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Let's say you have some extra time in Orlando after you have been to the theme parks, and all of their wonders. There is much more to see and do in Orlando. If you are coming from afar, and have been here before, or if you simply want a change of scene and pace from the rides and attractions, here are some great possibilities...
See the real Florida by going to north on Interstate 4 to exit 94 and then by way of 434 and Wekiva Springs Road , to Wekiwa Springs State Park and swim in the Spring there. It is Florida 's largest state park situated at the Spring where the Wekiva River begins. The Wekiva is part of the St John's River basin flowing northward toward Jacksonville and is considered to be the most unspoiled river in the state. Nearby is a canoe landing where for a reasonable price you can rent canoes and explore the river up close and personal, with all of its wildlife. And remember, wildlife in Florida is truly wild. Bear, alligators, otters, herons, turtles...and more.
Or, travel a bit further north on I-4 to Blue Springs State Park - in the winter months - for an added attraction of seeing the manatees up close and personal. These large, benign creatures are like Schmoos, and their peaceful ways will charm you. You can walk right down to the river and watch them drift toward the Springs which are warmer than their summertime ocean habitat.
Visit Winter Park -- Orlando’s posh old money suburb -- to see how the other half lives--by taking the boat tour of Winter Park's three contiguous lakes, an excursion that has been welcoming visitors since 1927. Famous sports figures and others have gorgeous homes along these lakes--and you can see them as they cannot be seen from the streets.
Then stroll along glamorous Park Avenue and have lunch at one of the great restaurants there, after which a visit to the Morse Museum is a must. They have the world's largest collection of L. C. Tiffany items, from the lamps, pottery and stained glass to a mock up of his dining room, as well as many other treasures from the Arts and Crafts period of American design. The paintings are also quite nice. Nearby if you have time is the Maitland Art Center, which also runs worthwhile exhibits and is itself a fantasy of oddly Mayan looking buildings and gardens.
Turn back the clock in Mount Dora . "I climbed Mount Dora " is the tongue in cheek slogan for this pretty but not hilly town about an hour northwest of the attractions. Still a popular winter destination for snowbirds, Mount Dora is a year round community of specialty shops and boutiques, galleries and restaurants. You might want to try lunch at the venerable Lakeside Inn (whose “new” wing was dedicated by then President Calvin Coolidge). If so, have their famous chicken pot pie. There are more craft, clothing and antiques shoppes than you can see in a day. Stroll and relax with not one theme character in sight.
Pet the dolphins and rays at SeaWorld. Some residents of Orlando think of SeaWorld as their favorite theme park, it is like an aquatic zoo and what makes it special is the interaction with the animals. The shows are well worth seeing, not just Shamu but the other less ballyhooed shows, too. It is the most kid and family friendly place around.
Go Spa-Hopping. Orlando's resort hotels feature some of the most prestigious names in the spa industry, including Canyon Ranch SpaClub at the Gaylord Hotel or the Spa at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes . Each spa has its own distinct personality and its own signature treatments. Don't worry if you are not staying at the hotels. All of them offer services to day visitors, and many even validate parking.
**Also see Off the Beaten Path page.