Once upon a time, Orlando was a small town surrounded by cow pastures and citrus fields. With the development of
Walt Disney World
Walt Disney World is so large that it can be considered its own district. You will find everything from hotels to shopping, restaurants, sports and nightlife within this huge park.
Kissimmee is a nice city along the U.S. 192, which is a long strip of highway along an east-west route from the small but sprawling towns of Kissimmee and St. Cloud to Walt Disney World and beyond. You can find nice discounts in the city as well as interesting attractions, such as
Universal Orlando is fantastic area that includes
features restaurants and a great nightlife.
Yes, there is a downtown Orlando, although few who come to Orlando ever see much of it. Downtown is one of the prettiest parts of the city, blessed with tree-lined neighborhoods, attractive older homes and its fair share of (but not too many) shops, restaurants, lounges and entertainment areas. An excellent meal can be had at
At first glance, Orlando would appear to be the world nucleus of the fast food industry. On seemingly every thoroughfare, in and around every theme park, mall and neon neighborhood, they are there. However there is a lot more than fast food, including fine cuisine and theme restaurants.
Walt Disney World
There are many options within the park to satisfy your appetite. Casual American options include Hemingway's and Pebbles Restaurant, where the Porterhouse is divine, while Italian can be found at Citricos and Mediterranean treats like Braised Lamb are on the menu at Spoodles. Try tropical Polynesian at 'Ohana, and some of the best sushi at Dragon Court, which features an all you can eat option. For something equally as exotic, try Maya Grill, which has contemporary South American dishes on its menu.
Universal Studios' response to Disney's entertainment center is Citywalk, which packs 'em in every night. Sprawling across 30 acres, CityWalk is a lively cluster of dining, shops, cinemas and entertainment options ranging from the popular Hard Rock Cafe/Live. Famed chef Emeril Lagasse's dining spot, Emeril's Orlando, whisks up a roux to create Creole cuisine straight from the Louisiana bayous.Margaritas and "Cheeseburgers in Paradise" pour from the bar and kitchen at singer Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, and everybody gets into the groove at a club called, well, The Groove. Salsa and samba reign at the Latin Quarter, where dance is abetted by food and entertainment from 21 Latin American nations. Racecar fans revel in the Nascar Cafe and basketball fans flock to NBA City to immerse themselves in National Basketball Association memorabilia.
Although not as visited as the amusement parks, downtown Orlando has much to offer those staying in the area. The menu at Lac-Viêt Bistro features colorful Vietnamese cocktails and traditional noodle dishes. Charley's Steak House is among the top ten steakhouses in the country. The Citrus Restaurant is a favorite among locals for its welcoming, friendly atmosphere. Located in a Sheraton hotel lobby, Sixty South Bar & Trattoria is a low-key place to enjoy drinks with friends in the evening. Johnson's Diner specializes in Southern, fried favorites, while the Celt Irish Pub serves delicious pub fare and a wide variety of beer on tap. Don't miss the views of Lake Eola at Spice Modern Steakhouse.
If you're looking for amusement in Orlando, the fun doesn't stop at the parks. Orlando's nights are just as jam-packed as its days. Orlando definitely has something for everyone, from comedy clubs to a Texas two-steppin' rodeo bar with live bull riding, from Polynesian luaus to cartoon character dinners. Families can check out fireworks and parades, themed dining events and high-stepping Lippizaner stallions. Music-wise, local and national talent runs the gamut from rock 'n roll, disco and blues to jazz, country and DJ music.
A host of entertainment spots have grown up around the attraction and now line Church Street and Orange Avenue. Topping the list is Ybor's Martini Bar. For an laid-back International Drive diversion, Cricketers Arms features 15 imported beers and four hand-drawn ales, and is tucked into cobble-stoned streetscapes, amid 75 shops and restaurants. There's still more to be found on International Drive: Pointe Orlando is an entertainment complex featuring an IMAX 3-D theater, a 21-screen movie complex, outdoor entertainment and 70 shops, decked out with the unmistakable landmarks of its huge concrete teddy bear and Barbie's pink shoes.
There are obvious entertainment diversions to be found at the massive Walt Disney World and equally-impressive Universal Studios Florida. There are rides, restaurants and shopping abound in these two places. It's enough to keep you entertained for the whole weekend, if not longer.
SeaWorld was one of the very first amusement parks opened in Florida. Beyond the rides, it offers an educational look at marine life. Navigate through the swamps and trails at Gatorland, where visitors get the chance to get up close and personal with the alligators themselves. There's even a waterpark on-site for smaller children. Wet 'n Wild is a great place to stop to cool off and have some fun. One of the tallest slides stretches up 300 feet, giving visitors a real thrill.
Downtown Disney Marketplace, a cluster of restaurants are joined by a host of shops and a games center filled with virtual reality machines and video challenges, plus lots of purveyors of Disney memorabilia. Pointe Orlando is a large shopping mall where you can find several stores, restaurants and entertainment options. The Mercado offers gifts from around the world. You'll also find smaller boutiques, such as Bijou's Boutique, selling stylish, unique creations.
