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With so many thrills, the theme parks of Orlando are always worth exploring. But there’s plenty more on tap in the City Beautiful—we’re talking global flavors, top-notch museums, even serene forests. Whether you’re searching for wildlife, wine, or a wild ride, follow our guide to a slew of fun-filled options. Off we go!
By Amanda Gleason
The Ritz-Carlton Orlando Practice your swing on the Greg Norman–designed course at this relaxing getaway, set among peaceful lakes and gardens.
Grand Bohemian Hotel Contemporary paintings, ceramics, and other works fill the on-site gallery at this downtown spread, designed in early 20th–century European style.
Disney’s Art of Animation Resort Catering to youngsters, this year-old hotel features themed rooms inspired by animated favorites such as Cars and Finding Nemo.
Whether you’re young or young at heart…
Go Park Hoppin’
Think you’ve experienced all that Orlando’s theme parks have to offer? You might be wrong. Last December, Walt Disney World’s New Fantasyland made its debut in the Magic Kingdom, bringing with it the Enchanted Forest, inspired by Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, and Storybook Circus, based on the floppy-eared favorite, Dumbo. And at SeaWorld, you can now glide through massive glaciers in 30-degree temps and land in a penguin colony filled with 250 waddling birds, thanks to Antarctica: Empire of the Penguins, which opens this month. When you’re ready to wind down, head to Universal Studios for Cinematic Spectacular, an 18-minute video montage featuring quick snippets of classic flicks projected onto high-tech water screens in a peaceful lagoon. Now that’s cinematic glory.
Set your sights on:
Showcase of Citrus Load up on more than 50 types of fruit, including uncommon varieties of oranges, grapefruit, and tangerines, at this citrus grove 30 miles southwest of Orlando.
Paddleboard Orlando Cruise the canals of Winter Park, an Orlando suburb, during a stand-up paddleboarding lesson with this outfitter, which also rents out gear.
Strap yourself in and…
Catch Swing Fever
Thrill rides are nothing new in Orlando, but throw in panthers and snakes, and now you have our attention. That’s the draw at Forever Florida, a 4,700-acre wildlife conservation area located an hour south of Orlando in St. Cloud. This utopia is home to one of the highest concentrations of endangered and threatened species in the state, and you’ll see them in a whole new light when you embark on a zip-line safari. Zoom Tarzan-style over forested wetlands, and look out for George, the gator who laid down roots here more than 60 years ago. Pining for more? Take a spin on the country’s first zip-line coaster, which swoops along a 1,000-foot cable laced with vertical and horizontal shifts. If you prefer to stay grounded, horseback and open-air coach safaris are also offered. With the number of black bears who call this place home, we’re not sure which option is more daring.
Pleasure your palate at:
Cask & Larder Sip on Olde Southern Wit, a Belgian-style wheat beer made at the microbrewery inside this intimate restaurant, where meat is cured on-site for dishes like suckling pig boudin.
Johnnie’s Hideaway Macadamia shrimp, lobster alfredo, and blackened red snapper are just a few of the dishes that reel hungry guests into this Caribbean-style seafood haven.
4 Rivers Smokehouse At this barbecue joint, which serves its finger-lickin’ goods at three locations around Orlando, it’s worth waiting in line for the smoked chicken smothered in signature sweet-and- tangy sauce.
Prepare for takeoff and...
Blast Into Space
Where does a space shuttle go to retire? Kennedy Space Center, about 45 miles east of Orlando, of course. NASA’s launch headquarters is the permanent home of Atlantis, whose final landing in July 2011 marked the end of the agency’s shuttle program. On June 29, the famed orbiter will be unveiled inside its new $100 million digs. Though touching isn’t allowed, parts of the shuttle’s interior, including its living quarters, will be on display. If you’re looking for a more fast-paced adventure, check out the Shuttle Launch Experience, a cross between a thrill ride and a flight simulator that lets you feel the force of a 17,500 mph lift-off. Back on Earth, don’t miss the historic Rocket Garden, where iconic spacecraft like the Atlas now reside. That’s what we call a blast from the past.
Pay a visit to:
K Restaurant Sweets lovers swarm this laid-back eatery for its famed desserts, including chocolate-covered-bacon ice cream and coconut cheesecake.
Pharmacy Enter this speakeasy-style watering hole through its unmarked entrance, and order a “Proper,” a carbonated cocktail made with rum, vodka, and lime.
Orlando Science Center Space cadets can continue their quest at this hands-on learning hub by exploring galaxy collisions, black holes, and constellations.
Still thirsty? Switch to wine and…
Raise Your Glass
There are some locales where you’d expect to find exceptional wineries. Orlando hasn’t been one of them—until now. Quantum Leap Winery opened its doors in October, but owners Jill Ramsier and David Forrester aren’t in the business of making Florida wine. Rather, juice from grape-growing regions around the world is shipped to their facility, where it’s finished, blended, and packaged. “Our goal is to produce and transport wines to consumers in an environmentally friendly way,” says Ramsier. Whenever possible, Quantum Leap packages its product in lightweight bottles, which reduces their carbon footprint by up to 40 percent. Thirsty patrons can try samples in the tasting room (open Thursday through Saturday) or at Wine Down, a spirited event complete with live music and food trucks, held the second Friday of every month. Cheers!
Getting There Fly into Orlando International Airport (MCO), about 10 miles southeast of downtown.
Getting Around Many hotels offer complimentary shuttles to area theme parks. If your itinerary includes further exploring, renting a car is your best option.
Getting Out Nearly 500 actors, musicians, and dancers take the stage at the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival held May 15–28.
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