If you’re curious about the town neighboring Orlando and what it has to offer tourists, it’s worth a visit to Kissimmee, Florida. After all, how can a neighboring city to Orlando compete with the lure of Disney? On my recent visit, I was surprised with just how much the city has to offer in terms of luxury hotels, great restaurants and a plethora of activity for families looking to do something other than amusement parks (although a visit to Universal was necessary).
Here’s a wrap-up of what I did, where I stayed, where I dined, so you can plan your next visit to Kissimmee…with or without the kids!
Where I Stayed
Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate is a lovely hotel ducked behind formal arches. The welcoming lobby is adorned with fancy chandeliers and a marble floor and it overlooks a lazy river, pools, whirlpools, cabanas, a golf course and a perfect skyline view. The hotel consists of 16 stories, with two-and-three bedroom villas off to the side with full kitchens and washer/dryer.
I stayed in the hotel, in a lovely room with a cozy King-sized bed, master bath, flat-screen TV, accessible Wi-Fi and a beautiful view of the pools. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite hot enough to take a dip but just being away from the New York winter weather was good enough for me. Plus, being in this lavish hotel was a thrill. I dined at Zen, where I enjoyed unique, yummy Chinese dishes, as well as sushi on a boat (my favorite). The hotel also has the Mokara Spa & Salon, an 18-hole golf course and shuttle service to the Disney theme parks. They also offer great seasonal packages, which you can find more information about here.
Omni Orland Resort at ChampionsGate is located at 1500 Masters Boulevard, ChampionsGate and the phone is (407) 390-6664.
What I Did
To say I was impressed by the diverse selection of activity in Kissimmee is an understatement. There’s a lot for adults and kids alike, and since the weather is pretty much guaranteed to be sunny all year long, it’s easy to plan family activities.
Orlando Tree Trek
I’m always up for adventure and my trip to Orlando Tree Trek was nothing less. I spent two hours swinging through trees, zip lining and going through obstacles in a 15-acre tree canopy. The park has six color-coded courses, each with obstacles that include Tarzan-like swings, ladders, suspended bridges, scramble nets, swinging logs, surfboards and more. At first, I was scared, I will admit, but with each obstacle, I gained confidence. Flying through the trees was exhilarating and I’d do it again. I faced many of my own fears in just a few hours, and it felt wonderful. The Trek is located at 7625 Sinclair Road in Kissimmee. The owners, a married couple who hail from Montreal, take great pride in what they do. It may seem off the beaten path, but it’s great exercise, a thrill and great for kids as young as 7. They offer a course for children ages 7-11 that includes 2 courses and 21 games.
Orlando Tree Trek is located at 7625 Sinclair Rd., Kissimmee and the phone is (407) 390-9999.
The Osceola Country History Society’s Pioneer Village
Who knew that just miles from Disney would be a historical village comprised of authentic, original buildings from over a hundred years ago at Osceola Country History Society’s Pioneer Village? On my walking tour around the village, I was introduced to an 1898 “Cracker House,” a 1900 general store, pioneer artifacts, blacksmith shop, sugar cane mill and an eight-acre pristine nature preserve under 100-year-old trees. It was a serene, tranquil break and a worthwhile educational visit for families.
Osceola Country History Society’s Pioneer Village is located at 750 North Bass Road, Kissimmee and the phone is 407-396-8644.
Boggy Creek Airboat Rides
A highlight of my trip to Kissimmee was my ride on Boggy Creek Airboat Rides, where I had the opportunity to ride the waves of the headwaters of the Everglades, spotting wildlife all along the way. It was a cold morning but the ride was so exciting that I hardly noticed, and instead looked for alligators among the Florida everglades and ended with a chance to get up close and personal with a baby gator.
Boggy Creek Airboat Rides is located at 2001 E. Southport Rd., Kissimmee, FL 34746 and the phone is (407) 344-9550.
