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Orlando travel guide: It’s more than just Disney

Orlando travel guide: Everything you need to know

If you’re not from Florida, you’ve likely visited there once when you were a kid and spent most of your time at a theme park. Or maybe you went down for spring break, and your memory of Florida is of overly sweet drinks, a gnarly sunburn, and not much else. The good news is Florida, and Orlando specifically, have so much more to offer. Orlando is a growing city (some research says 1500 people move to Orlando each week) and with that comes an influx of great restaurants, drinking establishments, and activities to meet the demands of this ever-growing population.

Whether you’re interested in the theme parks or want to avoid them completely, this guide has you covered. If you know you want to travel to Florida but haven’t decided exactly where yet, you might also check out Miami and Key West.

Lake Eola, Orlando.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Where to stay

This will depend on if you’re going to spending a lot of time at theme parks. Universal, SeaWorld, and Disney are all about 20-30 minutes away from downtown Orlando. If you’re planning to hit the theme parks, one way to save money is to bundle everything together: tickets, lodging, food, etc. Check out the packages offered by whichever park you’re interested in. Staying close to the theme parks will cut down on driving and going with an all-inclusive package can make for a relaxing vacation. Similar to a cruise, you’ve paid for everything ahead of time, and now all you need to do it enjoy it.

If the theme parks aren’t on your list, or maybe you’ll pop over for a day, you’ll likely want to stay closer to downtown Orlando. The area just north of downtown, called Winter Park, is a great option. Staying in this area will put you close to a lot of the great restaurants and parks Orlando has to offer.

Doubletree Hilton at SeaWorld

A standard king room at the Doubletree Suites by Hilton Anaheim Convention Center hotel.

Our first suggestion is for those going the theme park route. The Bali-inspired décor at the Doubletree Hilton at SeaWorld creates an inviting ambiance and offers comfortable accommodations. Rooms in the tower have the most appeal, but there’s a myriad of buildings around the site offering cozy rooms. Relax beside the Lagoon Pool (there are actually three pools on the property), but trust us, this is the one you want to recline beside. Plus, they give you a warm cookie at check-in.

Nearest Airport: Orlando International Airport
Time: 14 minutes
Distance: 12.4 miles

Park Plaza Hotel

Park Plaza Hotel.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

For something a little more unique, might we suggest the Park Plaza Hotel. Built in 1922, this hotel is charming and upscale without being super expensive. Located on Park Avenue in the heart of Winter Park, you’ll be close to plenty of the restaurants and attractions on this list. In 10 minutes you can be at the Orlando Science Center, Leu Gardens, and the Orlando Museum of Art. Restaurants like Bosphorous, Prato, and Briarpatch are all a short walk from your hotel as well.

Nearest Airport: Orlando International Airport
Time: 27.3 miles
Distance: 33 minutes

Interior of Ravenous Pig.

What to eat (and drink)

There are a lot of great restaurants in Orlando, which means thankfully there will be a great option for everyone regardless of your dietary restrictions, budget, or taste. We’ve listed a few of our favorites below.

  • “$” = budget-friendly or cheap
  • “$$”= average
  • “$$$”= expensive

East End Market

East End Market is one of the new kids on the block. Located in Orlando’s Audubon Park, the market includes 10 local, independently owned food operations including a butcher, seafood merchant, produce vendor, baker, and Txokos Kitchen featuring farm-fresh options for lunch and dinner.

  • Best for breakfast, lunch, dinner
  • $$

Browse the Menu

The Ravenous Pig

The Ravenous Pig, owned by James Beard-nominated chefs Julie and James Petrakis has become a big hit in Orlando, and now the pair has created Cask & Larder. Try out the brewed on-site beers, home-cured meats, hand-canned fruits, and pickled vegetables.

  • Best for dinner
  • $$$

Browse the Menu

Redlight Redlight

This great beer parlor serves up 23 rotating drafts, two beer engines, and a variety of IPAs, wheat beers, Belgians, and stouts.

  • Best for beer
  • $

Browse the Menu

Orlando at night.

What to do

If you’re headed to the theme parks, that’s certainly one type of Orlando vacation. Hours can be spent thinking about which park to go to, which bundle to buy, and how to maximize your theme park experience. We’ll let you take a journey down that rabbit hole on your own. But if you’re looking for fun things to do outside of the parks, read on.

Check out some gardens

The warm climate of Florida makes for an impressive growing season and a wide variety of plant life. Two gardens are particularly enjoyable to tour and will give you a better understanding of the flora and fauna of Orlando. Lou Gardens is a 50-acre botanical garden right in the heart of Orlando. It’s quite close to Redlight Redlight and East End Market, so an afternoon strolling the paths and admiring the plants can be followed by a great bowl of ramen and some craft beer — I mean, that’s pretty sweet, right? The other is the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden. This venue hosts exhibits but is also situated on a beautiful property worth walking around when you have the chance.

Leu Gardens Polasek Gardens

Play some golf

Understandably, golf isn’t everyone’s thing. But if it happens to be yours, Florida is the place to visit. Golf enthusiasts have the opportunity to play their way through The Orlando “Golf Trail” connecting nine premier golf facilities and seven lodging properties along the I-4 corridor.

Book Your Tee Time


How to save money on your trip to Orlando


If you plan to visit the theme parks, there are bundles you can buy that’ll help you save some money during a trip to Orlando. You can also sometimes find discounted tickets to theme parks and attractions online, so keep your eye out for those. And generally, visiting Orlando when the weather is a little cooler can be the best time to go. Temperatures never really drop that much, and visiting during the off-season is always a great way to save money.


Similar to the advice above, going during the off-season can be a great way to save money.

Vehicle Rentals

Book ahead and be open to whatever is available. Rental cars can be expensive right now and having some flexibility will help you save money.

Editors' Recommendations

Benjamin Buckingham
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Ben lives in Portland, Oregon where he works as a freelance writer and outdoor guide.
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