If you tuned in for Part I and Part II of this series, you know there is a lot to do in Orlando! In this part, we'll offer ideas for excursions that will give your visit a "real" Florida flavor, tell you about the best shopping in the Orlando area and share tips from Moms on the Move on how to make traveling to Orlando with kids a breeze.
Tips from the locals
The natural Florida
Wekiwa Springs State Park
One of the best insider's tips we received was from former Walt Disney World Resort Executive Scott Stead, who resided in the Orlando area for 16 years prior to opening "The Pultneyville Pickle," a deli and catering company in upstate New York.
"The Fresh Water Springs at Kelly Park in Apopka is a terrific getaway from the hustle and bustle of the attractions. Wekiwa Park in Longwood is another. For a special treat, take a canoe trip down the Wekiva River out of Kings Landing. This seven-mile low-impact trip takes about five hours. Leave by 10 am and take a picnic. You will see alligators, snakes, birds, bugs and deer in their natural habitat. The water is a crystal-clear -- 72 degrees year-round! There is great swimming, great snorkeling, great fun and it's cheap!" says Stead.
Orlando Science Center
On a summer trip to this great hands-on learning center in downtown Orlando, we met a Moms Club group seeking relief from the mid-day heat. The Orlando Science Center is a local favorite. We love the simulated orange grove in "Kids Town," where kids can learn about the production of orange juice. Load a crate of oranges, stack them in the conveyor belt and see the "pretend" finished product! Check your Orlando Entertainment Book for discount coupons.
The Nature Conservancy's Disney's Wilderness Preserve
Disney Wilderness Preserve is a 12,000-acre sanctuary located south of Orlando, where visitors can hike through miles of wilderness and learn about central Florida's natural habitats. Guided hikes, swamp buggy tours, lecture series and photographic exhibits are just a handful of the activities going on at the preserve.
Shop until you drop!
Yes, it IS a marketplace of all things Disney. Yes, there ARE a gazillion opportunities to empty your wallet here. However, if you are able to exercise restraint, it is possible to spend the better part of a day at Downtown Disney for next to nothing!
We prefer to stick to the East Side (known as the Marketplace) where our favorite stops are the interactive splash fountain and the Lego Imagination Center Playground. For a treat, a stop at Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop for decadent hot fudge sundaes! New in September 2002 is "Once Upon A Toy," a 16,000-square-foot retail play land featuring interactive displays and Hasbro/Disney toys.
Parents can wax nostalgic while helping the kids build their own Mr Potato Head from thousands of playful parts at a larger-than-life construction station. Then, return to the present era while previewing the design on one of five touch-screen terminals. For more information, call Downtown Disney Guest Information at (407) WDW-2NITE (939-2648) or visit http://disneyworld.com. For more information about Once Upon a Toy, call (407) 934-7775.