Dudley Do Right's Ripsaw Falls ride at Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida

Orlando is a fun year-round vacation destination, for both the young and young at heart. While Disney is an awesome once-in-a-lifetime experience, sometimes it is fun to do something different, especially if you have already been to the parks a time or 2. Whether you are a family seeking fun non-Disney attractions, a budget minded traveler seeking frugal entertainment, a couple seeking a luxurious getaway or honeymoon destination, or simply someone looking for non theme park alternatives as you have been to Disney too many times, there is plenty of fun to be had without stepping foot into Walt Disney World. After living in Florida for 3+ years with plenty of visits to both the theme parks and the entire Orlando metro, here is my first hand guide to the ultimate Orlando bucket list (besides Disney!).

Universal – the best theme park in Orlando

1. Enjoy movie themed fun at Universal Studios

Better than Disney in my opinion, Universal features features movie themed interactive rides (many 3D and motion simulator). Favorites include: Men in Black, Revenge of the Mummy, Simpsons, and E.T. Note – the shows are awesome – don’t miss The Blue Brothers & Universal Horror Make Up. Highlight: Rip Ride Rock It features the world’s first non inverting loop!

Best rides

Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida

2. Beat the heat at Islands of Adventure

Orlando’s best theme park, Islands, features many thrilling water rides, several Jurassic Park themed adventures, and the thrilling 67 mph Hulk Coaster (best ride in Orlando).

The Hulk Coaster at Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida

3. Take a trip through London via The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Enjoy themed Potter rides, butterbeer, character holograms, enchanting queues, wand choosing ceremonies, Hogwarts Castle, Hogemeased, sweet treats at Honeydukes, chocolate frogs, riding the Hogwarts Express, endless photo opps, and more!

Wizarding World guide

Diagon Alley at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida

4. Stay at a Universal resort

Universal resorts come with plenty of great amenities including shuttle service to and from the parks, fancy pools, and early admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. From the affordable family friendly Cabana Bay, to the luxurious Loews Sapphire, there is an option for everyone & every budget.

Cabana bay resort in Orlando, Florida

Disney fun without spending Disney prices!

5. Tour the extravagant Disney resorts

While staying at these resorts is super pricey, anyone can tour them for free. Simply walking in the lobby or dining at a restaurant is an experience in and of itself. Highlights include the savanna at Animal Kingdom Lodge, wooded trails at Wilderness Lodge, and MK fireworks viewing from the Contemporary.

Views of zebra from Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge in Orlando, Florida

6. See the resort hotels decorated for Christmas

No hotel does the holidays quite like Disney resorts. Not a surprise, considering the insane prices. From the grand trees, to the mesmerizing garland and poinsettias, this is a special time of the year. Wilderness Lodge is the coziest of all with a giant fireplace in the lobby.

Christmas at the Animal Kingdom Lodge

7. Shop at World of Disney

The ultimate store for anything Disney. The best time to shop is NOT when you are at the theme parks. Who wants to waste precious (and expensive) theme park time shopping? You can find anything here!

World of Disney -  Disney Springs

8. Discount hunt for souvenirs

Shops for anything Disney and Florida related at discount prices at the multitude of shops lining I-Drive. You cannot drive 5 minutes without seeing one.

Discount Disney gift shop on I-drive in Orlando, FL

9. Enjoy a character latte

Joffrey’s, the official specialty coffee of WDW, serves not only the best coffee in the city, but they also design adorable character lattes. What better way to celebrate than with a Mickey or Minnie in your cup. Located at Disney Springs.

Disney latte at Joffrey's in Orlando, Florida

10. Shop & dine at Disney Springs

One of the best ways to experience Disney without entering the parks. Lots of Disney themed stores, plus special entertainment, fun themed restaurants, House of Blues, a dine in theater, and more.

More to do at Disney Springs

Dinosaur Lego at Disney Springs

11. Invest in Disney art

Shop for a gorgeous Disney themed painting at The Art of Disney. Really, this store is just fun to browse around with all the amazing artistic creations. Located at Disney Springs.