Unquestionably, the entertainment crown of Downtown Disney is the massive circular theater that houses Cirque du Soleil - La Nouba, a fantastic show that gives a whole new meaning to the circus concept. A study in color, lighting and special effects, Cirque du Soleil is imaginative, graceful, death-defying and awe-inspiring. The Central Florida Ballet company performs at various venues throughout the year. Contemporary drama can be found at the UCF Student Resource Center Auditorium, where the drama company is known for its provocative selection of plays. The Ormond Beach Performing Arts Center is a community theater dedicated to bringing quality live theater to the Central Florida area.
Florida's history stretches back to the 1500s. On Easter Day in 1513, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon came ashore at what is now St. Augustine in the northeast corner of the state. What Ponce de Leon and the early settlers found in the Sunshine State—mosquitoes, swamps and native tribes with little interest in sharing the land—was sufficiently daunting to discourage the growth of other settlements.
As so often happened in the Americas, the Seminoles who settled in Florida weren't thrilled with the bands of newcomers. In the early 1800s, the Seminoles fought two bitter wars to retain their land. When the second of those ended in 1842, Orlando's history began. Settlers followed soldiers into Central Florida, and a settlement grew around an old Army post known as Fort Gatlin, located at what is now Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando. Originally named Jernigan after an early settler, Orlando changed its name in 1857 to honor soldier Orlando Reeves, who, while on sentinel duty at the fort, was felled in 1835 by an Indian arrow as he raced to warn of an oncoming raid. .
In Orlando's early days, the three C's drove commerce in the city: cattle, cotton and citrus. As Cuban demand for Florida beef grew, cattle ranches spread across the flatlands, cattle rustlers fought gunfights in the streets, and little Orlando became a rough-and-tumble town.
Soon, tired settlers turned to cotton, a considerably less threatening crop, and the town became the center of a thriving cotton industry. When the U.S. Civil War began, however, workers moved away to pick cotton throughout the South to replace soldiers away at war.
Until air conditioning was invented life in the Sunshine State was no picnic. Summer heat, sandy soil and sporadic torrential rainfall made for tough living, but it also proved to be the perfect conditions for citrus crops. Orange, grapefruit, tangerines and limes all thrived in the sandy soil. By 1870, orange fever had struck Central Florida, and the citrus industry grew rapidly.
When Henry Flagler and, later, Henry Plante pounded spikes into railroad tracks that extended down the east and west coasts of Florida, orange fever reached its peak. Although stymied for a decade or so by the Great Freeze of 1894-1895, which destroyed nearly all the citrus crop in the region, by the 1950s Florida had more than 80,000 acres of citrus trees spread across the flatlands and rolling hills, stretching to the horizon.
Orlando's fascination with entertainment stretches as far back as 1895. Proving that it really is possible for a little creative thinking to turn lemons into lemonade, (or, oranges into orange juice) citrus grower John B. Steinmentz watched the freeze turn his crop into worthless mush and started working on a comeback. He turned his packing house into a skating rink, set up some picnic tables and a bathhouse, and built a toboggan slide that whooshed visitors into a cool spring. Voila—Orlando's first entertainment center!
Central Florida acquired electricity in 1900, then telephones and, in 1903, cars that chugged around at the terrifying speed of 5 mph. In 1922, the first airport opened as a cargo center; in 1928, the Orlando Municipal Airport opened. Today, that facility is the Orlando International Airport, welcoming hundreds of thousands of travelers each year.
A major economic force in the region, the Martin Marietta missile factory—now known as Lockheed Martin—arrived in 1922 with its facilities spread over 10.6 miles of Central Florida and staffed with thousands (it's the area's largest employer).
But 1971 was the seminal year in Orlando. After looking at many Florida sites, including Miami, Walt Disney and company decided that the vast acreage and accommodating local leaders were just what they needed to build the company's first theme park outside California. Thus was born Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, which welcomed its first visitors in 1971.
As the Mouse's fame grew, others saw the possibilities inherent in thousands of tourists. SeaWorld was the next to arrive, bringing whales and its leaping dolphins to Orlando in 1973. That touched off a flurry of other new attractions as the visitor numbers grew each year.
In 1990, Universal Studios arrived to add still more competition, more visitors and more entertainment. In 1999, it grew again with the addition of Islands of Adventure, featuring a host of thrill rides guaranteed to knock your socks off. Meanwhile, Orlando just keeps on growing, there are over 90 attractions, 3,800 restaurants and 99,000 rooms, topping 100,000 even as you read this.
You will still see citrus groves, although many have been usurped by sprawling housing developments. A host of other entertainment facilities and high-tech industries continue to play a major role in the region's economy, but it is tourism that is the pile-driving force of Orlando's finances, contributing more than USD17 billion to the economy annually. Today's Orlando is unquestionably the epicenter of the state's tourism industry, a place where billions of dollars change hands every day amid a fantasy land of neon and nightlife.