Offering world-famous theme parks, supersized shopping malls, and great golfing greens, holidays to Orlando give you a taste of the American dream.
Orlando is the undisputed theme park capital of the world. More than 50,000 acres of turf in the region are covered by amusement parks, and the lion’s share is owned by famous names like Universal and Disney. There are more roller coasters out here than there are days in the month. On the whitest knuckle rides you get launched from 0 to 40 miles per hour in 2 seconds and become inverted 5 times at 50 miles-per-hour. There’s plenty for families, too – killer whale shows and tours of Cinderella Castle are just the start of the story.
Tills and tees
There’s more to Orlando than rollercoasters and rides. You could spend an entire week just shopping and restaurant-surfing here. International Drive alone is home to more than 500 different stores and 150 bars and restaurants. There’s enough golf around Orlando to keep you busy 24-7, too. There are at least 1,000 different greens in the region and many of them, like Celebration Golf Course, near Kissimmee, and Hawkes Landing, near Lake Buena Vista, are fit for the pros.
On top of all that, Orlando is just an hour’s drive from a coastline that slinks down Florida’s east coast for almost 500 miles. The state’s beaches don’t do things by halves, either. At Cocoa Beach and Daytona Beach, there are watersports and beach bars on tap.
Finally, the Everglades are the natural yin to the man-made yang of Orlando’s theme parks. The unspoilt wetlands and mangroves here spread out for more than 1.5 million acres, and they’re home to rare species of animal, like the American crocodile and the Florida panther.
Upgrade your car with Alamo car hire
With so much to do and see in Orlando, the best way to get everything on your wish list done is by car. A smooth ride ensures you get prime spots on all the top theme park rides and beaches. To get you on the road, Alamo offer a wide range of vehicles upgrades to suit your holiday, from SUVs to convertibles and from 8 to 15-seater vans. Look for the upgrade options when you book online or ask your Travel Advisor for details.
Things to See and Do in Orlando
A tale of 2 coasts
Land-locked Orlando is around 40 miles from Florida’s Atlantic coast and 80 miles from the Gulf coast, so it takes at least an hour to get to a beach. But the strips of sand in this part of the world make the journey worth your while. To the east of Orlando, you’ve got Cocoa and Daytona Beach, where the sands roll out as far as the eye can see. To the west, there’s Clearwater and St Pete Beach, where the facilities lists fall into the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink categories.
The big beach
Daytona Beach is a supersized strip of sand. It’s 23 miles long and hotel-linen white. If you’ve hired a car for the day, this beach rewards drivers with a car parking space on dedicated parts of the sand. From mid-May to the end of October, there’s an extra incentive to visit. These months are sea turtle season in Daytona and they see hundreds of endangered turtles shuffling ashore to lay their eggs in the sand.
The secret beach
In an area that attracts millions of tourists a year, it’s hard to keep secrets. Somehow, Ormond Beach has found a way to fly just under the radar. That’s not to say it’s deserted, but tourists often overlook it in favour of its more famous neighbour, Daytona Beach. It takes just over an hour to get to this sweep of blonde sand from Orlando, but once you’re here, you’ll want for nothing. There are watersports on tap and plenty of grills and bars within walking distance of the sand.
When it comes to designer labels, Orlando’s shops put more than their two cents in. Head to The Mall at Millenia on Conroy Road to find labels like Gucci and Tiffany and Co, or make your way to Pointe Orlando on International Drive to browse the rails at Armani. If you’d rather dress your home than yourself, try Lanier’s Historic Market Place on Broadway, Kissimmee. This 18,000 square foot showroom is crammed with antiques.
Orlando is shopaholic country. Festival Bay Mall alone features 900,000 square foot of shopping space. If it’s high street brands you’re after, head to Florida Mall on the Orange Blossom Trail. Macy’s department store, Abercrombie and Fitch, and Oakley are just a few of more than a hundred big-name brands here. If you can’t tear yourself from Orlando’s theme parks, you can shop on site. At the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World Resort there’s a list of shopping opportunities as long as your arm. Try the Agrabaar Bazaar in Adventureland or Big Al’s in Frontierland for all types of Disney-themed merchandise
You can buy designer labels and come away with change in Orlando. At Premium Outlets on Vineland Avenue, 15 minutes from International Drive, you can pick up Calvin Klein, Burberry, Prada and Robert Cavalli for a fraction of the recommended retail price. There’s a big village of outlet stores at S Apopka Vineland Road, in Lake Buena Vista, too. The stores include Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, Nine West and Crocs.
Family fun is served up in big portions in the Orlando area. Universal City Walk alone offers 30 acres of entertainment. The complex is home to the largest Hard Rock Café in the world, it’s got a 20-screen IMAX, and it’s full of theatres where you can watch cutting-edge shows like the Blue Man Group. Downtown Disney offers a similar selection of things to see and do – one of the highlights is the Cirque du Soleil show. If you want a quiet night in Kissimmee, take the family to the Old Town entertainment complex. It’s a one-stop-shop for amusements, restaurants and live music bars.
The list of bars and clubs in the Orlando area reads like a register. International Drive is a great starting point. There are hundreds of options here, including an ice bar and a comedy club. Away from this nightlife nucleus, Church Street in Orlando city centre is home to a club designed by Paris Hilton and a bar that specialises in frozen cocktails, and Pine Street is a hot spot for dance clubs.
Florida stone crab
You need all hands on deck to eat Florida stone crab, which is found in the western North Atlantic. The cooked claws of the crab are served with a mallet, which you use to bash open the shells. Once you’ve extracted the meat, it’s customary to dunk it into a side of mustard sauce.
This robust soup rivals a Picasso painting in terms of colour. It’s made with tomatoes, peppers, carrots, limes, parsley, white wine and conch meat, and the end result is a bright apricot colour. Some restaurants increase the heat of the dish by adding chilli flakes.
Key lime pie
Golf ball-shaped Key limes grow all over the Florida Keys. These fruits are more tart and aromatic than the Persian limes you get in your gin and tonics. To make a Key lime pie, the juice is combined with cream and milk and the mixture is spread over a sweet biscuit base.
This sticky syrup is produced in Florida’s panhandle. The amber-coloured honey is made by bees, which collect the nectar from the tupelo tree. Tupelo honey is ambidextrous when it comes to culinary uses. It can be simply spread on toast, used as a sauce for chicken wings, or baked into cakes.
Orange juice became the official state beverage of Florida in 1967. Florida provides 80 per cent of America’s orange juice, and the country is second only to Brazil in the amount of the zesty stuff it produces every year. The brand Florida’s Natural carries particular weight in the industry, because it only uses oranges grown in Florida.
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Walt Disney World Resort
Stretched out across the heart of sun-drenched Florida, Walt Disney World Resort is the world’s most popular entertainment resort. You get 4 huge theme parks, 2 thrilling waterparks, back-to-back shows and performances, plus masses of themed restaurants, bars, shops and hotels. And it’s all delivered with that trademark Disney magic.
If International Drive had a motto, it would have to be, ‘bigger is better’. This massive tourist corridor, known to locals as I-Drive, runs for 23-kilometres along the western edge of Orlando. It’s not just a gateway to all of Florida’s biggest theme parks, but a bone fide destination in its own right, with enough shops, restaurants, bars and theatres to fill a telephone directory.
Kissimmee is a small town in the heart of Florida with a big personality. On its doorstep are Orlando’s biggest theme parks – Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando. But when you need to put your feet back on the ground, Kissimmee’s old-fashioned ways are the perfect antidote.
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