Art of Disney store at Disney springs

Sweet Treats

12. Tempt your sweet tooth at Toothsome Chocolate Factory

Vacation is the ultimate time to drop your diet and indulge in a few treats you wouldn’t have at home. Toothsome at The Springs offers everything from decadent milkshakes and sundaes to truffles galore.

Chocolate brownie dessert at Toothsome at Universal City Walk in Orlando

13. Splurge on cereal pancakes at @ the Diner

If you love sweets and breakfast, you will want to plan a stop here once day. @ the Diner offers a tempting selection of treat style breakfast pancakes, with everything from fruity pebbles to oreo crunch.

Fruity pebble pancakes at @the Diner in Orlando, Florida

14. Feast on authentic French pastries

Whether you prefer savory breakfast fare like quiche, or a decadent chocolate croissant, Le Cafe de Paris offers authentic French fare along with one of the best al fresco dining experiences in the city.

Americano and chocolate croissant at Le Cafe de Paris in Orlando, Florida

15. Indulge in “good for you” bakery treats

This NYC originated bakery is a favorite at Disney Springs for good reason. It’s convenient, plus super allergy friendly (all treats GF and vegan), and everything is delicious! Pricey but worth a splurge!

GF and vegan treats at Erin McKenna's Bakery at Disney Springs

Fun in the sun!

16. Pirate themed mini golf

Pirates’ Cove is the best designed mini golf course in Orlando! I play here every time for the fun theme alone. As a bonus the course is super shady. Prices are quite affordable and it is centrally located!

Pirate's Cove mini golf in Orlando

17. Golf with gators!

Gator Golf is quite unique as you can see live gators on the course. Not the fanciest course, but a fun and cheap option for families looking to stick to a budget. Tip – Look on Groupon for deals.

Things to do in Orlando besides theme parks - Gator Golf in Orlando, Florida

When it is just too hot!

18. Cool off in a lazy river

Whether hitting one of Orlando’s top ranked water parks (Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon) or simply relaxing around your hotel’s pool, sometimes hitting the water is your best bet. Cabana Bay has an awesome lazy river and their prices are so affordable compared to other resorts.

Lazy river at Cabana Bay Universal Studios Orlando

19. Play mini golf in the dark!

Putting Edge offers a really cool black light jungle themed indoor mini golf course. A bit pricey, but a fun activity when the heat and humidity soar too high.

Glow-in-the-dark mini golf at Putting Edge in Orlando, Florida

20. Shop til you drop at The Florida Mall

As Orlando’s biggest shopping mall with over 250 stores, you will never get bored. Strolling around here in the cool AC (even if not shopping) means hours of fun even on the hottest days. Orlando Fashion & The Mall at Millenia are great too!

21. Put your old-school gaming skills to test

Dave and Busters is always a great time, even more so when it’s hot outside. Escape to the AC and test your skills at Skeeball, fishbowl toss, clown toss, and many other new & old arcade & carnival favorites. Also features a large bar with multiple flatscreens and a full service restaurant.

Dave and Busters in Orlando, Florida

Themed dining

22. Try the Indian Bread Service at Sanaa

Sanaa at Animal Kingdom Lodge is one of the most unique dining experiences in all of Orlando. This African/Indian restaurant serves amazing food and looks out into the resort savanna. Start with the Indian Bread service featuring several types of Naan served with a variety of savory and sweet dipping dips.

Indian bread service at Sanaa at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge

23. Dine at the world’s best theme park restaurant

Mythos, located at Islands of Adventure, repeatedly ranks as the world’s best theme park restaurant. The unique cave like design and cool views of the park make it a worthy stop after a long day on your feet! Try the amazing Pad Thai! Reservations recommended. Note – theme park tickets required.

Mythos at Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida

24. Splurge on really good mac & cheese as you listed to rock music

I am not a big fan of chains, but I love the food & rock n’ roll ambiance at Hard Rock Cafe. They serve the best (Twisted) mac and cheese anywhere. Also their flatbread and onion rings are amazing. Too bad they got rid of those amazing spring rolls.

