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When people think of Orlando, several images probably come to mind – Mickey Mouse, the Universal globe, the Seaworld orcas.
As a theme park lover myself, I get it, but have you ever stopped to think what people did in Orlando in the time before the Mouse?
While there’s nothing wrong with these images or attractions, there is so much more to see and do in Orlando beyond the theme parks.
Orlando and its surrounding areas are home to some incredible sights, both natural and manmade. These tours show off the splendor of undisturbed Florida and the innovations of humankind all in one view.
“Park hop till you drop” is all fine and good, but a day spent on an airboat excursion through the Everglades can be just as fun.
With plenty of excursions in Orlando, Florida, it’s a good idea to change up your vacation with different Orlando experiences. After all, variety is the spice of life!
For those looking to experience the real Orlando, there are plenty of tours and excursions in the area. Whether you’re trying to get out into the Florida wildlife, spend time with family, or just try something new, there are a variety of tours from which to choose.
RELATED: 30+ Unique Orlando Experiences
Orlando Tours – Outdoor Adventures
Including admission to the Wild Florida Airboats and Wildlife Park, this incredible tour allows you to see part of Florida you’ve never imagined! Enjoy an exhilarating airboat ride through the Everglades, taking in the natural beauty of the area, then wander around the Wildlife Park. With over 200 different animals like lemurs, sloths, zebras, and bobcats, your kids will love this adventure.
During the airboat ride, your captain will take you out into the marshes to get an up-close look at Florida’s most famous reptile, the alligator. Acting as tour guide, the captain can answer any questions you have about the park while making sure you have the best chance possible to see the gators. You can choose from two different tours, depending on how long you want to spend at the park. The second option increases the length of your airboat ride from thirty minutes to an hour, and includes lunch at the Chomp House Grill. You’ll even get a fun alligator souvenir at the end of the experience!
Location: Kenansville, FL (40 miles from Orlando)
Soar to new heights with this incredible hot-air balloon adventure! See all your favorite Disney and Universal locations in a new way, as well as all the natural splendor of Central Florida.
When you arrive, you and your party will get to watch the crew as they set up the balloon and prepare for departure. You can even help if you are a more hands-on type of person! After the important safety information, the flight begins as you rise with the sun. Feel free to ask questions throughout the experience, your balloon team would love to share their knowledge with you. Peace, tranquility, and amazing views all come together in this incredible experience.
At the end of the ride, toast your flight with complementary champagne and post-flight snack. There’s also a gift shop nearby, so be sure to bring funds for souvenirs!
Location: Clermont, FL (30 miles from Orlando)
Paddle down the river in your own personal glass-bottom boat…any closer to the wildlife, and you’d be in the water.
Going through a special part of Rock Springs Run called “Emerald Cut,” travel upstream under the shade of trees while appreciating the natural surroundings. Your two-hour tour will take you through the natural habitat of fish, turtles, birds, and alligators. Crystal-clear water, as well as the clear nature of the kayak, will insure that you get to see as many animals as possible. It is amazing to see the fish swimming beneath you while you paddle!
Hop out at specific points throughout the trip to hear more about the area from your guide as well as cool off in the springs. You’ll have a blast as your guide takes you through the tour, sharing personal stories and insider information only the locals know.
Location: Apopka, FL (30 miles from Orlando)
For those that want to get just a bit closer to nature, this excursion brings guest right up close and personal with Florida’s wildlife! You’ll begin with a boat ride on the Crystal River as you travel to your snorkeling location, learning more about the area from your guide. Upon your arrival, hop out of the boat and begin to explore, hopefully spotting a manatee or two! After the snorkel trip, whizz through the Everglades on an airboat to check out some of the animals that you might rather not swim with.
A bagged breakfast and lunch are provided, although you might want to pack some of your own snacks and drinks just in case. The day is also pretty full, from the snorkel in the morning to your return in the evening. Make sure you have enough preparations and provisions!
