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IntroductionWalt Disney World® Resort opened in the Orlando area in 1971, setting into motion a Florida tourism boom of grand proportions. With the sister to the West Coast’s Disneyland® Resort in their back yards, devotees of all things Mickey Mouse east of the Mississippi no longer had to trek across country to tap into the magic. As Disney’s East Coast kingdom grew exponentially, so, too, did the competition that eventually transformed Orlando into one big theme park of a destination. Walt Disney World® set the bar for wholesome family fun and then raised it time after time with faster rides, cuter characters and livelier entertainment to captivate every age group.
Beyond Orlando's man-made wonders are sparkling lakes, lovely gardens, relaxing state parks and, within shouting distance, a string of Atlantic Coast beaches. Add to this list championship golf courses, luxury resorts with spas, cuisine to please the international palate and shopping districts that run the gamut from bargain outlets to upscale malls, and Orlando measures up to a full-out, year-round crowd pleaser.
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In DepthWalt Disney World® Resort shaped the young city of Orlando into one of the world's most popular leisure travel destinations. On average, nearly two-thirds of domestic visitors head for the theme parks. But while Disney is the centerpiece of Orlando's appeal, the City Beautiful delivers more than fantasy and fast rides.
Hike, bike or take to the water at dozens of natural parks. Wild Florida—in all its natural splendor—is closer than you think. Botanical gardens, meandering waterways and swampy wetlands with exotic wildlife were early tourist draws, and are still fun places to go outside of the theme parks. Since 1949, Gatorland has thrilled onlookers with dangerous stunts pitting man against reptile.
Orlando began as a small settlement with a cattle ranch and a trading post; by 1890 the “cow town” had expanded, with all the trappings of 19th-century success. The postwar period ushered in dynamic growth. Kennedy Space Center created jobs and even entered the tourism race when it opened its visitors complex in 1967.
Central Florida's Disney story began in the mid-1960s, when visionary “Uncle Walt” Disney paid a series of hush-hush visits to the swamplands of southwest Orange County. Secretive property deals soon followed, sparking questions about the mysterious doings south of town. The answer came in 1971 when Magic Kingdom® Park became Orlando's first theme park. In the decades since then, expansions have presented Epcot®, Disney's Hollywood Studios®, Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park and two water parks. Also adding convenience are hotel accommodations, restaurants, entertainment areas and golf courses.
Bolstered by Walt Disney World® Resort's success, Orlando evolved into a theme park mecca. On the heels of triumphs in San Diego, Calif., and Aurora, Ohio, SeaWorld creators opened a third park in Florida in 1973. Decades later, SeaWorld Orlando gained two sister parks: Discovery Cove Orlando, an interactive dolphin encounter, and Aquatica, a water park. Universal Studios Florida debuted in the summer of 1990. Within 10 years, Universal made the leap from single theme park to Universal Orlando Resort, a multifaceted family vacation destination with hotels, restaurants and nightlife.
Those who think a vacation trip to Orlando is all about kids are in for a surprise. Orlando's cosmopolitan population supports a milieu of cultural museums and places to eat that include celebrity chef-helmed restaurants. The city also hosts exciting sports events ranging from Orlando Magic basketball games to the PGA's Arnold Palmer Invitational at the legend's own Bay Hill Club.
By CarOrlando is laced with busy thoroughfares. Primary among these is I-4, a trans-Florida route that combines direct travel through the city with strategic controlled access. From the Daytona Beach area it forks off I-95 and enters Orlando on the northeast side; from the Gulf Coast it comes from Tampa, passing Walt Disney World® Resort and entering town from the southwest.
Florida's Turnpike (toll) links Orlando with the resort areas of southeastern Florida. About 35 miles to the northwest it connects with I-75, a major north-south freeway. Florida's Turnpike interchanges with I-4 at the southwestern city limits.
I-4 and Florida's Turnpike form an X across central Florida. Two older routes, US 17/92 and US 441, also cross at Orlando, traversing different portions of the area.
SR 528, more commonly known as the Beachline Expressway (toll), passes south of the city. It channels traffic between Orlando and the Cape Canaveral area and connects with routes leading to a downtown destination.
SR 50 (Colonial Drive) is an east-west route that passes through downtown and connects smaller communities near the Gulf with Atlantic coast areas. To avoid traffic an alternative is SR 408, the East-West Expressway (toll), which links with SR 50 both east and west of downtown. The expressway also connects with the Central Florida Greeneway (SR 417) just south of SR 50. An expansion to the eastern terminus brings the toll road to US 17/92 in Sanford; other eastern and western expansions are planned and sections of the expressway may be undergoing construction.
SR 436 (Semoran Boulevard) swings in a wide northwesterly arc from the airport and SR 528 (Beachline Expressway) southeast of town to US 441 northwest at Apopka and offers an alternative—although often busy—route to I-4.
Air TravelSeveral airlines serve the Orlando area using one of the city’s two airports: Orlando International Airport (MCO), at SR 436 (Semoran Boulevard) and SR 528 (the Beachline Expressway), and Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB) in Sanford, which serves commercial and private aircraft. OIA, about 15 miles from both downtown and the tourist district, is a primary destination for many major domestic and international airlines. Serving more than 35 million passengers a year, it is one of the world's fastest-growing major airports. Its four satellite terminals are linked to the main terminal by automated people movers, making it easy to navigate; a south terminal is planned to open by 2019. Use AAA, one of the top travel websites, to find cheap airfare to the Sunshine State. (Note: Orlando's tourist volume often leads to traffic congestion during peak vacation seasons. When planning your trip, allow plenty of transit time—coming and going—between the airport and your destination.)
To reach downtown Orlando, follow Airport Boulevard north as it merges into SR 436. Though heavily traveled, SR 436 offers direct access to central, east and north Orlando via SRs 50 or 408 (toll). To reach the International Drive area, take Airport Boulevard to SR 528 (toll), then head west to SR 482, which intersects International just east of I-4. Take Airport Boulevard south to SR 417 (toll) to go to the Walt Disney World® Resort via SR 536 or to reach Kissimmee via US 17/92/441.
Cab fares from the Orlando airport to downtown or International Drive run about $35-$39; limousines cost about $50-$90 plus tax and a 20 percent tip but can vary depending on the company and other factors; shuttle vans are $19-$20 one way, or $31-$32 round-trip; and bus transportation is $2. Cab fare to the Disney resort averages $60. Many hotels have courtesy shuttle service.
Orlando is served by several major rental car agencies. Arrangements should be made before you depart, especially during peak seasons. Your local AAA club can provide this service or additional information. Hertz, (407) 859-8400 or (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members.
Street SystemBecause much of Orlando's growth occurred during the 1960s and '70s, the city is remarkably car-friendly. Roads are generally in good shape, although construction caused by near-constant expansion is a fact of life around the tourist district and downtown. Points of interest are usually on or near the main thoroughfares, most of which are accessible via I-4. For a small city, Orlando has surprisingly lengthy rush-hour periods, 6:30-9 a.m. and 4-6:30 p.m. Try to avoid traveling on I-4, US 17/92, SR 50 and SR 436 during these times.
Downtown Orlando is basically a grid, with several one-way streets. All street numbering begins at the intersection of Central Boulevard and Orange Avenue, the main strip through downtown. Orange is a one-way road south through the downtown core; its northbound counterpart is Rosalind Avenue. East-west roads accessing important downtown sites include Livingston Street (Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre), Robinson Street (Lake Eola), Central (Orlando Public Library, Lake Eola), Church Street (Amway Center, Church Street Market) and South Street (City Hall).
International Drive, the heart of the tourist area, is south Orlando's busiest road. A profusion of hotels, shopping centers, outlet stores, restaurants, strolling vacationers and cruising teenagers usually combine to create crowded conditions and frequent delays.
Unless otherwise posted, the speed limit on most streets is 30 mph. Unless otherwise posted, right turns are permitted on red after a complete stop.
ParkingMetered street parking downtown is available at $1 per hour, but spaces are generally hard to find at peak periods, which are on weekdays and weekend evenings. Meter enforcement hours are Mon.-Sat. 8-6 except on city holidays. Downtown parking also is available in several open-air lots underneath I-4 between Hughey and Garland avenues, near Amway Center. These lots cost $1 per hour except during events, when the fee is $10 for an evening.
