Boasting crystal clear skies, inviting sandy beaches and the world's most beloved theme-park, Orlando has everything that you could want for a sun-soaked escape.
Theme park capital of the world and international tourism hub, Orlando often feels more like a holiday resort than a working city. Most of the hotels here are large, slick chains, such as the five-star Ritz Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes (4012 Central Florida Parkway), with its 18-hole golf course and 370-sq-m spa. The best mid-range options tend to be attached to theme parks – SpringHill Suites at SeaWorld (10801 International Drive) continues the marine theme with its aqua-heavy décor and tropical pool, while Coco Key Orlando Water Resort (7400 International Drive) has its own outdoor water park. Plain but presentable Econo Lodge International Drive at Universal (7102 International Drive) is close to Universal Resort and makes a good budget option.
Souvenir shops and generic national chains dominate central Orlando and its tourism hub International Drive. If you want to pick up a plush Mickey Mouse or a cut-price bikini then this is the place to look, but venture off the tourist trail and you’ll be rewarded by some more interesting finds. The Mall At Millenia (4200 Conroy Road) is the city’s most upmarket mall, and houses brands such as Bloomingdale’s, J Crew and Anthropologie within a serene glass bubble. A colourful collection of fresh and home-grown produce makes the Sunday Orlando Farmer’s Market at Lake Eola a worthwhile weekend excursion. And offbeat bookshops such as the spiritual Spiral Circle (750 North Thornton Avenue) are perfect when you want to while away a few comfortable hours in the cool.
The strong focus on family entertainment means that Orlando has plenty of child-friendly restaurants. Kids can dine with their favourite cartoon characters at Disney’s 1900 Park Fare (4401 Floridian Way), while Chip ‘n’ Dale are the hosts at rotating restaurant Garden Grill (The Land Pavilion, Epcot). If you’re after something a little more upmarket, then check out Chef’s Table at the Edgewater (99 West Plant Street, Winter Garden) – a local favourite, thanks to its delicious traditional cuisine. Seasons 52 (7700 Sand Lake Road), a fresh grill and wine bar with a sophisticated feel, is also well worth a look in.
Orlando Folk Festival
Based at the Mennello Museum of American Art, this popular festival livens up the winter months in Orlando with plenty of music, dancing and fun. The main stage is dedicated to folk and Americana music, but fringe events include traditional craft demonstrations, storytelling and an art fair.
Central Florida Fair
With carnival rides and games, as well as a flea market, food fair, livestock display and over 100 live bands, this long-running fair is a highlight of the Orlando calendar.
Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival
This 13-day celebration is the biggest of its kind in the USA. Its wide remit includes art, theatre, music and comedy, with hundreds of uncensored acts taking place in various venues across downtown Orlando.
Annual Harvest Festival
Set against the rural backdrop of Lakeridge Winery, this is a traditional harvest festival that encourages visitors to involve themselves in the annual ‘stomping of the grapes’. Expect displays by local artists, live music and plenty of food and drink.
Festival Calle Orange
One of Florida’s largest Hispanic festivals, Calle Orange is a lively gathering of different cultures, races and creeds that takes over downtown Orlando for a day and a night. The riotous celebrations encompass dancing, music, food and colourful costumes.