November 17, 2015

Adventure In Central Florida

Family-friendly things to do in Central Florida - Air boat rides, zip line and ropes course, and more just a few miles away from Orlando! #familytravel #Florida

Seminole County, Florida, asks visitors to explore the wild side of Florida, to discover Orlando’s natural oasis. Challenge accepted. I started planning out the adventure with the help of this Central Florida Bucket List.

Our two-and-a-half-day trip to the north Orlando area included seeing an alligator while canoeing, zip line courses for the whole family, a sunset airboat tour and a quick trip to coast to play at Cocoa Beach. I’m writing about it because Allegiant now offers a direct flight to an airport that puts you in the middle of it all.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I receive a small payment if you purchase something after clicking the referral link. 

Home base

Exterior of the Hilton in Altamonte Springs, located between Orlando and the Orlando Sanford International Airport
We stayed at the Hilton in Altamonte Springs, located between Orlando and the Orlando Sanford International Airport. My kids are lizard hunting in this photo…

Our trip was hosted by Seminole County, and knowing my family wanted adventures both on water and land, they suggested a centrally-located hotel that was affordable (and near theme parks, should we choose to visit…er, next time, kids).

We stayed at the Hilton-Altamonte Springs, a beautiful hotel near familiar chains and close to the interstate we’d use to get everywhere – I-4. I’ll share more about the hotel in a future post, but for traveling families – yes, there’s an outdoor pool  (the only hotel amenity important to my kids).

Outdoor pool and hot tub at the Hilton in Altamonte Springs, just north of Orlando
Outdoor pool time in November? Yes, please.

It’s approximately 20 miles from Orlando Sanford International Airport, which is a direct flight from Omaha on Allegiant. Check out my post on what to expect when flying this route – I include helpful tips for making it a smooth experience with kids!

Search for the most family-friendly hotels near Orlando on TripAdvisor!

Adventure in the air

On our first day, we headed to the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford. ZOOMAIR Treetop Adventure Park Orlando is located at the zoo (since this post was published, the zip line course has changed its name to Seminole Adventures. Our plan was to try the ropes and zip line course first, then go to the zoo.

Things to do in central Florida - Kids' zip line and ropes course in Sanford, Florida.
Farley conquering the kids’ zip line course in Sanford, Florida.

While the kids tackled their age-appropriate course with the help of the wonderful Maggie from ZOOMAIR and Mr. Wonderful , I tried out the more challenging course. It was not too easy, but also manageable for any first-timer.

Both kids did great on the smaller course, and our nearly 6-year-old went on to try the more difficult kids course after conquering the easy one. He said it was like being on “American Ninja.”

(I agree. I loved the physical challenge of this activity.)

Things to do in central Florida - Kids' zip line and ropes course in Sanford, Florida.
Mooch kept up with her big brother on the zip line course.

Mooch had a harder time, being only 4, but was proud of herself for finishing. Expect at least an hour for the kids to get through their ropes course. If you do a course, you can get through the first one in 45 minutes, and if you add on the rain forest course, you’ll double that, at least.

Central Florida Zoo

After our zip line adventure, we checked out the zoo. This small zoo covers about 116 acres and is great for little ones. Bring a swimsuit so kids can cool off at the splash garden (which will be refreshing after the adventure on the zip lines). I forgot and was reminded repeatedly.

Things to do in central Florida - Cool off in the splash garden at Central Florida Zoo
Cool off in the splash garden at Central Florida Zoo. Remember to pack swimsuits!

There are hands-on experiences there that kids will like – mostly feeding animals and enrichment encounters. There are extras like a carousel and train ride, as well.

Things to do in central Florida - Ride the mini train station at the Central Florida Zoo
The train station is at the entrance to the Central Florida Zoo. Just try to walk past it and not have a kid ask if they could have a ride.

After our zoo and zip line adventure, we headed to charming downtown Sanford to have lunch at Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café.

Things to do in central Florida - Dine outdoors like at Hollerbach's Willow Tree Cafe in Sanford
Another perk of visiting Florida in November – dining outside. We grabbed an outdoor table to enjoy our German lunch at Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe in Sanford.

The German food was so good, and the beer was even better.

Menu of the German restaurant Hollerbach's Willow Tree Cafe in Sanford, Florida
Prost from a great German restaurant in Florida!

If you manage to save a little room, try the German chocolate cake there – we split it between the four of us and couldn’t finish it.

Adventure by water

Our second day was going to be all about water. But first, breakfast.

Things to do in central Florida - Go to  Winter Park and stroll the farmer's market
One of the fountains in the park at Winter Park.

We made the short drive to Winter Park to grab some pastries at Croissant Gourmet – which we enjoyed in the cute park before strolling through the farmers market.

Things to do in central Florida - Go to  Winter Park and stroll the farmer's market
Exploring Winter Park’s Saturday Farmers Market. So many goodies to find there!

Breakfast Part II was a breakfast quesadilla from a the Tastebuds food truck at the Winter Park Farmers Market, and citrus fruit samples.

Things to do in central Florida - Go to  Winter Park and stroll the farmer's market and get food at one if the food trucks
We got some breakfast quesadillas to go from Tastebuds food truck at the Winter Park Farmers Market.

It’s fun to check out farmers markets when traveling – we don’t have avocados or oranges at the Omaha ones.

We met friends at Cocoa Beach at around noon – the drive was about an hour (beware of the tolls). I don’t regret the drive – the kids could’ve played in the water all day.

Things to do in central Florida - Make the hour-long drive to Cocoa Beach!
Cocoa Beach is about an hour drive from Seminole County, Florida.

Little tip from my Florida friends: Shephard’s Park is a convenient spot to park at Cocoa Beach but also the most expensive ($15). Found that out the hard way. Go toward the Cocoa Beach Pier for meter parking or head farther south for cheaper or free parking at city and county park entrances to the beach.

