A trip to Orlando is practically synonymous with the world of Disney and Universal Studios, but there is a lot more to Orlando than that. If you take the time to explore beyond the famous amusement parks, you’ll find a city rich in art, nature reserves, and full of great dining and entertainment options that don’t require you to park hop.
Visit Orlando, the official website of the Orlando Tourism Board shares their 10 Reasons to Visit Orlando that range from exciting news from the theme park world, other attractions, accommodation updates, and dining news.
Best Time to Visit Orlando
January through April is hands down the best time to visit Orlando. Not only because the weather this time of the year is at its absolute best (think, 20-27C/70-80F), but because, according to USA Today’s article Best Time to Visit Orlando, winter and early spring mark a nice lull in Orlando tourism. That means that you’ll be more likely to find hotels for less, flights for less and be able to enjoy Orlando’s attractions without the crowds.
Once summer rolls around, the weather gets hot and sticky and families from all over US and Canada take advantage of summer holidays and flock to the theme parks. Prepare to fight the crowds and pay premium prices, or follow our advice and avoid this season altogether.
If you can manage to get the time off, Fall is another alternative option for visiting Orlando, although the weather can be a bit finicky during this time of the year. The hurricane season officially runs from June 1 through November 30, and the probability of bad weather affecting your visit to Orlando raises significantly from late August through early October.
Top Things to Do in Orlando
For most visitors, Orlando means a chance to entertain your inner child, or if you are traveling as a family, a chance to relish in the joys of your children’s first Disney World visit. Let’s be honest, the amusement parks in Orlando are touristy, but they are nothing short of amazing.
Walt Disney World – the king of all amusement parks in the world warrants at least a 4-5 day visit, if you want to feel like you’ve seen it all. With 4 amazing parks, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Magic Kingdom, and two water parks Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, to explore you’ll need a day to enjoy each one to the fullest. Grab yourself a ticket with a park-hopper option, learn how to take advantage of the FastPass Option, read some tips for visiting Disney World and prepare yourself for a week of fun (and a subsequent scary Visa bill).
If you only have 1-2 days to check our Disney World, focus on one park per day to give yourself enough time to soak up the experience.
Universal Orlando Resort – the second biggest park in Orlando offers two different park experiences. The original Universal Studios park and the second theme park, called Islands of Adventure, however many will argue that the biggest Universal attraction now is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It is possible to visit both parks in one day, although if you are a huge Harry Potter fan, you might need to add a day or three to your time at Universal. Check out these Top 10 Tips for First Time Universal Orlando Visitors to help you get the most of your visit.
While not exactly in Orlando, Legoland Florida, located about an hour drive from Disney, is another popular theme park and resort to visit while in the area.
Once you’ve crossed the big parks off your list, there are a few other attractions worth exploring during your visit.
Those looking for a thrilling experience outside the theme parks will enjoy a visit to Florida’s largest zip-line park at Forever Florida, which offers three extreme adventure rides like the Rattlesnake Roller Coaster, the Panther Pounce and the Peregrine Plunge. Suitable for kids 8 years and older but guaranteed fun for all ages.
Those traveling to Orlando with kids might also enjoy a visit to The Orlando Science Center and Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Orlando Odditorium. Although their cool and often interactive exhibits can be fun for the whole family.
If you are after a more laid back way to interact with nature, you’ll be pleased to know that Orlando is home to a number of beautiful gardens and parks, including the Historic Bok Sanctuary, Mead Botanical Garden, and the renowned Harry P. Leu Gardens. The latter is home to more than 1,000 rose bushes (in season from April to January) and the largest collection of camellias in North America (in bloom November through March).
Art lovers will love exploring Orlando’s museums and art exhibits. According to the National Geographic’s list of Free Things to Do in Orlando, the downtown CityArts Factory houses seven separate and diverse art galleries that showcase local and international art. The exhibits change monthly, so there is always something new to discover. Beyond the CityArts Factory, there is, of course, the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art and the Orlando Museum of Art that are also worth a visit.
