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Orlando Beyond the Theme Parks

SmarterTravel

If you’re travelling with kids, chances are you won’t have the option of skipping some of the major theme parks on your visit. But if this is a second trip or your kids aren’t keen on the inevitability of long lines, there are still plenty of things to do in Orlando besides theme parks.

9 Things to Do in Orlando Besides Theme Parks

From shopping and theatre to arts and eats, these ideas of things to do in Orlando besides theme parks will help you create an itinerary that gives you a deeper understanding of what the city of Orlando is really about.

Theater: Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

Dr. phillips center for the performing arts
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Step away from the adrenaline rushes and head into the theatre for a thrill of a different kind. From touring Broadway shows to comedy specials and musician names you’ll recognize, the Dr. Phillip’s Center for the Performing Arts offers a variety of entertainment options that will enrich as well as entertain.

Sports: Church Street District

Church street district
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Set in the “heart of Downtown Orlando” this area is your go-to spot for sports venues and the entertainment and dining options that surround them. Basketball fans should take in an NBA Orlando Magic game at the Amway Center. Soccer fans will want to cheer for the home team Orlando City Soccer Club at the Orlando City Stadium. Can’t get tickets? No problem. Area dining establishments offer plenty of ways to cheer on local teams by raising a toast at a fan-favorite bar.

Indoor Fun:  WonderWorks

WonderWorks
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When you’re looking for what to do in Orlando besides theme parks, look no further than WonderWorks. From the moment you set eyes on the upside-down house on International Drive, you know you’re in for a wacky time. But, to truly appreciate what Wonderworks has in store you need to be prepared to spend some time. There are more than 100 hands-on interactive exhibits here—everything from the chance to lie on a bed of nails to a gravitational simulator ride. You’ll also find a three-story ropes challenge, a laser tag course, and opportunities to test your brain skills. In the evening, take in the Outta Control Magic Show, a magic/comedy pizza party dinner show that is good for kids, teens, and adults.

Art: Orlando Museum of Art

Orlando museum of art
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Spend an afternoon wandering the exhibits at the Orlando Museum of Art, where the mission is to “inspire creativity, passion and intellectual curiosity” in its visitors. Exhibits rotate, but often feature local talents. The museum is small enough to explore in a few hours—making it the perfect air-conditioned art break from your day of outdoor adventures, and an ideal answer to the question: “What is there to do in Orlando besides theme parks?”

Science:  Orlando Science Center

Orlando science center
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Let little ones burn off some energy inside four floors of exhibits at the Orlando Science Center. Permanent exhibits include Nature Works, DinoDigs, Our Planet, The Kinetic Zone, and KidsTown (an interactive world dedicated to pint-sized explorers). The Center also offers a Science Live! Program, in which exhibits are brought to life with interactive shows and projects. (Check ahead for times and dates.)

Community: Mills 50

mills 50
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You’ll be quickly enthralled with the variety of cultures on display in The Mills 50 district. The Main Street America initiative has become a draw for visitors (and locals) who are drawn to the independent businesses in the area. Adding to the intrigue is an expanding enclave of authentic Asian restaurants, shops, and markets. In fact, Mills 50 is now home to the largest Vietnamese-American community in Florida. To come here and not eat would be a huge mistake. Don’t miss Hawkers Asian Street Fare, Pho 88 and Shin Jung. And if your craving is for Mexican food, Black Rooster Taqueria, with its farm to taco cuisine, will satisfy.

Nostalgia: Old Town  

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Take the family for a stroll and explore a bygone era at Old Town USA. The walking district offers an array of shopping and dining options in neighboring Kissimmee. Built as a re-creation of a classic Florida town, Old Town USA features historical architecture and nostalgic storefronts. There are also plenty of opportunities for classic entertainment (Skee-Ball or Ferris Wheels anyone?). The kicker: Every Saturday night there’s a Classic Car Cruise that brings out owners and fans alike. Come out to watch them make their way down the main street.

Adventure: Orlando Tree Trek Adventure Park

Orlando tree trek adventure park
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Get a new view of Orlando on an aerial adventure course that will challenge your tree trekking skills. The six courses at this adventure park combine a host of obstacles including Tarzan swings, wobbly bridges, and plunging zip lines. There are different entry levels for kids (ages 7 and up) and adults so that everyone gets a challenge. And safety demonstrations and trained instructors make sure you go home with the party you came with.

Animals:  Central Florida Zoo and Brevard Zoo

Central florida zoo
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Two zoo offerings in Orlando offer fresh perspectives on the age-old tourist choice. At the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens, you can attempt the ZOOm aerial adventure course that gives you a sense of how many of these animals see the world. Rope bridges, suspended disks, and zip lines offer a fun, new way to see the landscape below. And at the Brevard Zoo, you can hop in a kayak for the only guided kayak tour around an animal exhibit in the country. You’ll paddle through Expedition Africa as your guide points out giraffes, rhinos, and zebras on shore.

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  • Original reporting by Heather Greenwood-Davis

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