More than 68 million annual travelers come from around the world to visit Orlando, Florida. Simply put, it’s the most visited tourist destination in the United States. Orlando’s best-known attractions are its seven major theme parks. But Orlando’s MLS soccer and NBA sports franchises, and top-rated golf courses with nationally-known tournaments, also have their devotees.
The Orlando area works hard to attract tourists. Theme parks frequently add features to their attractions, while the Central Florida area increases dining and shopping opportunities. Orlando’s 450-plus hotels (with almost 120,000 guest rooms), an estimated 20,000 vacation home rentals and 22,000 vacation ownership properties stand ready to accommodate visitors.
Orlando provides most everything most families want for their big, once-a-year vacation. Although many visitors are full-on theme park denizens, others soak up sun at hotel pools or relax at a luxury spa.
Shopping is a major Orlando attraction. Head to the upscale The Mall at Millenia, outlet stores on International Drive or at Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets, or upscale Park Avenue shopping in nearby Winter Park.
Or visit an isolated beach at Canaveral National Seashore or the nearby Kennedy Space Center in Titusville. Almost every day is a good weather day for golf on a public course or if you’re staying at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Lodge.
Sports fans should check out the spring/summer schedule of the incredibly popular MLS Orlando City Soccer, and the winter/spring games of the NBA Orlando Magic and Orlando Solar Bears (a professional ice hockey team). Canoeing, hiking, fishing and zip-lining and many other activities are available in Central Florida. But the theme parks tend to eclipse them all.
The largest and most famous Orlando theme park is Walt Disney World Resort, which, with the opening of the Magic Kingdom theme park in 1971, forever changed Orlando from a sleepy agricultural and ranching area to the tourist Mecca of today. It’s added more parks since: Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom and two water parks. Disney makes it easy for guests by providing Magic Express buses between parks and Disney hotels. A bus and monorail system moves people easily without need of a rental car.
Disney can’t, though, entice families with older children and teens away from the record-breaking Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando Resort. Universal’s two theme parks, Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, also have the fastest, most adrenaline-pounding thrill rides. CityWalk features more than a dozen restaurants and clubs clustered conveniently near Universal’s main entrance. CityWalk has no theme park admission fee. Popular with locals as well as visitors, CityWalk is a favorite stop for nighttime entertainment.
9 Things to Do At Disney World After Dark … fun beyond the fireworks
Christmas in Orlando Comes But Once a Year … what to see, when to see it, over eight weeks
Day Trip to Cocoa Beach: Take a Break from Vacation … shuffle your feet in the waves and dream of Jeannie
Snap on a Day Trip to LEGOLAND Florida … built with 3-10 year olds in mind
What’s New at Disney Springs at Walt Disney World … expanded shopping, dining and entertainment
International Drive Bars and Clubs … a nightly party for those in the know
Orlando for First-Time Families … navigating transportation, tickets and dining options
Orlando on a Rainy Day? No worries. …
Orlando’s Top Rated Water Parks …
The Best of Universal Orlando in 72 Hours …
What’s New for Orlando Attractions … there’s always something new in store
For many families, visiting Orlando is determined by when their children are out of school. Those times normally are Christmas and spring and summer breaks. Those are the best and worst of times to vacation in Orlando. Weather is usually better at Christmas and during the spring months. Summer is hotter and wetter. Since many children have the same schedules, all three periods are the busiest times for theme parks. Theme park ticket prices vary according to season, at their most expensive when theme parks are crowded.
Those who can visit whenever they wish should do what the locals do. Avoid the peak vacation times and enjoy the theme parks when fewer visitors are present. Furthermore, hotel prices usually drop substantially outside of peak travel seasons.
Off-season months start with September, which may be uncomfortably hot and tropical storms could crop up. It may be better to visit between November and December 15, from mid- January until the beginning of Spring Break or the month of May until just before Memorial Day weekend.
Except for Florida residents who can drive to Orlando for a weekend stay, almost every visitor stays for at least a week. Even that is not long enough to begin to see it all, one reason why Orlando has so many repeat visitors. Europeans who often stay for several weeks often prefer vacation home rentals to resorts.
In Florida, the hotel high (peak) season is from December 15 to April 15. Hotel rates are also tend to increase during the summer peak period and at Thanksgiving. Theme park hotel rates may fall dramatically during the low season.
High seasons for Orlando theme parks are based on school vacation breaks throughout the year. One-day theme park tickets are as much as 20% higher during peak vacation seasons: Spring Break and Easter; the end of May through July; and at Thanksgiving and Christmas-New Year. One-day ticket prices are reduced to regular rates the rest of the year except for about a month in late summer/early fall when tickets fall into the value price range.
For now, multi-day theme park ticket prices are not seasonally based.
The dry season normally starts in December and lasts until May, although May can be fairly dry. The rain does not stop during the so-called dry season but it happens less often, only an average of six days of rain each month. During the rest of the year, the rain average is about 14 days a month. Some of the rainfall consists of light, scattered showers. In summer, afternoon showers and thunderstorms are common. Orlando’s wettest period, lasts from August to November 1 during hurricane season. However, tropical fronts can pop up as early as June and as late as November.
