Attention, Insiders: What are your favorite non-theme park places in Orlando?

We're taking suggestions for the Theme Park Insider eBook guidebook to Orlando

From Robert Niles
Posted October 20, 2011 at 4:32 PM

I working on our next eBook, The Theme Park Insider Guide to Orlando, and am looking for some additional tips to include in the book.

I'm planning a chapter on places outside the theme parks where Insiders like to go in Orlando - restaurants, shops, parks, recreation areas, theaters, wherever Orlando-area residents or frequent visitors like to go when they're not visiting the parks.

If you have a place you'd like to nominate, please tell us where and why, in the replies. Thanks!

From James Rao
Posted October 20, 2011 at 5:15 PM
There are places in Orlando outside of the theme parks???

From Manny Rodriguez
Posted October 20, 2011 at 5:59 PM
Of there is lol such as fun spot old town and others

From Andrew Carrieri
Posted October 20, 2011 at 6:17 PM
I'll throw in the Amway Center, the fairly new arena for the Orlando Magic basketball team.

From Robert Niles
Posted October 20, 2011 at 6:48 PM
I'm putting in canoeing at Wekiwa Springs State Park, unless someone has a better, closer-to-southwest-Orlando alternative.

From Tyler Bell
Posted October 20, 2011 at 8:11 PM
Medevial Times Dinner show
Pirates Dinner show
Al Capone dinner show
Prime outlets
Premium outlets
Shopping outlets along US-192
UCF Campus
Bright House networks stadium at UCF for some college football
Ripleys belive it or not museum
Shopping on church street, or downtown Orlando

From Tyler Bell
Posted October 20, 2011 at 8:19 PM
Box Tower Gardens-Polk County
Frank Wright Architecture in Lakeland
Off Road Experience
Spook Hill-Polk County

From Tyler Bell
Posted October 20, 2011 at 8:42 PM
Imax Cinema at Pointe Orlando
Pointe Orlando shopping
Orange County Convention Center
Downtown Winter Park shopping
Orlando Predators Arena football
Dave and Busters
Espn Zone at Disney's Boardwalk

From Andrew Mooney
Posted October 21, 2011 at 7:10 AM
There are some wonderful restaurants located on Sand Lake Road known as Restaurant Row. These restaurants include Roy's and Seasons 52. Both wonderful, with top quality food. I'm British so whenever we go we need to visit the Cheesecake Factory/PF Changs and the malls. So the places on our list are:

Millenia Mall
Florida Mall
Kennedy Space Center - Not in Orlando, but still pretty amazing to see
Discovery Cove - technically not a theme park ;)
Keke's - A great Breafast diner located just outside Millenia
Premium Outlets
Restaurant Row
Main Street - Celebration
Park Avenue -Winter Park

From Rob P
Posted October 21, 2011 at 3:10 AM
A few years back this would have been easy to answer : Church Street Station ( you know...when it had Rosie O'Grady's and Cheyenne etc ).
Now I would have to say Boggy Creek for the airboat rides , a boat trip at Winter Garden or Gatorworld ( if that doesn't count as a theme park ).

From Kelly Muggleton
Posted October 21, 2011 at 3:52 AM
Can I extend to Kissimmee, its only 15 minutes away after all.
The Car Cruise on a Saturday night. Its so quaint! (That could just be me though!) :-) I am thinking about my coral coloured T-bird I feel in love with.

From Crystal A
Posted October 21, 2011 at 5:48 AM
We love to eat at Cafe Tutu Tango on I-Drive.
Also love the Treasure Tavern dinner show as well as Sleuths. Our favorite movie theater is definitely AMC @Downtown Disney. Don't know if that counts =)

From Domenik Jost
Posted October 21, 2011 at 7:03 AM
Orlando Science Center
Lu Gardens in Winter Park
Lake Eola Park and Amphitheater
Downtown Mt Dora (has scenic train rides and historic downtown going down a big hill....a big hilll in Florida!)

