- By Kevin
- On May 22, 2017
- North America
- Travel Tips
Chances are you’ve been to Orlando, perhaps even more than once, probably for the kind of mass-tourism, theme-park pleasure that involves pricey admission tickets, hour-long lines, and storybook characters run amok (which, despite our eye-rolling, we grudgingly adore). But what if you were to visit Orlando and not set foot in a single theme park? No Disney, no Universal, no SeaWorld. You'd find Orlando's got a lot more to offer than just Mickey. Here are 10 must-visit Orlando attractions outside of the theme park bubble.
AMERICAN ART MUSEUM
One might assume the largest collection of Tiffany glass in the world would be located in New York, but it’s actually in Orlando's Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in historic Winter Park. Over the past half-century, the Morse has amassed some of the most memorable lamps, leaded-glass windows, jewelry, art glass, and pottery by Louis Comfort Tiffany, and in 2011 debuted a new $5 million Tiffany Wing that houses the restored Daffodil Terrace from his Long Island estate as well as 250 art and architectural objects.
Rather than a hidden motorized track guiding you through a faux jungle with fake hippos and zebras, exercise your paddling muscles on a kayak eco-tour through mossy, cypress-lined Shingle Creek, the headwaters of the Everglades. Here, you may spot real alligators, bald eagles, and more. The Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott at Grande Lakes offer two-hour guided tours twice daily, or experienced kayakers can venture out on their own from Shingle Creek Regional Park.
ORLANDO MAGIC BASKETBALL
Ditch the Magic Kingdom and opt instead for Orlando's NBA team the Orlando Magic. The team, whose most famous alumnus is Shaquille O'Neal, is celebrating 25 years of on-court action in 2014. Basketball season runs from October to June. See the team in action at the Magic’s home court—the 20,000-seat Amway Center downtown.
RENOWNED BOTANICAL GARDEN
Harried tourists often overlook botanical gardens but in Orlando it’s a shame to pass up the 50-acre Harry P. Leu Gardens. They house more than 1,000 rose bushes (in season from April to January) and the largest collection of camellias in North America (in bloom November through March). Located on Lake Ivanhoe near downtown, the gardens also have a citrus grove and a butterfly garden.
3 GREAT WINE BARS
With the recent addition of the The Alfond Inn, a 112-room hotel in atmospheric Winter Park, you can stay within strolling distance of several terrific restaurants and a trio of wine bars located along Park Avenue. Sample in various ounce portions and nibble at the Wine Room, offering 156 handpicked wines dispensed by Enomatic machines. Carmel Café & Wine Bar serves more than 50 old and new world vintages paired with Mediterranean small and large plates. Enjoy 70 wines by the glass at Eola Wine Company, which you can pair with wraps, tacos, flatbreads, and more.
Whether you’re enjoying a romantic weekend or a girlfriends’ getaway, take time to get pampered at one of Orlando’s world-class spas. Three to try: the luxurious, 24-000-square-foot Waldorf Astoria Spa by Guerlain at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando (known for amazing facials), the Ritz-Carlton Spa at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes (Florida-fresh citrus-based treatments are a specialty), and the Poseidon Spa at the Grand Bohemian Hotel (where you can try a heated shell massage).
Bring a spare tote or two in your luggage and shop for something a bit more sophisticated than mouse ears. Orlando is home to two major shopping malls, the upscale Mall at Millennia with its roster of luxury brands (including Burberry, Gucci, Jimmy Choo) and The Florida Mall (home to Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, and 250 other stores and restaurants). Plus bargain hunters can hit two outlet centers, Orlando Premium Outlets International Drive and Orlando Premium Outlets Vineland Avenue, each are packed with brand-name fashions and home goods at discounted prices.