Orlando’s coolest period occurs January through March when daytime temperatures average in the 60s and 70s. During cold snaps, temps sometimes can drop into the 50’s during the day and into the 30’s at night. In summer, expect daytime temperatures to be in the 90s from June through August and possibly September. See Orlando Temperatures and Rainfall by Month.
More important than daytime temperature is relative humidity, the amount of water vapor in the air. High humidity is responsible for the oppressive, muggy feeling on a hot Florida day. Sweating is the body’s attempt to keep cool but the process does not work well when the air is filled with water vapor. When the air temperature is 85 degrees and the relative humidity is at 88% on an 85-degree day, it feels like 100F.
When the relative humidity is 91% and the temperature is 90 degrees, the heat index (amount of discomfort the human body feels) climbs to 122F. Fortunately, the highest humidity occurs during the morning before the sun grows its hottest. You can gauge a day’s heat index yourself. No wonder Orlando TV weathermen always emphasize relative humidity in their forecasts.
Always remember, nothing about Orlando weather is a given. It can rain frequently during the dry season. Spring months sometimes are as hot as early summer. Summer always feels the same, hot and humid.
Every theme park has special events throughout the year, particularly around Christmas and other holidays. Check their websites for their annual schedules. Daily Orlando events can be found at Visit Orlando.
January (1st): New Year’s Day
January (third Monday): Martin Luther King Day
February (third Monday): Washington’s Birthday
May (last Monday): Memorial Day
July (4th): Independence Day
September (first Monday): Labor Day
October (second Monday): Columbus Day (aka Native American Day)
November (11th): Veteran’s Day
November (fourth Thursday): Thanksgiving Day
December (25th): Christmas
Orlando is in the Eastern Time Zone (UTC-05:00). Daylight saving time is from early March to November 1. However, the dates for daylight saving time can vary from year to year.
Bring a rain jacket or travel poncho and small umbrella, a broad-spectrum sunblock of SPF 15 or SPF 30; polarized sunglasses to reduce glare; a broad-brimmed hat (not a baseball cap) for added sun protection; water bottles; small backpack; sneakers and comfortable socks; bathing suits and flip-flops; slacks, long sleeve shirts and light jacket for winter months.
To fit in comfortably, culturally and climate-wise, dress in comfortable clothes. Casual dress is Orlando’s daytime norm. Shorts, sandals and a collared or t-shirt are acceptable in many places, including theme parks. Some restaurants, however, forbid sandals, shorts and t-shirts in the evening. Bring a dress or slacks and collared shirt for restaurants in the evening.
Some clubs and bars have dress codes that require smart casual.
Theme Park Child Abuse
One situation seen quite frequently is crying babies in strollers and tired, complaining toddlers. These are reasonable reactions from hot, exhausted youngsters. Some parents react so loudly and sometimes violently to their crying child it makes you wonder if they also abuse them at home. The long lines, heat and stress apparently make some adults forget they are on a “family vacation.” Parents sometimes cajole their youngster onto the parent’s favorite ride when the child simply wants to leave.
Most theme parks require a good deal of walking and children of three or four can only do so much, perhaps a half day at most. Parents with younger children would be wise to wait until a child is at least three or four years old before visiting any of the big Orlando theme parks. Best theme park suited for young children is Legoland Florida.
How much visiting Orlando costs depends largely upon when you visit, where you stay and where you dine. How much does a week-long Orlando theme park vacation cost? For a family of four, expenses average from $2,500 to $5,000 depending on how upscale they choose to be.
The least expensive times to visit Orlando are when visitors are fewest: October through mid-December and in May during the weeks just before Memorial Day weekend. The last two weeks in January sometimes are a bargain. It all depends on what events are scheduled.
With more than 450 area hotels, it all comes down to location, budget and whether you have a rental car. There are hotels for every budget, from inexpensive chain hotels around $100 a night to luxury time share rentals world class properties like the Ritz Carlton costing considerably more. The Orlando Visitor’s Bureau highlights almost 200 options. Vacation Homes are ideal for those staying for an extended period.
Those not staying in a theme park hotel should these areas the most convenient to the attractions.
International Drive is a popular hotel strip because it is convenient to most of the theme parks. Moreover, many hotels offer a free shuttle to the theme parks which allows visitors to avoid the theme park traffic and theme park daily parking fees. These hotels are more basic than theme park hotels but many families find they spend little time in their rooms and the convenience of a wide range of restaurants—including the world’s biggest McDonalds—satisfies everyone. Universal Orlando Resort also is close by.
Lake Buena Vista hotels are closest to Disney World. Those in the area known as the Disney Main Gate are not on Disney property or Disney hotels. Disney Main Gate includes a large territory, including Kissimmee and Celebration. A rental car is a necessity.
Orlando also has a thriving upscale/luxury market, yet even the Waldorf-Astoria, Ritz Carlton and other luxury hotels typically feature specials when visitors are scarce. No hotel likes empty rooms. Never overlook the possibility to travel first class.
