Orlando is a city that went from being located in "the middle of nowhere" to being near "the place you want to be" for fun in Florida. Predominantly made up of farmland for harvesting oranges, Orlando and the surrounding area became a tourist destination only after Walt Disney bought large plots of farmland in the 1960's to create what would become the world's largest theme park in 1971. Since that time, Orlando has turned into a thriving, modern, and successful city. Over time, a large number of other theme parks and entertainment venues have found their way to the area. These attractions, as well as the city's proximity to the Kennedy Space Center, have helped to make Orlando one of the hottest tourist destinations in the world.
Highlights of Orlando
- Walt Disney World & Parks
- Kennedy Space Center
- Blue Spring State Park
- Orlando Museum of Art
Most people don't go to Orlando to see Orlando, as it doesn't have much of historical interest and has really become what it is today due to the surrounding theme parks and other tourist attractions that have made it famous.
There are a variety of stories as to how Orlando first got its name, one of which concerned an American volunteer soldier named Orlando Reeves who, during the Seminole War in 1835, was at his post and happened to notice what appeared to be a log drifting in the lake near the soldier's camp. He soon realized that it was an Indian and sounded the alarm to alert his company. It is said that the volunteer soldiers that decided to stay and make the area their home named the town "Orlando" as a sign of gratitude to their fellow comrade.
Orlando city's main claims to fame are the Harry P Leu Gardens, an estate with over 2000 varieties of camellia and an 18th century mansion, The Orlando Science Center, and the Orlando Museum of Art. As a result of the slim-pickings within the city, most use Orlando as a base from which they can then make their excursions to the nearby theme parks.
Walt Disney World
Covering an area twice the size of New York's Manhattan, Walt Disney World is the world's biggest amusement resort. Disney has four main parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios, and Animal Kingdom) as well as three water parks, shopping, 22 hotels, and enough other trappings to make it a "city" unto itself. Each of the main parks is unique. Disney MGM Studios enables visitors to go behind the scenes and watch the making of Disney movies and TV shows. Epcot is an interpretation of the "future" with innovative scientific exhibits, hands on computers, and virtual reality technology displays. In its "World Showcase" section, 11 countries from all over the world are represented by offering a taste of foreign entertainment, architecture and cuisine. Animal Kingdom is a great place to visit if you are an animal lover. Those who can't afford an true African Safari can enjoy the Safari "experience" in this large park with a variety of animals that you would normally only see in the wild. Of all of Disney's parks, Magic Kingdom is probably the most well-known. This is a great place to go if you like it clean and simple. Great rides, entertainment, food, and a variety of areas to visit with different "themes" to give you a truly magical experience.
Kennedy Space Center
While it's a bit of a drive from Orlando to the Kennedy Space Center, this is definitely a place worth a visit. Established in 1958, when the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) started Project Mercury to compete with the Soviets' successful launch of Sputnik, the Space Center now draws 2 million visitors per year. The US started launching its spaceships from Cape Canaveral, a stone's throw from the Kennedy Space Center, because of its weather, its proximity to the ocean (for splash landings) and the huge, unpopulated tracts of land available to the government for testing. Mercury was succeeded by Project Gemini, then Project Apollo, which landed a man on the moon. The Space Coast still maintains facilities for unmanned and space shuttle launches. The Astronaut Hall of Fame, in nearby Titusville, is also worth a look. The Hall is dedicated to exhibiting every detail of the astronauts' lives and boasting a shuttle-landing simulator ride and G-force trainer. Titusville also has excellent vantage points from which to watch shuttle launches if you happen to be there at the right time.
Blue Spring State Park
For hundreds of years the Blue Spring area (about 40 miles or 65 km north of Orlando) was home to the Timucuan Indians, until settlers drove them off in the mid-1800s. Today, Blue Spring State Park is said to be the best place in the state to see manatees in their natural habitat, especially between November and March, when the St John's River to the north gets cold enough to drive the manatees to Blue Spring's warmer waters.
Orlando Museum of Art
This is a great spot to visit if you are tired of theme parks and want to enjoy some art. Additional information about the Museum may be found at www.omart.org. ISE Cardholders receive $2.00 off of the admission price.
River Country is a great place for tubing down waterslides, hiking along nature trails, canoeing or even biking. It is open daily from 10am-5pm.
Sea World of Florida
Sea World in Florida has one of the best animal rescue operations in the country and your admission price helps to partially fund the project. In addition, Sea World has a lot to offer with its roller-coaster ride, dolphin nursery, Terrors of the Deep aquarium and ever-popular otters. There are also a variety of shows worth seeing with leaping dolphins and whales, as well as humorous sea lions sliding on and off set on cue. The park is open daily 9a.m. -7p.m. and until 11pm in the summer. ISE Cardholders save 15% on admission. Get more details by clicking here.
Universal Studios Florida
Orlando's Universal Studios is a combination working movie studio and theme park. Some of the trademark attractions include Terminator 2: 3D, a spectacular 3D experience, and Back to the Future, with phenomenal special effects.
Wet 'N Wild
For those interested in taking a break from the heat, Wet N Wild is a fun option. With a variety of water slides, and water rides, this is a fun way to "get soaked". ISE Cardholders will receive $3.00 off of all day admission price.
