches little ones about Sustainability, and the Dino Digs let them travel back to prehistory. If that’s not enough, the science center also hosts revolving exhibits like “Dogs: A Science Tail” and even summer camps if you’re in town for more than a few days.

8. Florida Mall

With nearly 1.8 million square feet of enclosed shopping space, the Florida Mall is an air-conditioned respite when you need a break from the heat and humidity on your Orlando vacation. Kids love the American Girl and Crayola Experience stores. Parents like the Apple Store, Pottery Barn, and Armani Exchange. And if you just haven’t had enough of the Mouse during your Florida family vacation, there’s a Disney Store, too. 

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With special opportunities like the Fairytale Adventure photography event and family fun at the indoor playground, even those who aren’t shopping can still find something to do at the Florida Mall. Check the mall’s calendar for a look at what’s on during your visit. Dining options include full-service restaurants like Shake Shack, the American Girl Bistro (make reservations for dining or tea time at the American Girl website), and Buca di Beppo, as well as counter-service favorites like Five Guy’s and Habibi.

9. Fun Spot America

Fun Spot America
Fun Spot America in Orlando goes all-in on traditional rides like a Ferris wheel, carousel, swings, bumper cars, and go-karts (Photo: Katie Ellison)

A classic old-school amusement park, Fun Spot America in Orlando goes all-in on traditional rides like a Ferris wheel, carousel, swings, bumper cars, and go-karts, along with midway games and thrill rides like roller coasters and a skycoaster. The Orlando location is also home to Gator Spot, where kids can get a first-hand look at Florida’s most popular reptile. A second location in nearby Kissimmee has fewer thrill rides but more for the younger kids.

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Both parks feature Fun Spot America’s patented multi-level go-kart tracks. These parks are definitely not as flashy as Orlando’s major theme parks, but you’ll probably find the shorter lines and lower ticket prices a nice change of pace during an otherwise overstuffed Orlando vacation. Young ones will especially like that more than half of Fun Spot’s rides are for 50″ and under. Parents may appreciate the opportunity to rent a cabana for the day with fridge, ceiling fan, and shade. A one-day dining deal gets you a 30 percent discount for multiple meals.

10. Orlando International Premium Outlets

Orlando Outlets
The sprawling complex is located on International Drive and features some 180 stores (Photo: Visit Orlando)

Shop ’til you drop and then some at Orlando International Premium Outlets. As the name implies, the sprawling complex is located on International Drive and features some 180 stores. The open-air complex is filled with fountains and places to sit and people-watch. You can snag great deals at outlets for high-end brands like Tory Burch, Victoria’s Secret, Adidas, and Brooks Brothers. Take a break from the shopping with a stop at any of the 22 dining spots on the property, including both Ben and Jerry’s and Haagen Dazs. There’s free parking, but arrive early.

11. Disney Springs

Disney Springs (Photo: Photo: VIAVAL/Shutterstock)
Visiting Disney Springs does not require admission to the Disney theme parks (Photo: VIAVAL/Shutterstock)

If you’ve done all the theme parks but still can’t get enough Disney, it’s time to put Disney Springs on your radar. This Disney-themed shopping, dining, and entertainment complex can be accessed from Walt Disney World resorts via pedestrian bridge (from Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa), Disney shuttle bus, or by water taxi from various Disney resorts. If you’re not staying on a Disney property, Disney Springs offers free self parking and $20 valet service (available from 4:30 p.m. to midnight weekdays and noon to midnight on weekends). The Disney Springs complex is divided into four district neighborhoods: 

  • The Landing
  • Marketplace
  • West Side
  • Town Center

Within these neighborhoods, you’ll find more than 95 shops, 68 places to eat or drink, and 20 entertainment options like bowling, movie theaters, a vintage Amphicar ride, and the chance to soar above the complex in the Aerophile, the world’s largest painted helium hot air balloon. Parents can trade off supervision while little ones explore the train, carousel, and Cirque du Soleil’s Drawn to Life.

12. Dezerland Park

Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate with your Orlando vacation plans. When that happens, Dezerland Park becomes one of the best things to do in Orlando with kids. In fact, even if the weather outside is great Dezerland is worth the visit. This 850,000-square-foot indoor play mecca is a place where the whole family can find something to do. For can’t-sit-still travelers, Dezerland hosts Florida’s longest indoor karting track with four skill and speed levels. Energetic little ones might enjoy the 30,000-square-foot trampoline park and bowling alley as well.

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The gamers in your crew will love Dezerland Park’s arcade, which houses more than 300 games, including vintage pinball and the most up-to-date modern consoles. For those who appreciate a more passive experience, Dezerland hosts the Orlando Auto Museum, Florida’s largest with more than 2,000 cars including James Bond and Bat-Man models.

13. Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens

It’s located just a half hour from Orlando, but you’ll feel miles away at the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens. With an Insect Zoo and Reptile House as well as feeding and a petting zoo for little ones, you can get up close to more than 500 animals, including a one-horned Indian rhinoceros. On hot days, everyone might enjoy a stop at the Splash Ground, and Keeper Chats and a train ride will enhance the experience of visitors young and old. Those looking for action might check out the Aerial Adventures ropes course experience on site with rope bridges, suspended discs, and of course, a zip line. 

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With 23 acres of beautiful flora, the botanical garden is a space to slow down and take in nature, though be careful in the Spikes, Thorns, and Prickles Garden. A stop in the Butterfly Garden will remind you of all that is soft and delicate in the world.

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Megan duBois
Megan duBois is the Senior Theme Park Editor for FamilyVacationist. She's also a freelance journalist who covers theme parks, cruising, family travel, and wine tourism for outlets like Conde Nast Traveler, Business Insider, Forbes, Travel + Leisure, The Points Guy, and National Geographic. You can reach her via email at megand513 [at] gmail [dot] com.