beautiful child becomes princess for a day at Disney's Magic Kingdom

    Princess for a day at The Magic Kingdom.

    Driving to Florida: Atlanta to Orlando

    By Kevin McGeever

    Your Florida vacation destination is Orlando, Theme Park Capital of the World.

    And the overstimulating first thought may be that you are just a day’s drive from Disney and Universal and SeaWorld and International Drive -- and so many exciting choices that your head might explode: a Star Wars universe, Harry Potter and Hogwarts, dolphin encounters in Discovery Cove, and all manner of roller coasters and thrill rides to make your stomach flip for a week.

    Are we there yet?!!

    That’s understood. We get it.

    But breathe. And read.

    There are so many things to do in Florida between where you are and where you are going.

    If you can spare a few hours on your road trip -- better, a day or two -- you might:
    - bounce on whitewater rapids;
    - absorb Civil War history;
    - experience a baptism in Florida’s real fountains of youth;
    - descend a limestone sinkhole into a miniature rainforest;
    - see wild horses and bison on the prairie;
    - drink orange juice in the heart of citrus country;
    - zip on a cable 10 stories above a blue-green canyon pool;
    - dive into Florida’s prehistoric memory at Devil’s Den.

    Still breathing?

    You can create your own travel itinerary for driving from Atlanta to Orlando with the VISIT FLORIDA planning tool -- but here are some thought starters on what you can appreciate on your road trip through Florida, and what to expect when you reach Orlando.
     

    ESSENTIAL INFORMATION

    Distance from Atlanta to Orlando:  approximately 440 miles (706 kilometers)
    Driving time: 7-8 hours
    Best route(s): I-75 south to Florida Turnpike.
    Fuel costs: use this calculator.
    Charging stations: plot your course on Plugshare.
    Rest areas: Interstate 75 in Georgia, Interstate 75 in Florida, Florida Turnpike
    Alternative transportation: RedCoach and Greyhound. Travel time 10.5-12 hours.
     

    PLACES TO STOP ALONG THE WAY

    Here are some Florida things to do from north to south, as well as the distances from Orlando and the addresses of each point of interest, so you can program them into your GPS.
     

    Big Shoals State Park 

    11330 SE Co Rd 135, White Springs

    This park has the largest whitewater rapids in Florida, a Class III-level excitement (though it is seasonally dependent on the water level in the Suwannee River). There are 28 miles of trails for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. Limestone bluffs 80 feet high provide panoramic vistas.
    Time allowance: 4 hours.
    Distance from Orlando: 173 miles (278 kilometers)

    Canoe on the clear waters of Ginnie Springs in Florida

    Florida's springs are a can’t-miss, bucket-list vacation experience. This is beautiful Ginnie Springs.

    - Forrest Mankins

    Florida's Springs 

    A can’t-miss, bucket-list vacation experience. Equal parts physical and spiritual. 72 degrees year-round. A clear-as-glass lens into the Florida Aquifer, the beating underwater heart of the Sunshine State. You can dive and snorkel and explore. Or you can just float and forget where you were going and why you were in such a hurry.
    Watch these videos and remember these names:
    - Ichetucknee
    - Ginnie
    - Troy
    - Juniper
    - Silver
    - Rock
    Time allowance: 4 hours
    Distance from Orlando: from 33 to 160 miles (53 to 257 kilometers), depending on where you stop.

    Butterfly Rain Forest 

    Florida Museum of Natural History, 3215 Hull Road, Gainesville

    Be a participant in a living exhibit, walking through a tropical canopy with hundreds of birds and butterflies as your escorts. Cameras are encouraged. Wonderment is involuntary.
    Time allowance: 3 hours.
    Distance from Orlando: 111 miles (178 kilometers).

