With its gleeful bombast, over-the-top showmanship, and extravagant deployment of dreams as quotidien entertainment, Orlando may be the most "American" city in the nation. It's also the most popular family destination on earth; some 50 million visitors a year flood its theme parks and hotels in ceaseless pursuit of childhood fantasy (or regression). While the vast majority of the crowds orbit the big-ticket amusements furnished by Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Florida, and SeaWorld, more determined travelers will uncover a surprisingly sophisticated, albeit lesser-known city rooted in Old Florida values if they take the time to seek it out. Walt Disney World may have put Orlando on the map back in 1971, but beyond Disney World, there are world-class theme parks, shops, and restaurants for Orlando travelers to visit.
Things Not to Miss in Orlando
Orlando is a manmade paradise for sun worshippers. There are so many attractions vying for your attention here that it's important to pin down your itinerary - not to mention, make reservations and book tickets - in advance. Use the standouts in our Orlando travel guide to craft your fun-focused itinerary. Highlights include:
• Walt Disney World, of course: the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom
• Universal Studios
• LEGOLAND Florida
• The Mall at Millenia
• Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville
When to Visit Orlando
Travel to Orlando for year-round sunshine; there's no real off-season here. Just expect an afternoon shower or two, and pack accordingly. The city's southerly location means only slightly cooler temperatures during the winter, but avoid spring break, when the parks and restaurants are completely overrun with tourists. You might want to skip out on Orlando travel during prime vacation periods to avoid standing on long theme park lines.
Taking a theme-park backstage tour—whether a Segway ride through Epcot’s World Showcase (before it opens), a wildlife encounter on the Animal Kingdom’s Backstage Safari, or a chance to interact with sharks at SeaWorld.
Catching a space-shuttle liftoff at close range at the Kennedy Space Center, just an hour’s drive away.
Riding at least one hair-raising, scream-until-you’re-hoarse ride: perhaps the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror free-fall at Disney’s Hollywood Studios?