Nearly a dozen municipal garages can be found throughout downtown, including at W. Amelia Street, between Revere and N. Hughey avenues; E. Amelia Street next to the Orange County Courthouse, between N. Magnolia and N. Orange avenues; W. Pine Street, between Garland and Orange avenues; three adjacent lots between W. Jefferson to the north and W. Central Boulevard to the south (between N. Garland and Orange avenues); E. Central Boulevard, between Rosalind and Magnolia avenues; and the garage by the Orange County Administration Building at the intersection of Liberty Avenue and E. Jackson Street (this will service the new Dr. P. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts). Rates are $2 per hour or $15 per day. Event parking costs $10 for an evening. For more details, contact the City of Orlando Parking Division at (407) 246-2155.
The city of Winter Park has free parking along Park Avenue, but spaces can be hard to come by during peak hours. Fortunately, several free public lots are located just a few blocks east and west off Park Avenue.
Most attractions and shopping centers have ample parking, but parking fees for the major theme parks can run as high as $15-$20 per day. Check with your hotel to see if it offers free shuttle service to the theme parks.
Public TransportationBrightly painted buses are a colorful sight in the metro area, thanks to LYNX, the transit authority for Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, which operates more than 300 buses on 88 routes.
Bus stops, called Links, are marked by fuchsia paw-print signs listing all the routes that are immediately accessible from that stop. The system serves most of the city, including downtown, the tourist district and major shopping centers. Main routes are Links 107 and 108, between downtown Orlando and Kissimmee; 10, through Kissimmee to St. Cloud; 38, downtown to the International Drive area; 436S, between SR 436 and the airport; 42, between International Drive and the airport; and 50, between downtown to the Walt Disney World® Resort.
LYNX fare is $2; transfers are free. Xpress service is $3.50. Exact change is required. Bus passes in daily, weekly and monthly increments also are available. Buses run Mon.-Fri. 4:15 a.m.-3:05 a.m., Sat. 4:45 a.m.-1:05 a.m., Sun. 4:45 a.m.-10:35 p.m.; holiday schedules may vary. For additional information about routes and schedules phone (407) 841-5969.
LYNX also offers LYMMO, four limited fare-free bus routes that primarily use a bus-only lane to transport passengers throughout the downtown area. LYMMO runs Mon.-Thurs. 6 a.m.-10:45 p.m., Fri. 6 a.m.-midnight, Sat. 10 a.m.-midnight, Sun. 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
I-Ride Trolleys cater exclusively to tourist traffic along International Drive 8 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; the wait is about 20 minutes. The Red Line runs along International Drive while the Green Line starts in the business district and runs along Universal Boulevard and South International Drive. Trolley fare is $2; $1 (ages 3-9 with adult); 25c (ages 65+); $5 (all-day pass); $7 (3-day pass); $9 (5-day pass); $12 (7-day pass); $18 (14-day pass). Transfers are free. Exact change is required. Passes also may be purchased at various locations; phone (866) 243-7483.
SunRail, a commuter train operating Mon.-Fri., links DeBary in Volusia County to Sand Lake Road, south of the City of Orlando. There are 12 stations along the 32-mile route, including stops in Sanford, Altamonte Springs, Winter Park and four stops in downtown Orlando. A round-trip ticket for the longest route (DeBary to Sand Lake Road in Orlando) costs $7.50; $3.75 (ages 7-18, ages 65+ and the physically impaired). Beginning summer 2018, service will expand to include an additional 17.2 miles with four stops: Meadow Woods in Orange County as well as three new stations in Osceola County—the Tupperware Station (at Osceola Parkway), Kissimmee at downtown Kissimmee and Poinciana. A northern expansion to DeLand in Volusia County is in the works, and a third phase could connect Orlando International Airport as early as 2020. Though there's service during the morning, midday and evening on weekdays, the train's schedule may fluctuate depending on special events and demand; SunRail is closed major holidays. Phone (855) 724-5411 for additional details.
All Aboard Florida's Brightline—an express, inter-city high-speed passenger train connecting Orlando (adjacent to Orlando International Airport), Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Miami—is under construction at press time. A Miami-to-West Palm Beach route is available. Service to and from Orlando is scheduled to start by 2020; phone ahead (305) 520-2300 to confirm schedules and fares.
About the City
Sales TaxIn Orange County the sales tax is 6.5 percent; in Lake, Osceola and Seminole counties it is 7 percent. Orange and Osceola counties levy a 6 percent resort tax, while Seminole County imposes a 5 percent tax and Lake County 4 percent.
Whom To Call
Police (non-emergency)(407) 246-2470; Sheriff (407) 836-4357
Fire (non-emergency)(321) 235-5200
Time and Temperature(407) 646-3131
HospitalsDr. P. Phillips Hospital, (407) 351-8500; Florida Hospital-East Orlando, (407) 303-8110; Florida Hospital-Orlando, (407) 303-5600; Orlando Regional Medical Center, (321) 841-5111.
Where To Look and Listen
NewspapersThe Orlando Sentinel is distributed in the morning. Friday's Calendar section summarizes the coming week's events. Orlando Weekly provides the city's alternative viewpoint.
RadioRadio station WFLA (540 AM and 102.5 FM) is an all-news/talk station; WDBO (580 AM and 96.5 FM) is an all-talk/weather station; WMFE (90.7 FM) is a member of National Public Radio; WUCF (89.9 FM) is also an NPR affiliate and one of the few full-time jazz stations in the United States.
Visitor InformationOrlando, Inc. (Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce) 75 S. Ivanhoe Blvd. ORLANDO, FL 32804. Phone:(407)425-1234
Visit Orlando 8723 International Dr. Suite 101 ORLANDO, FL 32819. Phone:(407)363-5872 or (800)972-3304The bureau distributes a variety of information daily 8:30-6. Closed Christmas.
Air TravelThe Orlando area is served by two airports: Orlando International Airport (MCO), at SR 436 and the Beachline Expressway, and Orlando-Sanford International Airport (SFB) in Sanford, which serves commercial and private aircraft.
Rental CarsOrlando is served by several major rental car agencies. Arrangements should be made before you depart, especially during peak seasons. Your local AAA club can provide this service or additional information. Hertz, (407) 859-8400 or (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members.
Rail ServiceAmtrak provides train service to four stations in the metro area. Passenger-only trains stop at the stations at 1400 Sligh Blvd. in downtown Orlando and 148 W. Morse Blvd. in downtown Winter Park; Kissimmee's passenger station is at 111 E. Dakin Ave. The Auto Train, which runs round-trip from Lorton, Va., stops at the Sanford station at 600 S. Persimmon Ave. Phone (800) 872-7245 for both rail services.
All Aboard Florida's Brightline, a high-speed passenger train, connects Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Miami. Service to or from Orlando International Airport's South Intermodal Center will occur around 2020; phone (305) 520-2300 to confirm schedules and fares.
BusesA Greyhound Lines Inc. terminal, (407) 292-3422 for customer service, (407) 292-3424 for tickets or (800) 531-5332 for Spanish-speaking persons, is off West SR 50 (Colonial Drive) at 555 N. John Young Pkwy.
TaxisLocal taxis are metered and charge $4.20-$5.40 for the first mile and $2.65 for each additional mile plus 60c for each 80 seconds of waiting time. Major cab companies are Ace Metro, (407) 855-1111; Diamond Cab Co., (407) 523-3333; Quick Cab, (407) 447-1444; Star Taxi, (407) 857-9999; Town & Country, (407) 828-3036; and Yellow, (407) 422-2222.
Limousine service is available throughout most of the city; the ride from the airport to downtown Orlando or International Drive is about $50-$90 plus tax and a 20 percent tip but can vary depending on company and other factors.
Public TransportationTransportation by bus, trolley or rail is available in Orlando.
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EssentialsAdd some excitement to your vacation this year by traveling to Orlando, FL. Pose for a picture between the massive alligator jaws at Gatorland (14501 S. Orange Blossom Tr.), and continue snapping away inside the longtime Orlando favorite. Since 1949, the attraction has provided a way to (safely) view Florida's famous reptiles. A secondary site—a collaboration with Fun Spot America (5700 Fun Spot Way) called Gator Spot—adds more alligators to the mix, including a white one!
