Orlando, Florida, attracts more than 50 million tourists a year. While many undoubtedly are flocking to the theme parks, there are plenty of other attractions in one of America’s most popular travel destinations.
Some visitors come to Orlando with no intention of setting foot in a theme park. But many more (in fact, millions each year) come for no other reason. Walt Disney World® Resort is made up of several parks: Magic Kingdom® is where one can mingle with Disney characters, see Cinderella’s castle, and ride the legendary Space Mountain. Disney’s Hollywood Studios® is dedicated to show business, from studio back-lot tours to behind-the-scenes information and exhibits on how movies are made, including an area devoted to animation. Disney’s Animal Kingdom® is home to more than 1,700 animals across 250 species that can be seen on guided safaris. Epcot® is divided into two sections—Future World, focusing on technology and innovation; and the World Showcase, depicting the culture and cuisine of almost a dozen countries including Norway, Italy, Japan, Morocco, and France.
SEA THE SIGHTS
SeaWorld is still the home of the world-famous killer whale Shamu and other animals (including dogs, cats, ducks, and even potbellied pigs) that entertain crowds. There are rides galore, as well as behind-the-scenes tours for those who’d like to get more up close and personal with a variety of marine life.
BE A STAR
You may not realize that Universal Studios is actually a working film and TV production studio. But besides that, it’s a full-on theme park with crazy rides and shows that feature characters from The Simpsons, Despicable Me, Transformers, Men in Black, and many more.
INDULGE IN THE ARTS
The Mad Cow Theatre is one of Orlando’s most respected professional theater companies. Productions include classic and contemporary plays and musicals. The world’s most comprehensive collection of the designs of Louis Comfort Tiffany is at the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, in Winter Park. You’ll see jewelry, pottery, stained glass windows and lamps, and even the interior of a chapel that Tiffany designed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The Orange County Regional History Center, an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, has three floors of permanent exhibits that tell the story of how modern Orlando came to be.
FEAST ON FINE CUISINE
The latest from chefs Julie and James Petrakis (who were nominated for a James Beard award) is Cask & Larder, a so-called Southern public house that has beers brewed on-site, home-cured meats, a raw bar, and a Southern fish fry. The artisanal-cocktail trend recently hit Orlando with the opening of Pharmacy, a 1920s-speakeasy-style bar and restaurant. The menu changes depending on the availability of local organic products, and the bitters, sodas, and tonics are all made in-house. An equally tasty experience can be had at 4 Rivers Smokehouse. This Texas-style barbecue restaurant serves up all the expected offerings (burnt ends, brisket, pulled pork) plus loads of sides, in generous portions and at reasonable prices. You can shop for antiques while waiting for your food at White Wolf Café, a local favorite in downtown Orlando’s Ivanhoe Village featuring a great selection of salads, sandwiches, and flat breads.
It may come as a surprise, but there’s plenty of green space in the Orlando area and many ways to see it. Cypress Canopy Cycle, in St. Cloud, offers tours of the Forever Florida Wildlife Conservation Area on reclining bikes suspended 25 feet in the air from a network of steel cables. Or spend 30 minutes to an hour exploring a protected swamp and nature preserve with Wild Florida Airboats, based in Kenansville. Just south of Orlando, Wallaby Ranch lets visitors hang glide 2,000 feet above the ground by means of tandem aerotowing techniques.
Walt Disney World: disneyworld.disney.go.com
SeaWorld: 7007 SeaWorld Dr.; 1.888.800.5447; seaworldparks.com
Universal Studios: 1000 Universal Studios Plaza; 1.877.688.8011; universalorlando.com
Mad Cow Theatre: 54 W. Church St., 2nd fl.; 1.407.297.8788; madcowtheatre.com
Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art: 445 N. Park Ave., Winter Park; 1.407.645.5311; morsemuseum.org
Orange County Regional History Center: 65 E. Central Blvd.; 1.407.836.8500; thehistorycenter.org
Cask & Larder: 565 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park; 1.321.280.4200; caskandlarder.com
Pharmacy: 8060 Via Dellagio Way; 1.407.985.2972; thepharmacyorlando.com
4 Rivers Smokehouse: 1600 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park; 1.407.474.8377; 4rsmokehouse.com
White Wolf Café: 1829 N. Orange Ave.; 1.407.895.9911; whitewolfcafe.com
Cypress Canopy Cycle: 4755 N. Kenansville Rd., St. Cloud; 1.866.854.3837; floridaecosafaris.com
Wild Florida Airboats: 3301 Lake Cypress Rd., Kenansville; 1.407.901.2563; wildfloridaairboats.com
Wallaby Ranch: 1805 Dean Still Rd., Davenport; 1. 863.424.0070; wallaby.com