Business travelers will find there’s more to Orlando than roller coasters and cartoon characters. While the theme parks are certainly worth the price of admission, visitors also can enjoy sophisticated shopping, premier golf courses, world-class spas and hip neighborhoods in this central Florida city.
Orlando is a popular choice for conferences and conventions, and its robust technology industry employs more than 50,000 people in the metro area. Universal Studios and Disney’s Hollywood Studios form the backbone of Orlando’s growing film, television and electronic gaming industries.
Getting to and from the airport
Orlando International Airport is 6 miles southeast of the city center. A taxi to downtown costs approximately US$35. Local buses depart from Terminal A on the ground transportation Level. The Lynx bus lines 11 or 51 will take you to the city center. The fare is $2, and the trip takes about 40 minutes. Several hotels offer complimentary shuttle services to and from the airport.
Getting around Orlando
Visitors will find the city is best navigated by car, and a rental car probably is your best option. The city bus system is unlikely to get you where you want to go quickly or efficiently. If possible, avoid the rush hours of 7-9 a.m. and 4-7 p.m., as Orlando’s commuter traffic is some of the worst in the country. You can get a taxi in front of all major hotels. You can also call for a cab or hire a car; try Mears Transportation at 1-855-463-2776. Rates tend to be high, yet another reason car rental is a smart choice.
Where to stay
For luxury and upscale accommodation, try the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes (4012 Central Florida Parkway; Ph: +1-407-206-2400), Waldorf Astoria Orlando (14200 Bonnet Creek Resort Lane; Ph: +1-407-597-5500), JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes (4040 Central Florida Parkway; Ph: +1-407-206-2300); Wyndham Orlando Resort (8001 International Drive; Ph: +1-407-351-2420) or Courtyard Orlando Downtown (730 North Magnolia Ave.; Ph: +1-404-996-1000).
Midscale and economy options include the Hyatt Place Orlando Convention Center (8741 International Drive; Ph: +1-407-370-4720), Best Western International Drive Orlando (8222 Jamaican Court; Ph: +1-407-345-1172), Comfort Inn & Suites Universal Convention Center (7495 Canada Ave.; Ph: +1-407-351-7000), La Quinta Inn & Suites Orlando Convention Center (8504 Universal Blvd.; Ph: +1-407-345-1365) and Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham Orlando (7601 Canada Ave.; Ph +1-407-581-2151).
Things to see and do
Three words: Walt Disney World. With more than 40 million visitors every year, it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet. The resort is 21 miles southwest of downtown Orlando. Children and children at heart will get swept up in the excitement and wonder of this magical place. Four theme parks, two water parks, 24 resort hotels and four golf courses make up this massive entertainment complex. Lines can be long, crowds can be large, and price tags will be high, so put together a rough plan to help minimize frustrations. There are a range of ticket options. Single-day tickets and multi-day tickets give you access to one theme park each day, while the park-hopper option allows you to visit multiple parks in one day. Ticket prices and park hours vary. Prioritize the attractions you’d like to see because you won’t be able to see them all. Take advantage of the Disney FastPass+ ride-reservation service, which allows you to save a spot on select attractions at a designated time.
If you’ve had enough of man-made wonders, head to the Everglades for a kayaking tour. Chances are good that you’ll spot alligators, bald eagles and osprey. A number of outfitters offer tour packages, as do the Ritz Carlton and JW Marriott at Grande Lakes.
The peace and serenity of the Harry P. Leu Botanical Gardens are a welcome contrast to Orlando’s tourist-fuelled hustle and bustle. The gardens feature more than 1,000 rose bushes; one of the largest collections of camellias in North America; a citrus grove; and a butterfly garden. It’s open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Admission is $10 for adults and $3 for children.
Where to eat
If you’re celebrating a special occasion or looking to impress a client, stop in for dinner at Chatham’s Place. Servers know the back story and provenance of each precisely prepared dish, from the Florida black grouper to the spicy chicken Louisiana Creole. Live piano music adds to a memorable fine-dining experience. Find it at 7575 Dr. Phillips Blvd., Orlando; Ph: + 1407-345-2992.
Yellow Dog Eats is a family-owned café with a whole lot of charm. It’s housed in a landmark general store that has stood for more than a century. Friendly staff will guide you through a long list of gourmet sandwiches. The Retriever’s Roast (roast beef, caramelized onion, watercress, smoked Gouda and cranberry-horseradish jalapeno mayonnaise) is popular. Or try the Johnny Rocket with honey mesquite roasted turkey piled high on thick-sliced multigrain bread. Be prepared to wait for your feast. Find it at 1236 Hempel Ave., Gotha; Ph: +1 407-296-0609.
Within the confines of the Walt Disney World resort, escape to Victoria & Albert’s. For starters, you’ll get a break from over-excited children, but you’ll also be treated to award-winning modern American cuisine supplemented with ingredients sourced from around the globe. Choose from entrees such as braised oxtail and cherry ravioli with roasted red peppers or Australian Kobe Beef Tenderloin with smoked garlic-potato puree. The restaurant has two seatings: 5:45 p.m. and 9 p.m. Find it in Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa at 4401 Floridian Way, Lake Buena Vista; Ph: +1 407-824-3000.