October 19, 2015

My Central Florida Bucket List

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Omaha is about to get another direct flight to a prime vacation destination courtesy Allegiant: Orlando (or rather Sanford International Airport, located just north of the city). Just a few hours – no layovers – and you’re in Florida.

That’s a tempting destination, right? You’re not far from some of the most exciting theme parks in the country, AND about an hour’s drive from the beach. Get a guidebook like this one for more ideas of great Florida attractions!

Daytona Beach is one of the closest beaches to the Orlando area. Photo courtesy Visit Florida

Daytona Beach is one of the closest beaches to the Orlando area. Photo courtesy Visit Florida

 

After the announcement of the flight was made, it got me daydreaming. If you remember, when Allegiant started flying to the Tampa Bay area, they invited my family to try out the route and we had a whirlwind of an amazing adventure.

Guess what? Allegiant asked if I wanted to try the new route with my family so that Omaha readers could hear about the experience!

So time to start planning, right?? Here’s my bucket list of the Central Florida area, if time and money were not constraints. It goes beyond Orlando and the obvious choices of theme parks – they’re there too – and it includes the closest beaches along the Space Coast.

Central Florida bucket list

Central Florida Bucket List

Airboat Tour – Never done one of these in my multiple visits to Florida over the years. I’m hoping to change that.  Most operators say kids can safely ride on these too, so the whole family can come along.

Airboating in Seminole County, Florida, just north of Orlando. Photo courtesy Seminole County

Airboating in Seminole County, Florida, just north of Orlando. Photo courtesy Seminole County

See Manatees – If it sounds like I’m repeating myself, it’s because I am (they graced this Tampa Bay bucket list too). I still haven’t seen one. My trips never time out right for prime viewing time. I read somewhere that Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge on the coast has Black Point Wildlife Drive with a chance to look for the sea cows at Haulover Canal.

Big ol' manatees in Florida. Photo courtesy Visit Florida

Big ol’ manatees in Florida. Photo courtesy Visit Florida

Beach Please – I live in the middle of the Midwest. If I’m within 100 miles of a beach, I shall seek it out. I have my eyes on either Daytona Beach or Cocoa Beach, but I’m not picky. What I’d really love to find is a great hotel with beach access. Suggestions?

If you have inquisitive kids, and want to be prepared for their questions about the things you find on the beach, make sure you have a beachcombers guide to Florida’s beaches, because you’ll encounter some doozies.

Ziplines – I haven’t been on a zipline for years, not since my glorious 20s while I was in Costa Rica. It seems Central Florida has a couple different places offering a speedy zip through the trees, but the most interesting location has to be a zoo – Central Florida Zoo. There, you can find ZOOMAIR Treetop Adventure Park.

I'd totally look this put together ziplining in Florida. Totally. Hope to try this zipline course at the ZOOm Adventures. Photo courtesy Seminole County

I’d totally look this put together ziplining in Florida. Totally. Hope to try this zipline course at the ZOOMAIR Treetop Adventure Park. Photo courtesy Seminole County

Animal Kingdom – I’ve never been to this theme park, though I’ve been to the other biggies. Don’t get me wrong, it’s on a side bucket list to take the kids to the Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios and all those others, but since this is my list, I want to put a place I’ve never been to.

Fresh orange juice – Is it a thing to want this? Can you go to an orange grove and get the most freshly squeezed orange juice ever known to man?  I don’t know if there are even groves in this part of Florida, but I’ll just put this on the list regardless.

Kayak in a zoo – Seems like a strangely specific item to have on a list, right? Turns out, the Brevard Zoo is the only zoo in the U.S. that offers kayaking on the grounds. How cool would that be?

Canoe Wekiva – I’ve seen countless pictures of the pristine Wekiva River and it looks gorgeous. The State Canoe Trail winds through a semi-tropical forest, and the water is jewel-toned. I also heard there are guided tours through picturesque Shingle Creek, the headwaters of the Everglades, offered by two Orlando hotels, the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott at Grand Lakes. In addition to paddling at Wekiva, I’ve seen gorgeous pictures of people swimming at Wekiva Springs. I want to go there, too. If you’re into exploring Florida waterways, definitely check out this water trail guide for Florida!