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There is no shortage of things for couples to do in the area. Visit postcard-worthy Lake Eola Park (195 N. Rosalind St.). A band shell, amphitheater and lighted fountain punctuate the City Beautiful's 43-acre downtown oasis, a landmark since 1888. Pedal a swan boat across the lake or plop down on a shaded bench to savor the serenity.
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Stroll along Winter Park's refined Park Avenue, which features designer boutiques, sidewalk cafés, cozy local restaurants, shops with high-end home décor and a centrally located park. At The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art (445 N. Park Ave.), bask in the aura of Louis Comfort Tiffany's stunning stained-glass creations, a renowned collection that has no equal. Lovely lakeside residences and natural tropical scenery are highlights of a narrated cruise on Winter Park's chain of lakes and canals, offered by Scenic Boat Tours (312 E. Morse Blvd.).
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Top Picks for Kids
Under 13Disney parks offer loads of fun things to do for all ages! Talk to your AAA travel agent about how to save money with cheap airline flights and travel packages. At the Magic Kingdom® Park (3111 World Dr.) in Lake Buena Vista, kids soar into the sky on Dumbo the Flying Elephant®, spin their teacup in the Mad Tea Party and scream as loud as they want on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
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Discover more of natural Florida with Boggy Creek Airboat Rides (2001 E. Southport Rd.) in nearby Kissimmee . From a dock on East Lake Tohopekaliga, your airboat skims across the Everglades headwaters on a river of grass while you watch for gators, birds and native wildlife.
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Have a blast on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror® and the Rock ‘n' Roller Coaster® Starring Aerosmith at Disney's Hollywood Studios® (50 Animation Dr.). Then there are Toy Story Mania!® and Star Tours®—The Adventures Continue. But don't miss Fantasmic!, an entrancing nighttime show led by Sorcerer Mickey that will have you oohing and aahing as pyrotechnics and lasers light up the sky.
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ShoppingOrlando is a shopper’s wonderland. You can buy mouse ears, T-shirts and, ironically enough, snow globes, to your heart’s content in Orlando, but the city has so much more to offer both bargain hunters and lovers of luxury goods than just ordinary souvenirs. You just have to know where to find it all when you travel there.
AntiquesEscape the stifling heat and bustling theme parks with a leisurely amble through one of Orlando’s antique districts. Shopping for antiques is always a good idea if you’re looking for fun things to do with friends. Wander in and out of air-conditioned emporiums in the North Orange Avenue Antiques District downtown, running south from the 2900 block to the 1600 block. Shops are packed to the rafters with one-of-a-kind finds; excavate for such relics as a 1930s RCA Victor radio, an 18th-century French buffet or vintage threads. Pop into Rock & Roll Heaven , 1814 N. Orange Ave., where they have a heck of a band (on vinyl and CDs, anyway); the selection of rare and collectible music ranges from Miles Davis and Elvis to The Mothers of Invention and Devo. Discover even more charming shops just down the street on Ivanhoe Row, along the 1200 block across from Lake Ivanhoe.
Ritzy Park Avenue, in Winter Park to the north, has a handful of antique shops where you may unearth that perfect Art Deco brooch or turn-of-the-20th-century Tiffany lamp. Save money on your overall vacation costs by purchasing affordable vacation packages and you’ll have a little extra to spend on fancy antique treasures.
Take a side trip to historic Mount Dora, a half-hour northwest of Orlando, and while away the day visiting its quaint antique shops. Rummage through the wares of the hundreds of dealers who gather each weekend at Renninger’s Florida Twin Markets on SR 441, also in Mount Dora. Lovers of antiquities also can hunt for treasure at the antique boutiques on First Street in downtown Sanford.
Courtesy of Mall at Millenia
More than 250 shops occupy one of the largest malls in Florida, so it’s the perfect destination for shoppers who value variety. The Florida Mall , 8001 S. Orange Blossom Tr. in south Orlando, is anchored by major retailers Dillard’s, JCPenney, Macy’s and Sears. A number of smaller stores impress as well, including apparel store BoxLunch, where every purchase above $10 goes toward feeding a hungry person through Feeding America. Kid-friendly M&M’s World Orlando, American Girl’s specialty doll store, and The Crayola Store with its accompanying Crayola Experience, add even more options. That’s why international tourists arrive by the busful, joining the sea of shoppers who invade this mall regularly. There’s also an attached hotel, so intrepid bargain hunters can drop bags off in their rooms and stay overnight.
Not enough malls for you? Shop all you want: Greater Orlando’s got more. Most malls contain an assortment of heavyweight anchors such as Belk, Dillard’s, JCPenney, Macy’s and Sears as well as mall stalwarts including Aéropostale, Banana Republic and Gap—with food courts to provide fuel for more shopping. Take your pick from the following list.
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OutletsLooking for cheap things to do? International Drive is a mecca for bargain hunters and fashionistas. Souvenir shops abound, of course, especially in this part of Orlando, but the outlet stores are the true treasure troves. It’s not a boast to say that whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find it at one of the outlet malls, and you’ll save a bundle. From electronics to cookware and designer fashions to luggage, you won’t be able to leave Orlando empty-handed.
At 4951 International Dr. is Orlando International Premium Outlets , featuring apparel, electronics, fine jewelry, shoes, housewares and other items from 180 vendors, including BCBG Max Azria, Carter’s, Kitchen Collection, Michael Kors, Neiman Marcus Last Call, Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5th, Skechers, Sunglass Hut, Swarovski and Vera Bradley. Not your ordinary outlet mall, the center is an elegant outdoor marketplace with beautiful landscaping and Mediterranean styling. Both Premium Outlets locations offer many of the same stores.
Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores , 15657 S. Apopka Vineland Rd. (SR 535), is a rare jewel in the crown of Orlando outlets. With roughly 50 stores and a new expansion, this venue offers a much different shopping experience compared to the Premium outlets but still features bargains galore. You'll find Aéropostale, Crocs, Eddie Bauer, Gap, Levi’s, Old Navy, Reebok, Under Armour and Van Heusen. There are shops that cater to both men and women, so shopping here is one of the most enjoyable things for couples to do.
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The Orange County Regional History Center Emporium at 65 E. Central Blvd., is a fun place to go for gifts thanks to its shelves stocked with toys and books as well as items representative of Central Florida history.
Gentlemen can check out Siegel’s Clothing Co. , 130 S. Orange Ave., for fine suits and sportswear; they also carry a good selection of attire for women. (A second location for Siegel’s can be found on Winter Park’s Park Avenue.) When only the most current styles will do, head a few blocks east to Zou Zou Boutique , 2 N. Summerlin Ave. (near the Thornton Park neighborhood), for designer fashions by the likes of Ella Moss, Milly, J Brand jeans and Sam Edelman shoes; this trés chic women’s shop has another location at 7988 Via Dellagio Way in the Bay Hill area.
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There are several other markets worth checking out. Sundays at Lake Eola Park's Orlando Farmers Market, corner at E. Central Blvd. and N. Eola Dr., are especially nice. From 10-4 vendors sell produce, plants, art and handmade crafts, and there often is live entertainment. On Monday nights, head to the parking lot of Stardust Video and Coffee at 1842 E. Winter Park Rd. for the Audubon Park Community Market. This one is small, but hip.
Beyond Orlando, there is the Maitland Farmers Market at Lake Lily Park, 701 Lake Lily Dr., in Maitland, which features nearly three dozen vendors and live music every Sunday 9-2. On Saturday mornings, locals make tracks to the Winter Park Farmers Market in a refurbished train depot at 200 W. New England Ave. for the freshest produce, herbs, baked treats and cheeses.
Where to Eat and Shop
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Running out of steam? Relax your weary dogs under a century-old oak in shady Central Park, or sip ice-cold chardonnay at a sidewalk café. Speaking of dogs, bring yours or enjoy the parade as locals show off their purebreds; shop owners thoughtfully set out bowls of water for parched pups.
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NightlifeOrlando’s evening scene is all over the map, literally, but the greatest concentrations of fun things to do are downtown and along I-Drive. For those who want a theme to go with their nightlife, the entertainment zones at Universal Orlando Resort and Walt Disney World Resort® are packed with diverse nightspots. Here, clubbers can hop from one dance floor to another within a short distance.
