Orlando is all families and theme parks you say? Well that’s true, partially at least. Orlando has more theme parks than anywhere else in the world, ranging from well known and long established spots such as Disney and Universal to off beat attractions such as the Holy Land Experience and Titanic: The Experience. The wide range of entertainment options makes this a popular destination for families looking for a reprieve from the cold and a way to occupy their kids.
With no children and no interest in theme parks, we stopped in Orlando as a base to get some rest and catch some rays. We stayed at the Sheraton Vistana Resort, anl all suites timeshare hotel with beautifully set up one and two bedroom units and full kitchens. We took full advantage of the multiple pools, hot tubs, steams, saunas, tennis courts, and fitness rooms. The ponds offered nice walking trails and we spotted herons, turtles and even otters.
While the rest and relaxation was a welcome respite, I was determined to prove that there are interesting and fun things to do in Orlando for us non-Disney folk. Here are my suggestions for making the most of your time in Orlando:
Strolling: Winter Park is a suburb only minutes from downtown Orlando with small winding streets and plenty of moss covered oaks. Originally established as a resort village for well to do retirees, it still caters to a well-heeled crowd but you can find many cool little cafes and galleries in the area. Check out the Enzian Theatre for indie and second run films or Mead Botanical Garden if you prefer to stay outdoors.
Eating: While you’re doing all that walking, you might consider stopping in to some of the great restaurants in Winter Park. After reading the great reviews, we chose The Ravenous Pig for dinner and were not disappointed. The ambiance is casual and welcoming but the service and the food is five star. We tired the Spanish tapas board ($14) which had the best croquetas I have tasted. The black tea pork belly ($14) was fantastic (and I do not normally like pork belly at all…I was eating off my boyfriend’s plate!) and I don’t think I can say enough about the house made pasta with truffles and lamb bacon ($16). Not to mention that they have a monthly pig roast! For something a little different, Cask & Larder down the street is from the same owners but focuses on southern style cooking and brews their own beer.
Shopping: While there are lots of shops scattered downtown and in surrounding neighbourhoods, we decided to really make a dent in our wallets and expand our closets by spending an afternoon at the Premium Outlets. Note that there are two locations and some debate on which is better, but we went to Vineland which is the smaller and more manageable location. We found the best deals at Saks Off the Fifth, J Crew and Banana Republic but buyer beware, not everything is always a great deal so choose wisely. The 6% Florida sales tax was a nice change coming from 13% in Ontario!
Drinks & Live Music:
Orlando Brewing is the only USDA certified organic brewery south of Vermont and west of Colorado. Located in an industrial area of downtown that will make you question whether you’ve made a wrong turn, the dark and no frills bar offers free brewery tours daily at 6pm and live music on Fridays and Saturdays at 9pm. My favourite was Uncle Matt’s Grapefruit IPA!
At Imperial Wine Bar, located in the back of Washburn Imports furniture store, you can sip wines and beer including $5 featured specials while lounging on the elaborately rustic furniture and listening to rotating acoustic artists. Don’t fill up before coming here so you can be tempted by the rotating food trucks outside where you can find anything from BBQ to ceviche. They have a great secluded patio as well.
Hanson’s Shoe Repair gets an honourable mention even though we didn’t actually get to go there. A prohibition era style speakeasy cocktail bar, call Hanson’s before 7pm and they will text you the password that gets you in the door that night. Tip: you can now also get the daily password by following them on Twitter @hansonsshoeshop
After spending five days in Orlando, my conclusion is that there is plenty to do, even if you don’t step foot into a single amusement park! For lots of other suggestions about spots for brunch, coffee, drinks or getting one with nature, I found this great blog about Orlando really useful.