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PHOTO BY: Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo
Stroll Through a Garden Oasis
En español | The 50-acre Harry P. Leu Gardens is just minutes from downtown and boasts more than 12,000 plants, including one of the largest camellia collections in the United States. Stroll along trails shaded by 200-year-old oak trees as you tour the various themed gardens, including an expansive rose garden. The park, donated by the Leu family in 1961, is open year-round, except for Christmas, and offers exhibits and special events such as movie nights and jazz concerts.
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PHOTO BY: joel zatz / Alamy Stock Photo
Commune With Nature
Craft your own adventure of activities — including kayaking, bicycling, hiking and swimming — and enjoy the lush and tranquil scenery at Wekiwa Springs State Park. The park’s springs remain a refreshing 72 degrees throughout the year, and it also boast 13 miles of hiking trails, many of which are shaded, and an ADA-compliant boardwalk. A shallow-water children’s area is perfect for splashing around with the grandkids, and a ramp gives wheelchair users access to the water. Admission is $6 per vehicle, 2-8 people.
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PHOTO BY: VIAVAL / Alamy Stock Photo
Hunt for Bargains
Orlando International Premium Outlets and the Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets draw discount shoppers from all over the world. Conveniently located near Universal Orlando Resort and Walt Disney World Resort, these shopping meccas offer discounts of up to 65 percent off at hundreds of name-brand shops, such as Chico’s, Ann Taylor, Calvin Klein and Disney. At the Main Gate Flea Market, you can rummage and haggle for deals at over 400 merchant booths, including many that sell discounted Disney souvenirs. Take home a slice of the Sunshine State at Orange World in Kissimmee. Inside the "world's largest orange" is a wide variety of Florida oranges, jellies, candies and other souvenir merchandise.
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PHOTO BY: Loop Images Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
Go Back in Time
For a blast from the past, head on over to Disney’s Boardwalk. The quarter-mile promenade is lined with shops and eateries that evoke turn-of-the-century boardwalks such as the ones at Coney Island and Atlantic City. In the evening, street performers — including jugglers, fire-eaters and jazz ensembles — entertain guests as they stroll around the boardwalk. Pop in for a nightcap at Jellyrolls, featuring dueling piano players and audience sing-alongs for the 21-and-older crowd. If swinging to the big bands is more your style, check out Urbain 40 in downtown Orlando. The lounge pays homage to the Rat Pack and offers a wide selection of “big city” cocktails.
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PHOTO BY: Radharc Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Enjoy Some Down-Home Fun
Gatorland is the oldest-running theme park in Orlando, entertaining multiple generations of families since 1949. You won’t find any animatronic creatures at this 110-acre park and wildlife preserve. Instead, visitors will have up-close encounters with real alligators, along with crocodiles, bobcats and other animals. Family-friendly animal shows, an aviary and a petting zoo are also included in the admission. If gators aren’t your thing, the park is also a breeding ground for hundreds of migratory birds between February and early June. Regular admission to the park is $29.99 adults, $19.99 child (3-12) and $24.99 for 55 and up. Buy tickets online for $3 off.
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PHOTO BY: Stephen Vincent / Alamy Stock Photo
Discover a Hidden Gem
Nestled in the De Leon Springs State Park, the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill and Griddle House has been delighting guests for more than 50 years in a replica of the original 1830s sugar mill. Cook your own pancakes from two types of homemade batter right at your table. No need to rise early, as breakfast is served all day. After filling up on a stack, embark on an eco-boat tour and learn about the folklore surrounding Ponce De León’s Fountain of Youth. You can also rent a kayak, canoe or paddleboard to enjoy the natural springs. The swimming area is accessible by stairs, ramp and a swimmer lift. The park is about 45 miles north of Orlando. Admission is $6 per vehicle, 2-8 people.
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PHOTO BY: Stephen Vincent / Alamy Stock Photo
Delight in Old-World Charm
Built in 1883, the Lakeside Inn in Mount Dora is the last of the Grand Victorian Era hotels still remaining in Central Florida. The hotel is just a 30-minute drive from Orlando, but its old-world charm will transport you back in time to another era. Relax in a comfortable rocking chair and drink in the scenic views of Lake Dora on the 200-foot veranda, or enjoy a wide variety of activities such as swimming, guided boat tours, seaplane rides, bird-watching, nature walks and antiquing. Time your visit around one of the many festivals throughout the year, including a seafood festival in August and seasonal antique extravaganzas.
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PHOTO BY: Findlay / Alamy Stock Photo
A visit to the theme park capital of the world isn’t complete without conjuring up some magical moments at Walt Disney World. If you’re traveling with grandkids in tow, the Magic Kingdom is the quintessential Disney experience, with its iconic Cinderella Castle, Disney character meet-and-greets and classic rides such as It’s a Small World, Peter Pan’s Flight and Pirates of the Caribbean. A more relaxed, adult-themed outing can be found at Epcot. You can stroll through the World Showcase pavilions and experience the culture and authentic food and drinks of 11 countries. Stick around in the evening for the spectacular Illuminations water and fireworks show. If you have more time — and energy — WDW’s Animal Kingdom and SeaWorld will thrill and delight guests of all ages. SeaWorld and Universal Orlando, with its Wizarding World of Harry Potter, are just a short drive away.