Orlando and Beyond

    By VISIT FLORIDA staff

    Gators and golf highlight this driving tour in the Orlando area

    Outstanding, outrageous, overwhelming Orlando. This central city is home to Mickey Mouse and Shamu, Universal Orlando and Disney's Hollywood Studios. But long before Walt Disney created his fantastical theme park, tourists were flocking to the area to experience Florida's first attractions. Places like Gatorland have always been favorites for families in search of fun in the sun.


    Heritage Highlights

    Today's tour starts with a stop at the Mennello Museum of American Art, 900 E. Princeton St., one of the few museums in the nation dedicated solely to this art form. The Mennello houses the most extensive collection of paintings from the primitive genius Earl Cunningham. Other well-known folk artists are also showcased. Hours: 10:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., Tue. - Sat.; Noon - 4:30 p.m., Sun. Call (407) 246-4278. mennellomuseum.com 


    Travel back 12,000 years in time and fast-forward to today exploring the people, places and events that shape Central Florida at the Orange County Regional History Center in the restored 1927 Courthouse, 65 E. Central Blvd. In the heart of downtown Orlando, this state-of-the-art venue brings history to life through audio visual presentations, hands-on exhibits, education programs and special events. Hours: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Mon. - Sat.; Noon - 5 p.m., Sun. Call (407) 836-8500 or 800-965-2030. thehistorycenter.org


    Nature Trek

    Swing into the great outdoors by enrolling in one of the world's most renowned golf academies. Orlando boasts several, where both novice and expert golfers can take to the links. The Arnold Palmer Golf Academy at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge, 9000 Bay Hill Blvd., emphasizes fundamentals with tips on course strategy and how to practice like a pro. Call 888-422-9445. bayhill.com

    No visit to Florida is complete without sighting an alligator. The easiest place to spot one of these primal creatures is at Gatorland, 14501 Orange Blossom Trail. It's the "Alligator Capital of the World" and one of Florida's first major tourist attractions. The Jumparoo (alligators jumping to catch meat) is a crowd favorite, but alligator wrestling is also popular. Over the years, the park has accumulated 5,000 animals in its exhibits, from a Barnyard Petting Zoo and Very Merry Aviary to a Breeding Marsh and Jungle Crocs of the World. Its newest adventure is the Screamin' Gator zipline. Hours: Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 407-855-5496 or 800-393-JAWS. gatorland.com


    Culture Quest

    The next stop is the Orlando Museum of Art, 2416 N. Mills Ave., in Loch Haven Park, for a look at works by artists Georgia O'Keeffe, John Singer Sargent, and Robert Rauschenberg. The American art collection is particularly strong, with pieces from the 18th century to the present. African art and Pre-Columbian art collections also present a fascinating look at art through the ages. Hours: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., Tues. - Fri.; Noon - 4 p.m., Sat. and Sun. Call (407) 896-4231. omart.org

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