Kissimmee has made it on national lists as being one of the most-mispronounced cities—it's Ka-sem-me—but it's better known among visitors and locals for its Old-Florida quirks and charm and its natural scenery. Located in Osceola County and bordering the south end of Walt Disney World, Kissimmee is home to resorts, golf courses, family-friendly attractions and beautiful lakes. Here are just a few top things to do in Kissimmee when visiting.
Kissimmee Hotels & Resorts
If you're booking a stay near Walt Disney World, chances are you might actually be in Kissimmee rather than Orlando. Though there are many budget hotels along Highway 192, also called the Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway, visitors will also find several upscale properties like the Gaylord Palms Resort. The 63-acre property features a South Beach-style pool, family water park, luxury spa, high-end dining and an extragavant, 4.5-acre indoor atrium that's signature to the Gaylord brand. The resort also offers plenty of daily entertainment, ranging from alligator feedings in the atrium's swamp habitat to dive-in movies at the pool. Families will also find many comfortable and luxury vacation homes for rent, hotel brands like Embassy Suites and Springhill Suites, boutique hotels like The Bohemian Celebration, and coming in 2016, Jimmy Buffett's Margaritavillage, featuring a hotel, residences and a water park open to the public.
The Great Outdoors
Kissimmee is an amazing place to experience Florida's great outdoors and natural wonders, while still being close to the theme parks. Shingle Creek, the source of the Florida Everglades, runs through Kissimmee and flows into Lake Tohopekaliga—you can call it Lake Toho like the locals to keep from getting tongue-tied. Stop by the Shingle Creek Paddling Center for a kayak, canoe or a guided boat ride down the winding waterways to see alligators, exotic birds and even the elusive Florida panther. Boggy Creek Airboat Rides and Kissimmee Swamp Tours also get you out on water in search of alligators, up to 12-feet long. The uniqueness of the airboat design, with the propeller above water, allows the boat to manuever through shallow marshes and wetlands, getting passengers close to wildlife. For those wishing to stay high and dry, there's Tree Trek where you can soar through the trees on a 425-foot zipline. Green Meadows Petting Farm is ideal for little ones who can meet hundreds of friendly animals in a country setting. Kissimmee Lakefront Park is a new addition on Lake Toho in the heart of downtown with walking trails, a splash pad and a playground.
Dozens of attractions are concentrated along Kissimmee's main thoroughfare, Highway 192. You'll find some ticky-tacky tourist traps and souviner shops but also plenty of high-quality attractions. Families can choose from various putt-putt courses like Pirates Cove and Congo River, go-kart tracks, and amusement rides at places like Fun Spot. Old Town Kissimmee is an old-fashioned streetscape with restaurants, shops, attractions and frequent car shows. Capone's and Medieval Times offer nightly dinner shows in outrageously entertaining themes.
What's a Florida vacation without a round (or two or three) of golf? Kissimmee is home to some amazing golf courses, and the good news is they're never ever closed for snow days. Good bets are the Celebration Golf Club, a meticulously maintained Robert Trent Jones course, and Falcon's Fire, which frequently offers specials and has received accolades from Golf Digest.
When the Spanish brought cattle and horses to Florida in the 1500s, many animals strayed south to Kissimmee. So when Henry Flagler brought the railroad through town three centuries later, Kissimmee cattlemen were in business. With steamboats on the Kissimmee River and the South Florida Railroad connecting cities up north, Kissimmee's beef and leather industry grew rapidly. The Great Depression caused a major blow, but much of the cowboy culture remains ingrained in Kissimmee culture. The Silver Spurs Arena at Osceola Heritage Park hosts rodeos throughout the year with the Silver Spurs Rodeo held in February and June and the Florida Ranch Rodeo and Cowboy Heritage Festival held in September. Giddyup!
Kissimmee, much like the rest of Central and South Florida, is a melting pot of cultures. Nearly half the population of Osceola County is Hispanic, and influences are reflected in the shops and restaurants. El Tenampa was recently featured on the Cooking Channel where Celebrity Chef Emeril Lagasse cooked alongside owners Jorge and Angelica Garcia, who serve family recipes from their home state of Jalisco in Mexico. Their specialties include savory, chocolate mole, tender cactus dishes, and delicious fresh-fruit frescas. Next door is an authentic Mexican market with groceries, toys, piñatas, and paletas, popcicles in an array of cool and exotic flavors.
Disney's Dream Town
Since Kissimmee borders Walt Disney World on the south end, much of the Disney culture spills over in the form of gift shops, resorts and even an entire Disney-created neighborhood called Celebration. Walt Disney always dreamed of creating an ideal town, and this fantasy became reality in 1994. Disney first owned the land and operated the downtown area, but now a third-party management company governs the neighborhood. The inviting downtown offers about a dozen shops and restaurants along the lakefront. Public walking trails, bike paths and a wooden boardwalk meander through downtown and back behind the neighborhoods. Residential and commercial architecture resembles styles from iconic cities like New Orleans, Georgetown, Savannah and Charleston. Residents even have their own back entrance to World Drive, which takes them right to the Walt Disney World parks.