Bucket (of Fun) List

10 things every Central Florida family should do at least once.

1. Underwater Treasure Hunt 
Part snorkeling trip, part underwater treasure hunt, the search for scallops (above left) is an unforgettable aquatic adventure permitted in Florida from July 1 through September 24. Scalloping hotspots include the Crystal River, where guided tours are offered at the Plantation on Crystal River, a family-focused resort about 85 miles west of Orlando. All necessary equipment and licenses are included, and the resort’s restaurant will shuck and cook the dime-sized nuggets at day’s end. plantationoncrystalriver.com


2. Constellation Adoration 
“Our cloud-free skies make for optimal star gazing November through April, during what’s considered our observing season,” says Derek Demeter, planetarium director at the Emil Buehler Perpetual Trust Planetarium at Seminole State College (above middle). Budding astronomers can learn more about our constellations during public shows every weekend at the Planetarium—as well as at the Crosby Observatory atop the Orlando Science Center during sky watching events from November through February. Demeter encourages families to check out Telescope Thursdays, when the Buehler Planetarium offers pop-up telescope viewings somewhere in Central Florida every third Thursday from November through April. seminolestate.edu/planet/osc.org

3. Moon Climbs 
Florida’s tallest lighthouse and a National Historic Landmark, Ponce Inlet Lighthouse (above right) towers 175 feet high, offering spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean, coastal wetlands and sprawling Intracoastal Waterway. Visitors can climb all 203 steps 363 days a year, but one of the most memorable moments can be savored during the Climb to the Moon tours once a month when the moon is at its fullest. Limited to just 25 guests, these amusing ascents are led by a guide dressed in historic lighthouse keeper duds, and culminate in a sparkling grape juice toast at the top. Reservations, sometimes months in advance, are a must. ponceinlet.org

4. River Tubing 
Year round swimmers head to Apopka’s Kelly Park, where Rock Springs cranks out 26,000 gallons of water per minute, creating a gentle current perfect for tubing along the ¾-mile-long run. Rent a float outside the park ($3-$5) or bring your own along with a picnic lunch and comfortable shoes for checking out the park’s miles of hiking trails. In the winter, crowds are thinner and although temperatures drop, the spring is still a constant 68 degrees, which feels cozy warm on cool days.


5. Chocolate Fêtes 
Like a scene from Willy Wonka, Farris and Foster’s Famous Chocolate Factory throws opens its doors most Monday evenings and invites families to take over operations at its Baldwin Park sweet shop. For $29, a foursome can whip up a pound of chocolate—including truffles and dipped strawberries—with full access to the conveyor belt and more than 500 different molds. These 90-minute, hands-on workshops, which include lots of guidance by friendly chocolatiers, take place at 5 and 7 p.m. farrisandfosters.com 

6. Luminous Waters 
Catch a different sort of star show, this time under the water at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, where the comb jelly light up the Indian River and Mosquito Lagoon from November through March. These translucent, non-stinging jellies illuminate with a blue-green glow when disturbed, quite a sight to behold during the 90-minute kayak tours that depart at sunset with A Day Away Kayak Tours. adayawaykayaktours.com

7. Royal Feasts 
Dine inside Magic Kingdom’s Cinderella Castle, arguably Central Florida’s most iconic landmark, where Cinderella’s Royal Table offers a fairy tale feast daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Once inside, guests climb the spiral staircase to the banquet hall to enjoy a haughty meal, visits by a host of Disney princesses and for some, epic views of the nightly fireworks, which set the spectacular stained-glass windows aglow. disneyworld.disney.go.com

8. Memorable Movies 
Now celebrating 66 years as one of Florida’s oldest operating drive-in theaters, Lakeland’s Silver Moon Drive-In Theatre offers a movie experience steeped in nostalgia. Two screens show first-run blockbusters seven nights a week, and for a modest ticket fee of $5 for adults and $1 for kids you can catch a double feature broadcast through your car’s FM radio. The snack bar serves typical theater fare, but visitors can bring their own snacks, as well as lawn chairs, blankets and portable FM radios for listening outside of the car. silvermoondrivein.com

9. Historical Diversions 
Spend a few hours peeling back the history of Orlando, downtown and beyond, via the interactive exhibits and Discovery Days at the Orange County Regional History Center, which once served as the county courthouse. This year the museum will display 71 story quilts (Feb. 7–May 3), showcase the artwork of the Highwaymen (Jan. 15–March 22) and highlight Orlando’s rock ’n’ roll roots during the Hard Rock in Orlando exhibition, (April 1–May 31). thehistorycenter.org


10. Family Fun Runs 
At its 700-acre site in Winter Garden, Rock On Adventures hosts a slew of mud runs and obstacle course dashes throughout the year, most of which include a kid-centric component so family members of all ages can join in the heart-thumping fun. While adult races can extend 13 miles and incorporate as many as 175 challenges and obstacles, courses for kids, such as the 400-meter TadPole Dash slated for this March’s Battle Frog, are far less intimidating. The adventure race company also hosts a handful of Fun Days every few months that are ideal for those seeking some non-competitive family fitness. rockonadventures.com

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