Orlandooooo! I totally said that with a deep, announcer-type voice. Now you're doing it, aren't you? Ha! So maybe you're planning a trip to the Central Florida city, or maybe you are just thinking about it. But what else is there besides Disney and Universal? Oh, friend. So much! While I was in Orlando, I got the help of one of my best friends (now an Orlando local) to check out what else the place had to offer. And let me tell you, it had quite a bit. And I was only there for a week! I hope this guide helps you to plan a wonderful getaway or family adventure.
I mean I have to include this, don't I? And it is so worth the top spot. We only went to Disney one day, because we had a lot of other things we wanted to do that week. However, we did spend 12 hours there. WORTH IT. We went to Magic Kingdom, which is absolutely magical and a perfect place for kids. Although any park you choose will be incredible, you DEFINITELY need to include this in your stay. You won't regret it! P.s. I'll be doing 1 (or 2) posts on Disney soon. Be on the look out!
I affectionately refer this as Harry Potter World. No, that is not the only thing at Universal. But to me, it is the best part! Prepare yourself for long lines (but let's be honest, it's that way at Disney too). You can always buy a fast pass here, but they can get pricey. You can see everything from Jurassic Park to Dr. Seuss Land! Universal has amazing rides, especially roller coasters. Where as Magic Kingdom is more chill, made-for-children rides, adults can find their thrills at Universal Orlando.
3.) Disney Springs
No, this is not a Disney park. And it's totally free! I was in Orlando 6 years ago, and we went to Disney Springs a few times. It was great, but it is so much better now! There are lots of shops (high end and affordable), eateries, Disney stores, and themed restaurants. Not to mention, the biggest Disney store ever is there, and my goodness it is incredible. I will be mentioning my favorite parts of this place coming up. Places of notice: Uni Qlo, Sugarboo & Co, Planet Hollywood, Lego Store, Zara.
4.) Henry P Leu Gardens
If you love gardens and walking through nature, you will love these gardens. I've actually been to quite a few gardens (including the world famous Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC) and this one is fantastic. Their tropical plant section is amazing, not to mention their palms and bamboo area. The historic house, butterfly garden, cottage, and vegetable garden parts were also particularly lovely. This is a perfect place to take the family, or stroll through with your significant other. Do what we did and make it fun with a photography competition! Pick your categories (flowers, trees, wildlife, grounds) and your players and see who takes the best photos at the end of the day.
5.) Universal City Walk
Yes, this is different than the park. Of course, if you go to the park you will have to walk through this part. However, I recommend gathering the friends and venturing to this place at night. It's the perfect place to grab dinner and visit some pretty cool places. There are shops, themed restaurants, the huge Universal ball, the Universal store, Toothsome Chocolate Emporium, mini golf, and on and on. You won't be bored!
6.) Winter Park
This area is a hipster's paradise. Ha! No but seriously, it's a lovely area full of boutiques, coffee shops, eateries, and specialty shops. One of my favorite places to visit was Rifle Paper Company, as it is their headquarters. I mean I'm a calligrapher, and it's a paper store. I was sold. As we went on a Saturday, the farmer's market was open and it was absolutely glorious. A few places I recommend: The Coop (for brunch-the cinnamon rolls are to DIE FOR), The Heavy, Foxtail's Farmhouse, New General, The Glass Knife, CFS Coffee, Buttermilk Bakery, and Phenomenom.
7.) Outlet Malls
Let's be honest: everyone loves a good outlet mall once in a blue moon. My favorite places to hit up in outlets are athletic wear stores: Nike, Adidas, UnderArmor. I love their stuff, and getting it 40% or 50% off is BOMB. Orlando has a few of these, so pick one and go to town!
8.) Mount Dora
I feel like everywhere other 100 feet in Florida, there is some form of body of water. WATER IS EVERYWHERE. It's such a low-lying state, but it makes for great lake communities. Of course, if you're from Michigan like my husband, you can't call them anything but ponds (because Lake Michigan is seriously a small ocean). Mount Dora is just such a community! It's a great place to shop, eat, and take a scenic walk.
9.) AMC Dine-in Theater
I know what you're thinking, how did this make the list? But seriously, it was such a fun experience. I've never had a meal while watching a movie, and it was so cool! Just imagine, eating quesadillas while watching Captain Marvel. Great, right? Well it was, and it is perfect for date night! Did I mention it's in Disney Springs?
10.) The Coca-Cola Store
Ok, you might think it's dumb. But I loved it! I'm a Coke lover, and they had everything from pajamas, to sunglasses, to keychains, to home decor. They even had a place to design your own Coke shirt with your name on it. I found it to be a great place to get some souvenirs. The first 2 floors are apparel and house wares, and then the roof on the third floor. Guys, the roof. It is an open space, with tables and chairs clustered around a Coke bar! You can get any type of Coke you can imagine from Cherry Vanilla Coke Zero Floats to a simple Coke with a lime wedge. They also have alcoholic beverages (if that's your thing) and Coca-Cola cake! It is the coolest atmosphere, and you can see all of Disney Springs from the top. The view is one of the best parts. And if you go up top, I recommend taking the ramp that wraps around the building. It's a cool experience to see how they de-constructed the famous beverage with the art on the walls. It's a must-see!
My favorite stops inside some of the areas:
Disney Springs: AMC Theater, The Coke Store, Uni Qlo, Sugarboo & Co, the Disney Store
Winter Park: Rifel Paper Co, Foxtail's Farmhouse, The Heavy
Universal City Walk: Toothsome Chocolate Emporium
DisneyWorld's Magic Kingdom: Tangled area, the Castle, It's A Small World ride (disturbingly fantastic)
I hope this helps plan your next trip to Orlando! If you're driving or renting a car, I recommend picking up a toll EZ pass to put on your car. This way, you don't have to stop at each toll booth (there are TONS) and you can just drive right on through. Also: don't run yellow lights in Orlando! They will definitely send you a very pricey ticket in the mail. Any places you love in Orlando? Questions or concerns about the city? Leave a comment! I would love to help!
**Thank you to my lovely friend, Arielle Puuri for being my local guide as well as Jen Hirschi, and Stacy Rovai for being my Disney Parks guide. And I can't forget my favorite travel guide, Ruth Imhoff. Love you girls with all my heart.