Compare prices on the big hotel aggregate websites. Call the hotel 800 number and its local number to compare rates. Either the national or local hotel representative could offer a better promotional discount. And do not forget that AAA, CAA, AARP and other association members often receive hotel discounts as high as 10% to 15%.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in $US.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person
$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $200 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double
$ => $1-15 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$ => $16-40 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $41 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$ => Tickets $26 per person
With more than 40 airlines flying into Orlando, the chances of finding reasonably priced flights are excellent if you compare fares from all the airports you can depart from, not just the nearest one. The more traffic at an airport, the greater the competition. Check the fares on airline websites since some online booking services do not include every airline. Southwest (largest carrier at MCO) and JetBlue are known for their competitive prices. Delta is the second largest carrier. Allegiant Air flying into Orlando Sanford International Airport has exceptionally good prices.
Airfares are a fickle thing, always changing. The lowest fares tend to appear on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. Use sites like One Travel and Momondo that display prices for multiple airlines. Sign up for notifications from Kayak and Airfare Watchdog to email you when airfares drop.
Never overlook an airline’s website. Some of their best deals show up there and nowhere else. Many airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts.
With 60 million visitors a year, Orlando may be the world’s largest rental-car market. Auto rental is one of Orlando’s best bargains. Compact vehicles may cost as little as $11 to $12 a day. For air travelers, the most convenient place to rent is at Orlando International Airport, where many of the large car rental companies are present. However, convenience comes with added cost: extra taxes and airport fees which increase the rental cost noticeably.
It is not necessary to rent at the airport. There are numerous rental companies providing a shuttle bus to their off-airport locations. Compare those prices to those operating inside the terminal. Check Expedia, Hotwire and other sites that compare prices.
Money Saving Tip: Members of Costco, BJ’s and Sam’s Club often receive significant rental discounts. Budget Car Rental offers drivers residing at the same address (i.e. unmarried partners, BFFs and spouses) complimentary extra driver coverage. Other car rental companies charge upwards of $10/day.
When renting a vehicle, never take possession of it at night or in a poorly lit area. Otherwise, you may not be able to notice all the dings and dents on the vehicle. Do not accept the company’s “assessment” of the car. Take time to walk slowly around it; inspect the top and underneath for damage. Make notes of what you find. Photograph even the slightest damage, including the tires and hubcaps. If you fail to inspect the rental thoroughly, you may drive away and never notice a scratch or dent until later. You are responsible for repair costs of pre-existing damage not cited in the rental agreement,
Beware Airport/Rental Car Gas Gouging
This scam is aimed at those returning a rental car who wait to refill the gas tank close to the airport. It is no secret that some gas stations near Orlando International charge $1 or $2 more per gallon because of their convenient location.
Typically, these gas stations do not display their prices. You discover the price only when you pull up to the pump. If you are pushed for time, you may pay it if your rental car company has expensive penalties for a partially empty tank. It may charge as much as $8 or $9 a gallon to refill the car.
Top off the gas tank when you are still 2 or 3 miles from the airport. The gas gauge won’t change that much. If your rental car company agrees in writing to match the average local price of fuel for a refill, you might consider it. Another option is to prepay for a full tank of gas. If you do, there are no worries about refueling. But unless you do a lot of driving while in Orlando, you may not use most of the prepaid gas. It is possible you might use only a quarter or half a tank. Then you lose money on the deal and the rental company pockets it. And your gas goes to the next renter.
Still, you could return the car with more peace of mind, but does it make financial sense? Depends on the size of the tank.
Do I need travel insurance?
If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), insurance is probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. So is your destination. If you’re traveling at a hurricane-prone time of the year, you’ll probably want some coverage “just in case.”
How do I choose an insurance provider?
Do your homework — check around.
The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.
Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with one of the above companies).
If you have pre-existing health conditions
This is one reason to consider buying travel insurance. Many policies have exclusions for pre-existing medical conditions. However, companies may waive that exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame after you pay a deposit for your trip. Again, it’s best to check the fine print.
Credit Card Insurance
If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.
Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.
Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:
About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.
Health services in the U.S. are expensive for the uninsured. This is a major reason to consider purchasing insurance. Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone cost from $15,000 to $30,000.
If you become ill before leaving and have to cancel, travel insurance could pay up to 150% of the cost of your vacation. While away, if someone at home gets sick and you have to return before your trip ends, travel insurance will help pay for your return and refund up to 150% of your unused vacation days.
Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.
Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.
Cancel For Any Reason
Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. The cost of these may be greater (often 10% or more) but this type of policy it is worthwhile for certain travelers.
Only U.S. dollars are accepted. U.S. dollars come in $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills. They are all the same size and color, so non-Americans have an understandably tricky time telling them apart. The $2 bill is in circulation but rarely seen.
Coins in wide circulation include pennies (1 cent), nickels (5 cents), dimes (10 cents), quarters (25 cents). The 50 cent and dollar coins are seen occasionally.
Smaller businesses may not accept $50 or $100 bills, so plan to have $20s or smaller bills in hand.
Money, ATMs, Credit Cards
Only U.S. dollars are accepted. Major credit cards are welcome at all the theme parks, restaurants and hotels. Most take all major credit cards, some only Visa and MasterCard. ATMs are readily available. However, protect your access number when entering it; make sure there is no video camera aimed at the keypad, a popular device of scam artists.
Restaurants: For excellent service, plan to tip 20% on the total bill, before taxes. For less-than-stellar service, 10-15% is customary, as an imperfect experience is often not solely the responsibility of the server. Some servers work for below minimum wage and live mostly on tips, so consider the ramifications of your tipping decisions.
