I recently made a goal for myself to explore more of the U.S. this year. Though I grew up on the west coast of California, most of the traveling I did at a young age was to Europe (both my parents are first-generation European, so most of our family is abroad). So, when the team at Experience Kissimmee invited us to Kissimmee, Florida for some warm weather and delicious food, I knew we had to go! We planned our trip around the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival and decided to visit the last week of September.
Kissimmee is a short drive from Walt Disney World Resort and Orlando, and it’s also home to the headwaters of the Everglades in Florida. I was especially curious about the Everglades (and of course, the alligators!). Turns out Kissimmee is home to a tropical ecosystem that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. I’m always up for checking off a new bucket list item, so seeing the natural beauty of the area while trying to spot a gator was definitely high on our list. Here are our favorite activities and moments from Kissimmee, along with a breakdown of where to find the best eats.
Left to right from top: aerial views of Lake Tohopekaliga during our airboat ride; hot air ballooning with Orlando Balloon Rides; horses en route to Lake Tohopekaliga; downtown Celebration; on our airboat ride; kayaking at The Paddling Center at Shingle Creek.
Walt Disney World Resort: A Quick Breakdown
Kissimmee is located nearby Walt Disney World and Orlando, Florida. Walt Disney World is made up of 4 different parks, each known for something different. Once a year, the Epcot park hosts the Epcot International Food & Wine festival which celebrates cuisines and cooking from all around the world. There are culinary demonstrations, global marketplaces with dishes and sweets, craft beer and fine wines, even a concert series. It varies a bit year by year, and the festival typically runs from August through November. You can find more details and dates here.
Epcot – dedicated to culture, innovation, and human achievement. A “permanent world’s fair”, with installations of popular architecture and decor from around the globe.
Animal Kingdom – a zoological theme park highlighting the environment and animals.
Magic Kingdom – a classic Disney park experience featuring rides and attractions, musical parades, Disney characters, and fireworks.
Hollywood Studios – home to imagined worlds from film, TV, music, and there. This park is inspired by Hollywood – most recently, Disney added a new land dedicated to Star Wars.
Disney Springs – not a park — a shopping, entertainment, and dining hub located near Walt Disney World.
Our favorite parts of Epcot during the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival: exploring the Morocco pavilion (rumor has it a Moroccan prince hand-picked the items for this part of the park), dining on delicious pasta at Tutto Italia in the Italy pavilion, and trying numerous dishes throughout the festival (the spicy Australian shrimp was a favorite).
Where We Stayed
We stayed at the Omni Orlando Resort at Championsgate. The property is large, featuring multiple pools and a golf course. One of my favorite parts about it was the variety of restaurants on property, which was extra convenient since we spent all day out exploring! I recommend making a reservation for dinner at least one night at their David’s Club restaurant (on the property), which has a great wine list and food selection. It’s an upscale hotel, but also family-friendly! Hotel Website | Booking Link
Where to Eat
Jaleo by Jose Andres – delicious tapas by world-renowned chef Jose Andres. This restaurant is located in Disney Springs, and a must if you’re visiting the parks. Order the scallops – they’re some of the best I’ve ever had. Reservations recommended. Restaurant Website | TripAdvisor Reviews
Holler and Dash – for a typical Southern brunch of biscuits and gravy, this is your spot. The menu features chef-driven recipes, including cheesy grits, scrambles, and hearty bowls. Jacob loved the spicy chicken biscuit sandwich. Restaurant Website | TripAdvisor Reviews
David’s Club – this upscale restaurant-sports bar is an easy win for date night or for a family-friendly spot. Located in the Omni Hotel, they’re known for their fresh fish dishes (order their signature Black Grouper – yum!). Restaurant Website | TripAdvisor Reviews
Yeoman’s Cask & Lion – this fun British-inspired pub is a great option if you’re looking for something casual and delicious. They’re known for having the best fish & chips in Florida. Complete with red telephone booths from London and a giant rooftop installation of Big Ben. Restaurant Website | TripAdvisor Reviews
Walt Disney World & Disney Springs – there are such great eats in and around Walt Disney World, so don’t hold back. A friend messaged me during our trip encouraging me to seek out the homemade (and gluten-free!) churros at Nomad Lounge in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, and all I can say is: IT’S WORTH IT.
What to Do
Explore the Everglades by airboat – If you only do one activity in Kissimmee, this is our pick. Gliding over the water while searching for alligators, watching flocks of birds, and navigating through thousands of lilypads is completely unique. After the tour, we cruised around by car and stopped to see the local horses. My tip: book a private tour if you can — we loved talking with our guide Tanner (from Boggy Creek Airboat Adventure) about his time growing up on this lake!
Go kayaking in nature – The Paddling Center at Shingle Creek rents one and two-person kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards to explore the beautiful ecosystem that this area is known for. It was so peaceful being on the water and we loved keeping an eye out for wildlife while learning about the history of the area.
Cool off at a water park – if you’re traveling as a family, check out Island H2O Live! It’s a newly built water park located in Kissimmee. This isn’t something I’d normally squeeze in on a trip, but Jacob and I had so much fun here, and it felt amazing on a hot day! The park is on the smaller side and it’s easy to get around (plus, it’s located away from Walt Disney World Resort, so you won’t get the same number of crowds).
Left: The Paddling Center at Shingle Creek; Right: the wave pool at Island H2O Live!
Rent bikes in Celebration – a town dreamed up by Walt Disney himself. This pastel-colored town has charming, walkable streets and plenty of restaurants. The real highlight in my opinion are the neighborhoods and wooden walking paths nearby. You can rent bikes at the start of the trail with Celebration Bike Rental and cruise through the neighborhood to see Southern-inspired houses and spot wildlife along the way.
Wake up with a hot air balloon ride – cross off this bucket list item with Orlando Balloon Rides! It’s an early wake-up call (our meeting time was 6am) but nothing beats watching the sunrise from above the city. When you land, the team will pop champagne to get you through the rest of the day.
We put together a short video with our favorite highlights from Kissimmee! Click below to watch. And for more information on what to do, where to stay, and other activities in Kissimmee, Florida: check out experiencekissimmee.com.
Kissimmee, Florida Video
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A big thank you to the team at Experience Kissimmee for getting us out to Kissimmee. As always, all opinions from this trip are my own.