What to do on a trip to Orlando (that doesn’t involve theme parks!)

 Ok so this is the everything  BUT amusement parks post for Orlando, Florida. First up was our least successful Family Reunion day. We all got up to leave our house in Kissimme (just south of Orlando) in order to get to the natrual springs water park Weeki Wachee. We had 5 cars headed out there spaced out anywhere from 5 minutes to 30 minutes. Only the first TWO cars got in and they closed the parking lot and entrance so no other visitors would be allowed entry…. At this point we’d driven about 2 hours and were in unfamiliar territory. WHAT DO WE DO?

Our 3 cars that didn’t make it head to nearby Homosassa Wildlife park and springs due to the internet telling us there is a “free” boat ride. And there is…. to the wildlife park that is $13 pp. We took the boat to the park but the idea of walking around a HOT HOT HOT zoo essentially when we all wanted to be swimming…. was a turn off so we turned right around and left. 
 But we couldn’t quite leave without posing for a photo in front of the Manatee in front of the Visitor Center/ Parking lot. 
 My sister Jenna, Dad, and I on the “not shaded at all” boat ride. 
While admittedly a bit boring since no gators and really very little wildlife was spotted, the slow infernal boat ride did have some pleasant views. 
So next up we tried for a swimming spot and closest to Homossa was Crystal River beach. (A beach on the gulf side of Florida) The water was as warm as a bath tub but still felt great! The beach had lots of parking (which was important after our sad attempt to get into Weeki Wachee) and while not a huge swimming area it wasn’t too crowded. Unfortunately not 5 minutes after unloading and everyone getting in the water, the lightening alarm sounded forcing us all to get out!!! At this point we gave in… and headed back to the house. 

 Day 2: Again not quite as planned but still better luck. We had planned on visiting Rock Springs which is an EXCELLENT park to swim at, float a bit down the small portion of river, and even walk the nature paths. However not a day after we called to verify it was open, we arrived to discover it was closed due to bacteria. Luckily not too far down the road was Wekiwa Springs which was even cheaper with lots of parking so we moved our caravan on down there. It doesn’t have as large of a swimming area as Rock Springs but gets quite a bit deeper in parts. The water is VERY COLD but on a hot Florida day, it’s doable. We also rented a kayak and all took turns going down the river. On our turn we spotted tons of fish, turtles, and 2 gators one of which swimming very close to our kayak. (It was little, not more than 2.5 feet long)

 A photo of me swimming at Wekiwa and behind me, Braden launching a kid in the air.

 A close up of Braden launching another kid in the air. 
Braden and my niece Chandler protecting themselves from the sun in the sitting area at Wekiwa Springs. 

 So on day 3 of family reunion we called it quits and settled for an easy day *with no driving anywhere* at the house since there was a large pond just behind it for the boys to fish and a relaxing pool to hang out and read by.

One of the stunning sunsets we had from our backyard. 
A photo of my niece and I hanging out in the pool. 
 And no longer part of the family reunion, but on our last day our flight didn’t leave until 7:30 at night so we headed out to Cocoa Beach for a couple hours. That way Braden could experience a beach both on the gulf side of Florida and on the Atlantic. (plus we just had unfinished business with a beach in general) If you take toll rode 528 out of Orlando, you will get to Cocoa Beach in less than an hour and only pay around $2.00 in tolls. Once at the beach there is plenty of metered parking that is only $2 per hour. We parked and had roughly 2 hours to enjoy the beach (plus get plenty of sunburn in the process) The water isn’t nearly as warm as the gulf but if you haven’t experienced a southern Atlantic beach then you haven’t lived! It’s the most refreshing without being cold water and the little waves are the perfect height to jump or boogie board for hours! 
I always pay a visit to the massive Ron John shop that’s there at the beach as well although this time I didn’t really have enough time to shop. 
So here’s some info and tips that you may not have discerned from my jabbering post.
Weeki Wachee Springs: 
Things to do: Large swimming area with floating dock and water slides, a Mermaid show, a wildlife show, and a river boat ride 
Cost: $13 for adults, children 6-12 $8, children under 5 are free
Hours of operation: 9-5:30
Tip: GET THERE BY 9:30 or right at opening. We tried on a Wednesday in Summer so I expect just about any Summer day is busy. 
Homosassa Springs/ Wildlife Park:
Things to do: Free boat ride, lots of Florida animals in their natural habitat but basically presented like a zoo. 
Cost: Boatride and visitor center is free. Animal park is $13 for adults, children 6-12 $5, children under 6 are free
Hours of operation: 9-5:30
Tip: The boatride is slow moving about $15 minutes and not shaded. Wear sunscreen as it was very hot and while the walking path in the wildlife park may be shaded somewhat, it will still be hot. 
Crystal River/Fort Island Gulf Beach:
Things to do: Swim, be a beachbum. Some covered pavilions and picnic tables but I’d come prepared with beach chairs and blankets in case all of them are occupied when you get there. 
Cost: Free, parking is free
Info: Bathroom and outdoor showers, covered and uncovered picnic tables available. 
Wekiwa Springs:
Things to do: Swim, Kayak, hike, horseback ride, bike, camping
Cost: $6 per carload. Recommend bringing cash. The kayak cost was around $25 for the first 2 hours and and additional $5 for every hour you want it past that. 
Tips: There are concessions and a small convenient store available. On weekends, this park may also fill up and close but when we went there was still plenty of parking on Wednesday despite nearby Rock Springs being closed. 

Cocoa Beach:
Things to do: Rent bikes, swim at the beach, be a beach bum, the pier, ogle at the giant cruise ships at Cape Canaveral, and of course shop at Ron Johns.
Cost: $2 for metered parking, free beach access, and everything else varies depending on what you do
Tips: There were not any showers or bathrooms at this beach (at least not the portion we visited) so bear that in mind especially if you have no hotel to return to but instead a plane to catch. I changed in the Ron John’s restroom but it was a bit of a sandy journey home for us. 
Our home base was located in Kissimme, just South of Orlando and the longest we traveled was to the gulf side around 2 hours West. Rock Springs or Wekiwa Springs was about an hour North, and Cocoa Beach about an hour East. There are many MANY other things to do in Orlando and sadly missed out on my favorite trip to Dixie Crossroads in Titusville for the best Rock shrimp and the National Seashore for driving around looking for gators (bigger ones at least!) Stay tuned for an all encompassing posts for both Walt Disney World as well as Universal Studios. 

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