The Best Things to do in Orlando

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My visit to the Sunshine State came over the 4th of July holiday and saw Nomadic American and I hit South Beach in Miami, beautiful Sanibel Island, and quaint Sarasota before we parted ways – her to return to work and myself to achieve a few lifelong dreams by visiting Disney World and seeing a pro wrestling pay-per-view live.

Orlando is famed the world around as a vacation spot for family trips, retreats for couples, or gatherings of friends alike. The city offers a bit of everything, and there are attractions for all ages, ranging from exciting amusement parks to beautiful beaches.

 

Even if you aren’t one for “tourist traps” such as theme parks, I found that Orlando was a whole lot of fun. It’s all well and good to put your nose up and sniff with disdain at such noise and colour, but my time in Orlando rekindled a bit of my childhood sense of wonder that had been dulled by my time in often dreary China. For affordable lodging options in Orlando, check out gogobot.

Walt Disney World

A visit to Walt Disney
Image via Jeff Christiansen

You’d be hard pressed to find a child who didn’t grow up with the movies and music of Disney playing some part in their formative years. Whether you were raised on a diet of Snow White & Bambi, The Lion King & The Little Mermaid, or more recent Pixar offerings – a visit to Disney World is an opportunity to rediscover some of your inner child.

Walt Disney World (of which I only got to experience Magic Kingdom) is actually four unique parks: The Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Epcot. It’s almost certainly not possible to do a single park justice in just the one day, so someday I’ll need to go back and catch up on all I missed. These four parks are in addition to shopping areas such as Downtown Disney and the two water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach.

Hanging out with my boy Goofy when I visited the Magic Kingdom in 2012.
Hanging out with my boy Goofy when I visited the Magic Kingdom in 2012.

The traditional rides and more iconic areas of Walt Disney World are in the Magic Kingdom, so you can take a scary ride through the Haunted Mansion or say hello to Mickey Mouse and other favorites.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the second largest theme park on earth and the largest of the Disney parks, and straddles the line between zoo and theme park. Whether you’re keen to see some of Africa or Asia’s most famous animals roaming or want to ride rides such as Expedition Everest or DINOSAUR, there’s plenty to occupy adventurers both young and old. In the future, an Avatar themed portion of the park will only further add to its allure.

Hollywood Studios is born of the now defunct MGM studios, and much of that former park can be seen in this tinseltown themed portion of the park. Rides such as the famous Tower of Terror as well as live performance keep visitors entertained. In nearby Epcot, is more a world showcase than it is a theme park proper, allowing visitors to ‘tour’ countries such as Japan, the UK, and China.

Daytona Beach

Daytona Beach
Photo by Karen Kleis.

Daytona Beach is a little over an hour away from the downtown area of Orlando, Florida. Home to one of the biggest NASCAR races of the year, Daytona Beach is more than just a race location.

Once more of a destination for students on spring break or those looking to party, the city has made an effort to tone this down; and it is now a great destination for families as well. The beaches have plenty of parking, and with the beautiful weather throughout most of the year, it is a great spot to visit.

Motorheads can get their rev on by visiting the famous speedway or even participating in the Richard Petty Driving Experience, but those looking for more sedate pleasures might enjoy visiting sites such as the historic Ponce de Leon Lighthouse or the various museums and historic homes in the area.

Kids can be entertained along the boardwalk at a variety of exciting stops as well, so there really is something for all walks of life on this world famous beach.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Wizarding World
Photo from Pat Williams

I came in at the wrong age to really get into Harry Potter fever. I was a tad too old to get into the books when they started hitting the shelves, and only really developed an appreciation for the series as its films matured.

That being said, visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is very much on my radar. I’m a sucker for the pageantry of a well designed theme park, and I reckon I’d get a real kick out of exploring the world of the popular books/movies.

Thankfully, Muggles are welcome at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where guests can enjoy a walk through Hogwarts, sip on pumpkin juice or Butterbeer, or shop for a wand at Ollivander’s.

Much as I felt enchanted by the fact I could shake hands with Goofy or dine with Ariel at the Disney Parks, Harry Potter fans of all ages will doubtless enjoy the excitement of spending a day in the life of Harry, Hermione, and even Draco. There are rides throughout the park, including two thrilling rollercoasters. The park recently underwent some renovations, which added several more rides and restaurants that serve some of Harry’s favorite meals.

Having read A Dangerous Business’ 10 things you must do at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I’m all the more keen to go.

SeaWorld

seaworld
Photo by inazakira

Depending on how much credence you give Blackfish (and I’d recommend you check it out, one way or the other), you might baulk at paying a visit to SeaWorld. I’m not here to judge or guilt you either way.

The fact is, SeaWorld is a famous park and it’s the kind of place kids are going to love. The park features exciting aquatic life shows and rides for guests, but there is also a separate water park with exciting slides that help you and your family keep cool on a hot day. This is a great attraction to visit if your vacation is during the summer months, since it gets warm and humid in Orlando throughout June, July, and August.

With all of that variety, nobody is forcing you to go watch the live animal performance aspects of the park. There’s certainly enough going on that you can entertain the kids (or the big kid in you) without feeling guilty for watching a killer whale or dolphin show.

Medieval Times

Medieval Times
Photo courtesy of Experience Kissimmee

Whether you want to get a little more Game of Thrones (sans the incest) in your life or you’re hoping to recreate the famous scene from the criminally underrated The Cable Guy, you’ll be pleased to know that Medieval Times is a thing and it’s close to Orlando.

How close? Kissimmee is located just over 22 miles from downtown Orlando. Medieval Times offers both dinner and a thrilling show. The entertainment portion includes tales of love, courage, and devotion, with knights travelling across the stage on horses and engaging in sword fights. You can also dine on four courses of delicious food such as tasty meats, soups, side dishes, breads, and pastries. There are also vegetarian options available.

It may be the shameless D&D nerd in me, but I kind of dig the idea of chowing down on a sizeable turkey leg while watching dudes in armour wail on one another.

See a Wrestling Show

Photo by Ed Webster.
Photo by Ed Webster.

One of the highlights of my very awesome US trip was checking out a TNA pay-per-view live. I was lucky enough to be crammed in at ringside to see my favourite wrestler at the time win his first world title, and it was a whole lot of fun.

Whether or not you’re a fan of the pomp and circumstance that is professional wrestling, it’s something I’d suggest anybody who enjoys a bit of theatre experience. The storylines may be low brow and the acting often terrible, but there’s plenty to be admired in the physical aspect of a pro wrestling show.

While TNA have since taken their show on the road, I’ve got nothing but good things to say about the NXT shows that take place at Orlando’s Full Sail University. I’d definitely see an NXT show if my travels took me back to Florida.

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Your Say

What are your favourite spots in and around Orlando when you travel?

I’ve highlighted some of the more well known above, so I’d love your more off-the-beaten-track suggestions!

Featured image courtesy of Jason Mrachina

 

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