Other Florida Attractions

NASA

Orlando is much more than just Disney!

Orlando probably has more fun things to do per square mile than any other location in the world. It is almost impossible for me to visit every attraction and add them to my guide. Here I have added a general overview of popular ‘other’ attractions.

One little tip for you if you are staying in a hotel/Condo is to find the Orlando Attractions Channel on your TV. This will give you a good run down of some of Orlando’s smaller attractions. It’s ideal to watch on your first night in Orlando when you are too tired to go out. You should also find a Walt Disney World TV channel with advertisements about the various attractions of Disney World. Again this is a great way to chill out and get excited on your first night.

Gatorland

Gatorland

Gatorland is Orlando’s first and oldest theme park. It doesn’t cost the earth to get in and it is a good value for money attraction. It is the sort of place you will probably only want to visit once every few years though. Attractions in the park range from alligator wrestling shows to a walk around zoo. If you very brave you can book a slot to feed the biggest alligators in the park.

Are they mad?

Gatorland is a very large park so you would do well to hop on board the train to get around. Some of the large “Gators” are really scary and you see lakes full of them. We stopped off at a feeding area when we visited the park and witnessed some of the visitors feeding the gators.

These people must have had a bang on the head or something because they were being confronted by about a dozen enormous gators coming for the portions of meat on offer. The only visible security was a trained guy with a stick who was not allowing the gators to get too close. I know these “Steve Irwin” types know exactly how the gators think but for I would never feed the gators like that. I would rather have a small army with me, armed with machine guns before I would enter the gators personal space. All in all, It’s a good park worth visiting and it is good value. It makes a nice change from all of the rollercoaster screams of the other parks in Orlando.

Mini Adventure Golf

There are lots of mini golf attractions all over the main tourist areas of Orlando and most of them are situated along I-Drive. Orlando’s mini golf is a world away from the average British mini golf course of concrete greens with the odd windmill to shoot through.

The mini golf courses in Orlando are beautifully constructed with waterfalls, caves and palm trees etc. Some have live baby alligators swimming nearby so it makes for a an interesting round of mini golf. Some of the courses offer you a prize if you can find various hidden treasures along the way. Others will give you a price if you get a hole in one.

You will always find some money off vouchers in the coupon booklets. They usually just give you a dollar off so they are not that great. If you visit CiCi’s Pizza on S Apopka Vineland Rd near the Blue Heron Resort, your food receipt will entitle you to a really good discount at the Hawaiian Rumble Golf next door.

Orlando Ripleys Believe It Or Not

Ripley’s Believe It Or Not

There are two very peculiar looking buildings on I-Drive that you will pass by and here is the first – Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. This eye catching building looks like it has a severe case of subsidence but don’t worry it won’t fall down on you.

Entry fee costs around $20 for an adult online and in my opinion, it is over priced. Ripley’s attractions are never really that good. If you love to look at things like a car created with a million match sticks or pickled conjoined cats, this may be a good attraction for you. Actually I don’t even remember if these two items are in Ripley’s of Orlando because it was such a forgettable visit. I know I have seen them somewhere.

If you like this sort of thing, plan a visit but personally I was bored stiff after about 10 minutes. I was gutted after spending around $75 for 4 of us so I am not in a rush to go back. If you fancy a visit to Ripley’s make sure you try your hardest to get the price down by scanning the discount coupon books and the internet for a good deal.

International Drive Wonder Works

Wonder Works

The other funny looking building is Wonder Works. It looks like a tornado has ripped it from the ground and dropped it upside down. If I had to choose between a visit to Ripley’s or Wonder Works it would be Wonder Works.

The very first door you walk through is guaranteed to make you all laugh (or fall over. This is a great start to a decent attraction. Wonder Works has many interesting and funny things to see and do inside. It is a good way of spending 2 or 3 hours away from the theme parks. I wouldn’t recommend lying on the bed of nails like I did because that was end of one of my favourite T-shirts. I actually thought I was bleeding but I wasn’t, my T-shirt had a few hundred extra holes in it though.