There are multiple departure points throughout the Orlando, Kissimmee, and Lake Buena Vista areas. Be sure to check for the closest point to where you are staying. The host does not provide transportation from hotels to the departure points. You will be brought back to your departure point, so if you have to drive there you will return to your car.
Enjoy a relaxing and shaded paddle through Shingle Creek, one of the headwaters of the Everglades. This two-hour guided tour takes you on a peaceful journey through one of Florida’s unique ecosystems, allowing you to appreciate the natural wildlife of the area. No matter your experience level with kayaking, the guides will make you feel comfortable and make sure you have a great time! You can also ride in a two-person tandem kayak if you would rather not go alone. This is a great option for your kiddos as well.
The guides are also knowledgeable about the area, explaining the aspects of the forest and river as well as the history of the area. If you have any questions, be sure to ask, they love sharing what they know about this incredible place. All your gear is included in the tour, so you just need to show up ready to paddle!
Location: Kissimmee, FL (21 miles from Orlando)
This paddleboard trip takes you through the bay area near Daytona Beach, exploring the coastline and searching for marine wildlife. Learn how to stand up on and maneuver your paddleboard, all under the watchful eye of your guides. Your host will take you under local bridges, around an island, and through several canals as you explore.
It is suggested that you book the early sessions in the day, as that is when the weather is best and the animals are most active. Sessions begin with a ground demonstration and practice session with the paddleboard to make sure you are comfortable before setting out. Tours can take about three hours, so be sure to plan accordingly. You may also want to bring a waterproof camera or covering for your phone for pictures!
Location: Daytona Beach, FL (55 miles from Orlando)
Even if you’ve done an airboat ride before, there’s no denying that the Everglades are completely different at night. You’ll get the chance to see the nocturnal side of the ecosystem, including the nighttime hunters – alligators. Without a doubt, this is your best chance to see the most alligators in one tour, and the point where they will be the most active.
As it will be nighttime, you’ll have the chance to learn about animals that normally would hide during the day. During the trip, you’ll learn more about the Everglades and its animals from your guide. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, they love to share their knowledge!
Like with any airboat ride, you may want to bring your own eye protection to prevent the bugs from getting in your eyes at those high speeds. Your airboat captain will have miner’s hats for you to wear to provide your own personal light, but you can bring a stronger flashlight if you wish.
Location: Kissimmee, FL (40 miles from Orlando)
The first Orlando tour of its kind, this two-hour excursion will take you around Lake Fairview, right in Orlando. You and your party will enjoy a private sailing experience where you will actually become part of the crew. For this reason, the experience isn’t recommended for families with young children, but older kids will definitely love it.
Set sail at 10:00am, returning to your original port at the end of the trip. You’ll be out on the lake for the majority of the day, so be sure to bring any snacks or provisions you might need. This tour is just for your own group, so you can be sure that your belongings will be undisturbed. An area below decks is available for anything you might bring with you.
Location: Lake Fairview, Orlando, FL
Even though we love the amusement parks, sometimes you just want to relax at the beach. However, in land-locked Orlando, that isn’t exactly possible without a bit of a drive. With this tour, you’ll be able to leave from Orlando and head to Clearwater Bay and enjoy the beach of both worlds.
For this excursion, there a few different pick up points throughout the Orlando area, including a couple of hotels. Disney guests can hop a ride from the Swan and Dolphin, while those stay at Universal can get a shuttle from their resort. Departure is at 7:00am, with a return in the evening. Be aware, you are travelling about an hour (without traffic), so work that into your plans.
Once you are at the beach, sit back, relax, and enjoy the crystal water of the Gulf of Mexico. You can choose to add a few upgrades to your tour as well, like a deep-sea fishing excursion or Sea Screamer ride. Rent chairs, umbrellas, and snorkel gear, or plan to bring your own. You can find food at a small café in the marina, or load up a cooler with your own snacks ahead of time. Who says you can’t have it all? You’re on vacation!
