If you have come to Florida and intend to spend at least some time in the main theme parks (and that is what most first time visitors to Florida want to do) then the city of Kissimmee and the surrounding area is the perfect location. Ideally located right in the midst of the main parks Kissimmee is also a good base for other activities, being within easy driving distance of either the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico coasts, with Kennedy Space Center only an hour or so drive away. Orlando is also close by and there are a large number of excellent golf courses in the immediate vicinity.
Kissimmee is a relatively small city (population circa 50,000) in its own right, but the surrounding metropolitan area is home to around 2m people, not including the vast number of tourists who visit each year. Located in Osceola County, Florida, the main industry in the area is, not surprisingly, tourism although there is still many cattle ranches and orange plantations harking back to pre-Walt Disney days.
There are myriad entertainment activities in Kissimmee and the surrounding area, and here are just a few of them;
#1 Theme Parks – you are very close to all of the major theme parks with the largest being Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. Non-Disney parks include Universal’s Studios and their Islands of Adventure park which includes the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. There is also SeaWorld, with its recently opened penguin based exhibition, Antartica.
#2 Water Parks – there are a large number of water parks in the area, the largest of which is Wet ‘n Wild. This features a number of water-based rides ranging from the sedate (Lazy River) to a number of very exciting rides (Surge). A tip to remember is that once you have paid to get in once, you can get in free anytime in the next two weeks, a great saving if you have a young family and intend to visit more than once.
#3 Gatorland – an easy drive from Kissimmee, this American alligator themed park and nature reserve is a great way to spend a few hours, and is quite a bit cheaper than the main theme parks. There are literally hundreds of alligators of all sizes and ages in the park and there are a number of entertaining shows involving the gators and their keepers to keep you amused. For the more adventurous there is a zip-line covering several hundred feet, allowing a birds-eye view of the park and part of the breeding marshes.
#4 Airboat Rides – there are a number of places offering Airboat rides, based in the wetter, marshy parts of the state, and Florida Wild is an easy drive from Kissimmee. This is a fantastic experience, with the boat ride lasting about an hour, giving a close up of much of the wildlife in the park, although the alligators were a little shy when I was there! You also get the opportunity to hold an adolescent gator, which is probably not for the squeamish!
#5 Shopping and Dining – Highway 192 runs straight through the centre of Kissimmee and has mile upon mile of shops, restaurants and entertainment venues on either side. All the big supermarkets are represented (Walmart, Publix), as well as literally hundreds of bars and restaurants.
If you are looking for other suggestions for things to do in Florida try our article What is there to do in Florida?