What better way to spend some quality family time together than on a day trip? And Marion County residents have the distinct advantage of living smack dab in the middle of… well, everything! So, no matter which direction you choose to drive—you’re headed toward fun.
Ravine Gardens State Park
Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka is an ideal family destination. The park is centered around an incredibly beautiful ravine system cut by crystal-clear Whitewater Branch. Visitors can either drive, walk or bike the Ravine Loop trail that snakes through the lush vegetation surrounding the ravine. The park is friendly to people of all ages, allowing for short trail excursions or more extended walks. There are bathrooms and water fountains dotting the trails along with picnic tables and grills. There is a $5 per car entrance fee.
December At Gaylord Palms
You haven’t experienced the winter season until you’ve been to Gaylord Palms Resort in Kissimmee. Starting on November 24 and lasting through January 3, this exclusive resort is transformed into a wintery showcase.
More than two million lights, live stage shows and more than 20 awesome seasonal displays are spread over several enchanted acres. It’s such a magnificent extravaganza that even the big man himself shows up to visit with your kids and carefully note exactly what each child expects to find under the tree.
The highlight of your visit will be the ICE! display that takes place at the Alpine Village. Here, more than 2 million pounds of ice sculptures bring ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas to life before your very eyes. Beautiful ice sculptures depict characters in scenes from this classic poem, and you can even see the sculptures being hand-carved by sculpting artisans. There is also an inspiring Nativity scene carved in crystal clear ice. The display is indoors, and the temperature is kept well-below freezing, so dress appropriately, including closed-toe shoes. Heavy-duty parkas are provided in a variety of sizes for children and adults.
The kids will have fun snow tubing down two-story tall ice slides and participating in The Elf on the Shelf Scavenger Hunt. Special promotional pricing is available online on the Gaylord Palms Resort website, and visitors are not required to be resort guests to join in on the fun.
A quick Internet search for “Christmas at Gaylord Palms” will result in all the event details.
Webster Westside Market
This 35-acre flea market, located in the southern Sumter County town of Webster, offers some amazing prices on antiques, jewelry, produce, tools, electronics, plants… just about any item you can imagine.
The market is open every Monday from 5am–3pm October through April and 6am–2pm May through September. Two restaurants and numerous food vendors provide food and drink as you browse table after table loaded with unique and unusual items… searching for that find of a lifetime.
Much of this open-air market is uncovered, so make sure to dress accordingly and catch the weather forecast a day in advance.
Orlando Science Center
Four floors of exhibits, IMAX movies, a planetarium, videos in the Cinedome, educational games for the kids… The Orlando Science Center has it all! And even though most of the entertainment is aimed toward the younger group (and kids of all ages will love it), there are activities for all age groups.
Science Night Live is for adults only. Enjoy special guest presentations and participate in various activities. Food and adult beverages are available, and it’s a night trip you won’t soon forget.
Admission prices are: $27 for adults, $18 for children ages 3 through 11 and $24 for seniors 55 and older. Students with an ID and children under 3 are admitted free. There is a parking garage, and food is available. Event and exhibition dates vary and are subject to change.
The Florida Mall
Touted as Central Florida’s largest and most remarkable shopping center, this fantastic Orlando mall is also a first-class entertainment center.
Here, you’ll find the Crayola Experience, a full day of hands-on fun for kids of all ages. This unique and exciting color extravaganza includes 25 different attractions your children will love. Kids can learn how crayons are made, create their own crayon, be a star on their own personalized coloring page and create digital artwork for everyone to see—the fun just doesn’t end.
The Build a Bear Workshop is every child’s dream. Here, they get to create their own lovable stuffed animal, complete with its very own heart, customized outfit, name and birth certificate. The love and care that goes into your child’s toy will make it special for a lifetime. The American Girl store is nearby as well!
What has more colors than the rainbow? M&M’s World—and this place isn’t just fun, it tastes great! From a full-size NASCAR racecar and more M&M memorabilia than you can imagine to toys and apparel and every color and flavor of M&M you could possibly dream of, this tasty store has it all. Grab a bag, mix and match, and go home happy.
Located at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, this huge, screened enclosure houses hundreds of free-flying butterflies, moths and birds. A cascading waterfall empties into a pond that houses fish and turtles. Witness up-close-and-personal releases of new moths and butterflies daily. Children and adults alike will marvel at the beauty of some of nature’s most beautiful creatures.
Inside the museum is the Wall of Wings, which displays thousands of preserved butterflies and moths from around the world. You can also purchase native plants for your home that will attract butterflies, creating your very own butterfly rainforest.
Museum of Science and Industry
The Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), located in Tampa, is enough to make any budding scientist giddy with excitement. For the mechanically minded, experience the driverless Meridian Shuttle, fly drones in the Drone Zone, control robots in the exciting Idea Zone and witness the awe-inspiring 3D Printing the Future exhibit.
If you’re a little bit spacier, check out the night sky any time of day in the Saunders Planetarium or see how future astronauts might experience life on the moon at Mission: Moonbase.
