Located within central Florida, Orlando is dotted by small freshwater lakes, tropical gardens and the welcome shade of graceful palms and stately live oaks. Southwest of the city are most of Orlando’s hotels and the city’s famous theme parks with their roller coasters, castles and movie sets. Head north of town to find Orlando’s cultural gems: Loch Haven Park and its art museums and Winter Park’s boutique shopping. Golf courses lie in every direction.
An Orlando vacation is famous for world-class amusement parks. Buy passes to all four of Walt Disney World’s parks for an unforgettable day of fun. Follow the Kilimanjaro Safari at Animal Kingdom, lunch at Epcot Center’s Mexico pavilion, tour a movie lot at Hollywood Studios and watch the SpectroMagic parade after dark at Magic Kingdom. Universal Orlando re-creates film and television productions at E.T. Adventures and the Simpsons Ride. The natural world dominates at SeaWorld. Visitors watch Shamu and his marine friends splash and dive before applauding other creatures at Manatee Rescue and Penguin Encounter.
Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center dishes up world flavors in its World Showcase. Sample spicy kebabs and couscous in Morocco, and dig into poached cod and cured salmon at Norway’s Akershus smorgasbord. International Drive has an overwhelming variety of restaurants, including Japanese barbecues and family-run Greek diners. Restaurant Row, on Sand Lake Road west of I-4, is known for its fresh local flavors. Moonfish serves local seafood and tells you the name of the angler who caught it. Chatham’s Place dishes up Southern specialties, rich with dustings of pecan and browned butter. Vines Grille serves bar patron plates of savory, crispy bacon while live jazz ensembles play.
Cultured designer shops fill the Mall at Millenia with Jimmy Choo shoes, Fendi handbags and Tiffany jewelry. Tourists stuff their suitcases with greatly discounted Hugo Boss and Burberry buys at the overstock sales center, Prime Outlets International. Trendy gauze dresses, quirky, strappy sandals and polished stone jewelry can be found in Winter Park’s Park Avenue and Hannibal Square.
Take a break from theme parks and test your golf swing at Florida’s finest courses. Celebration Golf Club, ChampionsGate and Grand Cypress stand out as favorites. Similar courses lie scattered around Orlando. Sinister alligators and startled herons occupy Florida’s swamps, visible to visitors on Boggy Creek Airboat Tours. Passengers look down on a world of cypress trees and orange groves from a tandem hang-gliding harness, guided by an experienced pilot at Wallaby Ranch in Davenport.
Loch Haven Park on Orlando’s north side houses the Orlando Museum of Art. Towering black-and-white Yosemite National Park photographs and floral Georgia O’Keefe paintings are among its treasures. Loch Haven is also home to the Mennello Museum of American Art. Brightly-colored, primitive rural scenes form the themes in paintings by Earl Cunningham and other Southern folk artists.