Kissimmee—Orlando’s “Other Side”
When visitors think of Florida, they often think of palm trees and beaches. Ask them to describe Orlando, and roller coasters and characters come to mind. But between those sandy beaches and the colorful theme parks is another beautiful area that’s been teeming with indigenous wildlife and native subtropical plants that locals call “the real Florida.” You’ll find it all in Kissimmee… Orlando’s “Other Side.”
Accounts are sketchy, but the name Kissimmee (Kis-SIM-mee) is said to mean “heaven’s place” and can be traced back as far as 1540 to the Caloosa Indian tribe. Fortunately, much of the natural beauty that attracted the Native Americans and settlers to this area has been preserved, and for those who want to see and experience authentic Florida, the opportunities are many. From relaxing bass fishing to exhilarating airboat rides, from meandering horseback tours to speedy zip line adventures, Kissimmee offers all the thrills of the theme parks within its very own natural playground.
For a true Florida “eco safari,” Forever Florida is the place to begin. A 4,700 acre eco-ranch and wildlife conservation area, it offers a multitude of ways to experience the outdoors. Ziplining is taking off in destinations all over the globe, but only Forever Florida boasts “The Rattlesnake,” the first “zipline coaster” in the United States. Starting at a platform 65 feet in the air, guests will travel 1,000 feet over treetop canopies, dipping, swinging, swooping— and of course, screaming — all the way.
The Zipline Safari, a 2.5 hour guided experience, offers a closer look at wildlife, including a 13- foot gator, as guests travel along seven ziplines and three skybridges, stopping to take in the sights on 10 different aerial observation platforms with unobstructed views for 10 miles around.
For those who are more faint of heart, Forever Florida’s two-hour Coach Safari is an ideal way to spot alligators, black bears, white-tail deer, nearly two hundred species of birds, and the endangered Florida panther from the safety of an open-air safari coach five feet off the ground.
To really explore like the early Florida “crackers”—or cowboys—did, saddle up and go on a horseback tour. Forever Florida’s guided 1.5 hour excursions take guests through nine distinct ecosystems filled with native foliage and animals. To really capture that frontier spirit, embark on an overnight horseback safari or a three-hour “Rawhide Roundup” where even city slickers can learn the basics of cattle herding and tending a ranch.
Known as “The Bass Fishing Capital of the World,” Kissimmee’s Lake Tohopekaliga, or Lake Toho for short, attracts fishermen from all over the world for its trophy-quality large-mouth bass. Numerous tour companies, including Fish Orlando: Pro Guide Service and A.J.’s Freelancer Bass Guide Service, Inc. are available to take out anglers of any age and skill level, from novice fishermen and families with small children to experienced tournament fishermen.
Many people may not realize that Lake Toho is part of the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, a network of lakes, streams and rivers that flows from Central Florida south to Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. And, just like the infamous lakes further south, the “Central Florida Everglades,” too, are teeming with American alligators. Companies including Boggy Creek Airboat Rides, the area’s original airboat tour company, and Big Toho Airboat Rides offer tours of Lake Toho’s scenic wetland areas and cypress swamps aboard a jet-powered airboat, piloted by a certified U.S. Coast Guard Captain. Visitors can experience the exhilaration of skimming across the top of the water and over tall grasses to look for wildlife including alligators, turtles, and birds including herons, cranes, and even majestic bald eagles.
Luckily, an airboat ride isn’t the only way to see real gators. Gatorland, one of Central Florida’s oldest and most popular attractions, features a slithery host of alligators, crocodiles and reptiles as well as birds. Newer experiences like a zipline and kids’ splash area add to the entertainment value, but it’s the Gator Jumparoo and Gator Wrestling shows that highlight just how magnificent and powerful these beasts really are.
For families with little ones, Green Meadows Farm offers hands-on fun with a host of petting opportunities including chicks, ducklings, sheep, chickens and pigs, as well as pony and train rides. And when they say hands on, they mean it—every guest is strongly encouraged to take a turn milking a cow!
Given its roots in cattle ranching and horseback riding, it’s no surprise that Kissimmee is home to the Silver Spurs Rodeo, the largest rodeo east of the Mississippi. With a new home at Osceola Heritage Park, the Silver Spurs Arena houses not only the Silver Spurs Rodeo but also a host of other rodeos, sporting events and concerts throughout the year.
When booking a vacation to Central Florida, be sure to schedule plenty of time to see and do it all, not only the theme parks, but the area’s many natural wonders as well. One of the best way’s to stay in the Orlando – Kissimmee area is by renting a full-size vacation rental homes so you can feel like you are “home away from home.”
Florida Leisure Vacation Homes offers families, groups and business travelers rental homes at a daily, weekly or monthly rates with all the amenities of home—plus some—for a fraction of the cost. Florida Leisure’s Homes feature spacious living, dining and gathering areas; full-size, fully equipped kitchens; multiple bedrooms with plenty of room for extended families or groups; and often swimming pools, barbeque grills, game rooms and media rooms, as well as free and convenient parking. Away from the hustle and bustle of the hotel scene, Florida Leisure’s vacation rentals are all located in quiet, suburban neighborhoods just minutes from the heart of Orlando and minutes from Kissimmee’s natural attractions. In Central Florida, vacationers can have it all! So come and experience Kissimmee – Orlando’s “Other Side” - “the real Florida” and enjoy the comfort of a real home away from home.