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Orlando is a large city located in Orange County, Florida.
Orlando, for most people, conjures up the image of theme parks, mainly Walt Disney World, but there is a lot more, in fact, Disney World is not in Orlando, but is in nearby Lake Buena Vista). With the estimated 52 million tourists a year, Orlando and many other areas in the region developed a lot to offer a traveler who wants to see something other than a theme park.
Other cities in the metropolitan area include Altamonte Springs, Davenport, Kissimmee, and Winter Park.
When people think of Orlando, most think of theme parks and a vast urban sprawl. However, the city proper contains none of the major theme parks (Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World), dinner attractions (such as Medieval Times), or even most small theme parks (Gatorland, Holyland Experience, Ripley's Believe-it-or-not, etc). However, since Orlando is the larger city associated with most of these popular attractions, you will find details and descriptions of them below.
Most tourists visit Orlando between June and August, while another peak time for tourism is March and April. Ironically, the less busy times for tourism correspond to the best weather in the Orlando area; the summer months can be exceptionally busy with families who are making a trip while kids are on summer vacation. Visiting when the weather isn't so hot means less people in the area and that provides some advantages, but you will be able to enjoy cooler weather. The climate of Orlando is subtropical, and therefore is very humid (the heat index typically exceeds 100 degrees). Afternoon thunderstorms are expected in the warmer months, although they can occur in any month.
Orlando International Airport (MCO) is the city's primary airport, and the busiest airport in the state in terms of passenger traffic. The airport is located to the southeast of downtown but is centrally located with respect to the region and area attractions. Orlando International Airport is a secondary hub for AirTran Airways, Southwest Airlines, & JetBlue Airways, all of which fly numerous routes to/from Orlando. Furthermore, Delta Air Lines offers 10-15 flights daily between Orlando and their super-hub in Atlanta and American Airlines has 9 flights a day to their Miami hub. Non-stop service is offered to nearly every major city east of the Mississippi and to several major western cities (LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, & Denver).
Daily flights to Europe are offered by Virgin Atlantic (London-Gatwick & Manchester), British Airways (London-Gatwick), & Lufthansa (Frankfurt). Multiple flights per week are flown to Dublin (Aer Lingus), Paris (Air France, ends Sep. 2012), Glasgow (Virgin Atlantic, seasonally), & Zurich (Swiss Int./Edelweiss Air). To South America, there are daily flights to Sao Paulo, Brazil (TAM) & Bogotá, Colombia (Jet Blue) and seasonal service to Santiago, Chile (LAN). Over a dozen Canadian destinations are served non-stop, many seasonally (Toronto & Montreal are served daily year-round). Other international destinations served from Orlando include: Jamaica (Montego Bay), the Dominican Republic (Santo Domingo), the Bahamas (Nassau), Mexico (Cancun, Mexico City), Panama (Panama City), Costa Rica (San José), & El Salvador (San Salvador). The airport was approved in 2012 to begin Cuba flights.
Orlando has an Amtrak station that provides service to other destinations such as Miami, but also connects to other points as far north as New York via the Silver Star and Silver Meteor lines.
In nearby Sanford, the southern terminus of the Amtrak Auto Train which carries passengers and automobiles between Sanford and Lorton, Virginia, effectively serving as a car-rail link from Orlando to the Washington, D.C. Metro Area.
In addition, the new SunRail system services Orlando via four stations: Florida Health Village, Lynx Central, Church Street, and Orlando Health/Amtrak.
Driving to Orlando should be considered as a real and viable possibility for anyone with the geographic means. All Orlando attractions, including most major resorts and hotels are conveniently located off Interstate 4 which connects to Interstate 95, running from Maine to Florida. Five minutes off of a choice of exits, depending on your destination, takes you anywhere you need to go. This can prove to be the most economical for your trip, as well as the most convenient.
The car is omnipresent in Orlando and is a very easy and convenient (if congested) way to get to your destination. Orlando is a sprawling city with most attractions lying far to the south of downtown and into adjacent cities like Kissimmee and Lake Buena Vista (this section includes those areas). The roads are all wide and easy to drive on with all major attractions well signed, but traffic jams around downtown are common in the afternoons, and around the touristy areas on Friday nights and all day Saturday. Orlando ranks 8th in the nation in terms of traffic congestion, and there are numerous ongoing construction projects on area expressways (all aimed at alleviating this, but only causing congestion in the meanwhile). Traffic information is available from new Dynamic Message Signs, most local radio stations, and also by calling 511 (a free, automated service which provides current traffic info collected from hundreds of traffic cameras as well as police reports.)