    Devil's Den

    5390 NE 180th Ave., Williston, and
    Blue Grotto
    3852 NE 172nd Court, Williston

    Both are divers’ dreams -- crystal-clear underwater journeys into the 33-million-year-old limestone arteries of subterranean Florida.
    Time allowance: 4 hours.
    Distance from Orlando: 100 miles (160 kilometers).

    exercise rider galloping atop a thoroughbred in Ocala

    An exercise rider rides a thoroughbred horse around the track while training on a foggy morning at Ocala Stud in Ocala.

    - Jacqui Janetzko for Visit Florida

    Ocala Horse Country

    With its legacy of champion equestrian and thoroughbreds, Ocala is officially the “Horse Capital of the World.” VISIT FLORIDA’s Saundra Amrhein wrote: “For miles, brown and white board fences enclose squares of green pastures. Well-built barns abound. And the sleek, muscular animals themselves graze in fields against a blue horizon backdrop. Marion County is home to more than 600 thoroughbred farms and is one of a handful of thoroughbred centers in the world.”
    Time allowance: 4 hours.
    Distance from Orlando: 80 miles (130 kilometers).

    kids riding The Flight of the Hippogriff at Universal's Islands of Adventure

    The Flight of the Hippogriff™ is a family-friendly roller coaster that spirals and dives around the pumpkin patch, and then swoops past Hagrid's hut at Universal's Islands of Adventure.

    - Universal's Islands of Adventure

    WELCOME TO ORLANDO

    This region, perhaps more than anywhere else, represents how vital Florida is to America’s sustenance -- as a food source and entertainment capital. Orlando, Kissimmee, Lake Buena Vista, Celebration and, farther west, Winter Haven and Tampa are internationally recognized theme park destinations -- powered by Disney, Universal, SeaWorld, LEGOLAND and Busch Gardens, brands that regularly refresh their attractions. I-Drive in Orlando is 11 miles of experiences such as the Wheel at ICON Park, plus shopping, hotels, dining and nightlife. Professional sports teams include the NBA’s Magic and Major League Soccer’s Orlando City SC.

    The short question might be: How much vacation time do you have?

    Theme Parks

    Florida is epicenter of the worldf for theme parks. Orlando is the capital. Every day here, no one is too old, or too young, to wear Mickey ears or wave a wand and shriek in delight. Besides the titans -- Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld -- here are a couple other theme park destinations to watch:
    - Orlando Watersports Park
    - Kissimmee’s Fun Spot

    Shopping

    Janet K. Keeler wrote that “Orlando International Premium Outlets may just have the best location of any shopping mall in the U.S.A. The complex has unmatched visibility, tucked as it is into a huge pie-shaped parcel where Interstate 4 and the Florida Turnpike meet.” Audubon Park is a shopping and dining district surrounded by 1920s bungalows and more modern ranch-style homes. Winter Park got its start in the late 1800s as a resort community. The 49-store Winter Park Village isn’t old, but there’s a slowed-down vibe to a stroll here. And, like Winter Park itself, it seems exclusive.

    Dining

    Orlando, like any major American city, is a smorgasbord of exquisite experiences: James Beard chefs, concentrations of cultures such as Vietnamese and Puerto Rican, fan favorites, and local color. Then there are the theme parks and entertainment districts such as Disney Springs, which offer a culinary diversity to match any thrills you had during your stay.

    Kennedy Space Center

    For close to 60 years, Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center have been the world’s launchpad for manned space flight. Mercury. Gemini. Apollo. The space shuttle. At the Visitors Center, you can stroll through a garden of rockets or watch one rise into the blue.

    Cocoa

    If you’re this far east, remember the beaches just an hour from Orlando. Cocoa is America’s Atlantic surfing capital, birthplace of 11-time world champion Kelly Slater. The surf culture is thick here, quietly represented by its local board shops and loudly proclaimed by Ron Jon, the multi-level shopping experience (you likely saw the signs on I-75).

    Driving from Atlanta to Orlando is a road trip full of Florida adventure possibilities. The Orlando theme parks and entertainment centers may be your ultimate destinations, but along the route there are numerous Florida points of interest and memories to make. Enjoy the ride.

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