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I hate the winter. I hate the cold, and the snow, and temperatures that prevent outdoor activity. I love the warm, and the sun, and to be outside as much as possible. So to combat the winter blues, I’ve realized that I need to head south several times each winter.
It’s essential for my survival.
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Orlando twice in the last two months. Both trips were awesome and I love that we got to experience some of the lesser known attractions. Yes, most people head to Orlando for Disney or Universal but there are lots of things to do in Orlando besides Walt Disney World!
Heading to Disney for just one day? Then check out my tips for maximizing your One Day at Disney World
Heading to Disney Springs? Check out all you need to know about the re-opening of Disney Springs
Things to do in Orlando Besides Disney
Where to Stay in Orlando, Florida
We were fortunate enough to be able to stay with family in the Lake Nona section of Orlando. Orlando is huge! Seriously, it is so spread out, I definitely suggest doing your HW as to where in the city you want to stay.
When we went to Disney, we stayed at Port Orleans French Quarter which we loved when we visited two years ago (need to write about that soon!).
Recently I stayed at Loews Royal Pacific on a Universal Studios trip.
If you are looking for a hotel, check out these cool hotels in Orlando!
Another great option is a home rental. We are lucky, we always stay at a family condo, but my friend Emily from Journey of Parenthood has an amazing rental house right near Disney that would be the perfect home rental!
Where to Eat in Orlando, Florida
Let’s face it, dining in Orlando is synonymous with the large chains. And yes, they are abundant, inexpensive and you know what you are getting. I mean I love the Olive Garden more than most… but if you want something a little different, here are my recommendations:
Il Pescatore: We ate here for lunch one late afternoon with my aunt and my mom’s 80-year-old cousin. And honestly this was probably one of the best eggplant Parmesan dishes I have ever had! The food was amazing, the wine delicious and lunch here was so reasonably priced! Friendly service too! I highly recommend this place!
Tijuana Flats: Okay, I guess Tijuana Flats is technically a Florida chain, but I love the food here so much. I do wish they would expand to Long Island! I took out from here twice while in Orlando.
If you have never been, Tijuana Flats is a casual dining Mexican restaurant. They offer all the usual Mexican fare, and their shtick is their hot sauce bar. You can choose spicy sauces by levels of Sissy Sauce, Middle Weight, Tear Jerker and Death Wish. I personally like the green jalapeno middle weight sauce.
Besides the hot sauce, the food at Tijuana Flats fresh and delicious and there are a ton of vegetarian combinations. I love the Throwback Thursdaze pricing – $5.99 for a burrito, chips and a drink. I also love the fact that you can mobile order. Again, any time I don’t have to interact with a human is a win in my book.
Chef Mickey: Or any Disney character meal, really! You don’t have to be staying at Disney or even visiting the park to enjoy a meal with the character. It was so great, I wrote an entire post about our Chef Mickey brunch.
Toasted: With several Orlando locations, Toasted a a grilled cheese lovers paradise – and there is a full vegan menu as well! I always visit Toasted in Lake Nona, and ALWAYS order the vegan angry fries – try them if you can handle the spice!
Shake Shack: Again, technically a chain, but one that is more prevalent in the Northeast. There are only five locations in Florida and one in Orlando at I Drive 360, adjacent to the Orlando Eye.
The kids and I are big fans of Shake Shack, and I personally love the ‘shroom burger and the cheese fries. What I love about this location is the outdoor seating complete with corn hole court! We so enjoyed sitting out here late in the day after touring around.
Cracker Barrel: Okay one last “chain” establishment, but you gotta bet when this New York girl visits the South, a Cracker Barrel stop is always on the agenda! My daughter loves the country store and little man loves the golf-tee peg game that is at each table. Plus the food is decent and affordable. I personally love ordering the southern staples – grits, mac and cheese and sweet tea! Plus Cracker Barrels are all over Orlando, so no matter where you are, there is probably one close by!
Looking for more Orlando eats? Then check out 10 amazing places to eat in Orlando
Orlando Fun Besides Disney Parks
Orlando is so packed with fun activities, and not just the big theme parks!
Legoland, Florida: Okay, so technically a theme park, but not one you immediately think of when planning your Orlando trip. If you are wanting rides, but maybe not quite the intense Disney experience, I highly recommend visiting Legoland Florida in Winter Haven (about 45 minutes from the Lake Nona area of Orlando). We loved Legoland so much we visited twice this winter, and recently got a chance to check out the Legoland Florida Water Park.
ICON Orlando, previously known as The Orlando Eye: The Orlando Eye is a 400-foot “Ferris wheel” type observation experience. I had done something similar in Vegas, the high roller, and I thought the kids would really enjoy this.
ICON Orlando (Orlando Eye) is located at the I Drive 360, which is basically a touristy shopping, eating and sightseeing area off of International (I) drive. I bought discounted tickets to ride the Eye through Groupon. At I-Drive 360 there is free and ample parking. We visited on a Friday afternoon and there was hardly a wait to board. We had 8 people in our party and we were able to enjoy our own pod. The ride lasts 23 minutes and there are two iPads set up in the pod to give you more information about what you are seeing. The boys loved this and for days were reciting Orlando facts that they learned!
The Orlando Eye is adjacent to the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum and the Sea Life Aquarium. In retrospect, I should have purchased a combination ticket, which affords you the opportunity to visit all their attractions. Maybe next time!
There is so much to do in this area, check out the 20 Best Things to do on International Drive.
Buy discount tickets to the Orlando Eye here
Want more attractions? Check out this awesome Orlando combo ticket!
Epic McDonald’s: Yes, there is a McDonald’s that has been deemed epic. It has its own hashtag, #epicmcdorl. I’m not making this up! This is located on International Drive, near the Orlando Eye, so after riding the Ferris wheel and eating at Shake Shack, we drove over to this two story McDonald’s!
The first floor looks like your typical Mickey D’s, except for the wood burning pizza oven, the pasta bar, and the dessert bar! Oh and the completely automated ordering area! The upstairs is a giant play area and arcade. The climbing structure in the play area is free, and our kids loved it! The arcade was really nice, but you have to pay for the games and we were pretty tapped out at this point.
This was a fun, relatively cheap activity and a chance for our kids to run around and blow off some steam! And if you are a McDonald’s aficionado you should definitely check this out!
Wild Florida: Looking for an airboat gator tour? Then definitely check out Wild Florida! Only 25 minutes south of Lake Nona, you can spend a whole day here experiencing the animals on the boat, and on land!
TAKING A DAY TRIP FROM ORLANDO? THEN CONSIDER A RIDE TO THE CLEARWATER MARINE AQUARIUM IN CLEARWATER FLORIDA. HOME TO WINTER AND HOPE, THE DOLPHIN STARS OF THE DOLPHIN TALE MOVIES
Aquatopia: Okay I guess a water park is a theme park, but Florida is HOT and you might want to hit this awesome water park to beat the heat! Baby girl and I visited Aquatopia one November day and we LOVED it!
There is so much to eat and do in Orlando, we didn’t even scratch the surface! We did spend time lounging by the pool in our condo complex and enjoying the company of family. But please let me know, what are you favorite Orlando attractions?
Heading to Orlando? Need help planning this trip? The click the banner below to get started planning your Orlando Vacation today! I am a full-service travel agent and do it all – Disney, Universal, Legoland, and all the Florida resorts! As always, my services are FREE!
Got more time in Orlando, Florida? Then check out:
6 Day Orlando Family Itinerary, by Five for the Road