Other attractions inside Wonder Works include face transformation computers that can age you 30 years. You can see how good or bad you will probably look. You can also experience an earthquake and a hurricane. There are also many other things to do in Wonder Works such as popping your hand into a bucket of water that is the exact temperature of the ocean when the Titanic sunk and that is quite shocking.

Standard entry to Wonder Works can cost around $35 at 2019 prices. You can also buy a Combo Ticket that allows you to see the very good Outta Control Comedy Magic Dinner Show.

Helicopter Flights

While you are out and about near the tourist areas of Orlando you will notice a regular fly-by of helicopters. These sight-seeing flights are extremely cheap and anyone with enough bottle can afford a helicopter flight in Orlando. I haven’t plucked up the courage yet and I don’t know if I ever will. Prices start under $70 for a 4-5 minute flight to over $200 for a flight over the Disney Epcot fireworks.

When you are driving around the I-Drive and Kissimmee areas you will see adverts for helicopter flights but here are a couple of websites to help you do a bit of research before you go:

Orlando Heli Tours at International Drive and Kissimmee.

Air Force Fun near Premium Outlets.

NASA Rocket

Kennedy Space Center – NASA

We have visited KSC twice over the years and it can be a great day out. Obviously you need to be interested in space and rockets to appreciate KSC but who isn’t?

The drive from Orlando is around 1 hour and you will pass 4 or 5 tolls so make sure you have some change. KSC never really gets very busy but you could still end up waiting half an hour to get in. I always seem to get in the wrong queue. I see a line that looks like it is moving fast and I jump in it. That queue then stops moving, I have the kiss of death on queues!! If you are going on a bus tour, allow a 30 minute wait to get past the ticket booths and if you see me, get in another queue and you should get through quicker.

Book a bus tour!

One ‘must do’ in KSC is a NASA bus tour and I wouldn’t visit without doing one. There are different types of bus tours to take at KSC so research what suits you. You can get the chance to the launch pads up close. These launch pads are miles away from the visitor complex. Tours can also take you around the NASA control car parks and you could even get the chance to visit the hangers where rockets are being ‘prepped’ before launch.

Some tours will allow you to watch the scientists working on the shop floor in all of their protective gear. The bus tours really are great and with your expert guide at the front of the coach, you will learn a lot about how NASA operates. You will also get to see some of the local wildlife along the way.

The NASA wildlife

NASA is over 200 square miles but they only use around 10% of the land. The rest of the land is a protected nature habitat. Alligators, armadillos, sea turtles and bald eagles may be spotted through the tour so it would be wise to get your camera fully charged. Alligators are a little bit hard to spot, especially as the bus usually travels at around 30 mph. I have spotted a couple of ‘gators throughout the tour but you should spot armadillos about every minute or so if you keep watching the grassy areas. The bus drivers love to slow down near an enormous bald eagle nest. The nest is apparently the size of a king size bed!

Lots to see and do

There are numerous space museums and interactive exhibits to explore at KSC. There are 2 IMAX shows that run throughout the day but if you leave it until near closing time, it is really hard to get a seat. The reason for this is a lot of the visitors that opted for the bus tours usually decide to leave the IMAX shows until the end of the day. The tours take up a large chunk of a day visit so the queues for the IMAX shows are really bad around 5pm.

NASA Rockets

See a real Shuttle

Kennedy Space Center is permanent home to Space Shuttle Atlantis. You can’t go inside but you can walk around outside and see how these magnificent machines look in the flesh.

In the Space Shuttle Atlantis area there are over 60 interactive exhibits charting the history and achievements of the shuttle program. Atlantis is the only genuine space shuttle that is displayed in a flight position. This allows you to peep in the cargo area and get a better understanding of how the machine worked.

The Shuttle Launch Experience

The Shuttle Launch Experience imitates a shuttle launch. You are strapped but don’t worry too much because it isn’t anywhere near as extreme as the Mission:Space ride at Disney’s Epcot theme park. Try to remember to pay attention in the pre-show part of the ride once you enter the main building, the guy on the screen is quite funny.

