The sights and sounds away from the Orlando Theme Parks are just as fantastic.

 

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What to see and do in Orlando, Cocoa Beach and on the Gulf Coast

The first thought that Orlando, Florida brings to mind is Theme Parks, and with Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and NASA there are certainly plenty of those, but Orlando and Florida have so much more to offer. Fantastic shopping malls, outlet shopping malls full of cheap clothes. Beautiful sunny beaches, great restaurants, air boats and hot air balloon rides.

Shopping

Look away now guys, but clothes and shoes here we come! the good bit though its loads cheaper than in the UK.

Away from the supermarkets there are two types of shopping, the Shopping Mall and the Outlet Shopping Mall.

The Shopping Mall is your typical town center complex with a complete mixture of shops from big chains to boutique stores. Prices will be cheaper than the UK for similar products, there will be a great range. The Florida Mall (8001 Orange Blossom Trail) is a fantastic complex with a complete range of shops including the largest ever M&Ms Sweet Shop.

Outlet Shopping Malls are seconds shops for the major brands and fashions, prices will be much lower than the UK with some fantastic savings to be had on designer items. The Orlando Premium Outlets (Vineland Ave) has over 150 shops and is a great place to fill up any spare suitcase space you may have.

Both types of shopping mall have free parking and their own refreshments, although these tend to be more comprehensive at the Shopping Malls than the Outlet Malls.

Restaurants

Orlando, International Drive and Highway 192 are packed with restaurants, dinners and fast food outlets. The major chains, Denny's, Gioidanos, Houlihan's, Quixnos are all well represented. The focus is on Steak, Ribs, Seafood (shrimps), Mexican, Pizza , Pasta and of course Burgers. There are a few fairly poor UK style pubs, with French and Indian not seen. An Italian will serve pizza, and some pasta along with steaks but is less likely to serve classic Italian dishes.

Portions will be huge, expect a starter to the the same as a UK main course with a side salad being similar.

Dinner out in a better restaurant will be a little cheaper than the equivalent UK restaurant. Buffet restaurants and Dinners will be significantly cheaper.

Booking, outside of Disney restaurants, is generally not needed or available.

Beaches and the Sea

With two seas to choose from there is no excuse not to dip a toe or ten in the water. The Atlantic to the East offers sandy beaches and crashing waves around the Cocoa beach areas whilst St Petersburg to the west leads to the beautiful blue calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Clearwater Beach Florida

Cocoa is a much shorter drive but on a rough day the sea is only suitable for the strongest of swimmers, expect the life guards to raise red flags at these times. The beaches of the Gulf coast are just gorgeous, much calmer and the water much warmer, but it is a longer car journey to get there from Orlando.

Cocoa Beach

Travel west from Orlando on the Bee Line Express way in the direction of Cape Canaveral, and the first sea side town you come to is Cocoa Beach. Originally a commuter town for the space program and still known as the Space Coast, Cocoa Beach is a thriving community that in addition to NASA has the very busy Caribbean cruse ship terminal.

The sandy beach stretches for miles, with plenty of parking and life guards in places. Washed by the Atlantic it can be rough at times and, although far warmer than the sea at home, is never that warm.

Cooca, with its restaurants and shops provides a great escape from Orlando and is an easy addition to a day at NASA.

Ron Jons Surf Shop

Set just back from the beach and with its own multi-story car park is the world famous Ron Jons Surf Shop, a mecca for surf dudes, beach bums and shoppers. Towels, Clothing and all sorts of beach related paraphernalia make this a must do shopping experience.

Hot Air Balloon Trips

The reliable weather and warm still mornings make hot air balloon rides a very popular way to experience the sights of Orlando from the sky. There are numerous locations along highway 192 advertising trips. The balloon flights start early and make quite a spectacle from the ground, if you are staying in a villa at the top of the 192 you may even find them landing around you.

Hot Air Ballon Rides

Air Boat Rides

Situated around 20 minutes drive from Orlando, Boggy Creek Airboat rides is a fun way to spend a few hours seeing some of Florida's wildlife. Rides take around 30 minutes, although longer rides can be arranged. Bring the sun cream and expect it to get very noisy when at full speed.

Boggy Creek Airboat Rides