Kissimmee without Disney

By | Category: Travel destinations
Big Fun Center

Big Fun in Kissimmee – without Disney

The first thoughts that many people have of Kissimmee is that it is part of Orlando in Florida and that means Disneyworld. In fact Kissimmee is a fast-expanding city in its own right with plenty of things to occupy the holidaymaker without even venturing into Disneyworld.

Kissimmee isn’t very old. It has grown up in the shadow of Disney to provide hotels and other accommodation for the millions that Disney attracts. Without Disney, there probably wouldn’t be a Kissimmee on any of the scale that exists today. Before Disney the population was about 7,000. Forty years later it has grown eight-fold and Mr Disney is largely responsible.

Having grown so much – and it is growing with attraction development and new houses being built everywhere – sometimes it is hard to see where Kissimmee ends and Orlando begins. For locals it’s easy; for the visitor, tougher, so Kissimmee tourism people promote some attractions in Orlando and vice versa.

A haunting at old town

th entrance to “A Haunting at Old Town”

In that confusion then, start at the Old Town. It isn’t old and those who visited the area thirty years ago wouldn’t have found it at all. It is largely one street but in the evenings and on Saturday nights,  in particular,  it is as bustling a place as Piccadilly Circus in London, Temple Bar in Dublin or the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. There are restaurants of every sort, attractions like “A haunting at Old Town” and on that evenings I mentioned there is a vintage car display that parades up the main street at about 8pm. Locals proudly drive their old cars, jalopies, vans and bikes up the road to the evident enjoyment of the crowds – and there are crowds – who watch, glass of beer in hand. There are a string of souvenir shops including one with half a car acting as a sales desk in one of them.

hardle a hop and a skip from Old Town is an amusement park called Happy Family Days Fun Center which caters for youngsters but go another metre or two and you’ll come across Fun Spot USA which has the largest Sky Coaster in the world. Hundreds of feet above the ground, willing participants lie flat and swoop towards the ground. In the evening darkness they are illuminated as they drop and soar through the blackness. This amusement attraction is not something I would plan to do. At night, as  participants swoop down from hundreds of feet, I did wonder what possessed them to try it. Told by others younger than me, I am led to believe that it gives an adrenalin rush that has to be felt to be believed.

For the same age group is the Flamingo Waterpark which is exactly what its name suggests. But without the flamingos! It does have, however, three water sides and a pool as well as a stretch of river that you can just go where it – and your wishes – take you.

croc nest

an old crocodile nest

There’s plenty of water around here. 100 years ago this was largely swampland which needed draining for future housing and farming. Today there are rivers and lakes so there are plenty of opportunities for sightseeing by boarding one of the four airboat tours,  or enjoying kayaking and boating. Prefer fishing? There are ten companies there to act as guides, supply bait or kit. If its golf then there are seven courses without even leaving the ever-widening city area. And what American city can you think of that doesn’t have shopping centres with designer outlets designed to mop up your last remaining holiday money?

buying with suitcases

shopping big time at the outlet mall

There  you’ll see people  hauling large wheelie suitcases from shop to shop as they pack empty cases with shoes, clothes, electronics and bags before heading off back to South America with their cheaply bought (in comparison with what they would pay) goods.

Like Old Town, Celebration is pretty new, it celebrates its 10th birthday this year. It is a completely manufactured town, thought up by Walt Disney (you see, he is impossible to avoid around these parts) as a place where his employees might live. Like a Disney story, everything is a little bit too good to be true. It is like Fantasyland for grown-ups. The white painted wooden buildings are impossibly manicured; the roads and pavements are well-looked after and none of the shops or restaurants is too big to dominate. Its little town America as probably never existed other than in Disney’s mind. Having said that, there are good eateries here including the American diner style where there is good, un-fancy food and plenty of it.

capon'es Kissimm Dinrer Theatre

Outside Capone’s – before you meet the gangsters and their molls

Talking of food, the city has a range of theatre dining houses where you can eat as much as you like (and drink) whilst a live performance takes place. There are nearly a dozen spread around the whole area with two in Kissimmee, the Medieval Times Dinner (although called Orlando Castle it is in Kissimmee) and Capone’s. Both are suitable for children of any age as they start early and finish early. At Capone’s some visitors even dressed up in appropriate 1920’s gangster type clothing. What helped was the atmosphere. The actors and actresses wander around beforehand talking to you, one even acting as the doorman. They’ll pose for pictures outside the strikingly painted pictures on the outdoor of the building or inside. Once the show starts if you like audience participation, you’ll love it. Everyone from children to the older ones here can be brought into the show. Luckily, images of me dancing on stage with the showgirls are in short supply and never to be seen by anyone of a nervous disposition! What I did not expect was the quality of some of the singing. It is as good as you’re going to find in a West End Show.

Chocolate Castle

A chocolate castle and a running chocolate waterfall

You’ve relaxed, you’ve eaten and seen a show, watched a car parade and been pumped with adrenalin. There is still more. Again, appealing to a younger age group, you can visit the Chocolate Kingdom near the Old Town. Nothing to do with Disney except in the cartoon televised commentary. This accompanies some of the stops you make as a guide (mine also works at Disney part time which you can tell by his patter) takes you through the process of how the chocolate you and I know comes into being from the outset as a plant. Be aware though, that American chocolate tastes a bit differently to that which we know.

the kids area and pool in the Gaylord Palms Resort

the kids area and pool in the Gaylord Palms Resort

If you stay in Kissimmee then don’t just plump for the cheapest hotel or the one nearest Disney. Look at them carefully because they aren’t the same. Prices are pretty reasonable be it for a two star motel or a five star resort but many offer lots of different things. At the Reunion Resort, for example, you’ll find holiday villas linked with fine dining (witness my waistline!) a five acre waterpark, three golf courses designed by Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer, walking and hiking routes, tennis courts and spas. The Gaylord Palms Resort doesn’t cover as many acres but offers a large water fun area for kids separate from the pool for adults and a full size yacht tied up inside the hotel complex. Plus crocodiles, lots of them up to a couple of feet in length. When they grow bigger they are returned to nearby Gatorland and other youngsters from Gatorland’s, breeding and rescue projects are brought in instead. They also have a restaurant that makes many of the good food guides. Or you can opt for just a place to rest your head overnight before tackling the busy day ahead at Disney, Universal or SeaWorld.

Atlantic in the distance

a view to the Atlantic where you could see a rocket launch – if you’re lucky

One free attraction isn’t in Kissimmee at all but over forty miles away. But if you can find a stretch of open space stretching across to the Atlantic Ocean or get to the top of a high rise hotel block then one thing to watch for is rocket launches from Cape Canaveral. Although the shuttle flights have ended, satellite launches still take place and your hotel will know when the next is due to go. Usually Tuesday is the day to be around!

As I wrote earlier, Kissimmee without Disney wouldn’t be the size or type of city it is.

Old Town Stop sign

a road sign in Kissimmee where you should stop for more than Disney – its all geared to, well,  holiday trails

Removing traces of the man and his ideas is impossible. But if you need a change from the fast-moving razzamatazz that surround it then you could do no better than settling back and enjoying what this city has to offer. And that’s part of the problem the city faces; few do. It’s Disney, Disney and more Disney for most visitors.

For more about Kissimmee, click here.

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