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Experience the Theme Park Capital of the World on an Orlando holiday
There is nowhere in the world like Orlando. There, we said it. This is a complete original in world destination terms. This is where you’ll find Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld, and their attendant water parks and other attractions. This is Entertainment Central, and it marches to the beat of a very different drum to anywhere else in Florida.
Its sub-sections include world famous International Drive, packed with attractions, hotels, shops and restaurants, and Lake Buena Vista, immediately adjacent to Walt Disney World and the vast array of choice hereabouts, including many fine resorts that are close to the essential magic, such as Caribbean-themed Calypso Cay Resort and Grande Villas Resort, with one, two and three-bedroom suites all with full kitchens.
Universal Orlando also now boasts a fine array of hotels in its own right, with a choice to suit all budgets and including fabulous restaurant options, notably at the grand Portofino Bay Hotel and the Royal Pacific Resort.
In fact, Orlando features some of Central Florida’s most refined hotels, including the extensive Rosen Shingle Creek Resort, the combined excellence of the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort and the suite-style Vista Cay Resort, all of which come with a dazzling array of facilities and amenities that are guaranteed to keep you busy for two weeks, or even longer.
Only a stone’s throw south of Orlando and its parks is the charming city of Kissimmee, which is home to a fantastic array of things to see and do in their own right. From adrenaline-inducing activities to more relaxing, natural experiences that promise to melt your worries away, this is a rich area of possibility just waiting to be explored.
This is also where you’ll find some of the most wide-ranging accommodation choices, from boutique-style hotels like the Bohemian in the charming town of Celebration to all-action resorts like Reunion and The Grove, with their own water-parks, but still little more than 15 minutes from all the excitement of Disney and Co.
The Kissimmee area is also renowned for its magnificent array of private-pool vacation homes that can sleep up to 16 guests in high style. Some of them even come with resort-style amenities, such as the Encore Resort, Windsor Hills, Bella Vida and Windsor at Westside.
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Hotels in Orlando
Bohemian Hotel Celebration
This cultured hotel overlooks the beautiful Lake Rianhard, less than a mile from the prestigious Celebration Golf Club and a few miles more from the world famous Walt Disney Resort.
Stay at the Reunion Resort, a destination where you won’t be bored for a second! This fantastic hotel has a vast selection of sports activities and even has it’s own water park making it the ideal choice of location if you’re looking for a fun-filled trip for all the family.
Things to do on Orlando holidays
Osceola County Welcome Center and History Museum
Discover Osceola County’s rich history at this interactive welcome centre and museum. It showcases the four different habitats found in Osceola County – the swamplands, oak hammock, pine flatwoods and the lakefront. Each of the dioramas is so distinct yet they all work together to support the diverse ecosystem of the area. After exploring the museum’s exhibits, head outside and put your newly learned knowledge into practice at the nearby Shingle Creek.
Museum of Military History
Orange County Regional History Center
A superb showcase of Floridian history and culture, highlighting the first peoples to populate the state, the arrival of European settlers, the 19th century Seminole Wars, and the birth of modern tourism. Be prepared to be amazed at just how much there is to learn!
Orlando Museum of Art
Founded in 1924, the museum is one of Central Florida’s leading sources of cultural history, and features both permanent and travelling exhibitions aimed at connecting people with art and new ideas.
Enjoy a slice of the REAL Florida as you head out into the countryside south of Kissimmee and discover the many delights of Wild Florida on Cypress Lake in Kenansville. Take one of their airboat rides, check out the Wild Gator Park and variety of animal encounters, and don’t miss the new drive-through Safari Park, with a mix of local and exotic animals.
Wild Willy’s Airboat Tours
Get up close and personal with the inhabitants of Lake Tohopekaliga on this hour-long airboat exploration. Along the way, there’ll be ample opportunity to spot gators and turtles, eagles and perhaps even a few deer. Alternatively, if it’s the alligators you’re looking to see, opt for the Gator Experience, where you can meet and even have your picture taken with the area’s apex predator! Afterwards, head to the snack bar and chow down on some gator bites and fries.
