It may be the domain that Disney built, but there’s far more to Orlando than Mickey and the gang. Here’s a rundown of the best places beyond the Magic Kingdom for families and solo travellers to get animated about.
WITH THE KIDS
by Heather Greenwood Davis
Hungry children aren’t happy children, but no one wants to sacrifice fun for dull meals. Spots such as Café Tu Tu Tango, where artists create among diners’ tables, and the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen (don’t worry — it serves sky-high milkshakes and vegetables) at Universal Orlando Resort’s CityWalk theme park keep the smiles going.
Parent of a Legomaniac? Then watch them go gaga for a night at the LEGOLAND Resort Hotel, where four themed room options — Pirate, Adventure, Kingdom and LEGO Friends — await. With Master Model Builders on site, an in-room scavenger hunt and nightly LEGO-building competitions, kids will be as happy at the hotel as they are at the theme park.
The Andretti Indoor Karting and Games centre offers everything from electric go-carting to a ropes course, while at the I-Drive 360 complex, divided family interests are all satisfied with attractions such as the 122-metre-high Coca-Cola Orlando Eye observation wheel, the Sea Life Aquarium and the Skeletons: Museum of Osteology, which showcases the bones of creatures great and small. Outdoor enthusiasts looking for thrills shouldn’t miss an air-boat ride at Wild Florida or the tandem hang-gliding experience at Wallaby Ranch.
ON YOUR OWN
by Michela Rosano
A trip to the American South isn’t complete without indulging in comfort-food classics, and at Soco in downtown Orlando, you’ll get a contemporary spin on standards such as fried oysters (crisped in cornmeal and served with a pickled green tomato relish) and meatloaf (grilled and piled atop lobster mashed potatoes). The comfort-food trend turns Italian at Prato, in the nearby city of Winter Park. Here, handcrafted cocktails such as the cetriolo (organic cucumber vodka, lime, white cranberry and basil) complement seasonally inspired dishes such as decadent braised lamb on creamy polenta.
It teems with families during spring and summer vacations, but in the low season (late spring, fall and early winter), the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress resort, which is on Disney World’s doorstep, turns into a quiet retreat for couples wanting to take advantage of the lagoon-style pool, four golf courses and a Marilyn Monroe-inspired spa. For an artsy downtown escape, try the Grand Bohemian Hotel, which has its own art gallery and live music.
Pick up the pace and zip across Lake Bryan on a Jet Ski rented from Buena Vista Watersports. Back on dry land and 30 kilometres west of Orlando, climb up into a five-metre-high and 12-metre-long monster truck at Showcase of Citrus, where you bump through citrus groves, splash through swampland and watch for wildlife such as alligators and watusi.
THE MUST-DO FOR EVERYONE
Yes, Universal Studios has Harry Potter, but it’s more than that. The park does a great job of marrying adult nostalgia with kid-friendly themes — The Simpsons for the adults, roller coasters and the Volcano Bay waterpark (left) for the tweens, and Dr. Seuss for the littlest ones — which means it’s the kind of place that makes the whole family happy.