Hollerbachs Willow Tree Cafe in Sanford (Central Florida's Best German Restaurant with fun for all ages interactive entertainment)

Local Community Theaters like:
The Garden Theater in Winter Garden
Mad Cow Theatre in Orlando
Orlando Repertory Theater in Orlando (childrens theater)
Wayne Densch Performing Arts Theater in Sanford
Princess Theater in Sanford
Theater Downtown in Orlando
Winter Park Playhouse in Winter Park
Seminole State Fine Arts Theater in Lake Mary
UCF Theater in Orlando

Festivals like:
Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival
Orlando Film Festival
Central Florida FIlm Festival in various locations around Orlando
Love Your Shorts Film Festival in Sanford
Central Florida Art Festival (and various other cities offer one too)

just a few things I didn't see listed already

From Manny Rodriguez
Posted October 21, 2011 at 9:19 AM
Also o know this is not a attraction but nikes the one where Arabian night is right next to drive way to get to it And Arabian nights it also a very good show even if you don't like horses you will love this place

From Derek Morse
Posted October 21, 2011 at 10:00 AM
Sak Comedy Lab in downtown Orlando is a fun time...think "Whose Line is it Anyways", improv style comedy...really hilarious and great audience participation.

From Brian Emery
Posted October 21, 2011 at 10:54 AM
I fly Orlando near Universal.. My daughter wanted to try it out and she loved it..

Also visit the McDonalds near by – one of the biggest in the world.. They have real lunch and dinner meals served on ceramic plates…Plus the usual Mcd’s food..

From Alan Hiscutt
Posted October 21, 2011 at 12:12 PM
Going to watch The Magic play....although that might not happen again any time soon :(

From Mike Gallagher
Posted October 21, 2011 at 12:23 PM

I dunno if it's still there, but there's a McDonalds in Youngstown, OH, that bills itself as the world's most BEAUTIFUL McDonalds. Indoor lanscaped gardens, live piano music, and an ornate elevator. I've got a postcard from there mixed in with my coaster postcard collection. I don't recall if they did anything special with dinners and china..I DID get the Filet 'O' Fish, though.

From Daniel Etcheberry
Posted October 21, 2011 at 2:13 PM
Ming Court on International Dr is a very good Chinese restaurant. The restaurant itself is beautiful, it is cheap, and the staff is very attentive.

From Derek Potter
Posted October 21, 2011 at 4:19 PM
I'm reading all these non park attractions, and it sounds like a standard tourist spot outside of the parks. Myrtle Beach, Pigeon Forge, Branson..etc etc...several of those places are in all of those areas.

I've never spent a lot of time in the actual city of Orlando. Probably going back next year though and might battle the traffic and other elements to see it...if anything is worth leaving the comfort of the resort. What would one consider an Orlando original best of the best thing to do?

From Giovanny Cruz
Posted October 22, 2011 at 5:56 AM
I love Dontown Disney, Anway center,I fly,Florida mall and mediavel times

From Andy Milito
Posted October 22, 2011 at 12:18 PM
A McDonald's in Orlando has the world's largest play area. It's like 3 stories, and has an arcade and stuff.

From Samantha McCrae
Posted October 24, 2011 at 5:18 AM
There's an amazing place on International Drive called the Tilted Kilt.
The food there is incredible.
Here's the link to have a look :)

From duncan henny
Posted October 24, 2011 at 6:51 AM
orlando ale house sports bar. great food and atmosphere
titanic the exhibition (international drive)

From Lauren Hayhurst
Posted October 24, 2011 at 7:27 AM
We're bigging up Orlando as a 'not-just-a-theme-park' destination and you guys are going on about MacDonalds...where there's one in every nook and cranny of the world...? Ack.

I'd like to suggest Thai Thani - the one on I-drive rather than Celebration - for authentic Thai cusine. This is the best Thai restaurant I've been to outside Thailand. The food really is the real thing, the decor is outstanding and the wait-staff very friendly. Also, I didn't see my fav Thai meal on the menu - Massaman Curry - so I mentioned it to the waitress and they made it for me anyway - score!