Hotels: Most bell staff receive $1-$2 per bag they assist with; if someone carts all of your bags up to your room, expect to tip $5-$10. Tip housekeeping $2-$3 per day. In higher end properties, about $5 per day .
At properties with concierge services, consider tipping concierge staff who assist you in planning activities, making reservations or acquiring tickets, Depending on how upscale the hotel is, tip $5-$20 per day. Car valet staff expect $1-$2 for delivering your car. Spa employees (massage therapists, aestheticians, etc.) usually receive a tip of 20%.
The advertised room rates at many hotels do not include all fees. Check a hotel’s website carefully.
Sales tax of 6% or 7%. Hotel occupancy tax: 6.5% or 7% for total taxes of 12.5% to 13%. Rates vary by county.
Mandatory Resort Fee
This non-negotiable (and much disliked) added charge ranges from $20 to $40 per day depending on hotel. The resort fee is to cover such amenities as fitness center, swimming pool and tennis courts, although you may have no interest in using them. It could also include parking and internet.
Optional Hotel Fees
Hotels without a mandatory resort fee may charge for daily parking, internet and other “amenities.”
Invariably, there are costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery and drug stores will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above. If your hotel room has a fridge, stock it yourself instead of buying soda from the hotel.
Theme Park Tickets
Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort have set their one-day ticket prices according to seasonal demand. Ticket prices increase 20% or more during the Peak season. Prices are less during the Regular season and cheapest during the Value season, which is from the end of August to the end of September. Multi-day passes and park-to-park tickets often are the best option. Discount tickets are available online from Visit Orlando, the official tourism association for the Orlando tourism industry. The discounts are legitimate. Visit Orlando also has an office with information and where tickets can be purchased at Official Visitor Center, 8723 International Drive, Suite 101, 32819. Phone: (407) 363-5872. When purchasing tickets for any Orlando area attraction, buy them online to receive discounted prices.
Florida Resident Discounts
One of the benefits of living in Florida is you receive special theme park ticket and hotel rates. These are especially attractive during the low seasons. Check theme park websites (including their hotels) for Florida resident specials.
Serving Military Discounts
Typically, theme park tickets and some hotels offer serving military a discount. This policy can change without notice. Check theme park websites for military discounts.
Just prior to leaving for Orlando, sign up for Groupon’s Orlando specials. Lots of good bargains offered daily along with a glut of daily emails. Unsubscribe after you depart.
The Orlando Eat & Play Card takes a percentage off the bill of any participating merchant, and there are a lot of them. In restaurants. the discount is for a maximum part of 4 and includes food and drinks but perhaps not alcohol. No need to keep track of where the discounts are: they are all spelled out on the card’s sleeve. No discounts are offered for inside the theme parks. There are discounts, however, for Disney Springs and Universal CityWalk.
For many Americans and Canadians, visiting Orlando with their own vehicle is the preferred method of travel. This often is the least expensive way to travel and it ensures a family will have a vehicle they know and like to use in Orlando. Depending on where you’re traveling from, other transportation modes might be more attractive and easier, which are described in our Getting There section.
If you want to have your own vehicle while in Orlando but do not look forward to making the drive down the east coast, and if you live north of Virginia, consider the Amtrak Auto Train.
The main driving routes from the northeast are:
I-95 to I-4 to Orlando
Florida Turnpike to I-4
The main driving routes from the north are:
I-75 to Florida Turnpike at Wildwood
Florida Turnpike to I-4
The main driving routes from the northwest are:
I-10 to I-75
I-75 to Florida Turnpike at Wildwood
Florida Turnpike to I-4
The main driving routes from the south are:
Florida Turnpike to I-4
I-95 to I-4 by toll road.
Google map of Florida
Google map of Orlando
For visitors coming from overseas and many parts of the U.S., surprise! Orlando has two airports with confusingly similar names. Only one of them is the real McCoy and the hub for cab companies, hotel shuttles and rental cars. The main airport and closest to the attractions is Orlando International Airport (OIA). Your tickets and luggage tags need to say MCO for them to arrive there. OIA formerly was known as McCoy Air Force Base, and the airport code still remains MCO.
The Orlando-Sanford International Airport ( airport code SFB) is another former air force station. Orlando-Sanford is located near the city of Sanford, a considerable distance from downtown Orlando and major attractions. Some small regional US carriers land in Sanford but most arrivals there are international charters. In the past, some passengers have arrived at Orlando-Sanford (SFB) but rented cars at OIA (MCO). Pay attention!
Orlando International Airport publishes a current list of its current air carriers. Orlando’s smaller airport, Orlando Sanford International Airport has fewer airlines (some only seasonally) but mainstay Allegiant Air catering to smaller markets often has the best fares of any airline.
Amtrak Passenger Service/Auto Train
Amtrak passenger service to Orlando is available from many parts of the county. The Amtrak Auto Train is perfect for those living in the northeast who do not wish to drive I-95 to Florida but want their own vehicle once they arrive there. The Amtrak Auto Train leaves from Lorton, Virginia, and ends in Florida at the city of Sanford, just outside Orlando. Passenger trains make four stops in the Orlando area. Unfortunately, none of the stops are close to the theme parks.
