Of course, when we think of family vacations and places to visit in Central Florida, we think of none other than the awesomeness that is Legoland, but let me tell you guys – Central Florida has quite a few hidden gems you’ve probably never even thought of for a family vacation.
This past Spring Break, I partnered with Visit Central Florida and TravelingMom for a fun family road trip to Polk County, Florida. Ok, so what does Polk County offer for families? So much more than you’d imagine! Central Florida has a lot of very unique and fun experiences for families of all ages.
Here are just some of the most unique sites to visit in Central Florida:
We started our trip at the Central Florida’s Visitor Information Center for a quick check in and to see what we had in
store for the trip. I must say that this was one of the most immersive experiences I’ve ever had at any visitor center – from attraction tickets & discount coupons (including LEGOLAND Florida Resort and most of the major Orlando and Tampa attractions.), to local goods, fresh squeezed orange juice, and a lot of fun activities for the kids, including a playground, and vending machine with library books (which I thought was super cool by the way).
Another really cool fact is that it’s also the future home of the USA Water Ski and Wake Sports Foundation Hall of Fame and Museum! We got a little sneak peek of what’s to come and I think visitors are certainly in for quite an experience!
Ridge Island Groves is a family owned grove, gift shop and packing house. In addition to a complete grove tour where we got to see and pick some of the freshest blueberries, peaches and oranges, a really cool experience was sort of a behind the scenes look at the orange sorting process. We got to witness the conveyor belt process or sorting the oranges by size, removing the bad ones, etc.
Next, we got to taste some of the fresh grown deliciousness from the grove! We
sampled the fresh squeeze orange juice, tangerine orange juice and the strawberry tangerine juice and true story – we couldn’t resist buying bottles of all three and just praying they’d fit in our hotel fridge! Now, if only I could’ve found a way to bring that ice cream home with me too!
I would not be surprised if Leila becomes a farmer one day just to enjoy the taste of fresh fruit all day.
The historic Bok Tower Gardens is by far one of the most enlightening experiences Central Florida has to offer. Established in 1929 as a “gift to the American people” from Dutch immigrant and world peace advocate Edward W. Bok, Bok Tower Gardens features nearly 700 acres of conservation lands and gardens surrounding the magnificent 205-foot “Singing Tower” carillon and Pinewood Estate, a 20-room, Mediterranean-style 1930s winter retreat 50 acres of spectacular garden landscaping, breathtaking architecture, inspirational messages, and much more.
Needless to say, you can’t miss the experience of the singing tower, which features an actual pianist playing live music from the tower while visitors can watch from the viewing area outside. Also, be sure to stop by the reflective pool for a most breathtaking experience!
The Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden is one of the main attractions for kids at Bok Tower Gardens and is filled with various experiences to explore. I say explore because with every turn, you find something new and cool to keep the kids entertained. Among what we discovered was nearly 3 acres of nature play, an outdoor kitchen, interactive art, musical discovery instruments, a hidden splash fountain and even a performance from our favorite Frozen princesses!
You absolutely cannot miss the experience at Safari Wilderness Ranch! Safari Wilderness Ranch is a family-run agritourism venture and was named one of the “10 Best Safaris in the U.S.” by Fodors.com in 2015.
We were guided on a private bus tour through open grasslands for spectacular
close-up encounters with huge herds of exotic hoofstock from Africa, Asia and South America. The kids really loved feeding the animals and I personally was enamored by the wealth of information about these animals we received from our tour guide.
The lemur hand-feeding experience is one of the additional offerings at the ranch, but a truly unique experience to take part in, so I’d highly recommend it!
Tours are available by safari vehicle, ATV, on camelback or by kayak. Vehicle tours operate daily at 9 am, 1 pm and 3 pm and reservations are required. Limited one-hour drive-thru safaris may also be available – for social distancing.
While this was one site I did not get a chance to visit during this trip, it’s one that’s definitely on my list for the next one. Westgate River Ranch Resort is the largest Dude Ranch east of the Mississippi. I remember visiting a dude ranch for my senior high school trip and having a blast, so I’d love for my family to experience this.
Westgate River Ranch Resort offers various recreational activities including horseback riding, airboat and swamp buggy rides, zip-lining, a petting farm, skeet shooting, mechanical bull, hayrides, and more! It lies on 1,700 acers and offers a variety of cowboy themed accommodations – from tent camping and a lodge to “glamping” tents and luxe teepees. Plus, just opened in March 2021 are new Luxe Conestoga Wagons and Signature Glamping Tents.
Dining in Polk County, Central Florida
I have to say, I had a chance to dine at some pretty spectacular places during my visit. Harry’s Old Place on Lake Ned is a local favorite specializing in fresh seafood. You should take their mantra seriously that “The Fish is Always De-Lish!” Outdoor dining is available and they have options for kids as well.
Harborside Restaurant was another treat. It’s casual dining, with the unique opportunity for boats to dock right in front of the restaurant. The food was fresh and delicious and the service was just as great. On a clear day, this is also the place to enjoy a gorgeous sunset!
Not only is Central Florida just an easy drive from Atlanta (hello, road trip), but it’s also home to many unique and unforgettable experiences the whole family will enjoy. For more information on traveling to Central Florida including lodging, discounts and events, go to www.visitcentralflorida.org.
Disclosure: This trip was hosted/sponsored by TravelingMom & Visit Central Florida. As always, all opinions are mine alone.