Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Beyond Disney World: A Guide to Central Florida Attractions

Things to Do in Orlando and Tampa

Arguably the two most popular attractions in the Orlando area are Walt Disney World and Universal Studios. There are however plenty of other things to see and do to add to your theme park vacation or come to Florida to do these on their own.

Kennedy Space Center

Located about 42 miles from the Orlando airport on Merritt Island, the center of which is known as Cape Canaveral. Since 1968 it has been NASA’s primary launch center for human flight into Space. The visitor center features exhibits, displays, historic spacecraft, memorabilia, shows, two IMAX theaters and bus tours. Admission tickets can be purchased in advance online as well as add-on tours. Recommended add-on tours include Lunch with an Astronaut and KSC Explore Tour, which gets visitors up close to restricted areas such as launch pads, and the Vehicle Assembly building. Some tours can be booked online as a package with admission tickets. The visitor center is open 365 days a year at 9 am each day, closing time varies depending on the time of year.


Located in Winter Haven, almost right between Tampa and Orlando this theme park opened in 2011 at the site of the old Cypress Gardens. Legoland preserved the botanical gardens and re-themed the park with the various Lego brands. The park is designed for children ages 2 to 12, and has over 50 rides, shows, attractions, restaurants, shops and a water park. There is also an adjacent Legoland Hotel and Legoland Beach Retreat. The park is open most days of the year at 10 AM, it is often closed on Wednesdays and sometimes on Tuesdays in the fall and winter when school is session. Tickets and accommodations in the hotels can be booked online.

Sea World*

A marine zoological park and theme park located just 12 miles northwest of Walt Disney World.

The park has seventeen rides and attractions, seven main animal exhibits and five live shows. The park is open daily at 9 am when schools are out of session and 10 am when school is in session. Closing time varies throughout the year.

Discovery Cove*

Located in Orlando adjacent to Sea World, this all inclusive park has dolphin encounters, snorkeling with rays, bird feeding & a lazy river. Advance reservations for the park are required and the admission also includes unlimited food and drink and a ticket to Sea World or Aquatica Orlando. Package enhancements to your admission include swimming with dolphins and trainer for a day.

Aquatica Orlando*

Located next to Sea World and Discovery Cove, this waterpark has a wide variety of attractions some of which pass by or through animal habitats. There are two wave pools that share a white sand beach with chairs, sun beds, and umbrellas. There are also eight slides, two lazy rivers and two children’s areas. The park is open daily through January 1st then it closes for a couple months until the Spring.

*Ticket packages combining two or three parks are available at a savings. Dining packages are also available for Aquatica and Sea World.

Titanic Exhibition

Located near Universal Studios, the Titanic Exhibition features 17 galleries of artifacts with guided tours led by trained actors in period dress. Recently over 100 new artifacts have been added including a 3-ton section of the ship’s hull. The museum also has full scale recreations of the Grand Staircase, First Class Cabin, Verandah cafe and more. The museum hosts dinner events recreating the tragic night the ship sank. Guests interact with some of the most notable passengers while enjoying first class food and a first class show. The museum is open daily from 11 am to 10 pm.

Holyland Experience

A Christian based theme park located in Orlando just northeast of Universal Studios. The park recreates the ancient city of Jerusalem and has 43 different exhibits including restaurants and retail shops. The park also has a full schedule of live productions shows. The park is open from 10 am to 6 pm Tuesday through Saturday. It is closed on New Years Day, Christmas Day, and Thanksgiving Day.

Crayola Experience- This attraction offers 26 hands-on exhibits at Orlando’s newest family destination The Florida Mall, located less than 12 miles from Disney World and about 5 miles from the Orlando International Airport. Over 70,000 square feet of fun awaits visitors from naming and wrapping their own crayon to seeing their digital art come to life on a huge interactive wall. Discounts are available for purchasing tickets in advance and teachers get in free with a valid ID. The attraction is open daily at 10 AM, closing time varies during the year.

Busch Gardens

An African Animal themed park in Tampa Bay with an adjacent Adventure Island Water Park. Busch Gardens has 8 roller coasters and two water rides plus animal attractions, a Sesame Street area and several other rides. Busch Gardens is daily at 10 AM until 5 or 6 PM with extended hours in the summer and school breaks. Adventure Island has 10 water slides, 2 pools, a lazy river, and two areas just for little kids. The park is only open in the late spring, summer, and early fall. Its open typically when school is not in session, with special hours on certain days of the week and weekends when school is in session.

The Florida Aquarium

There are thousands of plants and animals to see here including sharks, alligators, seahorses, stingrays, sea turtles, river otters, birds, and other native fish. Located next to the cruise port in Tampa, the aquarium will store guests luggage for free for those visiting pre or post cruise. The aquarium is open daily from 9:30 am - 5 pm daily, except for Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

Spring Training

15 MLB teams hold their Spring Training in Florida, of those 7 are within about an hours drive of Tampa. Games start towards the end of February and run through almost the end of March, coinciding with Spring Break for many across the country. The players tend to be a little more accessible for autographs and pictures before and after games then they are during the regular season, and the game tickets tend to also be a little cheaper than they are for regular season games.

Atlanta Braves- ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Kissimmee, FL

Baltimore Orioles- Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota, FL

Detroit Tigers- Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium, Lakeland, FL (between Orlando and Tampa)

New York Yankees- George M. Steinbrenner Field, Tampa, FL

Philadelphia Phillies- Spectrum Field, Clearwater, FL

Pittsburgh Pirates- LECOM Park, Bradenton, FL

Toronto Blue Jays- Dunedin Stadium, Dunedin, FL

Tampa Area Beaches

Spend a day or two at the beach, below is a listing of the best beaches in the Tampa area.

Caladesi Island State Park-This top beach is only accessible by boat. Beach goers can take the Ferry over from Honeymoon Island or rent a kayak and paddle over. The island also has 3 miles of nature trails and kayak trails. The park has a marina with electric and water hookups, as well as a snack bar and gift shop.

Honeymoon Island- This island neighbors Caladesi and until a hurricane in 1921 the two used to be connected. Visitors love the 4 mile stretch of this beach perfect for swimming, fishing and collecting shells. There is also a section of beach for pets. Nature lovers enjoy the 3 miles Osprey trail where horned owls, osprey and eagles can be seen nesting. There are two snack bars in the park, a pavilion, cafe, and umbrellas, chairs, kayaks and bicycles available for rental.

Fort De Soto County Park- The largest park within the county park system it is made up of 5 interconnected islands. The area is home to native plants, mangroves, wetlands, and over 328 species of birds. Loggerhead sea turtles nest here between April and November. This area is perfect for kayaking or just relaxing on the beach. The park has restrooms, playgrounds, camping, and an area for dogs on the beach. Lifeguards are stationed from March through Labor Day.

Ben T. Davis- If you are staying in Tampa Bay and just need a quick shot of Vitamin D, this beach fits the bill. Located along the causeway it is perfect for a quick visit for some sun and surf.

Indian Rocks Beach-3 miles of beautiful beach along the Gulf of Mexico. There are 27 beach access points.

Treasure Island-Located on a barrier island west of St. Petersburg, there are nearly 4 miles of beautiful beaches to enjoy. 3 beach access points have both public parking and restrooms including Sunset Beach Pavilion, Gulf Front Park, and Municipal Beach. All parking is $2 per hour.

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