Megabus is a low cost, semi-express bus service linking many major cities together. One direct route is from Atlanta to Orlando. Connecting buses from other locations also may make Megabus worth considering. Each bus has a restroom and power outlets are convenient to the reclining seats. Free wi-fi is provided. Passengers may bring their own food and non-alcoholic drinks. One piece of checked luggage per ticket; for a second bag, buy another ticket to ensure space for it in the bus luggage bin.
Red Coach Luxury Bus
The first express bus service to offer city to city travel between Florida cities, the Red Coach Luxury Bus is a good way to reach Orlando for those flying into other Florida airports. The buses typically leave from the airports of such cities as Tampa, Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Passengers can choose between business and first class service. Internet is provided.
The online crash reports issued by the Florida Highway Patrol will alert you to any temporary lane closings in and around Orlando. The number of accidents listed per day should emphasize the need to stay alert behind the wheel. Dialing 511 will also give you local traffic conditions on Orlando’s major roadways.
Airport Shuttles & Taxis
The only free shuttles go to hotels near the airport. The Lynx buses leaving the airport cost about $5 per person to go to the theme parks. Airport shuttle bus service is available to International Drive, Lake Buena Vista, Kissimmee and Walt Disney World. Per person rates vary, generally under $25. For a family, taxis may be less costly and more comfortable option than the shuttles since their rates are per trip, not per person. However, depending on the vehicle, a taxi may not be able to hold the same amount of luggage. Couples or families of four might also consider booking a limousine service that charges a flat theme park rate of $80 to $100 per trip, not per person. Limos must be reserved in advance. The airport keeps a list of all its major transportation providers.
For air travelers, the most convenient place to rent is Orlando International Airport, and most of the largecar rental companies are present there. However, convenience comes with an extra price: extra taxes and airport fees which increase the cost noticeably. It is not necessary to rent at the airport. There are numerous rental companies providing a shuttle bus to their off-airport locations. Compare prices to those operating inside the terminal. Always reserve a vehicle before arriving to avoid delays and long lines.
Disney’s Magical Express
Visitors staying in one of these Walt Disney World hotels and who intend to spend their entire stay within the theme park should use Disney’s Magical Express bus during their vacation. The free bus service takes Disney vacationers and their luggage to their hotels and then returns them to the airport.
Driving and Traffic
Orlando’s lifeline interstate route is I-4 between Daytona and Tampa. It has exits for all the theme parks. I-4 is a highly congested corridor that will be even worse for the next several years as I-4 is widened. Those driving from the north to Orlando on the Florida Turnpike should take exit 259 to I-4 and the theme parks. Worst times to drive I-4 are between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. A GPS unit with live traffic alerts makes navigating Orlando much easier. If you intend to stay exclusively at Walt Disney World, take the Magical Express from the airport to your Disney hotel and forget about driving. Some of the most common congestion is around I-4 and State Road 535 in the Lake Buena Vista area.
Lynx Bus System
The Lynx system can be a good way to move around the entire theme park area since Lynx has stops near all the major theme parks. The buses also visit several of Orlando’s shopping malls and downtown’s Amway Center. Few are direct routes; expect to make connections. Day passes and 7-day passes available.
Taxis concentrate at Orlando International Airport, in downtown Orlando and at the theme park areas. Uber covers many more areas. Uber’s rates usually are superior to regular taxis, even when Uber rates rise substantially for special events. Compare the Uber app price with what a taxi would charge.
Orlando’s 11-mile long International Drive has a concentration of upscale resorts, hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and attractions that make the area popular with both tourists and locals. The I-Ride Trolley is a convenient way to travel I-Drive. It makes stops at all the prime locations. Fares based on one-time rides or day passes. The I-Ride Trolley’s detailed downloadable map makes it easy to navigate I-Drive.
I-RIDE Trolley Passes
Fares are based on single rides, 1-day, 3-day, 5-day, 7-day and 14-day passes. Passes are not sold on trolleys. They can be ordered online or purchased at one of these locations on International Drive.
Lynx Bus Passes
The Lynx bus system has a variety of tickets and passes from a single day to 30 days. It takes from 5-7 days for passes to be received by mail anywhere within the U.S. It is critical to have the proper indentifaction with you at all times when taking the bus or you will be charged full fare for a ride.
Buy tickets online to receive discounts for most transportation options.
With all the area traffic, bicycling is not a safe or realistic option. Orlando/Kissimmee ranks as the most dangerous cycling city in the United States.
Be careful, very careful, outside of the theme parks. Orlando is ranked among the nation’s most cities dangerous for pedestrians.
When visiting Orlando and you meet an Orlandoan who seems just like the people back home, there’s a good chance he or she might have been born near where you live. The great majority of Floridians come from somewhere else.
Florida has the second-lowest rate of native-born residents of any state in the U.S., just 33-percent. The percentage of Orlando natives may be much lower because so many thousands moved to Central Florida to work in the tourism industry. Not to mention those who came to Florida to retire. For most of us, Orlando is not our first home. In the past, displays of local allegiance usually are reserved for Florida college and Orlando sports teams, especially when they win.
