If you’re wrestling with which warm destination you should flee to this winter, consider Orland, Florida. Orlando is mostly known for being the home to Disney World, but it is so much more than that. Orlando is a place to you can do anything, from hanging out with alligators to having a white Christmas in 65 degree weather. Mickey Mouse may have made Orlando famous, but there are a few more reasons to visit the city.
1. You can make friends with gators
Black Hammock Adventures in east Orlando is a great way to explore Florida’s wildlife. The airboat rides are a great way to see the alligator population of Lake Jesup, or you can go to the free wildlife exhibit and hold a live baby alligator for a picture. You can also meet Squishy the python, Mike the blue and gold macaw, and a group of American Alligators named “Hammy” and “Peaches.” Black Hammock also offers live music at its deck party on weekends, and gator tail at the Black Hammock Restaurant (don’t worry – it’s not Hammy’s tail).
2. The campgrounds are unlike anything you’ll find elsewhere
If you love camping, you don’t have to let the winter weather deter you - you can go down to the Orlando Winter Garden Campgound. Whether you are traveling with a trailer, pop-up trailer, motor home, or camper, the campground will provide you with the basics like water and electricity. They also have a few extra perks if you’re not set on roughin’ it, like cable, wifi, two pools, and a fishing pond. The hours are yours to do with what you like, but every day has at least one activity offered, like arts and crafts or adult lounge bingo. You’ll be close enough to Disney to go visit if you want, but while you’re at the campground full of pine trees it will feel like you’re a world away.
3. You don’t have to pay to see some unique works of art
Orlando’s CityArts Factory is the city’s largest arts and cultural venue, with six independent galleries and a photography studio full of local and international art pieces. Admission is free from 11am to 6pm on Tuesday through Saturday, and the work varies from paintings of male underwear models whose heads have been replaced with that of a kitten, to a recreation of the Mona Lisa composed of tiny photos, and even skateboards which have painted portraits of classic monsters like Frankenstein and the Wolf Man. You can even buy the artwork, most of which is priced around $200 or lower. The exhibits change monthly, so there is always new talent to admire as you wander through with a beer or glass of wine, and when you’re done you can head to the building’s comedy club.
4. You’ll have the warmest white Christmas ever
Okay, so maybe you are in Orlando for the great weather but you really want to have you white Christmas. All you have to do is take a short drive to Celebration, Florida. The town itself is charming with retro-themed restaurants and shops, like the Enchanted Boutique and the Once Upon A Time kid’s toy store. But starting the weekend after Thanksgiving, manufactured snow swirls through the air from 6 to 9pm every weekend. Leave your snow pants at home – the 70 degree weather won’t affect this “snow,” but it will look downright magical amidst the singing Christmas carolers. There’s even synthetic ice you can go ice-skating on! The evening snow continues on weekends through New Year’s Eve, so whenever you visit you can revel in the wonderful absurdity of snow in Florida.
5. You’ll finally get to fulfill your childhood dream of becoming an astronaut (well, almost)
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex is a great insider’s look at the space program. You can take a bus tour out to see the space shuttle’s launch pad, and visit Firing Room 4 which has controlled every launch since 2006. For lunch you can reserve Lunch with an Astronaut, where you can eat with a veteran NASA astronaut while they tell you stories about space and answer your questions. Short of becoming an astronaut, there’s no better way to get to know the space program.