Photo Courtesy of Davidlohr Bueso
With nearly perfect weather, it's little wonder Orlando is nicknamed “The City Beautiful.” It's also perfect for whatever type of vacation you want: active, relaxing, or in between. Get outside and enjoy the city's natural playground—surfing off sandy beaches, birding in state parks, kayaking throug…h winding waterways, or tubing the springs—or go thrill-seeking at an amusement park. Venture to Winter Park and Thornton Park, where locals eat and drink, or treat yourself to shopping and down-time at one of the city's luxurious, family-friendly resorts.
What to know before you go to Orlando
Yes, Orlando really does have a theme park for every day of the week. It also has one for nearly every interest. What’s your (or your little one’s) fancy? If it’s all about the magic, seek out the iconic mouse and his fairytale friends. For hold-your-hands-high, roaring-fast roller coasters, it’s hard to trump Universal Studios Orlando or Islands of Adventure. Want to relive the joys of being a kid? The new LEGOLAND Florida surrounds you with larger-than-life toys. Prefer an adventure that's closer to nature? Gasp at gator feedings at Gatorland, where you can zip-line over hundreds of gators.
Orlando's year-round sunshine and its many natural attractions make it an ideal place to get outdoors and get active. Swim in cool freshwater springs. Take a leisurely boat ride on lakes and canals fringed by moss-covered oak trees. Paddle through picturesque, hidden backcountry waterways. Experience miles of natural beaches, lagoons, rivers, and mangrove forests teeming with wildlife. Nature lovers and birders can visit several parks and refuges on the Great Florida Birding Trail. Don’t forget, the subtropical climate calls for a few necessities: sunscreen, a hat, bug repellent, sunglasses, and water.
Orlando's culturally diverse population brings flavors from around the globe to satisfy every craving. You can find dozens of types of cuisine here, from Brazilian to Mexican to Southern. Several restaurant districts stand out, including swanky Restaurant Row near International Drive, the foodie neighborhood of Winter Park, and the hopping entertainment district of Universal CityWalk. Thirsty? Check out the many boutique wine bars and neighborhood pubs downtown, where a craft beer scene features locally brewed and flavored ales, lagers, and porters. The growing number of chef-driven restaurants, breweries, and bars, as well as farmers' markets and food trucks, are putting Orlando on the map as a place to eat and drink.
Maybe it's the weather that makes little in Orlando feel formal. Despite the fact that the city is home to professional ballet companies, film festivals, and the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, locals tend to be casual. A big part of the city's culture involves outdoor recreation and simple pleasures, such as al fresco dining, picnics in the park, and biking on urban trails. There's a neighborhood feel, with oak-lined streets and lots of lakes and springs, and while the state's Southern roots show here, they're happily tangled with diverse cultural influences.
Orlando is a popular destination year-round, though peak times are June to August when the kids are off school, as well as March and April. The weather June through September is steamy, with afternoon showers common. October through May is warm and dry, with some cool spells. Note that many of the famous theme parks are outside the city itself. Most people arrive via Orlando International Airport. Rental cars or cabs are best for getting around. Major roads tourists should know are Interstate 4, International Drive, and toll road State Road 528.
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Terry Ward has been a freelance travel writer since 2001, when she quit her job at an advertising agency to travel the world. She is based in Florida but has lived in France, Germany, Morocco, Australia, and New Zealand over the years. She speaks Spanish and French, enjoys scuba diving, and has sailed aboard a small boat to the Arctic Island of Svalbard from mainland Norway.