Large theme parks draw millions of visitors to Orlando, Florida every year. Yet, the city offers so many opportunities to create fantastic memories in its downtown area. Downtown Orlando is brimming with amazing activities for the whole family that are more budget-friendly and less crowded than the more well-known spots. You can go speed racing, body flying or ziplining, track ghosts and stroll among swans. On your next trip to Orlando, skip the big parks and head for downtown.
You can’t help but notice the 400-foot tall Wheel at ICON Park in downtown Orlando. Formerly known as the Coca Cola Orlando Eye, this rotating observatory seats up to 15 people in its 30 climate-controlled capsules. You get to see the best of Orlando from a 360-degree bird’s-eye view for about 20 minutes. While you rise above the city, you can enjoy a gourmet meal and drinks.
ICON Park holds true to its name with the world-famous Madame Tussauds Orlando. This is your chance to take selfies or get professional up-close shots with celebrities including Superman, Jimmy Fallon, and Justin Bieber. You have unobstructed access to rub shoulders with these and other strikingly life-like figures of celebrities and superheroes. Top off your time with the stars by making your own wax hand souvenir, available in all sorts of patterns and colors.
Fun Spot America theme parks aren’t as ginormous as Disney or Universal, but the thrills are just about as intense—with free admission and parking. Its two locations in Orlando and Kissimmee are home to the world’s tallest SkyCoasters. They have multi-level racing go-kart tracks, kiddie rides, a Splash Pad, and over 100 gators on display. White Lightning, Orlando’s only wooden roller coaster, awaits you, as well as Mine Blower, an uncommon wooden-steel hybrid coaster in Kissimmee. If the Florida heat or rain gets to you, both parks have fantastic indoor arcades and Midway games to keep you and your crew entertained, cool, and dry for a while.
If you’re waiting for the opportune moment to putt away, find it at Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf. This swashbuckling miniature golf park features two challenging championship 18-hole courses. The award-winning setting of waterfalls, footbridges and mountain caves takes you to another time where infamous pirates ruled the seas. Drive one in for a daily hole-in-one prize.
Get on track for a legendary racing experience at Andretti Karting and Games. At every turn in this 150,000-square-foot indoor playground, you’ll find thrills including multi-level karting, over 100 arcade games, a dozen lanes of boutique bowling and two-story laser tag. Take your mind for a wild ride with six VR racing simulators or a motion theater. An extreme ropes course puts adventure on a whole other scale with a curved-rail zipline.
Explore unbelievably strange exhibits such as a vampire killing kit and the world’s tallest man at Ripley’s Orlando. The building looks as if it’s falling into a sinkhole, but this odditorium is a solid 100,000-square-feet museum of the bizarre. You’ll see micro art the size of a needle eye, intricate candy art and hundreds of interactive exhibits. Parking’s free at this world-renowned attraction on I-Drive.
Orlando was founded in the late 1800s, long before Mickey Mouse. American Ghost Adventures takes you down a ghostly trail into the city’s rich history. This spooktacular guided tour leads you through some of Orlando’s oldest buildings and haunts. Your Ghost Ambassador will share spine-tingling stories of scandals and unsolved mysteries. During the second half of the tour, you’ll get an EMF detector so that you can observe some paranormal activity yourself.
According to legend, a top-secret lab in the Bermuda Triangle accidentally landed on I-Drive—upside down. WonderWorks is a thoroughly entertaining and mind-boggling venue with over 100 interactive exhibits. In this one building, you can sit in a life-sized replica of a space capsule and plow through hurricane-force winds and an earthquake. Lay back for a moment, if you can, on a bed of nails. That’s if you can make it through the entrance, a dark, spinning tunnel. No worries: there’s a normal entrance as well.
Downtown Orlando has a sweet spot for tuning into nature. The historic Lake Eola Park features almost a mile of wide walking paths with flower beds, live swans, and bird sculptures. Tour the lake in a swan-shaped paddleboat that seats up to five. If you’re in the area on a Sunday morning, check out the farmer’s market for fresh local produce, street food, artwork, and live music. Check the park’s event calendar for a play, movie, or concert in the Walt Disney Amphitheater.
iFly Orlando offers an exciting indoor skydiving simulation called body flying, which doesn’t require jumping out of a plane. You won’t even need a parachute. Guests aged 3 and older float safely in mid-air inside this sophisticated vertical wind tunnel. Instructors tell you everything you need to know before you leave the ground. Add a VR Experience to your flight and soar over the Swiss Alps, Dubai, or Hawaii.