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What to Do in Kissimmee, Florida – Disney World and Far Beyond

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I was granted a taste of what awaits the winner of Experience Kissimmee’s Decade of Memories giveaway, which runs through the end of February. With just four days in Florida, experiencing all of Kissimmee’s delights was impossible—choices had to be made, with alluring sections of the metro area left unexplored. It’s for this reason that the Decade of Memories giveaway allows its Grand Prize winner to return every year, for 10 years, buoyed by $25,000. Perhaps, in cities with less dynamicity, annual return could prove redundant. But Kissimmee has several outlets for entertainment and learning, many of which demand repeated exploration. Below I outline what to do in Kissimmee, Florida.

What to Do in Kissimmee, Florida - Disney World and Far Beyond

The ubiquitous, world famous Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World

No visit to Kissimmee is complete without a visit to America’s most ubiquitous behemoth, Walt Disney World. The charms of the institution have been expressed with nearly all the English language’s superlatives, perhaps justifiably.

I had time for Magic Kingdom exclusively, but I hardly scratched the wondrous surface. Riding on It’s a Small World for the first time in over 25 years was a warm blast of nostalgia, along with Big Thunder Mountain and The Haunted Mansion. By the time it was all over, I felt pleasantly disoriented. However large it really is, the Magic Kingdom feels infinite.

What to Do in Kissimmee, Florida - Wild Florida

Holding “Hercules” at Wild Florida

Wild Florida

Weaving through and around Kissimmee are long stretches of natural beauty, void of urban characteristics. In the middle of one such stretch sits Wild Florida, a wildlife park set in the swamps of the Florida Everglades. Wild Florida gives tours of the marshes via airboat.

Boarding my airboat in the late morning, I strapped on headphones to muffle the scream of its engine. Taking off into green, mossy sea, the airboat generated the sensation of true flight; we cut tight turns through tall weeds and over unsightly muck, intermittently breaking out into sections of pure blue water.

The twists and turns were noisily enjoyable, but collectively the boat's passengers longed for an alligator sighting. Shortly thereafter, the airboat skidded to a stop near a marshy bank. There before us was a clan of baby alligators, maybe half a dozen in their ranks. The sighting seemed to open the floodgates of luck, since afterwards we were spotting gators with regularity, and our eyes became skilled enough to spot the reptiles from a distance.

Back on land after the ride, I learned that not all of the Wild Florida action takes place in the swamps. The park has gigantic spaces of land allotted to a host of exotic creatures, including zebras, buffaloes, boar, and alligators of staggering size.

What to Do in Kissimmee, Florida - Chocolate Kingdom Factory Tour

Chocolate Kingdom, a mecca for chocolate lovers

Chocolate Kingdom: Factory Adventure Tour

Within Kissimmee’s carnivalesque Old Town, lies Chocolate Kingdom famed for its Factory Adventure Tour. A mecca for both eaters and scholars of chocolate, the Chocolate Kingdom provides a spirited tour through its own backstage, showing how chocolate is transformed from the humble cacao bean into bars of creamy lusciousness.

Even though adults stand to be educated by the tour, it’s geared towards children. This became apparent once ushered into a darkened theater, and a boisterous cartoon—populated by talking dinosaurs, a ne’er-do-well prince, and groaner puns—bloomed on the screen.

A tour guide addressed us with the goofy gusto that some kids can’t resist. She led us into a large room where cacao beans were processed, and watched as she crushed and pressed and shelled and educated. We were able to sample the bitter beans, just as we drank chocolate liquor in the next room and more products after that. Gradually we progressed through the factory, stopping to snap photos of a mystical chocolate river shielded behind thick glass, eventually reaching the room where we observed the final process: the buying and selling of sweet souvenir treats.

What to Do in Kissimmee, Florida - Gatorland

Gators aplenty at Gatorland

Gatorland

Its name descriptive of much Florida real estate, Gatorland is a unique attraction that covers 110 acres of space, and splits its identity between theme park and nature preserve. Its supply of carnivorous reptiles is unmatched, at times so populous that the gators were often piled on top of each other in a prehistoric splat. No need to announce an alligator spotting at Gatorland!

I watched a spectacular show that took place next to a deep, manmade pool chock full o’ gators. The show was led by seasoned gator experts, who unveiled skewers of raw chicken breast. For reasons unknown, the alligators seemed suspiciously uninterested in the chicken, even after the crowd followed one expert’s command to “scream at them.” After about ten minutes, a couple of alligators dutifully played along and devoured the chicken with primitive violence. Mission accomplished.

