GUIDE: Pet-Friendly Orlando Vacations

If you’re an animal lover, the thought of going on vacation without the family pet can be a bit depressing – if not completely hindering. While I won’t pretend to comprehend emotional support peacocks or similar, I certainly see the validity of Fido being a part of your vacation plan. Sure, you can kennel a dog, or hire a pet sitter from any number of services and apps, but not everyone wants to go that route. And the good news is… you don’t have to!

A Central Florida vacation is one that offers a range of options and value for the whole family – including the furry ones. Even when an activity doesn’t lend itself to bringing the pooch (such as the theme parks, for example), places like Best Friends Pet Hotel at the Walt Disney World Resort offer Doggy Day Camps that rival the amusements in store for the humans elsewhere! In other words – no need to feel guilty, because your dog is going to have a magical day!

Pets are welcome to stroll along as you browse the trendy boutiques and sidewalk cafes of some of our prominent.communities. Beloved little towns surrounding Orlando are home to little “Main Street” styled strips of unique shops and eateries, as well as community events. This is a great way to get your pet outside in the sunshine for a little exercise, and some smart planning on your part may even lead to a little surprise on your outing. Consider Celebration Town Center, for example, where you’ll find dog-friendly restaurants and Woof Gang Bakery – the perfect place for a treat before hitting the walking trails. Park Avenue in Winter Park is another area that’s particularly welcoming to pups, as is Old Town in Kissimmee (car cruise, anyone?). If you’re feeling especially curious, how about a weekend of farmers markets? Scenic spots in Windermere, Sanford, and Maitland host farmers markets and craft fairs for a few hours each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, respectively. This is a perfect opportunity to discover a few of the area’s hidden gems while spending some time soaking up a beautiful Florida morning with the locals.

But let’s bring our outdoor exploration a bit closer to the original destination once again…

About 40 minutes from Walt Disney World, back in Winter Park, check out Lake Baldwin Park. At just over 23 acres, this is the only dog-friendly park in Winter Park. Dogs can be off leash within the park from 8AM to sunset. Park features include a boat dock and ramp, sandy beach area, picnic tables, benches, and restrooms. Looking to keep your journeys a bit more confined to the tourist district? Consider Shingle Creek Regional Park in Kissimmee, about 20 minutes from the Disney parks. Here, you’ll find a fenced-in playground for dogs as well as a drinking fountain and bathing area. As the Headwaters of the Florida Everglades, Shingle Creek spans 23 miles, flowing into Kissimmee’s Lake Toho, providing a fantastic site for biking, fishing, and bird watching on the shore. Lake Louisa State Park invites you to enjoy a hike with your pooch in the rural hills of Clermont. Miles of paved and unpaved trails reveal ten different lakes connected by wetlands and creeks, setting the scene for great fishing, kayaking, biking, and more! If you’re seeking a real natural adventure, head 20 miles north of Orlando to Wekiwa Springs State Park near the Wekiva River where you can rent a kayak and explore the springs with your (leashed) dog.

Again, you won’t find a red carpet laid out for anyone but the celebrity dogs like Pluto and Scooby at the big amusement parks, but there is one easy-to-overlook theme park in the area where all dogs are welcomed – and they’re free, too! Don’t miss Dinosaur World in Plant City (about an hour from Walt Disney World).

When the fun is done, you’ll probably be looking for a snack – and perhaps a drink to accompany it. As luck would have it, there are a few places that stand out when it comes to pet-friendly food service.

There are four Shake Shack locations in the area, but we’re partial to the one at ICON Park on I-Drive! Pups are welcome outdoors at Shake Shack. They even have a special dog-safe menu including the Pooch-ini – consisting of dog biscuits and vanilla custard. Aside from I-Drive, you can find Shake Shack at The Florida Mall, The Mall at Millenia, and in Winter Park.

Downtown Orlando is home to a wide assortment of locally-owned dining establishments that Orlandoans swear by – some are absolutely ideal for a meal with your pawsome pal. World of Beer‘s downtown location not only has stellar happy hour specials and a fabled weekend “Beerunch”, but enviable views of Lake Eola from the dog-friendly patio. This is a key location for your best #dogsofinstagram contribution! Orlando Brewing welcomes dogs both inside and out. In fact, they’re so happy to open their doors to furry friends that they’ll reward you for bringing them! Stop by on Sundays for Dog’s Day Out, and “Yappy Hour” pricing on Orlando Brewing beers all day long. Opening this summer, Boozehound Dog Bar stands to be the new hot spot for all the happenin’ hounds downtown. Central Florida’s first dog bar, Boozehound’s will serve up a myriad of local craft beers and wines, as well as sports events on big screens, all centered around an off-leash dog park.

But what about sleeping arrangements?

Central Florida is home to a ridiculously large quantity of vacation homes. While many do not allow pets, there are plenty that do. A quick search through home selections on local property management websites or distribution channels like HomeAway and Airbnb will reveal a selection of choices by dates you designate, and this is an ideal way to vacation with ample space, and often – fenced in yards. Be sure to clarify any applicable charges or policies associated with pet guests!

If a hotel is more your speed, there are certainly more than a few of those to choose from around here! Some of the popular brands known for pet-friendly policies that you’ll find represented in the Orlando area: Days Inn, Marriott, Travelodge, La Quinta, Loews Hotels, Choice Hotels, Holiday Inn, Aloft, Sheraton Suites Orlando, Avanti Palms, and the Rosen collection of hotels and resorts – among others. Each location has its own policy regarding pet stays, so do a little FAQ-checking before booking. Just so you know – some of these hotels don’t even charge additional fees for your furry companion!

A sidenote, or “honorable mention”, if you will – Let’s say that you don’t have a pet, but you do love animals. Or you couldn’t bring your pet along for whatever reason, but you simply NEED a warm and fuzzy moment with an adorable friend. Have we got the experience for you! Orlando Cat Cafe in the Four Corners area near Disney provides a feline “fix” in the coolest environment. Grab a coffee and a pastry from the onsite cafe run by Axum, and then pop in for scheduled events or free play with some of the cutest adoptable kitties in the area!

So, if your family includes members of the furry variety, consider bringing them along on your next Orlando vacation. We’re quite the pet-friendly destination, as you can see! Of course, if you’re an animal lover of another type – we have the attractions to amuse you as well! Check back soon as we take a look at some of the best animal-oriented attractions in Central Florida!

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