Looking for fun things to do in Central Florida beyond Orlando?
Once you are done with Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, there are endless Central Florida attractions for families to enjoy, both man-made and natural.
In case you don’t know, the heart of Central Florida is Polk County which is located roughly about halfway between Orlando and Tampa.
We recently spent two days in the region after our visit to Universal Orlando (which included Volcano Bay water park) and Clearwater Beach. We had an easy 1.5 hour drive in from Clearwater and enjoyed discovering some new attractions in Florida.
Below are three places to visit in Central Florida, one with kids and the other two can be seen with or even without kids.
The first one is another Florida theme park I’m sure you’re at least aware of, the other two are natural attractions we’d never heard of but were pleasantly surprised by.
3 Things to Do in Central Florida
1. Legoland Florida
Florida is the theme park capital of the USA and you could probably spend three weeks in the state and not do them all justice, and they all have their specific focus.
But if you’re kids are big fans of Lego, like ours, then consider putting a visit to Legoland Florida on your itinerary.
I think it’s fair to say that most kids grew up with Lego in their lives. I know I did and that my own kids love playing with their own Lego and keep requesting more!
In fact, Lego has evolved so much that it appeals to people of all ages, evidenced by my mom who loves buying herself Lego as a gift and playing with it, lol.
So our kids were naturally excited to visit a Lego based theme park and get up close with some of their favorite life size Lego friends, and ride more rides of course!
Located in Winter Haven, just a 45-minute drive from Orlando, Legoland Florida Resort is the largest Legoland theme park in the world, and it’s one of the most popular things to do in Central Florida.
If you’re familiar with the old Cypress Gardens theme park, Florida’s first theme park, that’s the location of Legoland.
The 150-acre property now offers a unique mix of more than 50 rides, shows and attractions. Plus restaurants, shops and a beautiful botanical garden (unfortunately this was closed during our visit due to damage from hurricane Irma).
The Legoland theme park is geared towards children ages 2 to 12. Our kids are aged 10 and six and most of the attractions and rides were suitable to their age, so that seems to be the sweet spot.
But like I said, my mom is a Lego fan so it depends on your family and their interest levels.
Highlights of Legoland Florida
Legoland in Florida is essentially broken up into 11 themed zones. These were some of our kids favorites.
This themed area was cool. Miniland was built using more than 32 million Lego bricks and we loved wandering around looking at mini versions of destinations built from Lego.
If you visit Florida in the summer, you might want to explore Miniland first thing or later in the day as it’s wide open with no shade.
And if you visit Legoland Florida during the Christmas Bricktacular, in the past they have placed hidden Santas around Miniland so factor in a little more time here.
Some of our favorite displays were:
New York City
Imagine you are strolling alongside the streets of The Big Apple past Times Square, The Statue of Liberty, and The Empire State Building. Oh, and that fire truck, it squirts water so be warned!
Daytona International Speedway
We’ve been to the life size speedway and this replica of Daytona looks exactly like it and was built using a 1/20 scale. Here you can drag race your friends or family members with a replica NASCAR down the straight.
Kennedy Space Center
Lego models include a U.S. space shuttle and launch pad, and a simulated blast off.
See the famous strip in Vegas Lego style!
Star Wars fans can pose with life-size Lego models of Darth Vader and R2 D2.
Our kids enjoyed being the captain of their own mini-vessels as they steered their way around the river.
Ford Driving School
This was so cool and a fun way for our kids to learn the rules of the road and earn their own Legoland driver’s license.
After boating and driving school, we jumped on this suspended roller coaster and pretended to take flight.
The Grand Carousel
Savannah loves a carousel ride, and this was the first ride our kids went on in Legoland as it’s close to the entry.
Do this first thing as the lines can get long as the day goes on.
LAND OF ADVENTURE
Ride a wooden roller coaster around a prehistoric jungle of animated and life-sized Lego brick dinosaurs.
We couldn’t keep 6 year old Savannah off this ride. Get launched 15-feet up then bounce your way down.
Mia’s Riding Adventure
Go for a spin on the spinning disc coaster, if your tummy can stomach it.