The June 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre brought the Orlando community together as never before. An estimated 50,000 people attended a candlelight vigil at Lake Eola Park to honor the 49 people killed and the 53 wounded. This was the largest of dozens of memorial ceremonies held around the city. Overnight, Orlando became a city united.
Florida’s largest inland city and 6th largest in size, the city of Orlando itself has a population of fewer than 275,000 residents. The Orlando metropolitan region is the fastest growing of the nation’s 30 largest metro areas. The Greater Orlando metropolitan area houses a population of 2.38 million, the 24th largest metropolitan area in the country. Sprawled over a considerable region, the Orlando-Kissimmee metro area currently has 93 zip codes.
Phone Dialing & Geography
Orlando’s population grew so large it ran out of new telephone numbers. The solution: add the new area code, 321, to the existing 407. To complete all local calls, it is mandatory to dial 10 numbers (includes the proper area code). In geographic terms, when Orlandoans refer to the “west coast” they usually mean Florida’s Gulf coast region, not California.
See What is New in Orlando This Year
See Orlando Hotel Overview
The first Europeans arrived in Orlando around 1837 and during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). The Second Seminole War started over conflicting views about who should occupy the land, cattle theft by Seminoles and Seminole opposition to the settlers’ practice of slavery. Seminoles opposed slavery since some tribal members were escaped slaves or descended from them.
Orlando’s first settlers moved into what was called “Mosquito County.” In 1845, when Florida became a state, Mosquito County took on the more enticing name “Orange County” because of all the citrus growing there. Orlando’s population grew significantly following the Civil War and again in 1880 after the railroad arrived. The railroad allowed Central Florida citrus to be transported quickly to other regions of the county. But the citrus boom ended after a series of devastating freezes destroyed most of the citrus trees The Orlando economy was devastated. Many people were left unemployed and some of banks closed. Orlando’s population declined 13% between 1890 and 1900, falling to 2,481 residents.
Orlando experienced building and population booms in the 1920s and after World War II. Orlando’s McCoy Air Force Base became part of the Strategic Air Command. It was one of the area’s largest employers until closing in 1975. The former air force base site became home to Orlando International Airport and Orlando retained MCO as its airport code. Airport code OIA was already taken by Ourilandia Airport in Puerto Rico.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Orlando began to diversify. Aerospace manufacturer Martin Marietta, forerunner of Lockheed Martin, became Orange County’s largest employer. Martin-Marietta produced aircraft, missiles and eventually spacecraft for Cape Canaveral, now named Kennedy Space Center.
There are many accounts of how Walt Disney World eventually came to Florida. It is clear Orlando was not Walt Disney’s first choice. One story claims he chose St. Louis for an indoor park but plans were scuttled when Disney was insulted by August Busch who disliked Disney’s no alcohol theme park policy. Another tale says Niagara Falls was considered but its cold winters made it impossible for a theme park to stay open year-round.
The accepted legend is that on the day President Kennedy was shot in 1963, Walt Disney flew over the Orlando area and liked it. Disney then quietly acquired various parcels of land that amounted to just over 27,000 acres, some of it for as little as $80 an acre The low-cost land included swamps was located in both Orange and Osceola Counties, west of Orlando. One reason Disney purchased the site was its convenience to the intersection of Interstate 4 and the Florida Turnpike, important travel routes to his new project.
Walt Disney died three years later, in 1966, and with him any hope for the construction of his “City of Tomorrow” near Orlando. Walt Disney World and its first theme park, The Magic Kingdom, opened in October, 1971. Afterwards, Orlando quickly changed from a sleepy agricultural town into the top tourist destination it is today. The building boom started by Walt Disney World produced more theme parks, a record numbers of hotels and restaurants and made Orlando one of the world’s most visited cities. Orlando was the first U.S, city to pass 60 million visitors, pushing past New York to become the top U.S. destination. As many as 66 million people come to vacation in Orlando and Central Florida each year.
Surprise! Orlando is more than a theme park destination. The city is home to hundreds of museums, galleries, theatres, gardens and historic homes. Cultural offerings include the Orlando Ballet, the Orlando ShakespeareTheatre In Partnership with UCF, the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, Orlando Repertory Theatre and the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park.
The massive Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center with several theaters and halls not only is home to the Orlando Ballet and the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra but the venue for touring Broadway shows, popular headliners, comedy specials, musicians and local and emerging artists.
That is just a glimpse of the Orlando cultural scene, which expands every year.
Theme Park Etiquette
Long lines are almost unavoidable during the peak seasons and it does no good to become frustrated about them. Everyone endures miserably long waits of 60 to 90 minutes for the most popular attractions. Arrive resigned to your fate and the day will go better. Carry water bottles and small snacks to keep spirits up. As for butting in line, it is not only impolite, it can result in physical confrontation.
Although Orlando has many fine dining establishments, it is dominated by chain restaurants identical to the ones visitors have in their own neighborhoods. Many of those chains originated in Orlando and other Central Florida cities. The reason: with people traveling to Orlando from all over the country, International Drive and other tourist areas are excellent for testing the popularity of new restaurant concepts.