There are exhibit galleries on three floors inside, and outside fun includes zip lines, a rope course and a backwoods forest preserve. Rain or shine, MOSI is a full day of nonstop entertainment.
Historic St. Augustine
A visit to St. Augustine is not complete without taking in the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the United States. The 20-acre fort, which was built in the late 1600s, overlooks breathtaking Matanzas Bay and is a monument to the struggles that led to the formation of our nation.
The National Historic Landmark District covers 144 blocks and contains some of the oldest buildings in the country. Museums, churches, cafes, bed and breakfasts, pubs and an Old Town trolley tour that allows you to take it all in at your own pace makes this a great family adventure.
See St. Augustine from a different perspective: the water! Raging Water Sports, located at the Conch House Marina, offers guided WaveRunner tours on the Intercostal waterway, which includes the Matanzas and Tolomato Rivers, or you can rent your own kayak, paddleboard, skiff, deckboat, WaveRunner or pontoon boat and take in the city from afloat at your own pace.
Lowry Park Zoo
Exotic animals from around the world make this an awe-inspiring experience. The zoo offers a huge selection of animals from almost every continent, and what makes this such a wonderful experience is that many of these animals’ numbers are dwindling in the wild. You and your children can see and interact with several animal species that could very soon face extinction.
Experience a petting zoo, Safari Africa, the Ituri Forest, Penguin Beach, the Florida Boardwalk, Harrell Discovery Center, the Manatee and Aquatic Center, Stingray Bay, the Zooventures open-air amphitheater and many more exciting exhibits that you and your children will talk about for years to come.
Skyzone Trampoline Park
Want to let the kids bounce off the walls… and care less? Then it’s time for Skyzone Trampoline Park in Clermont. Here, you and/or your children can enjoy the feeling of weightlessness as you bounce around on wall-to-wall trampolines.
Activities include free jumping on the Main Court, jumping into 10,000 foam blocks in the Foam Zone, playing Ultimate Dodgeball while bouncing high, dunking basketballs like the pros on SkySlam, and there’s even Toddler Time to introduce small children to the pleasures of jumping.
Once a month, there is a Midnight Madness Lock-In for kids 9 through 17. This features unlimited jumping, food and drinks, laser tag, video games and more.
If you love the water, then you’re going to love the Florida Aquarium in Tampa. This is one attraction that is more than just entertainment—it also provides much-needed research for ecological propagation and wildlife protection worldwide.
The aquarium highlights Florida’s native coastline but also showcases coral reefs and wildlife from other areas. Exhibits include a wetlands trail, Journey to Madagascar, Bays and Beaches, Ocean Commotion and Coral Reef. Coral Reef allows visitors to slowly navigate their way down more than 60 feet beneath the ocean’s surface to view life through a glass partition at all levels of a natural coral reef. The aquarium even hosts birthday parties and sleepovers.
Bushnell Motorsports Park
This brand-new track has go-kart rentals from 1pm to 10pm Saturdays and Sundays. Drivers must be 14 years old or older. The 2/3-mile track has 22 turns, one banked turn and a bridge and underpass. The track includes two road courses and a 660-foot oval track. Karts can reach speeds up to 50mph and offer thrilling family fun. The track is located in southern Sumter County less than one mile from Interstate 75.
Day-Tripping At The Theme Parks
Want to take in the season at one of our state’s theme parks? Here’s what they have to offer.
Walt Disney World
Disney definitely knows how to do Christmas. Each December, the Magic Kingdom transforms Main Street USA into a Christmas spectacle and Cinderella’s Castle into a crystal ice palace. If Epcot is more your Disney style, don’t miss a Candlelight Processional, a retelling of the story of Christmas brought to life by a 50-piece live orchestra, choir and celebrity narrator. And if you love The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Hollywood Studios, you won’t want to miss this event’s final year—it’s a tradition you’ll want the family to experience one last time. If you’d like to experience all of these events in one night, check out Disney’s Holiday D-Lights, a five-hour tour for $259 per adult.
Manheim Steamroller will perform their holiday music extravaganza on select Saturday and Sunday nights in December at Universal Studios, while Islands of Adventure becomes a Grinchmas special, as Dr. Seuss’ “lovable” character comes to life along with a retelling of this heartwarming Christmas story. Meet the Grinch and take in a Grinch and Friends Character Breakfast.
Busch Gardens becomes Christmas Town, a holiday spectacle of more than one million lights, endless shopping adventures, Christmas treats and a visit with Santa himself at Santa’s House on November 27-28, December 4-5, 11-12 and 18-31.
SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration includes Shamu Christmas Miracles, O Wondrous Night, the Polar Express Experience, Elmo’s Christmas Wish, Winter Wonderland on Ice and Sea of Trees happening November 21-22, 27-29, December 4-6, 11-13 and 18-31.
Christmas Bricktacular includes a 30-foot tall LEGO Christmas tree, a LEGO Santa, reindeer and sleigh, a Santa Scavenger Hunt and loads of entertainment on December 5, 6, 12, 13, 19, 20 and 26 though 30.