Although Orlando was a city for a good century or so before Disney World came to town, Mickey and his Mouseketeers have long since taken over. There’s a shiny, theme-park flavour running through Orlando, and like any good theme park, it can be a lot of fun.
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Once you scratch the surface, however, Orlando has a darker side. The fact that Orlando is the third most dangerous city in the US, gives the ubiquitous grinning Mickey signs a fun-park-horror kind of feel. Ironically, it’s this juxtaposition that makes Orlando worth a trip.
Once you realise there’s more to Orlando than meets the eye, the city unfolds in unexpected ways. It’s like a microcosm of the entire US, with all the good and not-so-good elements crammed into the city limits.
This is the city where Jack Kerouac first became a beat legend and American icon. It’s also a city of culinary surprises, and when you’ve had your fill of costumed waiters and themed restaurants, head to Colonial Street and Mills Street to find yourself in Little Vietnam, eating some of the best pho anywhere. There’s even natural, unbranded beauty, with the Loch Haven district home to pretty lakes and quirky museums.
A stone’s throw away is lil’ ol’ Kissimmee, a historic treasure-trove of woods, wildlife and leisure living, and the perfect place to wind down, relax and ingest a little authentic culture after the chaos of Orlando.
Orlando's Top 10
10. Million Dollar Mulligan Miniature golf without the gimmicks.
5. Orlando Museum of Art Spend a day educating yourself in this cultural space.
9. Skyventure A vertical wind tunnel. Yep, this is as fun as it sounds.
4. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Mind-boggling exhibits and crazy sideshows at this weird and wonderful venue.
8. Gatorland Walk into the sharp teeth of the entrance and enter a world of animals and excitement in this alligator-themed theme park. Only in America, folks!
3. Orlando Science Center Caters for all ages and combines science and education into one fun day.
7. SeaWorld Watch dolphins and seals be all adorable and discover other intriguing underwater life.
2. Universal Studios Two theme parks in one. Enter the world of film in the most exciting way possible – with rides!
6. Mennello Museum of American Art A diverse and quirky collection of Americana in art form. Well worth a look.
1. Disney World Let’s make no bones about it, this is the number one reason people come to Orlando. So why fight it?
- Orange County Regional History Center – Three floors encompassing 12,000 years of Florida history.
- John F. Kennedy Space Center – The history of the space program and a glimpse towards its future.
- Jack Kerouac House – When he was not on the road, he was here creating his masterpieces.
- Tibet-Butler Preserve – See what Florida looks like without the people; this is an amazing wildlife preserve without being an amusement park.
- Osceola County Pioneer Village and Museum – See how Florida’s pioneers lived and how they struggled.
Orlando Art & Culture
- Painting with a Twist – Not just painting classes, but a whole evening out.
- Orlando Museum of Art – Features a rotating collection, so no matter how many times you visit, you will see something new.
- Orlando Opera Company – Get away from all the glitzy productions and enjoy a night at the opera.
- Orlando Shakespeare Theater – To go or not to go, that is the question. Go and enjoy the performance.
- Orlando Ballet – Classical and modern ballet performances.
- Mall at Millenia – The building is as famous for its architecture as for its shops.
- World of Disney – There is no bigger Disney store anywhere in the world. If you love the mouse, you will think this is heaven.
- Orlando Premium Outlets-Vineland Avenue – Find designer goods at outlet prices.
- Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique – A fantasy place for the little princess in your life.
- Antique Row – A whole street of antique shops. If you like treasure hunting, you may never leave.
Gay & Lesbian Orlando
- Mr. Sister's Entertainment Complex – Not just a club but 12,000 square feet of fun.
- Parliament House – Bills itself as the world's largest gay resort.
- Revolution Nightclub – Another megaclub to dance the night away.
- Hanks – A more relaxed getaway that feature a happy hour beginning at noon.
- Pulse – Cannot make up your mind what to do? Pulse has three different rooms for three different experiences.
- Disney World – The major attraction in the whole state of Florida.
- Zip Orlando – Three suspension bridges, eight zip lines and two to three hours of fun.
- Ifly Orlando – This offers skydiving without actually jumping out of a plane.
- Seaworld Orlando – Another park synonymous with the Orlando area.
- Xtreme Paintball Xperience – Thirty acres dedicated to paintball ensures an adventure.
- Amway Center – The home of the Orlando Magic basketball team.
- Citrus Bowl – Home to the Capitol One Bowl game, as well as other teams throughout the year.
- Spring Training – Both the Atlanta Braves and the Houston Astros train in the Orlando area.
- Richard Petty Driving Experience – If you doubt that racing is a sport, come here and see what it is really like to drive for NASCAR.
- Faldo Golf Institute – Enjoy one of the many golf courses in the area.
