Come discover the wild side of Orlando. We’ve partnered with travel writer Susan Lanier-Graham of Wander With Wonder as she gets out and about in Orlando and nearby Kissimmee, Florida.

While Orlando is most often associated with theme parks — Disney World, LEGOLAND, Epcot, and Universal Studios — there are tons of other outdoor activities for Florida visitors. You can float over the waterways in a hot air balloon or soar over the city in a historic plane. When you return to the ground, you can take to the swamps in an airboat or kayak. However you choose to experience it, the wild side of Orlando and nearby Kissimmee offers great adventures for visitors who want to go beyond the theme parks.

Outdoor Water Adventures

Lake Cypress sits at the headwaters to the Florida Everglades — or, as the folks at Wild Florida Air Boats say, in the middle of nowhere. While it might feel like the middle of nowhere, Wild Florida is only about 45 minutes from Orlando’s theme parks. You are in for a real treat here. Hop on an airboat and skim across the waters to catch a glimpse of alligators, eagles, roseate spoonbills, egrets and more. There is something new to see at every turn and you won’t spot the same critters on any two trips.

Experience the ultimate Airboat Adventure in Kissimmee, FL

Photo courtesy Experience Kissimmee

Wild Florida is also home to a wildlife park, where you can have a chance to exercise your sea legs and watch lemurs, deer, peacocks, alligators — and even the unusual Zonkeys and Zedonks. These little zebra-donkey hybrids are a favorite with visitors.

The airboats offer an exciting ride, with the wind whipping through your hair as your captain navigates the waters and marshes. If you prefer a quiet interlude, try kayaking or paddle board rentals. Head to The Paddling Center at Shingle Creek back in Kissimmee.

Florida - The Paddling Center in Kissimmee

Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham/

The Paddling Center offers kayak and canoe tours for visitors of all ages. You start with expert instruction on how to use the kayak before you take to the water. The 2-hour Ecotour is the most popular. It includes your kayak, life jacket, drinks, snacks and a guide to point out the wildlife along the way and talk about the area’s ecology. If you’re comfortable on your own, rent a single or tandem kayak for a more solitary excursion.

Florida - Kayaking at Paddling Center in Kissimmee

Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham/

The waterway is calm and easy to navigate even for beginners. It’s a great idea to bring your cell phone (they have waterproof packs for them if you don’t have one with you) and a waterproof camera. Remember, you are in the Florida swamps, so apply both bug spray and sunscreen. Along the way, keep your eyes open for alligators swimming past, turtles sunning on old logs and birds that nest along the banks. It’s a peaceful ride, giving you a chance to get up close to Kissimmee’s nature in a way most people never experience.

Adventures Over Orlando

There’s something magical about taking aloft in a balloon and there’s no better place for ballooning than over Orlando and Kissimmee. Orlando Balloon Rides offers sunrise flights that start an hour before sunrise at the company’s welcome center about 25 miles west of Kissimmee. As the sun gradually begins to lighten the sky, you’ll watch in awe as the colorful balloons inflate, the heat and sizzle of the burners adding a wow moment to the early morning. You hop into the basket and catch the sunrise as the heavy mist of the Florida morning recedes.

Florida - Orlando Balloon Rides

Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham/

After an hour floating over houses, waterways and golf courses, with the theme parks in the distance, your guide brings you gently back to Earth. You then celebrate the day’s journey with a champagne toast.

Ever wonder if you have “the right stuff” to be a flying ace? Now you can find out when you take to the skies over Kissimmee in a historic World War II airplane at Warbird Adventures. Head out to Kissimmee Gateway Airport, where you can experience the thrill of the old fighter planes while taking in the outdoor beauty of Florida beneath you.

Book flights with Warbird Adventures from 15 minutes to one hour and even take the controls yourself under the guidance of your instructor. This is one Orlando adventure you’ll never forget.

Whether you prefer getting out on the water or want to experience the outdoors by taking to the sky, you can create some amazing memories in Orlando, Florida.

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Susan Lanier-Graham is an official Travelocity Gnational Gnomad. Gnational Gnomads is an exclusive group of high-profile travel and lifestyle experts who offer tips and inspiration on behalf of Travelocity. For more information on the Travelocity Gnomads visit

Travelocity compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site; such compensation may include travel and other costs.

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