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3 incredible ways to experience Kissimmee, Fla., as a family

Just south of the hubbub of Orlando, everything slows down. This is a place where Old Florida vibes run fresh. A place where families can disconnect — and reconnect. It’s where paddles ripple the headwaters of the Everglades, where ziplines and hot air balloons are a standard means of travel, and where you can hang out with gators, dolphins, and the slow-moving sloth.

This place is Kissimmee, and it’s built to be explored by kids of all ages. Here are three ways to do it.

This post is proudly produced in partnership with Experience Kissimmee.

On the water

Rivers, lakes, streams, wetlands, marshes, the open sea — water in all its varieties is never far when you’re in Kissimmee. Whether you’re taking it easy on a slow tubing adventure or zipping across the water’s surface on an airboat, just make sure to hold on tight.

Cruising on an airboat at Boggy Creek Airboat Rides

You’ll get whisked across the water at speeds up to 45 mph…

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Cruising on an airboat at Boggy Creek Airboat Rides

What: You’ll get whisked across the water at speeds up to 45 mph, on a 17-person airboat or one all your own. This is quintessential Florida wetland, full of exotic birds, turtles, and alligators. Sunset and night tours make it easy to spot those glowing eyes!

Where: Boggy Creek Airboat Rides

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Swimming with Dolphins at Discovery Cove

The kids will come back home talking about their new best friend…

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Swimming with Dolphins at Discovery Cove

What: The kids will come back home talking about their new best friend, and that new best friend has a bottlenose and fins. They’ll wade into the lagoon, and a trainer will usher over the dolphins for hugs and belly rubs. Soon enough, the kids will grab on tight to a dorsal fin and off they go!

Where: Discovery Cove

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Catching a trophy bass on Lake Toho

This is the headwaters of the Everglades, and here…

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Catching a trophy bass on Lake Toho

What: This is the headwaters of the Everglades, and here, the bass reigns supreme — you can’t throw in a line without causing a stir. Take the kids out on a guided angler tour, and let them cast one firsthand. There are plenty of outfitters in the area, and tours run from a quick couple of hours to an all-day adventure on Lake Toho.

Where: Lake Toho

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Paddling the headwaters of the Everglades

The Paddling Center at Shingle Creek will take you on a guided tour through Florida’s cypress forest…

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Paddling the headwaters of the Everglades

What: The Paddling Center at Shingle Creek will take you on a guided tour through Florida’s cypress forest, on a stand-up paddleboard, kayak, or canoe. You can also rent whatever watercraft suits you and hit the headwaters of the Everglades on your own. If the kids aren’t afraid of a little out-in-nature darkness, stargazing tours are available, too.

Where: The Paddling Center at Shingle Creek

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Parasailing over Walt Disney World Resort

10 minutes of incredible views over the most magical place on Earth…

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Parasailing over Walt Disney World Resort

What: 10 minutes of incredible views over the most magical place on Earth, that’s what. One- or two-person “flights” are available, the kids safely lifting off from the boat and sailing over the water. You’ve told them they can be anything they want to be — and here, that just so happens to include a seagull.

Where: Sammy Duvall’s Watersports Centre

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Photos provided by: Sea World Parks & Entertainment, Experience Kissimmee, and Stephanie Young Merzel

In the air

If you thought the waters of Kissimmee were something else, wait until you get into the air. Just be prepared for the kids to be over their swingsets — you can install a zipline in the backyard, right?

Swinging, swooping, jumping, and dipping on a zipline roller coaster

This is the only zipline roller coaster in the country…

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Swinging, swooping, jumping, and dipping on a zipline roller coaster

What: This is the only zipline roller coaster in the country. You’ll ride the ropes at up to 20 mph, taking this adventure to a whole ‘nother level. The treetops of St. Cloud, only minutes from Kissimmee, never looked so good — or so blurry.

Where: Forever Florida

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Taking a night helicopter tour over fireworks

A half-hour helicopter ride over the city lights of Kissimmee…

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Taking a night helicopter tour over fireworks

What: A half-hour helicopter ride over the city lights of Kissimmee sounds like a honeymoon-in-waiting, but throw in fireworks lighting up the sky — area theme parks put on displays nightly — and the kids will be distracted long enough for you two to take your moment.

