Adventure and Amenities Plus Short Direct Flights Make Kissimmee the Ideal Destination

I recently had an opportunity to travel to Kissimmee, Florida. Although it is a stone’s throw from the most popular theme park in the world, my short trip didn’t include rollercoaster rides or time on bumper cars. It left me with a simple realization: the area offers a lot more to do than just Disney World.

While visiting Kissimmee, I stayed at a Magical Vacation Homes rental in Reunion Resort, a wonderful luxury property in a gated community. The ten-bedroom High Flight Mansion can host up to 23 guests, and what sets this home apart is the fun aviation theme. There are several king-sized bedrooms, each with an ensuite bathroom, and several other rooms with bunk beds, ideal for youngsters.

The home also includes many amenities, like a pool, BBQ, and a theatre room. The community also has several golf courses, tennis courts, miniature golf courts, pickleball courts (yes, pickleball), and Wi-Fi throughout the resort. Magical Vacation Homes offer accommodations ranging from studio-size condos to rentals with 15-plus bedrooms—perfect for families, multi-generational vacations or groups of friends travelling together. Our stay was extremely relaxing, and it was wonderful having movie nights there on the big screen, which would also be great for watching sporting events.

On our first night in Kissimmee, our group ventured to Broadway Pizza Bar in the downtown core. Nestled between many mom-and-pop shops, this restaurant is a wonderful combination of cosy and delicious.

Several people ordered beautifully made pizzas that they assured me were also very tasty. I am allergic to cheese, so I enjoyed the Hot Sausage Sandwich with roasted red and green peppers, grilled onions and provolone (which I passed on). My only regret is that I only ordered a half, not the whole sandwich. It was mouthwatering; I instantly wanted to befriend the chef. The food at this restaurant would make the restauranteurs on Preston Street blush.

The following day, we made our way to The Paddling Center at Shingle Creek for a guided kayak tour. The most asked question, not just by our group but all guests, is about alligators, which are very common in Florida. Seeing them can be a regular occurrence, and there was some concern that we would encounter them on our paddle. Since I am writing this, I can confirm that an alligator did not end my life.

Seriously though, we did not encounter any on our two-hour trip. The good staff at the Paddling Center reassured us that while this is a common question/concern, it’s also not warranted. We did, however, see some turtles and a heron.

What made the experience memorable was our guide, Ryan. The difference between good and great customer service is the Ryan’s of the world. He explained that he had been kayaking since the age of two, and as an early 20-year-old, his passion for being on the water remains contagious. Our group catered to several levels of kayakers, and he spoke to all levels seamlessly. Nothing about guiding our group felt like a chore for him; instead, it allowed us the opportunity to share in his passion.

The Paddling Center offers guided and self-guided tours. Recommending this activity to someone else might be the easiest thing to do. The peaceful serenity of being on the water provides a level of relaxation that is exactly what a vacation is meant to deliver.

After our kayaking adventure, we were off to Celebration, Florida, specifically to Columbia Restaurant.

Florida’s ‘oldest restaurant’ offers fine Spanish/Cuban cuisine. While, like many restaurants, Columbia offers take-out and curb-side pickup, one would be missing out on the latter option as a big part of the experience is the presentation.

The menu at Columbia is very different. Not only does it include food and drink options, but it also pays homage to the history of the family behind the establishment and their impact on the community. While Columbia boasts seven locations, the one in Celebration, Florida, appears to be the perfect fit for the restaurant. It mirrors the town’s relaxed vibe with its own laid-back atmosphere.

Many longstanding restaurants that have amassed as many excellent reviews as Columbia might be tempted to rest on their laurels, but not here. The restaurant was near capacity during our visit, and it was obvious that many people were enjoying the overall experience.

We shared some Tapas (appetizers). As a big fan of Calamari, I was thrilled to see they had a few different options. Grande Calamari and Calamares Fritos. Both are good, but if you can only take one, Grande Calamari for the win.

PHOTO: Courtesy Experience Kissimmee Florida


When you go, order a sangria; they will bring out all the ingredients and make it at your table. They also assemble and toss their very popular 1905 Salad before you.

For the main course, I chose the Chicken and Yellow Rice. It was delicious and very filling: a quarter chicken baked with yellow rice, green peppers, onions, tomatoes, spices, and extra-virgin olive oil. The menu is so vast; if I return, there will be so many great dishes to choose from.

After lunch, we walked to the nearby Celebration Bike Rental. They offer hourly, daily, and weekly rentals. You can enjoy self-guided bike tours, with the provided map of the area indicating interesting landmarks. This very relaxing activity allowed us to explore the warmth and calmness that Celebration offers while working off our lunch.

PHOTO: Courtesy Experience Kissimmee Florida


Bicycling through Celebration exemplifies everything a vacation in Florida should be: peaceful and relaxing, with the occasional cameo from an alligator. They were at a safe distance that they could be appreciated, and images captured while knowing your limbs would be safe.