Orlando-Kissimee LocalWinter Park
This relaxed neighbourhood oozes old money, history and good ol’ Southern charm. Its Downtown Historic District is a real sight for anyone who has a soft spot for beautiful old architecture. Take a stroll along the shopping strips and meander through the many antique and vintage stores, then find – and lose – yourself at one of several museums on offer. The Heritage Museum and Cornell Fine Arts Museum are packed with gems. If you’re in town during mid-August, the Sidewalk Art Festival always attracts a big crowd and is a must.Daytona Beach
The first thing that comes to mind when you think about Daytona Beach is probably the races and the crazy college kids during Spring Break. And you’re right. This area has a chilled, beachy vibe and a lot of youngsters cruising the streets. The stacks of malls will keep you entertained, while if you happen to venture over in late-February, the buzz of the Daytona 500 is sure to give you a thrill. If you’re more into the thrills of party animals in their early 20s, be sure to hit up this place in spring when college kids shed whatever inhibitions they previously had and revel it up on the beach.Maitland
Art lovers? This area should be your first port of call as it’s filled with galleries and museums like the Maitland Historical Museum and Maitland Art Center. Grab a bite of culture and then a bite of food at the famous Farmers Market, open every Sunday. Gourmet goodies galore!DeLand
Woodland Boulevard, the main street of downtown DeLand, is essentially a strip of history, with rows of heritage buildings for your viewing pleasure. Grab a coffee at one of the many cafés and take it all in. Once you’re done, hit up the flea markets and mall for some retail therapy. This district is also home to a number of universities, so expect a lot of cool stores and a lot of cool kids.Casselberry
It’s hard to believe that Casselberry is part of such a thriving epicentre of excitement, because it’s just so darn peaceful. You’ll find no less than 17 parks here and plenty of things to do. Crystal Bowl Park is home to the Crystal Bowl Butterfly Garden (who doesn’t like butterflies?) and Secret Lake Park is one of the most visually stunning areas in the district. Once you’re done relaxing, why not take an art or craft class at Casselberry Art House? Have fun, make a royal mess and take home a special souvenir.
Orlando-Kissimmee Eat & Drink
4R Smokehouse A Texas-style steak joint done in a sophisticated way. Smoked brisket is a stand-out on the menu.
The Ravenous Pig: The name’s a tad insulting but this gastro-pub offers great food and alcoholic goodies in one fine place.
Banshoo Sushi Bar:Located in the Rosen Centre Hotel, this place won’t let you down. Fancy sushi served with fancy cocktails.
Dragon Room:This bar/club is decked out in everything chic and abounds with heaving young bods every weekend without fail.
Chef Mickey’s:Head to Disney’s Contemporary Resort for a full buffet and the chance to meet Mickey and his chums who walk around the place, bringing smiles to all.
A Land Remembered:A Land Remembered is a steakhouse to be remembered. If succulent slabs of pink Prime Angus don’t make your mouth water, you ain’t normal.
Jack’s Place Chuckle at the celeb caricatures on the walls while you scoff your steak.
Shogun Japanese Teppanyaki chefs whip together prime ingredients and build epic meals.
Howl at the Moon Saloon It’s a rock ’n’ roll piano duelling bar! This is actually a hell of a lot of fun – live music, crowd participation and duelling keys! International Drive.
Cala Bella Tuscany via Orlando. The upscale venue will satisfy your every craving – and then some.
The Bluegrass Festival in March sees Kissimmee celebrate bluegrass for four days. Catch a performance, munch on some Southern comfort food and pick up some handicrafts at the market.
Kissimmee comes alive in April with JazzFest. Visitors are treated to a variety of performances by big names and small timers alike while they indulge in food and wine. Saxophones and cool crooners, aplenty!
Fans of theatre and other performing arts should put May’s Orlando International Fringe Festival on their schedule. The 10-day fiesta sees a wide variety of fun and unique performances happen all over the city.
Independence Day is a big one for the whole country, but particularly in Osceola County. July 4th is celebrated in the best way possible, with a mix of festivals, performances and shows, arts and crafts as well as fireworks (of course). Revel in the exciting buzz.
Epcot's International Food and Wine Festival in mid-October to mid-November is, quite simply, a food heaven. Tantalise your taste buds with the best of the best edibles at over 20 international food and wine stalls.
When To Go
While summer brings out the massive crowds and the fun buzz, it also brings scorching heat and humidity. March to April and September to October are your best bets as those periods are comfortably (rather than oppressively) warm. If you’re adamant on spending a summer (June to August) in Orlando, bring plenty of sunscreen, little clothing and a relaxed attitude.
- Winter: 11-22°C (52-72°F)
- Spring: 17-31°C (63-88°F)
- Summer: 26-37°C (79-99°F)
- Autumn: 16-24°C (61-75°F)
What To Miss
The theme parks may be fun but everything is over-priced, including the bland food. Avoid going bankrupt by making smart spending choices. Buy only a few souvenirs, a small but sufficient meal and be on your way. Better yet, bring plenty of water and snacks so you won’t feel tempted to spend up big at the food venues.
