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Orlando

,

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

22

Ultimate Family Vacations | SPRING 2018

SPRING 2018 | Ultimate Family Vacations

132

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!

GO GATOR-SPOTTING

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

massive gators.

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

DAYTONA BEACH

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER

GATOR-SPOTTING IN POLK’S NATURE CENTER