Orlando may be the theme park capital of the world, but there is much more to do in the heart of Florida than just wander around a sprawling amusement park. There's art, food, nightlife, and culture. After all that, if you still have the time and energy to visit an amusement park, then I'll tip you off to the strangest offerings in Orlando that you've probably never heard of. So come with me, let's drop those bags at a hotel -- I recommend an IHG Hotel near Universal -- and then take a whirlwind weekend tour around town!

Get Your Museum On

With over two dozen museums, there's something for everyone here in Orlando. Fan of sports cars? Visit the Exotic Car Gallery. Fascinated by the history of the Titanic? Visit Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition. Artwork more your thing? The Orlando Museum of Art is one of the top-rated in the city. Traveling with kids? Orlando Science Center is the place to go. Want to please the kids and the kid inside of you at the same time? Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Orlando is your answer.

Orlando Museum of Art in Florida
Orlando Museum of Art

Alternative: Don't like any of those? Then you'll absolutely love the Tupperware Confidence Center! Not only is it one of the most unusual museums in the entire United States, but it also wins my award for the most creative museum name ever. 100% refund if you don't leave here with more confidence in your Tupperware skills.

Frozen Fun With Alcohol

Ever visited an ice bar? They can be found in over 30 cities around the world and are absolutely amazing. After donning a jacket and gloves, guests are led into a frozen bar where everything is hand-carved from ice: walls, chairs, tables, glasses, decorations, and even the bar itself!

Shot glasses made of handcarved ice at the Orlando Ice Bar in Florida

Of course, if you're visiting Florida to escape the winter back home, this might not sound like an appealing idea. However, Icebar Orlando is the largest ice bar in the world and features over 70 tons of carved ice, making it the top dog in an already exclusive club. And for that reason alone, Icebar Orlando deserves a visit on a humid evening.

Alternative: Orlando Brewing has been creating "darn good beer" for over a decade now and offers free daily tours every day of the week (except Sunday). The bar features two dozen taps, so no matter what your poison, you can go straight to the source for the freshest brew.

What to Eat in Orlando

Given its reputation as an international family vacation destination, cuisines from around the world can be found in downtown Orlando and the theme park district of the southwest. There is no one dish or cuisine that is distinctly Orlando. However, there are some restaurants that are distinctly Orlandian.

The Cowfish, the first and only burger and sushi bar in the world, is one of the offbeat restaurants keepings Orlando unique

The Cowfish is proudly the first and only burger and sushi bar in the world. Step on in and try one of the signature creations: the Burgushi. Café Tu Tu Tango fuses global recipes with a Florida twist, using only local ingredients and serving meals in an art gallery showcasing local artists.

Alternative: Can't decide? Spend a few hours on an Orlando Food Tour to eat your way around town and have a couple drinks while doing it.

Visit a Quirky Amusement Park

Screw Walt Disney World. Go somewhere unique this trip, like Gatorland–home to all your alligator amusement needs–or better yet, the Holyland Experience–where the Bible comes to life. Hint: it's even more entertaining and over the top than the good book itself. ;)

Welcome to Gatorland, the only alligator themed amusement park in the world and one of the unique and offbeat things to do in Orlandom, Florida

Alternative: If neither of those sounds right for you, check out these other one-of-a-kind Orlando amusement parks.

  More Offbeat Travel Guides

  flickr // inazakira cindy sackerman519 hyku

Published in United States

Most people head to the sunshine state for a dose of its unrivalled surf and sand, the golf courses, and some of the world’s best theme parks and nature reserves, but Florida is also home to other great options like a variety of delicious culturally diverse foods. So if you’re looking to head down to Florida for a relaxing vacation, here are some of the top eats for you to pick from.

1. Cuban Sandwich

This delicious sandwich should be on the radar of anyone visiting southern Florida, and was originally made in cafés catering to early Cuban immigrants. It has become the signature sandwich of the city of Tampa and features Cuban bread, ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and occasionally salami (as in Tampa).

The Cuban, arguably the most famous Florida food -- and one that every visitor to Florida must try

2. Rock Shrimp

Florida’s rock shrimp are a great starter or as a snack to enjoy while relaxing and having an afternoon drink. Pair them with a sweet dip, a traditional shrimp sauce, or for those looking for a bit of a kick, something spicy. Caught just off the Florida coast, they’re always fresh and tasty.

3. Conch Fritters

Made in the Florida Keys—nicknamed the Conch republic—these large shellfish can be baked with lemon slices and lemon juice, to produce a tender meat, not unlike ceviche. Another popular method is to chop and mix them with other meats and vegetables, then deep-fry them, which produces the crunchy and flavourful Florida style fritters.