Disney SpringsOne of the four fascinating neighborhoods at Disney Springs®, the West Side, is a neighborhood with a vibe all its own. There, the air is mixed with the sound of applause for world-renowned entertainment and tempting aromas that will ignite your senses. Or, head over to The Landing, where the wharf-side eateries offer everything from artisanal cocktails crafted at the edge of your stage-side table to a sushi bar. The most difficult decision you’ll make when you’re here is choosing where to eat. There are so many great restaurants here that serve mouth-watering dishes in a fun and energetic atmosphere.
Some of the best national recording acts perform at House of Blues ® (1490 Buena Vista Dr.); past acts include Jane's Addiction, The Used, Flogging Molly, Colbie Caillat and Jerry Lee Lewis. The club has a warm and homey feel, with folk art everywhere you look. A large floor in front of the stage gives you plenty of room to dance and get close to your favorite rock star; there are seating areas for those who would rather spectate.
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Downtown OrlandoFor concerts by today's biggest names in music, hit the Amway Center , 400 W. Church St., where recording artists such as Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran have recently played. This arena holds 20,000 concertgoers, so be prepared for large crowds. This is a great place to go if you’re on a group travel vacation and can’t cram your entire party into a small club.
The Church Street Entertainment complex, 33 W. Church St., is home to Chillers , a typical party bar; Big Belly , a sports-themed watering hole on the second floor; and Latitudes , an outdoor rooftop bar. Behind the building is Rok Room , a local favorite that features guest DJs. If you’re looking for fun and energetic things to do in Orlando, this bar is the perfect destination.
Shhh, Orlando has a secret—speakeasy, that is. A handcrafted product awaits you at Hanson's Shoe Repair , 27 E. Pine St., but only with the right password; phone (407) 476-9446. A text back means an “in,” so tread wisely.
For a pint of Guinness and some craic (aka fun), there's Harp and Celt , 25 S. Magnolia Ave. The Celt Irish Pub not only features classic Irish music but also the latest soccer and rugby matches.
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Party on at Wall Street Plaza , a side street in the heart of downtown Orlando where you'll find Wall Street Cantina , Shine , Hen House , Hooch , Waitiki , Monkey Bar and Sideshow . These clubs and bars line each side of the street and there are outdoor tables and chairs to enjoy balmy Florida evenings and musical acts that sometimes perform outside. You also can get a bite to eat until 11 p.m. or dine at one of the nearby restaurants. The street is closed off often for block parties, and holidays like New Year’s Eve, St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo as well as other special events are done up big here.
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Blue Martini , also at Pointe Orlando at 9101 International Dr., is a happening spot with upscale décor and drink prices to match (but worth every penny). A quality martini menu includes concoctions like Lemon Drop, Masterpiece Bleu and the Blue Martini (served with a glow stick). Snack on appetizers from the limited menu, and when the feeling strikes, get down and shake it up on the small dance floor.
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For something a little different, where you can belt out pop tunes, commercial jingles, and songs you forgot you knew under the direction of dueling piano players, visit Howl at the Moon , 8815 International Dr.
Universal CityWalkBustling crowds, bright lights and variety at a single location make this a popular destination for park visitors and locals.
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Jump-start your evening with happy-hour mojitos or martinis at the Red Coconut Club . With its retro-style furnishings, banquette seating, conga drums, fake palm trees, velvet-roped VIP areas and intimate dance floor, this lounge-style dance club looks like an updated version of an early Vegas nightclub.
Reggae rules at Bob Marley-A Tribute to Freedom , which is housed in a replica of Marley’s former home in Jamaica. A reggae band and a DJ in the interior courtyard accompany dinner or just drinks every evening.
Speaking of courtyards, Pat O’Brien’s , next door, is a carbon copy of the New Orleans landmark, right down to the meticulously re-created carriageway entrance with arched rifles overhead. The main bar exudes the character of a vintage New Orleans neighborhood watering hole, while a secluded patio surrounded by worn brick walls features faithful appointments such as slate floors, ironwork fencing, huge planters of greenery and the famous flaming fountain. Pianos duel it out in the club’s raucous third bar. The signature Hurricane drink, served in a souvenir glass, looks like punch and really packs one. You’ve been warned.
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Several wildly decorated intimate lounges offer retreats from the pounding beat on the dance floor at the groove , where DJs play Top 40, hip-hop, R&B and pop hits nightly. And when your dancing machine runs out of steam, decide if you want to be the entertainment at CityWalk’s Rising Star . This innovative karaoke club rewards daring performers with a live band and backup singers. There’s nothing cliché about the district’s newest nightspot.
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Performing ArtsThe strength of Orlando's appeal lies mainly with its family-oriented attractions and entertainment. While this is good news for the folks at Disney and Universal, it has detracted some focus from the city's cultural scene. Arts enthusiasts need not despair, though—local arts groups have begun to expand their presence. Theater offers the most varied slate, with dance and music filling in the gaps. Performing arts lovers around the world think of Orlando as a prime destination for dance, film, music and theater.
The opening in 2014 of the Dr. P. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, 445 S. Magnolia Ave., adds even more options to the ever-evolving arts scene. The venue, which covers two blocks, features several individual theaters as well as an outdoor plaza and performance space. The final phase of the project is expected to finish in time for a 2020 opening; phone (407) 839-0119 or (844) 513-2014 for the box office.
Orlando Amphitheater at the Central Florida Fairgrounds, 4603 W. Colonial Dr., draws a variety of performers. The open-air venue has no seats but can accommodate some 10,000 guests. If you’re a fan of group travel and are looking for fun things to do that can accommodate large groups, squeeze a show at this amphitheater into your itinerary. Phone (407) 295-3247. Check with your travel agency to see if any performing arts tickets are offered with select travel packages.
DanceThe Central Florida Ballet and the Orlando Ballet are the city's professional dance companies. The season, which lasts from September to May, features concerts and programs ranging from classical to modern. Both also stage the Nutcracker ballet every Christmas, accompanied by a live orchestra of local musicians. Orlando Ballet performances generally are held at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts' Walt Disney Theater; for information phone (407) 426-1734. Once the new Steinmetz Hall at the Dr. Phillips Center opens around 2020, the Orlando Ballet's performances will likely take place in the new 1,700-seat theater. Central Florida Ballet performances are at the Linda Chapin Theater at the Orange County Convention Center; for information phone (407) 849-9948.
Rollins College brings in some of the dance world's brightest stars, such as the Alvin Ailey Repertory and Pilobolus, to the Annie Russell Theatre to supplement the Rollins Dance student program; phone (407) 646-2145.
Courtesy of Enzian Theater
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Central Florida Community Arts, 250 S.W. Ivanhoe Blvd., performs concerts appropriate for most audiences, such as Broadway-style musicals, community chorus and symphony orchestra, at various locations in the area. For additional information phone (407) 937-1800.
Blue Bamboo Center for the Arts hosts live performances, such as classical, jazz, world music and spoken word, in Winter Park's South on Fairbanks Avenue (SOFA) district at 1905 Kentucky Ave. For tickets phone (407) 636-9951; reservations are recommended. When you’re done soaking up the music, head to one of the nearby restaurants for delicious local food.
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TheaterA local favorite is the Broadway Across America-Orlando series, which brings touring Broadway shows to the Dr. Phillips Center. The season runs December through June, and tickets for the biggest hits often require several weeks' notice; phone (800) 448-6322.
One of the area's most popular theaters for families is the Orlando Repertory Theatre, 1001 E. Princeton St., (407) 896-7365. The Mad Cow Theatre, (407) 297-8788, 54 W. Church St., and Theatre Downtown, (407) 841-0083, at various locations, offer avant-garde and mainstream works; phone ahead. If you’re looking for fun things to do with friends, purchase your tickets to popular shows in advance.
The play's the thing at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, in partnership with UCF, which is dedicated to staging the bard's timeless plays in innovative ways at the John and Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center at Loch Haven Park, 812 E. Rollins St.; phone (407) 447-1700. The organization produces works throughout the year, from classically inspired independent pieces to Broadway productions to the PlayFest Series, a three-day festival of experimental plays.
The University of Central Florida features a full season of performances through Theatre UCF, (407) 823-2862. Rollins College also mounts a full season, with four productions at the Annie Russell Theatre, 1000 Holt Ave. in Winter Park, running the gamut of theatrical genres; phone (407) 646-2145.
