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Often colored by the light of kid-friendly theme parks, Orlando is actually a very grown-up destination – a versatile Central Florida city that plays host to UCF students, Universal Studio’s latest movie makers and Arnold Palmer Invitational competitors. Adults and kids alike revel in dolphin antics at SeaWorld, fun events at the Orange County Convention Center and shopping at the huge Florida Mall before exploring the impressive array of eateries along Restaurant Row.

City Tips

Facts & Fundamentals

Outdoor adventurers and enthusiasts should check out the Ocklawaha River. Regularly trafficked by steamboats in the 1800s, today this river is home to some of Florida’s most lauded paddling stretches. The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Orlando is best known for housing the world’s most extensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, famed artist and designer. The original name of the settlement that would come to be called Orlando—Jernigan—derives from Aaron Jernigan, the area’s first permanent settler. In downtown Orlando visitors can pay a visit to the ruins of Fort Gatlin, built in 1838 during the Second Seminole War. Walt Disney considered both Miami and Tampa as locations for his resort, but chose Orlando because of its inland location and its comparative protection from hurricanes. The official nickname of Orlando is “the City Beautiful.” Eatonville, located just six miles north of Orlando, was the first all-black town incorporated in America, and was home to author Zora Neale Hurston. Each January, the town celebrates the life and accomplishments of Hurston with a popular festival. Located in the Lake Buena Vista suburb, Disney’s Magic Kingdom® Park is nearly twice the size of Manhattan and is widely considered the world’s foremost tourist destination. Because the city is home to Universal Studios Orlando, it’s also home to the second-largest motion picture facility in the world, just behind Hollywood. Author Jack Kerouac was living in Orlando when his novel On the Road was published.

Weather

For those who like their weather warm, Orlando can be a paradise. The average annual low temperature seldom falls below the 80s, which means that even in Orlando’s winter, it can feel like summer. Though the spring and summer months are often the most popular times to visit, consider other options for cooler weather and lighter crowds.

Orlando can best be thought of as having two seasons: humid, from June to September, and dry, from October to May. Air masses from the Gulf of Mexico are responsible for the frequent rainfall during the humid season.

Orlando is inland enough so that it rarely bears the brunt of hurricane season, but it’s still advisable to check weather over the Atlantic in advance of traveling.

City Detail

Orlando, oft-mentioned in the same breath as Magic Kingdom® Park or Epcot®, has a well-honed reputation as one of the world’s premier family travel destinations. But travelers of all stripe will quickly find that, dominant as Walt Disney’s legacy may be, Orlando is a rich and versatile city with an array of unique restaurants, a stylish downtown district that offers some of the country’s best nightlife, and luxurious accommodations that are sure to make for an unforgettable stay.

Founded under the name “Jernigan” in 1836, Orlando truly exploded on the map beginning in 1875, when it became the unquestioned titan of Florida’s robust citrus industry. Tourism replaced oranges at the core of the city’s economy when Walt Disney chose the town for his iconic theme park in 1965, arguably the single most formative event in the city’s history. Today, over 50 million people flock to the Orlando area annually, making it the most visited destination in the country.

Regardless of what brings you to Orlando, and even if the Walt Disney World® Theme Parks are “not your thing,” a cursory exploration of the parks is an absolute must. This is in large part because there’s something for everyone: SeaWorld Orlando is both thrilling and edifying, Universal Studios Orlando is a pinnacle for movie and pop culture buffs, and the Walt Disney World® Resort invariably elicits awe, regardless of age.

Elsewhere in the city, the attractions are perhaps more low-key, but still delightful and more than worth a visit. Orlando has four notable botanical gardens and arboretums that feature breathtaking landscapes and rare flora. The World of Orchids, which includes waterfalls, parrots, and thousands of rare flowers, is among the world’s largest greenhouses, while the Historic Bok Sanctuary is home to rare wildlife. There’s also a diverse wealth of museums in Orlando, from the famed Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art to the enthralling International Trolley and Train Museum. You’re bound to find one that aligns with your interests.

Orlando has three main districts for shopping, dining, and nightlife, each with a trove of worthy options: Downtown, centered mostly around Orange Avenue, and the areas around International Drive and Sand Lake Road. Begin an upscale meal at Norman’s with an Asian-inspired ceviche shrimp cocktail, move into Mongolian veal chop for the main course, then head over to Burton’s Frosty Mug for some down-to-earth local flavor and a nightcap. If you’re still up for nighttime adventure, the Old Vines Wine Bar features an exceptional wine list and regular live jazz, while Club Firestone and the Samba Room both offer unique, vibrant twists on dance clubs.

All in all, Orlando is a city with a range beyond the theme parks, the sunny climate, and the iconic tourist attractions, though make no mistake – these are all considerable points in Orlando’s favor that visitors won’t want to miss out on. A history of robust tourism has made something special out of Orlando: a city virtually unlike any other in the United States that will still somehow feel welcoming and familiar to first-time visitors from anywhere on the globe.

