Most people are well aware of the land Disney uses for its massive theme park and resort operations, but did you know that years ago, Disney set aside 11,000+ of Central Florida wilderness to ensure its preservation? Its core was once a working cattle ranch, totaling 8,500 acres, that had been slated for development in the '90s. As the property sits at the northernmost part of the Everglades watershed, this would have been catastrophic, so the company stepped in, saved the land and helped restore it, acquiring several thousand additional acres of wilderness not long after. Non-native plants were eliminated and the area has become a model for conservation. The property is home to more than a thousand species of flora and fauna and a 2.5-mile trail allows visitors to explore, learn, and experience natural Central Florida, making for a lovely, serene break from the frenetic pace and scenery at the parks. Special note: Trails here are open but limited due to high water in some places due to Hurricane Irma. Call for more information.
Wakeboarding (a super popular sport here in Florida), paddleboarding and the area's very first Aquapark - a wonderland of bouncy, floating inflatables on which to climb and play �" are all on tap at the Orlando Watersports Complex. And noobs are more than welcome. Lessons in every discipline are available (none are necessary for the Aquapark!). Wakeboarding �" something of an amalgam of surfing, waterskiing and snowboarding �" is an enticing and potentially high-adrenaline way to pass time in the Florida sun, while SUP'ing is more staid and relaxing. It's a win-win decision, either way, and visitors of all ages will enjoy the color and bounce of the Aquapark.
From goats at the petting zoo to the super cool insect zoo (your enthusiasm will depend on your comfort level with creepy-crawlies) this Sanford Zoo isn't as small as it may seem. More than 500 animals representing roughly 200 species call this place home, including elephants, llamas, cheetah, apes and a whole house full of reptiles to ooh and ahh over. Active visitors may want to take a turn on the on-site aerial adventure course and everyone enjoys the weekend Keeper Chats. Who wouldn't want to learn more about the zoo's colorful, beautiful residents?
This UBER authentic German festival has gotten so popular over the years that the German American Society of Central Florida has had to start selling tickets to keep the place from overcrowding. With two October weekends in which to get your oompah on, this resplendent celebration of German beer, food and music is family friendly, festive and a great way to usher in the start of fall. In 2018, the weekends of October 5-6 and 26-27 (Friday/Saturday) will bring with them Hofbrau on tap, live music all day (or evening) long, friendly and festive schunkeling with the band and more.
Explore Florida's natural beauty at Wekiwa Springs State Park. Hike through wild, diverse ecosystems, paddle the famous Wekiva River, or camp beneath the stars. Wekiwa Springs offers nature lovers the opportunity to experience a part of Florida that is all too quickly vanishing �" and just minutes from the theme park area. Bring your camera, because wild turkey, black bear, deer, and many species of birds call this park home. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent and guided tours are available. Those interested in exploring the area on horseback may do so on weekends (minimum age: 6). Guided trail rides are $25/per person and run about an hour long.
Now in its 7th year, this annual Winter Park foodie (and wino!) fete features gourmet fare - along with fine wine, craft beer and cocktails â" from more than 25 locally lauded restaurants. Held in the West Meadow of the city's resplendent Central Park (and walking distance from all that Park Avenue offers if the impossible happens and you're still hungry afterwards), live music and tantalizing aromas fill the air, along with a sense of community. All proceeds from this event benefit local charities After After-School All-Stars Orlando and Elevate Orlando.
If you think theme parks are all there is to do in Central Florida, not only are you sadly mistaken, you're waaaaay overdue to get outside and see what locals enjoy all year long. Revolution Off Road has the ATV adventure to suit (even if you've never ridden one in your life); you'll get dirty, you'll laugh, you'll breathe fresh air over acres and acres of beautiful natural-Florida landscape. But if rough riding isn't your cup of tea, Revolution has loads of other pursuits to pursue! Archery, clay shooting and top-shelf Sunshine State fishing among them. And if you're still planning on a day at the parks, you'll find their Clermont location more than convenient!
Sure, the December holidays are great but why skip the October/November harvest?! The folks at Long & Scott Farms have been growing since 1963 and its charming Country Market sells Zellwood Sweet Gourmet Corn, crisp Kirby cukes and other local produce, but they're probably best known for their amazing annual corn maze, open on weekends every fall. Admission includes the six-acre maze, one-acre mini maze (super fun for kids!) and access to the kids' zip line, rock maze, cooling mist maze, a playground and covered picnic areas. Lots of vendors are on hand with eats, refreshments and of course, hot, buttered corn. Fun photo-ops abound for harvest-themed holiday cards and be sure to climb the tower and take in the vast, lush carpet of corn below.
#KeepDancingOrlando is the mantra, and awash in the rainbow colors of LGBT pride, this beautiful city does just that. Though this week-long event, which culminates in an all-day festival - not to mention The Most Colorful Parade, which features more than 100 groups marching proudly and festively on a one-mile route through downtown - is one of Orlando's most anticipated annual fetes! The hashtag is a nod not only to precious lives lost, but Orlando's resilience, community and strong, vibrant spirit, but the festival, an all-volunteer affair, has been bringing fun and color and good feels to the city for ages. All are welcome to enjoy many events, from Drag Races (no, not cars) to a film festival, the fest, to the annual Sunday "Recovery Brunch." It's fun on a bun, Hon! This year, Come Out With Pride runs from October 8-14.
Like clockwork with the fall holiday calendar (autumn brings with it a host of holidays that inspire many to throw temporary diet caution to the wind!), Walt Disney World's renown Epcot International Food & Wine Festival brings the foodies out in full force. Why? How about tens of international food and beverage marketplaces from which to sample? How about a concert series with nightly performance from well known acts? How about an array of culinary demonstrations and beverage seminars by celebrity chefs and TV personalities? Add to this that all of it (save the food/wine purchases you make on site) are included with regular admission to Epcot and you've got a winner of a festival that runs for several weeks throughout the season.