Photo submitted by Janet Brindle Reddick / AAA
Sports & RecLooking for a vacation destination for sports lovers? Orlando will not disappoint! From downtown Orlando to Walt Disney World® Resort, locals have several venues to choose from when it comes to the city's various professional sports offerings. Orlando's Amway Center, 400 W. Church St., hosts basketball and hockey games, while the renovated Camping World Stadium, One Citrus Bowl Pl., features soccer and college football games.
Area residents also make the most of central Florida's lengthy summers and mild winters, which create ideal recreation conditions year-round. The area's many waterways host a wide variety of activities, and drier pastimes abound as well. Phone the Orange County Parks & Recreation Division at (407) 836-6200, or (407) 836-6280 for the event information line.
BaseballBaseball is one of America’s favorite sports, and it’s easy to see why. If you’re looking for fun things for couples to do, pick up a couple of baseball tickets. ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, 700 S. Victory Way in Kissimmee, is the spring-training home of the Atlanta Braves. For game schedules and ticket information phone (407) 939-1500.
The Florida Fire Frogs (formerly the Brevard County Manatees), a Class A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, play at Osceola County Stadium, 631 Heritage Park Way in Kissimmee, starting in summer 2017; phone (321) 697-3220.
BasketballOrlando basketball enthusiasts fill Amway Center to watch he NBA's Orlando Magic; for schedule and ticket information phone (407) 896-2442.
Orlando's University of Central Florida Knights' men's and women's basketball teams play at CFE Arena, (407) 823-6006, which seats more than 10,000. Nearby Winter Park's Rollins College also has men's and women's basketball teams; they play at Alfond Sports Center, (407) 646-2000.
FootballThe UCF Knights play at the 45,000-seat Spectrum Stadium, (407) 823-1000.
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SoccerHome to the Orlando City Lions as well as the Orlando Pride, a National Women's Soccer League expansion franchise, the new Orlando City Stadium, 655 W. Church St., seats at least 25,500 fans. Orlando City B (OCB), a United Soccer League club, also plays home games at the new stadium in the Parramore neighborhood. For tickets phone (855) 675-2489.
Greyhound RacingDog racing is a year-round diversion. Watching it in action is one of the most unique and fun things to do with friends while you’re here. Sanford Orlando Kennel Club, (407) 831-1600, at 301 Dog Track Rd. in Longwood, holds matinee and evening races.
Note: Policies concerning admittance of children to pari-mutuel betting facilities vary. Phone for information.
Jai-AlaiPlayed in only a few states, jai-alai is one of Orlando's most unusual offerings. The game is similar to handball, except the athletes field the ball not with their bare hands, but with a curved basket worn on one arm. Pari-mutuel betting adds to the excitement of this fast-paced sport at Orlando Jai-Alai & Race Book, (407) 339-6221, in Fern Park at 6405 US 17/92. The live jai-alai season in Orlando is February through April, although the facility is open year-round for televised jai-alai and racing events. The sport and facility aren't as popular as they once were, so expect small crowds in this 1960s facility.
Note: Policies concerning admittance of children to pari-mutuel betting facilities vary. Phone for information.
BicyclingBicycling is a great option if you’re looking for fun things to do that will help you stay active during your vacation. While it’s a fun and entertaining way to see the city, traffic is always a concern. Exercise caution and obey all traffic laws when bicycling on the street. If possible, ride in a park—both Bill Frederick at Turkey Lake and Lake Underhill parks offer trails—or other specially designated area. The Walt Disney World® Resort offers a variety of trails as well as bicycle rentals.
Locals enjoy the quiet, tree-lined streets of Rollins College (in nearby Winter Park), College Park and downtown Orlando. Bicycles can be rented in most of these areas from a Juice Bike Share station at $8 an hour; phone (407) 930-9414 for details. Many points of interest can be seen along the Orlando Urban Trail, which runs from downtown along Orange Avenue to Loch Haven Park and Winter Park's Mead Botanical Garden.
The Little Econ Greenway, about 8 miles, begins at the intersection of Alafaya and Lokanotosa trails and runs alongside the Little Econlockhatchee River through Jay Blanchard Park to Forsyth Road. There's also a butterfly garden about halfway through near Union Park Middle School. For trail information phone (407) 254-9030.
Just north of Orlando in Seminole County, home to Orlando's bedroom communities, are the 23-mile Cross Seminole Trail and the 14-mile Seminole Wekiva Trail. Sections of these trails are part of the Florida National Scenic Trail. The Cross Seminole Trail begins in Casselberry at the intersection of Howell Branch Road and Aloma Avenue, runs through the Spring Hammock Preserve, then ends in Lake Mary at the pedestrian bridge, where it joins the Seminole Wekiva Trail. Built on the Orange Belt Railway, the Seminole Wekiva Trail runs south to Altamonte Springs. Phone (407) 665-2001 for more information.
Many jogging/walking sites also cater to bicyclists; see the next section.
Jogging and WalkingOrlando boasts two scenic, paved recreation trails built on old railway beds. Active people who love adventure travel can see the city from a whole new light while walking along the many beautiful walking trails. Prefer to explore the trails at a faster pace? Try jogging or bicycling. The 22-mile West Orange Trail runs between the Killarney Station in Oakland to Apopka; phone (407) 654-1108. A 10-mile portion of the trail also is open to equestrians.
Closer to downtown Orlando, the 6.5-mile Cady Way Trail connects Orlando Fashion Square Mall with Winter Park, where it connects to the Cross Seminole Trail; phone (407) 254-9025. The 3-mile Orlando Urban Trail runs along a rail line downtown from the intersection of Magnolia Avenue and Weber Street north to Winter Park’s Mead Botanical Garden, which is a nice place to stroll through nature trails and the freshwater creek. For additional information contact the Orange County Parks and Recreation Division at (407) 836-6200.
Downtown Orlando features Lake Eola Park (E. Central Boulevard), noted for the Linton Allen Memorial Fountain, as well as Mayor Carl T. Langford Park on Central Boulevard. Just outside downtown are the charming streets of College Park and the serene oasis of Lake Ivanhoe's Gaston Edwards Park. Cypress Grove Park on Holden Avenue is a nice sport for walking and biking and has playgrounds and a lake; each holiday season the park puts on a Christmas light drive-through show.
Orlando Loch Haven Park, home to two art museums and the Orlando Science Center, is a nice place to spend some time outdoors among the sculptures at this cultural hub.
Orlando’s beautiful, upscale Baldwin Park neighborhood (about 3 miles from downtown) features a 2.5-mile walking/biking trail around Lake Baldwin.
Near Lake Nona, the Split Oak Forest Wildlife and Environmental Area features a hike that'll take you through wetland overlooks and scenic trails. The area, 16 miles south of Orlando, was named after a storied live oak, which survived being split, and offers plenty of opportunities to view wildlife, such as wild turkeys and gopher tortoises.
Diana Beyer / AAA
For a more rural destination, head about 25 miles east of Orlando to Christmas’ Orlando Wetlands Park, where you can walk, jog and bike; phone (407) 568-1706.
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Deep-sea fishing is a popular pastime, and charters are available in many beachfront towns. Anglers age 16 and over must purchase freshwater or saltwater licenses, which are available at many bait and tackle shops, most Wal-Marts and Bass Pro Shops and at all tax assessors' offices. For further information phone the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, (888) 347-4356.
GolfFor many Orlando residents, golf is a way of life, and there are numerous ways to play. One of the newest facilities is the 65,000-square-foot Topgolf Orlando, 9395 Universal Blvd., which features 102 hitting bays.
An abundance of courses—more than 175—also grace the metropolitan area, from the city-bound links of small municipal properties to the spectacular settings of the luxury resorts. All of the following courses offer at least 18 holes and are open to the public year round: Casselberry Golf Club, (407) 699-9310, 300 S. Triplet Lake Dr. in Casselberry; Celebration Golf Club, (407) 566-4653, 701 Golfpark Dr. in Celebration; Dubsdread, (407) 246-2551, 549 W. Par St.; EastWood Golf Club, (407) 281-4653, 13950 Golfway Blvd.; Hunter's Creek, (407) 240-4653, 14401 Sports Club Way; Mayfair Country Club, (407) 322-2531, 3536 Country Club Rd. in Sanford; MetroWest Golf Club, (407) 299-1099, 2100 S. Hiawassee Rd.; Stoneybrook East Golf Club, (407) 384-6888, 2900 Northampton Ave.; Walt Disney World golf courses, (407) 939-4653, in Lake Buena Vista; and Wedgefield Golf and Country Club, (407) 568-2116, 20550 Maxim Pkwy.
