ORLANDO, FLORIDA

Orlando Area Beyond the Theme Parks


RCI Traveler Juliet

RCI® TRAVELER: JULIET
September 23, 2019 | Stayed at Summer Bay Orlando by Exploria Resorts (#3175)


Summer Bay Resort is the perfect home away from home. Your family will love spending time here, enjoy shuttle service to theme parks, and explore more of Orlando that you’ve never seen before.
Day 1
We arrived in Orlando on a sunny September afternoon, greeted by its signature warm weather. After about 40 minutes of driving, we made it to Summer Bay Resort in Clermont, Florida. This resort is close to so many restaurants, theme parks, and other family-friendly activities. It’s an ideal location for those looking to be close enough to Disney parks, but also enjoy the benefit of a sprawling resort off site with plenty to do.
The accommodations were wonderful. It truly felt like a home away from home, with a spacious living room, full kitchen, and large bathroom attached to the master suite. The other thing worth mentioning is I don’t do well in humid weather, so I really appreciated how nicely the rooms remained cool and dry, giving me a good night’s sleep.
After getting settled in and a quick wardrobe change, we made our way to Disney Springs. I haven’t been here since 2005, and obviously a lot has changed since then. They’ve completely renovated the area so it feels like a nice mix between an upscale outdoor mall with that magic of Disney still sprinkled in. The parking is also free and we had no trouble finding a spot during the week!
I was really impressed with how well they transformed this space into a beautiful selection of shops and restaurants.
The best part is having so many delicious dining options, but this can also be overwhelming for some. Ultimately, we decided on dinner at The Boathouse. It was nice to sit outside overlooking the water, watching the Amphicar tours float by. After fresh sangria, oysters, and a few entrees, we walked off our meal and explored more of the shops. The World of Disney store was most impressive, featuring what seemed like an endless amount of products for all ages, covering every character possible. I even managed to squeeze myself into one of the princess dresses! As a Disney lover, I can tell you my first visit back since 2005 checked all the boxes. The first day in Orlando was a success.
Day 2
The day we had been waiting for was here. Our visit to Kennedy Space Center was finally happening after months of planning! After a quick and delicious breakfast at Summer Bay Resort’s Hello Coffee Shop, we set out on the road.
Only an hour’s drive from the resort, Kennedy Space Center is a popular stop when staying in the Orlando area. I recommend getting there when it first opens, order tickets online, and going on a weekday.
We were surprised by the lack of crowds and easy access to different shows. This place is perfect for those who love NASA and want to experience more. A standard pass will also give you access to a bus tour where you’ll get to view the launch pads and the stunning Apollo/Saturn V Center. The highlight of this visit for me was getting to see the real Space Shuttle Atlantis up close and take photos simulating the same experience many astronauts get! It was surreal to see so many pieces of space travel history. They do a wonderful job at balancing the fun/educational aspect.
Cocoa Beach is about 30 minutes south from Kennedy Space Center, making it an easy additional stop for the remainder of the day. We parked at Cocoa Beach Pier and ordered drinks from the bar. My favorite part about this was seeing how eco-friendly they were. Instead of plastic straws, we had pasta straws to drink out of! It was relaxing being able to watch the surfers from the pier while enjoying refreshing cocktails, and the breeze kept us cool. The main reason I wanted to go to Cocoa Beach was to visit the iconic Ron Jon Surf Shop! Through a laid back surfer vibe with cool blue tones, you’ll find yourself ready to sign up for surf lessons. Walk in and you’re greeted with two floors of apparel, surf boards, home accents, and plenty of camera equipment ready to capture outdoor adventures. We ended up purchasing a few waterproof camera accessories to prepare for our visit to Ocala National Forest later in the week.
A visit to Orlando would not be complete without a meal at Rocco’s Tacos. There were also a number of specials since it was Taco Tuesday (yes, I always plan ahead) and we enjoyed margaritas to start off happy hour. Orlando is a mecca for chain restaurants, and although Rocco’s Tacos is technically a very small chain, the quality surpasses many other restaurants in the area. It’s reasonably priced, with different specials available every day. I recommend ordering the tableside guacamole!