Location: Pick-up locations throughout the Orlando area. Excursion travels to Clearwater Beach, FL (110 miles from Orlando).
Head out on Lake Bryan for some wet and wild fun! Spend up to an hour with your boat captain out on the lake enjoying a combination of waterskiing, wakeboarding, and tubing. All the equipment is ready and waiting for you, all you need to do is wear your swimsuit and show up.
This excursion is fun for the whole family, as up to eight passengers can join you in the boat. Not everyone needs to get in the water, so if you have a couple people who are a bit unsure they can just hang out in the boat. That is also a great option if you have younger kiddos in your party, they can come and enjoy the boat ride. Everyone should dress to get wet and be out in the sun, but no one will force you to try the water sports. The hosts are friendly and accommodating, just let them know what you want to try and they’ll make it happen.
Location: Lake Bryan, Orlando, FL.
Have you ever wondered about the history of this amazing city? Wonder no more, as this walking tour of Orlando will teach you everything you need to know!
For approximately three hours, stroll along with your guide as you learn more about the major historic destinations in downtown Orlando. Beginning at the first railroad station, the oldest building in Orlando, you will hear about how the city came to be and the incredible people who helped to build it. Finish up at the Orange County Regional History Center, exploring for as long as you’d like. The price of admission to the history center is included in the tour.
Guides are locals and history buffs, sharing interesting tidbits and answering all of your questions. You’ll see Orlando in a new way after this tour, and have a better appreciation for what it was before the tourism.
Location: Orange County Regional History Center, Orlando, FL.
Space Tours – Blast Off from Orlando
So many people focus on what is happening right in the heart of Orlando or at the theme parks that they forget about all the other incredible opportunities in the area. Just an hour from Orlando is the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral, home the launch headquarters for NASA. Not only are these tours educational, but they are an experience you are never going to forget.
Combine two popular excursions with this tour. Start with an exhilarating airboat ride through the Everglades, whizzing among the swamps as your guide tells you about the local wildlife and ecosystems. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see a gator or two! From there, you’ll take a short ride over to the Kennedy Space Center to explore their exhibits. Among them are a guided tour of the rocket launch site, two different IMAX films, and the Space Shuttle Atlantis Exhibit, which displays the history of the space program.
This is a roughly 10-hour excursion (including travel time), so make sure you block out the whole day. With different pickup locations throughout the Orlando area to choose from, including the Disney’s Swan and Universal resort, you’ll be able to find the one that is right for you. Be aware that it can take anywhere from one to two hours to get to the Port Canaveral area from Orlando. However, the experience is well worth the trip!
Location: Pickup locations throughout the Orlando area. Excursion is on Cape Canaveral (50 miles from Orlando).
Take your Kennedy Space Center experience to the next level with this excursion! Have full access to the center and all its exhibits, as well as lunch with a NASA veteran. This is a great way to do the center, as your pass will get you in to all the experiences. You also will have a private guided tour of the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit, which will enable you to ask questions and learn more than just visiting the area on your own.
The highlight of the day, and what sets it apart from other tours, is the chance to have lunch with the astronaut. Listen to stories from a real NASA veteran, and ask him or her your own questions about their experience. The lunch is a buffet, so be prepared for that. If you have any dietary restrictions or concerns, you might want to bring your own snacks. This is a popular tour, so sometimes the Q&A part of the lunch is limited. It is best to prepare your questions ahead of time!
Location: Pickup locations throughout the Orlando area. Excursion is on Cape Canaveral (50 miles from Orlando).
If you are interested in going to the Kennedy Space Center, there are several tours out of Orlando that provide the same basic experience: transportation, admission to the center, and a tour of the exhibits. With multiple options, you can pick the one that best fits your vacation and family.
Museums and Entertainment Excursions
Perfect for a “down day” or when it rains, these Orlando tours and excursions will help you to find fun for the whole family at your own speed. Plenty of cool museums and learning opportunities are available throughout the Orlando area, just waiting for you to come and explore!
