If you’ve been to Walt Disney World before and stayed in one of their many accommodating resorts, then you know firsthand how enjoyable that is. Many people visit Orlando, FL mainly for the theme parks, and that’s great, but have you ever considered exploring elsewhere? There are many unknown gems that not a lot of people see within Orlando. From hotel sightseeing to even relaxing at the airport, (no, I’m not kidding) allow yourself to open your mind to all of the possibilities that await you. Take a whole new vacation inside a vacation!
Let’s start from your arrival: Orlando International Airport (MCO). Orlando International is pretty much an attraction in itself. There are many amenities such as a shopping mall with plenty of gift shops offering official Walt Disney World, Sea World, and Universal Studios merchandise, accompanied by many of the usual stores that you might find in a typical shopping mall. There are several restaurants, along with a food court for every dining preference. One thing that seems to be a kid favorite is riding the tram from the main terminal to the air side terminal. The ride may only be a minute long, but it’s an equivalent to the Monorail which will get your kids excited for the parks. If exploring an airport isn’t your speed, there is a bowling alley approximately five miles northeast, a golf course seven miles north, and The Florida Mall eight miles west of Orlando International. One thing is for certain: Orlando makes sure that you are not bored when you visit their city!
If you’ve stayed at a Disney hotel, you probably know all about how Disney transport picks you up from the airport and whisks you away to your hotel, with your luggage “magically appearing” in your room. That sounds fairy-like, but most people nowadays are on a budget and may not be able to afford a Disney hotel. No worries! Consider one of the many hotel options on International Drive. Located fifteen minutes from Walt Disney World, I-Drive is definitely worth checking out. With over a hundred fantastic hotels with affordable price ranges, gift shops, outlet shopping centers, restaurants, and even a trolley service, I-Drive is like one big fun attraction. Wet ‘N Wild, Universal Studios, and Sea World are only a hop, skip and a jump away, along with a variety of miniature golf courses; there’s always something for everyone in the family to enjoy. Also, if you’re familiar with the Orlando area, you might have heard of the town of Kissimmee. One attraction worth visiting is Old Town. Old Town is an outdoor shopping emporium located less than two miles from Walt Disney World with 75 specialty stores, amusement rides, arcades and restaurants. On select nights, they even hold classic car shows and live music.
Here comes the big surprise: Disney hotel sightseeing, or as Disney patrons call it, “resort hopping.” You’re probably saying “Wait, you can do that?” and the answer is “Yes, you can!” Many people don’t realize that you can visit each Disney resort so it pretty much goes without saying that this is a little known secret, until now, that is. Sorry, I had to let the cat out of the bag! The best part is, like the parks, there is a lot to explore. Each resort is an example of fun design and extreme attention to detail; you might even find some hidden Mickeys! Just a few examples: If you are more on the adventurous side, Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness offer miles of trails to wander through, and for a fee you can take a Segway tour or a carriage ride. Animal Kingdom lodge offers a variety of African artwork spread throughout the resort. There are even storytellers who share African stories and offer crafts throughout the day. Plus, there is a selection of animals that wander around the lodge’s grassland. There are observation points spread out around the resort that allow you to watch the animals for as long as you’d like. The Grand Floridian and the Polynesian have beaches which are perfect for viewing the Magic Kingdom fireworks. The Grand Floridian is a known favorite for its extravagant lobby and elegant décor. Disney’s Pop Century, All-Star Sports, All-Star Movies, All-Star Music, and Art of Animation resorts are the five hotels that make up the “value resort” group. At these hotels, which are kid favorites, you will find themes from pop culture decorated with larger than life figurines and works of art. The possibilities are endless if you decide to explore each hotel. The comforting part is that the Monorail and Disney Transport take you wherever you need to go. Don’t forget that if you are traveling by car, when you get to the guard gate, just mention that you are just exploring the resorts. Some of the resorts give you a temporary parking permit and will direct you to guest parking.
One final thing that should be mentioned is Downtown Disney. Downtown Disney isn’t exactly a secret, but it is definitely a lot calmer than the parks and allows you to relax from the craziness. There is no admission fee and they offer complimentary parking and transportation to all Disney resorts. This outdoor complex is divided into three areas: the Marketplace, Pleasure Island, and the West Side. Each area offers something for everyone with a selection of entertainment venues, shops, and restaurants with unique themes. Noteworthy attractions include Planet Hollywood, House of Blues, Rainforest Café, Cirque du Soleil, Lego Imagination Center, AMC Downtown Disney, and Disney Quest. Definitely worth exploring!
As you can see, Orlando offers so much more than meets the eye. If you have a break in your theme park schedule, explore your options! You never know where you’ll end up, which could lead to memorable moments you and your family will cherish for years to come. Maybe you’ll even recommend these new attractions to a friend. Either way, you’ll be discovering something new and opening up your mind to all of the endless possibilities.