Inexpensive Things to Do in Orlando
When my husband and started a family we were not thinking about how vacations would change. But they do. And we have taken our kids someplace almost every year since they were born. Most of those have been someplace low-cost and family friendly. One of things we discovered was that Orlando is a GREAT places to go for vacation, even if you never step foot in an amusement park. You think I am crazy right? No, its just that every resort and attraction is competing with the big three – Universal, Sea World, Disney.
This means that there are a) Resorts in almost every price category b) Most resorts have extensive amenities that you don’t find everywhere (at these price points) c) Most resorts offer some sort of amazing pool area. You can spend a week at some of these resorts and everyone would still be happy (Three of our favorites- Marriott Harbour Lake, Marriott Grande Vista, Hilton Vacation Club at Sea World)
But beyond sitting at the pool and relaxing there are some great ways to spend inexpensive family time in Orlando. Warning: You will need a car.
1. Showcase of Citrus. Okay, so this is a totally old fashioned way to spend a morning or afternoon. Showcase of Citrus is an orchard (multiple) and store (We picked on our last trip). You pay for what you pick and they will ship it home for you. In addition, the location has hula-hoops, cars and a play place for the kids. We had some yummy frozen orange juice too. My kids loved seeing the oranges and lemons on the trees and mom loved that we were out in the sunshine, together.
2. Kings Bowl Orlando. This one isn’t free either. But this is a really great place to go spend a morning or afternoon. It is a family friendly bowling alley in Orlando with great food; comfy couches and kids are welcome before 5:00 pm. It is less expensive than the bowling in Downtown Disney and it’s just as nice.
3. Winter Park, FL. When I was in high school the crew teams used to come to Winter Park for their spring warm-up. It hasn’t changed much since I was in high school. There is some high-end shopping on the tree-lined Park Avenue. Rollins College is right there, if you want to wander around with the kids. In addition, Winter Park is on Lake Osceola and there are boat tours of the lake, homes and canals of the area. These are extremely inexpensive and can eat up an entire morning or afternoon. And although there are some very high-end restaurants in Winter Park there are also some great, low-cost places. (There is a grilled cheese restaurant that my kids LOVE) Winter Park is also home to a GIANT wooden playground so you could wander Park Avenue, through Rollins and head over to the playground for some family time at almost no cost.
4. Ft. Christmas Historical Park. This one is free. (And maybe only history geeks like me will love it) This is part restored historical park, part playground. There is a full size replica of Ft Christmas as well as seven restored homes at the park. In addition there is a playground and picnic pavilions at the park. The park hosts special events throughout the year, so check the website and see what’s going on during your visit.
5. Visit De Leon Springs State Park. This is not free but it’s low-cost at $6/car (for 2-8 people). De Leon Springs State Park was home to the first water powered sugar mill in Florida. During the Civil War the original mill and plantation were burned to the ground and it subsequently became a resort for wealthy people who wanted to soak at the warm springs. Now it is a state park where there is a warm spring for swimming, kayak and canoe rentals, wildlife viewing (including manatees during the winter months) and hiking. In addition to all of this, if you make the trip from Orlando there is a pancake restaurant, The Old Spanish Sugar Mill. They make pancakes at your table and it’s relatively inexpensive at $4/pancake. It’s a fun, not everyday experience. If you go to the park you could eat breakfast, spend the day and have a picnic and not spend a ton of money.
6. Spend some time at a Splash Pad. Orlando can be hot, so its not surprising that there are quite a few splash pad areas in the city. Just a word of warning- some of these charge a small entry fee. I am listing a few of our favorites but there are lots. Capeheart Park (free) offers a splash pad, butterfly garden and rubber bottomed playground area. Dr. Phillips Community Park ($1/person) offers two different parts of the splash area; one with jets and the other section has cannons, water jets and misters. Downey Park Playground ($1/person June-August) has water rings and a sandy beach area.
7. University of Central Florida Arboretum. You are probably thinking, no way, my kids won’t go to the garden and enjoy it. But what if I told you the Arboretum offer small tours for $3/person catered to children? You can fill out the form, request a tour and they will tailor the tour to your families specific needs. It’s fun, educational and inexpensive. In addition to the tours the Arboretum offers a geocaching experience with 8 caches hidden among the 82 acres. (Treasure hunt, what kid doesn’t love it)? The Geocaching experience is free.
8. Go to the Beach. Not in Orlando, and you definitely need a car. But Orlando is literally in central Florida- an hour in any direction and you will land at a beach. We live in Pennsylvania so my kids don’t get sugar white beaches. A little over an hour to Clearwater or Cape Canaveral and we have white sand, warm water and salty air. We pack a picnic and spend the day. We might stop to eat on the way home or we may just get ice cream cones but the day is inexpensive and the entire family comes home sleepy and happy.
9. Bok Tower Gardens. Sorry to say this one isn’t free either. But for a family of four general admission would be less than $30, so it’s inexpensive. Bok Tower and Gardens is a National Historic Landmark given to the United States by Edward Bok (as a gift for all the opportunities he had been given as an immigrant). There are gardens, nature trails, picnic areas, a visitor center and a 60-bell carillon tower. Music is played daily (1 and 3 pm). On the grounds is the home that Bok built. It is open for tours, but not included with general admission. My kids are not allowed in historic homes where they can break things, but you may feel differently.
10. Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens and Zoom Air. Okay, this one isn’t free either BUT this is one my 7 year old is dying to do. (We pass a big zip line course on the way to my parent’s house and she has been asking to do it since she could talk). The Central Florida Zoo is a great place for families. It’s a zoo but it has a splash ground play area. There is a picnic area for families, so you can pack a picnic and save on lunch at the zoo. If your kids are like mine they can zoo for a while, play in the water area; eat lunch and zoo again for a while. You could easily spend an entire day here. I haven’t gotten to the part about the Zoom Air. Zoom Air is a separate admission fee (and you could just do the Zoom Air part) but it offers a child sized ropes course. The cost for the kid’s course is $19.75/child. I have seen discounts offered for Zoom Air but they don’t happen often. But aaah, a child sized ropes course. We have a reservation for our December trip.
My kids are just as happy at the orchard as at an amusement park. They love getting to do things with the whole family. Like many of you with kids, we don’t always have the budget for big vacations. Orlando is a place where the budget can be stretched with amazing results. I would be happy to answer questions or send you more information. You can email me at Dana@smallearthtravel.com or message me via Facebook. Happy Planning!