Hot Air Ballooning
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Many hotels offer court privileges to their guests. The courts at county parks are always open to the general public; for further details phone the City of Orlando Recreation Bureau, (407) 246-4300, or the Orange County Parks and Recreation Division, (407) 836-6200. Some resorts offer public access, including Grand Cypress Tennis and Racquet Club, 55 Grand Cypress Blvd., (407) 239-1234 (making reservations 24 hours in advance is recommended).
Water SportsThe abundance of lakes in central Florida—more than 2,000 by some counts—provides endless opportunities for water sports of all kinds, including boating, canoeing, paddleboarding, swimming, water skiing and windsurfing. Some of the most popular sites include Lake Ivanhoe; Lake Underhill; and the Butler Chain of Lakes and Winter Park Chain of Lakes. For more information contact the Orange County Parks and Recreation Division at (407) 836-6200 or the City of Orlando Aquatics Department at (407) 246-4281. For information about the Winter Park Chain of Lakes, phone (407) 599-3334.
Just north of Orlando in Apopka is Wekiwa Springs State Park (see Recreation Areas Chart), where swimming in the crystal clear spring water is popular. The Wekiva River is considered one of the state's best canoeing rivers; canoe and kayak rental information is available at the marina, (407) 884-4311.
Boating is a favorite recreation; residents have their choice of several inland waterways to explore. The Butler and Winter Park Chain of Lakes are groupings of connected lakes. The Rollins College campus and beautiful homes line the shores of the lakes in Winter Park's chain, and boat tours are available. Another active waterway, the St. Johns River, connects nearby Sanford with Jacksonville. Houseboats can be rented in DeLand, allowing visitors to navigate the river in comfort. With such a wide variety of recreational options available, you’ll never have to wonder what to do while you’re here.
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SightseeingLooking for group travel activities that are both affordable and entertaining? Go Orlando Card is an all-access digital pass to more than 31 area attractions. The card is purchased by the day (2, 3, or 5 days) and visitors have 2 weeks to use their days once they activate their card. Visit every destination if you have time, or choose a few of the most fun places to go and things to do during your stay. Attractions include Boggy Creek Airboats, The Coca-Cola Orlando Eye, Gatorland, Kennedy Space Center, LEGOLAND Florida Resort, Ripley's Believe It or Not! Orlando Odditorium, SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium and WonderWorks as well as other popular activities and sightseeing tours.
Check with your AAA travel agent to see if you can save money by purchasing a Go Orlando Card along with cost-saving vacation packages. Passes start at $55 per day (based on a 5-day card). Go Orlando Card is available online, or phone (800) 887-9103. Once you purchase your card, you’ll have no shortage of fun things to do in Orlando. Whether you’re traveling with friends, family or with your significant other, your Go Orlando Card will open the doors to adventure travel and exciting destinations.
Bus and Van ToursThere are a variety of bus and van tours available to take you to any destination in Orlando. Bus and van tours are a great way to save money while visiting popular travel sites.
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Orlando in 3 DaysThree days is barely enough time to get to know any major travel destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in Orlando.
Millions vacation in Orlando each year. If you're among the park-hopping majority, you've probably arrived clutching multiday passes to Walt Disney World® Resort , Universal Orlando Resort or SeaWorld Orlando —or all of the above. Why not set aside a day or more to discover greater Orlando's other assets? You'll be pleasantly surprised by what lies outside those theme park gates. So hop in a car and go exploring.
Day 1: MorningWondering where to eat on your first morning in Orlando? Start with a diner-style breakfast at Shakers American Cafe , in the trendy College Park neighborhood. The restaurant's moniker refers to the kitschy collection of salt and pepper shakers displayed on its walls.
Walk off that Western omelet in postcard-worthy Lake Eola Park . A band shell, amphitheater and lighted fountain punctuate the City Beautiful's 43-acre downtown oasis, a landmark since 1888. Toss bread to plucky ducks, pedal a swan boat across Lake Eola, or just plop down on a shaded bench and savor the serenity. Orlando is just as enjoyable for the relaxed traveler as it is for the tireless seeker of adventure travel opportunities.
While the dew is still on the roses, amble through Harry P. Leu Gardens and experience sensory overload among vibrant seasonal blooms, lush semitropical plants, a camellia collection unequalled in the South and one of Florida's largest formal rose gardens. At some point, tour Leu House Museum. Admiring the gorgeous museums in the area is one of the more enjoyable things for couples to do.
Day 1: AfternoonLunch recommendations couldn't be simpler. Try Dexter's of Thornton Park , downtown, or head for the original— Dexter's of Winter Park —in nearby Winter Park . There are a wide variety of places to eat, so whether you like American food or you fancy a little bit of Mexican cuisine, you won’t have any trouble finding what you want.
After lunch, stroll along Winter Park's chic Park Avenue, where you can shop at trendy clothing boutiques or pop into The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art to view an acclaimed Tiffany glass collection.
If you can't get enough of this upscale urban village, pick up an audiotape tour from the Winter Park Historical Museum , check out the fabulous art and lakeside botanical garden at Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens or opt for a relaxing sightseeing cruise offered by Scenic Boat Tours . You'll see lovely lakeside homes as your pontoon boat putters quietly along a chain of canals.
Day 1: EveningWith myriad entertainment options ranging from Broadway stage shows to a resident philharmonic orchestra to concerts by visiting top-name artists, Orlando's cultural calendar never disappoints. Visit Orlando, 8723 International Dr., distributes a variety of information that can help you plan a night on the town starting with a romantic dinner at The Boheme in The Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando, Autograph Collection .
Day 2: MorningIf your children equate theme parks with the ultimate Florida adventure, introduce them to one of the state's wildest—and oldest—attractions: Gatorland , established in 1949, teems with wrestling alligators, crawling crocodiles and a serpentarium stocked with snakes.
Discover more of natural Florida with Boggy Creek Airboat Rides in Kissimmee . From a dock on East Lake Tohopekaliga, your airboat skims across the Everglades headwaters on a river of grass while you watch for gators, birds and native wildlife. Afterwards, grab a sandwich at East Lake Fish Camp.
Day 2: AfternoonTo stalk the elusive “bargainus fantasticus,” load the words Premium Outlets into your mapping device and aim the car in the direction of International Drive (I-Drive, to locals). Shooting from the wallet will bag trophy-size bargains at this shopping jungle, which harbors big-name designer stores Calvin Klein, Ann Taylor, Tommy Hilfiger and more. Head to the upscale Mall at Millenia on Conroy Road for Chanel, Gucci, Jimmy Choo and other chic brands. Have fun splurging a little. The more money you save on cheap airline tickets, the more you’ll have to spend shopping, right?
If you've shopped until you're ready to drop, take a break and observe The Coca-Cola Orlando Eye at I-Drive 360 . With views of Central Florida, you'll be ready to go out and explore some more. Whether that means posing with celebrities at Madame Tussauds Orlando Wax Attraction , clowning around with clownfish at SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium or venturing out farther on I-Drive for dinner is up to you.
Day 2: EveningWhen the dinner hour nears, get more bang for your buck at such family-friendly dinner shows as Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament and Pirate's Dinner Adventure . They’re fun, family-friendly destinations that will make your trip that much better. In addition to a spectacular arena performance, each venue serves up an informal, finger-licking feast and a good time.
Day 3: MorningRock your world at Kennedy Space Center . Arrive early and beat the crowds at Shuttle Launch Experience, a realistic simulation of a space adventure. With riveting exhibits, site tours, films, real rockets and an opportunity to have lunch with an astronaut, KSC can hold you in its orbit for the better part of a day.
Day 3: AfternoonAs long as you're on Florida's “Space Coast,” embrace the spirit of exploration. From KSC drive due south on SR A1A to Cocoa Beach , stopping at Cocoa Beach Pier for a hot dog and a nice ocean view or at Ron Jon Surf Shop for a souvenir or two. Continue south through a string of beach communities to land's end, at the tip of the barrier island. Or maybe head north from KSC to Daytona Beach and steer your vehicle onto the hard-packed sand where auto-racing history was made in the early 1900s.
