Award-winning guest blogger Katie Ellison is back with tips for a relaxing vacation in Orlando, focusing on things to do outside the theme parks.
With all the fun that's around every corner, you could spend a year in Orlando and not come close to experiencing it all — and wear yourself out trying. Happily, my family and I have discovered plenty of ways to relax while you're in town. From fun in the pool to relaxing strolls, here are my top 10 tips for chilling out in Orlando.
Please note: Depending on the timing of your visit, some experiences may be temporarily modified or closed. Learn more about healthy travel and what’s open in Orlando, and check with your favorite attractions and other businesses for their current status.
Spend an Afternoon in Winter Park
About 20 minutes from Orlando, charming Winter Park is surrounded by lakes and green spaces, including Central Park. You'll also find upmarket restaurants and shops all down the main street, Park Avenue. The Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour is really fun too, especially as the tour guides give you all the gossip on the big, waterfront homes.
Learn more: Winter Park
Drive Around Celebration
The brainchild of Walt Disney himself, and just 15 minutes from Walt Disney World® Resort, Celebration is a master-planned community where residents live the Disney dream. Centrally located, Celebration's Lake Rianhard has a play area for kids, with a few restaurants, shops and café bars dotted about. Be sure to visit Wonderland Cookie Dough Co., where you can safely eat all sorts of delicious flavours of cookie dough!
Have Some "Free" Days
With young children, we definitely found it useful to plan "free" days in between visits to the theme parks. Perhaps have a day at Disney's Magic Kingdom® Park, then a day by the pool, followed by a day at Universal Orlando Resort. This can be tricky if you are only in Orlando for a week, but even an afternoon spent relaxing really helps to recharge your batteries.
Wander Around ICON Park®
ICON Park is a fantastic entertainment complex on International Drive. It's home to the 400-foot The Wheel, places to eat, Madame Tussauds Orlando, SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium and even a central lawn where you can sit and relax. It's a really nice place to spend some time.
Learn more: ICON Park
Stroll Around Winter Garden
Not to be confused with Winter Park to the north of Orlando, Winter Garden is south of the main city, about 25 minutes from Disney. It's another beautiful little town that is well worth a visit. We headed to Plant Street Market, which is a large, air-conditioned, cool-looking building with vendors selling a variety of bespoke goods. We had amazing popcorn chicken and chips from Five Thymes Five, and delicious pizza from Michael's Ali. Further up the street is a fountain with swinging seats, great for total relaxation.
Learn more: Winter Garden
Bike the West Orange Trail
One of our favourite days in Orlando was the morning we biked the 22-mile West Orange Trail, which has multiple stop-offs. We cycled past beautiful churches, stunning houses and scenic lakes. We ended up doing about five miles, which was enough for us. We rented bikes from Winter Garden's Bikes & Blades Co., which even has bikes with trailers for the kids. They also have a small playground on-site, which our children really enjoyed.
Plan, Plan, Plan ... but Be Flexible
One of the best ways to have a chilled-out trip to Orlando is to plan, and Orlando-specific apps are great resources for planning before you arrive. Visit Orlando has a fantastic app, as do Disney and Universal, which are all free. However, be aware that plans might change for a variety of reasons. Don't be too strict on scheduling, as you all might need a lazy morning or an early night at times.
Take Lots of Breaks
Orlando will make you feel like a big kid. If you are traveling with actual children, though, make sure you have some downtime. For example, while you might want to try every ride at Disney, your children would actually appreciate an ice-cream break in front of Cinderella's Castle. Everyone needs a rest, and it's important not to try and take on too much.
Enjoy a Swan-Boat Ride on Lake Eola
Our friends who live in Orlando recommended we visit Lake Eola Park, which is in the heart of downtown. There's a lovely walkway around the lake that's short enough for small children to manage. You can also rent swan-shaped paddle boats, feed live swans and other birds, or just relax while enjoying a spectacular view of Orlando's skyline.
Learn more: Downtown Orlando
Stroll Down Disney's BoardWalk
Disney's BoardWalk is an old-fashioned promenade with entertainment, restaurants, resorts and a quiet atmosphere, with twinkly lights everywhere and a lovely view of the lake. We ate takeout from Pizza Window, got frozen drinks from BoardWalk Joe's Marvelous Margaritas and topped it off with ice cream from Ample Hills Creamery.
These are just a few ideas for ways to relax when you're in Orlando. Once your family's batteries are recharged, you'll all be ready to hit the theme parks and attractions again.
Stay Connected to Orlando!
Never miss a second of what happens in Orlando! Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube for the latest offers, exclusive tips and live feeds from our newest attractions and fun events, and subscribe to our eNewsletter for more information from Orlando: Theme Park Capital of the World.