We live only an hour outside of Orlando and we love that we have this exciting destination right at our fingertips.
Orlando is known for its world-renowned theme parks and once you have been you can totally understand why. They are pretty amazing. We have been Disney Season Ticket Passholders for the last 4 years and have been to all the parks more than we can count.
For my eldest’s 5th birthday she asked for a family vacation to Orlando. The bad news was our annual passes had just expired and we weren’t going to renew until after Christmas. She had her heart set on Orlando so we had to find a way to make it work.
This started me on a search for fun “theme park free” things to do and let me tell you there was no shortage.
Great Places to Stay
When staying in Orlando, location is everything. We wanted to stay close to the action because when you have to go back and forth to your hotel for naps, forgotten pacifiers or bedtime you don’t want to spend a ton of time in the car. We loved staying at the Wyndham on I-Drive because it was close to everything.
There were so many restaurants, shopping and attractions just a short walk away. We stayed in the Family Suite which included a King bed and a bunk bed. The girls couldn’t contain their excitement as they crawled up on the top bunk to watch their own personal TV. We usually have a hard time all fitting in one room as a family of 5 but this hotel room was so spacious we didn’t feel one bit cramped. There was so much room that even with the pack n play and all of our luggage we could still have a dance party (and we definitely did).
The grounds were beautiful. The girls loved the pool and I loved Gatorville, the on-site grill and its delicious margaritas. It was so nice having the convenience of a great restaurant on-site, they were even so accommodating with my husbands diet restrictions which made things a million times easier on us. You can even visit if you’re not staying there, it’s worth it!
Fun things to Do
Formerly known as iDrive 360, ICON Park Orlando is full of great restaurants, small shops, fun bars and amusement park rides. ICON Park has everything your family needs to have one of the best times in Orlando without the big crowds.
My girls talked about the The Wheel at ICON Park for days and days after we took a ride. They started off a little scared but were so fascinated by the whole experience and kept asking to go back. The view from the top is such an awesome one, allowing you to take in all of the Orlando Area. You can also bring drinks along for the ride, turning your pod into a little lounge!
I was shocked to see how much fun they had in Madame Tussauds wax museum. The whole family got into character and really had a blast. There’s so much fun to be had all the way through this interactive experience with celebrities, sports icons, and their favorite cartoon characters.
Of course the aquarium was a hit with all three girls. Our favorite part was walking through the shark tank with the transparent floor, the girls were mesmerized. We spent so much time at the Aquarium and the kept wanting to go back for more. I highly suggest planning a visit for your family next time you are in Orlando.
We decided to try the Crayola Experience for the first time on my daughter’s birthday. We pulled up to the Florida Mall and we were shocked when we saw the vibrant colors in front of us. We weren’t expecting how much fun we would have. The adults had just as much fun as the kids and we kept glancing at each other with this look of “holy smokes this is so cool”.
We were there for about 4 hours but my kids could have stayed even longer if we let them. Their favorite part had to be the playground (because what kid doesn’t like climbing), making their own crayons and the spin art (my favorite too). There were activities for all ages and I loved how educational it was so I will definitely be taking my girls back for a home school day.
Here is a fun video of our adventures at Orlando’s Crayola Experience
Just an hour drive from Orlando, the Kennedy Space Center is an awesome attraction for all ages. You can see real spacecraft, meet real astronauts, and learn about NASA’s space exploration. The Kennedy Space Center offers lots of great tours and interactive exhibits, including the exciting Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit!
See more about our trip to the Kennedy Space Center and Florida’s Space Coast HERE
Explore the Nature and Wildlife
Orlando is surrounded by so much natural beauty with so many ways to explore. Take a swamp boat tour to see wildlife in their natural habitat, visit the Gatorland wildlife park, or even explore the Wekiwa Springs State Park.
Discover the Local Culture
Orlando has a really great cultural heritage scene certainly worth exploring. Visit the Orlando Museum of Art, the Orlando Science Center, or the Mennello Museum of American Art. Orlando also hosts festivals and events throughout the year, like the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, the Orlando Jazz Festival, and the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival.
Enjoy the Food Scene
Orlando has a really diverse food scene with lots of restaurants with cuisine from around the world. Explore the ethnic neighborhoods in the area, like Little Vietnam, Little Saigon, and Little India. You can also take a food tour to sample some of the city’s best bites. Book your Food Tour HERE
Best Places to Eat
The Sugar Factory
Out of all the places to eat in all of Orlando my daughter chose The Sugar Factory as her birthday dinner. After our sugar-infused and very entertaining experience, now I totally understand why.
The insane milkshakes are Instagram worthy and the ambiance was fun and exciting. It was a bit noisy, which is great to drown out the sound of my clan. Just keep that in mind if your kiddos don’t like that. There is a window outside where you can walk up and enjoy a sweet treat if you aren’t feeling going inside.
The Ravenous Pig
The Ravenous Pig is a farm-to-table restaurant specializing in modern American cuisine. Known for its fresh ingredients, seasonal menus, and family-friendly atmosphere. Outdoor seating area is perfect for families with kids, and the kids’ menu has plenty of options to keep them happy.
The Coop is a Southern-style restaurant that serving comfort foods, like fried chicken, mac and cheese, and collard greens. It has a casual, family-friendly atmosphere. The menu has plenty of options for adults and kids.
Santiago’s Bodega is a tapas-style restaurant with a variety of small plates, perfect for sharing. It has a laid-back, family-friendly vibe. The outdoor seating area is a great place to relax with the family. The menu has great options for both adults and kids!
Yellow Dog Eats
Yellow Dog Eats serves creative sandwiches, salads, and side dishes. It has a fun atmosphere that kids will love! The menu has plenty of options for meat-eaters and vegetarians. Be sure to try the “Florida Cuban” or the “Freaky Tiki.”
Tako Cheena is a casual Asian-Mexican fusion restaurant. They have tacos, burritos, and bowls. Very laid-back and definitely family-friendly. Be sure to try the “Korean Beef” or the “Bangkok Shrimp” tacos. Options for the kids too.
Black Bean Deli
Black Bean Deli is a Cuban restaurant that offers authentic sandwiches, empanadas, and plantains. With a very casual atmosphere, the menu has options for adults and kids. Be sure to try the “Cubano” sandwich or the “Ropa Vieja” plate.
Enjoy Your Own “Theme Park Free” Vacation
We had an action packed few days in Orlando and we didn’t step foot in a theme park once. What a great trip and a memorable fifth birthday for my big girl.
What is your favorite thing to do when you visit Orlando? Are theme parks a must or do you like to check out the other attractions?
Do you have any questions regarding vacationing in Orlando with your family? Leave a comment below and maybe your question will be the start of my next post!