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10 Things You Didn't Know You Could Do in Orlando

Discover underrated experiences, away from the high-octane Disney World theme parks.

U.S. News & World Report

10 Things You Didn't Know You Could Do in Orlando

A group of friends on a paddleboat.
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(Getty Images)

From paddleboat tours to trapeze classes, discover outside-the-box pursuits.

Believe it or not, you can have a memorable Orlando vacation without entering a single theme park. There's so much to see and do that you may forget that Orlando is home to Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, Epcot and more amusements parks, not to mention the world's most famous Disney mouse. From gourmet food trucks to weekly rodeos to trapeze lessons, you won't be wondering what to do after checking out popular parks at the Happiest Place on Earth. Here are 10 lesser-known experiences to cross off your list on your next getaway to Orlando.
Rodeo bull and rider.
Credit

(Getty Images)

Go to a rodeo.

No need to head out West to enjoy a rodeo complete with bull riding and barrel racing. Simply go an hour south of Orlando to Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo, which holds a rodeo every Saturday at 7:30 pm. The rodeo is a fun way to see riders from all across the country try their best to stay on a bull or wrangle a bucking bronco. There's even a mechanical bull for those who want a firsthand feel for the experience. Consider booking a stay at the ranch, which just added luxe teepees to their range of accommodations.
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From paddleboat tours to trapeze classes, discover outside-the-box pursuits.

Believe it or not, you can have a memorable Orlando vacation without entering a single theme park. There's so much to see and do that you may forget that Orlando is home to Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, Epcot and more amusements parks, not to mention the world's most famous Disney mouse. From gourmet food trucks to weekly rodeos to trapeze lessons, you won't be wondering what to do after checking out popular parks at the Happiest Place on Earth. Here are 10 lesser-known experiences to cross off your list on your next getaway to Orlando.

Go to a rodeo.

No need to head out West to enjoy a rodeo complete with bull riding and barrel racing. Simply go an hour south of Orlando to Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo, which holds a rodeo every Saturday at 7:30 pm. The rodeo is a fun way to see riders from all across the country try their best to stay on a bull or wrangle a bucking bronco. There's even a mechanical bull for those who want a firsthand feel for the experience. Consider booking a stay at the ranch, which just added luxe teepees to their range of accommodations.

Taste international flavors.

Epcot may have its share of globally inspired cuisines, but you can also stroll along International Drive in Orlando for your choice of Italian, Greek and even Ethiopian culinary delights. Try the tapas and ceviche varieties at Cuba Libre Restaurant, or order up a pho bowl at Little Saigon. What's more, Orlando has more food trucks per capita than any other city in the U.S., making it a must-visit destination for epicureans. A foodie favorite is Jamaica Jamaica, which serves up flavorful Caribbean fare. Or, keep it simple with a soulful favorite, like Melissa's Chicken & Waffles, which dishes up mouthwatering Southern-inspired fare.

Try your hand at trapeze.

You too can be "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze." At the Orlando Circus School, kids and adults can learn to maneuver on a flying trapeze or master the aerial silks high in the air. Classes are offered almost every day, and for those who don't see the circus tricks they want to add to their skill set, the Orlando Circus School offers private and semi-private classes. They will teach visitors everything from walking on stilts to juggling to how to hula hoop.

Go on a bioluminescent paddleboard tour.

There's no need to make the pilgrimage to the famed Bioluminescent Bay in Puerto Rico to see sparkling water thanks to bioluminescent dinoflagellates in the lagoons. Instead, head to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, a short drive from Orlando, and sign up for a 90-minute nighttime guided stand-up paddleboard tour with operator SoBe Surf. Only offered during the summer months, this unique paddling tour is available to both novice and advanced paddlers. SoBe also offers manatee experiences and eco-tours in Cocoa Beach's Banana River Lagoon.

Watch a pro football game.

Orlando may not have an NFL team, but that doesn't mean you can't catch riveting professional football games in the city. Orlando recently hosted its first Pro Bowl, the NFL's all-star game, which pits the National Football Conference against the American Football Conference, and it's coming back next year. Between fan festival activities, team practices and the game itself, there's a lot to love if you're a football enthusiast. Even better, it's a lot closer for sport aficionados – nearly all of the previous Pro Bowls were hosted in Honolulu.

Explore the history of the Bible.

For those eager to brush up on biblical history, head to the Holy Land Experience, a bible-themed park run by Trinity Broadcasting Network. At this theme park, you won't find any Mickey Mouse ears, but rather replicas of the Wilderness Tabernacle and the Great Temple, as well as live shows, like a musical rendition of the well-known parable of the prodigal son. Plus, kids will love the Smile of a Child Adventure Land, which offers rock climbing, face painting and mini golf, among other pastimes.

Visit Jack Kerouac's house.

You don't need to go all the way to Key West to see the home and museum of a famous author (hat tip: Ernest Hemingway). Instead, stick around the city and pay a visit to the Jack Kerouac House in College Park, a northwest Orlando neighborhood. This is where the acclaimed author lived when his work, "On The Road," was published. Today, authors can apply to the Kerouac Project for writer-in-residence positions at this literary landmark. Selected writers can live in the Kerouac house for three months.

Stay in a vacation rental that rivals a theme park.

Orlando may be the theme park capital of the world, but you can skip the parks and have even more fun with a stay at an ultra-kid-friendly vacation rental with companies like Sweet Sensations, which features a 10-bedroom house with a swimming pool shaped like an ice cream cone, a candy-themed mini golf course, an on-site splash pad and a "Candy Land"-inspired board. Or, book a stay at a Reunion Resort villa, available through HomeAway.com, which boasts a bowling alley, a video game room, a movie theater and an indoor basketball court, among other perks.

Explore the Everglades.

Everglades National Park may technically be in South Florida, but you can still learn about its ecosystem and get your fill of the Everglades in the Orlando area. Book a swamp tour of central Florida's wetlands, including the waterways that feed into the Everglades, with reputable outfitter Boggy Creek Airboat Rides. Keep your eyes open for alligators, turtles and wading birds on this 30-minute nature tour. Or, head to Gatorland for a behind-the-scenes tour of the alligator breeding marsh (or a zip line ride over the marsh).

Admire life-size dinosaurs.

Dinosaur lovers of all ages will go crazy for a side trip to Dinosaur World in nearby Plant City, Florida. Kids can dig for fossils as part of a guided activity or explore the Bone Yard and attempt to excavate a 27-foot dinosaur skeleton. There's also a hands-on tour with a paleontologist and a prehistoric museum where the dinosaurs come to life. Don't forget to wander about outside too, where you can walk among hundreds of life-size dinosaurs. It's a fun way to engage youngsters with enriching activities that explore prehistoric times.
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