Since Orlando was recently named the best staycation city in the United States, why not plan to spend your summer as a Central Florida tourist instead of spending your hard-earned money on a costly family vacation? Between Disney Springs and the International Drive area to great outdoor adventures combined with the best hotels, spas and golf courses money can buy, there is so much to see and do here at home.
Disney Springs has gone through a huge transition in the past year, with celebrity chefs and high-end designers claiming space at the popular attraction. You can still hitch a ride on the giant air balloon called Characters in Flight, catch a showing of La Nouba by Cirque du Soleil or grab a bite to eat at staple restaurants like House of Blues and Rainforest Café. But now there is so much more.
In May, Disney Springs’ most recent phase, a retail neighborhood called Town Center, opened with recognizable names like ALEX AND ANI, Lucky Brand, kate spade new york, Under Armour Brand House, Sperry and Vera Bradley. At the same time, new dining options opened doors too. Now you can enjoy STK Orlando, an untraditional steakhouse with a modern flair; food kiosks like Aristocrepes, Daily Poutine and B.B. Wolf’s Sausage Co.; and a sweet treat from Sprinkles bakery.
Adults will enjoy the themed cocktails and light bites at Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar or late night sushi and drinks at the Forbidden Lounge inside Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s pan-Asian concept Morimoto Asia. Kids might be more interested in the flavors at The Boathouse, not to mention the dock full of vintage boats as well as rides around the lake in a retro Amphicar.
Later this summer, two more celebrity chefs will join the lineup: Chef Art Smith’s Homecoming – Florida Kitchen and Shine Bar and Chef Rick Bayless’ Tablas Frontera.
Spend a day on International Drive with a visit to I-Drive 360. On The Orlando Eye, a 400-foot-tall observation wheel that rotates at just 1 mile per hour, you will have a 360-degree view of your city. Each flight lasts approximately 20 minutes and you can see as far as Cape Canaveral on a clear day.
Madame Tussauds will introduce you to celebrities in themed rooms representing an A-list party, history and leaders, sports, music, authentic history and more. You can go under the sea to view 34 habitats representing the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans, along with more than 5,000 sea creatures that call them home, at SEA LIFE Aquarium. Next door, Skeletons: Animals Unveiled presents an educational journey and more than 400 skeletons of species from all over the world, ranging from small insects to massive elephants.
While you’re there, grab a burger and shake at Shake Shack, a beer and some pub grub at Yard House, or a plate full of paella at Tapa Toro. Then, split the King Kong Sundae or a famous smoking goblet drink at Sugar Factory. End the evening listening to live music at Tin Roof or riding the mechanical bull at Cowgirls Rockbar. With a variety of unique shops, restaurants and evening entertainment venues, you can make a whole day of it.
Want to get the kids out of the house and spend some time in the sunshine? Stop by Central Florida’s first major attraction, Gatorland. Among the thousands of alligators and crocodiles at the park, see if you can spot the four rare leucistic white alligators. Get up close and personal with the gators during a behind-the-scenes tour of the Alligator Breeding Marsh or participate in the Rookie Wrestling experience. One of Gatorland’s biggest thrills is the Screamin’ Gator Zip Line, where you will soar over the treetops at 1,200 feet in the air and over the Alligator Breeding Marsh.
Or see a new side of Winter Park on the Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour, an hour-long, guided tour through three of the seven lakes and two narrow, manmade canals on the Winter Park chain. Catch the boat on Lake Osceola in a quiet suburb that is less than 10 minutes from downtown Orlando. On the tour, you might see cranes snagging a fish, an alligator on the banks or a crew team from Rollins College racing through the water, but you’ll definitely see Florida’s natural flora and fauna with exquisite estates nestled throughout. With the dock less than five minutes from Park Avenue, stroll through the upscale shops or stop at one of the area’s tasty restaurants when you’re done.