You may have heard of it, but can you pronounce it? Juliana Leveroni, Director of Communications at Experience Kissimmee Florida said they always say that it doesn’t matter how you pronounce it – just come and experience their destination! And for the record – here in the US we tend to pronounce it Kiss-em-ee but our friends in the UK and some other European countries pronounce it Kiss-a-me.
I had the pleasure of having Juliana join me to talk about this domestic destination that often gets overshadowed by its neighbor Orlando and it’s oh so popular theme parks – but that has many wonderful things to see and do that you probably didn’t know about. I know I sure didn’t – but now that I do I know that it certainly makes for a great add on to when you are in the area!
So, set down the ears and wand for a moment and take a peek into what this other Central Orlando area has to offer.
So, You Said It’s Neighbor Is Orlando? Correct – and a lot of people don’t know that it’s only 25 minutes from Orlando International Airport and just ten minutes from the Walt Disney World Resort. And while the theme parks are usually the main reason people come to Central Florida, the area has so much more to offer in addition to them – especially now that people are looking for more outdoor adventures, stay-cations and vacation homes. Vacation homes – by the way – are the main attraction here and as per Juliana and Kissimmee is referred to as “The Vacation Home Capital of the World!”
And this makes it the perfect place to take a work-cation as well as to take that remote learning on the road – because when the work and school day are over there are plenty of opportunities for evening activities. Especially for those of you that may live in a smaller apartment or in a crowded city – what a great way to get a change of scenery – and lots of elbow room. With over 50,000 vacation homes from two bedrooms apartments to a 15-bedroom mansion with a lazy river, arcade and game room – you can do a multi-generation or combined family work-cation and at the end of the day you have your private pool in your backyard to hang out around or plenty of outdoor activities to partake in and spend quality family time together! And for the kids it’s a great travel as a living classroom experience – as you will see below.
Tell Me About That Travel As A Living Classroom Concept. Central Florida has its own ecotourism due to its own culture of swamps and the fact that it is home to the headwaters of the Everglades. Thanks to that there are thousands of species of birds – they are a one of the top destinations in the US for bird watching – plus all kinds of wildlife including gators and turtles. So, the kids – and the adults can learn about the Everglades and the wildlife that surround it. A living science class – which translates into the best way to learn!
There is a cultural side as well, to bring in the history and social studies lessons. The Osceola Welcome Center is also a museum that includes the Osceola County Historical Society Museum’s local history exhibits. Per Juliana it’s a wonderful place with a lot of resources for you to learn about how Kissimmee and the Osceola County area became this amazing cultural mix thanks to the different people that settled here and the industries that took over the destination. In addition – right behind the welcome center there’s what is called Pioneer Village that you can visit. Here you will see houses that are from the beginning of the 1800s that show you how people used to live. The village also includes a general store, a school and a church and is a great way to experience a typical village in Kissimmee in the beginning of the 1800s – before it became this huge touristic place.
What’s There To Eat? Glad you asked! Head to downtown Kissimmee and you’ll find over 30 locally owned restaurants. In fact – it has the distinction of having the most privately owned restaurants on one street in the United States! Thanks to Central Florida’s great mix of nationalities, you’re going to find everything from ice cream shops to Hispanic flavors to bakeries to Jamaican fare. What a fabulous opportunity for cultural immersion through food! Plus, since you’re supporting local businesses it’s sustainable travel as well.
On Broadway you can enjoy a piece of pizza or burgers and wings at Three Sisters Speakeasy. Off 192 before you arrive in Margaritaville you have Sunset Walk – where you can shop and dine. Food options include Cuban at Estefan Kitchen from Gloria Estefan and her family, iconic burgers at Ford’s Garage and candy shops and ice cream parlors to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Another option is Disney Springs which is just 15 minutes from downtown Kissimmee. With restaurants from award winning chefs like Japanese cuisine from Chef Masaharu Morimoto at Morimoto Asia and comfort food such as fried chicken and southern mac and cheese at Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ Kitchen.
Finally, you have downtown Celebration which a lot of people don’t know about. Celebration is a town that was originally developed by Walt Disney company and is now owned by an independent builder. It looks like a movie set city and was inspired by the real housewife type of suburban houses. It reminds you of a postcard and is quite beautiful. The oldest restaurant in Central Florida is located here – Columbia Restaurant – along with amazing flavors from different regions of Cuban and Hispanic food.
So Where Can I Find Off The Beaten Path Things To See And Do? So obviously the destination lends itself to be off the beaten path because you’re already removed from the theme parks and International Drive in Orlando. But to take it a step further not a lot of people know that when you’re in the middle of 192 (192 is the main avenue that goes from west to east in Kissimmee) in the midst of souvenir shops and hotels and then you make a quick left right across from the Welcome Center and you will come across The Paddling Center at Shingle Creek. At The Paddling Center at Shingle Creek you can rent a kayak or paddle boards or if you prefer to stay on dry land you can simply walk the trail along Shingle Creek.
Another fun thing to do right outside of Kissimmee is Wild Florida. This is a place where you can go and do a safari in your own car – which is perfect for social distancing! No lines or crowds here – you drive through the safari from the comfort and safety of your own vehicle. You also have the option to rent an air boat here which is an amazing experience. It’s so much fun and it goes quite fast, but you also learn about nature thanks to an amazing guide who’ll explain about wildlife conservation and the geography of the region as well.
Any Wellness Ops Here? So, Juliana shared – and I love this, “In Kissimmee you can find the perfect balance between being overwhelmed and underwhelmed – you’re just whelmed.” In other words, there’s a balance to be had here – you can choose the thrill and the chill of your own activities.
For example, you can start the morning in a beautiful and breathtaking sunrise hot air balloon adventure at 5:00am. In the quiet calm of the morning as you lift off, you’ll see the sun rising as well as the entire destination from above from the theme parks to the swamps in the Everglades.
Or you can keep your feet on the ground and head to the Cat Cafe for a coffee. Here you can hang out, read a book or just listen to classical music amongst the kitties. (It’s also an adoption center!) Or if wine is more your speed – there’s a winery called Formosa Gardens where you can go and taste the local wine from local fruits.
However – if you are up for adventure and an adrenaline rush you can always zip line on tree tracks or you can go to Gatorland and zip line over the gators! And of course, there are plenty of waterparks as well as those infamous theme parks.
You decide the pace of your activities – it’s your vacation and it’s full of options.
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing there are no travel restrictions or COVID-19 test requirements for individuals visiting Florida.
So, you guys – bet you didn’t know that just 15 minutes from Disney a whole other world of fun and excitement awaits! Now that you do know – let’s get the conversation started and get you down to sunny Central Florida this year!
For more details on things to see and do in Kissimmee, where to stay, it’s price points and more – contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!