THE OTHER SIDE OF ORLANDO AND CENTRAL FLORIDA

Though Disney will always be the largest draw to Orlando and Central Florida, so many other opportunities exist for families and couples as well. The diversity available in this exciting land of entertainment is akin to a wide belt across the belly of Florida that encircles the Sunshine State from the Gulf to Atlantic Coasts.

The first consideration before planning a trip to this section of Florida has to be lodging, and I offer a suggestion that is centrally located and should satisfy anyone’s needs. The Point Orlando Resort is this area’s newest luxury hotel and is located on the corner of Universal Boulevard and Carrier Drive. The I-Drive Trolley has a stop in front of the hotel, and provides convenient and inexpensive transportation to many venues.

Three floor plans are offered and each has a mini-refrigerator, a microwave oven, and coffee maker. The one and two bedroom suites offer a full kitchen with refrigerator, conventional stove and oven, a microwave, dishwasher, toaster, blender, and coffee maker. These suites are complete with plates, silverware, glassware, pots and pans. Other hotel amenities include a fitness room, poolside Jacuzzi, , free local calls, and complimentary parking. For information or reservations, call toll-free at: 866-956-2015.

Actually, one of the most exciting venues in Orlando is located in the Magic Kingdom, but visitors can come and go without having to pay the high price of Disney parking. The track can be reached by car through the Magic Kingdom toll plaza by telling the gate guard that you are going to the Richard Petty Driving Experience.

EnjoyingRichardPettyExperienceMagicKingdomIf you have ever had “Walter Mitty” dreams of being behind the wheel of a 600 horsepower NASCAR style stock car, then this venue is definitely for you! They offer a Ride Along or several Driving opportunities that vary greatly in price, and one should always remember that weather can be a factor. Therefore, it is always best to book this experience early in your Orlando vacation in the event that rescheduling becomes necessary. Also, if you plan to bring small children, keep in mind that shade is minimal, loud engines will be running, and gasoline and rubber fumes are always in the air.

The Ride-Along is available every day, but reservations are required for the other driving experiences. For more information or reservations, call toll free: 1-800-BE-PETTY.

Auto racing excitement is also available without 150 mile per hour speeds, and is open to kids and adults at a place in Orlando called the Fun Spot. The five-acre action theme park consists of four unique and innovative Go-Kart tracks, plus 13 different family, thrill rides, and attractions. A 10,000 square foot video arcade is one of Central Florida’s largest. Also offered are corporate Team Building programs, educational programs, and planning for family reunions. For more info, call 407-363-3867.

Some excellent and fun opportunities are also possible in the great outdoors that are in easy reach of downtown Orlando by car. In fact, no visitor should ever come to this area without gliding over the lily pads and swamp grasses in an airboat to see alligators, turtles, and a variety of wading birds.

AirboatRideatBogyCreekThe nearest and best operation near Orlando is Boggy Creek located about 35 minutes from Orlando’s attractions on Lake Toho, which is the headwaters to the Florida Everglades. This family owned business opened in 1994, and will take over 150,000 passengers into the wetlands on one of their 17 passenger airboats this year. For more information, contact Boggy Creek Airboat Rides at 407-344-0018.

Another educational opportunity for nature lovers is the Florida Eco-Safari at Forever Florida Nature Preserve. These trips begin at the Visitor Center after an orientation video. Visitors are usually taken first through the Crescent J Ranch, where they see cattle and horses that are the rare descendents of those left by the Spanish centuries ago. They also see Florida wildlife, including alligators, turtles, wild turkey, and many other birds. Knowledgeable guides offer a running commentary about that day’s sights. For additional information, call toll-free at 888-957-9794.

Evenings are often the best times in Orlando because of the many and varied dinner shows. I feel that the best of these begins with the Arabian Nights Dinner Theater in Kissimmee, which has been amazing Central Florida guests with its unique blend of world famous horses, expert riders, special effects, and beautiful costumes since February of 1988.

The world’s largest indoor Equestrian Arena showcases the talents of 40 performers and 65 prized horses doing daring stunts on horseback within the confines of a magical, romantic story. The numbers of costume changes often surpass even the most complex Broadway show. For more information or reservations, call toll-free: 800-553-6116.

Another fantastic dinner show in Kissimmee, Florida, is the Medieval Times and Tournament held in a huge castle with towering walls and a real drawbridge at the entryway. This show offers an exciting evening of quality family entertainment based upon the glory of the Middle Ages. Visitors experience spectacular pageantry, dramatic horsemanship, and breathtaking swordplay up close and quite personal. All this is woven into a romantic story of Kings and Knights that is seen while feasting with your fingers on a four-course banquet. Guests cheer on their own valiant knight on horseback as he does battle to the death with other knights sporting brilliant costumes of another era. For reservations, call toll-free: 800-208-4421.

A really fun show for the older crowd is the Sleuth’s Mystery Dinner Show, which is a very short distance from The Point Orlando Resort. After a bit of a wait, you step into a world of comedy and intrigue where you are the detective. Combine this with a 3-course meal, unlimited beer, wine, and soft drinks, and a hilarious whodunit with audience participation, and it makes for a really fun evening! For info or reservations, call toll-free: 800-393-1985.

To receive discounts or free entry into many Orlando and other Florida venues, it’s a good idea to purchase the Go Orlando Card. Contact them toll-free at: 866-628-9036.

Certainly nobody would question the draw of Disney, Sea World, or Universal, but on my most recent trip to Orlando, I found many other interesting forms of entertainment. It’s another side of this beautiful part of Central Florida that can surely be fun and exciting for the entire family!

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