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Orlando Travel Guide

About Orlando

If there was ever a city dedicated to enjoyment, then Orlando is it. Even the most cursory drive through the city will tell you one thing: there is no disguising the fact Orlando is a city built on theme parks. Lots of them.

Strange to think that until 1966, though, there was precious little here in central Florida. A few roadside attractions aside, it was one man, Walt Disney, who really changed the landscape. No matter which way you slice it, growth has spiralled thanks to a huge influx of tourists that followed the arrival of Walt Disney World Resort.

Almost all of Florida’s cities and resorts are based around its long coastline, naturally capitalising on the beaches or swampland national parks that attract so many international visitors. Orlando is the only real exception, a strange, idiosyncratic place in the middle of the Floridian wasteland, and coincidentally one of the most famous resort towns in the world attracting around 50 million tourists a year.

Most head straight to one of the theme parks, the biggest and most famous being Disney World. Beginning with the original Magic Kingdom, which opened in 1971, the park has expanded to encompass three more theme parks, two water parks, a mini town called Downtown Disney and a pretty lakeside stretch known as the Boardwalk.

But while theme parks dominate, Orlando has built a distinct character of its own. There has been a stab at giving the city some historic context with the promotion of ‘Old Orlando’, a stretch of the increasingly gentrified Downtown which includes Orange and Garland Avenues.

There’s also the pretty Lake Eola, with brick streets lined with old oak trees and 19th-century homes, as well as retro roadside attractions such as Gatorland.

Really though, Orlando is all about encouraging as many people to have as much fun as they can cram into a fortnight– whether that’s at Disney, Universal or in the city centre itself.

Key facts

Population:
285.713 (2020)
Latitude:
28.538336
Longitude:
-81.379237

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Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Resort

An 18-storey atrium welcomes honeymooners and families, screeching parrots and all. It’s hard to imagine a more replete resort hotel, and there’s a whole world to explore, from one of the best pools in the country to the comprehensive sports on offer to the destination restaurants.

Galleria Palms Hotel & Suites

One of the best-located budget hotel options you’re only a mile and a half from Disney but you can stay at a fraction of the price of similarly placed hotels. The rooms aren’t the largest you’ll ever stay in but they are clean and modern and there’s even a free breakfast.

Doubletree by Hilton Orlando at SeaWorld

Formerly the Doubletree Resort Orlando, a US$35m refurbishment in 2010 means this is now one of the best value hotels on International Drive. Set in 11 hectares (28 acres) of landscaped gardens, there are three main pools and a children’s pool. There are varied dining options on site, and a myriad of choices just nearby.

Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge

This magnificently themed resort is a real slice of Africa, complete with a 13-hectare (33-acre) wildlife reserve out the windows of the 1,293 rooms in the six-storey luxury resort. Rooms are laid out in a horseshoe shape after a kraal African village design.

Disney's Pop Century Resort

The best and newest of Disney's budget-priced hotels, with 2,880 rooms that pay tribute to 20th-century pop culture and great pool amenities. Expect bright colours and themes from the 1950s to the 80s. You’re close to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Portofino Bay Hotel

This re-creation of an Italian fishing village is in the heart of Universal Orlando Resort, complete with fine restaurants and shops. The guest rooms are decorated with a Mediterranean theme and there’s a lively piazza with vintage Italian sports cars and scooters.