The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The settings from the famed series come to life with immersive experiences split between both Universal Orlando theme parks. At Islands of Adventure, guests can walk through Hogwarts castle and explore Hogsmeade Village’s snow-capped shops, with Honeydukes and the Owl Post among them. At Universal Studios Orlando, the winding walkways of Diagon Alley — with Knockturn Alley, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes and a fire-breathing dragon atop Gringotts bank — excite, as magical experiences including wand fittings at Ollivanders Wand Shop, interactive surprises and Butterbeer delight guests at both.
Disney Parks go to great lengths to ensure guests have the most magical time of their lives while inside the park. This of course stretches to the incredible detail designers put into rides, to the perfectly Disney-friendly foods served throughout the park right down to the way each and every cast member interacts with guests.
Take, for example, the fact that cast members (otherwise known as employees) are never supposed to tell a guest “I don’t know.”
According to a former cast member, if a guest approaches a cast member inside the park with a question they are not allowed to answer with “I don’t know” even when they don’t actually know the answer. Instead, cast members must go to any and all lengths to find the answer, including calling other cast members around the park. This way, guests never have to wander around looking for something.
Moreover, cast members are never allowed to laugh or mock a guest for any of their questions. As another former cast member revealed, “If someone asks you ‘what time does the 3:00 parade start’ you can’t laugh. They may be serious! Actually, they are most of the time! You have to say ‘3:00′ with a smile that doesn’t suggest to them that you think they are a big stupid and should go learn something.”
Of course, these rigid cast rules don’t stop there. For example, no Disney park employee is ever allowed to point with just their index finger. Instead, they must point using both the index and middle finger, which is known as the “Disney point.”
According to an anonymous Disney park employee, the gesture is indeed part of the training program for all employees and is actually an homage to Walt Disney himself. As legend has it, Disney would walk through his eponymously named park with a cigarette in hand. When he would point out different attractions he would do so by pointing with two fingers stretched out.
Now, however, Disney also uses the two-finger gesture to ensure that they are not misinterpreted as being rude with the single-finger point.
Beyond fingers and answers Disney cast members must also cover any visible tattoos, keep nails and makeup clean and simple and are banned from ever chewing gum. But hey, at least they get to dress up as princes and princesses.
8 Jiko - The Cooking Place
An African-themed restaurant set in the perfect place: right in the heart of Disney’s Animal Kingdom! Everything from the vibrant décor, carved wooden seating and flavorsome dishes take inspiration from the African, not to mention the impressive wine list which is exclusively imported from South Africa. To whet your appetite, we’ll let you know they serve up the likes of Nigerian-spiced Pork Shank, Garam Masala-spiced Sea Scallops, Maize-crusted Local Grouper and Botswana-style Seswaa Beef Short Rib. Most of these mains come in at around $30-50 while appetizers and desserts are around $10-20. This is definitely a family-friendly place too, and there is a small and very cheap selection of kids’ dishes too.
Opening Hours: 17:30-22:00 Location: Disney's Animal Kingdom Resort Area, 2901 Osceola Pkwy, Orlando Tel: +1 407-938-4733
If you've only been to Orlando during the summer or while your kids are on spring break, you're missing out. Sure, if you have children, it is easier to travel during their school vacations. But lots of people have the same sentiment, which means much bigger crowds and longer lines wherever you go. Most locals, in fact, steer clear of the theme parks during prime travel times of the year, especially during the summer when daily temperatures often approach 100 degrees. If you're able to, try to make it to Orlando during one of the following five periods, when crowds will be sparser, temperatures will be lower, and hotel prices will be reduced. On top of that, the theme parks tend to host special festivals and events during off times of the year, so you can often experience some unique things that simply aren't available in June, July, and August.
Mid-January through Mid-February
For roughly a month between Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Washington’s birthday (also known as Presidents’ Day), Orlando's tourist scene is at its quietest. If you live in a cold climate, this could be the perfect time for a warm-weather getaway. Average daytime temperatures reach the low- to mid-70s, and theme park crowds tend to be sparse.
