It’s taken some time, but Orlando, Florida has grown out of its reputation for being the land of magical theme parks. Disney and other theme parks are, deservedly, still a huge draw, but the city has come into its own with cultural offerings, world-class performance art venues, fine dining, classy cocktails, designer shopping, natural beauty and more.
1 Improve Your Handicap
Central Florida is more than just a place for year-round golf; a visit to Orlando can help drastically improve your skills. Take lessons at Annika Academy, where hall-of-gamer Annika Sorenstam offers personal instruction based on her experience as one of the most celebrated female golfers of all time and a suite of high-tech gear to analyze every aspect of your game.
2 State of the Arts
The spanking new Dr. Philips Center for the Performing Arts brings a cultural side to the downtown Orlando scene. Broadway musicals, symphony performances, jazz musicians, avant-garde acts and more build around staples like the Blue Man Group, Cirque du Soliel’s La Nouba and the annual Fringe Festival to solidify Orlando’s emergence as an arts-centric city.
3 Family Fun
Visitors going to Orlando with the entire family will find it easy to secure a place to stay that’ll satisfy all ages and tastes. Have breakfast and dinner with Mickey and friends at Walt Disney World Resort’s Chef Mickey’s restaurant housed in the Contemporary Resort. At the other end of the accommodation spectrum, sophisticates can enjoy a champagne brunch at the downtown Grand Bohemian Hotel. The hotel features a jazz brunch and an extensive collection of original artwork is displayed throughout the hotel’s public spaces.
4 Delectable Dining
Options abound when hunger hits in the City Beautiful. Independent restaurants specializing in fare from gourmet sandwiches to pork belly have added spice to Orlando’s dining scene, and a trip to restaurant row, south of downtown, lets you take in some of the classics, like the Hawaiian fusion cuisine at Roy’s Restaurant, founded by celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi.
5 On the Waterfront
Those looking for natural bodies of water won’t have far to go. Kayakers, canoers and paddleboarders can put in at Shingle Creek or the Wekiva River for some of the area’s best paddle runs surrounded the region’s natural scenery, and maybe an alligator or two. Long chains of lakes in the city and nearby Winter Park offer great paddling and some of the state’s best freshwater fishing. For the saltwater experience, a short drive can take you to the Intracoastal, Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico for a true challenge.
6 Sweet & Sassy
Downtown Orlando’s nightlife has grown up considerably since the rave-heavy days of the 1990s. The cosmopolitan crowds head to the city’s “speakeasies,” like the Courtesy Bar and Hanson’s Shoe Repair to sip gin- and rye-based cocktails (among others) in settings designed after 1920s prohibition-style bars.
7 Adult Themes
Taking a stroll through the Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland or battling with superheroes at Universal Orlando’s two theme parks is a no brainer for those with kids, but Orlando’s theme parks offer plenty of grown-up entertainment. Universal’s over-the-top roller coasters bring in the adrenaline junkies, while Downtown Disney and Universal City Walk offer upscale dining and several spots for fine cocktails. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, now including Diagon Alley, is a must for fans of all ages.
8 Cool Down
Orlando is landlocked, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a nice beach. Sea World’s Aquatica, Disney’s Blizzard Beach and Universal’s retro Cabana Bay Beach Resort offer inland beaches experiences that slope into swimming areas washed by man-made waves. Beat the summer heat by soaking yourself in a lazy river or dropping down sheer waterslides. Aquatica adds dolphins to the mix, which swim around the enclosed slide as you take the plunge.
9 The Wild Side
Get up close with ancient reptiles and creatures from the deep. The jumping, rolling and wrestling alligators at Gatorland have been an Orlando tradition since the park opened as a roadside attraction in 1949. For a more resort-like wildlife experience, Sea World’s Discovery Cove lets you don a dive helmet and walk the bottom of a massive, man-made coral reef with tropical reef fish swimming all around you as you go, in addition to feeding stingrays and swimming with dolphins.
10 Fashion Frenzy
Orlando built its reputation as a shopping destination around its outlet malls, where savvy shoppers go for great deals on brands like Coach and Ralph Lauren. Those looking for the absolute latest fashions can shop boutiques by Prada, Kate Spade and more at the upscale Mall at Millennia and Winter Park’s trendy Park Avenue shops.