Day 3: EveningDon't forget to catch a show at the House of Blues® (1478 E. Buena Vista Dr.). You'll want to arrive early or stay late to explore Disney Springs®—a vibrant place featuring a mix of boutiques, eateries and one-of-a-kind entertainment. Then you can stop for dinner at one of the many restaurants on-site— Morimoto Asia (1600 E. Buena Vista Dr.), Rainforest Cafe ® or Bongos Cuban Cafe Orlando , to name a few.
Opt for an evening at Universal CityWalk™ if you’re looking for fun things to do with friends. Laugh ‘till your cheeks hurt at the outrageous antics performed by alienlike Blue Man Group; drool over menu options at Emeril's Orlando ; and later, sip a signature Hurricane while you belt out a song or two at the piano bar in Pat O'Brien's , a replica of the famous New Orleans nightspot.
AttractionsIn a city with dozens of attractions and things to do, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
Walt Disney World Resort®
Without question, Walt Disney World Resort® , a AAA GEM attraction, is the king of family entertainment in central Florida. Four large theme parks beckon, but first-timers and annual repeaters alike know that there is only one place to begin a visit to Disney's magical world—through the gates of Magic Kingdom® Park , the original Fantasyland®. With Cinderella Castle as your landmark, branch off to seven different lands of enchantment—Adventureland®, Frontierland®, Tomorrowland®…you get the idea. All the while you will meet roving, impeccably costumed and coiffed Disney characters eager to pose for snapshots. It’s the perfect beginning or ending to your adventure travel experience.
The culmination of Walt Disney's vision, Epcot® —Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow—imagines a utopian future and lays world cultures at your feet. Part science fair, part geography lesson and part travelogue, this park touts high technology through cutting-edge adventure rides such as Mission: SPACE®, as close as you'll get to experiencing a real blast-off; Test Track® Presented by Chevrolet, where car and rider prove their mettle; and Soarin' Around the World, an aerial sightseeing tour of some of the most breathtaking wonders the world has to offer. Shops, restaurants and exhibits in World Showcase invite visitors on a global spending spree: Have a croissant in a French boulangerie, buy the kids a troll in Norway, and sample stout to the sounds of oompah music in Germany's Biergarten Restaurant.
After you've circled the world and seen the future, plant your feet squarely on terra firma and explore the natural world in Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park . This kingdom's centerpiece—The Tree of Life®, a giant, artificial baobab tree carved with more than 300 animal images—commands the attention of all who enter. Step inside the theater-size trunk to view the 4-D animated film “It's Tough to be a Bug!®” One of the signature attraction here is Africa's Kilimanjaro Safaris® Expedition, a 110-acre animal preserve that is toured safari-style. More adventurous types should seek Expedition Everest—Legend of the Forbidden Mountain® and the mythic yeti.
With movie-inspired rides and shows, Disney's Hollywood Studios® , the fourth of Walt Disney World Resort's theme parks, provides “reel” escapism in true Hollywood fashion. As you enter the park, take note of the real screams emanating from The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror™. This “elevator” ride lifts occupants 13 floors and scares the screams out of them as it plunges—seemingly out of control—to the ground, then rises and falls repeatedly. Lighthearted “Beauty and the Beast—Live on Stage” captures the essence of the animated film in a whimsical musical that will have you humming its catchy show tunes for days.
Universal Orlando Resort™
Universal Orlando Resort™ , a AAA GEM attraction, has two action-packed theme areas and Universal CityWalk™ , a vibrant, evening entertainment district. Universal Studios Florida™ , the ultimate movie- and television-based experience, features rides that are equal parts exciting, exhilarating, frightening and fun. Try Revenge of the Mummy, Men in Black Alien Attack, Terminator 2: 3-D, Shrek 4-D, or Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts before taking the Hogwarts Express to Universal's Islands of Adventure™ , which has several theme areas, or islands. (Note: Wizards and Muggles alike will need a Park-to-Park admission ticket to travel the Hogwarts Express.) Once in Universal's Islands of Adventure, there's time to find the perfect wand at Ollivanders in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley; ride along with Spider Man at Marvel Super Hero Island; walk through the pages of beloved storybooks at Seuss Landing; or escape from Jurassic Park's animatronic dinosaurs.
These two resorts are massive and full of fun things to do, so you may want to give yourself several days to explore them. For the best prices, look for travel packages that include discounted tickets to Walt Disney World Resort® and Universal Orlando Resort™.
SeaWorld Orlando is one of the most fun places to go with friends and family. With nearly every activity centered on the sea and its inhabitants, the multidimensional marine adventure SeaWorld Orlando is every bit as entertaining as its mega-theme-park neighbors. Shamu and his podmates put on a dynamic display of killer-whale power, intelligence and slap-water humor, while a theater troupe of whales, dolphins, birds and humans team up to perform the Blue Horizons show. There's more splash than high-tech flash here, as it should be, and guests will likely get an education without even knowing it. Discovery Cove Orlando is a popular destination that takes marine-life interaction to interpersonal levels with its dolphin encounters. If you've ever dreamed of seeing a sea mammal up close, this is the place for you. SeaWorld Orlando and Discovery Cove Orlando are AAA GEM attractions, and they’re great large and small group travel destinations.
More creatures, including sharks and sea turtles, can be spotted at SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium —one of the attractions open at the recent I-Drive 360 complex. Continue learning about other animals, especially mammals and their amazing framework, at SKELETONS: Museum of Osteology . Then see celebrities in the flesh—or the next best thing—at Madame Tussauds Orlando Wax Attraction . For a real highlight, though, book a ride on The Coca-Cola Orlando Eye for a bird's-eye view of Central Florida.
Where to Eat and Be Entertained
Elaborate dinner shows are Orlando's answer to “dinner and a movie.” At these one-stop, family-night-out venues, both the meal and the live entertainment are grand in scale. The feast and the equestrian feats are bold at Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament and Pirate's Dinner Adventure , two more arena productions.
Although dinner is not on this show's menu of extravagant—and sometimes bizarre—production numbers, La Nouba by Cirque du Soleil deserves honorable mention in the category of one-of-a-kind entertainment. Defying description (but here goes, anyway), this European-style circus features surrealistically dressed performers executing avant-garde dances and graceful acrobatics to original live music; in Cirque tradition, a story line weaves the vignette performances together. The theater is at Disney Springs® , Walt Disney World Resort's huge dining, shopping and entertainment complex.
The country's most comprehensive, and indeed renowned, collection of works by an American designer-cum-artist resides in The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art , a AAA GEM attraction in Winter Park. Exquisite stained glass pieces by Louis Comfort Tiffany grace open galleries and include windows, jewelry, lamps, objets d'art and the stunning chapel he created for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago; museum founders recovered the chapel from Tiffany's Long Island estate after a 1950s fire and later reassembled it here in its entirety.
If the Morse piqued your interest in art, consider taking in Winter Park's Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens , with more than 200 installations on the sculptor's serene, lakeside retirement estate, or the Cornell Fine Arts Museum and its rich collection of American and European paintings; the Cornell is on the Rollins College campus.
Two of the central Florida's blockbuster attractions, both AAA GEMs, lie beyond Greater Orlando but are well within reach on the Atlantic Coast. Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is a working space facility and a showcase for achievements of the U.S. space program. Exciting exhibits, from real rockets to reels of space footage to an authentic piece of Mars, pack the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and the Apollo/Saturn V Center. Bus tours pass the enormous Vehicle Assembly Building (the shuttle “garage”) and stop at an observation gantry for a view of the launch pads. Space Mirror Memorial , a sleek granite slab inscribed with the names of astronauts who died in service, moves with the sun to illuminate the names against its mirrored-sky surface, effectively—and quite poignantly—suspending the heroes' names in space.
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.
RestaurantsOur favorite travel destinations include renowned restaurants—from simple fare to fine dining. After you’re worn out from exploring incredible travel sites and theme parks all day, renew your energy with fresh and colorful dishes that will leave you craving more.
Once upon a time a variety of chain restaurants covered the land, leaving Orlando and its kingdom only a few places of note fit for foodie royalty. With the explosion of new attractions, and a young and diverse populace, however, Orlando has cast a spell—drawing culinary magic from not only nearby states but also the world—to make Orlando a destination about fun and food. There are nearly endless places to eat, with unimaginable variety. Whether you’re participating in large or small group travel, you’ll find cuisine to satisfy every palate here. Sampling Orlando’s incredible cuisine is one of the most fun things to do with friends during your vacation.
