Escape the Mouse: 4 Family Adventure Getaways in Orlando

Orlando Balloon Adventures (Photo: Rafael Tongol)

Yes, Orlando is home to Mickey Mouse and a whole slew of theme park attractions — but its real thrills lurk just beyond the main tourist corridor, where the city’s roads become suddenly rural and Florida’s true landscape emerges: strands of tall pines, cabbage palms and beautiful spring-fed lakes. Jumping on a roller coaster may be adventurous enough for families looking for a few minutes of “scream time,” but the really cool adventures await in Florida’s natural landscape.

Catch an Airboat

orlando-best-adventure-getaways-wild-florida-airboat.jpgWild Florida’s Airboat Ride (Photo: Rafael Tongol)

Central Florida’s undeveloped lakes are your best bet for viewing famous Florida wildlife like alligators, egrets, pink spoonbill birds and tortoises. The most pulse-raising way to see them is on an airboat. There are several outfitters within an hour of the tourist corridor that will guide you into the marshy wilderness. Airboats hover over the water on a cushion of air, so they can navigate the shallow waters that regular boats cannot — and that’s where wildlife likes to lurk. You can make a day of it at Wild Florida, where an expert guide will zoom you around the marshes, looking for critters. Afterward, get some kitschy souvenirs at the Swamp Store or visit the petting zoo, where you’ll be invited to hold a real baby ‘gator named Fluffy.

Go Up, Up and Away

orlando-best-adventure-getaways-hot-air-balloon-2.jpgOrlando Balloon Adventures (Photo: Rafael Tongol)

Ever had a dream in which you’re flying peacefully through the sky with the world spread out beneath you? That’s how it feels to be in a hot air balloon. Orlando Balloon Adventures, which claims to be the largest balloon operation on the Eastern Seaboard, lifts passengers up to several thousand feet in the air, soaring over citrus groves, pasture and wetlands just as the sun rises. Cross that off your bucket list.

Discover the Wild West in Central Florida

orlando-best-adventure-getaways-zipline-forever-florida.jpgZiplines at Forever Florida (Photo: Rafael Tongol)

Cowboys, wild lands and lots of ways to experience the good old days of Florida ranch life are all possible at Forever Florida. Take a guided horseback ride through the wetlands, or sign up for the Rawhide Roundup where you’ll be trained to herd cattle. After you’ve aced the tutorial, you can try the real thing by heading into the pasture and bringing the cows home. Forever Florida is also home to one of the more extreme ziplines in the state. The Rattlesnake zipline mimics the feel of a roller coaster as you swoop and dip over protected Florida lands.

Blast Off!

orlando-best-adventure-getaways-kennedy-space-center-atlantis.jpgSpace Shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center (Photo: Rafael Tongol)

This is an amazing experience if you happen to be in town during a launch week. NASA has retired the space shuttles, but plenty of other things launch regularly from nearby Cape Canaveral like military satellites and Space X’s Dragon that carries supplies to the International Space Station. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex offers up-close, ticketed viewing areas not open to the general public on launch days. You’ll feel the force of liftoff, hear the enormous roar of the engines and watch tons of rocket fuel ignite into dramatic flames. If the launch scrubs, well, you are awfully close to the beach, so bring your swim suit and head over to Canaveral National Seashore. The pristine beach is undeveloped and has hiking trails to boot.