Video by Kristen Boatright | Orlando

7 Top Things to Do in Orlando

by Donna Heiderstadt | August 18, 2016

Port Canaveral, on Florida's Atlantic Coast, is about an hour from Orlando, the theme park capital of the universe. There's lots to do in the area (both Mickey-related and not) if you spend a couple days here before or after your cruise. To help you make the most of your time, we’ve rounded up the seven best things to do in Orlando, from theme parks to top spots for art lovers as well as eco-adventurers.

One caveat: If you are only going to be in Port Canaveral for a day, keep in mind that Port Canaveral is 55 miles from downtown Orlando (and another 20 to 30 minutes from most theme parks). Choose your activities wisely and allow more than enough time to get back to your ship.

1. Be a kid again.
If there's one thing Orlando is known for, it's Disney. Does anyone vacation in this town without spending time at one of the four Walt Disney World theme parks? We suspect that's rare. If you just have one day in Orlando, choose the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, or Disney’s Animal Kingdom and make the most of your time by buying tickets online in advance. Upgrading to a FastPass+ is worth the extra money, and we also suggest getting to must-try rides early in the day.

2. Go wizarding with Harry Potter.
There are two areas at Universal parks dedicated to everybody's favorite wizard — with the Hogwarts Express providing a link between Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida' Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Hogsmeade at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Get ready for rollercoasters and butter beer (best enjoyed in that order). This can be a pricey day out, but you can buy tickets in advance at a discount.

3. Discover the grown-up appeal of Winter Park.
If cartoon characters and thrill rides aren’t your thing, this charming and historic city near downtown Orlando will entertain the adult in you. Visit the Morse Museum to see the largest collection of glass and ornamental works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, then stroll along N. Park Avenue and head to a gastropub such as the Ravenous Pig or Cask & Larder for local brews and comfort food.

4. Play with dolphins.
Experience thrills of a different sort at Discovery Cove, a sister park to SeaWorld Orlando where you can learn about and interact with animated bottlenose dolphins. You can also snorkel with tropical fish in the Wind-Away River, feed exotic birds in the Explorer's Aviary, or splash in Serenity Bay. There are plenty of beach chaises to relax in afterward, too.

5. Paddle a kayak.
If your interest lies more with natural attractions than with man-made ones, the Orlando region’s waterways offer plenty of places to kayak — including the chain of lakes surrounding Winter Park (combine with a post-paddle lunch); Blue Spring State Park to see adorable manatees and Blackwater Creek to spy on alligators, river otters, and owls.

6. Take a VIP safari.
If you are craving a fun adventure, the privately guided Wild Africa Trek at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is three hours of behind-the-scenes access. You'll get up-close views of alligators, hippos, giraffes, and other park residents. The trip is also accompanied by a professional photographer, and you'll get the images as part of the package.

7. Get lost in space.
Located closer to Port Canaveral than to Orlando, the Kennedy Space Center will wow both aspiring astronauts and older folks who remember NASA’s Mercury, Apollo, and Space Shuttle programs. Not to be missed: the Space Shuttle Atlantis Exhibit and simulated lift-off on the Shuttle Launch Experience, and the Apollo/Saturn V center where you can touch an actual moon rock and see rockets that took men to the moon.

Donna Heiderstadt

Donna Heiderstadt is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Coastal Living and Islands.

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