We also spent a lovey half-day at Bok Sanctuary 'the highest point in Florida' (!). It had some gorgeous gardens, historic buildings and tower, and it was a wonderful relaxation day in comparison to the chaos of the parks.

I'd also second the Mt Dora that I know from the UK who goes to Fl knows about this place. Which is a shame coz a lot of people who only do the parks think that Florida is just full of 8-lane highways and fragmented retail parks, but Mt Dora gives a really lovely small-town feel and community spirit. Everyone there was so smiley and nice to us!

From N B
Posted October 24, 2011 at 11:08 PM
Waffle House.... a 2 minute drive from Universal. We love that place and don't have them in Chicago. Not that I am cheap, but 15-20 a person for a buffet at the hotel vs this place is a no brainer. By the end of our stay, all the waitresses know our names... :)

From Mike Gallagher
Posted October 25, 2011 at 3:09 AM
^^ Looove Waffle House, but we have none in Jersey, either. I always hit it at least once on a coaster trip if I can find one.

From Kelly Bean
Posted October 25, 2011 at 10:17 AM
I could make a list a mile long but here are some places worth looking into during your research.

Winter Park - Park Ave, Morse Museum, Boat tour
The new Downtown Lake Eola Fountain
Mt. Dora - Shopping and dining in a quaint setting
Tibet Butler Reserve - Lovely place to enjoy the outdoors when the weather is nice.
SAK Comedy Lab - A local favorite
Brevard County - 30 minutes away from the airport, Cocoa Beach (we like Lori Wilson Park), casino cruise, nice zoo
Orange County Nat'l - Golf

Yellow Dog Eats - Great eatery in Gotha
La Cantina Steakhouse - Another local favorite
Bananas - Hard to explain but a fun time
Christini's - Very nice
Four Rivers - Best BBQ!
Food Truck Bazaars - Always a fun time

From Ray Schroeder
Posted October 25, 2011 at 11:21 AM
I always pay a visit to Hard Rock Casino in Tampa. Some gambling, some Disney, what more can you ask for? Ybor is a great little town that reminds me of Greenwich Village. It also has Tampa bay Brewing. Great beer, amazing food. They were featured on DDD, on the Food Network.

From J. Dana
Posted October 25, 2011 at 2:37 PM
As a former Orlando resident (and frequent visitor), there are some great local sights to see:

SAK Comedy Lab downtown is the best: it's where Wayne Brady got his

Winter Park Canal Boat tours: VERY cool ride through the water canals that run throughout tony Winter Park.

Airboat rides: google for a list, but the one down below Kississimmi is great! No houses, just lots and lots of alligators, ESPECIALLY if you go on the night tour.

Point Orlando -- always a great spot for dinner, IMAX movies, etc.

Orlando Fringe Festival is the most fun you'll have outside the theme parks.

Orlando is the world headquarters for professional wakeboarding and waterskiing. Check out this awesome wire park for wakeboarders:

And speaking of waterskiing and wakeboarding, there are an obscene amount of ski schools all over the Orlando area....Sammy Duvall's is actually on Disney property.

Fantasy of Flight, a "theme park" for plane and flying enthusiasts :

What about OLD TOWN? A throw-back to cool carnivals and cheesy haunted houses. Plus, the world's tallest sky coaster, Saturday night cruises, and more.

Sleuth's murder dinner theater is always a blast:

From Derek Potter
Posted October 25, 2011 at 4:45 PM
I like the Tilted Kilt as well. Not an Orlando original though. There's one in several major cities, including my turf in Columbus, OH

From John C
Posted October 26, 2011 at 4:10 PM
Park Avenue in Winter Park is a nice place to walk around and has a good selection of bars and restaurants. Also this is near 4Rivers Smokehouse (the best BBQ in the area by far) .

The Central Florida Zoo in Sanford won't take up a whole day but it's a pretty nice zoo and usually not packed. (Recommend more for locals than tourists because it's easier to do Animal Kingdom).

Wekiva in Apopka is very enjoyable as well.