April through late May
There's another uncrowded period between spring break and summer vacation, with the exception of the week before and after Easter. Plus, spring in Orlando is usually temperate and sunny, making it a great time to visit. Come early for Epcot's popular International Flower & Garden Festival or Mardi Gras at Universal Studios, or visit in May for Star Wars Weekends at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Mid-September through Mid-November
Soon after Labor Day, the blistering summer temperatures begin to fade, and the nights start to get cooler. With kids just back to school, the theme parks tend to be quieter too. This is the time to take advantage of Visit Orlando's Magical Dining Month ($33 prix fixe meals at Orlando's best restaurants all September long) as well as Epcot's hugely popular International Food & Wine Festival.
Mid-October through Halloween
Although this overlaps with the post-Labor Day period previously mentioned, the weeks leading up to Halloween are certainly worthy of their own category. Between Universal's thrilling, chilling and elaborate Halloween Horror Nights, the kid-friendly Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Disney World, and the Halloween Spooktacular at SeaWorld, there's truly something spooky for everyone.
Late November through mid-December
There's a brief lull between the Monday after Thanksgiving and the beginning of the school holiday breaks around the country, making this festive season the perfect time to visit Orlando. You'll avoid major crowds, but you'll get to see the theme parks all dressed up for the holidays. Don’t miss the parks’ special holiday events, such as the beloved Candlelight Processional at Epcot.
Surprisingly, some of the best restaurants in Orlando can be found inside Walt Disney Resort, which takes up a sizeable chunk of land in the southwest of the city. The whole Disney area is free to enter (it’s the individual theme parks inside where you’ll need a ticket), so don’t be put off by the fact that you’re dining in a giant amusement resort. The cuisine at Disney World Florida spans to every continent on Earth, from fast-food joints to fine dining, classic American grills to elegant seafood restaurants – they’re all here! We've eaten our way through the resort to bring you this Top 10 list of the best restaurants at Disney World Florida. Remember, these selections are the cream of the crop, so if you want to eat on a budget, it might be better to walk towards the nearest fast food joint instead.
Accessible with a park-to-park ticket, this steam train complete with picturesque cabins looks just like it does in the movies and doubles as the best way to travel between The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at both parks. Pay no mind to if you board at King’s Cross Station or Hogsmeade Station first; the experience you’ll have is completely different each way.
A representative for Disney also confirmed to Southern Living that these kinds of coupons are available from time to time at some dining locations at the theme park. So before you toss your receipt or stuff it into your bag, be sure to do a quick scan to see if any additional deals or discounts are listed with your bill. It may not be a glass slipper, but it's certainly a fun surprise.
No. 9 Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
Nautical-crisp digs on Orlando's Crescent Lake. When you're not conquering the World, you can take out one of the resort's pontoon boats, or tackle the three-acre pool complex—climb a ship's mast to get to the top of the waterslide.
Between posing with Goofy for a photo and going on a snack run for Dole Whip — and oh yeah, the rides! — days at Disney World tend to be pretty jam-packed. That's why we probably wouldn't be surprised to learn that you tossed your Disney dining receipts or they live hidden in the underbelly of your purse.
Well, if you want to save money at Disney World, it's time to change that: "If you dine at one of the restaurants at Disney World look out for a coupon on the back of your receipt. You can find discounts for merchandise at stores in Disney World and Disney Springs," reports WFMY-TV News 2 in Greensboro, North Carolina.
One of the reasons I love living in Orlando is that the options for day trips throughout Florida are practically endless. There are scores of towns, state parks, theme parks, beaches, historical landmarks, sports venues and more within an easy drive. By definition, you should be able to complete a day trip -- including the round-trip drive and a decent chunk of time at the destination -- within a day's time, so I've narrowed the following options down to places you can reach in 90 minutes or less. But if you’re open to a longer day, you can also find the historic district of St. Augustine (two hours away), the vibrant, multicultural melting pot of Miami (three hours away), or even a NASCAR race 60 miles northeast in Daytona Beach at one of the sport's most storied tracks. Wherever you go, you'll be sure to have a unique adventure in a state that has far more to offer than just sunshine and theme parks.