Notable chain restaurants originating in Orlando include Hard Rock Café, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steak House, Bahama Breeze, Buca di Beppo, Smokey Bones Bar and Fire Grill, Tijuana Flats, and Seasons 52. Red Lobster originally started in Lakeland but moved its headquarters to Orlando. The neighboring city of Tampa gave us the Outback Steak House, Carrabba’s Italian Grill and Bonefish Grill. Clearwater, not far from Tampa, produced Hooters. Jacksonville is where Burger King, the world’s second largest hamburger chain, originated.
See more about Orlando area restaurants.
Eat Like a Local
The pre-Disney foods locals favored—and many still do—were Florida grown, especially citrus including oranges, grapefruit and key limes. Many traditional dinners included steak raised in Kissimmee, fried catfish, hush puppies, boiled crabs, crab cakes, boiled shrimp, rock shrimp, stone crabs claws, oysters raw or cooked, scallops and spiny lobsters. Grits could go with almost anything. For dessert, it was often Key lime pie.
Orlando and Orange County’s largest religious groups are Evangelical Protestants followed by Roman Catholics.
English by far is the dominant language, followed by Spanish and Haitian Creole. The Orlando metro area has a rapidly increasing Hispanic population as many Puerto Ricans move to Central Florida.
The Orlando Sentinel daily newspaper
The Orlando Weekly alternative newspaper
Orlando Art Museums
The Orlando Museum of Art, founded in 1924, hosts about a dozen exhibitions annually. Its own collections feature African and American art, ancient American civilizations and contemporary works. Located at 2416 N Mills Ave, 32803. Phone: (407) 896-4231
The Mennello Museum of American Art, founded in 1998, features the world’s largest collection of paintings by self-taught folk artist Earl Cunningham (1893-1977). Based in St. Augustine, Cunningham painted landscapes of the places he had lived, including Maine, New York, Nova Scotia, Michigan, North and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. He was noted for placing fanciful items in in his works, such as flamingos within a Maine landscape. The museum draws from the City of Orlando Permanent Collection, Florida’s largest public art collection. Located at 900 East Princeton St., 32803. Phone: (407) 246-4278.
The Well’s Built Museum of African American History & Culture is a 6,000-square foot museum housed in a hotel built in the 1920s by African American physician Dr. William Monroe Wells. Wells built the hotel so black visitors to Orlando would have a place to stay. Next door he later built The Casino, where many famous black entertainers performed. The Wells Built Museum focuses on African American contributions to jazz and entertainment and includes memorabilia of Orlando’s African-American community, displays on the Civil Rights movement in Orlando and works of African art on loan from local collectors. Located at 511 W. South St., 32805. Phone: (407) 245-7535.
Winter Park Art Museums
Winter Park, FL, is a neighboring suburban city a short distance from Orlando.
The Cornell Fine Arts Museum, located on the campus of Rollins College, may be a small museum but it claims 5,000 objects spanning from antiquity to today, including 500 paintings dating from the 14th century. Cornell Fine Arts Museum also features rotating exhibitions, including work by Rollins’ students and faculty. Located at Building No. 303, 1000 Holt Ave, 32789. Phone (407) 646-2526.
The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art accommodates the world’s most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933). Works designed by the famous glass maker include lamps, jewelry and his chapel interior from the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 celebrating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s discovery of the New World. The Morse Museum also features American pottery, painting and graphics. Located at 445 North Park Avenue, 32789. Phone (407) 645-5311.
The Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden is dedicated to the works of celebrated Czech-American sculptor Albin Polasek (1879–1965). The museum, which includes the artist’s home and gallery, holds 200 of his works. Two of his most celebrated sculptures deal with the agony of war: Mother Crying Over the World (1942) in World War II and Victory of Moral Law (1956) inspired by the Hungarian Revolution. Located at 633 Osceola Ave, 32789. Phone (407) 647-6294.
CityArts Factory is the centerpiece of Orlando’s Downtown Arts District. CityArts Factory is a 20,000 square-foot multi-use arts center that is home to 6 independent art galleries, the Kiene/Quigley community gallery and the Orlando Magic Classroom, which provides artists with studio space. Exhibits featuring international and local artists are rotated monthly. Located at 29 South Orange Ave., 32801. Phone (407) 648-7060.
The Grand Bohemian Gallery is located in one of downtown Orlando’s finest luxury hotels. You do not need be staying at the Grand Bohemian to visit the gallery. Containing works of internationally and locally renowned artists, the gallery features the paintings of Italian wildlife artist Stefano Cecchini and French Colorist Expressionist artist Jean Claude Roy. Located at 325 South Orange Ave., 32801. Phone (407) 581-4801.
Despite the area’s numerous sound stages, Orlando never became Hollywood East as many local leaders dreamed it would. Among the reasons was the considerable cost to transport cast and crew across the country for filming in Orlando. Also, actors and directors did not like shooting inside the theme parks where tourists could watch them work.
Major productions fully or partially filmed made in Central Florida include: Apollo 13, Jurassic Park, Tomorrowland, The Water Boy, Escape from Tomorrowland, Lethal Weapon 3, Fast Furious 2, Days of Thunder, Parenthood, Mulan, Ernest Saves Christmas, Passenger 57, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Space Cowboys, Minority Report, Moonraker, The Perfect Storm and Jaws 3-D.