Boggy Creek Airboat Rides
Explore the great outdoors
Shingle Creek Paddling Trail
The Everglades are arguably the most well-known freshwater wetlands in the world, and it’s in Kissimmee that you’ll find Shingle Creek, the northernmost headquarters of this watershed. The state-designated paddling trail travels from Osceola County’s Shingle Creek Regional Park, all the way to Lake Tohopekaliga, or Lake Toho as it’s more commonly known. As you paddle along the stream you’ll pass scenic views, early pioneer buildings and even the site of a battle during the Second Seminole War.
Orlando Tree Trek
Just north of Orlando, revel in this large slice of nature on the crystal-clear Wekiva River, where you can hire kayaks and paddle-boards and explore this pristine wilderness, then kick back in their rustic bar, or enjoy your own private riverfront cabana.
ESPN Wide World of Sports® Complex
Those with a competitive side will love this sports complex, which comprises 220 acres of state-of-the-art facilities and hosts over 170 events every year. The complex welcomes amateurs and professionals, so all can experience the world-class equipment. The complex is a must-see if you’re a fan of baseball.
Whether you’re an amateur athlete or an armchair fan, there’s a whole host of events at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex for you to discover.
Orange Lake Resort – Legend’s Walk Golf Course
Spread across an impressive 1,581 yards, this walking course offers golfers spectacular views as they progress through their game. Holes vary greatly in length – from 85 yards up to 222 yards, so tackling this course is no easy feat. Luckily for newbies, Arnold Palmer and Palmer Course Design Company created the rolling fairways and pristine greens to be accessible (and yet a challenge) to all skill levels and ages.
Omni Orlando Resort at Champions Gate
Orlando City Soccer
The arrival of Major League Soccer in Orlando in 2015 has give the city a whole new purple-coloured passion as Orlando City SC has brought the beautiful game to The City Beautiful from March to October each year at 25,000-seat Exploria Stadium.
Orlando Magic Basketball
Get a taste of the big sports action with the NBA’s Orlando Magic, one of Florida’s handful of major league teams, with games at the impressive Amway Center from October to May.
Dinner shows & unique experiences
Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament
Capone’s Dinner & Show
Florida Orange World
With special soil and a climate that’s unique to the Indian River, this area of Florida produces some of the finest citrus fruits. Florida Orange World is the world’s largest, and perhaps only specialist orange store, where you’ll find thin-skinned high-quality oranges, as well as fruit baskets, candies and knick-knacks.
Sleuths Mystery Dinner Shows
Solve a murder mystery as you dine, and be royally entertained by the Sleuths comedy players on famous International Drive, with a series of different shows to choose from and a delicious meal, with drinks, to keep the whole family happy.
Take a ride on the 400ft Wheel at ICON Park, visit Madame Tussauds Orlando and SeaLife Orlando Aquarium, try the Orlando StarFlyer (the world’s tallest swing ride), plus an arcade and a great range of dining opportunities, including Ole Red by Blake Shelton.
All the family will enjoy this hugely interactive fun house of games, wacky challenges and rides, plus laser tag, ropes course and nightly entertainment of the Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show.
Walt Disney World
Check out the 47 square miles, of fantasy, thrills and magic of Disney’s four essential theme parks – the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom – plus two water parks, four golf courses, sports center and the shopping-dining-entertainment hub of Disney Springs.
Be ready to ‘ride the movies’ in high style, including the likes of Harry Potter, the Marvel super-heroes, Jason Bourne, Dr Suess, The Simpsons, Men in Black, Transformers and much, much more as you discover Universal’s two full theme parks (Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure), plus the Volcano Bay water park and CityWalk nightlife district.
