Walt Disney World Orlando Feature
- Places to Explore
- Travel Tips
- Fodor's Choice
What's New in Orlando and the Parks
Once a thriving citrus-growing region, Orlando saw its tourism star rise soon after Disney opened the Magic Kingdom in 1971. In the decades since, Mickey's empire has ballooned, SeaWorld has made a splash with Shamu, and Universal Studios has brought big-screen thrills to life. Today Orlando's meeting and convention business thrives with resort hotel numbers second only to those of Las Vegas.
Visitors see Orlando as a shiny vacation kingdom bolstered by cartoon characters. Residents see it as a city on the rise, albeit one that's too reliant on a single industry—namely, tourism. Local officials have responded to these sentiments by courting and welcoming new industry to the area, and, as a result, Orlando is becoming an increasingly sophisticated city.
Today's Orlando …
… is evolving rapidly. Downtown Orlando is honing a hip edge, a growing high-tech corridor is attracting young professionals, and a new medical research center is springing up near Orlando International Airport. Sports fans and concertgoers line up for tickets to downtown's Amway Center, home of NBA team the Orlando Magic. And plans are under way for construction of a new performing arts center that would dwarf the aging Bob Carr Performing Arts Center.
… is enjoying a theme-park growth spurt. At Disney, the horizon is bright with plans for a major Fantasyland expansion in the Magic Kingdom plus an overall 10-year growth plan that includes up to 11,000-plus new hotel rooms and a possible fifth theme park. Disney collaborated with Best Friends Pet Care to open an on-site luxury pet resort with grooming, boarding, and a doggy day camp. Development is also under way near Disney's northeast border for construction of a 900-acre resort area with a Four Seasons property, family vacation homes, and a golf course to replace Disney's dormant Eagle Pines course. Finally, the new Disney Dream cruise ship set sail from Port Canaveral, Florida, in 2011; a second mega-ship, the Fantasy, is right behind it.
SeaWorld opened the thrill coaster, Manta, and updates its live shows regularly. Universal Studios debuted its long-anticipated Wizarding World of Harry Potter to record crowds.
Theme parks also are staying cutting-edge with interactive exhibits and attractions. Verizon and Disney have even teamed up to offer phone services that update you on real-time attraction availability, Disney character locations, and other in-park "breaking news."
… is a nosher's paradise. Area restaurants are innovating. Truffle fries are hot at The Ravenous Pig in Winter Park; classics like foie gras are always in style at Le Coq au Vin. Orlando has three master sommeliers—at this writing, that's just one fewer than New York City and Chicago.
Celebrity chefs, including Cat Cora, Todd English, Emeril Lagasse, and Norman Van Aken, have taken over numerous Orlando dining rooms. Disney chef Scott Hunnel makes dinner a royal occasion at Victoria & Albert's, Central Florida's only AAA Five-Diamond restaurant. Even theme-park chefs are setting new standards, offering options that range from sushi at the counter-service Sunshine Seasons in Epcot to blueberry- and pistachio-crusted grilled pork at Mythos Restaurant in Islands of Adventure. As the owners of Le Coq au Vin aptly advise: "Bon appétit, y'all!"
What's Hot in Orlando and the Parks Now
Stargazing is an ever-popular pastime at the Orlando Science Center's Crosby Observatory. But the starstruck can also engage in "stargaping"—as in celebrity sighting. While park hopping, you could run into just about any pop-culture icon. Whose theme-park-lovin' mugs might you snap? Tina Fey, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Mariah Carey, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Gwen Stefani—the list goes on. Celeb chefs like Cat Cora and Emeril Lagasse kick things up a notch when they're in town. Famous locals include *NSYNC's Joey Fatone and actress-singer Mandy Moore, sports figures Tiger Woods and Warren Sapp, comedian Wayne Brady, and actor Wesley Snipes.
More and more, metro area pets are being given the celebrity treatment. Dog-owning foodies in Orlando and Winter Park take their best friends for a nosh at spots like Harmoni Market and K Restaurant. Dogs-about-town often frequent Winter Park Farmer's Market and Fleet Peeple's Park, and there are several popular pooch boutiques like the Doggie Door on North Park Avenue in Winter Park.
Orlando architecture is turning heads these days as the downtown skyline undergoes enhancement, lakefront manses compete for attention, and buildings about town earn design raves. The city's eclectic shape features the country's second-largest convention center (Chicago's is the largest), with its open-air bridge and moving sidewalks; the rustic bayou-themed House of Blues; the observatory-capped Orlando Science Center; and the love-it-or-hate-it downtown LYNX bus station, with its wavy, whimsical lines.
Free Fodor's Newsletter
Subscribe today for weekly travel inspiration, tips, and special offers.
Fodor's Trip Planning Ideas
- Weekend Getaways: Fodor's Recommends the Best Weekend Escapes in the US
- Great American Vacation: Find Your Next U.S. Trip with Fodor's
- 80 Degrees: Fodor's Helps You Find Your Best Beach Vacation Spots
- Go List: Fodor's Top 25 Places to Go in 2013
- Hotel Awards 2012: Fodor's 100 Top Hotels
- Best of Europe: Fodor's Picks the Best Places to Visit in Europe
- $71-$111 -- Family Resort inside Disney w/Shuttles, 60% Off BookIt.com
- $69-$99 -- Orlando Resort w/Upgrade to 3-BR Villa, 50% Off BookIt.com
- $1749 -- Balcony: Weeklong Cruise to Bahamas in Summer Royal Caribbean
- $8 & up -- Car Rentals across Florida CarRentals.com
- $862 & up -- Florida: Club Med Sandpiper Bay, Save 40% — $862 Club Med Sandpiper Bay