Planning a family-friendly Florida vacation with kids, but not wanting to spend the entire trip at the many Orlando theme parks and surrounding tourist areas? Luckily, you can escape the crowds, save some money and still have a fun-filled vacation. Upgrade your trip with additional hands-on fun and affordable alternatives by staying 30 minutes North of Orlando, where hotel rates are about one-third less than Orlando resorts. Orlando North, Seminole County is ideal for active families thanks to its many parklands, estuaries, zoos, lakes, historic and artistic haunts and outdoor activities.
Orlando North, in Seminole county, Florida, is close and convenient to all of the major Orlando attractions, but also far enough away to properly unwind during your vacation too. In the past, we have always stayed on-property (Disney’s Coronado Springs) during our theme park visits, but really enjoyed our experience further north for the best of both worlds and more bonding time together.
Orlando North features Seminole county’s eight unique suburban communities including Altamonte Springs, Casselberry, Geneva, Lake Mary, Longwood, Oviedo, Sanford and Winter Springs, which is minutes from:
- Walt Disney World® – 35 minutes
- Universal Orlando® – 30 minutes
- Sea World® Orlando – 30 minutes
Orlando North Family-Friendly Activities
Blackrock Hammock – Head here for airboat Rides near Orlando on Lake Jesup, which has the largest alligator population in Florida. We spent one morning there on a large airboat ride and for up-close gator petting and bird watching. There’s also a fun restaurant and bar on property.
Your family will love a trip to the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens, where you’ll see more than 581 animals and bugs — everything from rhinos to endangered leopards. I particularly liked the butterfly garden. Besides the animals and lovely shaded grounds and boardwalk pathways, this zoo has a playground, children’s garden and even a splash ground with a bucket dump. Camel rides and feeding giraffe opportunities are available too. There is also a tree canopy adventure ropes course and a children’s train on property too, which we took a ride on. Who needs a theme park or hotel when you have all this?
Hot Pots in Sanford – For kids that like arts and crafts, they’ll surely enjoy this paint your own pottery studio. This memorable, one-of-a-kind experience also allows you to take home a keepsake to remember from your trip after.
Congo River Adventure isn’t just a typical miniature golf place, but has putting greens that take you over and under waterfalls, by safari equipment and even crashed planes. There are also baby gators that you can feed, a laser maze and an arcade. Perfect way to end an evening of fun together.
Rebounderz Apopka Indoor Trampoline Park is a great way for kids to let off some energy and be silly. Heck, mommy and daddy also enjoyed jumping and even falling into the foam block pit with our kids too. Lots of laughs to be had here and it’s especially great to visit on rainy days or if it’s too hot out. Our boys were bouncing around so much that they were napping in their car seats before we even made it back to the hotel.
Check out the free attractions, too – 7 FREE Things to do in Orlando and Seminole County.
Orlando North Eats for the Whole Family:
Savor seafood with a waterside view or dine in a sidewalk café in the historic and quaint downtown Sanford, which has an amazing playground next to it in Fort Mellon Park perfect for kids before or after. Best of all, there are plenty of places for families to eat at here, without the crowds, higher prices or long-waits found in Orlando proper.
Gator’s Dockside – We loved this noisy restaurant with big screens and arcade games. The food was great too, especially the gator bites, wings (lots of unique sauce options including peanut butter and jelly) and seafood pasta. There’s also a kids menu with crayons.
Wondermade café in downtown historic Sanford has a wide range of gourmet marshmallows, including bourbon and beer flavored ones. You can order hot chocolate with marshmallows and more too. They also offer workshops on the first Friday of every month that allow guests to decorate their own marshmallows and get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into this confectionary. You can also purchase a box of marshmallows for unique gifts for those back home.
Fred’s Market Restaurant’s motto is slow food fast. The atmosphere is cozy and quaint like a Cracker Barrel, but not as big or crowded, it’s also buffet style, making for a quick and filling lunch of comfort food. Kids 2 and under eat free and older kids are charged a discounted price too.
Shula’s 347 Grill is named in honor of NFL Coach, Don Shula and his 347 career wins. The grill is located in The Westin Lake Mary resort and has everything from gourmet salads to fresh specialty fish and exclusively serves Premium Black Angus Beef burgers. We dined there for breakfast though and had an amazing omlette, while the kids enjoyed pancakes and oatmeal.
Mellow Mushroom Sanford was a nice surprise discovery for us. We knew it was a pizza place, but wasn’t expecting how good the gourmet pizzas would be. The atmosphere has modern psychedelic décor with many big-screen TVs playing and guests can play corn hole outside before dinner is ready.
Orlando North Lodging
For the same price as the budget hotels in Orlando, you can stay at a premium hotel resort like Westin Lake Mary and feel like a VIP. Plus, parking was free too. On-site amenities include on a heated outdoor pool, hot tub, gym and Shula 347 Grill mentioned above. I also appreciated how quiet the rooms were and that it wasn’t as crowded as a theme park resort.