Day 3
I’ve never had the opportunity to visit Orlando during the fall until now, and I’m glad I did. The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival is Disney’s culinary event of the year, and lasts over two months! I went into this completely blind. I wanted to be surprised with what was offered. What I loved most was that there were so many additional countries represented than the main ones that have been at Epcot for decades.
By the time we walked around the entire park, I was ready to eat everything in sight. This was going to be our only Disney Park visit during the week, so I wanted to make the most of it.
Here’s a list of our food station stops:
  1. Spain – Charcuterie in a cone with Spanish selection of meats, cheeses, and olives with 3 wine pairings
  2. Japan – Teriyaki chicken bun: Steamed bun filled with chicken, vegetables, and a sweet teriyaki sauce
  3. Refreshment Pavilion (near Canada) – Braised short rib poutine
  4. Refreshment Pavilion (near Canada) – DOLE Whip® pineapple soft-serve
  5. France – Chocolate truffle cake and macarons
  6. Wine & Dine Studio – Trio of artisan cheese paired with Reata Chardonnay
Note: These are all very small plates, ideal for snacking so it’s easy to go from station to station trying different things. Keep in mind if you want a full meal, you’ll be better off making reservations at one of the restaurants or ordering from a main country’s menu. The pop-up stations only serve smaller portions.
We capped off the night with a delicious dinner in France followed by viewing the nightly fireworks show! It brought back a lot of wonderful memories from when I used to come here with my family as a kid. An exhausting day, but completely worth it!
Day 4
Ocala National Forest was next on our list. We would have missed it if it weren’t for a co-worker’s recommendation! Although it is a slightly longer drive (1 hour and 30 minutes) you can easily spend the day here and it’s a beautiful escape from Orlando. We decided to drive to Juniper Springs first and took a half-mile walking trail through the forest on a raised boardwalk. It brought us to this other smaller spring with a beautiful arch bridge, perfect for picture-taking. Once our legs felt stretched, we headed over to Silver Glen Springs, only about 10 minutes down the road. This is one of the most popular springs to visit (and for good reason) but since we went on a weekday, it wasn’t crowded at all. The spring water was crystal clear, cool enough to be refreshing for a swim.
We decided to rent kayaks and explore more of the area. I highly suggest doing this to make the most of your visit there!
One of the things to also look out for are the vultures. They’re harmless, but make sure to keep food and drinks securely locked in a cooler. We didn’t have any issues but witnessed a few other groups with this problem. Pictures won’t do this place justice, you’ll have to see it in person to believe how beautiful it really is!
After a full day at Ocala National Forest, we took some time to recharge at the resort before going to ICON Park for the evening. We arrived close to sunset and took in views of the giant observation wheel, one of the most popular attractions in Orlando. There are a number of great restaurant options here like Sugar Factory, Yard House, and Shake Shack. It’s a nice place to sit and enjoy drinks outside since the weather is milder in the evening. There’s also an aquarium, arcade, and a few museums so families will really enjoy their time here. Parking is also free at the ICON PARK parking garage!
Day 5
The week has been packed with off-site activities, so I was excited to check out more of what our resort had to offer! The first stop was Buccaneer Bay, a recreation area complete with paddle boats, zip-lining, a rock-climbing wall, and more. This is a great area for kids to let loose and enjoy the on-site amenities. There is so much to explore at this resort, you could ideally spend a day or two without ever having to leave for family fun.
Here are some of the resort amenities we loved most:
  • Mini golf
  • Fitness center (yoga)
  • Lakeside Marina & Aqua Park
  • Big Kahuna’s Bar & Grill
  • Pizza and beverage delivery from Italian Kitchen
  • Shuttle service to Disney World & Universal theme park
Final Thoughts
Summer Bay Resort truly felt like a home away from home all week. Everything we could possibly need was either on site, or a short drive away. There is so much more to Orlando than theme parks, and I was finally able to experience it all this week. If you’re looking to do Orlando differently next time, this is the perfect itinerary for you!

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