From spotting manatees to
experiencing the G Force and
off-roading on the beach, there’s
plenty to do outside of the area’s
famous theme parks.
A family trip to Orlando, Florida is typically centred around a visit
to the Magic Kingdom — and Disney’s new Avatar ride doesn’t
disappoint. But on a recent family trip with two adults, two kids
and their grandparents, we opted to take a different approach.
Here are five family-approved activities for going beyond
Orlando’s theme parks.
By Vawn Himmelsbach
off the beaten path
Ultimate Family Vacations | SPRING 2018
SPRING 2018 | Ultimate Family Vacations
DISCOVER MANATEES IN THE WILD
Blue Spring State Park, which covers more than 10 square
kilometres, is a designated refuge for the Florida manatees.
During manatee season (which runs mid-November
through March), it’s possible to see several hundred of
these slow-moving marine mammals from viewing platforms
above the spring. The kids had never heard of manatees
before, and we found it’s downright hypnotic to watch these
gentle giants (often referred to as sea cows) in the wild,
gliding through the crystal-clear water, surrounded by oak
trees and palm forest. An added bonus: the park is free, and
it only costs about US $5 for parking.
HAVE A BLAST AT KENNEDY SPACE CENTER
It seems that space travel is back in the limelight, thanks to
private rocket design company SpaceX, and the Kennedy
Space Center — NASA’s primary launch centre for space flight
—excels at engaging kids and adults alike. The centre, which
interestingly, doubles as a wildlife reserve, is spread out more
than 560 square kilometres northwest of Cape Canaveral and
only 80 kilometres east of Orlando. Our tour took us through
NASA’s restricted areas, past two launch pads, and to the
Apollo/Saturn V Center. The highlight? The Shuttle Launch
Experience simulates the physical sensation of blasting off
into space, meaning our faces felt like they were ripping off!
We were originally heading to Polk’s Nature Discovery Center
for an afternoon of bird watching, but this wildlife refuge was
a surprise hit for more reasons than one, thanks to the sheer
quantity of wildlife on this 5.1 square kilometre spot in Lakeland.
We started our walk at Circle B Bar Reserve, a former cattle
ranch turned wildlife refuge with a scenic trail system through
several ecosystems, including swamps, scrub and sandhill
ridges. Its Alligator Alley was a fan favourite for us, with oak
trees covered in Spanish moss and resurrection ferns forming
a canopy over the trail, surrounded by swamp. Plus, like the
trail’s name suggests, we were lucky enough to spot three
DIP YOUR TOES IN DAYTONA
Daytona Beach isn’t just famous for its beach; it first gained
attention back in 1902 for automobile and motorcycle
racing along 37 kilometres of hard-packed sand. These
days, of course, the races take place at the nearby Daytona
International Speedway, but regular folk can experience
iconic Daytona by driving along a designated area of the
beach in their own vehicle. We happened to be there on
a ‘winter’ day in Florida, when the Atlantic was cold even
for a Canadian. Still, we easily passed a few happy hours
on the sand, collecting shells and seeing how far we
could venture into the water.
DELIGHT IN A DAY OF DALI
It takes about 90 minutes to drive here, but a visit to the
Salvador Dali Museum, located in St. Petersburg, is worth
the trip. The museum hosts the largest collection of
works outside of Spain from the surrealist artist, and don’t
assume the kids will be bored; this museum is different.
The building itself is a rectangle bursting from a glass
bubble dubbed the ‘enigma,’ and Dali’s works feature
surreal images and visual tricks (there’s also scavenger
hunt challenge for kids 12 and under).
SALVADOR DALI MUSEUM
MANATEES IN BLUE SPRING STATE PARK
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER
GATOR-SPOTTING IN POLK’S NATURE CENTER