The pub crawls either through Downtown Orlando or Sanford are pretty fun. Also if you're into craft beers Orlando has some good places like Orlando Brewing, Redlight Redlight, 50 Brews, and World of Beer.

From Mike Saperstein
Posted October 26, 2011 at 6:17 PM
Orlando Jai Alai. Surprised nobody mentioned it yet (unless I missed it).

From Anthony Murphy
Posted October 27, 2011 at 5:24 AM
SAK Laugh Lab is both great and Family Friendly!

Cape Canaveral, which is not that far away, is pretty cool too!

I like the Ale House too! Good place for late night food!

From Rob McCullough
Posted October 27, 2011 at 7:49 AM
Enjoy a night with Mark and Lorna at The Red Fox Lounge in the Best Western in Winter Park. Legend has it they are the inspiration for the SNL's The Culps -

"The CulpsThe Culps, or "The Culp Family Musical Performances", were recurring characters that appeared on SNL between 1996 and 2002, and were portrayed by Will Ferrell (as Marty Culp), and Ana Gasteyer as (Bobbi Mohan-Culp). Marty and Bobbi were an awkward, unstylish, married couple who served as music teachers at Altadena Middle School. Marty played the keyboard and sings backup, while Bobbi was the lead vocalist, who sang in a high-pitched, operatic style. In between medleys, the Culps make comments to the audience of middle school students, often implying that the children are mocking them, most often by showing them the finger." - Thanks WikiPedia!

Here's a link:

From A Fluker
Posted October 28, 2011 at 3:57 PM
Lake Eola Park in Downtown Orlando. Downtown in general is a pretty cool place to visit and walk around. I never even knew it existed until my husband and I moved here! It's also worth checking around to see where the next food truck gathering is going to be. Good food at a really reasonable price!

From Robert Niles
Posted October 28, 2011 at 11:02 PM
I second Lauren on Thai Thani - I eat there whenever I visit the TPI "east coast office" in Celebration.

From Lisa Estrada
Posted October 29, 2011 at 5:52 AM
We always love to go to Medieval Times, the kids just love the show. We also tried out Titanic, the Exhibition on the last trip and really enjoyed that.

From Tom Rigg
Posted October 30, 2011 at 3:49 PM
A few things that aren't at the major parks/resorts, and a few things that aren't touristy:

Non major resort activities:
fan boat ride on lake Kissimmee - there are lots of small companies that do this. Some only take out 5 to 10 people at a time and you get to really take in the wild aspects of Florida without having to drive all the way to the Everglades.

Driving through the Orange Groves between Bunnell and Lake Mary just west of Orlando - If you are driving to Florida via I-95 you can't cut across at Palm Coast and cut through the small town of Bunnell. in between Bunnell and where you get on I-4 at Lake Mary you go through some truly gorgeous orange groves and down some awesome roads flanked with live oaks, dripping with spanish moss. (I discovered this one whilst trying to avoid the traffic of the Daytona-500.)

Downtown Winter Park historic district - My brother went to Full Sail University (then tech institute) and this suburb of Orlando has a lot of charm and a great downtown with lots of shops and eateries.

Not touristy (mainly food stuff)

Yellow Dog Eats - 1236 Hempel Ave Windermere, FL 34786 - a great barbecue place with a key west vibe and a local clientele. There food isn't traditional bbq, but it is definitely good. Try The Club Elvis and the pulled pork nachos!

Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza -8031 Turkey Lake Road, Orlando, FL 32819 - yes its a chain, but not a wide spread one, and they serve up a mean meatball and ricotta pizza.

First WatchSand Lake Road - Plaza Venezia 7500 W. Sand Lake Road #A101 Orlando, FL 32819 - another chain with great breakfasts. A lot of times, vacation can mean heavy greasy breakfast or sad quick pastries. This place serves fresh, health conscious food that it pretty darn tasty to boot. Note, a key ingredient in many of their dishes is avocado

From Lauren Hayhurst
Posted October 31, 2011 at 4:41 AM
Woohoo! Someone else has heard of Thai Thani... I know what I'm having for tea tonight...

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