No, Harry P. Leu Gardens isn't free all the time, but plan your visit just so and you'll enjoy gratis admission, available on the first Monday of every month from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm with last admittance at 4:00 pm. Fans of phenomenal flora delight in Leu Gardens, where cycads and azaleas, philodendrons and bromeliads and other exotic offerings â" some with harder-to-pronounce names than others â" grow and flourish and pose colorfully for photographers' cameras. The Leu House Museum, a beautifully restored 19th Century home, is open for guided tours on the hour and half-hour. Fine art fans will find a multitude of sculptures dotted among the horticultural offerings, as well.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: I'm no doctor, but I suspect Leu Gardens' 50-acres of botanical splendor may drop your blood pressure a few points on arrival.
Michelle's expert tip: Leu Gardens also offers free admission for moms on Mother's Day and dads on Father's Day. Check for plant-sale days, too, on which admission may also be free.
This beautiful historical park, about 20 miles east of Orlando and an easy stop on the way to or from Kennedy Space Center, 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.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Educational, outdoorsy and free, Fort Christmas is a log-cabin time machine to the era of Pioneers.
Michelle's expert tip: Around in early December? Come for "Cracker Christmas," an annual festival featuring BBQ, crafts an antique tractor display and all kinds of Pioneer demonstrations, from blacksmithing to spinning to quilting and more. You can even get your holiday cards hand-stamped from Christmas by the local post office.
Technically, this venue isn't entirely free. Boxes at the various trailheads around the forest request honor donations of $2 per person (free for children age 6 and under) but you'll find the majesty of this truly unspoiled wonderland of Florida wilderness well worth it. Whether you're here for hiking or mountain biking, canoeing or an equestrian excursion, trails are well-marked and take journeyers through scrub forests and along rivers where wildlife –" river otters, raptors, deer, wading birds, bobcat and more –" abounds and peace is the word. One such hike (many crisscross the forest's 9,563 acres) is the Kolokee Loop, which encompasses parts of the Florida Trail along the Econlockhatchee River and the bridge where it meets up with the Flagler Trail.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Orlando is well known for man-made wonders but too few explore those made by Mother Nature. Hikers and nature lovers: this one is for you.
Michelle's expert tip: The Kolokee Loop is an easy-to-moderate hike with gorgeous scenery. Watch for roots. Bring a snack to enjoy at the Flagler Bridge (roughly the halfway mark) before looping back.
One of Orlando's enduring charms is its weather, a feature taken advantage of on a monthly basis by the Enzian Theater during its Popcorn Flicks in the Park. Generally held on the second Thursday of each month on the soft grass of Winter Park's Central Park, the films are open to the public and typically run at 7 or 8 p.m., but may not happen until sunset to ensure optimal viewing for attendees. No matter, though, you'll be cozy with friends and family amid chairs and blankets. Be sure to bring snacks and enjoy the spoils of the cinematic arm of this fair city's arts community. Despite the name of the event, no popcorn is being passed out because of Covid.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Watching a free outdoor movie on a big screen is a delightful way to spend an evening.
Michelle's expert tip: Go to the theater's website to reserve your free, socially distanced, 10'x10′ movie space. Up to 6 people per party.
Disney Skyliner is the newest form of transportation to get around Walt Disney World and it's free to take this ride in the sky. The state-of-the-art gondolas take guests to EPCOT, Disney's Hollywood Studios, as well as these resorts: Disney's Art of Animation Resort, Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort, Disney's Pop Century Resort and Disney's Riviera Resort. Each Skyliner holds up to 10 people but is limited to one party. Most of the gondolas are adorned with iconic Disney Characters from films and attractions. After you take a spin and enjoy the views, exit at the station at International Gateway at EPCOT and take a short walk to the Boardwalk and enjoy the entertainment area.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Technically a form of transportation, but more like a ride. A free one at that!
Michelle's expert tip: You'll need to be strategic about where you park your car.
