Welcome to THE BIG 5, a definitive top five list of various Orlando related, uh, stuff. THE BIG 5 is wide ranging, and will run the gamut from the top five reasons to go to Downtown Disney, to the top five places to get a drink at Universal Studios, to the top five reasons AvatarLand won’t work, and everything in between.
This week’s BIG 5 is the top five mini golf courses in Orlando…
#5 – Congo River
There are several Congo River courses in the Orlando/Kissimmee area, including one on International Drive near Wet N’ Wild. These are the only courses where, for a fee, you are able to feed live alligators, which may actually save you a trip to Gatorland after the kids get that out of their system.
The courses themselves are not too different from your average mini golf, set to an African theme with waterfalls, caves and a rainforest as your backdrop. You have your standard “easy” and “harder” courses, cutely named after Stanley and Livingston. Where Congo River sets itself apart from the others is being very competitively priced and having many “distractions” for the kids (from a scavenger hunt with objects to look for on the mini golf courses to an actual arcade next door).
#4 – Disney’s Winter Summerland
Located near Blizzard Beach at Walt Disney World, this is one mini-golf course that takes “cute” to the next level. Winter Summerland has a “Winter” course which follows the snow-covered Florida theme of Blizzard Beach. The “Summer” course provides more of a whimsical tropical holiday theme. The courses are very kid friendly with lots of colors, and the “greens” of the winter course simulate snow where the summer course ones simulate sand. It’s an interesting visual effect.
It could just be me, but I always found the concept of the “Florida Santa Claus” weird and tacky. It’s everywhere in Florida, from lawn gnomes, to t-shirts, to bumper stickers and everything in between. I may be in the minority but I still think it’s more than a bit creepy. Still, of all the courses on The BIG 5, if I was strictly going to entertain young kids, Winter Summerland is where I’d go first.
#3 – Pirate’s Cove
Like Congo River, Pirate’s Cove is a chain based mini golf with a location on I-Drive and near Downtown Disney on SR 535. Who doesn’t like pirates? (Visitors may note that the pirate theme is more in the decorations that surround the course and not the holes themselves.) There’s a easier Captain’s course and a more challenging Blackbeard’s course that did offer up a lot of water hazards that you can lose your ball in.
Again, like Congo River, I find Pirate’s Cove to be a casual, relaxing break in an otherwise hectic vacation.
#2 – Disney’s Fantasia Gardens
Located across from the Swan & Dolphin and near Hollywood Studios is Disney’s Fantasia Gardens. Unlike the other choices in this list, Fantasia Gardens two courses are wildly different. The Gardens course is set like a typical fun mini golf course with a theme to the classic Disney movie Fantasia. All the memorable elements from the film are here, such as the dancing hippos and broomsticks with water buckets.
The Fairways course is the closest you’ll come to seeing an actual 18 hole golf course scaled down to mini golf size. It is hands down the most challenging course I have ever played, and I imagine would be frustrating to play with kids as the “bumpers” that most mini-golf courses have to keep the balls on the greens aren’t here.
#1 – Hollywood Drive-In Golf at Universal CityWalk
The new kid on the block also is the king of the mountain, as Universal CityWalk’s new Hollywood Drive-In mini golf has raised the bar for theming. Of the two available courses, one is themed towards old horror films (The Haunting of Ghostly Greens) and the other towards 50’s scifi films (Invaders from the Planet Putt). Both have an insane amount of in-jokes and gags as well as a dedicated soundtrack. Filled with pop culture references, if the Big Bang Theory guys created a mini golf course, this is what they would come up with.
What takes Hollywood Drive-in to the next level is that the course almost completely change at night, when the extensive amount of lighting creates a surreal playing environment. Both the greens and the props have special lighting, which combine to create a game of mini golf that no other course in Orlando can touch. Great for families, date nights, or just a bunch of friends hanging out.
Fun fact: Hollywood Drive-In Golf is actually owned and operated by the folks who run the Congo River courses.
Honorable mention – Putting Edge Orlando
Putting Edge Glow in the Dark Mini Golf offers guests an indoor version of every family’s favorite golfing challenge with a few twists. Located inside Orlando’s Festival Bay Mall, just down the street from Universal Orlando and at the north end of International Drive, Putting Edge is a great place to bring the kids if it’s too hot, too cold, too rainy – you fill in the blank – outside in Orlando.
The course itself doesn’t have the depth of challenges you find at many of Orlando’s outdoor mini golf courses (mostly due to size constraints of operating indoors, I suppose). But Putting Edge Orlando makes it up by offering a fanciful set aglow with many colors and intricate designs meant to evoke an undersea adventure.
Thanks for taking a swing at this week’s BIG 5. How get off the computer and go challenge someone to a game of mini golf!
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