If you want to plan a vacation that will entertain the entire family, holidays in Orlando are exactly what you are looking for. With a high concentration of the country’s best amusement parks (including the massive Walt Disney World Resort), cutting-edge restaurants, and world-class golf courses, this central Florida city appeals to the young and old alike.
So make sure to reserve a flight to Orlando today, and you will experience the best entertainment the U.S. has to offer.
Before U.S. settlers began arriving to central Florida in the early 19th century, Native Americans from the Seminole tribe inhabited the area that surrounds present-day Orlando. The U.S. army built Fort Gatlin to the south to protect American settlers in 1838, and a permanent settlement grew from there.
Originally known as Jernigan, the city was renamed Orlando in 1857, in honour of a soldier who died in the Second Seminole War.
Orlando’s early economy thrived on cattle ranches, which unfolded across central Florida to meet the demand for beef in nearby Cuba. Farming of cotton and citrus produce (oranges, etc.) became major industries as well.
However, the brutally humid Florida heat made Orlando an unattractive destination for settlers before the invention of air conditioning. The city’s population remained low until the 1971 opening of the Magic Kingdom spurred the development of a massive entertainment business in the region. The Magic Kingdom eventually grew into Walt Disney World Resort, which covers 40 square miles and includes four theme parks, two water parks, dozens of hotels, and an onsite campground. With the addition of SeaWorld in 1973, and Universal Studios in 1990, tourism became Orlando’s chief industry.
While the population of Orlando proper stands at just over 230,000 people, the number of people residing in the city’s sprawling metropolitan area tops two million.
Located in Longwood—about 15 miles from downtown Orlando—Big Tree Park boasts one of the country’s oldest trees. Scientists estimate that ‘the Senator,’ as the massive tree is nicknamed, is about 3,500 years old.
Entrance is free to the park, and while there, you can check out the area’s natural marshlands. And don’t forget to pack a lunch: Big Tree Park has picnic areas open to visitors.
Located in downtown Orlando, this 100-foot monument to the Tupperware Company’s plastic food storage containers is constructed entirely of Tupperware bowls. Viewing is free.
Rent a paddleboat, take a gondola tour, or admire the splendid swans in this downtown Orlando Park. Check out what is playing at the Disney Amphitheater, or meander through the 43 acres of natural Florida beauty.
This giant zoo and entertainment park features exotic animals from different world regions, including Komodo dragons. The park has a number of rollercoaster rides through exotic locales: Expedition Everest takes you up into the Himalayan Mountains and Primeval Whirl through the land of the dinosaurs.
This lively boulevard in the Universal Orlando Resort features an exciting variety of shopping options, plus shows, restaurants, and nightlife.
Designed to be like Hollywood Boulevard in California, Universal CityWalk is packed to the brim with tourists at all hours of the day.
Walt Disney himself originally designed Epcot—or Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow—as a utopian, futuristic community, to start with 20,000 houses and expand from there. But the dream died with Walt Disney, and Epcot eventually opened as an educational theme park built with cultural edification in mind.
The park’s two sections, World Showcase and Future World, educate guests on international cultures and space and technology, respectively. Check out the 11 pavilions that feature architecture from countries like Japan, Italy, and Morocco.
Beyond the theme parks, kids discover the magic of science at the Orlando Science Center, where themed halls feature hundreds of hands-on exhibits. Science City's arches, pendulums, and bridges demonstrate how science is part of everyday life, while NatureWorks focuses on the coral reefs, salt marshes and swamps that make up central Florida's topography. At Dr. Dare's Laboratory, part of TechWorks, parents and kids follow computer displays to perform experiments.
Want to see a killer whale show off? Then check out "Believe," a killer whale show with choreography, a musical score and panoramic LED screens. "Blue Horizons," another show, mixes dolphin antics with a spectacle of aerialists and animal trainers. You can see more critters at Manatee Rescue, feed stingrays and watch turtles at Key West and encounter penguins and polar bears in Wild Arctic. Want thrills? Speed along a track at 65 mph on Kraken, a floorless rollercoaster.
Take an unforgettable journey through remarkable islands where all your favorite myths, legends, comic books, cartoons and children's stories come to life. At Universal's Islands of Adventure you'll experience innovative rides and attractions that challenge all your senses, including The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, the Jurassic Park River Adventure and The Cat in the Hat.
This Orlando gem will win your teenagers' affection. They'll make a beeline for AMC Pleasure Island movie theatre and the West Side's bevy of unique shops. Grown-ups discover a dining oasis, from fast food to elegant fare, and great views of Buena Vista Lagoon. Book tickets for Cirque du Soleil La Nouba, a sensory extravaganza of gymnasts, flying trapezes and music that'll appeal to the entire family. DisneyQuest promises interactive fun with 4D virtual cruises, video games and more.
One of four theme parks at Walt Disney World, Epcot is made up of two main sections: Future World and World Showcase. Spaceship Earth -- the giant golf ball-looking icon out front -- is a 16-minute journey through time, from the dawn of prehistoric man to an interactive "time machine" where visitors get a glimpse of their future selves. And if you need a change of scenery, World Showcase offers globe-trotting cuisine, live performances, fireworks, shops and the World Showcase Lagoon.
The lines are long, but you'll see why: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter rocks. Die-hards will dig this place top-to-bottom, but even those with a limited knowledge will be giddy from The Forbidden Journey (an absolute must), Hogwarts Castle and Butterbeer. There are candy shops and restaurants where muggles and young wizards can buy pumpkin juice, a Gryffindor scarf and chocolate frogs.
Go beyond the silver screen and jump into the action of your favorite films at Universal Studios Florida. At the world's premier movie- and TV-based theme park, you'll find an amazing array of rides, shows, movie sets and attractions, including the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit multi-sensory coaster, Shrek 4-D, The Simpsons Ride, Jimmy Neutron's Nicktoon Blast and more.