Fifty thousand gallons of wine come out of Lakeridge each year - it's Florida's largest - and locals visit and revisit all the time. Not just when friends and family come to town, but because the winery hosts an abundance of family-friendly festivals and free live music events all year long with food, crafts, even fun photo-ops. That said, even if you don't happen to make it during one of their larger shindigs, Lakeridge runs free tours and tastings all day long, every day of the week, every 20 minutes or so. You'll start off with a short film about the vineyard's history, then move on for a stellar view of the vines and wrap it up in the tasting room. The whole thing takes about 45 minutes. And of course, you can your favorite by the bottle â" or the case â" before you head out.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Chip 'N Dale's Campfire Sing-A-Long has it all: character interaction, music, sweet treats and a classic Disney film, all amid the great outdoors.
Michelle's expert tip: Check the Lakeridge Winery website for its year-round calendar of events, such as chocolate tastings, Christmas markets, free concerts and more, that the entire family can enjoy.
Boxi Park is a 30,000-square-foot space made up of about a dozen repurposed shipping containers each serving up different food offerings. However, if you want to save some cash, there's still plenty to enjoy. The park often hosts events and has musical acts performing, which makes for a lovely outing, especially when the weather cooperates. Most Friday and Saturday nights, popular local bands take the stage, and there are often events centered around holidays. Check the website for event details. There's plenty of shaded seating to spread out and relax. Bring your children, those that are human and four-legged. A volleyball court, outdoor games and a playground are there for enjoyment.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: There's plenty of room to spread out while enjoying live music.
Michelle's expert tip: It's only open Thursday and Friday starting at 5 p.m. and Saturday starting at 11 a.m. and Sunday at 12 p.m.
Have you been to Disney Springs lately? If not, you are in for a serious treat. Formerly known as Downtown Disney, this exciting and ever-expanding district has upped its ante considerably, holding onto some of its gems (Gideon's Bakehouse and World of Disney to name a few) while expanding its dining and shopping offerings. A whole new look has made the place pretty stunning, as well. Outdoor entertainment offerings abound and newer restaurants, from the magnificent Morimoto Asia to the waterfront allure of the Boathouse, to places like Wine Bar George and the Edison tempt diners and drinkers with all kinds of delicious fare. Looking to spend? Brand names repped include Havianas and Art of Shaving along with a host of others. And of course, exclusive Disney merchandise runs rampant. New walkways and a state-of-the-art parking lot are making getting in, out and around a breeze.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: With its massive roster of new additions, beautiful upgrades and free, outdoor entertainment, Disney Springs is a must.
Michelle's expert tip: It may be difficult to make this a reality, but if you have the will power avoid spending at shops and restaurants, you can visit Disney Springs entirely free of charge! Even the parking is free!
The entertainment industry, like most everything else, has been hard by COVID-19. Dr. Phillips Center came up with a way to safely bring the arts to the community. Frontyard Festival presented by AdventHealth runs through May 2021 and includes live entertainment, films and even exercise classes all outdoors. Guests get to pick their own socially distant box for up to five people. From that special box, you'll be able to enjoy the show and even order food and drinks from some popular local restaurants. Options include Live & Local Lunch, which is Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., where local musicians perform live. There's also Start Me Up, fitness classes facilitated by YMCA at varying times Monday through Saturday. Check the website for all the events from movie showings to when your favorite local performer will take the stage.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: An array of entertainment and activities the whole family can enjoy outside.
Michelle's expert tip: Bring Fido too! Your fury friend is welcome, just keep him on a leash.
A true glittering city centerpiece, Lake Eola Park's myriad activities, whether walking or jogging the lake's verdant circumference, feeding its multitude of waterfowl (there are bird-food dispensers near the playground; please don't feed them bread or popcorn!), enjoying the shade of the live oaks or perusing the wares of the Sunday farmer's market to name a few, are enjoyed by visitors and locals alike. Even during the workweek, Lake Eola buzzes with activity as 9-to-5ers escape the office for a few and those enjoying leisure time might be paddling about one of its signature swan boats ($15/half-hour, debit or credit only; each boat holds up to five adults).
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Lake Eola Park is exceptionally beautiful, entirely walkable, hosts dozens of free events and is beloved by locals from all walks.
Michelle's expert tip: Peek over the rail into the lakeside plants across from Relax Grill and you may be treated to a "bird's eye" view of a duck or goose nest.