A family's getaway to explore Kissimmee's Top 10 Attractions
It was that time of year again: our annual family trip to Kissimmee. Our four-person pack has been spending a week in this epicenter of entertainment for nearly a decade now, and my husband and I have watched our two sons grow from toddlers to teens amidst the area's roller coasters and waterslides. And yet, each year brings new adventures to discover and explore. This year, we decided to re-visit some family favorites and check out some new ones for the first time. It became an itinerary of 10 can't-miss attractions.
On a sunny Saturday, we checked into our resort and sped off to Gatorland, a 110-acre theme park known as the "Alligator Capital of the World." Driving up to the entrance, iconic gator jaws and all, you might think that Gatorland is just another attraction; however, Gatorland is actually one of the world's most unique wildlife preserves, where hundreds of gators laze the day away. There is also a free-flight aviary, petting zoo and a picturesque alligator-breeding marsh surrounded by a lovely boardwalk that's perfect for a family nature hike.
I could have spent hours by the marsh, but the kids had other plans for our family: we zipped over it on the Screamin' Gator Zip Line, a one-of-a-kind zip experience featuring five extreme zip lines that took our giddy group to seven platforms throughout the park. I have to admit; there is nothing so thrilling as zipping over alligators.
2. Old Town and Fun Spot
Then it was off for a quick bite before heading to Old Town and Fun Spot, which are separately ticketed parks right next to each other on Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway. We've been to Old Town many times before and have decided that we love these places. Park your car and both Old Town and Fun Spot are only a short walk apart.
For hours we dashed from the bumper cars to Happy Days Family Fun Track go-karts, stopping only to scarf down snow cones and caramel apples. The boys challenged each other to Skee Ball in the arcade and tested their shootin' skills at Rootin & Tootan's Shootin' Alley.
Then it was off to Fun Spot for speeding go-kart races and more dipping and dashing midway rides thanks to Fun Spot's unlimited armband that we had attached to our wrists. We raced along the legendary Vortex, a four-story-high go-kart racetrack, for a ferocious fight for first place as if we were on the Daytona Speedway. Finally, we closed out the night at the park's most thrilling experience: the SkyCoaster.
Part skydiving, part hang-gliding thrill ride, the Skycoaster costs an extra $20 per person, but the adrenaline rush we all got from the 300-foot flight followed by a 150-foot freefall was more than worth it.
Giddy but exhausted, my sons couldn't believe this was just day one of our trip!
3. Forever Florida
The next day, it was off to Forever Florida, a sprawling nature preserve about 40 minutes outside Kissimmee. On one hand, this adventure park is a great place to get in touch with Florida's wide-open natural landscape, which can be traversed via an EcoSafari or on horseback. On the other hand, Forever Florida has adrenaline-filled offerings including the Rattlesnake, a 1,000-foot (305-meters) long zip line rollercoaster that sends riders flying through the air, at 20-mph, above the flora and fauna below.
There's also Panther Pounce, a 68-foot-high challenge tower where brave jumpers leap into the air for a controlled-but-rapid descent to the ground below. And then there's Peregrine Plunge, the fastest and longest single, straightaway zip line in Florida.
Needless to say, we heroically tackled all three attractions before heading to the resort pool after a full day of fun. The boys happily splashed each other, and after some family downtime, our beds were calling our names.
4. Hot air balloon ride
With a good night's sleep to spur us on, we awoke the next morning before the sunrise. There was a good reason for this: we were going to go on a hot air balloon ride-they take off daily when the weather permits.
Bleary eyed and still yawning, we arrived at the checkpoint to see a dozen balloons beginning to inflate in the still morning air. Once on board, we slowly made our ascent for an hour-long ride over the Orlando area.
There wasn't a sound to be heard except for the occasional blast from the air balloon as we glided through the sky, high above the treetops. From about 1,000 feet above the tree line, we caught sight of deer and gasped as the morning sun painted the skyline with orange and pink hues.
Back on land, we feasted on a Champagne brunch (with juice for the boys) before hopping into the passenger van back to our cars. It was such an unforgettable morning.
5. & 6. Wild Florida and airboat rides
We still had the whole day ahead of us, so we decided to check out Wild Florida. Located about 45 minutes from Kissimmee, this picturesque space features a wildlife park and day and night airboat tours where guests get glimpses of the wildlife that make their home in the onsite swamps, marshes and rivers.
Even after our experience at Gatorland, we couldn't get enough alligators-luckily there were plenty to behold as we sped across the water in our airboat. We love airboat rides and have enjoyed these speedy, swampy tours with all of Kissimmee's nearby outfitters on our annual trips, including Kissimmee Swamp Tours and Boggy Creek Airboat Rides, all of which are an easy drive from Kissimmee.
7. Fantasy Surf
A rare day of rain descended on us the next day, but we weren't troubled because we had plenty of indoor fun at our fingertips. We set our sights on Fantasy Surf, a true-to-life surfing simulator experience in Kissimmee. Inside, we took turns hopping on the FlowRider, where we perfected surfing and kneeboarding as 15,000 gallons of water rushed from the "surf simulator" at about 30 miles per hour.
We each had our share of wipeouts; surprisingly, that was almost the best part. When you fall, the trampoline-like surface under the water gently bounces you to the side of FlowRider, so you can hop out and try again. Back in the car, our oldest son announced his plans to be a professional surfer.
8. Medieval Times
That night, we had our choice of a slew of Kissimmee-area dinner shows, including Capone's Dinner & Show, Pirate's Dinner Adventure, Sleuths Mystery Dinner Show and the Outta Control Dinner Show, but we opted for our tried-and-true favorite: Medieval Times.
We love the way this show transports us to a charming castle's Grand Ceremonial Arena in the 11th century, where a jousting tournament between knights and a gluttonous feast ensues. For hours, we cheered on our knight (different areas of the arena root for different knights) and watched with awe as each performed magnificent equestrian drills on beautiful Andalusian Stallions. All the while, our "wench" ensured our plates and cups were full.
9. & 10. Orlando Tree Trek and Chocolate Kingdom
With each passing day, some spent relaxing by the pool, our vacation slowly drifted by. We had visited our favorite attractions, but were pleased to see two new additions-we had to check them out. First, we headed to Orlando Tree Trek, an incredible aerial-adventure course featuring zip lines, nets, Tarzan swings and other fun obstacles. Perfect for all ages, the course challenged our balance, strength and nerves as we traversed the adult course's zip lines, swings, ladders, nets and cable bridges. This was such a fabulous escapade that we couldn't wait to do it again next year.
Finally, it was time to make me happy at Chocolate Kingdom, which promised to satisfy every chocoholic. Besides a shop with dozens of varieties of chocolate, the best part of Chocolate Kingdom is the factory tours, which begin daily at 11am. The 45-minute Factory Adventure Tour gave us the chance to learn all about how chocolate transforms from a bean to a bar. We even got the chance to create our own customized chocolate bar.
As we headed home at the close of our week of fun and connection, we chatted about our favorite experiences and playfully argued about which had been our best year in Kissimmee. I feel like this year was the best year; although, I suppose they're all perfect in a different way. We'll never get tired of our annual Kissimmee vacation-maybe next year we'll explore our top 15 attractions!