Don't get me wrong, I like Disney World.
The first three times I went to Orlando, Florida, I virtually lived at Disney World.
I didn't avoid Disney World completely this time either staying in the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel. I also ate at Kouzzina by Cat Cora on the Disney Boardwalk, which serves Mediterranean family recipes in a casual dining atmosphere.
But it was time to discover what else Florida had to offer besides Disney World and I was thrilled with what I discovered:
An obvious choice was Universal Studios which I had never been to. I loved it, especially the Harry Potter ride. It's a popular one so do it first, otherwise the lines can be very long. See Universal Studios: Know Before You Go for more tips on how to make the post of your time at Universal Studios.
I had also never been to the nearby Discovery Cove. It's a place with man made beaches and pools - a great place to chill out. If your looking to make some friends, check out the Dolphin Swim Experience. It's a 30 minute interactive encounter where you learn about dolphins and even hitch a short ride on the back of a dolphin! The trainers were excellent and I really enjoyed getting so close to a dolphin!
Perhaps the most unique adventure at Discovery Cove is the SeaVenture experience. It's an underwater walking tour where you wear a diving helmet, but don't require a diving certificate. You walk among fish and feel like you're diving. Everyone in our group thoroughly enjoyed the 25 minute experience.
Kennedy Space Center:
Is another popular attraction that you can easily spend a full day at. I loved the Shuttle Launch Experience, which simulates the launch of a shuttle and gives you a glimpse into how exciting it would be to go to space.
I also enjoyed visitng the Vehichle Assembly Building, where the shuttles are built and visiting the sites where shuttles are actually launched from. I was also lucky enough to see the newest attraction, the Launch Control Center, in which you feel like you are in the control room at a shuttle launch.
I also had Lunch with an Astronaut. For some reason I was expecting an intimate setting, but the lunch was held in a large conference room with a number of tables. I'm guessing there was at least 200 other people there. It was informative, but lacked the personal touch I had been hoping for.
I would highly recommend a visit to the Kennedy Space Center, but go early. There's so much to see that you want to ensure you have time to do everything.
Located outside of Orlando, but only an hours drive is Boggy Creek Airboat Rides. It's an hour long ride where you go in search of Florida alligators, exotic birds and turtles - of which we saw all.
It's just outside of the Everglades, but had a very similar feel to the airboat ride that I took in the Everglades. I really enjoyed it. It's a great way to get an understanding of Florida's wildlife and provides a restful, more relaxing change from the amusement parks.
I hadn't heard of Coco Beach before, but it will always hold a special memory for me. It's where I learned how to surf, or more accurately, attempted to learn how to surf. Despite the best attemps by our instructor from Cocoa Beach Surf Co. , no one in our group of 4 managed to get up onto our surf boards. But in our defence, the waves were bigger than normal and we only had a hour.
While it's definitely possible to just hit Cocoa Beach for the day and return to Orlando at night, we stayed for a night in the Four Points by Sheraton Cocoa Beach. The rooms were spacious, but lacked natural light as they overlooked the interior of a sporting goods store. It was fun to people watch, but I missed having natural light.
I thoroughly enjoyed dining at sunset at the Atlantic Ocean Grille at Cocoa Beach Pier. It's casual dining located directly over the Atlantic Ocean, earning it the distinction of being named the “Best Restaurant With A View” by Florida Today Newspaper readers for seven consecutive years.
I will definitely return to Disney World again at some point, but I'm glad I experienced so much else outside of Disney.
There's a lot more to Orlando than just Disney World!
Travel tip shared by Laurel Robbins for Travel Dudes
Thank you to Visit Florida for inviting Travel Dudes and for making this visit possible. All views are of course our own.