Within a short drive of Minnie, Winter the Dophin and E.T. are dozens of less-taxing activities than actually taking a family themepark vacation. Some favorites with those who have burned out on Fastpasses and fireworks, all scattered around Central Florida, include the following 12 daylong activities.
1. Orlando Science Center (888/OSC-4FUN) is one museum where pre-schoolers are encouraged to touch everything!
2. Explorations V Children’s Museum (863/687-3869) is another museum with the motto “Please Touch.”
3. Hear the Bells of Bok Towers (863/676-1408), one of the country’s largest and oldest carillons located within the 205-acre garden at the Historic Bok Sanctuary. These gardens were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. of Central Park, New York fame. Come meet 126 species of birds, the threatened gopher tortoise and more wildlife on the grounds and in the bog. Stop by the Visitor Center to pick up a themed reading basket with stories to peruse under the trees, or stroll the nature observatory, sandbox or butterfly garden. Near the reflecting pools, the 60-bell carillon performs concerts daily at 1pm and 3pm (and recorded excerpts every half-hour) from an ornately decorated 205-foot-tall tower.
4. Visit the Gift Shop at Chalet Suzanne (800/433-6011), where the soups, gourmet treats, and stunning tile collections of one of Florida’s most delightful and eccentric inns are displayed. Don’t pass up a chance to purchase a can of the soup that NASA’s astronauts begged the kitchen to whip up for their lengthy space shuttle missions.
5. Build Sand Castles at Canaveral National Seashore (321/267-1110). Playa Linda is our favorite and closest beach.
6. Fans of Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960), who wrote of her Florida home, “I was born in a Negro town…a pure Negro town” can view her writings and local artwork weekdays at the Z. N. Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts (407/599-9930) in historic Eatonville, about 10 miles east of Orlando.
7. Cruise Winter Park’s Lakes (407/599-3399; 407/644-4056) on a Scenic Boat Tour past the 19th-century homes of this elegant community featured in the fun-for-kids Steve Martin comedy, “Parenthood.”
8. Watch Sea Turtles Hatch (321/676-1701) summers at dusk, on a tour with the Sea Turtle Preservation Society.
9. Watch a rocket launch at NASA Kennedy Space Center (321/867-5000) for a launch schedule. Or visit the Space Center’s Visitor Complex (321/449-4444).
10. Mini-golf at Tiki Island Volcano Golf (407/248-8180) on International Drive. Two 18-hole courses take players through tiki statues, caves, and waterfalls.
11. Be “artsy” at the University of Central Florida’s new Downtown Media Arts Center (407/992-1200), home to a gallery, coffee shop, and single-screen theater for indie movies.
12. Shop with the stars at Orlando’s Mall at Millenia (407/363-3555). Celebrities such as Michael Jordan, Tyra Banks, Mariah Carey and John Travolta have been spotted pursuing the stores of the Mall at Millenia. With nearly 150 shops and restaurants, the 1.2 million square-foot “S” shaped shopping center features some of the most upscale and luxury shops in the world. The mall also sponsors charity events and a fashion week, as well as holiday themed activities for children. And the main highlight of the Mall at Millenia is its innovative design that features a multi-media entertainment system in the main court.
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