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
Accommodations in every price range and convenience can be found in Orlando. There are a lot of hotels located near the various theme parks, but you can also find more reasonably priced accommodations in districts further from the attractions.
Walt Disney World
Walt Disney World alone encompasses more than 20,000 rooms over various themed hotels. These range from comparatively inexpensive, motel-like accommodations at Best Western Lake Buena Vista Hotel & Resort to the massively huge and also massively expensive Disney's Coronado Springs Resort. Both hotels and motels are available inside the park's gates. Affordable options like the Buena Vista Suites, feature extras like a pool and a tennis court. The Doubletree Guest Suites in the Walt Disney World Resort offers large rooms and an on-site movie theater for children. Bryan's Spanish Cove is a deluxe villa that features a waterpark, popular with kids. The Walt Disney World Dolphin offers plenty of extra features, including five pools, a private beach and two gyms to choose from.
There are several hotels located in Kissimmee or nearby. You can find both elegant and luxurious hotels as well as accomediactions for a reasonable rate. A great option is the Marriott's Royal Palms near the Marriott Orlando World Center. Sunterra Getaway at Grand Beachhas a great location by Lake Bryan.
Close by the Universal Studios are a great number of options. DoubleTree Hotel at the Entrance to Universal Orlando is very close to the theme park. Another great option is the Clarion Hotel Universal. The Hard Rock Hotel offers a lot of great features, including a 260-foot slide for the pool.
There are several options in the downtown area, both for business and pleasure travelers. Orlando Marriott Downtown is reasonably priced. Blue Heron Beach Resort has a friendly staff and a nice location.
Around International Drive you'll find luxury options like the Rosen Centre Hotel, and the Hawthorn Suites Orlando - Seaworld. Budget travelers will enjoy the variety of moderately-priced options. Try the Rosen Plaza Hotel, which features comfortable rooms, and an on site club and restaurant. The Nickelodeon Family Suites by Holiday Inn feature themed rooms modeled after different Nickelodeon children's shows. The Marriott's Grande Vista has villa-style rooms convenient for long-term stay visitors.
Orlando is best known for its status as one of America's best theme-park destinations; however many visitors are surprised to find that there's more to the city than Disney.
Walt Disney World
Exploring all that Walt Disney World has to offer takes at least a weekend. With the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, the Animal Kingdom and Cirque du Soleil, plus tons of fantastic restaurants, like Baskerville's, you're sure to be kept entertained.
Orlando Science Center
Visit the Orlando Science Center, which contains several interactive exhibits and a planetarium. The Harry P. Leu Gardens is filled with hundreds of trees and large, lush rose gardens, while the nearby Howell Branch Nature Preserve, a quiet sanctuary for birds, is worth exploring. Admire the architecture of the Calvary Assembly Of God, then grab a burger at 310 Park South.
Visit Universal Studios, with its two parks, and the nearby Citywalk. Also in this area, you'll find SeaWorld, Cypress Gardens and Wet 'n Wild. There are also many good restaurants to choose from, such as the classy Morton's of Chicago.
Orlando Museum of Art
Downtown, the Orlando Museum of Art and the Mennello Museum of American Folk Art both house substantial collections, while the smaller Thomas Kinkade Signature Gallery focuses on work by the famous artist. Admire the architecture at the First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, then enjoy a hearty meal at Harvey's Bistro.
Orange County Regional History Center
Adjacent to the Heritage Square Courtyard is the Orange County Regional History Center, which contains pieces dating as far back as the Seminole Wars. The nearby Lake Eola Park provides picturesque trails. When you're through, walk over to the bustling Wall Street Plaza and dine at the European Globe cafe.
If you want to take a guided tour there are a lot of options. Glide along in an airboat, relax on the deck of a boat, or fly high in a balloon. There are many different ways to see Orlando.
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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.