Orlando is known as the theme park capital of the world, and for good reason – this central Florida city is home to more than a dozen theme parks. However, Orlando has a unique side that most visitors don’t get to see, since they just stick to the touristy theme parks. Locals, though, know that their city has much more to offer than just roller coasters and themed restaurants, so I made it my mission to discover the local’s side of Orlando during my recent Florida trip.
My family and I had planned our Orlando vacation months in advance, yet problems with our hotel bookings arose unexpectedly, and we ended up arriving in Orlando without a hotel room. Fortunately, we were able to book a great last-minute hotel on HotelTonight’s app, which completely alleviated our panic and stress over the unexpected travel problems. After checking into our hotel room, we got ready to experience the very best parts of Orlando, Florida.
Yes, I know that I said I wanted to see more of Orlando than just its theme parks, but it’s impossible to resist the magic of Disney World or the excitement of Universal Studios when they’re just a short shuttle ride away. So much of Orlando is like a giant playground, filled with plenty of rides and entertainment options, and we wanted to experience a bit of this fun while we were in the area. We made sure that our time in Orlando wasn’t completely consumed by theme park trips, though, since we did truly want to see what the actual city of Orlando is like.
After we had our fill of the theme parks, we set out to see Orlando like locals. Our first stop was downtown Orlando, which is a compact urban area that combines quaint, historic streets with glistening modern buildings. We spent some time in Wall Street Plaza, one of the best spots in Orlando for entertainment regardless of the time of day, and then wandered over to the picturesque Lake Eola Park. This 23-acre urban park is so photogenic it looks like it belongs at one of Orlando’s theme parks, yet it’s full of locals rather than tourists. Since it was a warm, sunny day, we decided to rent paddleboats and enjoy the view of downtown Orlando’s skyline from the water.
If you want to find real-world charm in the theme park capital of the world, you should check out College Park. As one of Orlando’s most desirable neighborhoods, College Park is full of energy, beauty, and character. There are a number of pretty public parks and great shopping and dining options, and it’s easy to see why locals love this area. Even though College Park is located just south of the bustling downtown, this neighborhood feels more like a small town than a suburb of a metropolis.
Winter Park used to be a haven for snowbirds, hence its name, but now it’s a favorite among locals and visitors alike. From its picturesque cobbled lanes to its colorful storefronts, Winter Park is awash in charm and beauty. This neighborhood is home to plenty of great restaurants and shops, and the best part is that this area is far enough away from the theme parks that you won’t be eating mediocre, overpriced tourist food.
Just a short drive outside of Orlando is Kissimmee, Florida, an idyllic town that offers great dining and shopping. However, we didn’t travel to Kissimmee to eat at another restaurant – we traveled to Kissimmee to explore the Florida Everglades. It’s not every day that you get to board an airboat and head out on the swampy waters to see some of Florida’s fascinating wildlife. During our airboat tour, we saw too many alligators to count, and we got to a glimpse of what the untouched Florida landscape is really like.
While Orlando is a hotbed of entertainment because of its incredible selection of amusement parks, this city is also a great destination on its own. There is so much to do and see in Orlando, regardless of whether you choose to visit the theme parks or not. With the warm central Florida weather and the welcoming neighborhoods in and around Orlando, this city is a great destination for all types of travelers. Personally, I enjoyed every moment of my time in Orlando, and I was grateful that HotelTonight made our vacation so easy and hassle-free.
Finding last-minute hotels can often seem like an arduous, stressful task, but HotelTonight makes it simple. Not only does HotelTonight provide travelers with last-minute hotel deals in popular destinations, but it also provides quality accommodations. When you’re forced to book last-minute accommodations, sometimes you have no choice but to stay in a small or dingy hotel. Fortunately, this isn’t the case with HotelTonight, which is something we quickly discovered when we booked our last-minute Orlando hotel. The next time we decide to visit Orlando, we’ll definitely use HotelTonight to simplify our trip planning process.