Continued from Region 4 East Central Florida:
At the center of Walt Disney World’s shopping, entertainment and nightlife is Disney Springs, formerly called Downtown Disney, extensively renovated and re-themed to resemble an early-20thcentury Florida town. Morimoto Asia, the Boathouse and Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar are all new additions in the expansion to the more than 70 shops, restaurants and clubs. Disney’s BoardWalk and ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex are big draws for strolling at night or watching sporting events.
SeaWorld Orlando is a wonderful place to be entertained while learning more about killer whales, dolphins, sea lions and other marine creatures. One of Orlando’s best roller coasters is here: Kraken begins with dangling feet and a plunge from 15 stories, reaching a speed of 65 mph before turning upside down seven times. Two other thrill rides are Manta and Journey to Atlantis. The park also includes Discovery Cove by SeaWorld. Discovery Cove is a reservations-only tropical park where guests can swim and interact with dolphins, tropical fish, sharks and stingrays.
Aquatica, SeaWorld’s Water Park, includes a rapids ride, wave pool and lazy river.
Other area attractions include the Holy Land Experience, a living Biblical museum, and the Orlando Science Center downtown. On International Drive is the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium and the new I-Drive 360 entertainment complex, including the 400-foot Orlando Eye observation wheel and Sea Life Aquarium.
After adventure in Orlando theme parks, slow things down just to the north in Seminole County, where the Wekiva River flows through the shade of a semi-tropical forest. Wekiwa Springs State
Park, located at the headwaters of the river, provides for horseback riding, fishing, bird watching and nature hiking on 13 miles of trails. A canoe trip is the best way to experience the river and several canoe outfitters operate nearby.
South of Orlando in Kissimmee-St. Cloud, events like the semiannual Silver Spurs Rodeo, the annual February Osceola County Fair, and Kissimmee Valley Livestock Show give the Osceola County area a more laid-back atmosphere.
Other Kissimmee-area attractions include the Kissimmee Air Museum, Gatorland, and Old Town, a dining, shopping and entertainment complex home to a weekly classic car show.
Drive due east out of south Orange County on the Beachline Expressway to Florida’s Space Coast, which includes Cocoa Beach, Cape Canaveral, Melbourne/Palm Bay and Titusville. This
area allows visitors a chance to spend sunny days on the beach, learn about space exploration at the Kennedy Space Center and commune with nature at Canaveral National Seashore and the
140,000-acre Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge, an overlay of the space center, was established in 1963 as a buffer zone for rocket launches. The coastal site is a major wintering area for migratory birds, including 16 currently listed as federally threatened or endangered. At Kennedy Space Center, visitors can hear veteran NASA pilots tell their stories at the Astronaut Encounter or view the history of space travel through exhibits and actual rockets.
Visitors heading north out of Orlando toward the Atlantic coast and some of Florida’s world-famous beaches actually drive East on I-4. Consider stopping to ride a zip line at Zoom Air Adventure Park at the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford or visiting DeLand, which features a thriving downtown that was honored with a national Main Street community award. Visitors can stroll along a charming row of quaint shops, boutiques and cafes. Nearby, three state parks and a national wildlife refuge offer nature encounters. For those seeking excitement off the ground, Skydive DeLand is “where the world comes to skydive.”
Just a short drive further and you can escape to the relaxing sands of New Smyrna Beach, 13 miles of pristine beach popular for families with small children. The town’s gentle charm, historic architecture and water views have earned it praise as “Old Florida.” When the sun sets, New Smyrna Beach offers quaint restaurants and a variety of theatrical and musical performances. Events are often held at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, which draws aspiring artists in many disciplines from across the country.
For a change of scenery, the Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve offers hiking, biking, horseback riding, wildlife viewing, a canoe launch, boardwalk and observation tower.
For a touch of whimsy, take the kids to visit Snow White’s Cottage, a charming replica built on the 175-acre Gamble Place estate in Port Orange. Anglers will find a variety of great fishing opportunities nearby in the Atlantic Ocean and Halifax River.
Visit the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach for a unique combination of art, science and history. Here, families can view 17th-century American art and see Florida’s prehistoric Giant Ground Sloth skeleton. A state-of the-art digital Planetarium allows you to explore the cosmos.
Alternating between secluded and busy stretches of sand, some of which you can still drive on, Daytona Beach area offers plenty of family recreation and attractions, with beach vendors offering food and motorbike rentals. Don’t miss the Daytona Beach Boardwalk and Pier.
For a break from the beach, enjoy the family water park Daytona Lagoon, golf at LPGA International, or take a racetrack tour at Daytona International Speedway. Events at the Speedway draw visitors year-round, including the Rolex 24 in January, the Daytona 500 and Daytona 300 in February, and Bike Week and the Daytona Flat Track in March.
The Daytona Beach area also offers historical sites with surprising twists. At Dunlawton Sugar Mill Botanical Gardens in Port Orange visitors can explore extensive botanical gardens surrounding the ruins of an 1832 plantation sugar mill. A later attempt at a roadside attraction on the site, called Bongoland, resulted in huge dinosaur statues being left in the gardens as well.
Ormond Beach, in Volusia County at the region’s northern tip, was once a playground for America’s early millionaires, including oil magnate John D. Rockefeller. The city played host in 1903 to Florida’s first auto races on its smooth, hard-packed beaches, earning it the title the “Birthplace of Speed.” Today, in addition to the Birthplace of Speed Park, Ormond Beach offers quiet beachside vacations and tours of The Casements, Rockefeller’s former winter home and the current Ormond Beach cultural center and park. The 30 miles of natural scenery along the Ormond Scenic Loop, called “The Loop” by locals, draws motorcyclists from around the world.