5 Free Things To Do In Orlando That Are Not Theme Parks

Travelers planning a trip to Orlando usually have plenty of things to do – for a price. Central Florida attractions draw millions of visitors every year spending billions in travel dollars. Often saving up for years to make a magical Florida vacation reality, families visit the Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Studios, Sea World and others. But while there is no shortage of attractions charging a hefty admission fee, there are quite a few that are free, many of which are close by the expensive Orlando attractions.

Wekiwa Springs State Park is one of many parks in Florida with no admission fee. This one is less than an hour from most Central Florida attractions. Wekiwa Springs State Park lets visitors take a break from the busy, loud theme parks and enjoy a picnic or take a swim in the cool spring. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent and 13 miles of trails are great for hiking, bicycling and horseback riding.

Lake Eola Park
is a popular downtown destination that has many people taking advantage of the beautiful surroundings, perfect to walk at lunch or the evenings. Admission is free but renting swan-shaped paddleboats or electric gondola boats will cost $30 per hour. Visitors feed the live swans, see a free concert or play in the Walt Disney Amphitheater or just enjoy a spectacular view of Orlando’s skyline.

Winter Park Farmers Market happens on Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. and features everything from fresh produce to local handcrafted gifts and artwork. Also in Winter Park, is the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens featuring world-class sculptures and paintings and the Cady Way Bike Trail, a 3.7-mile greenway joining Orlando and Winter Park. Bike, walk, roller blade, stroll or run seven days a week.Ocala National Forrest is a year-round recreational option. There are huge springs, twisting streams and lakes for fishing and water skiing. The cool crystal-clear waters of Juniper Springs, Alexander Springs, Salt Springs and Silver Glen Springs draw snorkelers. Canoeing, kayaking, hiking and boating are available every day and secluded cabins are available that will hold up to 12 people.

Snowhill Mountain Bike Trail is located in the Little Big Econ State Forest. Snowhill trail has single pine needle-layered trails, some sugar-sand parts and river crossings by suspension bridge, as well as some steep drops. Admission is free here too.

[Flickr photo by erin leigh mcconnell]

Vintage Aircraft Come Home

Vintage aircraft fascinate those who travel by air. Pilots and aviation fans, along with frequent fliers, enjoy visiting air displays and museums to get up close and personal with aircraft that are often older than they are. As time goes on, efforts are being made to bring rare aircraft from World War II back to American facilities where they can be viewed and some even flown.

Central Florida’s Fantasy of Flight, home to the world’s largest private collection of rare and vintage planes, also became home to a World War II C-47 Dakota, also known as the SkyTrain, over the weekend.

Fantasy of Flight
creator and founder Kermit Weeks purchased the plane last year from a private owner in the U.K. and began a seven-leg journey last July to fly the plane back to the United States across the Atlantic.

“We are thrilled to finally bring home the C-47 to our permanent collection,” said Weeks. “Flying her across the Atlantic was an incredible opportunity to relive the days when World War II pilots first brought them to Europe to fight for the Allies, but now, to be able to bring her home to Florida for our guests to enjoy will be even more momentous.”The C-47 is the military version of the Douglas DC-3 airliner, with a cargo door versus passenger door and a reinforced floor to hold heavy cargo and as many as 27 soldiers.

More than 10,000 C-47s were produced, but fewer than 1,000 remain and fewer than 300 are still flying. The C-47 (N1944A) acquired by Fantasy of Flight was used by the Allies during World War II to transport troops and cargo and was instrumental in the D-Day Invasion, Operation Market Garden, the Battle of the Bulge, the Crossing of the Rhine and in the repatriation of POWs at the end of the war.

Fantasy of Flight is located in Polk City, Florida and about a 45-minute drive from Orlando International Airport (MCO). Hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily. Fantasy of Flight also has themed immersion experiences; interactive exhibits; a tram tour of aircraft maintenance areas; Restoration and Backlot tours; Fun with Flight center for families and the country’s only Aerial Demonstration of the Day (weather permitting) featuring a vintage plane.

Photo: Fantasy of Flight