You may think that Orlando is all about mouse ears and amusement parks, but you don’t need to wish upon a star–there are lots of free things and stuff to do in Orlando as well!
Many people who have visited Disney World have said, “I wish I could live here.” Disney made it possible to live in Disney-perfection with the development of the real town of Celebration. Stroll the streets for free and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a Norman Rockwell painting. Admire the historic-themed architecture and well-groomed lawns and gardens. Visit the quaint downtown shops. Relax to music playing from speakers hidden beneath the trees–the town even pumps “snow” out of the tops of the olde world street lanterns during the December. And the cool stuff doesn’t stop there. Save some time to hit the walking trail that winds around the lakes; during the day you can spot alligators sunning on the banks or cruising slowly through the water. If you think Celebration is a little unusual, steer your rental car over to Lake Wales, Florida and look for the sign proclaiming the “Legend of Spook Hill”. To enjoy this free thing to do, ease your car up to the white line on the road, put your car in neutral and discover the legend for yourself—that’s right, your vehicle will defy gravity and coast UP hill.
Another free thing you can do to experience Disney is by visiting Disney’s Boardwalk. This area is a recreation of a 1930s coastal village—you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time and are visiting Coney Island or Atlantic City. Walk along the water and enjoy stuff like the free music and entertainment provided by acrobats, musicians, magicians and other street performers. Another hot spot for free night life is Uptown Altamonte. A great place to chill by the lakefront where every night the streets come alive with people and free live music, street performers and comedians. Looking for something to do on the weekend? Go for a cruise down memory lane at the Old Town Classic Car Saturday Nite Cruise. Get there for 7:00 P.M. and shake, rattle and roll to the free 50s and 60s liverock ‘n’ roll. Then grab a spot on the curb and enjoy the sight of over 300 classic cars, hot rods, street rods and antiques parading down the brick streets. In the mood for a little bargain hunting? Why not browse the wares of over 1,500 vendors at Fleaworld, the largest flea market in the United States. Admission is free and there’s entertainment too–acrobats, circus performers, live animals and, of course, people watching.
Florida is gator country and Lake Jesup is home to over 9,000 alligators—the greatest concentration of gators of any lake in America. This is where you’ll find Black Hammock Adventures, and your chance to watch free, live alligator and bird exhibits. Better still, stop by on a Sunday and you can watch the trainers feed Hammy, a 12-foot, 650-pound alligator. The luxurious Peabody Orlando Hotel is another place to witness a unique display of Mother Nature. Be there by 11:00 A.M., that’s when five mallard ducks descend from their $100,000 marble home via an elevator, exit and then waddle along a crimson red carpet accompanied by music, through the marble halls of the hotel until they reach the opulent, orchid-crowned fountain in the Atrium Lobby which they climb into and swim in for the rest of the day. It’s The March of the Peabody Ducks, a twice daily tradition (11:00 A.M. and 5:00 P.M.) at The Peabody Orlando that’s been a free thing to do since the hotel opened in 1986. You can park for free in the hotel’s parking garage if you keep your stay under 30 minutes.
Nothing gets the mojo goin’ like chillin’ in a beautiful park for free. The Orlando area is blessed with quite a few and each offers something unique to see and do.43-acre Lake Eola Park is found right in the middle of the city. The Lake itself is actually an 80-foot sinkhole. Floating in the lake is a fountain which is the unofficial symbol of Orlando. In 2009 it was struck by lighting. It was refurbished at a cost of $2.3 million and now features water jets and changes colours at night. When you’re not admiring the fountain you can also feed the swans, picnic under a palm tree, take in the Orlando skyline and enjoy a free concert. Ocala National Forest is thesouthernmost forest in the United States and one of the most popular State Parks in the whole country. Don’t forget your trunks–water is everywhere at Oscala—lakes, streams and springs, like Alexander Springs which is a constant 72°F and incredibly, crystal clear making it awesome for swimming and snorkeling. The hiking and fishing are great too and it’s all free. Feeling lazy? Here’s some fun stuff. Grab a tube or air mattress and make the trek over to Kelly Park, Rock Springs for a natural, lazy river ride. Fed by a natural spring in an outcropping, the sparkling waterway meanders for a mile. When you get to the end, there’s a boardwalk that leads you back to the beginning. You can also go rock climbing and hiking at this 248-acre park. Technically this spot isn’t a free thing to do, but at only $5 a carload, it’s pretty close.
The Gaylord Palms Hotel has one of the coolest gardens in Florida and it’s totally free to check out. It’s actually a 4.5 acre atrium and within it are three distinct settings, representing the Florida Keys, Saint Augustine and the Everglades. Walk along the winding pathways, breathe in the tropical scents, drink in the lush plants, chill by a waterfall; there’s even a fort and 60-foot sailboat. Tropical fish, stingrays and alligators are on display. And three nights a week, another free thing you can do at the hotel is watch gators being fed. Park in the Gaylord’s parking garage for free if you keep your visit under 30 minutes. Green thumbs and art aficionados will enjoy a jaunt at The Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens. Albin Polasek was an internationally-renowned sculptor. His home and property now showcase his work. Entry to the Gardens is free. A long, winding path takes you on a journey past manicured lawns, beautiful gardens bursting with gingers, hibiscus, snap dragons, orchids and bouganvillas and everywhere you look are Polasek’s classical, life-size sculptures—over 200 of them—including his signature, award-winning piece Man Carving His Own Destiny.
It gets hot in Florida. What better way to refresh your lips than with a free beer? Put on your dancing shoes and head out to Crush at Back Booth on Monday nights. The music ranges from Motown to rock, pop and indie and the beer is on the house. Can’t make it out on Monday? How about Thursday at Club Firestone? Dance away to the electronic beats and enjoy complimentary beer if you arrive before 11:00 P.M.