Just a bit too far away to be considered an Orlando theme park, LEGOLAND is, nonetheless, a destination you should consider if you have kids under 12. Forty-five minutes from the tourist strip of Orlando, this 150-acre property boasts plenty of rides and shows, and even a botanical garden.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
An easy 50-minute drive east, this tourist destination is a beautiful ode to the nation’s space program. The home of Space Shuttle Atlantis, the complex features a couple of rides, an informative tour of the property, two incredible 3D IMAX movies and even the opportunity to meet a real astronaut. Check the website before you go; you might even be lucky enough to see a rocket launch.
Blue Springs State Park
Fifty minutes north of downtown Orlando, find this 2,600-acre park, which includes the largest spring on the 310-mile St. Johns River. You can swim, snorkel or scuba dive in the clear, 72-degree spring most of the year, but from mid-November through March 15, the water is reserved for the large manatee population that winters there (a truly cool thing to see in person). Especially on weekends, plan to arrive early; the parking lot closes once it’s full.
Less than forty minutes away, step back in time in this charming lakefront town, a favorite among antique hunters. The downtown area features an array of antique dealers, and thousands flock each weekend to the huge Renninger’s Flea and Farmer’s Market. Watch the sunset from a lakefront restaurant or take a stroll to find a wide variety of quaint cafes and art galleries.
The Tampa Bay area -- including Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater -- is a popular vacation destination unto itself, so if you're in Orlando, it's worth the 80-minute drive if you have a bit of extra time. Find Busch Gardens Tampa, the beautiful white sand Gulf beaches, the historic Ybor City, several thriving downtown areas, and the Seminole Hard Rock Casino. You can also catch an NHL, NFL or Major League Baseball game here.
Dining at Universal Studios Florida
Universal Studios Florida has a collection of The Simpsons-themed eateries including Krusty’s Burger, Moe’s Tavern and an outdoor Duff Brewery, as well as full-scale restaurants like Mel’s Drive-In, Finnegan’s and Lombard’s Seafood Grille. For Harry Potter-esque eats, opt for a meal of hearty British food at Leaky Cauldron followed by a few scoops from Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour.
No. 1 Waldorf Astoria, Orlando
In Walt Disney’s wildest imagination he probably never pictured a Waldorf Astoria in Orlando. The newest member of the luxury brand is situated on 482 acres of pristine woods, meadows, and marshlands at the southeast corner of Walt Disney World, close to Downtown Disney and Hollywood Studios. The 498 guest rooms (171 of which are suites) are decked out in stylish modern decor and marble bathrooms. Suites feature balconies from which to view lovely Bonnet Creek and the Disney compound. For those who don’t wish to hang with Mickey and Minnie, there are plenty of other sideshows including Rees Jones-designed, 18-hole golf course, two resort pools, a plush Spa by Guerlain with 21 treatment rooms, and outposts of celebrated dining venues from the flagship Waldorf Astoria in New York including Peacock Alley, the Bull & Bear Steakhouse, and Oscar's Brasserie.
Universal Studios Florida
This park features roller coasters (Revenge of the Mummy, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit) as well as virtual thrill rides including The Simpsons Ride, TRANSFORMERS: The Ride 3D and Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. Those missing Universal’s older rides will adore the whimsical E.T. Adventure, while kids will revel in Fievel’s Playland, a Woody Woodpecker coaster and eye-popping attractions themed to Shrek and Despicable Me.
Florida may be jam-packed with theme parks, but no vacation is complete without a trip to Universal Orlando Resort.
With three individual theme parks, an entertainment district, and five resort hotels themed to everything from decades-old beach resorts to picturesque Italy, there’s a lot to see, whether you’re a complete coaster-phobe or spend half your day inverted upside-down.
Before you take a dive at Universal’s incredible new water park, load up on “The Simpsons”-themed foods, and tackle the Harry Potter-themed land, you'll need to find the right hotel, get your tickets, and choose some rides and restaurants for your trip to this massive destination.
Here’s everything you need to know about a trip to Universal Orlando Resort.
