Avoid the crowds at these cool Orlando-area sites

We visited Orlando in February 2020 just before COVID-19 forced the country to shut down for a while. But that’s not the most unusual thing about our trip. We didn’t visit any of the major theme parks. Not one. Now, we did get close, which I will talk about later. 

It’s not because we are older. It’s not even because we are cheap. It’s not because we have anything against the major theme parks.

So here’s our reason: There is so much more in Orlando and the surrounding area to see. We had six full days there and while I worked my remote job for part of all of them, we still had time to get out and explore. And I can tell you, we didn’t see everything we wanted to see in Orlando and Central Florida and we will be back.

Where we stayed

We booked the Westgate Leisure Resort for our week-long stay in Orlando. The location is convenient to International Drive and Sea World. It’s one of the older resorts but it is well-maintained. 

We had a two-bedroom condominium with a kitchen so we did eat some of our meals there. The resort had several activities during our stay. The only one we were able to participate in was a marshmallow roasting on the last night we were there. I enjoyed seeing a fountain and the sunrise every morning. 

This was a beautiful site to see every morning!

Our visit coincided with our nephew’s fourth birthday so some of our time was spent with family. Here’s how we spent our six full days there. 

Day One: Icon Park

I researched several of the towns near Orlando but I really didn’t do enough research on Orlando itself. While getting groceries after arriving on Saturday night, I  noticed the big wheel in the Orlando skyline. So we made a plan to find it. 

Yep, we were in Florida. The wheel and palm tree are proof.

The wheel is the most visible part of Icon Park but it’s certainly not all there is to do there. We loved parking free and walking around, again for free. Icon Park has tons of restaurants and shops. You will also find unique vendors throughout the park, like this guy who was displaying beautiful birds. Of course, Steve had to hold one. Or several.

Those birds looked comfortable with Steve. And no, we did not take one home.

The park has several rides. The Pearl Express Train takes you all over the park. And if you are brave, you can see a spectacular view from the Orlando StarFlyer. Along with the rides, Icon Park also features Madame Tussauds, SEA LIFE Aquarium, and the Museum of Illusions. 

I actually thought about riding this!

If you get hungry, the park has several restaurants at the park and nearby. If you are a Blake Shelton Fan, you will have to visit his food and entertainment venue, Ole Red. Gordon Ramsay’s Fish and Chips will give you a taste of England. And there are familiar chains including Outback Steakhouse and Buffalo Wild Wings. We chose to eat at Joe’s Crab Shack near the park, as Steve has been wanting to go there for years. It did not disappoint and we have eaten at other locations since this trip. 

Steve finally got his steam bucket!

Day 2: Titusville, Playlinda Beach and the Merrit Island National Wildlife Refuge

We didn’t want to visit Florida and not spend at least one day at the beach. We chose to visit the Titusville area for a day. We stopped at Dixie Crossroads for lunch–one of the best decisions we made on the trip. I am not a big seafood person but I could eat their crabcakes every day of my life. Steve also loved his shrimp and grits. 

The food here was so amazing we are thinking about making a special trip just to eat here.

After lunch, we went searching for a beach. We found Playalinda, which we felt was appropriate because my mother’s name was Linda. We managed to not park at the nude beach. It was February so we had large swaths of the beach to ourselves. We had taken the beach chairs out of our car to make room for our luggage so we mostly walked along the beach. It’s on our list of places we would like to see again. 

We were here in February and had most of the beach to ourselves.

After leaving the beach we stopped at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge Center. I love birds and this place was perfect. I saw spoonbills flying, which I mistook for flamingos. This started an obsession with flamingos that continues. 

We heard some birds, saw a few, but thank goodness we did not see any alligators!

The center has beautiful walkways and signs that alert you to what wildlife you may see. It also warns you about alligators–which we did not see. We enjoyed our peaceful stroll here.  If you go, there is an admission fee. 

Day 3: Lunch at Chef Mickey’s 

We got close to Walt Disney World, real close on our third day in Orlando. As I mentioned earlier, our family was in Orlando to celebrate my nephew’s fourth birthday. We had a fun lunch at Chef Mickey’s and met some of the characters. And we debated on whether to visit Walt Disney World. In the end, we decided against it. Here’s the closest we got–seeing the fireworks at the famous castle. 

Will this be as close as we ever get to Walt Disney World?

We visited some outlets on International Drive and just explored more of the city. And at the end of the day, we were happy to stay in our comfortable condo for an evening. 

Day 4: The rains came 

We are not fond of rain, especially if we are in an unfamiliar city. We continued to relax in our condo and left only for meals and to stock up on groceries. I also caught up on some work. If we can, we do try to incorporate a rest day into our travels. The rain made our decision to take a rest day easy. 

Day 5: To Disney Springs and beyond!

To make up for our day of rest, we incorporated two attractions into one day. I knew I wanted to visit Old Town. Located just about seven miles from Disney World, Old Town has vintage rides and shops on an 18-acre site. 

Old Town was a fun place about seven miles away from Walt Disney.

We had lunch at an A&W. I am not a big root beer drinker but according to Steve, it was very good. I enjoyed a cheeseburger and cheese curds here. And the jukebox was a bonus. 

The juke box at the A&W.

We visited some shops and enjoyed seeing some of the vintage rides, including a Ferris wheel. It was a great place to spend a few hours reminiscing on days gone by. 

We couldn’t visit Orlando and avoid Disney all together could we? That afternoon we visited Disney Springs. We loved the  free parking and it’s also free to walk around and see the shops and attractions. Disney Springs has some amazing spots for Instagram photos, of course. 

To infinity and beyond, Steve says!

Disney Springs has plenty of activities for people of all ages. You can see the areas from teh sky with a ride in a hot air balloon or see it from the water in a vintage amphicar. And you will find plenty of restaurants when you get hungry.

Up, up and away! This hot air balloon is one of many attractions at Disney Springs.

Day 6: Clermont

On our last day, we decided to venture about a half-hour outside of Orlando to the small town of Clermont. Our mission was to visit the Presidents Hall of Fame. This is one of the most unusual attractions we have visited and not just because of this guy. 

One of the interesting figures at the Presidents Hall of Fame

The museum is full of interesting artifacts including a replica that shows the White House under construction and how it is today.. You will also find several was figures depicting some past presidents. 

Watch FDR carefully if you go to the Presidents Hall of Fame. Hint: It’s an interative exhibit.

All of the good stuff is not just inside. You will find a recreation of Mount Rushmore, the Lincoln Memorial and the Statue of Liberty. Don’t forget to say hi to “Uncle Sam before leaving. We read it is being renovated and we definitely want to go back again! 

The Lincoln Memorial outside the Presidents Hall of Fame

As we were leaving the Presidents Hall of Fame, we stopped by the Florida Citrus Tower. The 75-foot structure opened in 1956 and is a throwback to all of the roadside attractions that were prevalent on U.S. 27 in the 50s and 60s. When you get to the top, try to spot Disney World to the south, the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Lake Apopka to the north. Even for February, it was a bit hazy and I had a hard time spotting them. But the views were spectacular. 

The Florida Citrus Tower opened in 1956.

Our last stop was Lake Minneloa. The views here were breathtaking. We had one regret about our visit to Clermont–we wish we had more time to spend here. 

We spent a wonderful afternoon at Lake Minneloa.

Final thoughts

We had other towns we had hoped to visit on this trip and more sites to see in Orlando. Our goal is to get back soon and who knows, you may even see us in a teacup next time.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.