Better yet, double up on the fun and buy a Universal Orlando Theme Parks pass for admission to Universal's two theme parks.
You're in Florida -- ya gotta make time for gators. This reptilian adventure land is home to thousands of alligators and crocs, nature walks and a bird rookery. The latest install: five zip lines, upon which daredevils can soar over alligator- and crocodile-infested swamplands. And if watching a wrestler muscle these toothy critters won't make you squirm, check out the Gator Wrestlin' Show.
Got a long to-do list in Orlando? Purchase the Go Orlando Card and save up to 50% on admission to 40 attractions.
The centerpiece is the Magic Kingdom, where kids and kids-at-heart find Cinderella's Castle, Space Mountain and the wild Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Ride. You'll defend the galaxy with Buzz Lightyear, sing your way around the world and ride a riverboat through an exotic wildlife safari. Gather the troops and do Disney your way. The Walt Disney World Magic Your Way Tickets offer discounted prices and flexible options.
Hotels in Orlando are a dime a dozen, with everything from campgrounds and budget motels to luxurious resorts catering to tourists of all stripes.
The recently opened hotel Parc Soleil Suites by Hilton Grand Vacations Club is a Mediterranean-style resort, perfect for families, business associates, and young couples alike. You can swim up to the poolside bar and restaurant, relax in a luxury suite, or check out one of the many nearby championship golf courses.
Lake Buena Vista Resort hotel offers shuttle services to the nearby Walt Disney World Resort theme parks, including the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Spend down time in the hotel pool, or organise a celebration or business function in its exquisite banquet hall.
For those who like to spread out a bit, the hotel Residence Inn by Marriot is a good bet. Choose between one- and two-bed suites, or upgrade to the two-floor penthouse suites. Those on a budget will enjoy their room’s full kitchen and free Internet access. Pets are allowed.
The Doubletree Resort hotel sits on 28 acres of regional palms and native grasses, and provides free shuttle service to Walt Disney World and Universal theme parks, as well as SeaWorld. It is also located advantageously for business travellers who need easy access to the Orange County Convention Center.
Because of the city’s sprawling design, Orlando car hire is likely to be an attractive option for many travellers. Driving in the city will give you the freedom to go between parks as you please, instead of having to rely on hotel shuttles and taxis.
It will also allow you to check out nearby golf courses and parks at your pleasure.
You can choose from a number of major companies—Budget, Hertz, and Alamo—that will have your car ready for you at Orlando International Airport when you arrive. Just be certain to book in advance to get the make and model you want.
Orlando has a number of reputable 24-hour taxi services that you can hire by calling directly or arranging through your hotel. Rates vary between companies, but expect an average of $3 to begin, and $2.50 for each additional mile.
Flat rates are available to and from the airport and to some major theme parks, and larger groups can hire limousines and luxurious town cars.
The city’s I Ride trolley system was designed for tourist use, with two convenient lines travelling through Orlando’s hotel and shopping hubs and certain theme parks.
Adult fare is $1.25, with kids age 12 and under riding free and seniors over 65 paying $.25. Exact change is required. Two dollars buys a fare on the Bus Lynx #50 between SeaWorld and Downtown Disney.
Many Orlando hotels offer free shuttle services to the region’s major theme parks and destinations.
As an international tourist destination, Orlando is home to a wide variety of restaurants to accommodate every taste. Whether you are looking for haute cuisine or a place to grab a quick bite between roller coasters, you will never be out of options.
Located on downtown Orlando’s main drag, Citrus (821 North Orange) serves fine American cuisine in an elegant ambience. Sample the Duck Tostados or the Blue Crab Cakes as an appetizer while sipping on a signature cocktail. Make sure to save room for one of the restaurant’s famed seafood platters, like Florida Shrimp & Grits or Pomegranate Grazed Salmon.
Watch skilled Teppanyaki chefs prepare your meal at Shogun Japanese Steakhouse (6327 International Drive). Dine on beef and seafood options, or come early for the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet.
At the White Wolf Café (1829 North Orange), diners can munch on healthy, Mediterranean and American-style dishes while admiring the vintage antiques that the restaurant has for sale. Located in the Bohemian district at the end of Orange Avenue, you can check out the more than 30 nearby boutiques after polishing off a Red Chile Salmon Burger or a Zesty Cool Shrimp & Avocado Salad. Vegetarians will be pleased with the meat-free options on the menu.
Conveniently situated in the “Downtown Disney” area, Wolfgang Puck Express is a counter-service restaurant that features delicious pizzas and sandwiches from the international gourmet chain. Outdoor seating and a children’s menu are available.
There are no compulsory vaccinations to visit the United States in general, but boosters for standard vaccinations are recommended for general health and safety. For people planning to stay for extended periods, a Hepatitis B vaccination is recommended as well.
The tap water is fine to drink in Orlando.
Assaults are infrequent in Orlando, but visitors should follow common sense precautions. Do not wander around alone at night, in poorly lit areas, or in neighbourhoods with which you are not familiar. Do not wear flashy jewellery or objects that may draw attention to you, such as MP3 devices or cell phones. Beware of offers from strangers who want to buy you food or a drink.
Another tip is to make a photocopy of all travel identification documents to keep with you in case you lose the originals or they are stolen. You can ask the concierge at your hotel about the potential of storing valuable items in a safe in your room or in the hotel itself.
When driving, make sure to obey the speed limit, as enforcement in the United States is stringent and fines for speeding can be steep.
While the state of Florida experiences frequent hurricanes, Orlando’s location in the central part of the state protects it from the most severe damage. Still, if a hurricane does occur, contact your family or the British Consulate as soon as possible.
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