Visiting Orlando, Florida
Orlando is in the middle of the State of Florida. Its centralness is the key reason why many base their visit to the state there, rent a car, and explore it.
Orlando offers a lot by itself, but it has no ocean waves or shorelines with palms. It does have Disney's Epcot, Typhoon Lagoon, Blizzard Beach, Animal Kingdom. Take Exit 67 off I-4. It has Aquatica and Sea World, take Exit 71 off I-4. Further up I-4, at Exit 74, there are two other theme parks, Universal Studios and the epic Wet n' Wild waterpark that has really thrilling water rides for 12 and up. A little further up at Exit 75A, there is Fun Spot where you can ride fairly fast go-carts around three different race tracks and experience a wild rollercoaster.
If you are into shopping at huge enclosed malls with high shops, take Exit 79 off I-4 to Millenia Mall, down the street is also another mall, Festival Bay at Oakridge Rd. The Florida Mall is off Sand Lake Road, you'll pass it from the airport.
Because of all the theme parks that anchor the area for tourists, there are lesser things to do that the area has:
- Ride Toho airboats on Lake Tohopekaliga at Kissimmee ( a suburb ) 321-624-2398
- Ride horses at 3705 S. Poinciana 407-847-4343
- Kissimmee Swamp Tours for alligators 407-436-1059. This tour takes you out in the wild, like Florida was 75 years ago. It is on Lake Kissimmee.
- Slingshot at 7007 International Drive 407-370-5353
- Legoland in Winter haven 877-350-LEGO
- Busch Gardens in Tampa (1.5 hrs away) - they have the best of it all
- Magical Midway, a limited ride park with Sling Shot, Star Flyer.
Arabian Nights, Medieval Times, Pirates Dinner shows- these are themed performances as you eat dinner. You experience the era. Fun! If you are a golfer, this could be dreamland- Orlando has 15 golf courses to choose from in Orlando - Kissimmee area.
Even with all these to offer a visitor, it is the ocean and tropical appeal it does not have except for Disney that tries to emulate it. The good news is that if you are visiting Florida for this and are based in Orlando, just rent a car with unlimited mileage and go! Tampa and Clearwater beach areas are within 1.5 hrs or 90 miles. These are on the Gulf. Or, go east to Daytona Beach on the Atlantic in an hour, 65 miles. St. Augustine with its historical significance and beaches and alligator farm are 120 miles away. Of course, if you want cool Miami, that is 3 hours away or 220 miles. Even Key West makes for a great road trip at 375 miles or six hours drive. We left at 8 A.M. and got there by 2:30 P.M, got the hotel at Marathon (in the middle of the Keys) and quickly at the Sombrero Beach, one of the Keys best beaches. That night, drove to Key West in 45 minutes. The next day, we went to Miami Beach.
Orlando's main drag, that, when in doubt about finding food, things to do, just go down International Drive. Its southern end begins at off the 417 Greenway near Sea World and Aquatica water park. Going north on it, you'll pass Sand Lake Rd. The whole drive is lined with hotels, eateries and stores. You'll pass Magical Midway and Slingshot, Wet n' Wild. It crosses another major road, Kirkman, passing Fun Spot until it ends at the Festival Bay Mall on Oakridge Rd.Other major roads in Orlando are: Sand Lake, John Young Parkway, Orange Blossom and Semoran.
The one thing that is annoying when driving in the area is the use of double names or references to the same road. For instance, Sand Lake Road also is labeled Road 528 and 482 and McCoy as you travel its length! Finding how to get on I-4 can be frustrating, one time, I ended up in Universal studios because there is a severe lack of directional signs to it. Instead of placing such signs at the intersections to guide you, they put them in odd places-so you are constantly looking well ahead.
If you rent a car, buy a Sunpass, register online, load the account with some money for toll roads. Many of the roads are tolls from $1 to $3. Instead of using cash, this fastpass allows you to drive through. In fact, some highways do not accept cash. So, buy a Sunpass online, Ebay has them for $10. It will save you a lot time and avoid worrying for it. Be sure you remove the pass from the windshield before you return the car!
I found the price of food in grocery stores very similar to those in California. The products were also very similar, gas is $3.40\gal. All of the major theme parks have similar entrance prices, however, Busch Gardens in Tampa really offers the best deal- unlimited visits for 14 days to both Busch Gardens and its Adventure water park for $85 a person. Just know that if there is thunder and lightning while in any theme park with rides, they will close the rides until the danger passes. It happened to us at Busch Gardens. Weather in Florida constantly changes in the summertime- it is their wet season!