Make sure to try conch fritters when in Florida

4. Swamp Cabbage

This traditional Floridian food has been around for centuries, dating back well before colonialism. Swamp cabbage is better known as the heart of palm and is extracted from the sabal palm trees that are native to Florida. The heart of palm can be stewed until tender in a rich tomato sauce, or with water (or broth), meat, and dripping, then served up hot ready to be enjoyed.

5. Key Lime Pie

Another dish out of the Florida Keys, Key West to be specific, this cool and refreshing pie is made from lime juice, egg yolk, and sweetened condensed milk, which is whipped, thickened, and served on a crisp crust to produce a dish that is both smooth and zesty. It’s the absolute perfect dessert for a hot Florida day.

Key Lime Pie, a famous florida food that you must try

6. Floribbean Cuisine

There are many types of dishes in Florida that have roots in the Caribbean islands, using ingredients like mangos, papayas, plantains, and coconuts. These include Jamaican jerk chicken, arroz con pollo, and different style barbecues such as Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Bahamian. If you see a Caribbean influenced restaurant in Florida, odds are you’re in for a treat.

So if you’re booking your flights in the USA to Florida, remember, there are plenty of fun things to do, just remember to leave a little time to discover the delicious culinary scene. Please feel free to add your Florida food suggestions in the comments below.

  Images by johnjoh istolethetv and ralphandjenny used under the Creative Commons License.

Published in United States

There’s nothing under the sun that captures the imagination quite like outer space. With the discovery of water on Mars, the meteoric rise of Matt Damon’s new film, “The Martian”, and the impending release of the new Stars Wars flick, the universe has been, well, everywhere lately.

Back here on the earth, the closest most of us mere mortals will come to outer space is a visit to one of America’s NASA-run Space Centers: the Johnson Space Center, located in Houston, TX, and the Kennedy Space Center, in Cape Canaveral, FL. We wondered, which Space Center location's vacation price is down-to-earth and which one is other-worldly expensive?

To find out, we analyzed our 2015 data for average flight prices to each center's nearest airport from the 30 most popular airports in the U.S. and daily car rental prices, in addition to the average prices for hotel stays in Houston and Cape Canaveral. We also looked at the average ticket prices and, just for fun, how much it would cost to eat lunch with an astronaut, a program offered at both locations.

Here’s what we found it would cost, on average, a family of four for a 3-day, 2-night trip:

Which space center is cheap to visit infographic

In other words, a family of four can save an average of $600 by choosing Space Center Houston over Cape Canaveral, most of which is saved through airfare and Space Center admission prices. Here's how that breaks down, per person:

Cape Canaveral Houston
Avg. RT Airfare $387 Melbourne Intl Airport (MLB) $294 George Bush Intercontinental (IAH)
Avg. Nightly Hotel $144 $116
Daily Admission $50 Adult/ $40 Child $21 Adult/ $16 Child
Lunch with Astronaut $30 Adult/ $16 Child $50 Adult/ $30 Child
Car Rental From $26/ day From $27/ day

While this may appear like pretty steep price tag for a short vacation, both centers offer numerous discount opportunities and are generally all-inclusive. For example, Kennedy Space Center admission includes all exhibits and shows, IMAX space films, the Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour and free next-day admission to the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame when a general admission ticket is purchased. Multi-day packages that can reduce the overall price are also available.

Meanwhile, Space Center Houston offers a CityPASS if you plan to visit other Houston attractions, which allows visitors to save 50 percent on admission to Space Center Houston and four more top Houston attractions: 1) Downtown Aquarium, 2) Houston Museum of Natural Science, 3) Houston Zoo or Museum of Fine Arts, and 4) Houston Children’s Museum or Kemah Boardwalk All-Day Ride Pass. You’ll skip most ticket lines, too.

So while Space Center Houston is inarguably the less expensive of America's two NASA centers, both locations offer multiple opportunities to let your imagination (and inner-astronaut) be free from gravitational pulls for a few days.

Blast off about your Space Center story in the comments below!

Methodology: Hipmunk analyzed 2015 data for average airfare prices to MLB and IAH from the 30 most popular U.S. airports, as well as average nightly hotel prices in both Houston and Cape Canaveral. Car rental prices were the lowest recent price posted on Hipmunk.com departing and returning to MLB and IAH, respectively. All other data was found on each Space Center's website. As always, airfare, hotel, and car rental prices frequently change and Hipmunk does not guarantee that the prices listed in this story reflect what is currently available.

  This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on November 11th.

Published in United States

Eager to take a long overdue romantic getaway to Miami? It's no problem finding someone to watch over the kids for a weekend but what about your favorite four-legged friend? Obviously they have to come with! Thankfully there are plenty of charming great pet-friendly hotels in Miami Beach.