Areas like Pine Hills, Parramore and OBT (Orange Blossom Trail) can be quite dangerous. There is a lot of gang violence and poverty here, so if you do somehow find yourself here after dark, jump in a cab straight away.
The traffic. Rush hour (3-7pm) on the I-4 is notoriously evil, so stay away!
Publicly-operated LYNX buses trawl all over Orlando/Kissimmee, cost just over a dollar per ride and are a reliable option. Amtrak trains are also available for longer trips.
Orlando is home to America’s theme parks. Florida’s biggest city is the proud backyard of the world’s most popular mouse and his loveable companions. Tourists, both young and young at heart (spend a week here and you’ll definitely feel like a kid again!), head for Orlando to take in all the larger than life attractions found on this most magical spot on earth!
Apart from Disney World, other mammoth features include Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Sea World completing the adventure-filled holiday that awaits you in Orlando. For more recreational options, nearby Kissimmee has something in store for the whole family – resorts, golf courses, lakes, woods and wildlife. Its historic area gives you a slice of classic American country life, if you are lucky you might chance upon rodeos and cattle auctions being held. Of course, it also helps that the year-round sunny weather further encourages visitors to enjoy the great outdoors in Orlando and Kissimmee.
Orlando’s Disney World is a daunting complex on its own. The four main parks are Epcot Center, Animal Kingdom, Disney-MGM Studios and Magic Kingdom. With its vastness, allow a day to explore each park as there are a myriad of rides, special shows, and hundreds of attractions. Special passes which are good for 4 to 10 days in a two-week validity make it more convenient for getting around.
Dolphin and sea lion shows draw crowds at Sea World. All sorts of aquatic creatures can be seen here, from those living in the Arctic to the warm-blooded tropical fishes. And you can also have close encounters with eels, barracudas and sharks through glass tunnels.
Universal Studios is your ticket to film-making at its finest. This is the extravagant back lot to most Hollywood classics such as Jaws, King Kong, Men In Black and Terminator 2. Movie will buffs will definitely get a kick out of walking or riding through popular film sets and see old costumes and other movie memorabilia on display.
At Islands of Adventure, on the other hand, brings you up close with thrill-chasing attractions such as walking among pre-historic dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and the River Adventure Ride which takes you plummeting down to an 85 feet waterfall!
For a quieter pace, staying in Kissimmee is a wonderful option to take, as it gives you convenient access to Orlando’s parks next door. The laid-back charm is a good plus but there are yet more amazing and nail-biting attractions found in this low-profile town.
If you haven’t worn yourself out in Sea World in Orlando, head to Water Mania for more spills and splashes in the fun rides and wave pools. Then get reacquainted with Florida’s alligators through a swamp walk in Gatorland which also features a petting zoo with the more friendly locals such as goats, lambs and other barnyard animals. You can also enjoy nature trails in the wilderness preserve maintained by Disney World and Nature Conservancy. Lastly, take a spin in one of the airboats and make your way through Boggy Creek wetlands to admire exotic birds and of course, more gators inhabiting the area.
Every season sees a barrage of events in the Orlando/Kissimmee area, so expect year-round fun! These are just some of the memorable happenings to look forward to on your visit. In January, the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of Arts and Humanities is an event celebrating the African-American achievements in the arts.
For classic American music, there’s a big blue grass festival in March at Kissimmee’s Osceola Heritage Park. While Lakefront Park becomes the venue for jazz musicians during JazzFest Kissimmee in April. A Caribbean themed mardi gras gets Orlando kicking into party mode during Memorial Day with a grand parade. Around Springtime as well, anything goes during Florida Fringe Festival when all sorts of performances be it in dance, theatre or music are held in the ins and outs of Orlando (thus the festival is named as Fringes).
Halloween makes it a festive affair apart from all the trick-or-treating happening around the two cities. Watch out for annual events such as Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween at the Magic Kingdom and Shamu’s Halloween Spooktacular at SeaWorld.
During Christmas, Orlando/Kissimmee pulls out all tricks from its magic hat to spread some yuletide cheer. Join in the fun at Kissimmee Holiday Extravaganza and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Parade and Party at Magic Kingdom. And don’t forget the Orlando Citrus Parade, a spectacle which features orangey floats and marching bands which coincide with two major college football games.
- Winter (December to February) 11-23°C; temperate and dry with chilly nights
- Spring (March to May) 13-31°C; warm with lots of sunshine pouring in, April is the driest month
- Summer (June to August) 22-33°C; hot and extremely humid, with daily thunderstorms in the afternoon
- Fall (September to November) 22-26°C; tropical storms and hurricanes are common but it becomes pleasant in late fall
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