Take a big step into marine nature with the expansive SeaWorld theme park, which boasts some of the best roller-coasters in Florida as well as a variety of captivating animal exhibits, then thrill to their Aquatica water park and chill out in style – with the chance to swim with dolphins – at the unique Discovery Cove.
Reasons to visit Orlando
If there is an epi-centre for fun, excitement and imagination in the world, then it is right here in the growing metropolitan area we call Orlando, Florida. The home of Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld and much, much more. This is both a family luxury holiday par excellence and a great experience for couples, as there is SO much to enjoy, much of it with a very grown-up slant these days.
Just to start with, there are more direct flights to Orlando, Florida from the UK than any other airport in Florida and it puts you right in the heart of the action. Orlando International Airport is the biggest and busiest airport in the state, while Orlando Sanford International Airport, just 30 miles north, is a handy alternative for some charter airlines. Orlando is a three-hour drive from Miami, an hour from Tampa and a little more than two hours from Jacksonville, while the Atlantic coast is only an hour’s journey to the east and the gorgeous Gulf Coast beaches are about 90 minutes’ drive west. The lower Gulf Coast area (from Bradenton down to Naples) is two to four hours away to the south-west.
Prior to Disney’s arrival, this was a rather insignificant town with its military airbase and proximity to the Kennedy Space Center as its main attributes. Since then, it has grown massively to become an entertainment colossus that now boasts world-class theme parks, hotels, restaurants, shopping and performing arts, and has huge all-round appeal as a destination for adults and children alike. But be aware this is a massively complex place to visit. There are seven full theme parks, five water parks, dozens of smaller attractions, plus huge outlet shopping centres, malls, themed resorts and plentiful nightlife, not forgetting many natural attractions, state parks, great sports – including almost 200 golf courses! – and a growing reputation for craft beers and foodie hotspots. This is not the place to walk into unprepared, so doing some holiday ‘homework’ in advance is essential!
Without doubt, the biggest attraction in town is Walt Disney World, all 47 square miles of it. Packed in here are four theme parks, two water parks, 22 resort hotels, a massive complex of shops, restaurants and entertainment, four golf courses and a surprisingly natural aspect from its many waterways and wooded areas. It is completely separate from the rest of Orlando and has its own transportation system, hence it functions like a small city in its own right.
Universal Orlando doesn’t pale by comparison, though, despite boasting ‘only’ two theme parks, a water park, six hotels and its own dining/nightlife district, called CityWalk. Like Disney, it has developed a distinct adult component with the quality of its resorts and the food and beverage offerings, as well as entertainment like the Blue Man Group and several nightclubs. Nearby is SeaWorld, with its own spread of rides and exhibits in a very natural setting, while there is also a sister water park and Discovery Cove, where you can swim with dolphins.
In many ways, that only scratches the surface of Orlando’s many and varied attractions. Gatorland is a fascinating look at the local wildlife, which you can also experience on a variety of local airboat rides (which are like visiting the Everglades without the four-hour drive), while Revolution Offroad features four-wheeled adventures in the countryside. At I-Drive 360 you can ride the 400-ft-high Orlando Eye, visit Madame Tussauds and the SeaLife Center, and enjoy a great selection of restaurants – as you can at Pointe Orlando, Mall at Millenia, Sand Lake Road and Winter Park. Even given three weeks, you really won’t be able to “do it all” here!
Aside from SeaWorld and Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park, this is a surprisingly good place to experience a good slice of Florida wildlife, in addition to all the other excitement. Gatorland features bobcats, giant tortoises, raccoons, flamingoes, owls and the endangered Florida panther, as well as the headline alligators and crocs, and also boasts a superb zipline experience. Wild Florida, to the south of Kissimmee, has its own animal park in addition to its airboat rides, and Forever Florida, further south, offers a huge slice of Florida’s flora and fauna.
