city of Orlando is commonly known as ‘the theme park playground of America’. This city and its surrounding areas of Lake Buena Vista and Kissimmee are world famous tourist Mecca’s that are renowned for their many theme park and numerous other attractions. Orlando’s theme parks can trace their origins to the 1960’s, when famous American film producer Walt Disney bought up land in the area to establish a dream theme park. Unfortunately, Walt Disney died in 1966 before he could accomplish his dream and his brother Roy Disney inaugurated the Disney’s first theme park, Magic Kingdom in Orlando in 1971.
The Disney Empire in Orlando over the years grew to include four main theme parks and other smaller attractions along with numerous hotels in every style and price category and a huge collection of restaurants, shops and nightclubs to cater to the huge tourist hordes that descend on Orlando almost all year round.
Today a trip to Orlando largely revolves around Walt Disney World and other similar attractions like Universal Orlando, Sea World Orlando all of which draw families to vacation in the area.
Besides the theme parks and other manufactured avenues of entertainment, Orlando is also a well known business hub, which is home to industries like software development, medical device manufacturing and digital media production and entertainment. As a result, Orlando also attracts a substantial number of business travelers along with the hordes of leisure travelers who periodically book a vacation to Orlando for ‘some fun in the Florida sun’.
Most vacationers on a visit to Orlando like to stay within easy reach of its theme parks and other attractions. The city’s greatest concentration of hotels are thus situated in areas located in the southern and western parts of the city in areas like International Drive, Sand Lake/Dr Phillips and Lake Buena Vista.<
Downtown Orlando is the city’s Central Business District, which is home to several retail and office buildings. This area of Orlando is well served by public transit though besides office buildings, it is also home to sporting and entertainment arenas like the Dr. P. Phillips Performing Arts Center and the Citrus Bowl football stadium and numerous night clubs, restaurants and bars. Downtown Orlando also hosts some of the city’s most well known luxury hotels along with a clutch of mid-range hotels that are popular accommodation choices for business travelers.
The International Drive area is located at a distance of 10 miles from Walt Disney World. International Drive is not actually an Orlando neighborhood in the true sense but it is the city’s most prominent entertainment and hotel district. Located here are attractions like the Wet ’n’ Wild Water Park, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, Wonderworks along with all types of hotels, restaurants and shopping centers.
Located within the boundaries of International Drive is the Orange County Convention Center, which is the second largest Convention Center in America. Hotels located within the International Drive area are not only a popular choice with leisure travelers who are on a vacation to Orlando but they are also favored by convention attendees and business travelers who need visit the vacation hotspot of Orlando for work.
Walt Disney World is the main focal point of the majority of Orlando vacations. Walt Disney World consists of four main theme parks: Magic Kingdom, EPCOT center, Animal Kingdom and Disney Hollywood Studios. Walt Disney World additionally offers various other attractions like themed resorts (Grand Floridian, Beach Club, Contemporary, Polynesian, and Ft. Wilderness), five golf courses; two water parks (Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon) and even a real town (Celebration). These Disney attractions also feature more than 50,000 cast members who contribute greatly to the magical ambience that pervades all over Walt Disney World.
Sea World in Orlando offers three separate attractions: Sea World, Discovery Cove and Aquatica, which offer numerous interactive exhibits that aim to educate as well as entertain. Sea World, additionally, offers shows that features marine creatures like killer whales, sea lions and dolphins along with other attractions like a Plexiglas walk-through tunnel shaped aquarium and two excellent roller coasters which count amongst the highest and most exciting rides in the country.
The Universal Orlando Resort is divided into two main parks- Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventures though Universal also runs the older Wet n’ Wild Park, which is located within the International Drive area of Orlando.
The rides and shows at Universals theme parks are influenced by the various movies and TV shows that have been produced by the studio like Jurassic Park, the Simpsons, Men in Black, Spiderman and many more. The park also offers a shopping and dining area called Universal City Walk that features dining outposts like Hard Rock Café , Emmeril’s and many more.
The Kennedy Space Center offers a valuable insight into the men and the technology that help to conquer space. The complex, which is located one hour east of Orlando, offers a wide array of fascinating attractions that include a rocket and missile museum, interactive simulator experiences, displays of space suits worn by astronauts, an IMAX theater, the Astronaut Hall of Fame and the Vertical Assembly Building, which is responsible for the assembling of space shuttles. Most Orlando Hotels offer shuttle services to the Kennedy Space Center Complex for their customers.
The Orlando Museum of Art with its permanent collections of American Art, Art of the Ancient Americas and African Art provides a welcome diversion from the theme parks of Orlando. This museum is located within the Lochaven Park neighborhood of Orlando, which also offers other attractions like the Orlando Science Center and the Shakespeare Theater, all of which constitute worthy alternatives for visitors who want a break from ‘theme parks and rides’ on a vacation to Orlando.