Where: MaxFlight Helicopter Services

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Floating through the sky in a hot air balloon

There’s something soothing about hot air balloons…

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Floating through the sky in a hot air balloon

What: There’s something soothing about hot air balloons. They force you to slow down, taking in the waters, Ferris wheels, roller coasters, and the headwaters of the Everglades below. This is the kind of adventure the whole family can enjoy at once — why not go where the wind takes you?

Where: Orlando Balloon Rides

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Experiencing a zero-gravity roll on a roller coaster like you’ve never seen

This isn’t your grandpa’s roller coaster. The Incredible Hulk Coaster is…

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Experiencing a zero-gravity roll on a roller coaster like you’ve never seen

What: This isn’t your grandpa’s roller coaster. The Incredible Hulk Coaster is greener, meaner, faster, bigger, and truly incredible — it goes up to 67 mph, has seven inversions, two subterranean trenches, and sends you on a zero-gravity roll. You’ll, in essence, be unstoppable. Next stop? Space launch.

Where: Universal’s Islands of Adventure

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Hang gliding at Wallaby Ranch

You’ll safely take to the skies — with a guide, no experience required…

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Hang gliding at Wallaby Ranch

What: It may call itself a ranch, but this is a hang gliding flight park. You’ll safely take to the skies — with a guide, no experience required — soaring 2,000 feet in the air for 15 minutes. And if you want to control the glider, give ‘er a shot! Or hang back and enjoy the ride. (If Al Roker can do it, so can the kids.)

Where: Wallaby Ranch

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Flying like the aces of yesteryear

Allied pilots received their fighter training in these aircraft…

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Flying like the aces of yesteryear

What: Allied pilots received their fighter training in these aircraft, and now you will too. The North American T-6 Texan is lovingly called the “pilot-maker,” and the kind of trace you leave is up to you: Are you a straight shooter, smooth and level, or are you in it for the loop-de-loops? (An actual pilot will be with you, so anything is possible.)

Where: Warbird Adventures

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Photos provided by: Forever Florida, @annalieseew, Wallaby Ranch, MaxFlight Helicopter Services, Universal Orlando Resort, and Experience Kissimmee

With the Animals

Kissimmee’s motto is “a community of neighborhoods for families.” It just so happens that those families are sometimes made up of alligators, dolphins, sea turtles, sloths, and giraffes.

Walking through a big cat sanctuary

It’s important the kids know that wildlife isn’t simply here for their entertainment…

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Walking through a big cat sanctuary

What: It’s important the kids know that wildlife isn’t simply here for their entertainment — it deserves our protection, too. This big cat and wildlife sanctuary does just that, and a walking tour will teach the kids how they can be mindful of the planet and its creatures. You’ll see lions, tigers, leopards, and cougars, and the kids will get a chance to ask as many questions as they please.

Where: Central Florida Animal Reserve

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Playing trainer for a day at Gatorland

Kids 12 and up can get a taste of what it’s like…

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Playing trainer for a day at Gatorland

What: Kids 12 and up can get a taste of what it’s like to be an animal trainer at Gatorland. They’ll be handling baby turtles, meeting alligators and crocodiles (tame ones!), and taking care of creepy crawlies and reptiles.

Where: Gatorland

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Horseback riding through the Old Florida wilderness

Get out of Florida’s waters and head inland, where you’ll…

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Horseback riding through the Old Florida wilderness

What: Get out of Florida’s waters and head inland, where you’ll find open prairie, cypress forest, old oak hammocks, and wide open lakeshores. You could hike it all, but it’s much better — and easier to take in — on horseback.

Where: Lazy H Ranch

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Trekking through Wild Africa

A privately guided VIP expedition through the African savanna…

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Trekking through Wild Africa

What: A privately guided VIP expedition through the African savanna — we’d tell you what it’s like, but we don’t have anything to compare it to. A guide will take you on a three-hour trek through the Safi River Valley, where you’ll spot giraffes, rhinos, hippos, and crocodiles — and that’s just the big ones. And you thought Florida was about beach naps and swimming pools.

Where: Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park

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Encountering sloths at Wild Florida

The kids will finally abandon the selfies. At Wild Florida…

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Encountering sloths at Wild Florida

What: The kids will finally abandon the selfies. At Wild Florida, it’s time for “slothies.” You’ll get some up-close-and-personal time with these turtle-paced creatures, and if you spring for the VIP experience, you’ll be able to hold and feed them, too.

Where: Wild Florida

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Photos provided by: Wild Florida, Experience Kissimmee, Alexas-Fotos, and Andrea Bohl


This post is proudly produced in partnership with Experience Kissimmee.
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