15 ways to keep holiday visitors to Orlando busy and entertained (besides going to the theme parks)

Go to the beach!
Go to the beach!

Once the handshakes and hugs are distributed, every holiday season visit from family and friends reveals the same question: what am I going to do with these people?

While staring at each other until you can draw each other's faces from memory is always an option, it's not necessary. Orlando is stuffed with entertainment options to keep in-laws and blood relatives alike out on the town and out of your hair. Even if you can't stomach a trip to the most magical adult daycare on Earth, there are plenty of fun attractions just waiting to fill the days that turkey and ham aren't on the menu.

Catch a holiday cocktail:

The Courtesy Bar downtown on Orange Avenue transforms its menu every year into a dang Yuletide miracle (Nov. 23-Dec. 30), with a special menu, playlist and decor that'll make your heart grow three sizes. Also, your liver.

Cruise through Winter Park's canals:

Scenic boat tours of Winter Park's waterways launch hourly starting at 10 a.m. every single day.

Give your wallet a workout:

Sharp-elbowed shoppers can brave the Mall at Millenia and the Premium Outlet Malls, where parking is a bloodsport, but Winter Park's Park Avenue, Audubon Park's Corrine Drive or the tiny Milk District are more our shopping speed.

Scope out manatees:

The Blue Springs state park and manatee refuge is still a great place for finding Florida's most iconic animal. But they're having a really tough year, so don't bug 'em.

Head to the Frontyard:

The Dr. Phillips Center's wildly successful COVID-19 workaround was extended into this December.

Get your glow on:

Titusville's glowing bioluminescent lagoon has as much wow factor as Disney's fireworks.

Paddleboard Lake Ivanhoe:

A paddleboard is one of several ways to see Orlando's booming restaurant and bar district along Lake Ivanhoe.

Bike Orlando's urban trails:

Orlando is far from a biking mecca, but long-distance and urban trails are littered throughout the city for anyone who wants to pedal.

Use your feet to see some nature:

While you're up and moving, why not take in the sights along the Black Bear Wilderness Loop Trail?

Take a stroll through Leu Gardens:

You don't need to leave town to see green. Bonus points: This Orlando attraction goes all out on holiday lights when Dazzling Nights kicks off Nov. 19.

Get glassy-eyed in Winter Park:

The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art holds the world's most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany. That's bragging rights, pal.

Mail your Christmas cards from Florida's weirdest town:

There's a lot of competition for Florida's oddest place, but it's hard to beat Christmas, a permanent holiday zone just east of Orlando stuck between impoverished Bithlo and the Space Coast. Can't beat that postmark, though.

Visit the animals at the Central Florida Zoo:

No one turns down an invitation to feed a giraffe. Or pet a rhino. Or gawk at a 40-year-old gopher tortoise.

Find some peace at Bok Tower Gardens:

A trip to the Singing Tower at the heart of this Lake Wales sanctuary is a must-do, particularly if you have any aficionados of roadside attraction history in your family.

Get your goth on at Greenwood Cemetery:

Spooky season never ends if you keep the faith.

Rev your engines:

Visit the Big Daddy Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing — a few large rooms stuffed with racing memorabilia — and test your reflexes off the Christmas tree. (Not that kind of Christmas tree.)

Take an airboat ride:

As much as we try to build over it, the swamp persists. Take your Wisconsin uncle out to relive the credits of Miami Vice.

Take them up — way up:

No hill, no problem: Wallaby Ranch lays claim to the title of "first fulltime aerotow hang gliding flight park in the world." For the nervous types, tandem flights are also available.

Count teeth at Gatorland:

Gatorland has held on through seismic shifts in Central Florida because seeing a bunch of alligators snap up whole frozen chickens in a feeding frenzy is still awesome.

click to enlarge Catch a holiday cocktail! - image via the Courtesy Bar
image via the Courtesy Bar
Catch a holiday cocktail!

Go to the beach:

While the temperature is less than ideal from the local point of view, a lack of crowds at Central Florida's sandy hotspots make it a near-perfect time for a visit. And your Ohio in-laws will strip down to their bikinis.

Ride a dang swan boat:

A sense of not-a-tourist pride might keep you away from Lake Eola's famous vessels most of the year. Take advantage of the cover provided by visitors to paddle out.

Get turned around in a corn maze:

While the high season for corn mazes has ended, there are still quite a few left to muddle through in Central Florida.

Or get turnt in Sanford:

But keep the wheels turning: Book a pedal-powered Limo Cycle for a pub crawl through the historic downtown.

Go see the Orlando Magic play:

They almost certainly won't win. But with tickets starting at just $10, does it really matter?

Sample the meatballs at IKEA:

If things really go south, you might be able to lose a relative permanently in the home furnishings labyrinth. i

About The Authors

Jessica Bryce Young

Jessica Bryce Young has been working with Orlando Weekly since 2003, serving as copy editor, dining editor and arts editor before becoming editor in chief in 2016.
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