Orlando is a popular travel destination for families all over the world. With theme parks like Disney World, Sea World and Universal Studios, there is plenty of excitement to be had in this thriving Central Florida city. But Orlando has a lot to offer locals, too, and it has nothing to do with paying for day passes to a jam-packed, expensive theme park. Have only two days to visit this popular travel destination? Here’s how to get the most out of a short trip to the magical city.
808 E. WASHINGTON ST. ORLANDO, FL 32801
Orlando locals love brunch. The best place in the city for this is Dexter’s in the Thornton Park district. Dexter’s makes the most savory Bloody Mary in the city, and it’s complimented deliciously with an omelet or fresh quiche. This is the perfect spot to fuel up for your exciting day. Anything you could ever want or imagine for breakfast is available on the menu, and no one will judge you if order seconds.
1PM DOWNTOWN DISNEY
With limited time in Orlando, head to Downtown Disney within Disney World to get the Disney atmosphere without paying expensive entrance fees or waiting in long lines for rides. Downtown Disney is free to enter because it doesn’t have any rides or large attractions, and parking is also free. This is a more relaxed part of Disney and caters to a more grown-up crowd with its restaurants and shopping. Downtown Disney includes several live music venues, a movie theater, a bowling alley and more than 40 shops. There are dozens of themed shops and restaurants, including the jungle-themed and kid-friendly Rainforest Café, Asian-California fusion at Wolfgang Puck Grand Café, and even several food trucks and kiosks if all you’re looking for is a snack.
DisneyQuest is an interactive theme park located right next to Downtown Disney. Admission fees are a lot cheaper than the main Disney parks, (about $38–$44), and this fairly new attraction is worth every penny. DisneyQuest is a five-floor gaming paradise that allows guests to interact by designing their own roller coasters, creating their very own Disney characters, and battling super-villians through a virtual reality comic book. This is the perfect spot to spend a few hours with or without children.
7PM MELLOW MUSHROOM
Escape the crowds of tourists with dinner at Mellow Mushroom. This pizza joint strives to provide not only incredible pizza but also a great night filled with local art, music, and a laid-back, fun time. They've got pizza, hoagies, calzones and even salads on the menu. Try their Thai Dye pizza with olive oil and garlic, all-natural grilled curry chicken, mozzarella cheese, roma tomatoes, and onions topped with fresh basil and hot Thai chili sauce.
10PM HOUSE OF BLUES
Also located in the Downtown Disney area is House of Blues. There is always live music going on, and this is a great bar scene to enjoy any type of performance. I have seen every type of band play here, from acoustic singer-songwriters to metal bands, and the atmosphere is always entertaining. There is also a full dining menu available, so grab a drink, snack, or even a quick meal and settle in for a great show.
10AM KEKE’S BREAKFAST CAFE
Check out another great breakfast/brunch spot, Keke’s Breakfast Cafe. Here you can enjoy the most delicious stuffed French toast of your life. I suggest trying the "create your own combo" so you can cater your meal to fit your cravings.
12PM ORLANDO PAINTBALL
7215 ROSE AVE. ORLANDO, FL 32810
The most fun I’ve ever had in Orlando had nothing to do with Disney. Orlando has a great paintball arena with indoor and outdoor fields. I recommend staying with the indoor, air-conditioned fields for those not comfortable with the Florida heat. Your adrenaline will be pumping, and you will lose yourself in the competition as you fire paintballs at your opponents. Orlando Paintball is almost always running specials for large or small groups, so be sure to check their website for more details. A word of warning: This location can be difficult to find, so be sure to call for directions.
3PM TIBBY’S NEW ORLEANS KITCHEN
After the adrenaline rush of paintball, you’ll be ready to relax with a late lunch at Tibby’s New Orleans Kitchen in nearby Winter Park, Fla. Tibby’s is known for its real-deal Cajun cooking, including po’ boys, gumbo, and shrimp and grits. The dining room looks like it was lifted right out of Bourbon Street, bedecked in purple, green and gold. The menu features lunch-sized portions of New Orleans favorites, and a great soup-and-salad option (try the peppered bacon & fried green tomato salad with seafood gumbo).
5PM LAKE EOLA
After your exciting day, take a relaxing swan boat ride on Orlando’s beautiful Lake Eola. The serene lake will be a calming way to wind down at the end of your whirlwind Orlando trip. I recommend a boat ride close to sunset for breathtaking photo opportunities.
8PM MUCHO TEQUILA AND TACOS
For your last meal in Orlando, head over to Mucho Tequila and Tacos for delicious Mexican food and the best margaritas in the city. This mostly-locals spot has a lively atmosphere and one of the best burritos I’ve ever tasted. The guacamole and chips alone are worth the trip, but the rest of the menu will not disappoint.
WHERE TO STAY: LOEWS PORTOFINO BAY HOTEL
5601 UNIVERSAL BLVD. ORLANDO, FL 32819
Feel like you're in an Italian fishing village right in the middle of Orlando by booking your stay with Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. This Italian villa-esque hotel offers large rooms, soft beds and elegant furnishings in addition to an on-site spa and waterfront opera performances each evening. Your trip to Orlando just got a lot more worldly.