While the theme park was a fun spectacle, the nature preserve was remarkable. A long wooden bridge curved through a peaceful river, alive with exotic birds, and turtles. The attraction’s tall zip-line course ran above the river’s edge, while across the way stood a deep forest of tall trees.

What to Do in Kissimmee, Florida - Arabian Nights Dinner Show

Arabian Nights has American pride

Arabian Nights Dinner Show

Horse-centric and lively, Arabian Nights Dinner Show has been galloping since 1988. Over 9,000 shows have been performed between then and now, and it stands as Central Florida’s largest family-owned attraction.

As the lights dimmed, a rumble accompanied the entrance of the first horse, then another, and then more, until it was an equestrian free-for-all. Gradually a story unfolded, all about an Arabian princess searching for that most elusive of treasures: a man. I watched the narrative unfold while eating steak, swilling beers, and marveling at the horses jumping through hoops of flame, and kicking up dust. The riders were athletic magicians, standing on the backs of their trotting horses and pumping up the crowd.

The show concluded on a rather jarring, patriotic note, and the riders were suddenly adorned in America’s stars and stripes, waving large American flags and proclaiming their patriotism over the speakers. Perhaps out of place, it was nice to acknowledge the United States before wrapping things up.

Upgrade your experience by purchasing VIP passes, which grant entry to the equine sanctuary backstage. Bustling with activities like grooming and feeding, you get an up-close look at the animals as they are primed for performance.

What to Do in Kissimmee, Florida - Villas at Westgate Resorts

View from my balcony at the Villas at Westgate Resorts

Villas at Westgate Resorts

During my whirlwind tour of Kissimmee, I bedded down at Westgate Resorts, the providers of accommodations for all winners of the Decade of Memories giveaway. My room had nary a resemblance to a typical hotel room, instead approximating the size and amenities of a spacious apartment: a living room with a large leather couch facing a sizeable flat screen TV and within arm’s reach of an impressive stereo; a kitchen with a dishwasher, a refrigerator of notable girth, and cupboards full of glasses and plates; a wide bedroom with another flat screen television and a wall above the bed covered in mirrors.

It was, needless to say, a pleasant place to dwell for a few days. The resort’s charm didn’t fade upon exiting the suite. The view from the balcony of the resort's pool and manicured greenery induced a peculiar giddiness.

Decade of Kissimmee Memories Giveaway

A Decade in Kissimmee

I experienced Kissimmee only long enough to recognize its depth and breadth, merely sampling its glorious goods. With Experience Kissimmee’s offer of a decade of trips to one of Florida’s most spectacular locations, along with $25,000, they’re putting one of the grandest Grand Prizes up for grabs.

Want in on the action? Enter the Decade of Memories giveaway now!

A Note from Travel Mamas: Thank you to Visit Kissimmee and the Westgate Resorts for hosting Gabe's trip.

All photos by Gabe Miller.

About Gabe Miller, The Philosophical Travel Daddy

Long before Gabe Miller was a Travel Daddy, he was a Travel Son. Growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan during the early 1980s, he was exposed to the town’s intellectual, hippie aesthetic before becoming functionally bipedal. He had barely shed his lanugo by the time he began to travel, going on modest trips that were nonetheless profound. His wife is equally passionate about traveling, and together they’re sharing new adventures with their baby boy. From the day of their son’s birth, they’ve rejected the idea that having a child means staying indoors with the blinds drawn. They take him everywhere they go, and his smiles are proof that he’s perpetually prepared for adventure! Gabe and his family currently reside happily in the small rural town of Dundee, Michigan. Gabe has a B.A. in English and works as a middle school English teacher. Connect with Gabe on Twitter as @thetraveldaddy.

Comments

  1. We haven’t ventured much beyond Disney World and Universal Studios and clearly there is much more to be explored in the area – although I think that I’d give the gators a miss!

  2. Gabe Miller, The Philosophical Travel Daddy says:

    Lisa, even I had my fill of gators eventually. But they’re fairly agreeable reptiles.

  3. Oh my goodness – my son NEEDS to go to GaterLand – how cool is that?!

  4. Really great article, Gabe! Both Wild Florida and Gatorland are attractions that should certainly not be missed when traveling to the Kissimmee Area. It is very easy, when visiting, to fall into the Disney routine, but there are lots of neat things to see and do if you take a couple days to explore the area further.

    Thank you for sharing!

  5. Gabe Miller, The Philosophical Travel Daddy says:

    Chris, I agree–there’s certainly more than a few days worth of explorations to undertake in Kissimmee.

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