PIRATES COVE WATER SKI SHOW
We all enjoyed the water ski show.
The show actually dates back to when this theme park was Cypress Gardens which was known for its water ski show. Now it’s been adapted for Legoland.
It runs for about 20-minutes which is a good time period in regards to keeping your younger kiddies attention.
The show is based around the famous pirate ship Brickbeard’s Bounty and features water skis, jet skis, boats and some of your lego friends.
It’s entertaining and fast moving, but not too loud for any kids who don’t like noise! And it’s a nice way to sit down in the shade for a rest.
Watch our Legoland video for more:
Eating at Legoland
There is a wide variety of food options including your typical favorites like burgers, pizza, fried chicken, salads, grilled paninis and treats like ice cream and pop corn.
If you are gluten free like us, or have other dietary considerations they do have some options but you might struggle with what’s on offer.
BUT the great thing about Legoland Florida is it allows you to bring in your own food and drink. So to save some money and take care of any health issues bring your own.
They also have lockers at the front of the park so you don’t have to carry your supplies around all day.
Accommodation at Legoland Florida
Happy news for families, there are several accommodation options in Legoland, Florida.
Just choose the one that suits your vibe the most! We stayed at the newly opened beach retreat, but also had a quick look at the Legoland Hotel.
Legoland Beach Retreat
We stayed at the new Legoland Beach Retreat which opened in April 2017.
And just like our recent visit to Universal Studios Orlando, we prefer to stay on site which comes with many added benefits, one of the best being that you get early admission to the theme park!
Legoland Beach Retreat is a lakefront resort that features 83 beach-themed bungalows in a village-style layout.
Each brightly colored bungalow comes with cool Lego décor inside and out and are grouped into 13 sections named after popular Lego mini-figures.
Each bungalow centers around an outdoor play area within view of your bungalow, which is great in that you can kick back and relax on your patio and supervise while your kids play!
The other nice feature is that the bungalow has a separate children’s sleeping area, which gives you and your kids some separation!
We didn’t swim here, but they have the largest themed pool at Legoland Florida Resort with a sandy area and giant play structure for kids.
Regular activities are held around the pool including dance parties, hula hoop contests, volleyball, and sandcastle building.
Legoland Beach Retreat is conveniently located adjacent to the theme park and includes these benefits:
- Complimentary shuttle service to theme Park
- Free Wi-Fi in every bungalow
- Early admission to the theme park
- Complimentary parking in the resort’s main parking lot
- Convenient drive-thru check-in which allows you to check-in to your room without getting out of your car!
Your other option of course is the Legoland Hotel, which they say is 130 kid steps from the main entrance to the theme park.
This five-story, 152 room hotel gives you the choice of four Lego themed rooms:
- and Lego friends
Just like Legoland Beach Retreat, hotel guests enjoy:
- Early access to the park
- free full breakfast daily
- interactive play areas
- daily and nightly entertainment
- and a resort pool
Tickets for Legoland
You can buy your Legoland Florida tickets online through aResTravel and by doing so you can save money before arriving at the theme park.
Park Entry Only:
- Online Price: $ 79.99 adult, $74.99 child/Sr
- Gate Price: $93.99 adult, $88.99 child/Sr
Kids Stay and Play Free
Starting at $84 + tax per person.
- Includes FREE 2-day child Park tickets
- Based on family of 4 (2 adults, 2 children)
You can also buy a 1 day, 2 Day, Flexi and Combo tickets. Plus Annual Passes and Fast Track Passes.
Tips for Visiting Legoland Florida
- Arrive early. Remember when you stay at each of the on-site properties you get early access. But if you are staying off-site or drive in, still arrive early to get good parking.
- Plan out your visit. Prioritize what rides and attractions each of your kids want to experience and focus on those first. And check show times!
- When you enter Legoland, consider going to the back of the park and work your way forward. This will hopefully allow you to avoid the initial onslaught of the crowd and long lines at popular rides.
- If there are long lines at popular rides, consider coming back close to park closing time when the crowd has thinned out.
