The Orlando Eye at the I-Drive 360 (©Julie Fletcher/Visit Florida)
It's our 80th year here at Where. In honor of our anniversary providing travel tips to readers across the world, we'd like to share some ideas about what to see and do around Orlando in just 80 minutes. Maybe your meeting let out early, your flight got delayed or you have a few hours to kill until check-in and you want to make the most of your extra time. Here are five itineraries to give you a little taste of the city and its most-popular attractions.
Though many tourists never leave the confines of the theme parks and resorts, they are missing one of Orlando's best attractions: downtown. Orlando is a bustling city of 2 million people with a thriving downtown popular for dining, shows, art, sports and music.
First, take a stroll around Lake Eola Park. Get out on the water for a 30-minute swan boat ride ($15) or let the kids blow off steam on the playground while you admire “See Art Orlando,” a public art project featuring eight innovative sculptures. Head three blocks west to CityArts Factory, where admission is always free, and the works of local and regional artists are always on display.
Continue down Orange Avenue to the new Wahlburgers, the popular burger franchise featured on A&E and owned by celebrity brothers Mark, Donnie and Chef Paul Wahlberg. Burgers are made from Creekstone Farms black angus beef, artisan bread and Paul's signature Wahl Sauce. A full bar offers specialty drinks such as the "Fluffanuttahh" made with ice cream, marshmallow vodka, peanut butter and crème de banana or a cherry coke spiked with Wild Cherri vodka.
With a little time left, walk two blocks down to South Street for a peek at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, just named by Travel + Leisure as one of the “World’s Coolest Tourist Attractions” and by Southern Living for “50 Best Places in the South.”
Head to Disney Springs, a free outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment complex that incorporates plenty of Disney’s magical touches, from hidden Mickeys to the award-winning design work of Imagineers. For the ultimate efficiency, a new ramp on I-4's Exit 67 leads you straight to the free parking garage, and state-of-the-art signage lets you know exactly where the empty spots are.
You may be tempted by the dozens of specialty stores, but be sure to carve out ample time for the world’s largest Disney store, where you’ll find every kind of souvenir in the kingdom. Next door is the Lego Imagination Center, where you can admire amazing sculptures made of Legos, from a fire-breathing dragon to a human-sized Buzz Lightyear, build your own Lego designs and even race Lego cars with other fans.
After a few quick purchases, it's time to eat. Order a gourmet cupcake to go from Erin McKenna’s all-vegan bakery then grab a table near the water at the Boathouse. For fast service, order oysters on the half shell from the raw bar and a beer to wash it down. A creative kids menu is also available. With a few minutes to spare, take the water taxi from The Landing back to the West Side parking garage. With the wind in your hair and the lights twinkling on the water, you’ll definitely feel like you’re on a Disney vacation.
Long before Orlando’s theme park, Northern snowbirds flocked to Winter Park for its mild climate amidst scenic lakes and moss-draped oak trees. Today, the area’s charm draws visitors year-round with its art museums, sidewalk cafes and local boutiques.
Start on the southern end of Park Avenue at Rollins College, Florida’s oldest college that rests on beautiful Lake Virginia. Then, work your way up the half-mile stretch of cobblestone to peruse the shops and eateries. You’ll find everything from a two-story Pottery Barn inside a 1939 art-deco movie theater to locally owned boutiques like Violet Clover, Shoooz, Tuni and Tugboat and the bird.
Treat yourself to a coconut ice-cream cone at Kilwins, chocolate-covered popcorn at Peterbrooke Chocolatier or savory samples at The Ancient Olive. The Wine Room is another cozy spot for a shopping break, where you swipe your credit card for 1, 2.5 or 5-ounce pours.
Just past Central Park, the Morse Museum of American Art bookends the shopping district to the north and features the world’s largest collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany glass. If you don’t have time to see the museum, duck into the Alfond Inn on the way back to the car. Built by Rollins College, with famous residents like Paul McCartney, the Alfond Inn also serves as an art showcase with Tiffany glass and contemporary works on loan from the campus’ Cornell Fine Arts Museum.
The Town of Celebration
To understand Celebration, you have to start with Disney World's Epcot. The letters in Epcot stand for “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow,” and that’s how Walt Disney envisioned the place. But after Epcot was built as a theme park, the Disney company came up with Celebration. Established in 1994, the town now boasts 12,000 residents along with Disney's Orlando headquarters.
Visitors are welcome to explore this non-gated community and admire all the amenities, from boardwalks through palm forests to streets lined with homes representing architecture from Charleston, Georgetown, New Orleans and Seaside (think "The Truman Show"), and commercial structures built by acclaimed architects Michael Graves.
Market and Front streets offer an array of boutiques and eateries, from locally owned like the open-air Town Tavern to Starbucks, and from a toy store for kids to a bakery for dogs. Kids can cool off in the splashpad or search for the resident alligator in Lake Rianhard. A large farmer's market is held every Sunday. If time allows, rent a bike by the hour or take a guided tour on an old-timey surrey to explore more of the city's charms.
Orlando's newest attraction is the I-Drive 360, an outdoor entertainment complex that's home to four major attractions along with notable restaurants and bars.
Start your visit with a spin on the Orlando Eye, a 400-foot-tall observation wheel that's the little sister of the London Eye. On the 20-minute, relaxing flight you'll take in breathtaking views of the entire city. Afterward, pop into Madame Tussauds wax attraction, where you'll take the ultimate selfie with life-like celebrities such as Taylor Swift, Jimmy Fallon, Tom Hanks and Ryan Gosling.
After building up an appetite, head to the Sugar Factory. This mega-dessert attraction is known for its celebrity-endorsed birthday parties. Order the Cookie Jar for two which comes with giant scoops of cookies and cream and cookie dough icecream topped with fudge, caramel, whipped cream and Oreo and chocolate chip cookies.