There are other wonderful natural places like Lake Louisa State Park and the small-scale Lake Tibet-Butler Preserve, while the suburb of Winter Park has a gorgeous tour around its surrounding lakes that offers even more nature experiences. Despite the presence of the theme parks, you don’t have to go far to find the ‘real’ Florida.
Sports & Activities
In keeping with Orlando’s idea of non-stop excitement and opportunity, the sports and other activities are top notch. It starts with the two main sports of basketball and soccer (yes, football as we know it), with the major league teams of the Orlando Magic (in the NBA) and Orlando City (in Major League Soccer), both of which are well worth sampling for the great big-game atmosphere they generate.
This is definitely the home of great golf, the headquarters of the US Tennis Association and even minor-league ice-hockey, with the Orlando Solar Bears playing at the huge Amway Center, which is also home to the Magic. The number of golf courses alone is positively mouth-watering, while this is also a great place for watersports of all kinds, from kayaking to parasailing, and is world-renowned for bass fishing.
It is easy to visit Orlando, Florida without actually seeing Orlando. The downtown city hub is about 15 miles from the theme parks and requires a specific journey away from the main tourist areas to discover. But it’s worth it, by day and by night, as it boasts its own attractions, like the Orange County Museum of History and beautiful Lake Eola, and has a terrific array of restaurants and nightlife, including the new Dr Phillips Performing Arts Center, the Amway Center for concerts, the Orlando Shakespeare and Ballet companies, the eclectic Mad Cow Theater, the highly kid-friendly Orlando Rep theatre and Sak Comedy Lab for improv humour.
The swanky suburb of Winter Park is another Orlando ‘secret’, with a really upscale style for shopping and dining – including its café society vibe along Park Avenue – while Winter Garden is a similar quaint local neighbourhood, with more unique shops and restaurants, including the excellent Crooked Can Brewery. To the south, the city of Kissimmee offer more small-scale charms, with a great lakefront location, and the city of Sanford, just to the north is another great example of small-town America, with its own tempting array of bars, restaurants and micro-breweries.
This is most definitely the place to come with an empty suitcase, as Orlando has a dazzling array of shopping opportunities, with three major discount outlet centres, five main shopping malls, endless gift shops and several open-air shopping centres, which all add something new.
The two Orlando Premium Outlets complexes feature hundreds of big-name brands at bargain prices, all in a very elegant setting, while Lake Buena Vista Outlet Stores is similar, and the vast Florida Mall and Mall at Millenia offer the contrasting indoor mall experience in great style, and variety. For a more European style, Winter Park’s boutiques are well worth a casual stroll if you don’t mind your wallet taking a beating! The local visitor centre’s walking tour is a great adjunct to the highlights of Winter Park, too.
Dining, cuisine and foodie tips
It used to be the case that Orlando – with all its theme parks – had a reputation for very ho-hum food. Not any more. This is now definitely the place for a genuine foodie experience, with big-name chefs, gourmet offerings and great wine and cocktail offerings to go with the food. Even the parks have got on board with some distinctly above-average restaurants – try Tiffins at Disney’s Animal Kingdom or Monsieur Paul at Epcot – and, while many venues, especially of the chain restaurant variety, are still more quantity than quality conscious, it’s hard to get a bad meal. And you certainly won’t go home hungry!
For those looking to branch out and try something different, there are a lot of Cuban and Latin influences, as well as a lively Vietnamese dining scene and some of the best seafood in Florida. Many locals head for ‘Restaurant Row,’ which is the west end of Sand Lake Road and boasts a dazzling line-up of choice, while downtown Orlando also has plenty to offer, notably in the College Park, Mills 50, Milk District and Thornton Park areas. And, if you don’t try Winter Park at some stage, you will really be missing out.
Why Orlando holidays?
We shouldn’t really need to answer that question, should we? This is simply one of the world’s great destinations for excitement and creativity, with a really high-quality approach to everything it does and a truly astounding array of possibilities in absolutely every aspect.