Twisted mac and cheese at the Hard Rock Cafe

25. Enjoy tasty Greek food while watching live belly dancing

Taverna Opa is a fun Greek themed restaurant featuring a unique decor theme (a giant faux tree grows out of the dining room) and nightly belly dancing performances. Great pitas and falafel.

chicken gyro at Taverna Opa in Orlando

Local foodie hotspots

26. Indulge in Sweet Toast at CFS

This local Columbian coffeeshop serves great food in addition to great coffee. Best presentation in the metro hands down. Lots of great pastries & breakfast options (including numerous GF/vegan options), but the Sweet Toast is the ultimate winner.

Sweet toast and Americano at CFS Coffee in Orlando, Florida

27. Treat yourself to savory & sweet French favorites

Le Cafe de Paris offers a varied menu of savory favorites like quiche and crepes, as well as sweet staples like chocolate croissant and fruit tart. Bonus points for great espresso, plus a beautiful outdoor patio.

Americano and chocolate croissant at Le Cafe de Paris in Orlando, Florida

28. Get funky at a local coffeeshop

Drunken Monkey is Orlando’s best eclectic coffeehouse. The ambiance is fantastic – very eclectic & funky – and they serve great vegan food – omg the cheesy broccoli soup – I came back 3 times!

Drunken Monkey coffee shop in Orlando, Florida

29. Get creative with grilled cheese

Toasted in Winter Park spawned many imitations, but none compare. From Truffle Melt, to “As Gouda as it Gets,” so many interesting creations, all served on artisan bread. Pare with housemade roasted tomato soup & delicious fries.

Gluten free grilled cheese at Toasted in Winter Park, Florida

30. Feast on authentic Irish fare at Raglan Road

Florida’s most authentic Irish pub features a menu to please everyone, from traditional fish and chips to vegan shepherd’s pie! Great food and an even better ambiance, accompanied by live entertainment daily.

Vegan Sheprherds pie at Ragland Road in Orlando, Florida

Nightly entertainment

31. Shop & dine at Universal City Walk

Similar to Disney Springs, City Walk is Universal’s outdoor entertainment complex. There is lots to do here including a giant Universal store, many great restaurants, as well as entertainment (movies, mini golf).

Hard Rock Cafe at Universal City Walk

32. Sing with backup at Rising Star Karaoke

This fun & unique karaoke hot spot at City Walk allows you the unique opportunity to perform with a live band. A fun way to spend the night after a long day walking around Universal.

Citywalk at Universal CityWalk in Orlando, Florida

33. Bowl at Splitsville

Expensive, but trendy bowling alley at Disney Springs is great fun fo couples seeking a night out on the town. Great menu!

Splitsville Luxury Lanes at Disney Springs in Orlando, Florida

34. Dinner at Vivo

This CityWalk standout is a wonderful Italian restaurant. The ambiance is fun and modern, pasta is homemade, and the location is the perfect beginning point for a full night out!

Vivo Italian Kitchen at Universal CityWalk in Orlando, Florida

Unique experiences

35. Enjoy live Irish step dancing performances at Raglan Road

This gem in Disney Springs is one of the best Irish pubs in the US. Enjoy delicious authentic food at a real bar made in Dublin, Ireland, as you watch talented step dancers in action!

Irish step dancing at Ragland Road in Orlando, Florida

36. Ride the Orlando Eye

Soar 400 feet into the air way above the theme parks in an enclosed gondola. Great views of Central Florida via the tallest Ferris Wheel on the East Coast.

Views of Orlando via the Icon Wheel

37. Sample beverages at the Coca Cola Rooftop Bar

At Disney Springs, you can enjoy Coke floats, sample drinks from around the world, mix and match via the Coke Freestyle machine, and shop for Coca Cola related merchandise.

