Orlando might be a mecca for many U.S. children, but its top attractions certainly aren’t cheap - Universal Orlando, SeaWorld, Islands of Adventure and Disney’s string of flagship theme parks all come with hefty ticket prices. Fortunately though, parents looking to break up the costly fun with something a little more affordable, can find lots of ways to experience the atmosphere without paying a penny. Here are five of the best free attractions to check out while in town.
Stretching for a quarter of a mile along the shore of Crescent Lake, this colorful promenade is another creation from Disney’s febrile imagination. It’s an eccentric spin on a 1930s coastal village, designed in the style of Coney Island or Atlantic City, with lacy pastel-colored houses reflected on the sheeny waters of the lake. Known for its restaurants, unique shops and lively nightlife, amblers at any time can enjoy the duelling street musicians, colorfully clad magicians and acrobatic performers for free.
Located in the heart of downtown Orlando, Lake Eola Park is a small slice of serenity among the city’s glitzy modernist bustle. A pleasant sidewalk circles the lake, home to a community of friendly swans, and there are a fleet of swan boats to ride out onto the rippling water. Through the day, a decorative fountain stands quietly in the middle of the park, before bursting into life every evening with a choreographed show set to music. A grand amphitheater is embedded into the grass, staging frequent free concerts and plays, and there’s a farmer’s market every sunday. For a cheap and memorable meal, families can share a picnic while looking out over the Orlando skyline.
For something a little wilder, visitors should trek over to Lake Jesup, which is where the wild beasts roam. Their territory is controlled by the Black Hammock Adventure company, which operates paid adventures such as airboat rides, as well as hosting a display of live birds and alligators which is open to the general public. Families can meet the lake’s most famous resident, a giant 35-year-old gator named Hammy, and every Sunday, attend a feeding with him and his reptile companions. There’s also a reptile-themed restaurant, the Lazy Gator Bar, which has free live music every Friday and Saturday night.
Orlando’s public library contains an appropriately superb children’s section, with heaps of children’s stories, quizzes, board games, coloring books and computer games. It also runs a lively roster of events, including storytelling evenings and arts-and-crafts activities, as well as a family movie night every third Thursday of the month. Just drop in and pick up a programme when you arrive in town.
For a taste of Disney without shelling out for a ticket to Disney World, hit the streets of Downtown Disney, lined with a wide array of colorful and interactive shops and boutiques. A highlight is the Lego Imagination Center, which has a well-stocked construction center where kids can admire a 12-foot T Rex and 30-foot sea serpent, and test their building skills in a beat-the-clock construction contest, all for free.