While Orlando is the land of huge, family-friendly theme parks, there are plenty of other things to do in the city than just visiting Disney or Universal. It has several “off the beaten path” attractions, including some creepy, yet cool, abandoned locations, the home of a well-known author, and a unique religious getaway. Here is a roundup of some of the lesser-known, unusual sights to see when in “The City Beautiful.”
The Holy Land Experience
Have you ever wanted to know what Jerusalem was like in first-century Judea? What about attending church services there? If so, The Holy Land Experience may be for you. It’s a Christian theme park in the heart of Orlando, founded by a minister with a fascinating history; Marvin Rosenthal was born Jewish and later converted to Christianity. On the opening day of the park, The Jewish Defense League protested there, claiming that its purpose was to convert Jews to Christianity. Rosenthal denied this, and today, The Holy Land Experience seems to be going strong.
Hours: Mon closed; Tues–Sat 10am–6pm; Sun closed
The Holy Land Experience, 4655 Vineland Rd, Orlando, FL, USA, +1 407 872 2272
Celebration, the town that Disney built
The name of the quaint little town close to all the theme parks is “Celebration.” The name, though, isn’t the most intriguing part; the story goes that the behemoth company wanted to create an ideal small American town, but after it was founded, Disney divested control over to the town itself. Regardless, Celebration remains largely true to the nostalgia that Disney wanted to create; when visiting, you’ll feel a bit like you’re in Stepford.
Disney’s old “Singing Runway”
Not many people know that Disney owned a private-use airport right off the property close to the parks. It used to be operational for small planes, but Disney closed it down in the ’80s. The cool part of it, though, is that there was a runway that used to play “When You Wish Upon a Star” when driven over at about 45 miles per hour. The old road is still accessible, just after the entrance to the parks – anyone can drive there and check it out.
The Citrus Tower
The Citrus Tower, in Clermont, Florida (just over 30 minutes away from Orlando), was once a much sought-after attraction (this was, of course, before The Magic Kingdom opened in 1971). Built so that visitors could see the expansive miles of orange groves, it’s still the highest observation point, 226 feet (69 meters) tall, in Florida today, and visitors can head inside to get a gorgeous view of the surrounding area (now neighborhoods). It was even re-painted in 2015, keeping its “retro” feel.
Hours: Mon–Sat 9am–5pm; Sun closed
The Citrus Tower, 141 US-27, Clermont, FL, USA, +1 352 394 4061
Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp
If you were thinking about getting a psychic reading while on vacation, you’ve come to the right place. The Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp isn’t in Orlando proper; it’s a short drive away from the heart of the city (just over 30 minutes). Founded by a man named George P. Colby, who received a tip from a spirit guide who instructed him to travel to Florida, and known as the “Psychic Capital of the World,” every corner of the small town has a large number of psychics and mediums.
Hours: Mon–Sat 10am–6pm; Sun 11:30am–5pm
Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp, 1112 Stevens St, Lake Helen, FL, USA, +1 386 228 3171
Want to watch your car defy gravity and roll upward? Visit Spook Hill, in Lake Wales, Florida, just outside of Orlando. Known as a “gravity hill” – supposedly existing in different pockets of America – you’ll find a sign explaining “The Legend” and instructions on how to make your car roll upward.
Spook Hill, Lake Wales, FL, USA
Fountain of Youth
Hoping to stay young forever? Well, you’re in luck because you can visit Ponce de Leon’s (alleged) landing site in Florida, known as the “Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park,” and it’s just under an hour away from Orlando in beautiful, historic St. Augustine. While no substantial evidence has been found to mark the exact site where Ponce de Leon arrived, people have been claiming this area as the spot for years. There’s no actual “fountain,” but there are natural springs which may have been the famous explorer’s secret.
Hours: Mon–Sun 9am–5pm
Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, 11 Magnolia Ave, St Augustine, FL, USA, +1 904 829 3168
American Ghost Adventures
If you’re interested in ghost hunting, you can also do that in Orlando, along with all the other unusual things to do. American Ghost Adventures is a tour company (well, perhaps an “investigation” company) that takes its customers on a walk through several paranormally “charged” haunts. Instead of just coming along for the ride, you get to be a part of the action, as your tour guides attempt to “communicate” with paranormal presences.
Hours: Mon–Sun 9am–11pm
American Ghost Adventures, 129 W Church St, Orlando, FL, USA, +1 407 256 6225
If you’ve ever wanted to try skydiving but are too scared, indoor skydiving might be for you. At iFLY Orlando, you can skydive within the safety of their indoor wind tunnel. It could be a fun activity for the kids (or to prepare yourself for jumping out of a plane).
iFly Orlando, 6805 Visitors Cir, Orlando, FL, USA, +1 407 903 1150
Jack Kerouac’s final home
Jack Kerouac’s final home isn’t a tourist attraction, per se; the old house is currently operating as a writer’s retreat called the “Jack Kerouac Project,” which is why it’s not generally open to the public. But if you ask to head in, they will likely welcome you. Kerouac spent his final days here, and inside the house, you’ll find a plaque giving you some insight into the author and the property.
Jack Kerouac’s Last Residence, 1418 Clouser Ave, Orlando, FL, USA, +1 407 872 0659