Orlando is also a premier golfing destination, home to over 170 golf courses. If spending the day out on the greens sounds like paradise. You’ll be happy to know that you can spend days testing your skills in Orlando. We are no experts in golf courses, so for the best greens in Orlando check out Golf Magazine’s Must-play Golf Courses in Orlando, Florida.
If you only have a few days in the city and want to get the most of your time in Orlando, consider joining Gray Line’s Orlando City tour for a fun whirlwind tour of all of the interesting and important sites.
Where to Stay in Orlando
If you plan on spending the majority of your time in Orlando hopping around Disney World or Universal Studios, it makes absolute sense to get accommodation in close proximity to the parks. Consider the pros and cons of staying on or off-site at one of the official Disney Resorts while visiting Disney World or the On-Site Universal Resorts. While the on-site resorts might seem like a more expensive option, the ease of transportation, ability to take advantage of the extra park hours, and the fact that your hotel is an extension of the theme park experience, may be worth the extra cost.
Those that plan to see Orlando beyond the theme parks and especially those traveling without children, consider staying closer to downtown Orlando where you can be close to Orlando’s thriving arts scene, enjoy the best of Orlando’s restaurants and entertainment.
In her article on Orlando Vacation Options for Adults, Tracy E. Hopkins talks about where to stay, shop, and play on an adult only vacation to Orlando.
With over 600 hotels to choose from in Orlando, there is bound to be something for every price range. Start your search on booking.com, one of our favourite hotel search engines, and use their extensive filter option to narrow down your search by price, location, and amenities.
Alternatively, consider staying in one of Orlando’s 300+ Airbnb rentals. Private rooms on Airbnb start at as low as $25/night and entire houses can be rented for as low as $50-$100/night.
Don’t have an Airbnb account yet? Sign up now and receive USD $20 to put towards your first Airbnb stay!
Where to Eat & Drink in Orlando
Disney World alone is home to over 300 restaurants, ranging from elaborate-themed experiences to delightful international fares. If Disney World is where you’ll be spending the majority of your time in Orlando, then USA Today’s article, Diverse and Delicious Dining in the House of Mouse, is a great place to narrow down your choices.
Away from the themed parks, Orlando is sometimes referred to as chain restaurant hell, but if you follow the advice of Orlando’s Best Non-Chain Restaurants published on the Orlando Weekly blog, you’ll see that there are plenty of great non-chain restaurant options to choose from.
For a little mid-day tea stop, check out these 5 Awesome Tea Cafe’s in Orlando, a list by the Orlando Hipster Blog.
If you are traveling to Orlando sans the little ones and are looking for some nice romantic restaurant options, this list of Orlando’s Date Night Delights and Special Occasion Splurges or this list of the Most Romantic Places To Dine In Orlando will be perfect for you.
Night-time entertainment in Orlando goes far beyond Disney’s Boardwalk. Continue your romantic date night at one of these Top 15 Bars for Date Night in Orlando, or take it even further with this list of Orlando’s Best Dance Clubs.
How Much Time Do You Need in Orlando
There are lots of different types of vacations you can have in Orlando, from a classic week-long Disney adventure, one of my personal favourites (closet Disney fan over here), to a mix of theme parks, art, dining, and entertainment. But one thing is certain, Orlando is best enjoyed on an extended holiday. So convince your boss that you are in dire need of a few extra days off and plan to spend at least a week in Orlando
Depending on how much time you might be able to carve off for your visit to Orlando, here are a few sample itineraries and articles with general advice to help you plan your stay.
- Recommended Orlando itineraries: Two, four and six-day tours
- The Best of Orlando in 3 Days Itinerary
- Suggested Itineraries for Visiting Orlando
- Orlando for Grown-Ups: Tips for Planning an Adults-Only Trip
- Orlando Do’s and Don’ts | T+L Family
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