The good thing about the location is that there is a place to change, bathrooms, a shower to rinse off and a lifeguard.

Things to do in central Florida - Make the hour-long drive to Cocoa Beach!
Collecting seashells at Cocoa Beach, Florida.

And it wasn’t crowded.

We didn’t pack a lunch for our time at Shephard’s Park, so our friends suggested we try the Cuban sandwiches at Seven Eleven across the street. Don’t knock it ‘til you try them. They hit the spot.

After the beach, the kids were surprisingly still awake so we decided to check off an item off my Florida bucket list – an airboat ride.

Things to do in central Florida - Take an airboat ride with Black Hammock
Black Hammock had some beautiful views – and we hadn’t even gotten on the airboat yet.

We arrived at Black Hammock in time for their final 30-minute tour of the day, timing it perfectly to catch a gorgeous sunset.

The kids loved the ride (so did the adults).

Things to do in central Florida - Take an airboat ride with Black Hammock in Seminole County, Florida
Enjoy some wind in our hair during our sunset airboat ride with Black Hammock in Seminole County, Florida.

Unfortunately, our boat got stuck after stopping to look at cows. So what would’ve been a lovely sunset ride ended in darkness. Our funny captain swore it’s only happened to him two other times in all his rides.

The kids forgot about it after they each got to hold a baby alligator afterward.

Things to do in central Florida - Hold an alligator! There were alligators at Black Hammock, an airboat operator
Holding an alligator made up for not seeing one while on the airboat,

Black Hammock also has a few cages to see alligators and parrots, and an awesome tiki bar. There’s a restaurant on site serving up gator.

Things to do in central Florida - Ride an airboat and sit at a tiki bar. This bar was at the Black Hammock, an airboat operator in Seminole County.
Get to Black Hammock early and enjoy a little rum drink from the tiki bar.

The kids tried the gator bites with Cajun flavor and loved them.

We ended our late night with some ice cream and gelatti at Jeremiah’s – a frozen treat chain offering ice cream and Italian ice, and the combo of laying ice cream and Italian ice called gelatti.

Wekiva Island

Things to do in central Florida - Canoeing in Wekiwa Springs State Park
Canoeing toward Wekiwa Springs State Park.

Adventures on our water carried over to our last day. We went to Wekiva Island to rent a canoe so we could paddle roughly one mile to Wekiwa Springs State Park. The route was gorgeous and not challenging if you’re familiar with paddling.

You’ll spot lots of birds along the way, and with luck, other wildlife like an alligator.

Things to do in central Florida - Canoe at Wekiwa Springs State Park and maybe spy an alligator
We caught this alligator sunning himself as we paddled by.

You can paddle about 30 minutes to Wekiva Springs or take a four-hour round trip to Rock Springs. We were short on time and went to Wekiva where sadly, we only got to pause and watch others swim. We’ll definitely return to take a dip.

Things to do in central Florida - Swimming in the spring water at Wekiwa Springs State Park
There were quite a few people swimming in the spring water at Wekiva Springs State Park. Entrance is $2 per canoe.

We finished canoeing in time to grab lunch on the run, fill up our rental car and head for the airport to fly home. Yes, we were a stinky mess on the plane.

Food options during your Central Florida adventure

The kid's sausage plate at Hollerbach's in Sanford, a little bit of healthy mixed in there with the fresh fruit.
The kid’s sausage plate at Hollerbach’s in Sanford, a little bit of healthy mixed in there with the fresh fruit.

Breakfast: During our trip, we had breakfast at the Hilton Altamonte Springs (a buffet that’s complimentary for Hilton Honors members), pastries at Croissant Gourmet in Winter Park (try the pain au chocolat), hearty breakfast quesadillas at the Tastebuds food truck at the Winter Park Farmers Market, and a filling breakfast at Keke’s Breakfast Café (there are several locations; we went to the Altamonte location on the way to Wekiva Island).

Lunch: We enjoyed lunch outdoors at Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café in Sanford. The other lunches were on the go, courtesy McDonalds (hey, we were running late to the airport after canoeing), and Seven Eleven (you do what you gotta do at the beach).

Dinner: We enjoyed take out pizza from Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza in Altamonte Springs and it was delicious. We also tried several variations of alligator during dinner at Black Hammock Restaurant in Oviedo.

Snacks: Our visit to the Central Florida Zoo involved some snacking at one of the concession stands (usual fare, Dip ‘n Dots, chips, etc), kettle caramel corn from the Winter Park Farmers Market, and ice cream and gelatti at Jeremiah’s.

Things to do with kids in Central Florida - Adventures for family vacation include canoeing, airboat rides, kid's zip line and ropes course, and more! All activities are within driving distance of Orlando. #familytravel #outdoors #Florida

Additional posts about Seminole County

ZoomAir Adventure Park Orlando (Sanford, Florida) 

Central Florida Zoo (Sanford, Florida)

Hilton Altamonte Springs (Altamonte Springs, Florida)

Wekiva Island (Longwood, Florida)

Tips on Flying Allegiant from Omaha to Orlando Sanford International Airport 

Fun adventures for families in Central Florida - Things to do with kids in Seminole County, like canoeing, zip line & ropes course, a zoo, and airboat rides. Seminole County is just north of Orlando! #familytravel #Florida

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Comments

  1. That does look like a wonderful trip! I think I’d enjoy your trip more than going to theme parks.

    I used to live in Savannah, Georgia. I miss the warm weather!

    • I could get used to the kind of year-round weather Florida has! As far as theme parks go, we’ll be headed there soon enough, I just wanted to enjoy a more adventurous, wild side of the state before then.

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