What to See and What to Skip on an Orlando Vacation

PHOTO: De Leon Springs State ParkFlorida Tourism Industry Marketing Corporation
De Leon Springs State Park in De Leon Springs, Fla.

Whether you're young, or just young at heart, it's tough to beat Orlando. And no wonder: the Florida metropolis is home to more theme parks than any other city in the country. You could spend days, weeks even, experiencing all that hot spots like Universal, SeaWorld and Walt Disney World have to offer. But there's plenty more to savor beyond the theme park gates. Here's a peek at a few.

See (and taste) Gourmet, Skip the Park Food:

The food at your favorite theme park is convenient. But if funnel cakes leave you hungry for more, Orlando's mushrooming food scene is worth a taste. Restaurant Row, near International Drive, features a one-mile stretch of more than 30 gourmet eateries, from Italian to Mexican and surf to turf; one of the hippest spots is The Table; it literally is one long table with 22 seats and features a seasonally-driven, 5-course chef's choice wine dinner Friday and Saturday nights only. Also for foodies: the ViMi District, northeast of downtown, an enclave of dozens of Vietnamese, Korean, Thai and Chinese restaurants (as well as a fair share of Asian markets selling alternative medicines). And if you're park-bound, Walt Disney World's EPCOT Center deserves a nod here, with its World Showcase of 11 international pavilions and each with a delectable array of authentic fare.

See the Springs, Skip the Pool:

Your hotel pool could get crowded fast, so head to one of Central Florida's natural warm springs, instead, where the year-round water temp stays at a comfy 72 degrees. Ponce de Leon Warm Springs, named for the Spanish conquistador on the quest for the Fountain of Youth, is located 20 miles north of Orlando and is a special spot to picnic and swim. The springs spill into the 18,000-acreLake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, where you can canoe, kayak and fish. But fuel up at the Old Spanish Mill Restaurant first, where you can make your own pancakes on your tabletop griddle.

See the Zip Line, Skip the Roller-coaster:

The fast rides at Orlando's theme parks are major adrenaline pumpers. But once you're off the coaster, the zip line can be a wild ride, too. Florida Ecosafaris At Forever Florida features the state's only zip line rollercoaster, taking riders on a treetop nature tour 68 feet above the ground and at up to 30 miles an hour. Riders glide over preserved wetlands that are home to black bears, alligators and the endangered Florida panther. Forever Florida, which spans 4,700 acres, is also home to the Cypress Canopy Cycle – reclining bikes suspended 25 feet above the ground from a network of high-tension cables.

See the Drive, Skip the Shuttle:

You'll spend plenty of time in those convenient shuttles, which whisk you for free to your favorite theme park. But if you'd rather be behind the wheel, check out Revolution Off Road in Clermont, about 10 miles west of Disney's Wild Animal Park. Here, you can get down and dirty behind the wheel of the ATV of your choice, from Hummers to dune buggies to high-speed rally cars; rides start at $70. If you'd rather drive in style, the Exotic Driving Experience at the Walt Disney World Speedway will hand over the keys to a Ferrari 458 Italia, Lamborghini Gallardo, Audi R8 or Porsche 997S; it'll cost you between $169 and $419, depending on how fancy you like your ride.

See Discovery Cove, Skip Sea World:

See Discovery Cove, Skip Sea World:

Discovery Cove is a unique all-inclusive day resort where you can swim with dolphins, snorkel with tropical fish, hand-feed exotic birds, ride the currents of a tropical river (complete with underwater cave) or lounge on the beach. Breakfast and lunch are included but, with a 1,000-guest daily limit, big crowds and long lines are not. And don't worry SeaWorld fans: two-week unlimited admission to the park, as well as the Aquatica water park, comes standard. If you're seeking even wilder animal interactions, consider Gatorland, home to thousands of gators and crocs and featuring a breeding marsh with observation tower.

See the Museums, Skip the Theme Park:

Craving a little culture between rides? The 45-acre, oak-studded LochHaven Park is home to the Orlando Science Center and two art museums. The Orange County Regional Center traces Orlando's history, stretching back 12,000 years. And the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art sparkles, with the world's most comprehensive Tiffany collection.

See College Park, Skip Orlando:

Even if for the afternoon, consider visiting one of the many unique, vibrant neighborhoods that surround Orlando, like Winter Park, Thornton Park and Eatonville. At College Park, famous colleges inspire street names – Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth – and residents live in Key West-style bungalows. Take an art class at Metal Works Gallery or a cooking class at Truffles and Trifles. And you'll find the Jack Kerouac House, where the author wrote his famous "On the Road," along ClouserAve.

(Editor's Note: The Walt Disney Company is the parent company of ABC News.)

Gabe Saglie is Senior Editor for Travelzoo. For deals on Orlando hotels, shows, restaurants, spas and shows, check out http://www.travelzoo.com/local-deals/Orlando/deals andhttp://www.travelzoo.com/hotels/orlando/