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There’s more to Florida’s theme-park capital than Magic Mountain, so whether you’re after a wildlife experience in the everglades, a tasting of local craft beers, or a chance to cheer on one of the world’s best sporting teams, Orlando may be the fun-filled break you’ve been searching for.
On 22nd September, a steampunk-style chocolate emporium and ode to Roald Dahl’s most famous tale swung open its doors at Universal Studios, Orlando. The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen is sure to whisk you back to childhood and give you a great excuse to indulge in some golden ticket treats. Try an extravagant milkshake like Florida favourite flavour Key Lime Pie – complete with an actual slice of pie on top – or why not Bacon Brittle, with chocolate-covered bacon, bacon ice-cream and bacon caramel. That’s after you’ve ordered your lunch the likes of steak, burgers, salads and sandwiches of course.
If that’s not enough fantastical nostalgia for you, Universal Studios also features Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
While not smack bang in Orlando, this ultimate bucket list item for adrenaline junkies is worth the hour and a half drive north to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm. Choose from two zip line courses – or ‘Crocodile Crossings’ as they are named by the park – and hang above the snapping teeth of hungry alligators. In addition to hosting all 23 species of crocodilian, this unique zoo is also home to other scaly reptiles such as pythons, a host of exotic birds and even Madagascan lemurs.
Only one year old and already one of the United States’ best restaurants, Morimoto Asia is run by the host of the popular TV program Iron Chef, Masaharu Morimoto. With chandeliers that fall like stardust from the 36-foot tall ceilings, inventive pan-Asian food and a setting within Walt Disney World’s dining district, this culinary gem will entice even the most ride-averse to the Disney resort.
If visiting Orlando between October and June, get your hands on prized NBA tickets to see Orlando Magic play at their home stadium the Amway Centre. If the on-court action of one of the competition’s favourite teams, spectacular half-time entertainment and general buzz isn’t enough to entice you, perhaps the 9 all-American on-site bars and restaurants will.
Fancy a late-night feed or love sampling local goods and produce? Look no further than Market on South, located in Orlando’s Milk District. Open until midnight most days of the week (only closes early on Sundays), this shared market houses a restaurant, the popular Valhalla Bakery and a bar that specialises in local Florida beers and craft brews. The restaurant serves plant-based southern-inspired fare, so is also perfect for the vegan traveller.
Always dreamed of an African safari, but perhaps a little afraid of only having canvas and open-topped jeeps between you and the animals? Well, perhaps a stay Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is a better first step, where you can get up close to the 35 species of African wildlife, many from the comfort of your own guest room balcony. Spot giraffes, flamingos, zebras and more, splash in an 11,000 square foot pool based on a natural watering hole, or dine at one of the restaurants serving -– you guessed it – African cuisine.
Famed for its unique wetlands which are a home to a variety of species like panthers, manatees and leatherback turtles, the Florida Everglades are a key drawcard to this southern American state. While much of this swampy wonderland lies in the south, there are pockets of wetlands across much of Florida, and from Orlando, the best and closest is located alongside the town of Kissimmee. The Paddling Centre at Shingle Creek offers a variety of kayak adventures to give you a taste of this remarkable environment.
The Mall at Millenia is an ode to shopping opulence, so whether you plan to pack an extra credit card or window shop a la Breakfast at Tiffany’s style, if you love fashion then this huge mall complete with palm-tree promenade is the attraction for you. Featuring top-end designer labels like Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Versace, Gucci and…well…Tiffany’s. For those that can’t quite stretch the budget to designer handbags and jewels, don’t despair, there are some high street fashion options mixed in such as Urban Outfitters, Sephora and Victoria’s Secret. But if outlet shopping is more your style of retail therapy, Orlando is still sure to delight – start with Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets.
No trip to Orlando is complete without the city’s main attraction – Disney World, made up of a staggering four theme parks. Magic Kingdom Park is your quintessential Disney experience, featuring all your…ermm…kids (cough) favourite Disney characters and attractions such as Splash Mountain, the Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train, Enchanted Tales with Belle or Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. Add to that Hollywood Studios, the aforementioned Animal Kingdom Theme Park and Epcot, basically, a permanent World Expo featuring exhibits and shops from countries across the globe and you best set aside a few days – you’re in unashamed theme park heaven.