Orlando experiences a year round warm subtropical climate, which is characterized by high levels of humidity. The summer months in Orlando are some of the busiest times for the theme parks even though temperatures prevailing over the city at this time can be stifling. A good time to book a vacation to Orlando if school is not an issue for you, is during the months of September and October, for during these months the tourist crowds usually thin out as kids go back to school and the parks and rides are less crowded. Moreover the weather is still warm. However Orlando does experience a hurricane season which lasts from June to November when afternoon thunderstorms are a common occurrence.
Yet another good time to plan a trip to Orlando is during early December before the holiday crowds descend on the theme parks as during the winter months, the weather in Orlando turns dry and temperate and is thus quite agreeable for walking around the theme parks.
Orlando is served by its three area airports namely Orlando International, Executive Airport and Orlando Sanford International Airport. Of the three Orlando airports, Orlando International is located closest to the theme parks and attractions.
GoPit offers a wide array of flight deals and cheap air tickets for Orlando all throughout the year. So even if you decide to book a vacation to Orlando at the spur of the moment, GoPit can come through for you with its repertoire of affordable last minute flights and hotel deals for Orlando.
Public transport in Orlando is provided by the local Orlando transportation authority, LYNX which provides bus services that serve the metro area of Orlando. The International Drive area is served by its own I-Ride Trolley, which costs $1.25 per ride for adults though it offers concessionary rates for seniors and children under 12 ride free. The Walt Disney world park operates its own bus system to transport people between the parks and the Walt Disney World hotels and resorts along with a boat transport system and a monorail.
Orlando is also served by a fleet of taxis, however, these are not usually hailed in the street but have to be called on the phone. Mears Transportation and Diamond cab are two taxi companies that operate taxi fleets in Orlando.
However, Orlando like Los Angeles is very much a car town and you will probably need to rent a car for the duration of your stay in Orlando. GoPit offers an assortment of reasonably priced car rentals for Orlando, which can be booked along with your other Orlando travel bookings through the very same channels.
No destination is complete without shopping. Even though Orlando is known mainly for its theme parks, it offers good shopping options as well. The epicenter of Orlando’s shopping is its famed International Drive or I-Drive as it is popularly known. This 11.5 mile (18.5km) thoroughfare situated southwest of downtown Orlando offers scores of specialty stores and factory outlets along with various nightlife and dining options. The Premium Outlets mall is a factory outlet mall located on the northern end of International Drive. This mall features 180 discount stores of brands like BCBG Max Azria, Cole Haan, J.Crew, Coach, Victoria’s Secret, White House Black Market and many more.
A similar outlet shopping experience is also offered by a mall called Orlando Premium Outlets. This mall hosts 150 discount stores of well-known brands and is located at Vineland Avenue within close proximity to International Drive. In fact the I-ride trolley provides a shuttle service from all International Drive hotels to the Orlando Premium Outlet mall making it easily accessible for the tons of tourists who visit Orlando year round to visit.
Aside from outlet malls, Orlando also offers diverse shopping options at its regular malls like the Mall at Millenia (an upscale mall offering 200 specialty stores along with anchor department stores like Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus), the Florida Mall (the largest mall in Central Florida with 270 stores and various dining and entertainment options) and the Festival Place Mall on International Drive.
Other locales in Orlando for a spot of retail therapy include destinations like the downtown Disney Marketplace, Pointe*Orlando, an open air retail and entertainment complex located on International Drive and Orlando Fashion square, located east of downtown which hosts several specialty stores and restaurants.
With Orlando being theme-park central you may be inclined to think that it is overrun with fast-food outlets that cater to holidaying families. This is not the case and in fact, the city offers a good selection of noteworthy restaurants, comparable to sophisticated dining choices available in gastronomic capitals like New York and San Francisco. Recommended restaurants in Orlando presently include hotspots like Norman’s (New American), Lee and Rick’s Oyster (seafood), Texas de Brazil (Brazilian), Jiko (South African), Viet Garden and Banh Mi Nha Trang (Vietnamese), Border Grill (Tex-Mex), Chef Eddie’s restaurant (Soul food), Kres Chophouse (Steak house), Mediterranean Blue (Mediterranean), Nagoya Sushi and Victoria and Albert’s (New American).
Theme parks maybe all the rage in Orlando, but this family friendly destination also offers adequate options for a fun night on the town for those of a legal age. Some popular nightlife haunts in Disney city include spots like Backbooth and the Social (live music venues), The Beacham, Pulse Orlando, Bliss Ultra Lounge and Independent Bar (all dance clubs), Blue Martini, Pat O’Brien’s, One80 Grey Goose Lounge, the Fifth, Latitude and the Courtesy (all bars).