Southern Belle in Training

Fashion, Travel & Lifestyle Blog || Est. 2012 || Virginia Beach, VA

March 15, 2023

TRAVEL GUIDE: Things To Do in Orlando, FL (That Aren't Disney)

      I am freshly back from a fun weekend in Orlando, FL! My boyfriend Ryan and I took a long weekend trip there in honor of his upcoming 30th birthday, which is next week. (We did the trip a little early as I'll be at a wedding over his actual birthday weekend.) We had an absolutely wonderful time!! I had a lot of fun planning the itinerary for this trip. I was pleased to find there is truly so much to do in the Orlando area that isn't related to Disney World! Orlando is a great weekend trip destination, even if you aren't visiting or staying at Disney. There's still so much great stuff to explore! 

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     I do want to give a disclaimer that I have nothing against Disney World, and I've enjoyed visiting in the past. I've been four times: twice as a very young child, as well as once in high school and once in college. I've very much enjoyed each of these trips! I'm not a huge fan of Disney movies as an adult, but I do feel like the parks at Disney World have something for everyone to enjoy, whether you are or aren't a big fan of their animated films. I would still like to go back to Disney a few more times in the future decades of my life. But we weren't as interested in doing Disney stuff on this trip for a few reasons. First and foremost, the cost! While none of the Florida theme parks are cheap, the cost to visit a Disney Park is truly absurd. Same goes for staying at Disney hotel. The Disney Parks are also quite far from most other attractions in Orlando, and since this was such a short trip, we didn't want to be spending too much time getting to that part of town. If Ryan and I ever get to do Disney together someday, I would like to save up to be able to stay at a Disney hotel and make that the whole trip focus. I'd also use a Disney travel agent to book everything, as I know that's the best route for getting the most bang for your buck! 

      Anyways, here are some great things to visit and explore in Orlando that aren't at Disney: 

      Explore Park Avenue in nearby Winter Park, FL - I posted on Instagram a couple months before our trip and asked for recommendations for non-Disney things to do in the Orlando area. I got an overwhelming number of responses recommending visiting the charming little town of Winter Park, which is just north of Orlando. We spent the first morning and afternoon of our trip in Winter Park, and I could've spent so much more time here. I loved it! Park Avenue is the main street in Winter Park, and you can easily spend a day just on this one street alone. I think I'm going to write a separate Travel Diary with our favorite restaurants in Orlando, but I will tell you that two of my very favorite meals of the whole trip did happen on Park Avenue in Winter Park! We had the most phenomenal breakfast at Briarpatch, and an incredible lunch at Bosphorous Turkish Cuisine. 100% recommend both!

     There are a lot of amazing shops and boutiques on Park Avenue to check out! Some of my favorite stores like Lilly Pulitzer, Talbots and Lululemon are there. There are also tons of fun local boutiques to check out, which I really enjoyed! I really liked browsing at Dear Jane and Arabella. My favorite store of all was finally getting to shop at Gator Lilly's! Gator Lilly's is Lilly Pulitzer resale boutique with a few locations in Central Florida. As a huge Lilly fan, I've wanted to shop there for a long time now! They have a location right in Winter Park. It definitely lived up to my expectations! I could've bought so much, but I ended up buying one dress, a never-used Lilly water bottle, and a Kate Spade purse (they also carry a few other preppy brands besides for Lilly)!

     Winter Park truly has the most charming downtown district. I was in heaven! And Ryan also enjoyed seeing exploring it also. While our hotel for this trip was in Orlando, had we gotten to spend a night in Winter Park I would've looked into the Park Plaza Hotel or the Alfond Inn at Rollins College.

     Go for a ride on the Winter Park Scene Boat Tour - This was by far my favorite thing that we did on our whole trip!! (And Ryan said it was his second favorite thing.) The Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour takes passengers on a one-hour guided tour of three of the large natural lakes in Winter Park. All the lakes are connected by beautiful man-made canals. The canals were actually my favorite part of the trip, as it feels like you're riding through the jungle! It reminded me of the famous Jungle Cruise ride at Magic Kingdom in Disney.

      Our tour guide and captain, Tom, was fantastic and taught us so much about the history of Winter Park and the cool stories behind some of the giant lakefront mansions that you see from the boat. I can't recommend doing this enough! Tours are first come, first serve and run every day of the year (execept Christmas Day) from 10-4. We got there early for the 10am tour and were glad we did it early before it got too hot! We got there about 45 minutes early, which I'd recommend doing as it's a popular activity. The website said cash only, so we brought cash (although I think I did see some people paying with cards?). 

      Take a walk through the Mead Botanical Garden - This is a free public park and botanical garden that's under two miles away from downtown Winter Park. We decided to go for a stroll here on our way out of town. They have some really cool outdoor displays of recycled artwork, like the flamingo and mirrors pictured below. This very much feels like a free park and garden... so don't have your hopes too high that this will be as nice as a botanical garden that charges admission. But if you're already in Winter Park for the day, I think this is a fun stop on your way out of town!

     Visit the Universal Parks and Universal CityWalk - Disney World isn't the only home to theme parks in Orlando! The Universal Resort Complex is home to three Universal theme parks (soon to be four) and eight hotels, plus an entertainment district that's free and open to the public called CityWalk. I'd eaten at a restaurant in CityWalk and stayed at a Universal hotel on a previous Orlando trip in 2016, but I'd never been to one of their theme parks. On this trip, Ryan and I did a day at Universal Studios instead of Disney! (I do believe the tickets were about $50 cheaper than Disney tickets for the same day.) We also ate a few meals at CityWalk and one at a Universal hotel on this trip. If you want the theme park experience but with more of an "adult" feel, or if you're just really not into anything Disney related, consider spending some time at Universal, whether their parks, CityWalk, or eating or staying at their own resorts! The best meal that we had within Universal was at Bice restaurant at the Loews Portofino Resort (last picture). 

      Visit the Harry P. Leu Botanical Garden - This is Orlando's main botanical garden! (Much bigger and fancier than the Mead Garden in Winter Park.) While I didn't get to visit on this most recent trip, my dad, myself and my friend Caroline enjoyed a lovely visit to this garden on our 2016 Orlando trip!! (I couldn't find many pictures in my iPhoto library from that day of our trip, but I did grab this one from my dad's Facebook- ha!) I loved this botanical garden and remember especially enjoying all of the tropical flowers and plants that flourish in the Orlando climate! If Ryan and I had one more day of our trip this past weekend, I might have suggested we check this out.

     Other non-Disney things to do in Orlando that I haven't done yet - Here are some other things that were recommended to me that I haven't gotten a chance to do!

  • Watch an Orlando Magic home game 
  • Visit ICON Park (another large entertainment complex featuring things like a ferris wheel and an aquarium)
  • Visit the Morse Museum in Winter Park
  • Visit the Orlando Museum of Art
  • Play mini golf at Pop Stroke (My friend Michelle recommended this as a really unique Orlando mini golf spot. I would've loved to do this if we'd had one more day on this trip!)

     If you've spent time in Orlando or lived there and also have some fun and creative non-Disney recommendations to add to my list, please leave them in the comments. 'll share a recap of the restaurants we ate at and loved in my next Travel Diary blog post! 

     God Bless,

      xoxo Annaliese

1 comment

  1. Wow - you did so much during your time in Orlando! I used to live two hours away, and (embarrassingly) haven't experienced most of these attractions. Next time I'm back in the area I'll have to correct that!

    I'm so glad to see you ate at Bosphorous though - it's so, so delicious!



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