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Thankful on a Tankful: 7 Central Florida Destinations Worth the Drive this Autumn
Everyone knows Thanksgiving brings loved ones together. But sometimes, we don't feel like we’re together.
Whether you’ve got a friend who’d rather scroll Instagram, a husband who just wants to go Black Friday shopping for the newest kitchen gadget or a mom who wants to watch the newest season of The Crown in peace, opportunities for relationship-building can be hard to find.
Luckily, a group drive is a time-honored solution. Get your loved ones in the car and take a day trip to one of these adventure-offering, autumn-friendly locations within driving distance from Central Florida.
This fall, skip Black Friday shopping and pick some pumpkins instead. At Mullinax Ford, we’re thankful on a tankful.
Great Scott Farms Corn Maze
Seven acres of corn. It’s like Mount Dora’s very own slice of Iowa.
Round up your loved ones — including your (leashed) canine companions and stroller riders — for a day of a-maze-ing fun at Great Scott Farms, just a 40-minute drive north of Orlando.
Admission comes with a game sheet of questions, picture rubbings and puzzles. To officially complete the maze, you’ll have to locate each of the 23 maze stations — a quest that takes about two hours. Or, if you have a competitive streak, you can always aim to beat the maze record of 45 minutes.
Corn-maze navigation is serious business, and you’ll need some serious refreshments afterward. Great Scott has you covered with food vendors, a cafe and a farmers market with farm-fresh produce, jams, honey and snacks. Maze-ing on a budget? Bring your own picnic lunch to enjoy at one of the provided covered picnic tables (just leave the large coolers and grills at home).
Great Scott’s Fall into Fun festival and corn maze lasts from September through November, but you can visit its farmers market year-round.
EPCOT Food & Wine Festival
Disney World’s EPCOT Food & Wine Festival, held annually from July to November, is a staple fall experience for many central Floridians. After all, where else can you wash down Mexican tostada de carnitas with an Indian mango lassi and top it all off with Swiss dark chocolate fondue?
You and your spouse, kids or Disney-loving friends can explore six continents of cuisine from over 25 globally inspired booths sprinkled throughout Disney’s EPCOT park. The festival booths are open seven days a week, from lunchtime to park close.
Florida residents can buy a Disney “weekday magic” ticket that includes two to four admission passes you can use from October to December at a lower cost than an average Disney ticket — providing the perfect opportunity to enjoy the festival’s magic for a lower cost while missing the weekend crowds.
Food and Wine also has a concert series, so check out the event website to see who will be serenading you while you snack. Past shows have featured groups like Boyz II Men and Rexine. You’ll never want to make it to the End of the Road.
Seniors First Turkey Trot 5k
Get the whole family out to Orlando’s Lake Eola park on Thanksgiving morning to run in Track Shack’s Seniors First Turkey Trot 5k, held annually since 1989.
This gobble-licious, turkey-tastic fun fest is much more than a road race. Get there early and you can watch the turkey call contest. Get there even earlier and you can see the costume judging — or get your squad in some tutus and turkey hats and hit the costume contest yourself. And if those aren’t enough festivities, there’s also a post-5k Tot Trot, free for all little gobblers.
You can buy your race packet — which includes a cozy (and chic) Turkey Trot T-shirt and a finisher medal — all the way up until the day of the event. All proceeds go to fight senior hunger by benefiting Seniors First, the Meals on Wheels agency for Orange County. Meals on Wheels delivers nutritious lunch and cold breakfast five days per week to the homes of disabled, homebound Orlando seniors over 60.
Running isn’t your “speed?” No problem — you can walk, jog, push a stroller or do the “Gobble Gobble” dance through the streets of Orlando, as long as it gets you across the finish line and back home to the Thanksgiving feast to come.
Raprager Family Farms Fall Pumpkin Festival & Haunted Farm
Located northwest of Tampa in Odessa, this farm offers year-round events like Mardi Gras, Christmas and Thanksgiving festivals, but from September to November its Fall Pumpkin Festival takes the cake — or should we say, the pumpkin pie — for family-friendly autumn fun.
Order your tickets online before making the drive so you can be guaranteed a spot — tickets at Raprager sell out quickly, and it’s no wonder why. One ticket unlocks access to axe throwing, hay rides, a two-acre animal petting zoo, a 40-foot hay chute slide, and the list goes on at the Raprager website.
Adults can sip on pumpkin beers at the Packing House Bar, kids can munch ice cream and kettle corn from Kangal Corner’s Ice Cream, and everyone can enjoy picking out and painting the perfect pumpkin with options ranging from jack-o-lanterns to “warty goblins.”
After the little ones and their thrill-adverse kin have had a blast enjoying Raprager’s daytime activities, the gears change at 6 p.m to turn Raprager into “the best adult scare you can imagine.” The 5,000-square-foot Haunted Barn fills with monsters, while the hayride becomes a Haunted Hayride that journeys through a foggy cemetery.
West Orange Trail
This 22-mile paved pedestrian trail may be open year-round, but Floridians know there’s no time like the fall to enjoy outdoor activities in the crisp weather.
Florida’s leaves may not change colors, but you can still put on your sweater and get out to enjoy the autumn scenery on the West Orange Trail, which stretches from Oakland to Apopka. If you can name it, you can take it — bikes, skateboards, horses, dogs, strollers and e-bikes are all welcome.
The trail’s main attraction is the portion running through downtown Winter Garden, where you and your group can do some window shopping and grab a bite to eat. In the fall and winter, you’ll see local businesses and homes decked out in holiday decorations in preparation for Winter Garden’s renowned annual Christmas light contest.
Paddles by the Sea
Enjoy the sights of the coast without dipping in the chilly water by driving down to Paddles By The Sea, which has four locations in the Vero Beach area.
Paddles by the Sea has its own launch site, so you and your co-paddlers in crime won’t have to make an appointment for drop-off or pick-up at a local dock while competing with boat traffic. Instead, the outfitter will send you off and welcome you back, and all you have to worry about is having a good time in the middle.
If you want an extra pair of eyes to help you spot manatees or dolphins, sign up for a guided kayak or paddle board tour..
You can also leave the paddles behind altogether and take to the sea on a sightseeing pontoon boat or cabana boat tour, which have both daytime and sunset options. (And, in the case of the latter, a bring-your-own-adult-beverage option).
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