A science-based, indoor amusement park, WonderWorks Orlando specializes in what they like to call “edu-tainment.” Bringing together educational scientific research with hands-on experiences, adults and kids alike will learn something new and have a blast!
Six different “Wonder Zones” have themed attractions to wow and entertain guests. Create truly gigantic bubbles, try on an astronaut EVA suit, and create music while a giant piano. With over 100 different exhibits, you’ll find plenty to do! Make sure you print your voucher before coming, so that you can enter without any issues.
Location: WonderWorks, Orlando, FL
View a collection of over 400 pieces of memorabilia and 300 artifacts recovered from the Titanic in this tour. Follow a guide through the exhibit to have your questions answered, or engage in a self-guided tour and move at your own pace. Either way, you’ll see the recreations of several iconic parts of the ship, including the Grand Staircase, and hear the stories of the passengers from that fateful voyage.
Professional actors bring to life some of the most well-known figures from the Titanic, like Capt. Smith and Molly Brown, putting a face on those who lived through this experience…or didn’t. Walk through replicas of a First Class Parlor Suite, Boiler Room, the Verandah Café, and even the Promenade Deck. Throughout these rooms, sensory enhancements make you feel like you’re really there in 1912. Not only are there artifacts from the real sinking, but you can see movie collectables from the James Cameron film.
Location: Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, Orlando, FL
See your favorite Hollywood stars and heroes! Well, replicas of them.
At Madame Tussauds Orlando, check out the most amazing life-sized wax figures you’ve ever seen. From celebrities to historical figures and everything in between, you can get up close and personal with the figures for incredible photos. At each exhibit you can also see how the teams created the wax models over several months, working hard to replicate each detail perfectly.
In addition to the figures, you can see artifacts and clothing items that many of the real inspirations provided for the models. Not only is this cool, but it brings a life-like quality to the figures. The models are always changing, so even if you’ve visited before, your experience will never be the same twice!
Location: Madame Tussauds Orlando, Orlando, FL
With so much sea life close by, it makes sense that Orlando would have one of the best aquariums in the area. The SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium brings the ocean inland, and is perfect for a rainy day.
The main attraction is the 360̊ underwater tunnel, fully submersing you into the underwater world of these incredible creatures. Wander through the gently glowing tunnel, seeing the fish swim under your feet and over your head as you pass through. In addition to this tunnel, there are different themed areas throughout the museum, each allowing guests to see creatures from a variety of habitats.
You can also take part in behind the scenes tours for an extra cost, which is a nice way to extend your time at the aquarium. On top of that, you can combine an aquarium trip with some of the other attractions in the area, like Madame Tussauds, if you upgrade your experience.
Location: SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium, Orlando, FL
While this isn’t a conventional tour or excursion, it’s definitely a fun outing for the family, especially with older kids.
You’ll enjoy high-quality entertainment, featuring a cast of performers taking on the role of your favorite musical artists. Prince isn’t gone, he’s right here, singing all of your old favorites! On top of these performances, be awed by acrobats and dancers as they take the show to new heights.
During the show, have a delicious three-course meal, including a soft drink beverage. Alcoholic beverages are also available for purchase. With dinner and entertainment take care of, all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the fun!
Location: The Orlando Forum, Orlando, FL
Take yourself back to the time of King Arthur with this incredible jousting tournament and medieval banquet! Medieval Times is a family-friendly dinner and show experience that is a perfect balance to your Disney trip, as it gives a bit of history to the princes and princesses seen in the parks.
The evening begins with your dinner, a four-course delight that you will enjoy as they did in medieval times – with your hands. Yup, the only utensil is your spoon. Anything other than soup, and you’re picking it up to chow down!
Before the tournament, you’ll see exhibitions of falconry and horsemanship, both of which take years of practice and skill. To end the event, cheer on your favorite knight as they joust for the glory of the king and queen. There are upgrades available throughout the experience as well, so take that into account when considering your spending.