Look how clear this water is in central Florida. Just look at it. Photo courtesy Seminole County

Look how clear this water is in central Florida. Just look at it. Photo courtesy Seminole County

See a launch – This would require some luck and better timing, but someday, I’d love to be near Cape Canaveral on a launch day. When the kids are a little older, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will be a destination. If you want to read up on the the space center’s history before you go, I recommend “Gateway to Space.”

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Photo by Peter W. Cross

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Photo by Peter W. Cross

Stroll Winter Park – In my research, I kept coming across restaurants and wine bars in Winter Park that seemed to be calling my name. Then a friend recommended I go there. So that city is added to my list…to visit when I’m not traveling with kids.

Visit an organic brewery – How granola of me. I heard Orlando Brewing Company is the only USDA-certified organic brewery south of Vermont and east of Colorado. 

Eat ridiculous amounts of good food – I have a growing list of restaurants that pique my interest. Among them: Polonia Restaurant in Longwood (I read one person’s review that insisted diners order the Wazanki); Orlando spots like Pom Pom’s Tea House, Beefy King, Imperial Wine Bar and Beer Garden, White Wolf Cafe and Bar; Winter Park’s Cask and Larder; and the German restaurant, Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe, in Sanford (I’m told to try the German Chocolate Cake).

The dining situation at Hollerbach, Looks like a fun place to dine, right? Especially when the band plays. Photo courtesy Seminole County

The dining situation at Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe in Sanford, Looks like a fun place to dine, right? Especially when the band plays. Photo courtesy Seminole County

Your turn: Tell me what you would add to this list! Tell me some of the great things you’ve experienced in Central Florida, or the things you’d love to do someday. I especially love restaurant tips.

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Comments

  1. Zip line over the gators at Gatorland, shark tooth hunting in Venice Beach and the best onion rings ever at Sharky’s on the Beach. Manny’s Chophouse for awesome steaks. Driving on the beach in Daytona. Clearwater for an amazing white sand beach and gentle gulf waters, and on the drive there follow the signs for the manatee viewing area at the power plant.

    • I didn’t know there was ziplining at Gatorland! These are great tips. We’re headed back there in a couple months, so this is helpful. Thanks, Sam!

      • Np, and for a beach access hotel try the doubletree in North Readington Beach. It’s on the beach, gulf coast so the sun sets over the ocean. Beautiful resort and a gorgeous beach.

  2. Heather Cross says:

    Umm, the Space Shuttle program is over. There are no more shuttle launches. You may be able to catch a rocket being launched by Space X or United Space Alliance, but the shuttles stopped years ago. For fresh OJ, go to Hollieanna Groves in Maitland. You have to be here during season though, which is Fall and Winter. Playalinda Beach is the best beach on Central Florida’s east coast. Not crowded, not a lot of tourists, no cars on the beach, pristine sand, no hotels or condos. It is part of the Canaveral National Seashore owned by the government, so it is completely undeveloped, pure beauty, just outside of NASA property. You are right about the manatees at Haulover Canal. Also Blue Spring State Park in Orange City from November to March, you will see tons.

    • You are correct, Heather. I should fix that typo to say rocket. 🙂 Thanks! Thank you for the other tips, too! We’re headed back to the area this winter and have more things to add to the list.

  3. Just wanted to add some cool places to visit as a local that moved and is finally returning! A little North of Clearwater on the Gulf is the Seven Sister Springs in Crystal River. You can rent canoes and travel along the river or go to the local spots that have underwater tunnels you can swim through (never brave enough to do!) but I have always been able to see a manatee/aligator/ dolphin (usually all 3). On Clearwater beach is a restaurant that’s famous for french fries, and by God they are amazing! You won’t be able to resist the smell! It’s called Frency’s Rockaway Grill. The best time to go is during the Sunset celebration, it just ties the night together so perfectly. The beach also shows movies at night! Another place to visit is a local natural phenomenon in Lake Wales. It’s called Spook Hill. You drive up to a line painted on the rd and put your vehicle in neutral and it rolls backward up a hill. It’s right by the elementary school whos mascot is Casper the friendly ghost!

    • Thank you for the tips! We’re visiting Florida again this December. Seven Sister Springs sounds really neat, though, I don’t think I’d try swimming the underwater tunnels either!

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