Sometimes my family stayed on a Disney property. Other times we stayed at a nearby resort but rented a car. This time, I decided to accompany a small group whose aim was to check out a variety of attractions and travel options in the Kissimmee area.
The result was one surprise after another.
This was to be a no-car rental vacation. Yes, renting a car will likely be an option for some families and couples but we wanted to see what could work without that choice.
We stayed at the Omni Orlando Resort at Championsgate, supposedly about 25 minutes from the Orlando airpor (MCO). When we took an MCO limo to the hotel we could see why some visitors would prefer the limo or Lyft to renting a car because the highways seem worse than the LA Freeway during rush hour.
Who really wants to put up with traffic when vacationing. It took our experienced driver 40 minutes, not 25, but we could relax.
The second good choice was choosing a hotel that had a free shuttle to and from the Disney properties.
We went to EPCOT because the annual International Food & Wine Festival was going on. Loved it. Good small bites, fun entertainment and a good way to see the theme park’s major exhibits and countries.
Even October can be hot, hot, hot here. So time after a few hours of eating we decided to catch the shuttle back even though there were still more places to see and food to try.
However, what we saw when waiting for the Omni shuttle at a transportation hub attached to EPCOT were signs for Disney shuttle buses to other properties such as Hollywood Studios where “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” just opened. So, still no need for a car rental.
Back at the hotel, we went in different directions. One person went to check out the spa. I needed a refreshing swim so headed to the adult pool. It was late afternoon so we agreed to join the other two in our group in the David’s Club, a sports bar.
I wished my back still let me play 18 holes because it had two Greg Norman championship courses calling my name for the next day. Oh well.
But what I still wanted to do was see the Harry Potter sections of Universal and visit other area attractions such as the Celebration, an unincorporated “town” in Kissimmee and take a Boggy Creek Airboat also in Kissimmee.
So I took LYFT to Universal. It’s further from our hotel than Disney World but I had excellent drivers going and coming. The rate each way was under $30 and I didn’t have to worry about highway traffic or parking costs.
To really do Harry Potter right I needed a Park to Park ticket because half of it was in Universal Studios where I found Diagon Alley and half was in Island of Adventure where I found Hogsmeade. To go from one to the other I took the Hogwarts Express. What fun!
Tips: Best choice here is to get an Express Pass. You really do get into the park faster, on the rides faster and so have more time to enjoy the parks or go back to accommodations to relax.
But a vacation to Central Florida’s Orlando-Kissimmee area isn’t just about theme parks. Kissimmee waterways feed into the Everglades so the area is a good place to take a safe ride through the natural vegetation past alligators, great blue herons, eagles and osprey.
So we took the Boggy Creek Airboat Rides because of its reputation for safety. Plus it has a good snack hut that has marvelous baked beans and there is a nice Indian Village at the back of the property where visitors hear about local tribes. Tips: Early morning is best to see alligators who like to sleep in the mud in the middle of the day.
On to Celebration for another surprise.
Built on property formerly owned by The Walt Disney Company, Celebration is a planned community within Kissimmee where the houses on some streets resemble once-upon-a-time, small-town USA and on other streets appear to be mansions.
To me, the whole town was a surprise and seemed related to the satirical science fiction story of Stepford Wives or, as someone in our group pointed out, The Truman Show.
The community has schools, parks and recreational facilities plus a cute downtown of restaurants shops and the Bohemian Hotel for visitors.
To see the town some visitors drive, others go to Celebration Bike Rental. Given how hot it was when we were there, instead of each renting a bike, we opted for a ride in an old-fashioned roadster look-alike with a shady top,
Our driver was a member of an early Celebration family so knew all about the town, its advantages, its rules for changing house colors or curb-side flowers and how good the schools were.
The restaurants and bakeries all looked inviting but our lunch was at Boggy Creek.
I recommend getting a guide to talk about the town, its growth, its restrictions and where to eat if there during meal and snack time.
Back again at our hotel we thought we’d explore the property. The resort’s pools make this a great place for youngsters. Aside from the Adult Pool, there is a Lazy River, a zero –entry Family Pool, a Kids Pool with slides and a 7,338 square-foot Wave Pool.
I appreciate good sushi and sake so my fave dining spot at the hotel was Zen but mostly we hung out ad David’s where the Select Guests’ hotel cards given us when we signed in were good for drinks at any of the restaurants, coffee shop or deli but we used them mostly at the sports bar.
One other activity we tried was hot-air ballooning. The meeting site was nearby at Showcase of Citrus in Clermont, but the landing location was near the hotel. I and another member of our group happily watched while two people in our group and other visitors who signed up took off in two balloons. A third balloon held a couple we learned afterwards at a champagne ceremony became engaged while up in the air. Wow.
Given parking fees and rental costs I found MCO limos, LYFT and shuttles to be a realistic option and happily didn’t worry about traffic.
By the way, there are several accommodation options in the area. For more information go to Experience Kissimmee/visitor