Orlando Away from the Theme Parks
How to Get Acquainted with the City Beautiful
You've heard it before, maybe you've said it before, “I’m not really a theme park person, so what does Orlando have for me?” Well, the answer is: LOTS.
I work my day job in Orlando (at one of the theme parks.) I moved here 4 years ago, and am learning the ins and outs of the place fairly well. I go to the beach quite often, and am spending my time off exploring some of the farther flung fun spots.
If you’re a beachcomber, you’re in luck. Orlando is centrally located, meaning that the beach is just a short day trip away. An hour and a half to the east are Atlantic beaches like Cocoa, Daytona, and New Smyrna, each of which has its own special flavor. An hour and a half to the west are the Gulf beaches of Tampa, St. Petersburg (called St. Pete by Floridians), and Clearwater. Also, if you go the same distance southwest, you’ll find Fort Myers and Sanibel Island, which provides some of the best shell-collecting fodder anywhere on the east coast.
I spend most of my beach time on the east coast, because I’m on the east side of town, but I have been to many of the others. In addition to lying on miles of uninterrupted sand and finding your own paradise on one of the many keys that dot the area, most of the beaches are filled with activities off the sand, too.
Maybe sports are more your thing. Again, it’s hard to beat ‘The City Beautiful.’ Located right in the heart of downtown is the Amway Center complex. It is home to the NBA’s Orlando Magic (www.nba.com/magic), the East Coast Hockey League’s Orlando Solar Bears (www.orlandosolarbearshockey.com), arena football in the form of the Orlando Predators (www.orlandopredators.com), and Orlando City Soccer (www.orlandocitysoccer.com).
I have been to several events here, but my personal favorite leans toward the hockey. I've been a fan since I was introduced to it by some friends in college. The fans are great, and the game is rowdy and fast-paced. Watching a game on t.v. is great, but there’s really no substitute for going to see it live.
There’s another great sport that I've neglected to mention: sport fishing. If you are a freshwater angler, there is no shortage of lakes in Central Florida. Plenty of rivers, too. If you want to go out to the coast for some saltwater action, again, only a short drive away, day trips go out every morning.
You can opt for a ½ day excursion (4 hours) or a full day (8 hours.) I went out on a ½ day excursion from Port Orange, which is just south of Daytona Beach on the Atlantic side of the state. The fishing was great, and the $45 price included bait, license, fuel, and expert advice.
On a 4 hour trip, you only go out a few miles, so you never really lose sight of land. Be forewarned, if you've been on a cruise ship, this, as they say, ain’t it. The accommodations are rather Spartan. Since the ship is smaller, it moves a bit more than your bigger ships. It will take a few minutes to get your sea legs, but after that, you should be alright.
If you’re more of a history and museum person, check out the Orlando Science Center (www.osc.org), the Orlando Museum of Art (www.omart.org), The Orange County Historical Center (www.thehistorycenter.org), or the Mennello Museum of American Art (www.mennellomuseum.com).
Do you like your entertainment live? There’s the Winter Park Playhouse (www.winterparkplayhouse.org), the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra (www.orlandophil.org), or the Orlando Shakespeare Theater (www.orlandoshakes.org). Plus, there are a ton of great live events held throughout the year.
For a more complete listing of these events as well as links to information about them, go to www.visitorlando.com.
Be forewarned…many people have summers to take their vacations in, because kids are out of school or their place of business has a summer shutdown period, but summers are brutally hot here. Also, it rains nearly every day during the summer…not for long, usually only 20 minutes to an hour, and then the sun is back out.
If you can swing it, probably the best time to visit is in the winter. While most of the rest of the country is mired in terribly cold temperatures and snow and ice, Orlando is mild and very autumn-like. You can still get along with shorts during the day, but will want to switch to long pants and a sweater, jacket, or sweatshirt for the night. Plus, the crowds of tourists are GREATLY reduced.
February is really the only month of the year that I would call ‘cold.’ Even then, the average daytime high is almost 50. At night, it cools off considerably, but still rarely gets to 30, much less below it.
Orlando and the surrounding area are filled with numerous distractions of daily life. That's why our community is never boring. The museums are fascinating, the sports action is intense, and the plethora of blues fests, film fests, barbecue events, and concerts never disappoint.