The ride has a height requirement of 48″ or 122cm. If your little ones are too small for this ride they can still queue, then have a giggle whilst watching the other members of your family being tossed around. The non rider room has screens where you can watch everything live as it happens. One little tip if you are going to ride the Shuttle Launch Experience is to find a locker first and put your bags in it before you queue. There were lots of people getting turned back after around 5 minutes of queueing because they were carrying bags so get rid of your stuff before you queue.

Watch a launch for free

Years ago, we were lucky enough to be in Orlando when a Shuttle launch was scheduled. We booked a room in a hotel in Melbourne (about 20 miles away from NASA) and the launch was booked in for 2.30am. We got to the hotel at 11pm, had 2 hours sleep and got in the car to travel towards Cocoa Beach to watch the launch.

When we were around 8 miles away from NASA, we came across lots of cars parked on a bridge. everyone was staring at a spotlight that was pointing from the ground to the sky. I asked the people if this is a good viewpoint for watching the launch and they told me that it was perfect.

We had the car radio tuned to NASA AM and everyone joined in with the 10 second countdown. When the countdown reached 1, the whole night sky lit up orange and yellow and I have never seen a sight like that in my life. The whole crowd said “Oh My God” at exactly the same time and then started laughing because we all had the same reaction. It only lasted about 20 seconds and the shuttle was gone. I would highly recommend watching any launch if there is a launch during your trip. It is the type of memory that stays with you and we talk about it a lot.

Check the NASA website for the launch schedule but be careful not to book a hotel too early. Launches get postponed regularly so you could be out of pocket.

Daytona International Speedway

If you are travelling to Orlando and you are a race fan, make sure you keep checking the Daytona Speedway website for upcoming races. If you get chance to go to a Nascar race, it will be one memorable event. If you have ever watched the Disney movie – Cars, it is exactly like that except the cars don’t talk.

3 times the size of Wembley

They hold the Nascar 400 in July and the Nascar 500 in February each year. The track can hold an amazing 300,000 people when fully sold out so imagine a stadium over 3 times bigger than our Wembley Stadium. I am not a race fan but courtesy of Budweiser, I won a pair of tickets to the 2007 Nascar Pepsi 400. the race was in Daytona and I got hotel and flights included so off I went. There was a lot of pre-show entertainment as well, including a fly-by from the US airforce fighter jets. The fly-by was one of those “hairs on the back of your neck” moments. They really do tear up the sky at the end of the national anthem.

I didn’t know what was happening in the race with all of the starting and stopping. A nice American guy guessed we were new to Nascar and helped us understand the goings-on of the race for the rest of the night. Most Americans love Brits and the British accent so you’re never far away from someone willing to help you out.

One thing that is different to any sporting event in the UK is they actually let you take your own food and drink into the stadium. All of the hardcore Nascar fans go in with cooler bags full of beer. I did see one guy have to hand over his cooler box to security because hard boxes are not allowed.

Get a bucket of Beer

Their beer (our lager) is much cheaper than buying one at a UK sporting event. If you think you might drink 5 or more between you, make sure you ask for a set of 5 cans. You will get a complimentary ice bucket full of ice to go with it. This also saves you a few dollars.

If you arrive in Florida without tickets, there will be ticket sellers standing on every corner near the ‘Track’. As with anything in life, make sure you don’t get ripped off because there will be some genuine tickets and there will be some ‘not so genuine’ tickets. The locals can smell a Brit a mile away it seems and if they know you are new to the area you have a higher chance of being stung with a fake ticket.

The best advice is not to buy from these people and buy from a reputable company. Even if you are not a hardcore race fan, it might be worth a trip to Daytona anyway, you just might enjoy more than you expect.

Clearwater Beach

Probably the nicest beach in Florida but a hell of a drive that takes a lot longer than you expect. I would only recommend visiting Clearwater Beach if you plan to book a hotel and stay overnight. Driving could take a six hour chunk out of your day with the return journey included. My SatNav stated that it was 100 miles exactly from my hotel near Universal Studios. I thought around 1 hour and 40 minutes should do it but it took 3 hours. The main problem is the final hour or so because you pass through dozens of red lights, one after the other. It takes around one hour to drive the final 15 miles, if only Clearwater had a FastPass!