EPIC

The view from the pool at EPIC hotel in Miami
The view from the EPIC pool

Plush carpet. Spacious bathrooms. Sparkling fixtures and furniture. The name of this downtown Miami hotel describes it in one word: EPIC. I am nervous just wearing my shoes or drinking wine over the carpet around friends' places this nice; I would certainly never think it acceptable to bring a pet somewhere like this. However the EPIC not only is allows pets they even encourage them by never charging a pet fee or size limitation. Add in an amazing view and delicious restaurant and it's a wonder that EPIC is so aptly named.

Sofitel

Located right on the highway outside the airport, Sofitel is the perfect pet-friendly hotel for anyone in transit. However it by no means looks or feels like an airport hotel. Instead Sofitel exudes a unique charm thanks to it's stylish design that features just a touch of that modern Paris feel. Plus what they lack in beachfront view they more than make up for with their jaw-dropping view of the downtown Miami skyline. Although they do charge a $300 deposit per pet, it is 100% refundable as long as Fido doesn't destroy the place.

Fortune House

Another option for visitors that prefer the calm and quite located a few miles south of the heart of Miami is Fortune House. The hotel has an amazing few and rooms with balconies, if so desired. They are the perfect place to enjoy a bottle of wine while watching basking in the sun set. Fortune House is one of the best options for longer vacations thanks to their extended stay discount and tranquil surroundings.

Viceroy

The Viceroy Hotel in Miami, Florida

When nothing but the absolute best will do for you and your furry family members, the Viceroy is the only hotel in Miami to consider. Impeccable style, impressive views and an infinity pool -- all three of which can be enjoyed simultaneously on the 15th floor -- are just a few of the many things that the Viceroy has to brag about. A world class spa, top-notch dining with a seemingly endless wine choices and delectable cocktails, the hardest thing about staying at the Viceroy is leaving. However if you have to enquire as to what their pet fee is, this might not be the best hotel for you.

The Most Affordable Options

For the budget conscious traveler, Miami also have several pet-friendly options that will give you everything you need to feel at home on the road without any of those excess frills. Red South Beach is located just across the causeway in Miami Beach and their prices cannot be beat. Definitely the best pet-friendly lodging and an ocean view within twenty miles. Extended Stay America also has a Miami location that is perfect for the family on the road.

See More       Pet-Friendly Hotels   USA Travel Guides

  flickr //   gaensler eager

Published in United States

When people think of Orlando they think of Walt Disney World first and of all the other theme parks dotting the horizon second. This is the "Theme Park Capital of the World," home to so many that there is a Top 10 list just of the best Orlando theme parks! (I don't even think there were ten in my home state.)

Most of the big name establishments are owned by Disney or Universal Studios, and thanks to the deep pockets of their marketing departments the masses have been led away. Meanwhile Orlando's best offbeat theme parks, the overlooked ones paying homage to religious history and non-cartoon characters, are ready, eagerly awaiting an opportunity to entertain you and me. So come with me, let's get off the beaten path in Orlando and see what we see!

The Holy Land Experience

The Holy Land Experience Theme Park, Orlando, Florida, a strange, religious offbeat attraction

Equally entertaining to both religious folks and those a little less theologically certain — perhaps even more so for the latter — the Holy Land Experience is exactly what it sounds like: a real-life Christian historical museum. Its 15 acres are filled with biblical reenactments, religious shows and presentations, live music, specialty shops, and nonsectarian research library.

Gatorland

Gatorland Theme Park, Orlando, Florida, an amazing offbeat attraction

Gatorland might not be the most obscure or unknown attraction in Orlando; however, it is definitely the most fun! This gigantic 110-acre theme park and wildlife preserve is also the self-proclaimed "Alligator Capital of the World" — but seriously, who out there is going to challenge that title? Open every day of the year, Gatorland has dozens of shows, sights, and experiences such as Gator Wrastlin' and Gator Leapin'. It is the perfect daytime activity for the entire family.

Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Orlando

Ripley's Believe It Or Not Odditorium in Orlando, Florida, an amazing offbeat attraction

The Ripley's name has long been synonymous with oddities and offbeat items. After all, they don't they call their museums "odditoriums" for nothing! I've visited several Ripley's in cities around the US, and they are nothing if not peculiar, even a tad disturbing at times. In addition to the usual tribal oddities, torture devices, shrunken heads, and other downright baffling objects, Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Orlando is known for its fertility statues, which are purported to have helped over 2,500 women become pregnant. Oh, and the spinning vortex tunnel is pretty neat.

WonderWorks!

WonderWorks! in Orlando, Florida, an amazing offbeat -- and educational -- attraction

If such a thing as an educational amusement park could ever be said to exist, that would be WonderWorks. With over 100 interactive exhibits, visitors can get their knowledge on first, and then go upstairs to the basement (yes, I said that correctly — have you seen this building yet?) for all the exciting hands-on games and amusements, such as laser tag.

Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament

Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament in Orlando, Florida, an amazing offbeat restaurant

No other dinner show can compare to this one. Guests are transported back to medieval times to enjoy a feast inside a castle as the knights joust. Sound familiar? Yes, Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament is the same restaurant from the old Jim Carrey movie, The Cable Guy. Two decades later, they are still going strong and the show is still as entertaining as ever! It's a definite "must" for any quirky travelers to Orlando.

Worried all these amusement parks and activities will break the bank? Browse cheap Orlando hotels via Hipmunk and save as much green as possible for having fun!

More HoliDaze Offbeat Travel Guides

What other offbeat Orlando attractions would you recommend?

See More       Offbeat Travel Guides   USA Travel Guides

  flickr   //   deapeajay   hyku   nostri-imago   markhardie   Trover   //   Algirdas Sidiskis

Published in United States

I have been an adrenaline junkie as far back as I can remember... having already gone skydiving, bungee jumping and hang gliding to name a few... I am still seeking my next rush!! My little sister has been asking me to come on an adventure for a while now, eager to one day skydive with me. I am however, not prepared to jump out of a plane with my sister just yet. So I brought her, as test, to the World's Tallest Slingshot in Orlando, Florida to see if she was really ready to roll with the "Big Dogs"!

Looking at this slingshot, it really doesn't seem too bad. However, being thrown into the air well... let's just say that's another story. I am pretty sure my eyes rolled into the back of my head, but overall it was an enjoyable experience for just 25 bucks!!!

After viewing the video, I must say my little sister is definitely on her way to being able to handle some of my adventures. Who knows.. Maybe even skydive! I chose to refrain from commenting on my friend sitting next to me and my sister... I think he embarrassed himself enough in the video... don't you think? After all, we definitely couldn't see Jamaica from the slingshot. :)

So, if you desire a quick thrill without paying a whole bunch of money...check out the slingshot. There are tons of other videos of celebrities doing it, and some people even fainting (check on youtube)... So don't take it lightly.

Nonetheless, I found that my sister may have what it takes to be a part of my adventures and I checked something off my bucket list!! 2 birds with 1 stone! #boom #winning

  Check out more photos in the scrapbook

Published in United States

We decided at the last minute that we needed to take a family vacation but we were running short on time and money, so what was I to do? I had read a blog post a few months ago about yurts. This got me interested, what's a yurt?? I was asked by my friends when I first mentioned it to them. Basically a yurt is a round, heavy duty, permanent tent. It has heavy gauge vinyl for the sides and wooden supports for strength. Our short camping adventure took us to Torreya State Park, near Bristol, Florida in the United States. This was the only yurt (at least that I could find in a state park) in the entire state. We made our reservations the day before we were set to arrive, so I was excited to see that there was availability with short notice.

What's in it (or not in it)?

  • Ours was equipped with both a queen and bunk beds. There were no linens on the bed, just a vinyl covered mattress. I think this is fairly universal, so bring those with you. We brought a sleeping bag for the wife and myself, as well as Jr, so we were covered there.
  • There was also a table, 2 rocking chairs, 2 others chairs and a chest of drawers. Guess if you were staying for a while this would be good, but we were only in it for a couple days.
  • Here's where the wife was sold on the idea.... Air Conditioning! We were in Florida, so 80 degree nights is not out of the ordinary. Needless to say, we were comfortable! Also, hanging from the middle of the yurt was a fan with light... Much better than the battery powered lantern we usually take with us. Also, there was wired power within the yurt so we didn't need the extension cord that we brought.
  • On three of the side of the yurt, there were screen roll down windows. We kept ours up most of the time for lighting purposes.
  • We did not have running water (or restroom) inside of the yurt. The policy for pets was that they weren't allowed in the yurt, and there was also no smoking or stoves allowed in the yurt. All things that weren't a big deal to us, but I'm sure could be a little cumbersome if you wanted to bring the family pooch along for the camping trip.

What's the downside to yurt camping?

There is one down side to the yurt. All future "camping" trips will be compared to it, and I have a feeling they won't fare well. The yurt camping concept is nothing short of ingenious. You are only a step away from the wilderness, yet you have a roof that will withstand the heaviest rain, and AC for those hot summer days. You really do have the best of all worlds.

So, whether you are new to camping, or just new to yurts (like I was), if you get the chance to try a yurt, DO IT! It is surprising how much it was like a tent, but with all the comforts of home. We will definitely take advantage of one next time they are available at the campground that we are looking to stay at. They are usually a little more than a regular campsite (ours was $40/night) and sites were around $15-$20.

Published in United States

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