The below list is just part of a long list of free things to do in Orlando I recently came across on National Geographic Traveler magazine’s Web site.
Fitting for our magazine, I’ve highlighted their attractions section, but you can click to their site for other suggestions in the categories of art, culture, families, food/drink, outdoor, and theater/music.
Enjoy the sights and smells of tropical plants at A World of Orchids in Kissimmee. The 22,500-square-foot (2,090-square-meter) conservatory has orchids as well as many other species of exotic flora. Walk along the path and admire natural exhibits with flowers from Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Australia, and Central and South America. Closed Sundays.
Walk through A World of Orchids, a huge conservatory filled with tropical plants from around the world.
Take a walk in Big Tree Park, and visit Florida’s oldest resident, “the Senator.” At 118 feet (38 meters) tall and approximately 3,500 years old, it is one of America’s oldest bald cypress trees. Amble along the boardwalk or bring along lunch to eat at one of the park’s many picnic tables.
Stroll along Disney’s Boardwalk, a re-creation of a 1930s-style Atlantic coastal village. The 45-acre (18-hectare) waterfront district is known for its nightclubs and entertainment hot spots, but all visitors can enjoy the many street musicians, magicians, and performers for free.
Walk the streets of the picture-perfect town of Celebration. The town, conceived by Disney, is a blend of historic-themed architecture and modern technology. Admire the old-fashioned properties and let the kids play in the interactive fountain. Stop by the farmers market on Sunday mornings or check out the many free events (author readings and signings) offered by Reading Trout Books. Visitors can even see (fake) snow falling in the winter months.
You don’t need a Disney World ticket to enjoy Disney shops and entertainment. Stroll the streets of Downtown Disney Marketplace for an array of boutiques and eateries for every budget. Check out their Festival of the Masters (November), an arts-and-crafts event where kids can create their own chalk masterpieces. Watch glassblowers at Arribas Brothers; visit the 4,400-square-foot (409-square-meter) Lego Imagination Center to compete in a “beat-the-clock” building contest, or see a 12-foot (3.6-meter) T. rex and 30-foot (9-meter) sea serpent, both made of thousands of pieces of one of America’s favorite toys.
Even if you’re not in the park, the Magic Kingdom fireworks can be seen from other areas. Leave your car in the main parking lot and take the free tram to the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC) for the best up-close views of the nightly fireworks. If you are staying in a Disney-operated resort, hop on the monorail for free and get off at the Magic Kingdom entrance to watch the show.
Just north of Orlando is the largest flea market in the U.S. Fleaworld and Funworld have more than 1,700 vendors selling bargain-priced items. The venues showcase acrobatic shows, circus and magic acts, and exotic animals. Fleaworld is open Friday-Sunday; Funworld is open on weekends only. Both have free admission.
Each year, thousands of tourists who visit Orlando go to Lake Wales, Florida, to see if the old Indian Legend of Spook Hill is true. A sign marks the spot where you should stop your car, put it in neutral, and watch as your car rolls uphill.
Just south of the Orlando International Airport is Old Town, a unique amusement park and shopping area. Over 700 motorcyclists rally through the streets on Thursday nights. On Saturday nights Old Town comes to life with a vintage-car parade with over 300 cars. While the park offers live entertainment every night at 7:30 p.m., its Saturday night show (7 p.m.) plays exclusively ’50s and ’60s rock ‘n’ roll. Visitors must buy tickets for the amusement rides, but admission to Old Town, and its concerts and car shows, is free.
All Orlando visitors can enjoy free nightly Italian music performances at the picturesque Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando. The hotel has been recognized as one of the most elaborate themed hotel environments in the United States.
Even if you’re not the gambling type, you can take a boat ride aboard the Sterling Casino Lines for absolutely no cost. The luxurious five-deck, 75,000-square-foot (6,967-square-meter) Ambassador II leaves from Port Canaveral (Terminal #2B) every day at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. Guests can watch Vegas-style entertainment, listen to live Caribbean drum music, and enjoy a complimentary deli-style buffet during the five-hour cruise. Gamblers will also enjoy free cocktails. The cruise is only for those 21 and up, so leave the kids with grandma. Reservations recommended.