Well, yes, I may be a little mad. But it is entirely possible to visit the State of Florida, and stay in the Orlando area, and NOT visit any theme parks.
Not everyone has the budget or the inclination to visit theme parks. Think of the millions of people who live there who don’t visit the parks. I personally love the place, and even though I would love to go to Disney World and Universal Studios on every trip, it’s just not practical from a time and money perspective. Plus there is SO MUCH to do when you’re there, it would be silly not to venture away from the parks and see what else is around.
What you choose to do will be purely down to what interests you. My personal choice is to try to get a little bit of Disney and Universal in my trip, without forking out on the park tickets.
To do this, I usually check whether there are any event tickets I can buy (if the budget will stretch to it) for one evening in a park. I tend to visit during the Halloween period, so there’s Halloween Horror Nights if you can stomach it, at Universal Studios (I tried it and hated it, despite being a huge horror fan. Let’s keep the peril on the screen and not in my face, thank you very much), and there’s Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at Disney’s Magic Kingdom (much more my style). Both offer you entry and the run of the parks for a dedicated number of hours on one evening.
You also have the option of the park’s leisure areas, so City Walk for Universal and Disney Springs for Disney. You don’t need a park ticket for either of these. City Walk has restaurants, bars, shopping and I believe there’s a cinema there too. Disney Springs is bigger and offers shopping (both Disney Parks merchandise and other branded stores) restaurants, bars, bowling, cinema, and other activities.
I personally LOVE Disney Springs, because there’s so much to do. The shopping is great, the restaurants are excellent and there’s a lot to do and see. Plus parking is free there, unlike at City Walk.
From Disney Springs you can also take a free bus to any of the Disney resorts so you can have a nosey around the hotels, partake in their activities and eat in their restaurants. I love visiting the resorts even if I’m not staying in one.
But if you’re not at all interested in exploring Disney or Universal property, you can still have tons of fun. The little all-American towns in the Orlando area are well worth an explore. Places like Celebration and Kissimmee are lovely and one of my favourites is Winter Park with it’s shopping, restaurants and little train track that runs right through it.
It’s also home to the head office and flagship store of one of my favourite brands Rifle Paper Co.
As you’re probably aware, I’m back off to Florida in a few weeks, and we had loads of things planned. As well as going back to pretty much all of the places above, we intend to pack in a lot more. Our trip is double the length we stayed last year and I still feel like we won’t have enough time to fit everything in!
Included in our trip is an NFL game at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stadium, a trip to the Kennedy Space Centre (a bucket list item!), Wonderworks (a hands-on science exhibit) and possibly a visit to adventure golf and an epic looking escape room!
Of course I plan on visiting the shops, and the list I have is getting as long as my arm! Have you been to Orlando and had a non-park holiday? I’d love to hear about the places you’ve visited and the activities you’ve done! Maybe something you suggest will make my list for this year’s trip!
My recent trip to Florida felt like a bolt-on to my trip last year. If you’re new to Musings of A So Called Shutterbug, you may not be aware that last year, for my 10 year wedding anniversary, me and my Husband planned a dream two weeks in Orlando staying at Walt Disney World. We visited all the parks and also Universal Studios. It was a jam-packed holiday, but there were things in and around Orlando that we didn’t do because we wanted to make use of our park tickets 100% of the time.
So when we got the opportunity to go back to Florida and stay with friends for a week, this year, we snapped it up. As part of this trip we wanted to do all of the things we hadn’t had the chance to do last time. And I’m pleased to say we managed to tick everything the list.
Now, as much as this is a post about what to do OUTSIDE the parks, we DID visit the Magic Kingdom for one evening, for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. I haven’t planned a post about this event, but if you’d like to see one then please leave a comment.
We also managed to fit in both Universal Parks in one day, but again, that’s not why I’m here.
If you haven’t got the time or resources to visit the parks, or if that’s just not your thing, there’s LOTS to do (for basically no money) in and around Orlando. And I wanted to share with you, what we did!
You could spend a whole month in this area, and eat in a different and good place every meal time and never eat the same place twice. Whilst in Florida, we ate at Chick-Fil-A 3 times. You might not consider it good food, but we certainly did and I’ve been craving it ever since we got back.
Other places we ate were Smokey Bones, Egg City, Cracker Barrel (which is a big breakfast favourite of ours – you can even sit outside on the porch chairs and play checkers whilst you wait for your table!)
Blaze Pizza at Disney Springs (and I’ll come back to Disney Springs in a bit) is epic
And restaurant style food is also aplenty. We ate in some great ones but the best was Homecomin’, also in Disney Springs
The food here is amazing. I was able to try fried green tomatoes for the first time and oh my were they good.
NBC Sports Grill at Universal’s City Walk (again, more about there in a bit) is great. We went there for Sunday football and not only is the atmosphere awesome, but the food is amazing too. We tried Wisconsin cheese curds there for the first time and I’ve been dreaming about them ever since!
So, other than getting fat, we like to go shopping when we’re away. One of our favourite past-times is going to local supermarkets and seeing what things they have that we don’t. We visited Target, Walmart and Publix as well as Walgreens and CVS. We spent a good hour and a half in the first Target we went to. I just love slowly browsing EVERYTHING (sorry to Sarah and Nick who we were with!)
This is aside from visiting the shopping malls, industrial parks like The Loop and one of the many outlet malls (Premium Outlet Mall is our choice) to have a good look.
One thing to remember is that even if you don’t have a part ticket you can still visit the bar and restaurant areas of the parks.
At Disney it’s Disney Springs, and has just been completely overhauled. It’s free to park here, and has shopping, restaurants, bars and entertainment. It also features the world’s largest Disney store which contains lots of the official Disney World parks merchandise, so even if you can’t visit the parks, you can get your merch on!
