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.
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Where to stay in Central Florida
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).
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!
Trying a zip line course in Florida
On our first day, we headed to the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford. ZOOMAIR Treetop Adventure Park Orlando (now called Seminole Aerial Adventures) 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.
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.)
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.
Visiting the 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.
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.
After our zoo and zip line adventure, we headed to charming downtown Sanford to have lunch at Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café.
The German food was so good, and the beer was even better.
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.
Beach & air boat tour in Central Florida
Our second day was going to be all about water. But first, breakfast.
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.
Breakfast Part II was a breakfast quesadilla from a the Tastebuds food truck at the Winter Park Farmers Market, and citrus fruit samples.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Canoeing at Wekiva Island in Florida
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.
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.
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.
Kid-friendly restaurants in Central Florida
– 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.
Additional posts about Seminole County
Central Florida Zoo (Sanford, Florida)
Hilton Altamonte Springs (Altamonte Springs, Florida)
Wekiva Island (Longwood, Florida)
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