Disney World might bill itself as “The Happiest Place on Earth,” and there’s no denying that its mix of high-tech rides, old-school live shows, mascot interaction and resort-style relaxing is a magical combination. Not so magical, though, is the price you have to pay to get in.
At 2017 prices, individual tickets cost about $100 a head to even breach the gates — and that’s not including extra costs like lodging, food or partaking in optional VIP perks. If your desire for family fun in Orlando runs deeper than your pockets, consider these fun Disney World alternatives.
1. Orlando Science Center
If you want to go on a fun, affordable family vacation, consider the Orlando Science Center. The Science Center’s brand of education is anything but dry — kids and families learn about the world around them through a rotating selection of playful, interactive exhibits like the virtual-reality space base, the 8,000-square-foot CineDome and hands-on Science Live! tours.
Cost: Adult tickets cost $20, youth tickets run $14; plus discounts for seniors and students.
2. Medieval Times
If you’d rather step back into a wonderfully kitschy version of the past, check out Medieval Times in Orlando. Unlike Disney, this one rolls all your entertainment needs into one cost-friendly package.
You’ll be treated to a live show of dueling knights and steely steeds of equal parts epic, comedic and daring while you stuff your face with a four-course meal. If you’re lucky, you might get called into the arena to participate while your family cheers, or jeers, you on.
Cost: A day at the castle costs $63 for adults, or $37 for kids, with plenty of food included.
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3. iFLY Orlando Indoor Skydiving
Watching knights battle is cool and all, but maybe you’d rather do the daring stunts yourself. Enter iFLY Orlando.
If you want to experience an adrenaline-filled trip, this paradise for daredevils makes the dream of flight a reality. It offers a packed schedule of viewing, training, gearing up and finally flying just like a superhero in a real flight chamber.
Cost: About $60 for one person taking two flights, with a personalized flight certificate included. The more you have in your group, the cheaper it gets.
4. K1 Speed Indoor Karting
Some of us prefer to keep our feet on the ground. Keep your family outing relatively simple with indoor karting, featuring two different tracks for different skill levels. It won’t break the bank and is open every day of the year, except for Thanksgiving. K1 is also an attractively affordable option for birthday parties and freewheeling corporate functions.
Cost: Prices range from $20 to $50 depending on how many races you plan to get in. But K1 offers discounted annual memberships and money-saving bundles.
5. The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
For a quieter day out that’s about 15 minutes away from Orlando, pop into the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art. Although Disney offers plenty of pop culture, this 75-year-old Florida institution serves up the real deal, hosting the world’s most complete collection of genuine pieces from legendary American jewelry designer Louis Comfort Tiffany — yes, of Tiffany & Co. fame.
Cost: A day at the museum will only cost adults $6 each, seniors $5 and students one whole buck. Kids are free. You can’t beat this one in terms of cost.
6. BK Adventure
Also in Orlando, BK Adventure’s “eco-tours” inject your Florida vacation with all the fresh air you can take. Skip the roller coasters, 3-D movies and giant turkey legs in favor of a mountain bike hike, a kayaking night tour surrounded by bioluminescent plant life or a full-on eco-authentic camping trip.
Cost: Spend as little as $39 to kayak among manatees. Or, spring for the more romantic $65 sunset kayak tour with a beachside picnic.
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7. Sleuths Mystery Dinner Shows
Disney excels at live entertainment, but it’s not the only show in town. Orlando also hosts the long-running Sleuths Mystery Dinner Show, a classically styled live dinner theater that includes you and your family as on-the-spot crime solvers. If mysteries aren’t your thing, you can also opt for variety shows, live comedy or spectacles of magic and illusion.
Cost: Kids cost a bit under $30, adults cost $64 each and groups get discounts — for 2.5 hours of entertainment, a full dinner and all the beer, wine or soft drinks you want.
8. Wild Florida
Sure, Disney’s a safe bet, but here’s an edgier option. This nature park bills itself as the “wild side of Florida” located “in the middle of nowhere” where you and the family can unplug. In reality, it’s in Kenansville, which is an hour south of Disney World.
Once you get to “nowhere,” you can get up close and personal with more than 200 live animals via petting zoos and hands-on photo ops. Creatures include gators, owls, sloths and more. You can even hug a gator and take a selfie with a sloth — aka a #slothie.
Cost: Day-long adventure packages — including an airboat ride, lunch and a bag of gator feed — cost $63 for kids and $73 for adults. Just strolling through the park and watching the zebras, bobcats and turkeys cost $15 to $18 per person.
9. Disney Springs
Think of it as casual Disney. If you’ve just got to have the Disney name, Orlando’s Disney Springs is definitely an option, especially if you’re an adult.
