Let’s be honest. When it comes to planning a vacation to sunny Central Florida, most people immediately think of its world-renowned theme parks: Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Busch Gardens, SeaWorld, and more.
What many people don’t realize, however, is that Central Florida is actually home to nine sprawling counties, each with interesting activities that go beyond roller coasters and fanciful Disney princesses.
Want to see a different side of Central Florida? Below, check out all of the cool and new things going on in Polk County, located between Orlando and Tampa. We promise, none of them disappoint.
Become a “Ninja” at the new LEGO® NINJAGO® World
Spanning 150 acres, LEGOLAND® Florida Resort maintains its reputation as the largest LEGOLAND Park in the world. It has more than 50 rides, shows and attractions, a botanical garden, tons of restaurants and shops, a 152-room LEGOLAND Hotel, and since last April, a whimsical lakefront resort with 83 single-story beach bungalows called LEGOLAND Beach Retreat.
Not surprisingly, jaw-dropping LEGO models can be found throughout the property’s 11 themed park zones, which - thanks to an expansion that finished this past January now includes LEGO® NINJAGO World.
At this martial arts kingdom, kids ages 2-12 can “become the ninja” as they help build the NINJAGO monastery at “Zane’s Temple Build”. Next, master the ancient art of Spinjitzu at “Kai’s Spinners", before scaling up “Cole’s Rock Climb". Then, hone their reflexes at “Jay’s Lightning Drill,” and bring it all together at the park’s dark, 3-D ride, LEGO NINJAGO The Ride.
Feed the lemurs at Safari Wilderness
Can’t make it to the Serengeti? Visit Central Florida’s Safari Wilderness instead. With its dramatic landscapes, lush wetlands, open grasslands and exotic animals, it’s no wonder this 260-acre preserve has been named one of the “10 Best Safaris in the U.S.” The property is surrounded by Florida’s Green Swamp, which sources five of Florida’s finest rivers, and can be explored by safari vehicle, on camelback, on horseback, or by the attraction's new kayak tours.
Up for a truly wild experience? Add a hand feeding experience to your safari tour, so you can follow a guide into the ring-tailed lemur habitat and hand-feed these adorable primates some grapes.
Hit a “hole in one” at Streamsong® Black
Streamsong® Resort has been a highly acclaimed golf spot in Central Florida since its debut in 2013, and now, it’s adding a third new course to ogle.
Designed by famed course architect Gil Hanse, Streamsong Black will open at the end of September 2017.
Truly unique in Florida, this dazzling par-73 course will boast sand ridges reminiscent of the Sand Belt Region of Australia, beautiful rolling hills, a two-acre putting course, a free-flowing practice area, and a brand new clubhouse and Bone Valley Tavern restaurant.
When it opens, Streamsong Black will join a list of 40-plus diverse and prestigious golf courses in Polk County—reaffirming Central Florida as the Sunshine State’s premier golf destination.
Give your little ones a taste of nature at Bok Tower Gardens
Voted “Florida’s Best Garden,” this National Historic Landmark features a 205-foot neo-Gothic and art deco "Singing Tower” carillon, 700 acres of gardens and conservation lands, and a Mediterranean-style 1930s winter retreat called “Pinewood Estate.” A haven for rare plants and animals, these gardens are one of Florida’s most spectacular sites.
Bok Tower Gardens recently completed a major expansion project and opened a beautiful, 2.7-acre garden, “Hammock Hollow,” just for kids.
In addition to the property’s daily carillon concerts, hiking trails, relaxing gardens, Blue Palmetto Café, an all-new boardwalk, and wild, pollinator and edible gardens, Hammock Hollow offers kids cooling water features and interactive art and music discovery areas where they can play all day.
Experience glamorous camping at Westgate River Ranch Resort
There’s no denying glamping has been a trend for a few years now. But did you ever think you’d be able to glamp in Florida? Thanks to Westgate River Ranch Resort, now you can.
The largest “dude ranch” east of the Mississippi, Westgate River Ranch sits on 1,700 lush acres of Florida cattle lands. It has horseback riding, airboat rides, zip lining, swimming, golf, a petting farm, nature hikes, trap and skeet shooting, a mechanical bull, hayrides, cookouts, a full-service marina, a championship rodeo on Saturday nights, and now, brand new accommodations they're dubbing “Luxe Teepees.”
Each teepee can sleep up to four guests in 651 square feet of living space, and features such amenities as a double-sided stone hearth fireplace, leather chairs, a cowhide ottoman, luxury linens, plush towels, and rocking chairs on a private deck. The private bathroom even includes a porcelain enameled clawfoot bathtub and shower.
Prefer to dine in? You’ll have your own propane grill, a microwave and a mini refrigerator; a dining table and chairs to eat at; and a dedicated concierge team to assist with any needs. So really... these aren’t your average teepees.
When you go:
Get there: Both Tampa and Orlando are approximately 60 minutes driving time from the centre of Polk County.
- Air Canada, Air Transat and WestJet all fly direct between Toronto Pearson and Orlando
- Air Canada and WestJet fly direct between Toronto Pearson and Tampa
- From Vancouver, reach Orlando via a connecting flight in Toronto, Dallas/Ft. Worth or Houston
- From Vancouver, reach Tampa via a connecting flight in Phoenix, Dallas/Ft. Worth or Chicago.
Get discounted entry: Central Florida’s Visitor Information Center sells discounted tickets to many attractions.
Bundle to save: Save on accommodations, check out current holiday promotions here.
Ready to plan your Central Florida getaway?
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