25 Reasons We Love Orlando
You'd have to work hard to have a bad time: Here's where to eat, sleep, and scream your lungs out in America's funnest city.
1. For your amusement
Of the theme parks, none beats easy-to-navigate Universal Orlando. On one side is Universal Studios Florida, featuring the hilarious Shrek 4-D attraction and the brand-new Simpsons Ride. On the other side is Universal's Islands of Adventure, which caters to bigger kids with thrill rides like Dueling Dragons. In between is CityWalk, home to restaurants, live music, and shows (including the Blue Man Group). The best part? It's all within walking distance. 6000 Universal Blvd., 407/363-8000, universalorlando.com, one-day two-park pass $83, $73 for kids 3—9.
2. This little piggy...
Turkish-style mezes and fresh pasta dishes are among the pan-Mediterranean offerings at Harmoni Market. But it's the crisp flatbread appetizers that we really crave. 2305 Edgewater Dr., 407/206-0033, harmonimarket.com, flatbread from $9.
3. Art appreciation
In a sleek structure on the city's north end, the airy halls of the Orlando Museum of Art house a varied collection of paintings and sculptures, with a focus on American art from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Highlights include a richly detailed John James Audubon engraving of a great blue heron and a 1997 collage by Robert Rauschenberg. Most dramatic, however, is the installation by glass designer Dale Chihuly in the atrium, which is composed of 434 pieces of handblown glass. 2416 N. Mills Ave., 407/896-4231, omart.org, $8, $5 for kids 6—18.
4. A spot of tea
More than six dozen varieties of tea make Infusion Tea in College Park the ideal place for a healthy pick-me-up. The vegetarian menu includes an organic PB&J on whole wheat. 1600 Edgewater Dr., 407/999-5255, infusionorlando.com, PB&J $4.
5. Fit for a Mayan king
If there's one thing teenagers hate, it's being lumped in with younger kids—a good reason to consider Disney's Coronado Springs. The resort has a mellow, grown-up setting—Spanish-colonial-style structures and a Mayan-themed pool complex border a 15-acre lake—without sacrificing proximity to Walt Disney World. 407/939-1000, disneyworld.com, from $165.
6. Dive right in
Orlando isn't all cartoons and cotton candy. Since 1954, Wally's Mills Avenue Liquors has attracted a cross section of locals looking for hearty chitchat and generous pours. "You'll find politicians and attorneys, but also the working man," says co-owner Martin Snellgrove. 1001 N. Mills Ave., 407/896-6975, Jack and Coke $5.
7. Swan lake
On pleasant afternoons, couples, families, and joggers make their way around the 0.9-mile loop encircling Lake Eola (it's walking distance from much of downtown). Rent a swan-shaped pedal boat, inspired by the real swans in the area, for a leisurely ride on the water. 195 N. Rosalind Ave., 30-minute boat rental $12.
8. Slime-time entertainment
Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob SquarePants, and Diego all make appearances at the Nickelodeon Family Suites by Holiday Inn. The resort also has cartoon murals in every room, two pool areas, a kids' spa (for temporary tattoos), a basketball court, and mini golf. And every afternoon, there's a public sliming. 14500 Continental Gateway, 866/462-6425, nickhotel.com, from $189.
9. Fresh oyster cult
Lee & Rick's Oyster Bar looks as if it hasn't changed much since it opened in 1950. Behind the ship-shaped façade is a wood-paneled dining room that draws locals of all stripes for buckets of oysters so fresh you can almost hear the crashing surf. At the concrete bar, shuckers pry open Apalachicola oysters as fast as you can eat them. 5621 Old Winter Garden Rd., 407/293-3587, bucket $17.
10. And that's no croc
Gatorland is a 110-acre park that's been devoted since 1949 to all things alligator. There's a breeding marsh, a snack shop selling gator nuggets (chewy!), and lots of alligator wrestling. Watch as a brave young man sends an eight-foot gator into a slumber. "We turn them on their backs," says Bret Chism, a Gatorland wrestler for more than 20 years. "It's called tonic immobility, and it's an unnatural position for a gator to be in. You can do it to chickens, toads, even sharks." After the pros are done, if you pay an extra $10 you'll get to sit on the gator yourself. 14501 S. Orange Blossom Trail, 800/393-5297, gatorland.com, $23, $15 for kids 3—12.