The Universal Studios equivalent is called City Walk. The parking here isn’t free so you need to know you’re going to make a trip of it, but City Walk is open until the early hours so you can definitely make a whole night excursion if you wish. There’s a cinema, bars, restaurants and I think a bowling alley too. You can also visit the new Toothsome’s Chocolate Emporium, Blue Man Group theatre and Hard Rock Cafe from here, all without park entry.
Let’s also not forget the 192 and its tacky gift shops. I LOVE visiting these and this time around went to Orange World, and the Wizard Gift shop.
The shop-fronts are tourist attractions themselves, and that’s even before you go inside to see what interesting things they’re stocking. Orange World also just happens to be direstly opposite my favourite Cracker Barrel for breakfast.
One of the things I was eager to do, was ride the monorail and see some of the resorts on the line, whilst we were staying off property this time. You can visit any of the Disney World resorts without having a room there, but just remember you cannot park there or use the pools. We parked up at the Ticket and Transportation Centre (this isn’t free but you pay once for the day and can park at any of the Disney car parks using your ticket), and hopped on the resort monorail to the Polynesian and the Grand Floridan hotels.
This meant I could get myself a wonderful Dole Whip at Pineapple Lanai at the Polynesian (they taste the best here anyway!)
It was my first time seeing the Grand Floridan, and though it’s a little stuffy, I’m glad I went and had a look around.
The other thing we did was park up at Disney Springs and get on a resort bus (again, this is free and you don’t have to be staying at a resort to use these buses) You can get the bus to any resort of your choice. We wanted to visit the Boardwalk as we hadn’t before.
We’re so glad we did, and we got there a few hours before sunset, so we were able to see it in both daylight and then at night after we’d eaten. The Boardwalk area is a lot quieter than other Disney restaurant areas. It has a few shops, restaurants and bars but comes to life at night with night clubs and lights aplenty.
Last time I was in Florida I wanted to visit Winter Park, but we just didn’t have the time. It’s north of Orlando and we wanted to know the trip would be worth it. I love the Rifle Paper Company, and new they had their flagship store and head office there, but didn’t know what else there was. I’m so glad we visited this time, because we managed to have breakfast, do some shopping, and have a good look around.
Winter Park has a lovely ‘sleepy town’ feel but also feels like a hub of business. It’s rather trendy and I’d even go as far as to say it’s a little ‘hipster’.
There are loads of restaurants and coffee shops. One coffee place I knew I wanted to visit was Foxtail Coffee, and try their nitro cold brew. I’d been following them for a while on instagram and really wanted to visit.
And last but not least, you can’t visit Florida without going to one of their white sand beaches. We’re not beach day people, so we made a short visit to Clearwater on the morning of our flight out from Tampa airport.
An absolutely stunning place. We visited on a chilly, and windy, morning but it would be nice to spend a little more time there next time we’re in Florida. It looked exactly like a postcard!
As you can see, as long as you have a car, you don’t have to spend a huge amount of money filling your time in Orlando and the surrounding areas. We’ve discovered loads of places this time around, and next time we visit I know we’ll be making a trip to these places again.
Never in a million years did I think that I would be visiting Orlando twice in as many years.
Even whilst boarding the plane last October (in the midst of a hurricane, no less) did I suspect that in just over a year I’d be heading back.
Orlando is definitely my second home, forgetting all the parks (but why would you want to?) it’s got all the weather, the food, the beaches and the views. It’s an incredible place.
So, when friends offered to have G Man and I for a stay whilst they are there in October, we knew we had to try to make it work somehow.
I’ll no doubt keep mentioning this over the period of time we have left until we head out, but I thought I would share a little bit of the things we want to do whilst we’re there!
We’re not going to be spending much time in the parks, in fact it’ll be just one evening – Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party! We’ll be able to spend from 4pm til Midnight in Magic Kingdom and intend on rinsing every single second! I’ve got my costume sorted and I can’t wait to walk down Main Street and see the castle again!
Visit Downtown Orlando, Winter Park, and St Augustine
Since our visit last year was straight Disney and Universal Studios jam-packed, we didn’t really go out and about in Orlando or the surrounding areas (apart from the shopping malls of course!) so this time around we want to visit some of these areas. I’m especially looking forward to seeing St Augustine because from what I’ve seen in photos it looks beautiful.
Complete my Orlando ‘Your Are Here’ Mug Collection
About a week after we left Orlando last year, Universal Studios announced the release of their Starbucks ‘You Are Here’ mug…. I knew I had to go back and get one, so that’s what I intend to do. I can’t have an incomplete collection now, can I?
Oh yes! I will be stocking up on Bath and Body Works, getting my money’s worth in Victoria’s Secret and Hollister (the prices are so much better there!) and visiting far too many Target, Ulta and Sephoras. Let’s just say I’m planning on packing light so I have room to bring things home….. eek!
I honestly can’t wait to get eating! Blaze Pizza, Publix Subrolls, Cracker Barrel for breakfast – and the one I’m most looking forward to… Homecomin’ I get to have that beautiful Moonshine Cake that I’ve been dreaming about all year, again! This isn’t even mentioning Dole Whips and all the other Disney treats you can get in Magic Kingdom and Disney Springs!
Speaking of Disney Springs……
I’m looking forward to spending time in Disney Springs and City Walk, as well as visiting the Boardwalk area which we didn’t do last time.
And last but not least, I’m really looking forward to hopefully visiting Clearwater beach. We didn’t have the chance last time, so I’m hoping we will this time around, because I can’t go to Florida twice and not see at least one of their beaches!
As well as all of this, we intend on relaxing, taking in the weather and spending time with our hosts. I really can’t wait!!