The next day, we were off to Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures. While many go there to partake in airboat rides, this is a fraction of what is on offer. There are activities everywhere you turn, including a butterfly garden where you can walk through an enclosure and see them up close and personal. There is also a fossil and gem mine centre where you get a bucket, a sifter, and a trowel, then pan in the water sluice. As someone who has never done this, I found it quite enjoyable, and the visiting children also seemed to have a lot of fun.

PHOTO: Courtesy Experience Kissimmee Florida


As part of its commitment to educating visitors about Florida’s history and natural resources, Boggy Creek also has a Native American Village where you can witness the primitive tools and techniques the Jororo tribe—known today as The Forgotten Tribe of Floridaused to live in the swamps. There is also a demonstration of gator hunting techniques.

It wouldn’t be Florida without alligators, and Boggy Creek has lots of alligators that you can feed from a safe distance. These are alligators from Gatorland, a 110-acre theme park and wildlife preserve in Florida. It is quite mesmerizing to see a group of them sleeping and then watching them come to life once you throw them food.

After participating in so many events, we work up an appetite. Thankfully, the onsite Boggy Bottom BBQ assisted with that. While the restaurant has many options, I can personally vouch for the Ribs and Brisket. As for the Gator Bites, they were surprisingly delicious and proved to be a popular choice for a shared appetizer.

PHOTO: (RIGHT) Experience Kissimmee Florida


Discussing Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures without mentioning the airboat ride is difficult. You have the option of a 30-minute ride, a 60-minute ride, or a private tour. There is also a sunset tour, a night tour, or a supreme package that includes some of the other events discussed.

This was my first airboat ride, and as kids would say, my mind was blown. You feel perfectly safe as you head through the gorgeous scenery on the headwaters of the Florida Everglades. Slowly, the speed increases, and then suddenly, you stop. The driver points out some wildlife—an alligator, snake or cow—and then you are off again. Our experience was a daytime ride, which I recommend for the first-timers; however, I am confident that any time will provide an equally good experience.

When in Kissimmee, visiting Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures is a must. You can easily spend half a day at this outdoor adventure park.

PHOTO: Courtesy Experience Kissimmee Florida


Later that day, we visited Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets, which has 160 stores, including nineteen from luxury brands like Armani, Burberry, Dolce and Gabbana, Gucci and Versace.

Other great brands include Calvin Klein, Gap, Forever 21, Kate Space, Lacoste and Levi’s. I treated myself to a new pair of shades from Sunglass Hut, and one of the vendors installed a new screen protector on my smartphone. Walking around the outlets can work up an appetite; thankfully, there is a very impressive food court. If you have a sweet tooth Lucciano’s is a great option for gelato.

The vendors between the stores also offer a wide variety of items for sale. It was ‘adorable’ when one tried to sell me an anti-aging cream. I reminded her that ‘Black, don’t crack!’ and we both chuckled.

Depending on your budget and how much you like to shop, you’ll want to give yourself between a half to a full day at the outlet mall. As a wise person once told me, ‘You can’t be rushed at Lululemon!’

The Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets are another must-add to any Kissimmee itinerary.

PHOTO: Courtesy Experience Kissimmee Florida


Shopping can work up an appetite, and the good people at Jojo’s ShakeBAR were there to help. The restaurant lives up to its name by offering incredible milkshake options. The shakes are very filling and can be a meal on their own. If you don’t want one of their extremely decadent milkshakes, there are also basic shakes on the menu, which might be called ‘basic’ but are still a fantastic option.

Jojo’s ShakeBAR menu offers many options, including soups, sandwiches, burgers, lasagna, and the list goes on.

What impressed me the most about this establishment, which is a great throwback to diners back in the day, was the service. In our case, it was thanks to our server, Kenzie. As someone with allergies, I am always careful when ordering, and from time to time, they get it wrong. That happened here, but Kenzie caught it and immediately rectified the situation. Her overall pleasant demeanour makes her an asset to Jojo’s ShakeBAR brand.

After dinner, we were off to Earth Illuminated, an immersive experience. We boarded ‘Starship Regenesis’ to follow a transmission from the lost starship ‘Nova Terra’. What stands out about this encounter is how positive it is. There is even a wall where guests can leave upcoming messages for future attendees to read.

If you had asked me about Kissimmee, Florida, a month ago, I wouldn’t have had much to say. Fast-forward, and I have no problem recommending this as a great vacation destination. And, with direct flights from Ottawa to Orlando, you can be there within three hours!

For more information on vacations in Kissimmee, Florida, visit

A special thanks to Keri Woody and Samantha Carreira for hosting and providing a truly memorable experience.

Header image: Experience Kissimmee Florida. All other photos (unless otherwise indicated) are by Keith Whittier.