Restaurants

Kres Chophouse

17 W Church Street

Orlando, FL 32801

Kres Chophouse offers a truly unmatched dining experience. The elegant atmosphere is equally well-suited to romantic outings and business meetings. The service is always on-par, and the prices are reasonable. Start off with blackened sea scallops, and then move into a flawless filet with a side of cheddar rosemary mashed potatoes.

Phone

+1-407-447-7950


MoonFish

7525 W Sand Lake Rd

Orlando, FL 32819

What more could you ask from a happy hour than $4 martinis shaken and poured at the table? For starters, how about half-priced sushi, $1 fish tacos, and oysters from the raw bar for a quarter? In addition to a great happy hour, MoonFish has stunning atmosphere and a varied menu.

Phone

+1-407-363-7262


Soong Thai

9448 W Colonial Dr

Orlando, FL 34761

Even if you don’t think of yourself as a Thai fan, prepare to be converted by Soong, a casual, off-the-beaten-path restaurant. With faithful and tantalizing interpretations of traditional Thai dishes like Panang duck, green curry and Pad Thai, Soong is sure to woo newcomers and satisfy connoisseurs.

Phone

+1-407-822-8200


Mediterranean Blue

425 E Michigan Street

Orlando, FL 32806

The atmosphere and locale may be unassuming, but the service at Mediterranean Blue is some of the warmest in Orlando, and the food is spot-on. It’s all traditional Mediterranean fare done right, from souvlaki to gyros to falafel. Owned by siblings, this restaurant offers some of the freshest, healthiest cuisine around.

Phone

+1-407-422-2583


The Social Chameleon

2406 E Robinson

Orlando, FL 32803

Let’s start with the basics of the Social Chameleon: the food is consistently delicious. A range of one-of-a-kind pizzas (think meatloaf pizza) may be the stars of the menu, though the selection of beers on tap is what keeps many patrons coming back, not to mention the friendly and efficient staff.

Phone

+1-407-715-2138


Expect, first and foremost, to find variety in the Orlando culinary scene. Years of tourism and immigration have shaped Orlando’s offering of restaurants into a unique and colorful spread.

Many popular restaurant chains are headquartered in Orlando, so if you’re a fan of a particular “brand,” chances are you’re in luck. Those looking for something a little more unique are also in luck: options abound, from the one-of-a-kind dinner theaters offered in and around the theme parks—where patron tables are visited by Mickey, Goofy, and others—to more low-key, fine dining options like Christini’s and Chatham’s Place.

American Continental cuisine is the staple fare of Orlando, and is best exemplified by the likes of Atlantis or Victoria & Albert’s, both of which place a premium on atmosphere as well as food. Many of the restaurants in the Downtown Disney® area also do a fine job blending atmosphere and quality cuisine, like the Rainforest Café®, which stunningly replicates a tropical rainforest and serves up some truly exotic fare.

Elsewhere, Orlando’s own downtown district is where the city’s true culinary diversity comes to light. La Coq Au Vin has international accolades for its French cuisine. Kres Chophouse is the ideal choice for businesspersons who want both a quiet, “executive” atmosphere and juicy steaks done right. Ceviche Tapas Bar in historic Church Street Station is a classy dinner spot that moonlights as a trendy dance club, with a spectacular event space to boot. And for an on-the-go lunch, you can’t beat the locally renowned Big Wheel Provisions Food Truck, which offers quality sandwiches (be sure to add a dollop of bacon dip!) and vintage-style pop.

Skip over to Lake Eola Heights or College Park to enliven your diet with a taste of other cultures. Juliana’s Fine Tuscan Cuisine is positively revered by locals for its cozy ambiance and authentic Tuscan food, while Tijuana Flats offers what just might be the best Tex-Mex outside of Texas. Emeril’s cuisine is primarily Continental, but with a distinctive Cajun touch that receives rave reviews. For Asian flare and fusion, you can’t beat the experience offered at Funky Monkey Wine Company, which includes not only spectacular sushi, but one of the city’s best wine lists to boot. MoonFish offers a raw bar in addition to an array of unique menu items like duck carpaccio and almond-fried lobster tails. The Garden Café is a Mecca for lovers of Chinese food as well as vegetarians, and Ming Court offers dim sum and performances of Asian folk music most nights of the week.

Orlando is also rife with restaurants designed for those who want to see and to be seen by others. Wolfgang Puck’s, Enzo’s on the Lake and Artist Point all spring to mind as upscale dining establishments where the atmosphere is cutting-edge, the service is peerless and the clientele is unparalleled. And for an upscale dining experience that redefines “local flavor,” dine at the Everglades Restaurant, which serves organic, regional cuisine in an atmosphere reminiscent of the establishment’s namesake.