The Orlando Film Festival is held each fall to celebrate the work of Orlando film makers and others.
The Florida Film Festival, more than a quarter century old, is held each spring at the Enzian Theater in Maitland.
The event is so well regarded it is an Oscar-qualifying festival, premiering some of the best in current, independent, and international cinema. It usually attracts noted Hollywood directors and actors for speakers. To attend, simply buy a ticket for the entire event or for individual film entries.
Orlando has a wide variety of musical venues featuring local and national musical artists. Easiest way to discover where the biggest acts are appearing is in the Music section of the Orlando Weekly. No matter where you are in Orlando, you should find a music room somewhere nearby.
The Social at 54 N. Orange offers an eclectic mix of bands.
BackBooth 37 W Pine St. features a club-style décor.
The Plaza Live at 425 N. Bumby is an old movie theater turned into a concert hall.
Will’s Pub at 1042 N Mills Ave offers pool tables and a fine beer selection for its Indie muscians.
Venue 578 at 46 N Orange Ave. features hip-hop to electronic music inside an old tire store.
The Beacham nightclub at 46 N. Orange Ave. is both a late-night dance club with DJs playing everything from salsa to hip-hop to reggae and a concert hall with live shows.
Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts at 445 S. Magnolia Ave. features everything from Broadway shows to dance performances to the Moody Blues. Some of Orlando’s most noted acts appear here.
The Bob Carr Theater at 401 W Livingston St offers not only musical concerts but Broadway shows and ballet.
Amway Center at 400 West Church Street features popular music acts and NBA basketball, hockey and indoor arena football.
The Parliament House at 410 North Orange Blossom Trail is Orlando’s best-known gay entertainment club. Music and much, much more.
Theme Park Area
Hard Rock Live at Universal Orlando Resort features weekly events and touring musicians and comedians.
CityWalk’s Rising Star at Universal Orlando is a karaoke club with a live band and backup singers.
B. B. King’s Blues Club at Pointe Orlando on International Drive features its own house band as well as guest artists.
House of Blues at Disney Springs West Side features live music.
Visit Orlando is the area’s official vacation planning site.
Walt Disney World official website.
Universal Orlando Resort official website.
SeaWorld Orlando official website
Legoland Florida official website
Walt Disney World interactive map
Map of Hotels near Walt Disney World
Universal Orlando Theme Parks downloadable maps
SeaWorld Orlando map
Orlandoans and soccer fans as far away as Brazil have embraced the MLS Orlando City Soccer (OCSC) which played its inaugural season in 2015. Playing in the newly reconstructed 65,000-seat Orlando Citrus Bowl, since renamed to Camping World Stadium, Orlando City’s first game drew 62,510 spectators, the second-largest attendance ever for an MLS team’s inaugural home match, and the 9th largest crowd in MLS history for a standalone match. Every home game since has drawn a crowd of approaching 30,000 or more. Orlando City had planned 20,000 seats for its own privately funded downtown stadium but after seeing such large turnouts it added at least 5,000 more. The OCSC stadium opened for the 2017 season. Its low slanted roofline is an attempt to create the loudest atmosphere in Major League Soccer. In a survey by from personal finance social network WalletHub during Orlando City’s first season, Orlando fans were ranked as the friendliest and most engaged among Major League Soccer (MLS) teams in the United States. With the new stadium, they could also become the loudest.
Orlando is a popular destination for touring national teams. Copa America, a 100-year-old soccer tournament second only to the World Cup in the western hemisphere, was played in the United States for the first time in June, 2016. Orlando hosted three of the 32 matches played in 10 U.S. cities.
When the Orlando Magic NBA team took the court in 1989, it not only was Orlando’s only professional sports team but where Shaquille O’Neal began his legendary career. He played for the Magic from 1992-1996. Those indeed were magic days. But the Magic did not answer his salary demands for a new contract and a poll from readers of the Orlando Sentinel even said he was not worth has asking price, He wanted more than any other basketball player had ever been paid. Little did we know he was worth it. So Shaq went went to the L.A. Lakers and other teams. Orlando fans have been mostly disappointed with the Magic ever since. Today, even Shaq admits he should have stayed because of the ensemble of players who would have been his teammates.
Ice hockey came to Orlando in the 1990s when the Orlando Solar Bears took to the ice. Like the Magic, the minor league team plays at Orlando’s downtown Amway Center just off I-4. The Solar Bear’s season is a long one, from October to April.
No. 8 Area in Number of Mansions
Everyone wants waterfront property, especially the ultra-wealthy. Orlando’s chains of lakes have attracted enough of the rich and famous that it ranks No. 8 for the largest number of mansions based on its local total housing market. Miami may have more mansions overall but, based on the number of available homes, it ranks below Orlando. A mansion is defined as a home having five bedrooms and 15 rooms overall, not including bathrooms.
Quite a few celebrities and business executives have homes in Orlando. Tiger Woods was among them until his divorce. NBA great Shaquille O’Neal who started in career in Orlando still has a home here. So does Wal-Mart’s former CEO H. Lee Scott Jr. and many more. The top-level homes are clustered in historic Winter Park and the Windermere area, both with an extensive chain of lakes. To tour the Winter Park lake chain, click here.