- Bring healthy snacks and water to keep your kids and thirst in check even if you do choose to eat lunch on-site.
- Consider the time of year you will be visiting and dress accordingly.
- If you do plan to base yourself in Orlando whilst you do Disney and Universal, you can add on Legoland Florida as a day trip as you can see and do everything at the park in one day!
- And if you are staying in Orlando and don’t have a car, there is a shuttle that provides round trip transportation from Orlando to Legoland. Pick-up location: I-Drive 360, 8401 International Drive. Price: $5 per person (plus tax). Pick up time: 9:00 a.m. Learn more here.
But consider making it a longer trip, staying overnight in Legoland Beach Retreat and visiting the next two places in Central Florida listed below.
2. Safari Wilderness Ranch
Looking for things to do in Central Florida involving wildlife? Then how about a safari.
Caroline and I spent 5 months backpacking through East Africa in 2003.
On that trip we went on some incredible safaris through Kruger National Park in South Africa, Etosha National Park in Namibia, and Masai Mara National Park in Kenya.
So when it comes to wildlife viewing we are hard to please.
Some places throw around the term “safari” very loosely and we always have our reservations about what it’s going to be like. And of course, there is no substitute to going on the real thing.
But let’s face it, Africa is a long flight from the US which costs a lot of money AND time. And not everyone is going to fulfill their African wildlife safari dream.
So places like Safari Wilderness in Central Florida definitely have their place.
Safari Wilderness was named one of the “10 Best Safaris in the U.S.” by Fodors.com, and we were pleasantly surprised.
This 260-acre preserve is surrounded by Florida’s Green Swamp, an 870 square mile pristine watershed that is source to
five of Florida’s finest rivers.
Go on a Safari in Florida
We went on a two hour customized vehicle safari that provided up-close encounters with wildlife such as ostrich, eland, zebra, kudu, water buffalo and other unique and endangered species in large herds!
And we got so up-close that we got to hand feed several of the animals.
Not only did we get the interaction with the animals, but our safari guide provided expert commentary and knowledge which was both interesting and educational for our kids!
Cost: $90 per person.
Tours are also available by kayak, horseback or by camelback.
Feed the Lemurs
We love Lemurs.
Recently we visited the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, North Carolina where we learned that Hollywood got it completely wrong (again) in Madagascar as King Julian really should be Queen Julie as the lemur family is matriarchal.
But we didn’t get up close and personal with the Lemurs there, so we were all excited about feeding them here.
We entered the ring-tailed lemur habitat at Safari Wilderness with a guide and hand feed grapes to a group of Lemurs. And it was beyond awesome!
Some of them gently touched our hands to get the grapes and they were playful yet polite.
This activity is limited to a few participants per day so plan to book ahead.
Cost: $25 per person.
3. Bok Tower Gardens
Looking for things to do in Central Florida that offer a slower pace after all the theme park craziness? This is one of the more relaxing places to go in Central Florida.
Bok Tower Gardens was voted “Florida’s Best Garden,” and this National Historic Landmark was dedicated in 1929 as a gift to the American people from Dutch immigrant and world peace advocate Edward Bok.
Our kids enjoyed the Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden which provided them the opportunity to experience 3-acres of nature play, plus interactive art and music discovery areas.
During our visit they learned how to make tie-dye prints.
After a play at Hammock Hollow we took a relaxing walk to see the Singing Tower.
The 205-foot neo-Gothic and art deco Singing Tower carillon is impressive and a must see.
Designed by famed architect Milton B. Medary, the Tower houses one of the world’s finest carillons. Concerts from the 60-bell carillon at 1 and 3 p.m. fill the Gardens daily.
Bok Tower Gardens sits on one of peninsular Florida’s highest points, providing a haven for rare plants and animals found nowhere else in the world.
Other activities include:
- Hiking trails
- Relaxing gardens
- Carillon concerts
- Blue Palmetto Café
- New boardwalk and outdoor kitchen.
You could spend anywhere from two hours here to half a day – depending on your interest level and time available.
Open 365 days a year from 8am to 5pm daily.