Location: Kissimmee, FL (25 minutes from Orlando)
Unique Orlando Tours and Experiences
Enjoy close up encounters with your favorite zoo animals in this incredible experience! Drive your own car through the safari park, going at your own pace to see over 100 species of animals. Not only will you see native Florida wildlife, such as white-tailed deer and alligators, but breeds that are more exotic live here as well. Zebras, oryx, watusi all gracefully graze upon the plains, and if you pull your car off to the side of the trail, they just might come over to say hello!
As the tour is self-paced, you can spend as long as you would like out on the safari. If you are trying to linger in one area, be sure to give enough room to let other cars pass you by. Otherwise, you’re free to hang out and enjoy the animals.
While you can’t pet or feed the animals on the safari, you can check out some of the other experiences at the safari park that are more interactive. Alligator shows, giraffe feedings, and other fun is available for an additional cost.
Location: Kenansville, FL (40 miles from Orlando)
Explore the hidden world of the Comb Jelly, a non-stinging sea animal that moves through the water with small appendages called “combs.” Like their cousins, the jellyfish, these creatures have a unique way of life that makes them both beautiful and mysterious. Oh, and they naturally glow in the dark!
That’s the entire purpose of this tour, to seek out the Comb Jellies and have a chance to see them in their natural glowing state. You can even reach out and touch them…your guide will encourage you to do so! Using a kayak, paddle around the Merritt Island and Cocoa area until you find just the right spot to snag a jelly or two. Say hello, give them a pat, and then send the jellies back off into the water, taking in their beautiful glowing movements as they leave.
When you book this excursion, be prepared to receive a text or call from A Day Away Kayak Tours to let you know about your location. While you would ideally leave from the same place every time, the jellies move based on their eating habits and other factors. Your guide will track these patterns and try to bring you to the best location to see the jellies. The tour is also advertised as being adults-only (18+), but recent reviews show kids on the excursion, so if you want to bring your children you should call and ask before booking.
Location: Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (50 miles from Orlando)
Disney’s Haunted Mansion isn’t the only place to find ghosts in Orlando! These walking ghost tours tell real stories of the darker side of the city, visiting some of Orlando’s spookiest haunts. Beginning at the Orlando Haunts tour office, hear the stories of the mystery, murder, and tragedy that you’ve never known before.
The tours begin at 8:00pm, and you will walk through the sites then back to the tour office. Professional tour guides will share their thoroughly researched stories and answer any questions you might have. Kids are welcome, but you know your family best – if this is going to scare your younger kiddos, it might be best for a teen-night out. Tours can accommodate up to fifteen people if you are travelling with a larger group.
Location: Orlando Haunts, Orlando, FL.
As children, many of us dreamed about being a zookeeper and spending our days with our favorite animals. With the Keeper-for-a-Day Program at Wild Florida, this dream becomes a reality!
Spend half a day with the staff at Wild Florida, a wetlands wildlife preserve in the Everglades. During that time, you will have a tour of the park, as well as the chance to feed the animals and learn more about them. You will also take an airboat ride through the park and finish your day with a delicious barbeque lunch.
This tour is meant to be a small-group, VIP event, which is perfect for families or if you want to avoid crowds. That also means you’ll have more time one on one with your guide, making it easy to get your questions answered. Not to mention it will give you plenty of quality time with the animals!
Location: Kenansville, FL (40 miles from Orlando)
Have you ever wanted to try skydiving, but have been nervous about the, you know, jumping out of a plane part? Indoor skydiving is the perfect alternative – same rush and thrill, just a few yards off the ground.
iFLY at Orlando is the top indoor skydiving destination in the area, as you experience a free-fall flight inside a massive wind tunnel. This session includes two “flights,” accompanied by a certified instructor. After a brief video and safety instruction, you and your party will suit up and head to the tunnel for your flights.