The whole Clearwater area is really nice and there are plenty of beautiful looking hotels along the beach front. There are many an expensive yacht anchored up at the harbour area. We parked up a few minutes from the Pier 60 area because the car parks fill up there first. If you get to Clearwater after 10.30 am, you will have to carry on along the sea front to find another car park. Once we got to the beach we spotted these sun shades that come complete with 2 sun loungers and these are great to keep your little ones out of the blazing sun.

Watch the sun set at Pier 60

This area of the beach is where it is all happening and there are a lot of fun things to keep the kids happy. A great children’s play area full of slides and tunnels is covered from the sun so no worrying about them burning. The cafe at Pier 60 is the main hub of this area and if you like the odd bag of chips (not crisps) try their French Fries. they area better than the average Florida theme park fries.

The sun sets at this beach on an evening and many visitors come to ‘Pier 60’ each night just to watch. There will also be night time entertainment in this area as people observe the sun going down. We didn’t stay for the sun set when we visited because I tried in vain to beat the traffic out of there but by all reports, it is a great sight to see.

The Clearwater beach is enormous so you should always be able to find a spot well away from the frisbee throwers and the volleyballers if you don’t want to be disturbed. We visited in March and the official Clearwater tour guide told me that March is their busiest month because the locals are off school and there are a lot of sporting events around the area at that time of year so it may be an easier drive in at other times of the year.

The local celebrity

Not far from Pier 60 is the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and this is where the local celebrity lives. Winter the Dolphin was found badly injured on the beach at just 2 months old. The injury resulted in the loss of her tail. She was rushed to the local aquarium where she recovered. The aquarium tried to learn her to swim without a tail but it just didn’t work. There was only one answer – a prosthetic tail.

After a lot of trial and error, 18 months later her new tail was ready to go. Winter now swims as good as new and has since become a movie star. The movie Dolphin Tale was made and it is a true story about Winter The Dolphin. Winter has her own website and you can learn a lot more about Winter and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium at her official website.

Cocoa Beach

Cocoa Beach

If you are a bit of a beach lover and the man made beaches at the water parks just aren’t good enough for you, Cocoa Beach is one of the closest beaches to Orlando. The beach could be reached in under an hours drive depending on where you are. Cocoa beach is a really lovely beach. The beach is on the east side of Florida and it is just around 20 minutes away from the Kennedy Space Center.

If you have spotted any images of my Dad – Grandad Brit, throughout this guide you will notice that he likes to sun himself….a lot!!! Whilst in Orlando recently he kept on whinging that he wanted to go to a real beach. As the only driver in our family brave enough to drive on the wrong side of the road, I had to take him. The drive to the area was really good compared with the Clearwater Beach roads. The car parks were full near the pier area so we headed down the street and found another car park.

Fishing For Sharks

Once we got on the beach we had lots of space and we weren’t far from the pier. We left Grandad Brit toasting himself and we headed off to the pier. Mrs Brit and I had a swift Bud Light in the pier bar whilst the kids pressed a one penny coin for their collection. We spotted a guy fishing on the pier so we went to see what he has caught. We were shocked to see him pulling in a small hammer head shark. This made me think that its mother can’t be too far away. From that moment on I decided not to swim in any Florida beach.

There were plenty of surfers around the pier area but the waves weren’t enormous as it was quite a calm day. Not too far from the pier is an enormous Ron Jon surf shop so a good place to head if you are a bit of a surfer dude or dudette.

At the end of the day we headed off back to our spot on the beach to find Grandad Brit. He was well cooked but only on one side. He had fallen asleep on his side and stayed like it all day. The drive back was really quiet and we were back in Orlando within the hour. Cocoa Beach is a lot less stressful than a visit to Clearwater Beach due to the driving. If you are driving from Orlando you will pass through around 4 or 5 tolls in each direction. make sure you have plenty of small change.