Events

Winter Park’s Old-Fashioned July 4th Celebration

Central Park, Downtown Winter Park

Winter Park, FL 32793

[July 3, 2011] It may seem odd visiting Florida in the height of summer and celebrating Independence Day in a place called Winter Park. But once you take in the patriotic music, vibrant parade, and perhaps indulge in a hot-dog eating contest, you can’t help but embrace the American pride.


Mexican Fiesta

Lake Eola Park

Orlando, FL 32801

[Sep 24-26 2011] If you’ve never celebrated Mexican Independence Day before, drop by Lake Eola Park on September 25 and you’re sure to observe it every year after. The blend of perfect weather, convivial crowds, exquisite food and truly electrifying live entertainment that you won’t find elsewhere will make for an unforgettable experience.


Oktoberfest

Avalon Park

Orlando, FL 32828

[Oct 14-16, 2011] What truly accomplished city would be complete without an Oktoberfest? A relatively new festival, Orlando’s Oktoberfest in Avalon Park draws over 10,000 guests for incomparable German food, one-of-a-kind live entertainment, and, of course, quality beer. This is a markedly family festival, so bring the kids: they’ll be delighted!


Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

Magic Kingdom

Lake Buena Vista, FL 32836

[Early November-December 18] What better way to capture the magic of Christmas than with a visit to the Magic Kingdom? Predictably, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party offers just about everything, including some of the world’s best parades, fireworks, and live music. Meet and greet opportunities abound, along with free hot cocoa and cookies.


Citrus Parade

Downtown

Orlando, FL 32828

[December 30] Take your tailgating before the Capital One or Champ's Sports Bowl to a whole new level by experiencing Orlando's iconic Citrus Parade, which is the annual kick-off celebration of the two games. Staples include countless elaborate, citrus-themed floats, Disney characters and an army of marching bands.


Orlando has an astonishingly diverse offering of annual events that visitors may find surprising. This lively city becomes even more vibrant during festivals, parades, fairs, and sporting events, while the region’s incredibly temperate weather more-or-less year-round makes it an ideal host for festivities. Fans of Disney will find no shortage of celebrations on the calendar, from the annual food and wine festival at Epcot® to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, and a host of other special occasions at Universal Studios and SeaWorld Orlando. Still, “The City Beautiful” itself offers a wide range of events away from theme park boundaries that will surely impress.

During the Citrus Parade in December, Orlando celebrates both its historic ties to the citrus industry and two annual college football games, the Champs Sports Bowl and the Capital One Bowl. The downtown district comes to life with marching bands and floats, and the streets are packed with scores of locals and tourists alike.

Many visitors also flock to Orlando to celebrate Independence Day. What better way to celebrate this grand American holiday than with an apple pie eating contest and fireworks at the Fourth of July Bash at Baldwin Park? Another prime summertime draw is the Sounds Like Summer concert series hosted by Epcot®, which runs for a week and features some of the world’s most acclaimed cover bands and tribute acts. This is not to be confused with the equally delightful Sounds of Summer concert series at the Margeson Theater, which features strictly classical music.

Earlier in the summer events like the International Orchid Fair, which draws orchid growers and enthusiasts from around the country, and the Florida Film Festival, which is hosted by the truly unique and upscale Enzian Theatre, are nice options for guests with refined tastes. Orlando Gay Days is also held in June, and this week-long celebration extends from a day of revelry and red-shirt wearing at the Magic Kingdom to poolside events and dance parties.

Throughout the fall, the emphasis shifts to culture, art, and food. The Mexican Fiesta, held in Lake Eola Park, commemorates Mexican Independence Day and does a spectacular job showcasing all aspects of Mexican culture. The Latin Food and Win Festival in October is your chance to uncork Latin American culture and enjoy tastings and live entertainment, and it’s not long after the city’s Oktoberfest sees German-inspired food, beer, wine, and entertainment taking to the streets. The Polish Fest, also in October, features a polka dancing competition and delectable Polish cuisine, while the Veg Fest offers a nice break from hearty food and celebrates not only vegetarian eating, but the vegetarian lifestyle and culture as well.

For those wintering in Florida, celebrate the holidays in style with Christmas in the Park outside of the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum. At this festival, the exquisite Tiffany windows of the building are extravagantly and ceremoniously lit each year. And, if you just can’t get enough Christmas cheer, drop by the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights at Hollywood Studios for a display that will leave you and yours breathless.


Orlando International Airport (MCO): Orlando, Florida

Airport Address
One Airport Boulevard
Orlando, FL 32827 USA

Ticket Counter Location
Main Terminal, Side B, Sun Country Ticket Counter / Ticket counter closes 45 minutes prior to flight departure.

Click here for Orlando International Airport Main Terminal map.


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