The Titanic Exhibition
For those interested in an up-close view of some of the artifacts recovered from the Titanic, this is an excellent option. In addition to artifacts, there is a memorial to those that were lost as well as an exhibition which enables visitors to walk past recreations of different parts of the ship to get a taste for what it was like to be a passenger. Additional information may be found at www.titanicshipofdreams.com. If you have an ISE Card, you will receive 10% off of the regular admission price (up to three people).
This is a fantastic attraction for those who enjoy horror shows and magic. The "Haunted Mansion" look of the place helps add to the appeal. Additional information may be found at www.skullkingdom.com. ISE Cardholders will receive $3.00 off of the admission price.
Mystery Fun House
The Mystery Fun House is for those who like video games and mini-golf. ISE Cardholders receive 50% off of the admission price to the Fun House and Jurassic Putt mini-golf course.
Since Florida is know for its alligators, it makes sense that there would be theme park dedicated to them. Gatorland has been called the "Alligator Capital of the World", as it contains 1000's of alligators and crocodiles and covers over 100acres. While it is a theme park, it is also a wildlife reserve and shows aim to teach as well as entertain. Gatorland is located just minutes away from Sea World, Walt Disney World and Universal Studios. Additional information may be found on their website. ISE Cardholders will receive 20% off of the regular admission rates (offer valid for up to 6 people).
Sak Comedy Lab
If you're interested in watching improv comedy shows, this is a great place to visit. Information on show-times, etc. may be found at www.sak.com. ISE Cardholders will receive 50% off of the general admission price.
Places to Stay
Additional information about this hotel may be found at www.bestwestern.com. ISE Cardholders will receive 10-15% off of the rack rate at Best Western Hotels. Each hotel has a corporate ID number that needs to be mentioned when calling. These numbers can be found on the ISE website under the "Search Discount Database" section.
Comfort Suites Orlando
Additional information about this beautiful hotel may be found at www.comfortsuitesorlando.com. Those with an ISE Card will receive 10% off of their room rate; however, some restrictions do apply.
Sheraton Suites Orlando Airport
If you are interested in staying near the airport and enjoying a suite with your friends, this might be a nice option. Additional information about this hotel may be found at www.sheratonairport.com. ISE Cardholders will receive 10% off (restrictions apply).
Quality Inn Plaza
This hotel is located at 9000 International Drive. Reservations may be made by calling (800) 999-8585 in the US. ISE Cardholders will receive 50% off of the rack rate.
Wynfield Inn Westwood
This hotel is located at 6263 Westwood Boulevard. For reservations in the US call: (800) 346-1551. Those with an ISE Card will receive 50% off of the rack rate based on availability plus $2.50 per day service fee which covers 800 # access, local calls, in room safe, coffee, & tea.
There are a wide variety of places to stay in Orlando. To search for hostels online with full descriptions, photos and availability features, please click here. The $2 reservation fee will be waived when booking through this site.
Places to Eat
Sleuths Mystery Dinner Theater
If you are looking for an enjoyable dinner experience, the Sleuths Mystery Theater is a lot of fun. A variety of dinner shows are offered which feature a comedy/murder mystery in which you can get involved firsthand in "solving" a murder while enjoying your meal! Call 1-800-393-1985 for reservations. The Theater is located at 7508 Universal Blvd. Those with an ISE Card will receive $4.00 off of the admission price (valid for up to six guests).
Pirate's Dinner Adventure
Another great dinner/show attraction can be found at the Pirate's Dinner Adventure. Reservations may be made online. The theme of this show is just as you'd expect, pirates fighting it out on a giant ship with the audience being held for ransom! Additional information may be found at www.piratesdinneradventure.com. ISE Cardholders will receive $5.00 off per person (valid for up to six people).
If you are interested in the attractions around Orlando, a car is a necessity. From downtown Orlando, take I-4 south. There are a handful of car rental companies at the airport and many more downtown.
If you have a phone book, you can always reserve a taxi, however, please be aware that this is the only way to get a taxi in Orlando, as they do not stop for curbside pick-ups.
For getting around Orlando, the best, and cheapest route, is to go by bus. The bus circuit is efficient and inexpensive and the downtown circuit is free. The Lynx Bus Center is a good starting point (one block east of Orange Ave.) There are buses that run from here to the Disney parks if you are interested.
There are good bus connections from Orlando to all the major cities in Florida; unfortunately, the bus station is quite a distance outside of town. ISE Cardholders that keep their Greyhound bus receipts will be reimbursed 10% off the ticket price (walk-up tickets only).
There are a variety of taxi services in Orlando, but make sure that you call them in advance as it is not the custom here to wave taxis down in the street. If you are planning on taking the bus out of Orlando, you should probably get a taxi to the station.
Amtrak runs direct services between Orlando and Miami, Gainesville and points to the north. ISE Cardholders will receive a discount of 15% off by calling 1-800-835-8725 in the US to make their reservation with Amtrak and then calling 1- 800-255-8000 and give your reservation number and information to ISE so that they can send you a rebate check.
Orlando International Airport (MCO), is located in the southeastern corner of the city, and is the largest in Central Florida. It's served by almost all major airlines.