For most travelers, heading out of Tampa on Interstate 4 means a trip to Disney World, which is a blast, but the other attractions that turned Orlando from a sleepy citrus growing community into a sprawling metropolis shouldn’t be neglected either. Whether or not you have the time and money to fully explore the wonders of The Magic Kingdom, EPCOT and Seaworld, exploring Orlando is a must this summer. Explore the wonders along I-4 from dinner to dinosaurs for the perfect weekend getaway with the whole family.
The key to an easy drive on Interstate 4 is avoiding rush hours on both ends. I-4′s recent expansion has made it a slightly easier drive. In fact, the biggest obstacle to a quick trip are the small-scale attractions that line the I-4 corridor between Tampa and Orlando. Some of them might be no more than a pit stop, but at least one of them could turn into an all-day distraction, so keep in mind that what should be about an hour and a half trip could take a lot longer, especially if you’re toting kids or easily entertained adults.
5145 Harvey Tew Road
Plant City, FL 33565
Price: $14.95 adult/$11.95 children ages 3 to 12/$12.95 seniors age 60 and older
Less than 20 miles outside of Tampa in Plant City, Dinosaur World promises massive paper mache monsters guaranteed to entertain the whole family. It offers nothing high tech, but this is the place to exercise a little bit of imagination in bringing giant plastic lizards to life. Jump in on a fossil dig or just explore Jurassic Park come to life with five animatronic dinosaurs including T-rex, triceratops, brachiosaurus, pterodactyl and stegosaurus.
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Fantasy of Flight
1400 Broadway Blvd. Southeast
Polk City, FL 33868
Price: $28.95 adults/$14.95 kids ages 6 to 12 years/free children 5 and younger
Billed as the world’s largest private collection of flyable vintage aircraft, Fantasy of Flight boasts aircraft from every era, but its flyable World War II warbirds are the stars of the attraction. If you stop at Fantasy of Flight, you might find yourself delaying your trip to Orlando until next time. Take a spin on the hang-glide simulator in the flight center, or climb around in a B-17 Flying Fortress in a simulated World War II mission. With more than 40 rare and vintage options to choose from, this is a museum any road tripper can enjoy.
Water Ski Hall of Fame
1251 Holy Cow Road
Polk City, FL 33868
Price: $5 adults/$4 seniors/$3 children younger than 12/free children ages 5 and younger
About 20 minutes down the road from Fantasy of Flight is the Water Ski Hall of Fame, a museum full of everything you ever wanted to know about water skiing and the people who dominated the sport. Play at Lake Grew, right behind the museum, or learn about how rapidly this high-intensity sport grew over the years with interactive displays and documentaries.
The Ravenous Pig
1234 N. Orange Ave.
Winter Park, FL 32780
When it comes to Orlando-area cuisine, The Ravenous Pig knocks it out of the proverbial park … no matter which ones you’re in the city to visit. With welcoming fare like the simple pub burger with a side of truffle fries, this is gourmet any diner can get behind. From snapper ceviche to souse and sausage, this is the perfect place to grab a bite, and well worth the wait on the drive from Tampa to Orlando.
14501 Orange Blossom Trail
Orlando, FL 32837
Click here for prices
Nothing says Florida like real, live alligators at exit 11. This 110-acre park provides affordable family entertainment with thousands of reptiles, an aviary, a breeding marsh, nature walks, a petting zoo and reptilian shows that include a good old fashioned gator wrestle. Don’t miss Gator Jumparoo and the Up-close Encounters Show, some of the most unique entertainment this area has to offer. Don’t miss out on the Screamin’ Gator zipline for a little added action on this alligator adventure.
Related: Road Trip Rules
9067 International Drive
Orlando, FL 32819
Price: $24.99 adult/$16.99 kids ages 4 to 12
Wonderworks is one of Orlando’s most eye-catching attractions as the entire building appears to be upside down. Legend has it the world’s top scientists harnessed the power of a man-made tornado, led by Professor Wonder. When something went wonky, the tornado unleashed on the lab, landing it upside down on a brick warehouse in Orlando. Cap your visit with the Outta Control Dinner show for an extra $24.99.
With four parks — Magic Kingdom, Epcott, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom — it’s no wonder Disney is Orlando’s biggest attraction. In the summer, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon make it all the more enticing. With specials all summer long, it’s easy to package the parks with an overnight stay in the most magical place on earth. A weekend getaway staying at a Disney resort is the only way to do Orlando with unheard-of accommodations and the best entertainment in the state.
Mike Hennessy is a veteran news man who has won Florida AP awards for feature reporting and covered almost every kind of story imaginable from on-the-scene coverage of Hurricane Andrew, to some of the highest profile murder and corruption trials in Florida history. Mike is versatile and has the curiosity it takes to get to the bottom line of any story. His work can be found at Examiner.com.