Orlando’s Hidden Cultural Gems
It would be safe to assume that countless Orlando holidays are booked with only one thing in mind: theme parks! It is no secret that this city in Central Florida is widely regarded as the greatest destination in the world for fun-loving thrill-seekers of all ages, with just some of the many iconic attractions that are based there including Universal Studios, SeaWorld and, of course, Walt Disney World Resort.
We at My America Holiday, however, know that Orlando’s impressive array of rides and rollercoasters represent just one side of a place that, once you have been there, you will realise has an almost endless list of fascinating attractions to explore. If you want to balance the non-stop excitement of the area’s theme parks with something that has more of an educational focus on your next holiday, read on for some of our favourite local cultural highlights.
Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
The suburban city of Winter Park (which is just a 15-minute drive from Orlando) is where you will find the excellent Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art.
It is estimated that there are currently over 35,000 museums open in the U.S., so why should you choose to visit this one in particular? The answer is that it is an absolute treasure trove for anyone who has even a passing interest in the timeless works of Louis Comfort Tiffany, the highly-acclaimed American artist and designer.
This wonderfully unique museum is officially home to the world’s largest collection of original Tiffany pieces, including jewellery, pottery, paintings, stained glass windows and more. Surely the most impressive piece of all, however, is a chapel the great artist designed for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893; filled with extensively detailed windows, mosaics and furnishings, this extraordinary creation was moved to the museum piece by piece and painstakingly reassembled by a team of experts, eventually opening to the public in 1999.
Harry P. Leu Gardens
Not all educational holiday experiences need to happen in museums, of course, and one particularly beautiful piece of evidence for this can be found right in the heart of Orlando. The magnificent Harry P. Leu Gardens (often simply shortened to ‘Leu Gardens’) extends over 50 acres and has been serving as an oasis of tranquillity for the people of Orlando for decades.
Boasting an incredible array of temperate and tropical flora, the location – whilst wonderfully relaxing – was designed with the education of the local community in mind. The gardens are set within the grounds of a house formerly owned by Mr and Mrs Harry P. Leu; the couple, who were avid horticulturalists, spent much of their lives travelling the world and bringing home plants which they knew were not often or ever found in the U.S. In 1961, they gifted their entire estate to the city of Orlando, in the hope that it would be used to help nearby residents learn more about the natural world they loved so much.
As well as displaying a wide range of diverse plant and flower species such as camellias, bamboo, magnolias and azaleas across multiple gardens, the site also features an informative museum (based in the former owners’ home) which portrays what life was like in Florida at the turn of the 20th century.
Orlando Science Centre
One eye-catching landmark that can be seen from the grounds of Harry P. Leu Gardens and is well worth spending a day at – especially if you are travelling with children – is the brilliant Orlando Science Centre.
The OSC’s mission statement is simple but clear and important: to ‘inspire science learning for life’. The location started as a traditional museum back in 1955 but began to be transformed into a more hands-on attraction that would appeal to the whole family in the 1970s.
This museum is packed with amazing exhibitions that are bound to thrill the little ones, even if they have never shown much interest in science! A few highlights we would recommend exploring include NatureWorks (which is full of local and exotic plants and animals), KidsTown (featuring a series of skills-based activities in the setting of a miniature town) and DinoDigs (an interactive, dinosaur-themed zone that would be perfect for any budding palaeontologists).
Orlando Fire Museum
The Science Centre also has a link with the next location on our list, the Orlando Fire Museum, as the building in which this intriguing attraction is based was previously owned by the OSC.
It may not be to everyone’s taste, but the Fire Museum offers a comprehensive guide to how the City of Orlando Fire Department has evolved throughout the years, which will certainly be of interest to anyone who enjoys learning more about the history of where they are visiting on holiday.
Filled with an extensive collection of paraphernalia relating to the local fire department, the museum’s pride and joy is undoubtedly its impressive American LaFrance engine, which was built in 1926 and has now been restored to immaculate condition.
The Orlando Fire Museum is situated right behind the Science Centre and is completely free to enter, so why not plan on taking a quick trip there whilst you’re in the vicinity? You may end up staying for longer than you expected!
SKELETONS: Museum of Osteology
Our final choice is surely the most unusual to feature in our guide and it is also, by some distance, the newest. SKELETONS: Museum of Osteology opened as recently as 2015 and has been fascinating its visitors, young and old, ever since.
Located just a few steps away from the mega-popular SeaWorld complex on International Drive, the appeal of this unique attraction is summed up by its name! Featuring more than 500 genuine animal skeletons displayed across over 40 themed exhibits, SKELETONS will certainly leave a lasting impression and may spark a new interest in the natural world among any younger members of your family.
Born from a genuine passion for osteology (the owner started collecting animal skulls when he was seven years old!), this one-of-a-kind museum showcases an amazing range of fully reconstructed skeletons – including rhinos, apes, penguins, elephants and giraffes – alongside plenty of informative commentaries.