At the end of your session, the instructor will do a brief exhibition of aerial tricks within the tunnel (which are incredible!). iFLY also takes pictures and videos of your flight, which you can purchase at the end of the session. Children over the age of three can take part, so this experience is one the whole family can enjoy!
Location: iFLY – Orlando, Orlando, FL
Forget the arcade, this real shooting range will let you feel the jolt of a real weapon in your hands! At Machine Gun America, you’ll have the chance of a lifetime to try out military-grade guns and other weaponry.
Based on your package, choose to fire up to five different weapons from the twelve models available. These vary from WWII-era guns to the semi-automatic weapons used by today’s military. Learn the appropriate way to hold, aim, and fire the different weapons from the safety officers on hand. All the rangers have previous military or law enforcement experience, so you are in good hands.
This excursion is advertised as adults-only, and a government-issued ID is required. Safety first, after all!
Location: Kissimmee, FL (20 minutes from Orlando)
Fly through Sky High Canyon on this amazing zip line tour! With five different zip lines and two sky bridges, you’ll be seeing the world from a new perspective.
Starting with a short introduction to zip lining and a practice zip, you’ll settle in and feel comfortable in no time. From there, each zip gets a bit longer and faster, ending with the final zip of 1,150 feet long and 155 feet over the canyon floor! The views are amazing, seeing the world the way a bird might. You’ll definitely feel like you’re flying!
Safety is the number one concern, which the guides stress at all times. This will help anyone who is a bit nervous to relax and be more at ease throughout the whole process. We recommend that you bring a Go-Pro or another fast-capture camera…you won’t want to miss a minute of your zip!
Get your adrenaline pumping with a paintball outing! It doesn’t matter if you’re alone, just your family, or travelling with a large group, paintball is something everyone can enjoy.
All the equipment is provided as part of your outing, so you don’t have to worry about bringing anything. Guests eight years old and up are welcome, perfect for those antsy kids that just need to run around. After a safety demonstration at the beginning of the session, you’ll play different games and engage in competition with one another. Nothing like a little paintball to bring a family together!
Location: Haines City, FL (40 minutes from Orlando)
You’ve seen those amazing wide shots from the air over the Disney theme parks – see them with your own eyes from the window of a helicopter!
Specifically flying over Orlando’s famous theme parks, you can appreciate some of your favorite destinations in new way. Not only are the views amazing, but also the pilots have a lot of knowledge about the area and the development of these parks. Feel free to ask as many questions as you would like!
As this is a private tour, it will be just your party, insuring privacy and safety for your group. Younger children can go, but you know your kids. If you’re not sure they can handle being in that small of a space for half an hour, sitting fairly still this might be an adults-only or older kids trip.
Location: Kissimmee, FL (25 miles from Orlando)
Push yourself to new heights with this amazing ropes course and tree top adventure! A combination of cargo nets, swing logs, zip lines, and other daring obstacles will get your family out and active during your vacation.
All excursions begin with a safety explanation and demonstration to put your mind at ease. From there, work through the six different courses, attempting to conquer the nearly 100 games and challenges throughout the park. As you go, the courses get harder, which increases the challenge.
Location: Kissimmee, FL (25 miles from Orlando)
Appreciate a unique opportunity to see Gypsy Vanner Horses up close at Gypsy Gold Horse Farm. These beautiful horses, native to Great Britain, are a special part of Florida’s history. During your tour, you will walk through the farm while your guide tells you all about this distinctive breed, as well as the history of the farm.
After the walking tour, enjoy a meet and greet with the horses themselves, with plenty of photo opportunities. The farm is family-friendly, with a focus on learning, so this is an ideal outing with kids. Not only that, but children under five are admitted free, so you can bring your whole family.
Location: Ocala, FL (65 miles from Orlando)
Grace Hoyos, Staff Writer
Grace loves to travel, particularly to Florida or anywhere with a beach. Her ideal vacation is a mix of theme parks, historical sights, and local cuisine. That, and a Caribbean cruise.