One of the Funnest Places on Earth
Walt 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.
Fun Things to Do Inside and Outside Theme Parks
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 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.
LYNX—routes 8, 107 and 441—also connects to Megabus, a low-cost bus service that arrives to and departs from Orlando, at 4504 S. Orange Blossom Tr. Fares, available in Suite 4652 in the Orange Blossom Center, start at $1.
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 while service to Tampa is scheduled to start by 2021; phone ahead (305) 520-2300 to confirm schedules and fares.
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.
Police (non-emergency)(321) 235-5300; Sheriff (407) 836-4357
Fire (non-emergency)(407) 246-3473
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.
Visitor InformationOrlando, Inc. (Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce) 75 S. Ivanhoe Blvd. Orlando, FL 32804. Phone:(407)425-1234
Visit Orlando 8102 International Dr. Orlando, FL 32819. Phone:(407)363-5872 or (800)972-3304The bureau distributes a variety of information daily 8 a.m.-9 p.m. 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 Orlando Taxi, (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.
What to Do in Orlando
Add some excitement to your vacation by traveling to Orlando, Fla. 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 gators to the mix, including a white one!
Ready to travel to an out-of-this-world destination? Set a course for Kennedy Space Center , 11 mi. e. of I-95 on SR 405, for an interstellar daytrip to the Space Coast. Options include tours of launch headquarters, exhibits about space and a simulated space shuttle launch. If reliving Neil Armstrong's historic moon landing isn't enough, then plan to meet a real astronaut.
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.
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.).
Orlando Travel with 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.
AAA/Janet Brindle Reddick
Encounter the snapping jaws of live alligators at Gatorland (14501 S. Orange Blossom Tr.), one of the area's oldest attractions. Climb the observation tower for a view of the breeding marsh where 130 gators live. At the Gator Jumparoo brave trainers let the reptiles snatch meat from their hands; it's a must-see.
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.
What to Do for All Ages
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.
Shopping in OrlandoOrlando 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.
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.
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.
Where to Eat and Shop
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.
Wikimedia Commons/Bobak Ha Eri
Orlando 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.
Things to Do in Downtown OrlandoBustling crowds, bright lights and variety at a single location make this a popular destination for park visitors and locals.
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.
Universal Orlando Resort
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.
3NINE , tucked away in the Rosen Plaza Hotel at 9700 International Dr., features DJs most nights, comedy on Wednesday and karaoke on Thursday; the sports bar area has dart boards, pool tables and large TVs. Need something hotter? FIRE Lounge , 8967 International Dr., draws a diverse bump-n-grind crowd and the DJs mostly spin hip-hop and top 40 tunes. Neighboring ICEBAR Orlando , on the other hand, will make you feel like an extra from “Dr. Zhivago” after you pull on borrowed parkas and gloves for an adventure in a chilly setting (27 degrees Fahrenheit) made from carved ice and enhanced with lights and music. Warm up with shots served in glasses made of ice. And if ICEBAR Orlando isn't cold enough for you, head just down the street to Minus5 Ice Bar , 9101 International Dr., where the thermostat is set 4 degrees lower. This bar has basically the same design as ICEBAR, with furnishings and statues carved out of—you guessed it—blocks of ice. You can even bring kids here, as long as they're between ages 7 to 15 and it's before 9 p.m.
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.
Orlando 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.
Fun Places to Go for Dance EntertainmentThe 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
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.
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 Orlando Shakes, 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.
AAA/Photo submitted by Janet Brindle Reddick
Orlando Sports & RecreationLooking 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.
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.
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.
Fishing During Your Trip
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
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.
Orlando SightseeingLooking for group travel activities that are both affordable and entertaining? Go Orlando Card is an all-access digital pass to more than 30 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, ICON Orlando, Fun Spot America, Gatorland, Kennedy Space Center, LEGOLAND Florida Resort, 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 $54 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 Travel 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.
Orlando in 3 Days
Three 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: Morning Travel DestinationsStart early in Ivanhoe Village, a historic section of Orlando along Lake Ivanhoe featuring one-of-a-kind shops and places to eat. Open since 1991, the White Wolf Café (1829 N. Orange Ave.) remains a time-honored choice for breakfast, offering gourmet coffee and gooey cinnamon rolls to name a few favorites. If you love antiques and stylish decorative items, then walk down the street to 1618 Something Different Retro and A T Furniture & Antiques .
Orlando Loch Haven Park (777 E. Princeton St.) contains several cultural institutions, including The Mennello Museum of American Art , 900 E. Princeton St., and Orlando Science Center , 777 E. Princeton St.
Day 1: Afternoon
The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art (445 N. Park Ave.), which holds the largest collection of art by Louis Comfort Tiffany and his associates. One of the most impressive works in the collection is the 1893 Tiffany Chapel.
Day 1: Evening
Day 2: Morning
Courtesy of Boggy Creek Airboat Rides
Embrace the history of Gatorland , which features the reptiles up close. The longtime attraction is a walk through early Florida nostalgia. With some numerous alligators—some rare—this is the perfect place to ask the questions you didn’t know you had on these reptiles.
Day 2: Afternoon
Courtesy of Mall at Millenia
When 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: Morning
Kennedy Space Center
Day 3: Afternoon
Day 3: EveningFor 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.
Best Attractions in Orlando
In 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™
Where to Eat and Be Entertained
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.
Courtesy of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.
Best Restaurants in OrlandoOur 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.
Courtesy of Victoria and Albert's
See all the AAA Diamond Rated restaurants for this destination.
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