We’re lucky to have visited Orlando - Disney World, in particular - a few different times as our boys have grown up, and I know I don’t need to tell you this: everything Disney is magical and amazing.
But the parks themselves is not all there is to do in Orlando, Florida.
This city has so much to offer for travelers of all types: friend trips, couples, families with little kids, and families with older kids. And families with kids of widely different ages, like mine.
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When To Go
First, I need to tell you the best time to visit the area is between March and May, because the temperatures haven’t gotten too high, yet, and it’s before the rainy season, which starts in June. Remember, though, that the further you get into May, the more the afternoon rains will pick up.
Summertime in Florida is brutal: if it’s not raining, you better believe the whole state is a blob of thick, sticky air that’ll curl even the smoothest hairs, and will have your makeup sliding right off your face.
Where To Stay
You’ll definitely want to book a hotel in the International Drive area.
It’s only about 20 minutes from the Orlando International Airport (MCO), and once you’re parked at your hotel, you most likely won’t need to access your car again until it’s time to check out because everything is within walking distance.
For our latest visit, we stayed at one of my most favorite hotels I’ve ever visited in Orlando: The Castle Hotel - Autograph Collection, by Marriott. You can find it here on Expedia.
The Castle Hotel’s got gorgeous common areas, with upscale furnishings and lots of attention to detail, and quaint garden areas tucked in all around its outsides.
The rooms could use a bit of an update, but they were very, very clean and comfortable.
What To Do
Everything listed below is within comfortable walking distance of the Castle Hotel, although we did take an Uber to dinner one night so we wouldn’t have to walk in our heels.
They call this an “entertainment park” because it’s got a little of everything: dining, night life, and some amusement park-ish things. Here’s what you’ll find at ICON Park:
Giant Ferris Wheel - Built by the same company that built London’s famous “Eye,” the ICON of Orlando is a slow-moving mammoth of a ferris wheel that soars 400 feet high. There’s a little bar after you enter, so you can take a glass of wine or a beer up with you and toast above the beautiful sights beneath you.
More than 40 restaurants, like Uncle Julio’s, The Yard House, which are two of the ones we visited
This has nothing to do with Orlando, but if you’re into history at all, this is one that will fascinate you. There are several Titanic museums around the country - the world, really - and they all have different artifacts from the tragedy.
This museum is interesting for all ages because, in addition to all the displays, including a giant, bent chunk of the Titanic’s steel frame, which stands more than two stories high, the employees are in period costume and start you off with a short presentation.
Before you enter, you’re issued a boarding pass with the name and vital statistics of a real Titanic passenger back in 1912, and then you find out at the very end whether you lived or died during that fated journey.
They wouldn’t allow photos, so I don’t have any to share with you, unfortunately.
I’m including this, even though I said “Besides Disney” in this post’s title, because Disney Springs isn’t an amusement park, so it doesn’t count.
Formerly known as Downtown Disney, the newly renovated Disney Springs is an outdoor entertainment complex similar to ICON Park listed above, but much bigger.
I recommend cooling off in the air conditioning while you grab a beer at the Raglan Road Irish Pub.
Then walk around and pop into different shops - some big names like Ulta, Under Armour, American Threads, and some adorable boutiques, like SugarBoo, which I fell in love with, because they have cute farmhousy-style goods and dreamy paper goods.
For The Adults
If you’re able to go without kids, or if you’re traveling with kids who are old enough to get in, I highly recommend a night at Howl At The Moon. A high-energy bar with dueling pianos, this place is super fun for people watching while you sing along to all the popular favorites.