Home of Mickey Mouse, Goofy and now Cars too, it’s hard to believe that Walt Disney World first opened its golden gates some 40 years ago. After the Magic Kingdom’s unveiling back in 1971, an upsurge in development soon followed, bringing with it additional theme parks, a slew of smaller attractions basking on the Disney bandwagon, and of course, chains of world-class hotels, top-notch restaurants and premier shopping venues.
When to visit Orlando?
You could argue that there really is no off season in Orlando, however depending on your preferences, there are periods to avoid. Obviously, an Orlando holiday, and especially a Disney holiday, is most enjoyed when the crowds are at their slimmest and the weather is moderate, rather than boiling. Screaming, over-heated, sugared-up, out-of-control brats = ingredients of a holiday from hell.
The busiest seasons are of course, whenever kids are out of school, but late May, long holiday weekends, winter holidays (mid-Dec to early Jan), and most especially America’s spring break (late Mar to Apr) are also very busy. Hotel rooms are also priced lower during the off season, though albeit it only slightly. Your best bet is to book during the 6 weeks before and after school spring holiday in the US (which generally occur around Easter). DO NOT VISIT DURING! Another word of caution – the several weeks in May and then again in September are the dreaded “love bug” seasons in Florida, when small insects emerge, who enjoy nothing more than committing suicide in your children’s ice-creams.
Firstly, we must stress – it’s impossible to be short of things to do in Orlando. With four major theme parks, two water parks, and an enormous entertainment district, to call it ‘action-packed’ would be an understatement. If the Mouse’s House is not enough, there’s always Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure (the latter of which is home to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter), as well as Universal’s nightclub/restaurant district, CityWalk. For some laid-back aquatic thrills, why not visit the eco-adventure parks at SeaWorld, Discovery Cove, and Aquatica? Or Gatorland, a throwback attraction, where you can take in the beauty of the natural surroundings at a leisurely pace, away from the hustle and bustle of Disney. With so much to see and do, you’ll be spoilt for choice – here’s our favourite picks to help you decide:
Animal Kingdom | The only place in the world where you can hike through African jungle, set out on safari across the savannah, journey through the exotic lands of Asia, explore the mysteries of Anandapur and take an expedition to the peaks of Everest – all in one day. Oh, and don’t forget to see Finding Nemo and Lion King while you’re at it.
Epcot | One for the adventurer in you; at Epcot, you can travel around the world in an afternoon at the World Showcase pavilions, rocket through space on board a mission to Mars, travel back in time to the age of the dinosaurs at the Universe of Energy, and explore an underwater world at the Seas with Nemo & Friends. Finish your day off watching Epcot’s IllumiNations, a spectacular show of fireworks, laser lights, and fountains – perfection.
Hollywood Studios | Although in general, Hollywood Studios is a more grown-up activity, than say the Magic Kingdom, there are still plenty of excellent shows to entertain young children – there’s Toy Story Mania, the American Idol Experience, Star Tours, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, and Fantasmic! – an innovative, after-dark mix of live action, waterworks, fireworks, and laser lights that rivals IllumiNations.
Universal Orlando | Universal Studios Florida and its sister, Islands of Adventure, are brimming with thrilling rides and shows that combine cutting-edge technology, high-tech special effects, and huge amounts of imagination and creativity. Visitors can check out the street sets at Universal Studios and the unique landscapes of Islands of Adventure (including the Wizarding World of Harry Potter), as well as a series of not-to-be-missed attractions, including Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, Revenge of the Mummy, Men in Black Alien Attack, the Dragon Challenge, the Forbidden Journey, the Incredible Hulk Coaster, the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, and Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls.
SeaWorld | Here your children can combine fun with learning as they explore their way through this theme parks’ eco-exhibits and experiences. SeaWorld’s hands-on encounters, such as touching silky rays as they glide by you in droves, and up-close views of animals ranging from polar bears and penguins to killer whales, are an attraction to remember.
Where should I shop in Orlando?
Exclusive malls such as the Mall at Millenia feature a startling selection of designer boutiques, while open-air outlets such as the Premium Outlets at Vineland and at International Drive are architecturally inviting. However, if you don’t want to blow the blank, stay away from the many theme-park shops, which are frequently overpriced.
With heaps of celebrity chefs, tons of themed restaurants and kids-eat-free offers almost everywhere you go – dining out in Orlando is half of the fun. At Ocean Prime, located along the famed Restaurant Row on Sand Lake Rd., parents can sit back with a signature martini, the cool sounds of Sinatra and a melt-in-your-mouth filet steak. Over at at Universal’s Royal Pacific, the exotic Asian-inspired surroundings of Emeril’s Tchoup Chop should whet your appetite. Universal’s CityWalk offers some excellent lounge bars for those travelling without children, including Latin Quarter, Red Coconut Club, and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, while the lounges at Disney, such as Rix and the Outer Rim, and those as far out as downtown Orlando’s Wall Street and Church Street Station are a inviting places to hang out after hours. If you plan on taking the kids, comedy clubs such as Fat Fish Blue, Sak Comedy Club and Sleuths Mystery Dinner Show will have you in stitches night.