Orlando packs in more thrills and spills than almost anywhere on the planet. The ‘Theme Park Capital of the World’ is home to world-famous attractions like Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando Resort plus a host of others, including Seaworld and Legoland. Right in the heart of the sunshine state of Florida, Orlando also boasts warm temperatures all year round. And, as well as the celebrated theme parks, you’ll also find great shopping and dining, including plenty of family-friendly options. Orlando also offers all kinds of amenities for outdoor activities, from world-class golf courses to exhilarating hot air balloon rides, providing absolutely everything you could wish for on your 2018/2019 holiday.
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Orlando’s main attractions are undoubtedly its theme parks, which attract a whopping 60 million visitors annually. Walt Disney World, which opened in 1971, remains the most popular of the theme parks, closely followed by Universal Studios Orlando Resort. Then there is SeaWorld, with its sharks, stingrays and dolphins, the amazing Kennedy Space Center, which brings space travel to life, and all the colour and fun of Legoland. As well as the theme parks, you can also experience the wonders of the swampy Everglades – perhaps canoeing or even taking an airboat along the waterways – or head to the coast, and the fabulous Florida beaches (about 1 to 2 hours away by car). There are facilities for every kind of sport and outdoor activity – golf, tennis, hiking, biking and much more – and Orlando is also a shopping mecca, with scores of malls and designer outlets to choose from. Plus, culture vultures will enjoy the city’s fine array of art museums and galleries, which include the Orlando Museum of Art and the Mennello Museum of American Art.
Whatever you want to eat, chances are you will find it in Orlando. The city’s eclectic dining scene offers something for everyone, with prices to suit all pockets. If you’re travelling with the family, your kids will really enjoy some of the fun, themed establishments – who wouldn’t want to eat on a pirate ship or under the big top at the circus? You can tuck into excellent Cuban cuisine, try local specialities such as stone crabs or conch fritters, or splash out on one of the award-winning establishments with stellar chefs that appeal to gourmets.
Orlando must be one of the world’s top family destinations. The theme parks are, of course, the biggest draw, whether you’re travelling with young kids desperate to meet Micky Mouse at Disney World, have tweens who are desperate to swim with dolphins at SeaWorld, or teenagers who want to take on the biggest and most thrilling roller coasters at the Universal Studios. Kids who dream of becoming astronauts won’t want to miss the Kennedy Space Center, and the bravest will want to explore the swampy Everglades in search of alligators and other creatures. There is a dazzling choice of kid-friendly cafés and restaurants, making dining out a breeze – even with the fussiest kids.
Some of the fastest, highest and scariest roller coasters in the United States are located in Orlando’s top theme parks – ideal for the committed thrill-seekers! Mako, which opened in SeaWorld in 2016, is currently the city’s longest, tallest and fastest roller coaster – absolutely not to be missed! Orlando also has a host of fantastic outdoor activities, including airboat rides along the sultry waterways of the Everglades, hot air balloon trips, sea fishing and much, much more. You could also try indoor sky-diving or head to an adventure park for some zip-line fun, or even drive to the beach for a little surfing or kite-surfing action.
Land-locked Orlando has plenty of lakes where you can cool off, but you’ll need to drive an hour or two to hit one of Florida’s mythical beaches. The most accessible is Cocoa Beach, about an hour away by car, which is a lovely swathe of white sand with plenty of facilities. Daytona Beach, just over an hour’s drive away, makes for a great day trip, with theme parks, race tracks, lighthouses and plenty more to keep kids of all ages and interests amused. New Smyrna Beach (70 minutes in the car) is a surfer’s paradise, while charming Flagler Beach (also a 70-minute drive) has beachfront wineries, a century-old pier, and lots of great restaurants and bars.
Orlando’s nightlife is wildly varied, and has something to suit visitors of all ages and tastes. There are sophisticated cocktail bars, laid-back pubs, lively sports bars and elegant wine bars. You could take in some comedy at a comedy club, dance salsa all night, relax to the sounds of jazz, or party till dawn at a glamorous nightclub. And if you enjoy the theatre, ballet or classical music, you’ll be spoilt for choice, as the city hosts an excellent programme of performing arts all year round. There are also plenty of dinner shows, many of which are concentrated along International Drive, which is where most theme parks are located.
If you’re both crazy about theme parks, Orlando is a fantastic, if offbeat, destination for enjoying some quality time with your loved one. In the ‘Theme Park Capital of the World’, you can hang out with Disney gang in Walt Disney World, get friendly with sharks and dolphins in SeaWorld or visit Harry Potter at Hogwart’s in Universal Studios. If thrills and spills are your thing, then try the Maka roller coaster in SeaWorld, which is also home to the seriously scary Kraken. Universal’s Revenge of the Mummy and Incredible Hulk are also fantastic fun for adrenaline-seekers. Outside the theme parks, great activities for couples include a day at the beach – perhaps Flagler Beach, where you can stroll along the charming old pier.
Orlando has a vibrant arts and culture scene, with a slew of museums and historical attractions. For fine art, visit the Orlando Museum of Art, the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, along with the fascinating Mennello Museum of American Art which has a delightful sculpture garden. You can find out about the original inhabitants of the area at Shingle Creek Regional Park, which has exhibits on the Seminole people and the earliest European settlers. The Orange County Regional History Center is located in a beautiful building from the 1920s, and documents the area’s history back to prehistoric times through interactive exhibits. There’s a fabulous contemporary centre for the performing arts which hosts theatre performances, ballet, opera, musicals and more.