05 Dec A Day in Orlando, Minus the Mouse
I’d be lying if I said Orlando wasn’t overflowing with Mickey Mouse and theme parks galore, but underneath all the theme park hype, Orlando really does have many other fun and unique activities to offer. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve visited Orlando. On our yearly vacation to visit relatives when I was younger, our trips to Orlando were mostly geared toward the theme parks. Now that I live 3 hours south of the city, Micah and I have had the chance to scratch the surface of the other side of Orlando. So, next time you find yourself in Orlando and you want to hide from Mickey, rent a car and head out to the following locations. We hit up all of the following in one day, but if you are looking for more of a relaxing day instead, cut out one or two of the below options or spread them out over the weekend.
-Showcase of Citrus-
Start your day off with a little citrus and sunshine at the Showcase of Citrus in Clermont. It is about a 30 minute drive from downtown Orlando, and wandering around the grove is a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the city. Upon arrival, you will be greeted with a small market filled with jams, treats, fresh produce, ice cream, orange slushies, condiments, old-fashioned soda and samples of oranges currently in season. Make sure you head over and taste the sample oranges to find your favorites, so you know where you should focus your picking efforts. My favorite variety is the Honey Bell Tangelo, which is in season from January to Feburary, so if you visit during this time, I would recommend trying it!
After tasting the juicy citrus, grab a bag and head out to fill it up. You have the choice of a smaller bag (quarter bushel) for $10 or a larger bag (half bushel) for $20. Prices are per bag, so you can fill it up as much as you want. If you get out into the grove and decide you want to grab another bag or two, you are in luck because there are stations throughout the grounds with a supply of extra bags waiting to be filled. If the smell of the oranges sets off a craving, make sure you try one before you get into your car to leave–they are absolutely delicious, but beware: if you are not careful, they will cover you in juice, as they are some of the juiciest oranges I have ever eaten. There is also an Eco-Tour offered–we have never tried the tour, but per the website, it is a monster truck ride that brings you to check out pastures, swamps and animals nearby .
Note: Various citrus is in season from October to June. Showcase of Citrus is still open in the summer, but give them a call to confirm before you go because their hours are shortened in the summer.
Once you have had your fill of oranges, head to either the outlet malls or Winter Park for a little shopping and lunch.
-Orlando Premium Outlets-
There are multiple outlet malls in the area, but my favorite is the Orlando Premium Outlets at Vineland Ave. There are some restaurants located across the interstate from the mall (mostly chains), and there is a food court in the mall. Grab a quick bite to eat and then start searching for some deals. The mall is mostly open air, so you are still able to get some sun while roaming around. If you get hungry for a snack, head over to The Fudgery and maybe you will catch a glimpse of a fudge making show with free samples. I wouldn’t go out of my way to make it to one of the shows, but it is entertaining if you happen to be walking by–and, who can argue with free fresh samples of delicious fudge?
If outlet malls aren’t your thing, Winter Park is a great place to whittle away an afternoon. It is quite a drive from the orange grove, about 40 minutes, but it puts you near downtown Orlando, where you may want to spend your evening. There are more than 140 sidewalk cafes, restaurants and museums as well as a nice green park to enjoy around the Park Avenue area. Relax at Barneie’s Coffee Kitchen for a brew or light lunch, and then head to Kilwins for a sweet treat. Kilwins offers ice cream, fudge, chocolates and caramel apples to name a few. My favorite Kilwins’ treat is the Apple Pie Caramel Apple–the apple is first dipped in caramel, then dipped in white chocolate and finished off with a dusting of cinnamon and sugar–it is absolutely amazing!
Next up is downtown Orlando. Grab a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants near Church Street or Orange Ave. After dinner, if you feel like a walk, head over to Lake Eola Park. Here you will find a lake with a nice little walking path. Music is played along the path, and at night you may catch a fountain show where the music is synchronized to the water and lights. If you feel like actually getting out on the lake, stop by the docks near the Relax Grill, where you can hop on a swan paddle boat or a little gondola boat and go for a spin around the lake. We were not planning on doing this, but we had some time to kill and on a whim decided to go for a ride. The swan boats are $15 for 30 minutes and they are usually open until 10pm. If you go around 8:45-9, you may luck out like we did, and get to stay out on the lake until closing time. The man launching the boats told us to go and paddle to the middle of the lake and just hang out and enjoy the scenery. We took his advice and relaxed–it was really nice to just sit out on the lake and gather some energy to head back downtown.
At this point, you can walk back to Orange Ave and hit up some clubs/bars, listen to live music, or catch a comedy show. There are many venues to catch a concert at–The Social is our favorite. Or, if you are tired, head back to the hotel for a little R&R in the hotel jacuzzi.
Like I said before, this may be too much to fit in one day if you like to take it slow, but it is sure to guarantee you a day away from Mickey…unless you happen to look at the billboards. That cannot be controlled.
Have you visited any of these places before?