The Paddling Center in the Everglades
Another highlight of the trip for me was my paddling trip down Shingle Creek. The Paddling Center offers a helpful team to help choose and rent kayaks or canoes for one or two persons. Then you take a self-guided or guided tour through braided channels in a cypress forest along a 32-mile trail extending from Kissimmee to Wekiva Springs Street Park and from Orlando to Mascotte. The multi-use trail runs along Shingle Creek, which are the headwaters of the Okeechobee-Everglades ecosystem. It’s a very impressive experience – we saw vultures, frogs, birds and other forms of wildlife.
The Paddling Center is located at 4266 W Vine St, Kissimmee and the phone is (407) 343-7740.
Naturally, a trip to Universal Studios is a must, especially since they added The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter, complete with a life-size and incredibly realistic Hogwarts Castle. I loved joining the Harry Potter addicts waving Harry Potter wands and rode the new Dragon Challenge roller coaster and imposing Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which cast its shadow over the town of Hogsmeade. The cobbled street of shops and attractions including Madam Malkin’s Robes For All is where wannabe wizards can pick up their uniform and is almost off a movie set. Kids can select a wand at Magical Menagerie and Ollivanders and use them interactively throughout the Wizarding World. My favorite part oft the experience was arriving at Diagon Alley via the interactive Hogwarts Express, an English steam locomotive which features such attention to detail it will impress even the most die-hard train spotter. Patrons will even see themselves jump through the wall of the train to board.
The park also features rides such as Transformers: The Ride-3D, the Simpsons and Jurassic Park and really merits a full day or two.
Universal Studios is located at 6000 Universal Blvd. and the phone is (407) 363-8000.
What I Ate
I was so impressed by the variety of culinary options in Kissimmee, all with a tremendous amount of appeal to adults and kids alike. Here is a short list:
In the heart of Kissimmee sits Shula Burger, founded by Don Shula of NFL fame. Their Signature Burgers include classics or special burgers with caramelized onions, red peppers, mushrooms, swiss cheese or blue cheese, to name a few ingredients. Kids options include cheeseburgers, chicken bites or grilled cheese. This is a casual, cozy, yummy option that’s easy with kids. It’s fast dependable service and good quality food. Don’t skip the fried pickles!
Shula Burger is located at 8124 W Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy and the phone is (407) 238-1999.
The Bohemian Bar and Grill at the Bohemian Hotel Celebration
The Bohemian Bar and Grill is a complete respite from the action of nearby Disney. Located right on the lake, the atmosphere is laid back and relaxing with comfortable chairs, big chandeliers and a scrumptious menu that includes Citrus Glazed Scallops, the Bohemian Burger, Sautéed Mussels, Pan Seared Grouper, Crab Cakes and Filet Mignon Egg Rolls. Kids can enjoy chicken fingers and shirley temples.
The Bohemian Bar and Grill is located at 700 Bloom Street and the phone is (407) 566-6000.
Eleven at Reunion Resort
For a more upscale experience, head to the roof top lounge at Eleven at Reunion Resort. With 360 degree views including nightly views of Walt Disney World® Resort fireworks, the restaurant offers a beautiful menu of prime cuts of beef and fish. I had the Bourbon Glazed Salmon with a sweet corn, which was delicious. The hotel is gorgeous and boasts 10 swimming pools and a water park as well, so you can spend the day splashing around the water park, or play tennis on one of the six lighted tennis courts should you choose to stay there.
Eleven is located at 7593 Gathering Drive and the phone is (407) 396-5290.
Gaylord Palm’s Villa de Flora at Omni Resort
We had breakfast at Gaylord Palm’s Villa de Flora at Omni Resort. Voted Critic’s Choice for Best Brunch by the Orlando Sentinel, the meal, inspired by Mediterranean cuisine, was a treat. The Palms is built around a massive courtyard, separated into three Florida sections: Key West, St. Augustine, and the Everglades. Villa de Flora is located into the St. Augustine area of the courtyard and offers fresh food, something for everyone in the family.
Gaylord Palm’s Villa de Flora at Omni Resort is located at 6000 West Osceola Parkway and the phone is (407) 586-0000.
Disclosure: Holly went on a press trip to Kissimmee hosted by Experience Kissimmee to gather this information but all opinions are her own.