The theme parks may get all the attention, but Orlando, Florida is also a great base if you want to experience some of the state’s natural beauty or try a new sport
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Many travelers headed to Orlando have a must-see list that consists of three stops: Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld. The city is, however, also a convenient gateway to a number of Florida’s lesser known but equally fascinating outdoor attractions.
In Orlando, your ideal base is the Encore Resort at Reunion. This collection of 3- to 13-bedroom homes combines the best of a home rental vacation—the space to spread out and each house even has its own pool—and the high standards and amenities of a luxury resort. There’s even a waterpark at the heart of Encore. Among the resort services at Encore are concierges who can help you navigate all the highlights of central Florida.
Whether you are new to the sport or an experienced kayaker, paddling is one of the best ways to explore the lakes and waterways of Florida. The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, just over an hour by car from Orlando, on the state’s Atlantic coast at Cape Canaveral, is one of the most popular kayaking areas with its maze of mangroves and protected bays. An unusual highlight can be experienced from June to October: Operators like Get Up and Go Kayaking offer kayak tours of one of the world’s few bioluminescent bays.
The Brevard Zoo, about 90 minutes by car from Encore Resort, offers a unique kayaking adventure. It’s the only kayak tour in the country through an animal exhibit. You’ll paddle by the zoo’s zebras, giraffes, and rhinos. The kayaking tour is only an additional $10 beyond the standard admission price.
Pedal About Town
Orlando has nearly 40 miles of well-maintained biking and running trails, which provide a safe way to explore the city even if you rarely bike at home. After days on the rides at the parks, it can be a refreshing change to move under your own power. The three-mile-long Orlando Urban Trail hits many of the highlights of downtown, and much of it is shaded by stately oaks. The 12-mile Orlando Southeast Trail has some more rural stretches, making it a favorite of bird watchers. The concierges at Encore can recommend local bike rental companies.
Wander in Winter Park
Less than an hour’s drive north of Orlando, the community of Winter Park was, at the turn of the last century, the destination of choice for northerners fleeing the cold. Stately mansions from that period remain, while areas like Hannibal Square have a bounty of restaurants and shops to explore. The Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour offers a unique view from the water while Get Up and Go Kayaking also offers tours in Winter Park.
A Real-life Lazy River Ride
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Many waterparks include lazy river rides, where you can float down a manmade stream in an inner tube. While they may be fun, they don’t compare to the real thing. At Kelly Park/Rock Springs, less than an hour north of the Encore Resort, you can tube and swim in a stream that is a consistent 68 degrees year-round—perfect to cool off on a hot summer day, yet not too chilly in the winter.
Try a New Watersport
Just 15 minutes from Encore Resort, Lake Bryan is a little bit of Florida nature literally just minutes from the theme parks. Buena Vista Watersports will let you try just about any activity you’ve been curious about: paddleboarding, jet skiing, wakeboarding, and more. With the combination of a trained staff that are experts at helping beginners and the calm waters of the lake, it’s an ideal place for an introduction to whatever activity has interested you.
A Garden of Delights
If there is anyone in your family or group on your Encore vacation looking for an outdoor activity that is a little gentler than kayaking or wakeboarding, Leu Gardens is the city’s charming 50-acre botanical garden. Florida’s climate is ideal for a wide range of both tropical and temperate plants, and the paths through the gardens pass by camellias, roses, bromeliads, and philodendrons, all in the shade of elms and camphor trees. Just to the east of the gardens, you’ll find the Audubon Park Garden District, one of Orlando’s liveliest neighborhoods, home of some of the town’s best restaurants and shopping.
Ready to explore the great outdoors of Florida? Start by finding a home base for your adventures at the Encore Resort at Reunion.