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Miniature Golf

Pirates Cove on International Drive
Image: Pirates Cove

Orlando has its own version of the Ben Franklin line: Nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes, and miniature golf. Wherever you go, wherever you stay, there will be a course no farther than a five-minute drive away and coupons, a five-minute walk. On account of that convenience, most tourists stick to whichever plaster mountain is closest. That’s a fair strategy - you can’t go too far wrong with any of the options currently renting putters - but this list is all about getting out and seeing the world beyond the World. Theme Park Tourist has already narrowed down some of the greatest hits, so consider these the CliffsNotes.

Both Disney and Universal have their own courses. Both are built to the quality you’d expect and have greens fees to match. Because of their proximity, they’re also routinely the busiest golf courses in town so plan your afternoon accordingly.

On the International Drive end of Orlando, the most popular course is a geographic tie between Congo River to the north and Pirates Cove to the south. Between the two, Pirates Cove wins on grandeur alone. That Congo outpost isn’t a bad 18, just cramped. Pirates, by contrast, includes a full galleon. Easy choice. Discerning tastes should seek out Lost Caverns Adventure Golf, now shrinking in the shadow of Universal’s Endless Summer complex. It used to be a Congo River so the style and difficulty should seem familiar, but time has given it a rugged charm all its own.

On the 192 end of Orlando, there’s a course for all seasons. This Congo River, just past Target on the east side, is the one to beat. 36 holes. Baby gators for the feeding. A river for swanboats woven into the faux jungle. Everything you could want out of miniature golf. A quieter, simpler time can be had farther east at Pirates Island, the last surviving spinoff of Pirates Cove. Speaking of, although the best Cove around just shuttered with the rest of the Crossroads shopping center, the runner-up still stands behind Old Town and Fun Spot. Those neighbors make parking on weekend nights an endurance test so plan your time on the links accordingly. Golfers in search of a truly singular experience should look west, toward the unnaturally orange peak marked “GOLF.” Bonanza Golf and Gifts remains the most affordable and unusual course in town. It may not have the interactivity of the theme park holes or the lush environs of Pirates or Congo, but it makes up for it in character, elevation, and variety. You never know what each hole might bring and, for $5.99 with coupon, that’s a hard deal to beat.

Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures

Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures in motion
Image: Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures

Even if you haven’t gone, if you’ve been to Orlando, you’ve probably seen an ad for Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures. That cartoon alligator piloting a cartoon airboat shows up in every tourist magazine and coupon book, and more than a few billboards. And yet, as much airboating is a pillar of Central Florida tourism, most visitors never climb aboard. But there’s no better time to enjoy some fresh, swamp air, a lot of fresh, swamp air, at approximately 45 miles-per-hour.

Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures is located about an hour south of the 192 corridor, but you could be seconds away and still miss it. Most of the complex hides behind a natural disguise of Spanish moss. Save for the semi-regular scream of propellers, it’s just as hard to hear. That’s the beauty of Boggy Creek.

In addition to the promised transportation, there are alligators to feed, precious minerals to mine, Boggy Bottom BBQ to savor, and views of Lake Tohopekaliga to view. The most unique entertainment, however, is the Jororo Native Village. Across several demonstrations and discussions with the Big Mountain Family, visitors can learn how the Jororo tribe lived, played, and even hunted alligators. There’s nothing else like the GoNativeNow program in Orlando and it makes for a refreshing change of pace between the roller coasters and autograph books.

And you can always chase the education with an airboat ride if you’re still craving a thrill.

Boggy Creek’s tours come in all intervals and intimacies. The standard half-hour ride is available for walk-ins. Longer tours, private parties, and any trips past 5 PM require advanced booking. There’s no exhilaration quite like it. That said, if you burn easily and wear shorts often, bring sunblock for the top of your knees. Just trust me.

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