There’s a lot more to Orlando, Florida than the theme parks — though we love them! Picture the kids in front of huge outdoor sculptures. Playing in giant water playgrounds. Practicing their team work at regional sports tournaments.

What to do in Orlando if you aren't going to a theme park

I'm Eileen Ogintz, the author of the Kid’s Guide to Orlando and the syndicated column and website Taking the Kids, and today Chelsea and Nate are handing me the reins to help share some savings tips for people looking to visit Orlando this season. I met Chelsea last year at our TMS Family conference. We bonded over a shared love of travel and adventure, and we've had a blast working together since then.

It's the perfect time for a vacation, as many kids head back to school and families or couples with flexible scheduling can take advantage of deals up to half off. September is Magical Deals month, offering a lot of ways to stretch your vacation dollar while learning together and having plenty of fun. It’s actually the cheapest month of the year to visit Orlando.

mennello museum art classes

Here are five smart ways to have fun outside the theme park gates this September:

  1. Make it a museum morning. The Menello Museum of American Art with its terrific outdoor sculpture garden is just $5; kids 6 and under are free and those up to 18 pay just $1. The Orlando Museum of Art has daily free gallery activities with $8 adult admission; $5 for kids ages 4-17.
  2. Read and relax poolside. Orlando hotels are famous for their pool complexes and they’re a great place to read, work on crafts projects or just splash around and enjoy them. Protect your budget by ordering a pizza and eating dinner while the kids play.
  3. Play mini golf. There are lots of courses to choose from, many offering discounts.
  4. Join the fans at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort—everything from baseball to gymnastics, cheer and dance, lacrosse and soccer are played here. We love the team spirit and tickets are much cheaper than at other venues.
  5. Try a new restaurant and expand your horizons. September is Magical Dining Month with three-course dinners presented by world-class chefs. Dress up, practice table manners, see more of the town – meals are just $33 so you can afford childcare.
  6. Make it a theater night. Cirque de Soleil’s multi-talented cast presents “La Nouba” at Downtown Disney; $49 tickets are available in September. The Blue Man Group at Universal Orlando Resort has tickets starting at $60, $30 for kids; less for Florida residents. It doesn’t cost anything to walk around Downtown Disney or Universal Orlando’s CityWalk and there’s always free street entertainment for the kids to watch.

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What’s your first pick?