When Walt Disney was flying over the small towns of Central Florida in search of a place to put his Florida operation, he marveled at the endless number of lakes and streams that dominate the Orlando area. Amidst this beautiful setting, he foresaw a world full of thrill-packed amusement rides and life-sized, cartoonish figures. While Orlando is older than Disney World, most of the city’s resources are dedicated to supporting the tourism industry that is the lifeblood of the economy. Theme parks, hotels, diners, and other kitschy treats line every major street; even downtown Orlando, 20 mi. from Disney, overflows with tourist attractions.
Orlando lies at the center of hundreds of small lakes, toll highways, and amusement parks. Orange Blossom Trail runs north-south and Colonial Drive runs east-west. The Bee Line Expressway and East-West Expressway exact several tolls for their convenience. The major artery is I-4, which actually runs north-south through the center of town, despite being labeled an east-west highway. The parks – Disney World, Universal Studios, and Seaworld – await 15-20 mi. southwest of downtown; Winter Park is 3-4 mi. northeast.
Disney World is the Rome of central Florida: all roads lead to it. Its name is more apt than one might imagine, as Disney indeed creates a “world” of its own, even hosting a full marathon road race run entirely on its grounds. Within this Never-Neverland, theme parks, resorts, theaters, restaurants, and nightclubs all work together to be the embodiment of fun.
Believe it or not, there is life beyond Disney. In fact, many vistors will tell you that Universal’s Islands of Adventure is Orlando’s best park. Regardless, Disney has such a dominantion that the non-Disney parks band together in competition with Mickey: “FlexTickets” combine admission prices to various at a discount, though their prices can fluctuate.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the endless possibilities in Orlando. Check out our list of favorites. Click the links to explore and book tours or local guides.
Most eating in the Orlando area is either fine dining or done on-the-run. Prices are exorbitant inside theme parks; pack food if you have space. Cheap buffets line International Dr., US. 192, and Orange Blossom Trail.
The best options for one-stop partying in Orlando are Disney’s Pleasure Island or Universal’s City-Walk. Downtown Orlando has a lively night-life scene. Relatively cheap bars line North Orange Avenue, the city’s main drag. For more tourist-oriented attractions, head to the bright lights and neon signs of International Drive, where mini golf, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, the world’s largest McDonald’s, and Wonderworks (a science funhouse in an upside-down building) awaits.
In the US, good table manners means quiet eating. Loud chewing, talking with food in your mouth, or slurping are seen as rude, and burping or flatulence is not seen as complementary to the chef. Servers at sitdown restaurants usually expect to be tipped 15-20%.
Dress in the US tends to be more modest than in Europe. Toplessness, particularly in women, should be avoided. Many establishments will require a customer to wear a shirt and shoes. The most acceptable forms of public affection are hugging and holding hands; kissing in public will usually draw some glances. Although most cities are tolerant of homosexuality, gay or lesbian couples should be aware that they may receive unwanted attention for public displays of affection, especially in rural areas. Also, note that many American will say “see you later” without really intending to make future plans.
One of the most offensive gestures in the US is extending your middle finger at someone. Known as “giving someone the finger,” this gesture is considered not only rude, but obscene. On the other hand, a “thumbs up” gesture is a sign of approval and a widely recognized signal for hitchhiking, which Let’s Go does not recommend.