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Soak Up Some Local Flavor
En español | Take a break from the theme park crowds and explore the picturesque city of Winter Park, where arts and culture are part of everyday life. Swanky Park Avenue offers tree-lined streets, chic bistros, specialty boutiques, art galleries and museums. Take a leisurely walk along the cobblestone streets or board the Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour, a relaxing one-hour tour through the lakes and canals of this historic city. Visit the Morse Museum, home to the world’s most comprehensive collection of works by artist and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany, including many of his leaded-glass lamps and windows. In the evening, head a few miles south to downtown Orlando and mingle with the locals at Thornton Park and Lake Eola. Dine along the lakefront and, if you time it right, watch the iconic fountain in the middle of the lake change colors to a choreographed set of music.
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Stroll Through a Garden Oasis
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. Check the website for free Monday admissions and a schedule of special events.
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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 also boast 13 miles of hiking trails, many of which are shaded, and a boardwalk that is ADA compliant. A shallow-water children’s area is perfect for splashing around with the grandkids, and a ramp gives wheelchairs access to the water. Admission is $6 per vehicle, 2-8 people.
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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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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 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: Krista Kennell/Newscom
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
anda 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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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 100-year replica of the original 1830s sugar mill. Cook your own pancakes from two types of homemade batters 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 located about 45 miles north of Orlando. Admission is $6 per vehicle, 2-8 people.
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Take a Trip That's out of This World
A great multigenerational outing, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex gives visitors an up-close look into America’s space program. You should plan to spend a large part of the day here, as the complex is expansive. Grandkids will have a blast at the interactive exhibits organized by space missions and at the outdoor Rocket Garden. Leave enough time to take the two-hour guided bus tour, included in your admission, which will take you past two giant launch pads and the Vehicle Assembly Building, the largest building in the world. The lines for the bus can get long in the afternoon, so plan accordingly. The center is in Cape Canaveral, about 30 miles east of Orlando. If you don’t have a car, Gray Line Orlando and Florida Dolphin Tours offer transportation to the visitor complex. Regular admission is $50 for adults, $40 for children (3-11), $46 for 55 and older.
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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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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. Visit in January, September
andNovember during nonholiday weekends for the lowest prices and crowds.