Orlando: 10 Reasons to Go

 

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. 

Orlando Golf

The central Florida area is home to more than 100 golf courses, including everything from novice-friendly fairways to some of the nation’s top-ranked and most challenging courses. Photo: iStock

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.

Orlando Disney

If you love a parade, Orlando’s theme parks are the place to be. Disney is best known for staging elaborate daily processions, but other parks also get in on the action. Photo: Andres Balcazar/iStock

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.

Orlando Kayaking

Central Florida still has a wild side, with a number of scenic lakes and wooded rivers awaiting exploration. Kayaks and canoes are favorite choices for viewing wildlife. Photo: Sherry Yates/iStock

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.

Universal Studios

The iconic logo of Universal Studios greets park visitors. This movie and TV-themed attraction combines rides with a chance to go behind the scenes of favorite shows. Photo: Andres Balcazar/iStock

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.

Dolphin, Seaworld

At the Sea World theme park, visitors can get up close and personal with a range of marine animals, and enjoy immersive programs such as swims with tropical fish and dolphins. Photo: iStock

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.

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