Orlando, Florida is one of the most visited destinations in the United States, especially for its theme parks. Established in 1875, the once small town was the site of a fort during the Seminole Wars. Now home to Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort, there is no shortage of activities within these parks alone. But the greater Orlando area, which includes Kissimmee, Celebration, St. Cloud, and many other towns, has lots to see as well. A rental car is good to have if you need to get around.
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What to Do
Walt Disney World– There’s no way to visit Orlando without stopping by the “happiest place on earth.” The theme park is made up of four individual parks: the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and the Animal Kingdom. Give yourself plenty of time to explore and get a FastPass on rides that have long wait times. Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando
Universal Orlando Resort– This park has plenty to offer older visitors, especially thrilling roller coasters. They have three parks: Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay, a water park. They also have optional Universal Express pass, which will cut down on wait times, including in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. 6000 Universal Boulevard, Orlando
ICON 360– Take a spin around the East Coast’s largest observation wheel, which soars above downtown Orlando in air-conditioned pods. Grab a cocktail at the bar before boarding, enjoying the 23-minute ride. 8375 International Drive, Orlando
International Drive attractions– On this stretch of road, visitors will find WonderWorks, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and the SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium. These places have discounted and combination tickets available online. International Drive, Orlando
Orlando Tree Trek Adventure Park– Connect with your group on this high ropes course not far from central Orlando. The thrilling zip lines are appropriate for all abilities, including one that spans over 400 feet long. 7625 Sinclair Road, Kissimmee
Gatorland– Established in 1949, this classic Florida attraction is home to dozens of alligators and crocodiles as well as birds and other animals. The park has a zipline course and off-roading adventure. 14501 South Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando
Mennello Museum of American Art– Set on Lake Formosa, this museum started with its permanent collection of paintings by artist Earl Cunningham but now includes additional works of American contemporary art and changing exhibitions. They also have a sculpture garden. 900 East Princeton Street, Orlando
Orlando City Soccer Match– Believe it or not, Orlando has a thriving soccer fan base. Orlando City is the city’s MLS soccer team. The stadium has great food and drink and has great energy during games. 655 W Church Street, Orlando
Where to Eat
Norman’s– Located in the Ritz-Carlton, this restaurant by James Beard finalist chef Norman Van Aken has modern Caribbean cuisine. Menu highlights include pork mole, conch chowder, and Royal Red shrimp ceviche. 4012 Central Florida Parkway, Orlando, (407) 393-4333
Bosphorus Turkish– This authentic Turkish restaurant has four locations around town. They import the best products from Turkey to craft dishes like hummus, pide flatbreads, and kebabs. They’re only open for lunch. 7600 Dr. Phillips Boulevard, Orlando, (407) 352-6766
Ana’s Brazilian Kitchen– Another local favorite, this restaurant serves authentic Brazilian dishes. There are daily specials like feijoada, fried yuca, oxtail, and collard greens. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner. 8865 Commodity Circle #5, Orlando, (407) 760-3240
Jaleo– Chef Jose Andres’ latest restaurant is at Disney Springs, bringing his signature Spanish dishes. The colorful eatery serves dishes like pan con tomate, Iberico ham, and garlic shrimp. Wash it down with a glass of sangria. 1482 Buena Vista Drive, Orlando, (321) 348-3211
The Edison– Also at Disney Springs, this restaurant in a formerly abandoned warehouse has a cool steampunk vibe with craft cocktails and acrobatic performers. Enjoy one of their burgers or massive salads. 1560 East Buena Vista Drive, Lake Buena Vista, (407) 560-9288
ARI– Located in Celebration, this Japanese and Korean restaurant has a little bit of everything. Enjoy traditional and offbeat sushi rolls, bulgogi, and yakisoba noodles. 671 Front Street #100, Celebration, (407) 566-1889
Where to Stay
A note on accommodations: Universal is closer to Orlando proper, while Disney is in Lake Buena Vista, near Kissimmee, so plan your stay accordingly. There are also resorts that have condos as well as traditional hotel rooms. The Orlando International Airport is 30 minutes drive from many of the attractions.
Kapp and Kappy Bed & Breakfast– As Kissimmee’s only bed and breakfast, this 1913 cottage is around 30 minutes from central Orlando. It was WiFi, coffee makers, flat screen televisions, mini fridges, and hearty daily breakfast. 21 North Clyde Avenue, Kissimmee
JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes– The sprawling 500-acre resort is located on the river and boasts an outdoor pool with a lazy river, bike trail, golf course, multiple restaurants, and Ritz-Carlton spa. Rooms and suites feature stylish furnishings, marble bathrooms, and even some with balconies. 4040 Central Florida Pkwy, Orlando
Castle Hotel– This quirky medieval-inspired hotel on International Drive is a part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. It offers boutique-style at a reasonable price with a rooftop bar, free wifi, an outdoor pool, and pet-friendly rooms. 8629 International Drive, Orlando
Gaylord Palms Resort & Spa– The modern resort has great features like a full-service spa, swimming pool, and a fitness center. The massive atrium has Everglades-inspired plant and animal life with a real pond. Some rooms have balconies that open up into it the atrium. 6000 West Osceola Parkway, Kissimmee
Universal’s Hard Rock Hotel– There are some great hotels at Universal Orlando and this Mission-style hotel comes with all the rock star amenities. There are multiple restaurants, poolside cabanas, live music, and guitar rentals. It’s also a short walk from CityWalk. 5800 Universal Boulevard, Orlando
Disney’s Yacht Club Resort– Modeled after a New England-style yacht club, this luxury hotel has a fine dining steakhouse, fitness center, and boardwalk across the water. There are multiple room formats depending on your group size. 1700 Epcot Resorts Boulevard, Orlando
Camping– Believe it or not, camping is an option in Orlando. Disney has the Fort Wilderness campground and Orlando/Kissimmee KOA has the amenities you’d expect from the brand. Wekiwa Springs State Park is also nearby.
Airbnb and Rentals– If you’re traveling with a bigger group, it might make sense to rent a condo close to the parks in Kissimmee. Short term rentals are illegal in Orlando, so make sure the place you’re staying is allowed.
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This post was created with assistance by Experience Kissimmee and through other partnerships.