18 homegrown attractions everyone should visit in Orlando


Orlando attracted over 72 million tourists last year, and if that number soon breaks 100 million, you can bet Batuu’s Black Spire Outpost will be to blame. Better known to the non-Jedi as Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the eagerly anticipated 14-acre expansion to Disney’s Hollywood Studios will finally allow fans to sit in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon when it opens in August. Walt Disney World also debuts a Mickey Mouse dark ride and gondola transportation system this year, but Universal is punching back with a new Harry Potter-inspired rollercoaster, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure (set to open in June), and two value-priced resort hotels, while SeaWorld – which just debuted a detailed Sesame Street area and parade – has expanded its festival event schedule to every weekend. When you’ve exhausted (or been exhausted by) the blockbuster resorts, be sure to explore Orlando’s more modest, homegrown attractions, reminders of an era before the Mouse ate our city.

Airboat Rides at Midway

28501 E. Colonial Drive, Christmas, 407-568-6790, airboatridesatmidway.com

See bald eagles, otters, blue herons and a lot of gators at this popular airboat tour on the St. Johns River.

Audubon Center for Birds of Prey

1101 Audubon Way, Maitland, 407-644-0190, fl.audubon.org

Watch Florida's raptors get some TLC at this rehab center near Lake Sybelia. Open to the public, the center's gazebo houses birds currently in rehabilitation and man-made wetlands.

Bok Tower Gardens

1151 Tower Blvd., Lake Wales, 863-676-1408, boktowergardens.org

On the outskirts of Orlando's suburbs, Bok Tower Gardens hosts botanical gardens designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. Take in the natural wonders of Florida as you listen to the song coming from the iconic neo-Gothic Singing Tower and its carillon bells.

Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens

3755 W. Seminole Blvd., Sanford, 407-323-4450, centralfloridazoo.org

Home to more than 400 animals, the Central Florida Zoo is a relaxing sanctuary for threatened animals like the Madagascar red-ruffed lemur or the Thai clouded leopard. Feed the giraffes some lettuce or pet a greater one-horned rhino.

Dinosaur World

5145 Harvey Tew Road, Plant City, 813-717-9865, dinosaurworld.com

Life-size dinosaur models reign over this attraction seen from Interstate 4. Dig for fossils, mine through artifacts and excavate a 27-foot skeleton under the sand.

Forever Florida

4755 N. Kenansville Road, St. Cloud, 407-957-9794, foreverflorida.com

This 4,700-acre nature preserve features the best of Florida. Enjoy horseback riding, zip-lining and a trail buggy tour featuring a traditional ranch and other wildlife.

Fort Christmas Historical Park and Museum

1300 Fort Christmas Road, Christmas, 407-254-9312, orangecountyfl.net

Find replica Florida Cracker-style cabins and a pioneer schoolhouse at this regional history museum that evokes an 1837 fort during the second Seminole War.


14501 S. Orange Blossom Trail, 407-855-5496, gatorland.com

Known as the "Alligator Capital of the World," this eco-preserve is home to thousands of flesh-eating reptiles and the trainers brave enough to wrestle them. Get close (but not too close) to see them eat and sleep, or zip-line safely above their marsh. Say hi to Larry, an 800-pound resident recently relocated here from the Villages.


8375 International Drive, i-drive360.com

Right in the middle of Orlando's tourist district, Icon Park (formerly Icon Orlando 360) features the Wheel, a 400-foot observation wheel, marine animals at the Sea Life Aquarium, skeletons at the Museum of Osteology, your favorite celebrities at Madame Tussauds wax museum and the Orlando Starflyer, the world's tallest swing ride. In addition to the name change (which happened the very day this guide went to press), there are plans to add two new restaurants plus a food hall called Wheelhouse Market.

Jungle Adventures Nature Park

26205 E. Colonial Drive, Christmas, 407-568-2885, jungleadventures.com

A natural habitat filled with rare Florida panthers, black bears, wolves, white-tailed deer, tropical birds and, as always, a whole lot of gators. The mouth of "Swampy," a 200-foot man-made gator, serves as the entrance to a "real Florida animal park."


1 Legoland Way, Winter Haven, legoland.com/florida

What's not to love about a 150-acre attraction whose theme is tiny blocks and mini humans? New in 2019 is The Lego Movie World, featuring a family-friendly flight simulator and a restaurant where every day is"Taco Tuesday."

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

State Road 405, east of Titusville, 855-433-4210, kennedyspacecenter.com

Take a tour of the 363-foot Saturn V that took Americans to the moon and catch the lunar particles that still dust astronaut Alan Shepard's space suit. Make it worth your while and visit when there's a live rocket launch scheduled.

Orlando Science Center

777 E. Princeton St., 407-514-2000, osc.org

Home to Florida's largest refractor telescope, the Orlando Science Center has a place for everyone. Children get to explore the recently remodeled KidsTown, which includes a climbing area and pickable "orange grove," while adults get to connect at Science Night Live with fun exhibits and a little liquor.

Orlando Speed World Dragway

19164 E. Colonial Drive, 407-568-5522, raceosw.com/dragway

Local drag racing finds a home at Orlando Speed World. Check out street drags and drifting events here every week.

SeaWorld Orlando

7007 Sea World Drive, 407-545-5550, seaworld.com/orlando

Outdated marine animal shows aren't the only thing SeaWorld has to offer. A brand-new Sesame Street land, along with thrilling roller coasters and exciting water adventures at Aquatica, make this theme park a must-visit.

Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando Resort, 6000 Universal Blvd., universalorlando.com

Thank the stars for multi-day passes, because Universal offers way too much to enjoy in one day. From the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to the Volcano Bay water theme park, there's never a dull moment here. New for 2019 is Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, replacing the retired Dragon Challenge rollercoaster.

Wallaby Ranch

1805 Deen Still Road, Davenport, 863-424-0070, wallaby.com

Lose your terrestrial inhibitions by hanging out with the gliders at Wallaby Ranch. The ranch's aerotow system launches people (and their instructors) into the air for an unforgettable experience.

Walt Disney World Resort


The most magical place on Earth doesn't really need an explanation, so we'll just give you the new stuff: The Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge themed land will make its debut in August 2019 at Disney's Hollywood Studios, and it's not something you want to miss.

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