Home » 7 Hidden Gems Outside Walt Disney World You NEED to Visit

7 Hidden Gems Outside Walt Disney World You NEED to Visit

mseeley1, Flickr (license)

It’s easy to get tunnel-vision when booking a Walt Disney World vacation. After all, you’re planning a trip to the vacation kingdom — a something-for-everyone paradise with shopping, shows, food, and tons of fun for kids of all ages.

But, believe it or not, there is a world outside the World.

For relatively short trips to Walt Disney World, it would never make sense to plan a day trip off property. But for those intending on staying a week or more in the Central Florida area, sometimes, you just need a bit of a palate cleanser. And, with Universal becoming just as much of a time and money investment as Walt Disney World, it’s sometimes easier to look elsewhere for those relaxing days outside the park.

So, that’s where we come in. Here are seven suggestions for incredible day trips off Disney property that should give you a unique vacation experience on par with that of any other location on planet earth. And, with such great diversity of options, there should be something for every kind of traveler.

Here we go: 

Kennedy Space Center

 mseeley1, Flickr (license)

Image: mseeley1, Flickr (license)

If you’re willing to make the hour-plus drive from Walt Disney World to Cape Canaveral, you will not find a better and more memorable spot on this list than the Kennedy Space Center.

It was from this location — launchpad 39A — that Apollo 11 took off on July 16, 1969 and carried Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the moon. But more than that, Kennedy Space Center has long been the heart of U.S. space exploration — from the space program’s early days as a ragtag group of crazy rocket scientists to today’s commercially-flavored rocketry programs.

The on-site museum, as well as the many interactive exhibits, make the Kennedy Space Center a must-see for history buffs, space nerds, and anyone in between. And wouldn’t you know it — it’s just over an hour away from Walt Disney World.

ICON Orlando

 elisfkc, Flickr (license)

Image: elisfkc, Flickr (license)

For something a bit closer to Walt Disney World, but no less vertigo-inducing than a rocket flight, make sure to check out ICON Orlando (formerly the Orlando Eye) — just 20 minutes away on International Drive.

At 400 feet, this observation wheel is only slightly smaller than the famed London Eye (443 feet), but it provides no less stellar views — particularly with the plethora of theme parks and tourist attractions nearby to gaze upon.

In addition to the observation wheel itself, the site also hosts fun diversions in the SeaLife Aquarium and Madame Tussaud’s — more than enough to fill a day of Disney-less fun.

One of Florida’s Many State Parks or Nature Preserves

 rain0975, Flickr (license)

Image: rain0975, Flickr (license)

If you’re in Florida, you may as well do as the Floridians do and enjoy the great natural wonders of the beautiful Sunshine State. That means, of course, a trip to one of the many parks and reserves within a two-hour drive of the Walt Disney World property.

Some, such as the Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland, Fl. are guaranteed hot spots for incredible natural wonders like birds and alligators. Others, like Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Fl. offer a serene escape from the hectic theme park universe.

And some, like Silver Springs in Ocala, Fl. or Rainbow Springs in Dunnellon, Fl. live as monuments to the old Florida charm that inspired generations to uproot their lives and head south for permanent residence.

Life in Florida is centered on a love of the outdoors and a desire to enjoy the sunshine and natural beauty the state offers up in bundles. If you want the full Florida experience, you have to get up close and see that nature yourself. 

Fun Spot America

 milst1, Flickr (license)

Image: milst1, Flickr (license)

If natural beauty isn’t quite your thing, Fun Spot can provide Disney-level thrills for a less-than-Disney-level budget.

Somewhat confusingly, there are two Fun Spots in the Orlando area — one in Orlando, near Universal, and one in Kissimmee, much closer to the Walt Disney World property itself. Both are worth visiting, however, if you’re a dedicated roller coaster fan.

Fun Spot America – Orlando boasts a modern classic wooden roller coaster called White Lightning, which was voted the No. 24 best wooden roller coaster in America by the Golden Ticket Awards in 2018.

Meanwhile, in Fun Spot America – Kissimmee, visitors are treated to the immensely unique Mine Blower. Opened in 2017, Mine Blower is a wooden creation from the mad scientists at The Gravity Group, which features a zero-gravity roll and an overbanked turn — both of which are highly unusual features in a wooden roller coaster.

If you’re a thrill seeker who still needs a break from the day-to-day of a Disney vacation, Fun Spot can deliver a nice change of pace.

Winter Park, Fl.

 miosotis-jade, Flickr (license)

Image: miosotis-jade, Flickr (license)

Disney Springs is a fantastic place to walk around and explore, but if you’re looking for something slightly more authentic than that designed city that never was, Winter Park is among the most quaint small towns in the Southeast — and very easy to see on foot.

Just 40 minutes from Walt Disney World, Winter Park’s main thoroughfare of Park Avenue is chock full of restaurants and shopping that are every bit as charming and delicious as what you’d find at Disney’s shopping center. And, if you don’t live somewhere with many interesting places to walk, you’ll find yourself enamored with the small-town charm of the neighborhood.

With good food, art galleries, and lush sidewalk horticulture, Winter Park is the perfect image of a Florida town — and a perfect break from the manufactured reality of Walt Disney World. 

Lake Eola

 joeshlabotnik, Flickr (license)

Image: joeshlabotnik, Flickr (license)

It’s sometimes easy to forget, but Walt Disney World resides just a few miles away from a proper metropolitan city. As with any city, there’s tons of culture just waiting to be sampled by any tourist — and the culture of Orlando is worth escaping the gravitational pull of Walt Disney World for at least a day.

One aspect of that culture is Lake Eola, a beautiful public park downtown in Orlando that serves as a kind of focal point for public life in the Magic City. It hosts festivals and events, yes, but it’s also just a magnificent public space to explore — on bicycle, roller blades, or even just on foot.

The Disney parks are wonderful, but they are not places for citizens of Orlando to go and congregate and spend time. If you want a real taste of life in Central Florida, Lake Eola is a perfect place to check out. 

An Orlando City SC (or Orlando Pride) soccer game

 highwaytodistraction, Flickr (license)

Image: highwaytodistraction, Flickr (license)

Maybe you want thrills of a different sort, and maybe you want to experience those thrills while surrounded by thousands of Orlando residents communing over a shared love of sport.

Or, maybe you just love soccer and want to see the beautiful game.

Whatever the draw, Orlando City SC is as unique a sports experience as you will ever have. The team plays in a purpose-built stadium right in the heart of Orlando, giving match days an electric vibe unlike anything you’ve ever experienced at a basketball or football game. And, importantly, the whole city loves its soccer team — with Orlando City SC merchandise coming out whenever the team is ready to play.

Additionally, Orlando’s women’s soccer team — Orlando Pride — features several international-level superstars, such as Alex Morgan, Marta, and Sydney Leroux.

As an experience, seeing a match in person is a piece of local culture than cannot be replicated anywhere else. Even if you’ve seen soccer in other places, Orlando has a soccer culture all to its own — and the city truly is a soccer city.

And, if you find yourself starting to miss Walt Disney World while you’re at the match, don’t worry — Disney’s a team sponsor.