When most of us think of Orlando, we think of Disney World. However, there is more to Orlando than Walt Disney. And even if the numerous theme parks aren’t what you are in to, there are plenty of entertainment and dining opportunities in the city that theme parks build.
Speaking of restaurants, Universal City Walk (inside Universal Studios) has some food choices that may just get your mouth watering. Including Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, the Hard Rock Café and especially the NASCAR Café.
For something decidedly different, check out Emeril’s Restaurant. (Emeril Lagasse, stars in the hit Food Network program Emeril Live.) One of his most famous catch phrases is, “Let’s kick it up another notch.” Emeril’s food is typically about high energy and bold flavors. The main course for dinner might include Creole mustard crusted lamb chops, or a slow braised beef short rib. For dessert, you might want to try the New Orleans-style bread pudding, served with bourbon sauce, pralines and Chantilly cream. Expect to pay about $50 a person.
Down the path from Emeril’s is a cheaper alternative, Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. As you can imagine from the name and from knowing Buffet’s music, his restaurant has more of a relaxed atmosphere and is about having a drink—maybe a margarita—and sitting back and listening to the music or looking at the crazy decorations. Entrees might include the jerk chicken platter or a crab cake sandwich. For dessert, try the key lime pie. The meal will run about $25 a person.
For those looking to spare the credit card, eat a little more cheaply and maybe pick up some souvenirs, check out International Drive, not too far from Universal Studios. International Driveis a street filled with budget hotels, discount souvenirs and cheap eats. The road even has its own Web site!
When you’re done eating, check out some of Orlando’s less talked about attractions, like WonderWorks. This is a really neat attraction that is great for kids as well as adults, with more than 100 interactive exhibits based around science. Feel the force of a 65 mph hurricane or get shaken by a simulated 5.3 degree earthquake. And the building should be easy to spot—it looks like it’s upside down! Tickets run about $20.
If you want to do something a little crazy, like jumping out of plane, but you have a fear of heights, check out SkyVenture. For $40, you’ll be trained, get suited up and then skydive in a wind tunnel. Kind of like skydiving with training wheels, huge fans generate winds up to 150 miles an hour, creating a feeling of freefalling without actually jumping out of a plane for fear of plummeting to your death.
While cops are used to dealing with crimes as they happen or shortly thereafter, an experience that might give you goose bumps is the Orlando Ghost Tours, which delves into deaths and crimes of days gone by. Unlike typical tours where the participants just hear ghost stories, you actually get “ghost hunting tools” like an EMF detector and a digital thermometer. This is an opportunity not to be missed, whether you believe in ghosts or not.
If you want to sit back, relax and have a meal while being entertained, try the nation’s first and longest running dinner attraction, Medieval Times. Tickets are about $56 and get you a king’s feast and medieval tournament jousting. For about $56, you can catch the Pirate’s Dinner Adventure, which is an action-packed, musical show that features stunts, special effects and aerial acts.
Or check out Dolly Pardon’s Dixie Stampede for about $55. The show’s theme is the North-South rivalry, but it’s all in good fun. Watch displays of horsemanship, ostrich races and even fireworks while enjoying a four-course meal. Pick up tickets to the shows and other Orlando attractions at www.vactionsmadeeasy.com.
If you’d rather do some shopping, Orlando has tons of places to do it, from cheap tourist shops where you get four shirts for $10 along International Drive to high-end outlet malls.
There are four flea markets in Orlando if you want to do some antiquing. And right outside of town is the Webster Flea Market, one of the largest in the country. Open only on Monday, there is a wholesale section as well as a regular market. Enjoy live music, the smell of waffle cones and more than 40 acres of shopping. It’s located 9 miles off of I-75, exit 309. No matter what you are looking for, the Orlando area probably has it. Discount tickets are sold everywhere from gas stations to street corners. And if you just want to relax after a day at the SHOT Show without spending a dime, bring your bathing suit. This is the Sunshine State, and most hotels have a pool. Another great resource is the Orlando Tourism Bureau.
Christy Whitehead is a freelance writer/photographer based out of Jacksonville, FL. She worked for a time in public relations and has done freelance work for a daily newspaper for seven years. She can be reached at WritingArticles@aol.com.