Where To Eat Mouthwatering Seafood
The city’s location long ago opened the gates to seafood originating in both the Gulf and Atlantic oceans. Big Fin Seafood Kitchen , for example, draws diners into a comfortable setting with not only fresh fish but also crab, oyster, and lobster. Likewise, Copper Canyon Grill offers fresh seafood like Atlantic salmon as well as classic entrées in a location convenient to the city's bustling International Drive. Need something a little more exotic? Seito Sushi is a mouthwatering destination that serves up everything from creative bento boxes to crowd favorites like the lobster crunch roll and volcano roll. Dragonfly Robata Grill-Sushi Lounge features tapas and a sake bar; try the Krispy Krunch or Florida maki (rolls) for tastes and textures straight out of a Japanese lounge. However, for the times you can't decide what to order, there's The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar and its “burgushi”—hamburger and sushi options—that ought to make everyone in your dining party happy.
Fresh Seasonal Meals
More culinary delights can be found in nearby Winter Park. Offering dishes inspired by both the season and location, such as corn-fennel soup or ceviche, Luma on Park is fit for Floridians and foodies alike. Ethos Vegan Kitchen Inc. , also in Winter Park, serves what it calls “sheep’s pie” with veggies or a meat substitute—instead of the original, beefy shepherd’s pie.
If you’re ready to be enchanted in Orlando, there are some refined local restaurants at the ready. Consider NORMAN'S at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes; the dishes range from the “four corners of the world”—think fried green tomatoes, cracked conch chowder or venison, depending on the season. If you’ve got a specific food craving from one particular boot-shaped corner of the world, Christini’s Ristorante Italiano may be the way to go. It offers favorites like fettuccine alla Christini’s—its version of fettuccine Alfredo—in addition to other homemade pasta dishes. At Mediterranean-inspired, Primo , meanwhile, you can find everything from salad from the resort’s organic gardens to duck sausage. That’s if you prefer tableside service rather than oysters and a drink at the copper- and wood-adorned bar.
You’ll be out-of-this-world, however, for Walt Disney World Resort®'s Victoria & Albert’s , which earns its competitive AAA Five Diamond Rating for regal food, service and setting. If you’re looking for romantic things for couples to do, enjoy a fancy meal here. With dishes such as shrimp wrapped in prosciutto, there’s no doubt the restaurant can create a meal suitable for your trip’s fairytale ending.
See all the AAA Diamond Rated restaurants for this destination.
EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
On New Year's Day two top college football teams test their skills during the Citrus Bowl presented by Overton's. A parade and other related activities precede the big game. For suggestions of things to do during your stay, talk to your AAA travel agent about events and activities that are scheduled during your visit.
In late January the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities celebrates the life of the noted interpreter of Southern rural African-American culture. The African-American writer grew up in Eatonville, a community just north of Orlando that holds the distinction of being the nation's oldest incorporated black municipality; this is where the event takes place. Renowned African-American musicians, vocalists, authors, educators and artisans celebrate Zora's legacy and Eatonville's heritage with this 10-day precursor to Black History Month. This energetic event is a great option if you’re looking for fun things to do with friends.
Orlando's moderate temperatures are ideal for art festivals. Most popular are the Mount Dora Arts Festival in early February and the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival on the third weekend in March. Spring Fiesta in the Park and Fall Fiesta in the Park celebrations take place in April and November on the shores of Lake Eola.
In March PGA's Arnold Palmer Invitational is held at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge. Golf's top contenders drive, putt and birdie their way across a challenging championship course.
Cultural festivals explore the visual and performing arts. Held in April, the Florida Film Festival highlights cutting-edge current cinema from more than 30 countries at selected theaters. The Florida Music Festival & Conference in mid-April celebrates emerging musicians through performances of pop, hip-hop, alternative and other music genres. For 2 weeks in May, entertainers from around the world converge on downtown Orlando, treating theatergoers to a variety of unusual and cutting-edge performances as part of the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival . The event nurtures “outsider-artist” expressionism with uncensored genre performances ranging from comedy improv to dramedy to musical cabaret. The name says it all. This is nontraditional theater at large. Pencil it into your group travel itinerary and enjoy top-rate entertainment with your fellow travelers.
Pay tribute to our nation's anniversary at early July's Lake Eola Park Fireworks at the Fountain . This picture-perfect setting downtown features a colorful fountain in the lake, but the true show is the spectacular fireworks display that takes place after dark. Live bands fill the park with music, and you can supplement your picnic with a cold one from the beer garden.
The horror, the horror! At Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida, don't be surprised if you hear yourself screaming this out loud as zombies pop out of the woodwork in haunted houses and scare zones, complete with terrifying sound effects, strobe lights and fog. This may be the Halloween party of your dreams (or nightmares, as the case may be). If you love adventure travel, it doesn’t get much more adventurous than this! This activity may not be ideal for the faint of heart. You’ve been warned.
Orlando's holiday season unofficially kicks off with mid-November's Festival of Trees at the Orlando Museum of Art. Eyeball a large array of stunning Christmas trees, wreaths and gingerbread villages and gather ideas for your own holiday decorating. Kids can get crafty in Toyland Town and meet Santa, and everyone can treat themselves to treasures and trinkets in the holiday boutique. If you love shopping, this is one of the most fun things to do while you’re here.
Change your blah “Bah Humbug” to a merry “Ho, Ho, Ho” with a visit to Light Up UCF mid-November through late December at the University of Central Florida Arena. Hit the ice on an outdoor skating rink, marvel at a dazzling light show, take in holiday films, tap your toes to live music, glide down an icy slide and take joy rides on a Santa Train, Ferris wheel and carousel. Complete your evening by warming up with a fresh-cooked meal from one of the nearby restaurants.
The city of Winter Park rings in the holiday season with Christmas in the Park , which combines a concert by the Bach Festival Choir and stunning outdoor displays of lighted Tiffany windows on loan from The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
Brooke Holt / AAA
Where is Disney World?People usually associate the attractions with Orlando, but—surprise!—some theme parks aren't within the city limits. Walt Disney World Resort® , which includes Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park , Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park , Disney's Hollywood Studios® , Disney's Typhoon Lagoon Water Park , Disney Springs® , Epcot® , ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and Magic Kingdom® Park , is only about 15 miles south of downtown Orlando in the city of Lake Buena Vista . You don’t have to drive far to find a practically endless variety of fun things to do.
Travel TipsOrlando is as renowned for its warm weather as for its theme parks. The winter months especially are a relief from colder climates, with lows generally in the 50s and highs in the 70s. Sudden cold snaps lend a certain unpredictability to central Florida winters, but these usually are short-lived. No matter what time of year you travel, you won’t have a problem finding things to do in Orlando, even if the weather isn’t ideal. There are outdoor and indoor travel sites that will keep you active and entertained.
Summer months tend to be hot and muggy, with temperatures routinely in the 90s. For this reason, water-themed travel sites and beaches are especially popular during the summer. The intense humidity is alleviated many afternoons by brief thunderstorms. These sudden storms are the worst facet of Orlando's weather. (Note: Seek shelter indoors to wait out storms, as lightning strikes and pounding rain pose serious hazards, especially to the uninitiated driver. If you can't pull over safely, turn on your headlights and proceed with extreme caution.)
It is always a good idea to wear sunblock if you will be outdoors for any length of time, as the strong Florida sun can burn unprotected skin even on cool or overcast days. Many of the fun things to do with friends involve lots of sun, so make sure you’re prepared.
Comfort is the driving fashion force in Florida, and Orlando is a typically casual city. Shorts and sandals are acceptable in all but the most exclusive restaurants. Winters are fairly mild, but cold snaps necessitate sweaters, jackets or light coats from December through February. If you arrive and find that you didn’t bring the right clothing, just stop by one of the many shopping centers in the area. Shopping for new clothing is one of the top things to do in Orlando, anyway.
A word to the wise: Warm temperatures outside often make for cold temperatures inside, as air conditioners are turned full blast against the summer heat. Bring a light jacket with you if you’re concerned about what to do if you get chilly indoors.
Places in Vicinity