- Downtown Orlando
- Walt Disney World®
- Blue Spring State Park
- Kennedy Space Center
- Universal Studios®
- Ocala National Forest...
Star Island Resort and Club
The lure of Walt Disney World has turned Orlando into the third-ranking U.S. destination for overseas travelers, just behind Los Angeles and New York City. The city has also established itself as part of Florida's high-tech corridor.
While everybody knows the big-name theme parks – there are plenty of smaller versions of entertainment type parks and destinations all around Orlando – catering to just about any taste or age group. Orlando boasts not only the space technology industries focused on the Florida Space Coast, but a healthy dose of bits and bytes makers as well.
The biggest city in Central Florida, Orlando is dominated by Lake Eola in its northeastern downtown quadrant.
When to Go
Orlando 's temperate climate - and the lure of the Mouse - make it a year-round destination. Planning to visit Disney World is akin to studying Sun Tzu's The Art of War. Visiting Orlando can be much the same if the D-World is on your itinerary. As a general rule, avoid school holidays. Otherwise, try to avoid the peak summer period; before Thanksgiving and after (up until Christmas) and then late January are good bets to visit and stay at Buena Vista Suites Resort.
If you're looking for Walt Disney World, it's located in the entirely separate city of Lake Buena Vista. Orlando is a city in its own right, with a thriving downtown, and suburbs with a diverse array of art galleries, shops and restaurants. Buena Vista Suites Resort is one of the premium hotels near Disneyworld.
Outside of the theme parks, Orlando's main attractions are: the Harry P. Leu Gardens, an estate with over 2000 varieties of camellia and an 18th-century mansion; the Orlando Science Center, which has a gator hole and the physics-friendly Tunnel of Discovery; and the Orlando Museum of Art, which showcases Mayan archeological finds.
Walt Disney World®
This is a self-contained city. Apart from the four main parks, there are three water parks, a shopping district, 22 hotels, countless eateries, a police force, transport systems, medical centers, even kennels for the pooch.
In its first year, Walt Disney World® saw over 10 million visitors, and it remains one of the world's top tourist destinations, now attracting more than 20 million visitors a year. It's also the world's biggest amusement resort, covering an area twice the size of New York's Manhattan. Buena Vista Suites Resort is one of the most recommended hotels near Disneyworld.
Blue Spring State Park
For hundreds of years the Blue Spring area was home to the Timucuan Indians. Today, Blue Spring State is 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. There are campsites and cabins within the park, but book ahead as things get crowded. Blue Spring State Park is about 40 miles north of Orlando off of I-4, near a town called Cassadaga.
Kennedy Space Center
To some people, Neil Armstrong's, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," spoken as he became the first man to walk on the moon in 1969, are legendary. Since then, we have had a longstanding love affair with space travel and the scientists who make it possible. There's no better place to stand in awe of the "right stuff" than the Kennedy Space Center, off the east coast of central Florida.
The center draws two million people a year to its Gallery of Spaceflight, packed with real spacecraft and scale models. It was established in 1958, when the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) started Project Mercury to compete with the Soviets' successful launch of Sputnik. The USA 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.
Titusville, the main gateway to the Kennedy Space Center and the wildlife refuge, hosts the Astronaut Hall of Fame, 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.
The Kennedy Space Center is on Merritt Island, on the eastern side of the Intracoastal Waterway (better known as Indian River in Orlando). The NASA Causeway is the main east-west thoroughfare and begins at the junction of Highway 405 and Highway One. The Banana River separates the main Kennedy Space Center complex from Cape Canaveral, the site of the first launches of the U.S. space program. You will need a car to get to the Space Coast. Greyhound buses only get as close as Titusville, seven miles west of the Space Center, off Highway 405.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
NASA only uses five percent of its land area. It turned over its unused land to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1963, who established the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, where migrating birds stop on their way to and from South America. Manatees, alligators and turtles also inhabit the refuge. The best time to visit is from October to May. Black Point Wildlife Drive, a six mile loop, is a good road for self-guided tours. A two-hour bus tour leaves from the Kennedy Space Center, taking visitors around the coast.
Ocala National Forest
The Ocala National Forest is a gigantic, old, established Florida park with several natural springs and lakes, and fantastic hiking, canoeing, fishing and swimming. You can camp anywhere in the park. Three major spring areas make up the park: Juniper Springs, Salt Springs and Alexander Springs. The Juniper Springs are incredibly clear and beautiful and offer great canoeing. Salt Springs and Alexander Springs have trails through cypress forests.
The Lake Eaton Sinkhole is 80 feet deep and 450 feet in diameter, and a staircase leads down into the hole. Nearby Lake Eaton is a good spot for swimming and sunning.
The Ocala National Forest is 10 miles east of Ocala, which is about 60 miles northwest of Orlando and is the best base for exploring the forest. Highway 19 runs north and south through the park and Highway 40 runs east and west. You'll need a car to get there.