38. Shop one of the largest Lego stores

Let your imagination soar the largest Lego store in the US, conveniently located at Disney Springs. Lots of unique Disney Lego sets plus fun photo opps. Check out the creative Lego sculptures outside!

Lego Store Disney Springs Orlando

39. Shop for Disney holiday gems

Love Christmas and Disney? Definitely stop by Days of Disney at Disney Springs for more holiday merchandise you could possibly imagine including Mickey ornaments and festive decor galore.

Days of Disney Christmas decor - Disney Springs

Museums

40. Sample goodies at the World of Chocolate

Enjoy a tour of a working chocolate factory, complete with free samples! Also features over 20 monuments of famous landmarks, composed entirely of chocolate!

Statue of Liberty at World of Chocolate

41. Tour the largest collection of Tiffany stained glass pieces

The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art features the world’s most comprehensive collections of works by Louis Tiffany. A hidden gem for art lovers, located in beautiful Winter Park.

Tiffany glass museum in Winter Park, FL

42. See your favorite celebs “in person”

There is a small wax museum located at Icon Park, so if you are riding the Eye, you can add in the wax museum for a small extra fee. Small, but a great way to beat the heat as part of a day at Icon.

Jimmy Fallon at Madame Tussauds in Orlando, Florida

Nature…it’s not just theme parks

43. Rent a paddleboat at Lake Eola

Historic Lake Eola in downtown Orlando can be enjoyed via a leisurely paddleboat ride. You can also get in a light one mile workout, all while enjoying the various birds and lush greenery.

Orlando skyline views at Lake Eola

44. Bike, walk or jog around beautiful Lake Baldwin

This popular 2.5 mile loop will show you a more beautiful side to urban Orlando. The scenery is gorgeous and there are options for connecting to longer routes for those avid cyclists.

Scenic views from Lake Baldwin in Orlando, Florida

45. Get rustic at Tibet Butler Nature Preserve

At this gem (located just minutes from the Disney theme Parks), you can enjoy 3+ miles of hiking trails, bird watch, and even see some small forms of wildlife in action (keep an eye out for armadillos).

Tibet Butler Nature Preserve in Orlando, Florida

46. Alligator watching

Airboat rides are a fun non theme park activity to incorporate into your off days. A ride is the perfect way to feel like you are on vacation without going on park rides. For a free alternative, check out Circle B Bar Reserve in nearby Lakeland, featuring Alligator Alley hiking trail!

Alligator watching at Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland, Florida

Lakeside Serenity

47. Take a guided boat tour around the Winter park Chain of Lakes

If you are looking for something peaceful to do that feels miles away from the theme parks, look no further than the Scenic Boat Tour in Winter Park. This quaint ride is the perfect romantic day date.

Scenic boat tour in Winter Park, Florida

48. Stroll the Winter Park gardens

Winter Park, located just minutes from Orlando is an upscale suburb home to many small parks and gardens. Kraft Azalea and Mead Botanical are both free and feature great lake views & birdwatching. Also check out the beautiful Winter Park Main St, lined with unique shops and restaurants.

Beautiful moss trees at Kraft Azalea Parin in Winter Park, Florida

Budget family fun

49. Enjoy classic movie fun on the big screen

Take a short drive out to Lakeland (30 min) to one of the few remaining drive-in theaters in Florida. Silver Moon, a 75+ old vintage theater, offers affordable pricing, a great snack stand, & plenty of special events.

Hocus Pocus at Silver Moon Drive In

50. Plan a daytrip to the beach

It’s hard to spend all that money on an Orlando vacation and not check out the gorgeous Gulf Coast beaches. Pack a picnic lunch, your beach gear, and head over to Clearwater/St. Pete for a budget friendly day of fun-in-the-sun!

Quiet, laid-back Indian Rocks Beach

More helpful info

Best rides and attractiosn in Orlando

Save money in Orlando

Best affordable lodging in Orlando

Orlando besides theme parks

Fun for couples in Orlando

Best nature preserves in Orlando

Best theme restaurants in Orlando