The name of Orlando will be well known to anyone who has visited the Walt Disney World Resort or any of the other major theme parks in central Florida such as the Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld. In fact the majority Florida’s theme parks are located to the southwest of Orlando itself.
The Greater Orlando metropolitan region is the third largest in Florida after Miami and Tampa with a population a little over 2 million. Orlando is situated in Central Florida some 40 miles from the Atlantic Coast to the east and around 80 miles from the Gulf Coast to the west.
The tourist areas of Kissimmee, Lake Buena Vista, Davenport and Clermont lie to the south and west.
Until the arrival of Walt Disney in the mid 1960s, Orlando was mainly known for its cattle and citrus fruit growers but it is now one of the top vacation destinations in the world with more theme parks than any other city.
Getting To Orlando
Orlando has two main international airports (Orlando International Airport and Orlando Sanford International Airport to the north which is mainly used by charter airlines), there is interstate access via I-4 and a number of toll expressways as well as Amtrak train services including the AutoTrain and Greyhound bus services.
Orlando is about a four hour drive (230 miles) from Miami, one hour (60 miles) from Cocoa Beach and a one and a half hour drive (85 miles) from Tampa.
Read more about getting to Orlando.
Getting Around Orlando
Orlando does have some public transport but it is not that well developed. For many years there was no local commuter rail service but a SunRail service is now operating Monday to Friday from Poinciana to the south and DeBary to the north. There are also plans to build a high speed rail link between Miami and Tampa with Orlando at the hub and so far the Virgin Trains USA service operates from West Palm Beach to Miami.
Lynx bus services operate throughout the metropolitan area and a separate I-Ride trolley service operates up and down International Drive.
Many of the hotels in the tourist areas including the Walt Disney World Resort offer complimentary shuttle buses and taxis are freely available. The easiest way to get around though is still by car.
Places To Stay In Orlando
As a result of the many theme parks and one of the largest convention centres in North America, Orlando has an enormous range of accommodation options from vacation villas and condominium apartments to cheap motels and 5-star luxury resort hotels like the newly opened Waldorf Astoria Orlando. There are estimated to be over 100,000 hotel rooms in the Orlando area.
Things to do in Orlando
Orlando’s main attractions of course are the multitude of theme parks including Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure and SeaWorld.
There are also a number of water parks including Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, SeaWorld’s Aquatica and Discovery Cove, Volcano Bay, Water Mania (now closed) and the CoCo Key Water Resort.
Amongst the many smaller attractions are WonderWorks, Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, Gatorland and the Orlando Museum of Art.
If you plan on visiting more than one attraction in the Orlando area (or even going to the Kennedy Space Center) then it might be worth considering a discount card like the Go City Cards. These multi-attraction multi-day tickets can save you money on the normal gate prices and also cover a number of Miami attractions.
The Shingle Creek Regional Park is a lovely nature trail park, just off US 192 where you can walk through Cypress swamps, cycle and rent a kayak or paddleboard.
Eating in Orlando
Orlando has a good range of restaurants both inside the theme parks and in the surrounding areas. There are several themed restaurants including the Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood and Rainforest Cafe and a number of celebrity chefs restaurants are now opening in the theme parks and resort hotels.
Nightlife in Orlando
Orlando has seen quite a shift in fortunes when it comes to night life. At one time, the place to be was the Church Street Station district in Downtown Orlando but that started to go out of fashion when Disney’s Pleasure Island at Downtown Disney opened. Universal then followed suit with their Universal Citywalk but then in 2008 Disney closed down the night clubs at Pleasure Island. Today most of the action takes place at Universal Citywalk and at Disney’s Boardwalk next to the Boardwalk Inn Resort.
Shopping in Orlando
Orlando boasts a number of shopping malls and outlet stores including the Florida Mall, Prime Outlets (formerly known at Belz), Festival Bay (now closed), Orlando Premium Outlets and the upmarket Mall at Millenia. Of course there is also the Disney Springs shopping and entertainment complex.
Orlando Visitor Numbers
Not unexpectedly, Orlando sees an incredible number of visitors, something like 75 million visited Orlando in 2018 despite the economic downturn, beating New York.
Most are heading for a vacation or on business at the convention centres. The United Kingdom used to be the largest international contingent with over 1 million visitors a year but these numbers have declined in recent years and they have now been overtaken by Canada and briefly by Brazil.
The busiest times are around the major US public holidays like Presidents' Day, Memorial Day, Labour Day and Thanksgiving, Easter and the Holiday season between Christmas and the New Year. Some of the quietest times are early in the year, January/February and either side of Thanksgiving.
Orlando Climate and Seasons
Orlando has a great climate that is warm and sub-tropical with two main seasons. The “wet” season runs from June to September which coincides pretty much with the Hurricane season and the “Dry” season from October to May.
During the wet months it is quite common to get an afternoon thunderstorm but it typically passes very quickly.
Highest summer temperature recorded was 101 degrees Fahrenheit with averages in the 90s. The extra humidity pushes the heat index up to well over 100 though. Temperatures in winter rarely dip below freezing and snow is a very rare occurrence.
Being further inland Orlando is slightly less susceptible to hurricanes but it has not escaped unscathed and tornadoes are fairly common. In fact more people in the Orlando area die during tornado strikes than hurricanes.
The seasons as far as hotel room rates are concerned revolve more around the busy times and you can expect to pay considerably more during the busy periods.