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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. It’s unclear why, but it’s thought to be named after Sentinel Orlando Reeve, who was felled by arrows and buried on the south side of Lake Eola 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 Adventure Park 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.

Success as a tourism destination was assured in 1962 when Orlando International Airport opened.

However, the defining year for Orlando was 1965, when Walt Disney announced plans to build a theme park here, 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 is changing the city’s skyline, and enterprise outside of tourism (information technology and financial services) is being widely encouraged. But for now it’s 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 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.

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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.