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.
11. Guess who's coming to dinner
Parents can turn an average meal into an unforgettable event by booking a character dining experience at Walt Disney World. More than a dozen spots within the various Disney parks and resorts offer breakfast, lunch, or dinner with Mickey, Minnie, and the rest of the gang. But if you have little girls, make a reservation well in advance for the daily banquet with Disney princesses at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall inside Epcot Center. 407/939-3463, disneyworld.com, from $11.
12. Isn't she sweet?
The Dessert Lady Cafe has a long list of chocolate concoctions, but you'll also be tempted by the carrot cake, bourbon pecan pie, and a daily selection of bread pudding—all in shareable portions. Indecisive types will like the four-item sampler. Kirkman Shoppes, 4900 S. Kirkman Rd., 407/822-8881, dessertlady.com, desserts $9.
13. Super sandwich
Don't let the unassuming location in a downtown strip mall fool you: Pom Moongauklang, owner of Pom Pom's Teahouse and Sandwicheria, has taken the pressed sandwich to a new level. Favorites include the Fu Man Chu (Asian pulled pork with goat cheese, watercress, onion, and ginger-cranberry chutney) and a delectable curried chicken salad. 67 N. Bumby Ave., 407/894-0865, myspace.com/pompomsteahouse, curried chicken sandwich $7.
14. Gently down the spring
At Wekiwa Springs State Park, 20 minutes north of downtown, you can rent a canoe at the Wekiva Marina, paddle the beginner-friendly route to the springs, and then jump in for a swim. Along the river, keep your eyes peeled for turtles, egrets, and gators. (Don't worry, the latter avoid the springs.) Get an early start to avoid weekend crowds. 1014 Miami Springs Rd., Longwood, 407/862-1500, wekiva-marina.com, full-day rental $20, state park admission $1.
15. A store with spine
It's easy to spend hours scanning the shelves at UrbanThink!, the downtown independent bookseller known for its selection of Florida-themed titles. These include everything from coffee-table books on regional architecture to fiction by Zora Neale Hurston, who was raised in nearby Eatonville. 625 E. Central Blvd., 407/650-8004, urbanthinkorlando.com.
16. Splish splash
The new park by SeaWorld, Aquatica, has the requisite lazy rivers and gut-churning waterslides, but what's unique are the attractions built around animal habitats: The Dolphin Plunge propels riders down a 300-foot tube slide right through a lagoon where Commerson's dolphins swim. 5800 Water Play Way, 800/327-2424, aquaticabyseaworld.com, $39, $33 for kids 3—9.
17. Nosh around the clock
The food at the 24-hour B-Line Diner, located inside the Peabody Orlando hotel, is as '50s-style as the decor, which means you'll find burgers and shakes, as well as the signature chicken pot pie and big-enough-for-two wedges of tasty Key lime pie. 9801 International Dr., 407/352-4000, peabodyorlando.com, pot pie $13.
18. Light fantastic
The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art showcases a comprehensive collection of 19th-century designer Louis Comfort Tiffany's work. Most resplendent is a chapel he designed for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Until the museum finished reassembling it in 1999, the room hadn't been seen by the public in its entirety for more than 100 years. 445 N. Park Ave., Winter Park, 407/645-5311, morsemuseum.org, $3, kids under 12 free.
19. Good evening, Vietnam
Well-known for its flavorful tamarind-cured beef salad, Lac Viet Bistro is a standout in Little Saigon. The servers will guide you through the many traditional specialties, but you can't go wrong with the Com Bo Luc Lac ($8), a tender, wok-seared steak with garlic, pepper, and butter. 2021 E. Colonial Dr., 407/228-4000.
20. Do look back
A trove of artifacts relating to Florida—including an annotated manuscript of The Dharma Bums, which Jack Kerouac wrote in Orlando—is on display at the Orange County Regional History Center, in the heart of downtown. It's housed in a pristinely refurbished 1927 courthouse. 65 E. Central Blvd., 407/836-8500, thehistorycenter.org, $10, $4 for kids 3—12.