We can’t get enough of Florida. We’ve been going steady with the Sunshine State for 30 years, and we’ve picked up a thing or two on how to make the most of your time out there. So, without much preamble at all, here’s our top spots to turn your Florida holiday into something extraordinary beyond those famous theme parks.
Universal CityWalk® is a great place to while away an evening or just a few hours. You’ve got plenty of cool attractions, eateries, bars and shops, plus some good old-fashioned street entertainment. You don’t even need tickets to Universal to enjoy everything here (There is a fee for parking if you come before 6pm though).
Disney Springs might have cost squillions to build, but this playground costs nothing to visit. Well, that depends on if you want to spend anything at the countless shops (even non-Disney brands), restaurants and bars that cater to all tastes. Even without a cent spent, there’s tons of free entertainment available (check out the Legoland Imagination Centre!), all a part of the Disney spectacle. Enjoy.
Everything is awesome! And your team will think so too if you take them to Legoland. Located in Winter Haven (around an hour’s drive from Orlando), it’s a coaster-riding, show-stopping, brick-building good time.
Wild Florida Wildlife Park
This being the Sunshine State, gators are naturally a big attraction at Wild Florida. Just 40 minutes outside Orlando, it’s home to around 200 exotic critters. Oh, and there’s an exclusive Thursday afternoon tour for Virgin Holidays customers, complete with buffet!
Old Town, Kissimmee
Old Town in Kissimmee is a charming blend of open-air boutique mall, retro-themed Floridian town and fun fair. It’s worth a visit in its own right, but plan your visit for a Friday or Saturday night and, free of charge, you’ll be treated to the spectacle of an all-American car cruise, along with DJs and other entertainment.
Harry P. Leu Gardens
If you want a restorative couple of hours in beautifully cultivated surroundings, we can highly recommend Harry P. Leu Gardens. It’s got a programme of seasonal displays and, if you can manage it, is free to enter on the first Monday of each month. They also do outdoor movie nights during the cooler months — not too pricey and a pretty special experience.
Fort Christmas Historical Museum and Park
This fascinating park is free to enter and includes a replica of a fort built in 1837 during the Second Seminole Indian War; a traditional Florida ‘Cracker’ house and eight pioneer homes; a schoolhouse and lunchroom; a sugar cane mill and other bits of historical equipment.
Black Hammock Adventures
Fun/scary fact: the area around Black Hammock Adventures has the highest density of alligators in a state already famous for these prehistoric, snapping handbags. So, as you’d imagine, the free alligator exhibit is impressively gator-rich. There’s also free live music at the Lazy Gator Bar every weekend.
Clearwater and St Pete Beach
We’re not about to explain what can be fun about being in Clearwater and St Pete Beach on a wide sweep of beach with the rolling ocean beckoning you in for refreshing dips. Just be sure to visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium while you’re in town — home to Winter, the world-famous dolphin with the prosthetic tail.
Cocoa and Daytona beaches
You’ve got yourself a couple of picture-perfect sand/ocean combos here. Back before NASCAR was a thing, cars used to race on a loop that included the Daytona seafront. Even now, you can still drive your car onto the beach – so park up, grab your cossies and have a blast in Cocoa and Daytona beaches.
Siesta Beach, Sarasota currently holds a top ten spot in the best beaches in the USA and, frankly, at this level of beach awesomeness, there’s barely a grain of sand between them all. The town is laid back and the whole area just exudes a classy cool that costs nothing to enjoy.
Beyond the beach
St Augustine is the perfect example of a great Florida day out that might otherwise take a back seat to inverted rollercoasters and lashings of Butterbeer. It’s an engrossing city to wander round, with a massive fortress, a great pirate museum, and some super-entertaining pirate cruises that you can take from the harbour.
The town that Disney built. Really. As you’d expect — it’s practically perfect in every way. Celebration’s enduring appeal comes from its charming boutiques and eateries, and its great seasonal touches. Halloween is big thing here, and despite the lack of a wintry climate, over the Christmas holidays it ‘snows’ in the centre every day.
Rainbow Springs Tubing Tour
It doesn’t get much cooler than drifting lazily on an inflatable tube down a river that’s fed by refreshing springs. Rental at Rainbow Springs won’t break the bank, the ‘tour’ (going where the current takes you) lasts a couple of hours, you’ll get some outstanding views of the beautiful natural surroundings.
If you’re a fan of nu-ales and microbreweries (or just fancy a drink), then head to OB. They give free weekend brewery tours and live entertainment outside. You’ll even find menus at the tables to order yourself a takeaway. Don’t mind if we do.
Magical Dining Month
Every autumn during Magical Dining Month a wonderful array of Orlando restaurants offer three courses for a dramatically reduced price. No catches, no artificially small portions, just three delicious courses for up to half off the regular price. Part of the price goes to charity, so the warm feeling doesn’t end after you’ve nibbled your after- dinner mint.
Orlando Daily City Food Truck Bazaars
Food trucks are huge around the States, and Orlando’s got its own fleet of independently owned food trucks to deliver deliciousness. Every week, you can find loads of them flocking together at scheduled bazaars. Google ‘Orlando Daily City Food Truck Bazaar’, turn up and prepare to get served.
Billed as the ‘anti-mall’, Artegon is home to loads of independent retailers who proudly present their wares to Orlando residents and visitors. It’s a thoroughly entertaining place to come and shop for more niche items, get great food and people-watch.
Orlando Premium Outlets and Lake Buena Vista Factory Outlets
If you or the kids need new trainers, jeans or need to resupply the wardrobe (even if it’s already stuffed), head to Orlando Premium Outlets or Lake Buena Vista Factory Outlets for some of the best deals around. You’ll save a tidy 20-30% off the full price. Cha-ching.
The Mall at Millenia
We’re awfully pleased to have an exclusive relationship with this prestigious mall. Travel with us and you’ll enjoy an exclusive book of vouchers for great savings here. Complimentary drinks and appetisers while you decide where to shop? Tasty.