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Curated for Kids: Top Family-Friendly Museums in Orlando



With the myriad distractions and mind-numbing entertainment options available today, it can be difficult to find venues that captivate a child's imagination all while cramming it full of good stuff it might one day be able to use. And let's not forget about engaging the adults along the way, as well. In Orlando and the numerous burgs surrounding its greater metropolitan area, they haven't. At Warbird Adventures, air aficionados will be rapt with antique aircraft, not to mention exhilarated as they watch these beauties soar overhead. In fact, you can even enjoy a ride yourself, though you might want to skip the aerial acrobatics option if you're more a groundhog than a fly girl (or guy). Is what lies beneath more engaging than what's overhead? Check out one of I-Drive's newest attractions, Skeletons: Animals Unveiled. Marvel at the detailed and delicate scientific work involved in articulating these intricate pieces, each one an example of Mother Nature's masterpieces. Kids captivated by terrestrial travel will delight in venues like the Orlando Fire Museum, Mount Dora Museum of Speed and Central Florida Railroad Museum. And in a pinch, there's no child (or grown-up) alive who wouldn't dig a day spent at the Orlando Science Center.


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Want to make history as appealing to kids as it is to adults? Serving it up inside a restored 1926 fire house is a very good start. The Orlando Fire Museum showcases the history of the City Beautiful's bravest along with a host of antique equipment that includes an array of impressive fire engines: LaFrance apparatus from the early 1900s, a 1919 ladder truck and another from 1926 just to name a few. Additional artifacts on display include helmets and other tool along with lithographs. Volunteer guides here are retired Orlando firefighters; they really know their stuff. This free attraction is open on Friday and Saturday; donations for its upkeep are greatly appreciated.




They don't call it the "Odditorium" for nothing. Kids intrigued by the weird and wonky â€" and really, who isn't? â€" will love this place, as well as adults who enjoy the kitschy memories of the Jack Palance-hosted TV show old Ripley inspired. All kinds of weird, wonderful oddities populate this place. Some historic, some artistic, some even a little horrific â€" but it's all in good fun. Sure it's a little touristy, but you'll still see things you won't find elsewhere: Chippendale seats made for the super tall and super small, a car constructed from toothpicks, shrunken heads, dinosaur fossils, you name it. Even the exterior is odd; it appears to be falling into a Florida sinkhole!


Yet another cultural gem of Orlando's Loch Haven Park, the Mennello Museum of American Art is housed in what was once a private home, creating an intimate space for a wide array of exhibitions. The Mennello features American art of all genres and is home to a permanent collection of paintings by "primitive" artist Earl Cunningham (1893-1977). Outside, a lakeside sculpture garden is yet another of its caches â€" and also where the Mennello hosts the annual Orlando Folk Festival, held the second week in February. Every second Sunday is Family Day, which brings child-friendly activities and free admission with mini-tours for kids in the afternoon. The Mennello has a rich calendar of events; many are appropriate for kids and families. Be sure to give it a look.


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All aboard for a little slice of history and Americana in the historic downtown district of Winter Garden at the Central Florida Railroad Museum. Housed inside a former Tavares & Gulf depot â€" which was built in 1913 â€" this charming little venue will delight choo-choo aficionados and history buffs of all ages. Memorabilia on display includes historic photographs, telephones and telegraphs, dining-car china and silver, uniforms and locomotive bells and whistles, among other things. Outside, an authentic caboose and three-head interlocking signal â€" along with several switch stands â€" are sure to inspire wonder or kindle fond memories of a simpler time in modern transportation. An extensive Lionel train set is on display inside, as well.




Many folks come to Warbird Adventures for the thrill of flying high in the operation's beautifully restored and maintained airplanes but you need not leave the ground to check out their collection of historic aircraft. The collection of the Kissimmee Air Museum is lauded by aircraft enthusiasts and historians alike who get up close and personal with these largely operational classics and even learn about their restoration â€" which could well be in progress during your visit. Ideal for fly-boys and girls eager to learn their pastime's history, not to mention World War II buffs, this small, but fascinating and reasonably priced museum plays beautifully by itself but pairs superbly with a flight at Warbird Adventures.




This beautiful historical park â€" about 20 miles east of Orlando and an easy stop on the way to or from Kennedy Space Center â€" boasts many beautiful features common to wilderness areas of the region: massive shade trees, lovely hiking trails, a well-kept playground and rentable picnic pavilions suitable for very large gatherings. But it also boasts something the others do not: a full-sized replica of a fort constructed in 1837, one of about 200 built during the second Seminole Indian War, which raged from 1835-1842. In addition to the related film and exhibit, Fort Christmas Historical Park is home to seven restored "Cracker" homes representing the common architecture of this area from the 1870s to the 1930s. Whether you're an American history buff or a nature enthusiast, this is a win-win, free-admission attraction.




This downtown museum, smack in the middle of a wealth of other urban Orlando offerings, houses myriad exhibits covering some 12,000 years of Central Florida history, from its Native American roots to its citrus-farming heyday and more. Three floors of permanent installations are geared toward all ages and special, limited-run exhibitions - recent runs include one that took visitors into the history of Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights and another which showcased the art of Warner Bros. - are surprising, fascinating and fun! Events and activities, many of them just for kids and families, run regularly. Check the website before your visit.


Small museum, big inventory! This automobile lovers' haven is packed to the rafters, quite literally, with beautiful classic and antique vehicles � Corvettes to muscle cars to service vehicle to bumper cars and more! Less enthused by automotive history than history in general? Fear not. It's everywhere. Authentic clothing and costumes from various decades, neon signs, autographed guitars, bicycles and black-and-white televisions, gas pumps, Coke machines; the list is near endless.... And all of it lovingly curated by on-site owners who will likely serve as your guide to the collection. And of course, if you're a collector � or looking to make an investment � you might want to check out the inventory in the classic car showroom.




As part of the multi-attraction I-Drive 360 complex, Skeletons: Museum of Osteology shares space with Madame Tussaud's, the SEA LIFE Aquarium and the towering Orlando Eye, but it holds its own with fascinating aplomb. Science geeks and animal lovers will be rapt â€" as will the less biologically enthused in your visiting party â€" by the more than 400 real skeletons, flawlessly and even artistically articulated for a truly captivating learning experience. Most subjects are acquired via zoos (after the animals expire from natural causes) and each can take up to 500 hours to clean and assemble. Ideal for both aspiring scientists and the Nat-Geo-watching armchair variety, visitors will learn a lot about both the subjects and the process of getting them exhibit-ready.




Giant screen movies and planetarium shows, towering dinosaur skeletons, four floors of interactive science exhibits in the realms of weather and space, lights and lasers, electricity and magnetism, live animals and live science programming throughout, not to mention limited engagement exhibits of all kinds depending on when you visit make the Orlando Science Center an ideal place to spend a day - with or without children. Experience the gale force winds of a Category 1 hurricane firsthand, watch a live gator feeding, discover the real life sea monsters that ruled the prehistoric seas and take in a giant-screen movie or laser show in the Dr. Phillips CineDome. There's always something cool on their event calendar, so be sure to check their online schedule.


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Meet A.D. Thompson

Amy Drew has spent nearly three decades as a professional writer and roughly half her life as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum.

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