Orlando: It's more than Disney

By: Brandi Shaffer

February 10, 2012

ORLANDO, FLA. (3:15 p.m. Feb. 10) — Even if you can’t arrive early for NPE or stay after the doors close, you can still make the most of your trip to Orlando, Fla., through day or evening excursions. You’ve got options: You can keep the kids entertained, stimulate your mind or put your liver to work with this travel guide, whether you explore all of Orlando or just stick to International Drive.

Sports and activities

With an enormous, friendly sea monster to greet guests, the Lego Imagination Center is 4,400 square feet of childlike wonder with a play area for kids to build with the classic plastic bricks. Impressive statues made entirely of Legos decorate the outside of the facility. Admission is free and the place fills up fast, so prepare to mingle with the hordes if you venture inside.

If you’re a fan of the feathered flock, you’ll love the march of the Peabody ducks. Led by the Duck Master, the marching mallards waddle through the atrium lobby of the Peabody Orlando hotel at 11 a.m. into the hotel’s marble fountain, then back to their penthouse at 5 p.m. every day. The crowd-drawing tradition began at the hotel’s sister location in Memphis in 1932 and the Orlando location has continued the march daily since its opening in 1986.

To catch a glimpse of a more vicious animal, go on an airboat ride through the alligator-filled waters of Lake Jesup through Black Hammock Adventures. Kick back at the lazy gator bar or swing by the wildlife exhibit to visit Hammy, the facility’s 12-foot, 650-pound, 43-year-old alligator. The wildlife exhibit is free, but a 30-minute airboat ride without a reservation is $24.95 for an adult and $20.95 for kids, with trips departing every 30 minutes.

Other options for family-friendly activities include a round of bowling at the World Bowling Center on International Drive, glow-in-the-dark mini-golf and arcades at the Putting Edge Fun Center, or just let the kids go nuts at Monkey Joe’s.

Located in Clermont, the Lakeridge Winery and Vineyards are made up of 127 acres, 80 of which are vineyards. They produce Florida hybrid bunch grapes and Native American varieties, which you can sample on a complimentary winery tour held Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For a sports fix, watch the Atlanta Braves vs. New York Mets spring training at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, at 1:05 p.m. April 2. Prices range from $25.75 through $51, including fees. If you prefer basketball, the Orlando Magic squares off against the New York Knicks at 7 p.m. April 5 at the Amway Center. Prices range from reasonable, $15, to exorbitant, over $635.

Shows and entertainment

Described as an “attic of make-believe, where the mundane meets the marvelous … dreams and nightmares intertwine,” La Nouba by Cirque du Soleil will be held at Walt Disney Resort. Performances are slated for 6-9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Tickets can be reserved up to 6 months in advance and range from $58-$102 for kids ages 3-9 and $73-$128 for adults.

Do a time warp to the prohibition-era 1930s for Capone’s Dinner & Show, held at 7:30 p.m. every day in Kissimmee. The regular rate for adults is $53.99 and for children is $33.99. Discounts are offered if tickets are purchased online. You can even dress the part by purchasing a feathered boa, fedora or ’30s-style headband.

Jump back a little further in time for the Titanic Dinner Event. This full-scale re-creation of rooms from the RMS Titanic includes the grand staircase, a 20,000-square-foot, interactive museum and over 100 newly added artifacts from the wreck site. Actors perform stories of the Titanic’s passengers and crew, such as Capt. Smith and Molly Brown. Located on International Drive, hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Sunday. Tickets are $21.95 for adults and $12.95 for children, with kids under 3 entering for free.

And for the furthest reach in time, visit the Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament for a two-hour jousting tournament, complete with swordsmanship and hand-to-hand combat. Enjoy a four-course banquet dinner of oven-roasted chicken and spare ribs, but you must eat with your hands — this is the 11th century, after all. Adult admission is $59.95 plus tax and processing fee; for children ages 3-12 admission is $35.95.

If you’re after a few hearty chuckles, venture into Orlando Improv Comedy Club. Shows are held at 6 p.m. Monday, and 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Comics have not yet been booked for April, however, so keep an eye on the calendar online to see if one of your favorites is scheduled. It is recommended that tickets be purchased in advance, as an additional $2 will be added if purchased on-site. Prices vary depending on the act performing, but hover around $20 per person.

Museums and shopping

With unusual exhibits such as a real shrunken head, a 25-foot high mural of Jimi Hendrix made of playing cards and a balloon-powered chair that flew over the Rocky Mountains, the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Orlando Odditorium promises a thoroughly bizarre experience. Ogle at the sights and meander through the museum at your own pace. Adult tickets can be purchased online for $16.99 and for kids it’s $9.99. The facility is open every day from 9:30 a.m. to midnight.

An upside-down building might catch your eye on International Drive. That’s the WonderWorks building, open from 9 a.m. to midnight. Experience an earthquake and hurricane, undergo gravity inversion or ride a virtual-reality roller coaster. You’ve also got your choice of Lazer-Tag, a ropes challenge course and the 4D Theater. General admission is $19.99 for children and $24.99 for adults.

Held on the first Thursday of every month, the Orlando Museum of Art’s “First Thursdays” run from 6-9 p.m. OMA showcases a new theme with works by local artists, live music, cash bars serving wine, beer and soft drinks, and café offerings. Admission is $10. April’s theme is Nihon: Reflections of a Classic Culture, featuring ancient and modern Japanese-themed arts.

For a free artsy experience, step into the Grand Bohemian Hotel Gallery, open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Take in oil paintings, glass, wood, contemporary jewelry, bronze sculptures and gift items to your heart’s content.

To experience the beauty of Florida’s unique ecosystem, wander through Orlando Wetlands Park. Open from sunrise until sunset every day, visitors from all over gather to bird-watch, jog and bicycle over 20 miles of roads and woodland trails and view 1,650 acres of hardwood hammocks, marshes and lakes. Tram tours run from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Mondays on a first-come, first-served basis.

If your credit card is itching for some action, upscale shopping options like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue will gladly accept your legal tender. For the more frugal, stop by Orlando Premium Outlets on Vineland Avenue and International Drive, or the Florida Mall for Floridian souvenirs.


If the heat of Orlando gets to be a bit much, visit Icebar Orlando. Featured on the Travel Channel, Food Network and CNN, this frosty watering hole is the largest permanent ice bar in the world, with an average temperature of 27 degrees and 50 tons of carved ice. Guests are limited to 45 minutes in the bar, with entrance starting at 7:15 p.m. Reservations can be made online and entry is $15.96, not including drinks. Warm attire is provided. After cooling down, warm back up in the Fire Lounge with live music and DJs.

If all that ice isn’t blue enough for you, B.B. King’s Blues Club might be just what you need. Open 7 days a week with live music, this venue offers Southern comfort food and three dining areas: an outside patio, a mezzanine overlooking the main stage, and a large seating area. Musical acts have yet to be scheduled for April.

For a taste of Bourbon Street in Orlando, sip on a Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s, modeled after the New Orleans original. Enjoy the dueling-piano bar and flaming fountain, located on Universal Studios’ CityWalk, with a huge balcony overlooking the strip below. The cover charge is $7.

For more pub-crawling suggestions in downtown Orlando, visit http://downtownorlando.com/fun/nightlife.