Kissimmee juts out from Lake Tohopekaliga, up to Highway 192, which divides the city into north and south. It then continues west to Old Town and the master-planned community of Celebration. The city is every bit as family-friendly as its more famous neighbor to the north. And it’s more laid back. The main part of Kissimmee is 21 square miles. If you include Celebration and the green space between, you can more than double that. The local theme parks and attractions may not be as grand as those in Orlando, but they are more accessible, more affordable, and pure Americana.
Here are some reasons to stay in Kissimmee regardless of whether or not you’ll be flying into Orlando, visiting Disney attractions, etc.
A similar version of this piece first appeared on Matador Network.
Kissimmee has its own amusement park, and it’s pure Americana
On the other side of Interstate 4 from Disney World, Old Town is an old-time Amusement Park with a county fair type of feel. Their theme is “Classic American Fun.” You can see the Ferris Wheel and aptly named Vomatron from Highway 192. Their Mine Blown Coaster is completely unpretentious-looking, yet it’s the only upside-down wooden coaster in Florida. Between the different rides are dozens of quaint and quirky shops. As you walk past the old-fashioned arcade, British and Egyptian souvenir shops, and Post Mortem Horror Boo-Tique, it’s easy to imagine what Central Florida may have felt like pre-1971.
Accommodations are slightly more affordable in Kissimmee
On average, Kissimmee ranks below Orlando by 5% in terms of expenses that would affect tourists. Orlando is slightly above the national average, while Kissimmee is slightly below. As of this writing, several chain hotels and resorts are available for under $100 per night. Most are located along Highway 192. The prices do climb as you head west (i.e., closer to the Disney attractions).
If you are looking to splurge, try the Bohemian Hotel Celebration, which is located along the western shore of Lake Rianhard. Here, you’ll be surrounded by water, bike and pedestrian trails, and upscale dining options along Front Street.
If you are traveling in a group, check out the Magic Village Resort, where you can have your own three-bedroom townhouse with a full kitchen, dedicated parking, an outdoor patio (complete with a grill and sink), and a shared recreation area. If you don’t want to dine out every night, Publix is everywhere in Central Florida. Stop there, buy whatever you need, and have your own cookout.
Kissimmee has a plethora of outdoor activities for all fitness levels
Celebration prides itself on having something to remind every American of home. To really understand what this means, grab a bike from Celebration Bicycle Rental and try their suggested seven-mile scenic loop will take you past more than a dozen lakes and ponds. In less than two hours, you can see architecture that will remind you of Brooklyn, New England, New Mexico, and Washington, D.C.
The Paddling Center at Shingle Creek is located off the busy Highway 192. It does not make sense that such a serene place could exist less than two miles from a local airport and a seemingly endless row of resorts, souvenir shops, and chain restaurants. But this three-mile round trip journey will have the most urbanized among us in awe at the near-perfect reflection of the local greenery on the glass-like water. If you’re looking for mirror shots, try to get ahead of the group, so their waves don’t upset the natural reflection.
Wild Florida is an ideal day trip from Kissimmee but still located in Osceola County. They have a drive-thru safari park near the eastern shore of Cypress Lake. Most visits to the park start with a one-hour airboat ride across the Headwaters of the Florida Everglades. Here, you’ll see partially submerged cows grazing, often just a few yards from large gators. We suggest doing the drive-thru safari last. Between the boat ride and safari, check out Alligator Park, where you can meet Guy (the resident sloth) and watch Crusher (the largest Wild Florida gator) feast on raw chicken without getting semolina poisoning.
Kissimmee has a better food scene
While coastal food snobs may be put off by the national chains that line Highway 192, these are not your only options. “Orlando” locations for local chains like Columbia Restaurant and Estefan Kitchen (yes, that Estefan) are actually located in Kissimmee. Both of the aforementioned are in areas that are destinations in and of themselves. For example, Columbia is located in the quiet, upscale enclave of Celebration, along Lake Rianhard.
Estefan Kitchen is located at Sunset Walk, which is sandwiched between Highway 192 and the Margaritaville Resort. The Promenade at Sunset Walk has some of the quirkiest restaurants in Central Florida, including the British pub-themed Yeoman’s, whose Big Ben replica towers above the rest of the walk’s restaurants and shops. Next door is the 1920’s service station-themed Ford’s Garage. Estefan feels and sounds like a party. With an upscale Cuban menu, live performances, and dancing which is not limited to the small dance floor, you’ll get the sense here that everyone around you is celebrating something.
The key to enjoying the Kissimmee food scene is to embrace the quirkiness. If you’ve ever wondered what Brazilian-style pizza is like, check out Villaggio. World Food Trucks has dozens of Caribbean and Latin American-centric food trucks. Local seafood restaurants are everywhere. There’s even a lobster buffet near Old Town Kissimmee. There are a wide variety of Mexican restaurants, and taco stands all over town. This will also be a great time to find out if gator meat really tastes like chicken. Your favorite Vietnamese sandwich shop will still be there when you get back to the East Village. Don’t leave Central Florida without trying Columbia either! It’s the oldest restaurant in Florida.
Practical Tips for Visiting Kissimmee
Kissimmee Gateway Airport (ISM) does not offer commercial flights. If you’re heading directly to Kissimmee, Orlando International Airport (MCO) is much closer than Sanford (SFB) and has more options.
There’s an Amtrak station downtown, which is also served by the local SunRail train, but you really need a car to get the most out of your time in Kissimmee. Like most of Central Florida, the area is very car-friendly, with most attractions having large parking lots. If you do want to go without a car, be prepared to use Lyft or Uber. The SunRail does not operate on holidays or weekends. Lynx is the local bus service.
Air balloon rides are a major attraction in Kissimmee and the rest of Central Florida. We recommend booking these in advance because there’s always a 50% chance that your morning ride will be canceled due to rain, wind, etc. Pilots will likely cancel the night before, depending on the forecast. This will give you time to make other plans. If you’re planning a balloon ride, try to schedule it for your first morning. This way, you’ll have the maximum possible days for a possible takeoff.
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All pictures were shot with a Panasonic Lumix ZS100 4K Point and Shoot Camera.
Have you been to Kissimmee? If so, how did you enjoy it? Leave a comment below!