This low-key collection of retail, dining and entertainment skews a little older, forgoing the rides for a collection of relaxing venues like the Indiana Jones-themed Hangar Bar, three-story Coca-Cola store, wine and chocolate lounges and high-tech gaming attractions. Just remember to stay on budget as you dine.
Cost: Disney Springs basically caters to your budget — it doesn’t cost anything to get in, and even the parking is free. It’s up to you how much you want to spend shopping, dining and relaxing.
10. Chocolate Kingdom
No one is going to argue with chocolate. Chocolate Kingdom shows you and your family exactly what goes into making everyone’s favorite sweet treat. If that sounds boring consider these features: A 7-foot tall chocolate castle, an onsite greenhouse of cacao trees, the opportunity to create your own custom chocolate bar and an actual flowing river of chocolate.
Cost: $17 for an adult tour, or you can keep an eye out for a Groupon to knock that down to a sweet $10.
11. Discovery Cove
Somewhere between petting alligators and shaking hands with Pluto, there’s Discovery Cove in Orlando. Like Wild Florida, the Cove emphasizes animal interaction, but it’s all a bit more chill. Here, you’ll relax on beaches, float down rivers and swim side-by-side with more playful creatures like dolphins, tropical fish and adorable otters.
Cost: At first glance, Discovery Cove is more expensive than Disney, but what it offers breaks down to a greater value. For example, an all-day resort package is about $200, but that’ll nab you breakfast, lunch, unlimited drinks, swimming gear and free admission to SeaWorld Orlando or Aquatica Orlando within two weeks of your visit.
12. Kennedy Space Center
An hour’s drive from Disney World leads you to the deeper reaches of space exploration. At the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, you get to meet with a real, live astronaut, experience a simulated shuttle launch, see the Apollo 11 moon landing and more. Regular admission gets you access to a slew of attractions, but you can add on experiences, like having lunch with a real, live astronaut or taking special behind-the-scenes tours.
Cost: Tickets cost $50 for ages 12 and up; $40 for ages 3 to 11. But visitors who want to really, fully immerse themselves can save money on multi-day passes.
13. Forever EcoSafaris at Forever Florida
Sure, Disney World might have fancy rides, but there’s something satisfyingly simple about holding on tight and zip lining through nature at breakneck speeds. That’s what Florida EcoSafaris at Florida Forever in St. Cloud offers. If zip lining isn’t your speed, you can also partake in nature tours, horseback rides and old-school overnight camping.
Cost: A seven-zip zip lining adventure connected by three sky bridges will cost you $80 per head, but nature tours through the wildlife conservation are only $30.
14. Wekiwa Springs State Park Nature Adventures
You might have noticed the trend: The list of things to do outside of Disney World includes a whole lot of nature activities. That’s a good thing, and being in nature creates memorable family vacations.
About 30 minutes away from Orlando, Wekiwa offers a respite from the crowds, with laid-back canoeing, hiking, bicycling and kayaking along a scenic river and its bustling local ecosystem. Wekiwa also offers fresh food, watercraft rentals, camping, horseback riding and swimming in freshwater springs.
Cost: As a state park, you only need to pay about $6 to park your car. It costs $24 per night to camp, and about $20 to $25 to rent a kayak or canoe for a few hours.
15. LEGOLAND Florida Resort
As far as Disney World alternatives go, LEGOLAND Florida Resort is one of the well-kept secrets only theme park aficionados know.
About 45 minutes south of Disney in Winter Haven, LEGOLAND focuses on the colorful and quirky, with a blocky beach retreat, VR-equipped rides, splashy water parks, innovative GPS-enabled augmented reality adventures, plus a mind-blowing collection of LEGO sculptures.
Cost: On average, LEGOLAND’s per-person cost undercuts Disney’s by about $15 to $20 per person, with single tickets starting a little over $70. That means more money for food, lodging or LEGO sets in the gift shop.
About the Author
Dan is an honors graduate of western Kentucky’s Murray State University and has been a freelance writer and full-time creative since 2009, in addition to co-founding and co-owning two active media production businesses – one for the west coast in Los Angeles, California, and one for the east in Cincinnati, Ohio. As an independent creative professional with a scroll-like resume of both blue collar and white collar experience and a longtime business writer, Dan has been fortunate enough to publish with the likes of Chron.com, Fortune, The Motley Fool, Career Trends, Bizfluent, MSN Money, Legal Beagle, San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate, USA Today, Builder’s Capital, Salon.com and Zacks.com, among others. He’s also offered his words to such diverse brands as ASUS, Kellog’s, Discover, Sony Pictures, Samsung, Linksys, LIVESTRONG, Office Depot, Canon Inc., Caesar’s Entertainment Corporation and Verizon, as well as frequently writing in the fields of entertainment, travel, fitness, lifestyle and fashion.