By: Zoe Sedlak

OrlandoIf you look up Orlando, Florida online, the top five list of things to see there are as follows: Disney World, SeaWorld, Gatorland, Wet n’ Wild Water Park.  There’s a common theme within this list which may leave you asking: “…But what about me?”  What about the childless twenty or thirty-something traveller who got out all of their fun park energy during their family vacations as an eight-year-old?

Orlando is one of the top tourism spots in America – actually the most visited American city in 2009, but that doesn’t mean your trip to Orlando has to involve souvenir t-shirts and wading through crowds of screaming children. Beyond the blinding gleam of man-made attractions, there is – yes, fresh air.  Many people can go their entire stay in Orlando without realizing that there is more nature in Orlando than just humanity-packed beaches. Here are a few things you can try in Orlando if you have no interest in Gatorland.

Airboat rides
In the natural wetlands of the Central Florida Everglades, you can escape the wild kids and explore the wildlife.  Instead of tapping at gators through glass, an airboat ride is the chance to spot one in real life.  Whether or not you want to listen to the backwater guide as he reels off information about the Everglades or whether you choose to zone out and enjoy the Florida wind on your face as you speed past narrow corridors of tall reeds and cattails, it’s up to you, but it’s definitely a refreshing experience after that hour-long line for the log ride with the kids dripping ice cream on your flip flops.

Visit The Senator
In the number one tourist town in America, sometimes it’s hard to find places that haven’t been paved and re-paved, polished and decked with a ticket booth at the door for admission, but Orlando has quite a few nature parks as well, that few tourists seem to take advantage of.  Big Tree Park is one of those places, and whether you’re camping or just taking a hike, this park is worth the visit, because it’s home to “The Senator”, a 3,500 year-old Bald Cypress Tree, possibly the oldest living tree in the country.  When everything around you seems like it was built yesterday, sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of a time more natural, more real, more permanent.

Mosquitoes come out at night.  As much as some of us like nature, there are some things that we’d like to avoid, and the insects of the Florida Everglades are probably a few of those things.  Since you’re here anyway, you might as well see what down town Orlando has to offer.  Now, there are tons of things you can do here that you can also do in pretty much any American city.  There are shopping centres and entertainment areas that boast franchises like Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville (although they do have delicious nachos and a giant fake blender), but you might as well do something more unique to Orlando.  Skip the franchises and just take walk through the city, dance at some nightclubs, then go indulge your offbeat musical curiosity at Howl at the Moon.  If you like audience participation, duelling piano shows, or just somewhere away from crying children with dripping ice cream, this place may be worth a shot.

Staying in Orlando doesn’t have to be part of an all inclusive Disney Land package either. There are numerous hotels that aren’t run down tourist traps. Many visitors choose to invest in an Orlando Timeshare for their annual stay. The reason timeshares are so popular in Florida is because many tourists find a place they like, such as Orlando and prefer to return back to that same spot once a year. People from all over North America retire to Florida and some buy a vacation homes to spend the cold winters in sun and luxury. Thus, your accommodation choice depends on how long you plan to stay in Orlando and how often you want to return.

Sometimes a city like Orlando can leave you yearning for some sort of unique culture to immerse yourself in.  It can feel so tourist-driven that its left the place a cultural void, or that the culture has become this neon sign tourist beacon.  But what I’ve found is that every geographic region has a past that’s helped shape itself in a unique way.  It could be the surrounding area’s wetlands, or the nature parks or yes, even the empire Walt Disney has been building here since 1959.  But this is Orlando’s stamp, and you don’t need a group of school-age children to enjoy your trip here.