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World Travel Guide > Guides > North America > United States of America > Florida > Orlando

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Orlando History

Orlando was originally named Jernigan after early settler Aaron Jernigan, who travelled down from Georgia and established the location in 1843. The city grew relatively slowly around the abandoned Fort Gatlin, an old army post erected during the Seminole Wars.

The town's name was permanently changed to Orlando in 1857. The city is thought to be named after Orlando Reeve, a sentinel who was felled by arrows and buried on the south side of Lake Eola after having saved his unit guarding the camp.

The area was heavily farmed into the early 20th century, first with cattle, then cotton and finally orange groves during the ‘Orange Fever’ period of the late 19th century.

The Florida land boom of the 1920s saw extensive development and Orlando enjoyed minor success as a middle-class resort. Although the boom was short-lived, the city’s tourism reputation was consolidated with the opening of Cypress Gardens in 1936.

Cypress Gardens was opened as a botanical garden, but quickly became a major attraction, known for its waterskiing. It remained open through until 2009, when it closed and was reopened as LEGOLAND Florida Resort.

Success as a tourism destination was assured in 1965, when Walt Disney announced plans to build a theme park there, ahead of Miami and Tampa. After opening the resort in 1971, there was an explosion of housing and hotels, and tourism quickly spurned further development.

The rise in theme parks and resorts became exponential, and the city now has the most theme parks and attractions in the world.

More recently, a burgeoning central business district, or financial district, is changing the city’s skyline, and enterprise outside of tourism (e.g. information technology and financial services) is being widely encouraged. However, for now, it is the theme parks that continue to encourage millions of tourists to visit each year.

Did you know?
• Orlando’s first settler, Aaron Jernigan, was arrested on murder charges and escaped jail twice.
• The huge Floral Clock situated in Leu Gardens was actually imported from Scotland in 1966.
• In 1884, a huge fire destroyed much of Downtown Orlando, including The Orange County Reporter newspaper plant.

Featured Hotels

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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.

Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld

This beautiful resort-style hotel is right opposite SeaWorld, and has an impressive lobby atrium and a spectacular indoor courtyard. For the price, this hotel has great rooms and the restaurant choice is reassuringly diverse. All in all, this property offers superb value in this price range.

Sheraton Safari Hotel and Suites

With larger than average rooms, a great pool and an ideal location just outside Walt Disney World Resort, this make this a good family choice. As you can imagine, the décor is largely animal prints and exotic details. There’s been attention paid to the outdoor areas, including a 24m (80ft) water slide in the pool. The hotel is currently undergoing a US$25 million renovation, due for completion this spring.

Walt Disney World Swan and Walt Disney World Dolphin

The former operated by Westin and the latter by Sheraton, these are the archetypal fancy Disney hotels with all the attendant allures. Between the two hotels, there are 2,267 luxury rooms and 254,000 sq ft of meeting and exhibition space. They share 17 restaurants and lounges, four swimming pools, two health clubs, and a wide array of recreational activities.