A visit to Orlando Florida might leave you in a permanent state of nostalgia as you enter the magical, exciting and sometimes even peculiar theme parks of the area. Big game players including Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld keep visitors to Orlando amused, making it a great destination for a fun family getaway. While theme parks are the backbone of Orlando tourism, there is more to the city than wild rides and the world's favourite mouse. This city of lakes explodes with raw beauty in its botanical gardens, sanctuaries and pristine lakefronts. While natural aesthetic and history abound, downtown Orlando is proving to be a popular dining and nightlife precinct, oozing style in its swish boutiques and bars.
The main draw to Florida is undoubtedly the big names in family fun – LEGOLAND and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter are two recent additions to the Orlando entertainment family. There are also some slightly left-of-centre theme parks like Gatorland (a scaly, reptile adventure land) and Holy Land (inspired by biblical Jerusalem). Things to do in Orlando are not limited to theme parks – lovers of the outdoors will enjoy an eco-safari where you can journey through several ecosystems along the waterways and spot alligators, bears and even the endangered Florida panther. Orlando also boasts a number of unique museums including the International Trolley and Train Museum and the more obscure Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium.
Eat and Drink
Orlando restaurants serve up a range of epicurean delights from five star establishments headed by celebrity chefs to a thriving street food scene where Food Trucks appear at events and popular dining precincts. To taste a retro American favourite, visit Beefy King and chow down on a roast beef sandwich and cherry milkshake. If you are staying at the Universal Resort, Universal CityWalk has you covered for buffet breakfasts, quick lunches, gourmet dinners and late-night drinks. CityWalk features several themed restaurants like the famous Hard Rock Cafe. Orlando's nightlife is concentrated around Virginia Drive and Mills Avenue – locally known as the ViMi district – where Orlando residents unwind at classic dive bars, serenaded by local indie bands.
Where to Stay
Orlando hotels are plentiful with thanks to a roaring tourism trade. Vacation rentals are good options for families or groups, offering all the amenities of home such as kitchen and laundry facilities with plenty of space and privacy. Rentals vary in size and price from single room stays to multi-bedroom houses with pools. The big theme parks have their own accommodation at the heart of the action including the Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld, Disney World Resort and Universal Resort. Stay in Downtown or North Orlando for easy access to the city's cultural attractions like the Orlando Museum of Art or Winter Park – a trendy shopping and dining district you could easily spend hours exploring.
An introduction to shopping in Orlando begins with the Orlando Premium Outlets. Vineland Avenue and International Drive are the best places to score a bargain (or twelve!) with designer labels such as Armani, Nike and Ralph Lauren all making an appearance. Morediscounts can be found at Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores where many more well-known designers are stocked. Go treasure hunting at Renningers Twin Markets, Mount Dora (about 30 minutes drive away from downtown Orlando), where serious antique collectors frequent. Renningers is a sprawling shopping mecca with everything from fresh produce to furniture, jewellery to old Coca-Cola merchandise up for grabs. The market is split up into an antiques precinct and farmer's/flea market area.
Orlando like a Local
Since 1970 locals have enjoyed the bizarre bazaars, delicious waffles and oddly named teas at Stardust Video & Coffee. Open from early morning to midnight, Stardust is a great spot for people-watching or to engage with Orlando residents at the community market. As the self-proclaimed wakeboarding capital of the world, the Orlando Watersports Complex keeps the reputation going strong with cable-ski lessons and regular competitions. If you feel like practicing your slice, there are heaps of golf courses for a few holes between amusement park adventures and outlet exploring. If you want to avoid peak travel time, book your flights to Orlando outside the March/April and June/August periods.