ORLANDO, Fla. – If there ever was a destination where golf is not enough, it’s Orlando. Between rounds at such PGA Tour staples as Bay Hill Club or Disney’s Magnolia, golfers can be entertained by everything from rollercoasters to spaceships. Here's a rundown of the best off-the-course activities.
Despite nearly 100 golf courses in Orlando, there’s no mistaking the elephant in the room: theme parks. With Disney, Universal and Sea World the area has plenty of variety, so whether your Orlando golf vacation is shared with family or friends, you’ll find a theme park that fits.
For golfers traveling with family, Disney’s Magic Kingdom is a sure bet. It doesn’t have the best rides in Orlando, but if you’re traveling with adolescent children let’s face it – Magic Kingdom is their Augusta National.
Beyond Magic Kingdom Disney has Hollywood Studios, EPCOT and Animal Kingdom, all of which have enough rides and attractions to keep you engaged for an entire day. If you’re trying to pack multiple Disney parks into one day, consider the park-hopper pass which allows you the freedom to enjoy all of the Disney parks.
Sea World is another great spot for kids, with its mix of educational and entertaining exhibits. The stingray-themed Manta is arguably the best rollercoaster in town, and the Aquatica water park makes for a well-rounded Sea World experience.
While Sea World has the best single coaster, Universal has the best overall collection. The Incredible Hulk, Dragon Challenge and Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit rollercoasters are all as thrilling as they are unique.
Though it doesn’t have much in the way of rides, Disney’s EPCOT is a fun off-the-course activity, particularly World Showcase, a giant area divided into 11 countries, each featuring restaurants and exhibits from that nation.
Universal City Walk is similar to EPCOT in that it’s another fun place to wander around. It offers bars and restaurants galore, including NBA City Café, Margaritaville and Pat O’Brien’s. Music fans will appreciate Hard Rock Café, which in addition to being a good restaurant, hosts dozens of top concerts throughout the year.
Disney’s version of Universal City Walk is Downtown Disney, a boardwalk full of restaurants, shops – even a five story arcade. There’s also a Cirque du Soleil and House of Blues.
When it comes to sports passion Orlando is a far cry from Boston or Chicago, but among major golf destinations, The City Beautiful definitely holds its own.
If you’re an NBA fan visiting between October and June you should check the Orlando Magic schedule to see if the team is in town. Not only are Dwight Howard and the Magic one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference, but the team plays in the brand new Amway Center, which has all the bells and whistles of a new sports arena – including a bar that overlooks the court.
The arena is on Interstate-4 in downtown Orlando. Tickets are fairly easy to come by, whether through Ticketmaster, StubHub or good ol’ fashioned ticket scalpers.
Sports fans looking for something closer to Disney should consider ESPN Wide World of Sports, a massive sports complex that hosts more than 200 events each year. The Atlanta Braves host spring training here, and the college basketball Old Spice Invitational takes place each Thanksgiving. Check ahead though, because unless there’s an event going on there’s not much to do.
If you have a passion for college sports check out University of Central Florida football and basketball. Despite having the nation’s highest undergrad enrollment in the 2009-10 academic year, it’s known as a commuter school so tickets to either sport are easy to find. And what’s more? Both teams have been impressive of late, with football winning the 2010 C-USA Championship and basketball fresh off a 6-0 start to their season, including a win over No. 16 Florida.
Though Orlando isn’t winning any awards for its natural beauty, there are still a few fun sightseeing activities you won’t find in most places.
One activity you won’t find at most other golf destinations is a helicopter tour. There are a few different companies, an inventory of which can be found with a simple Google search. Flying into the Orlando International Airport gives you a glimpse of the countless lakes dotting the Florida landscape, but getting a birds-eye-view of downtown Orlando, EPCOT, Universal and more is a unique experience.
If helicopters aren’t your thing, there’s also a helium balloon company in Celebration, Fla. that charters flights on a daily basis.
On the subject of flying, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Kennedy Space Center – even though it’s about an hour east of town. The Visitor’s Center is geared mainly toward kids, but if your travel schedule coincides with a shuttle launch it turns into a must-see no matter how old you are.