The main highway through Orlando, and the only interstate serving it, is Interstate 4 (runs NE-SW). In recent years, major construction on it has widened it through areas south of SR528 making it a commuter-friendly highway (except for traffic during rush hours and Friday and Saturday evenings). Downtown Orlando; International Drive; Amway Arena; the Mall at Millenia; and theme parks such as Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World, Discovery Cove, the Holy Land Experience, and Wet n' Wild are all conveniently located along or near I-4.
Aggressive drivers are abundant in the Greater Orlando area not only on major highways but also on surface streets in the downtown district. Speed limits are for the most part ignored in and around the city, even though on I-4 the speed limit is only 50 mph (80 km/h) in the downtown area and ranges between 55 and 65 mph (90-105 km/h) near the attractions, it is not uncommon to be tailgated if you travel less than 80 mph (129 km/h) in the left lane. If you are unfamiliar with the area, it is much easier and safer to drive in the far right lane, as road signs will direct.
There are a few gas stations that prey on unsuspecting travelers returning rental cars to the airport. This includes Suncoast Energys and Sun Gas on Semoran Blvd. near the airport entrance. Prices at these stations are often more than $2 per gallon above typical market price. Look before you pump! The prices are not posted except on the pump. Plan ahead to have enough time before your flight to drive an extra mile or so up Semoran to the cheaper stations. There also are stations around Disney World that have similar practices.
Orlando is one of the biggest tourist destinations because of the nearby theme parks and resorts. About 35 minutes southwest of downtown Orlando is the world famous Walt Disney World. Close to International Drive is Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld Orlando. Not far from Disney World lies the Alligator Capital of the World: Gatorland.
Walt Disney World, (18 mi S of downtown in Lake Buena Vista). Hours vary by park and season. The largest theme park resort in the world features four theme parks, two water parks, a shopping and dining district, multiple hotels, and other various recreation activities. Magic Kingdom: The first and largest park features both classic Disney attractions like Big Thunder Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Peter Pan, and Space Mountain and new experiences based on popular Disney characters like Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, and Little Mermaid. Epcot: Walt Disney's dream of an experimental community of tomorrow is alive in this park that combines a Future World and a World Showcase offering attractions that let you Soar over the globe on Soarin', build and test your own car on Test Track, journey to the bottom of the sea with Nemo and Friends, or immerse yourself in the culture of 11 different countries. Hollywood Studios: A park celebrating the magic of Hollywood. Popular attractions include The Tower of Terror, Rock'n'Rollercoaster, Toy Story Mania, Star Wars, Frozen, and the Fantasmic night show. Animal Kingdom: Come face to face with live animals from Africa, Asia, and more at this park which also includes high tech thrill rides like Expedition Everest and family fun like the Festival of the Lion King.
Universal Orlando Resort, International Dr. Hours vary by park and season. This highly rated resort includes two theme parks, five hotels, and an entertainment district. Universal Studios: Ride the movies with your favorite characters. Attractions include Despicable Me, Transformers, The Simpsons, The Mummy, Men In Black, and Harry Potter's Diagon Alley. Islands of Adventure: Voyage to a magical universe of fun with attractions based on Marvel comics, Dr. Seuss, Jurassic Park, King Kong, and Harry Potter's Hogwarts. Citywalk: Dine, shop, and play at one of a dozen venues including restaurants, dance clubs, a move theater, Universal Studio store, Hard Rock Live, and Blue Man Group.
SeaWorld Adventure Park Orlando, SeaWorld Dr,. 9AM-closing times varying from 6PM-10PM. A beautifully landscaped 200-acre marine theme park featuring fantastic shows, thrilling rides, and fun exhibits -- a more laid-back alternative to Disney and Universal. Variety of discounts may be available by purchasing tickets online.
Aquatica, 5800 Water Play Way,. Hours vary by season. Opened in 2008 water park by Sea World.
Discovery Cove, 6000 Discovery Cove Way (9AM-5:30PM (until 9PM on selected evenings). A unique companion to Sea World, it is often sold out as admission is limited to 1000 guests per day but admission does include all your equipment, food, drink and 30-minute interaction with the dolphins in the water.
Holy Land, 4655 Vineland Rd. Closed Tu. An educational, inspirational, biblical-themed park designed to look like Jerusalem. Discount on tickets purchased online.