Most of Universal Orlando Resort’s staged shows is at Universal Studios Florida, which includes a horror make-up show, Fear Factor Live and a sing-along show with Barney and Friends, as well as much live entertainment throughout the park. There’s also Universal’s Superstar Parade, and live dance and musical performances throughout the parks, hotels and City Walk downtown district as well. At night, Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular illuminates Universal Studios Florida with fireworks, water effects and a rousing movie-music compilation.
Single Day Tickets are available for all three parks, and sold at three different seasonal prices for Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. (Volcano Bay tickets cost less than the theme parks and are valid anytime.) Park-to-Park tickets are available between the two theme parks, or for an added charge, between all three. Be sure to purchase tickets online and in advance, which offers a slight discount.
Universal Orlando Resort Hotels
With five hotels on property and more on the way, there are options for every kind of stay. The crisp Caribbean-inspired Loews Sapphire Falls Resort appeals to the business traveler extending their trip for vacation, while the whimsical mid-century charm of Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort is ideal for families seeking to save some money without sacrificing style. Loews Portofino Bay Hotel and Loews Royal Pacific Resort offer relaxing, immersive and lush environments that channel Italy and South Sea Islands respectively, as Hard Rock Hotel is a lively choice for friends and couples who crave an edge to the theme park experience. There are perks, too; all offer early park admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and select locations include one-time Express Pass complimentary with resort stay.
9 Cinderella's Royal Table
Cinderella’s castle isn’t just for show, did you know? For a completely unique dining experience, and one the kids will never forget, Cinderella’s Royal Table allows you to dine with the Disney Princesses in a grand banquet hall at the top of the building. After following the winding staircase all the way up to the top, you’ll be greeted by a scene looking like something out of the movies, complete with colorful stain-glassed windows, towering stone archways overhead and medieval-style flags draped throughout. Food – which obviously takes second place to all the grandeur that surrounds – is modern American cuisine, with plenty of choice to suit all tastes. The banquet hall is open for breakfast and lunch, although the true magic here is best experienced during dinner. Don’t forget to dress up! (plan around $60 per head excluding drinks and service charge).
Opening Hours: Daily 08:00-10:00; 11:45-14.40; 15:50-21:00 Location: Cinderella’s Castle, Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World Resort Florida, Orlando
7 California Grill
This delightful spot benefits from an elevated position at Disney’s Contemporary Resort (near the Magic Kingdom), offering some superb views over the park – especially good if you are dining when the firework display over Cinderella’s Castle takes place. The menu presents an eclectic mix of dishes from around the world, with sushi plates ($25), Italian style pastas and salads, and of course, plenty of meat such as the bison strip loin, oak-fired filet of beef, Bell & Evans chicken and pork belly rillettes. Most of these mains come in at around the $50 mark, meaning an evening spent here with the whole family will be an expensive one – but one you won’t forget in a long time.
Opening Hours: 17:00-22:00 Location: California Grill, 4660 World Dr, Orlando, FL 32831, United States Tel: +1 407-939-3463
4 La Luce
Situated at the rather luxurious Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek (next door to the Waldorf and across the gold course from Disney World) is La Luce, a refined Italian restaurant that serves up thin crust pizzas, delectable pastas and plenty of other tasty al la carte selections. Only open for dinner, the candlelit tables and lulling music makes for a romantic setting, although the generously-sized portions and lively service make this good for the whole family, just no shorts or flip flops please.
Opening Hours: 17:00-23:00 Location: Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, 14100 Bonnet Creek Resort Ln, Orlando, FL 32821 Tel: (407) 597-3600
You’ve traveled to Orlando for a family vacation full of theme parks and outdoor activities. But when you get there, it’s raining so hard that you want other options besides a soaking wet Disney World. What to do?
Luckily, there are plenty of great indoor activities in Orlando. Here are a few of them.
Andretti Indoor Karting and Games has plenty of games, including arcades, bowling, laser tag and pro-racing simulators. It also has a high ropes course and professionally designed, multi-level indoor go-karting.
iFly Indoor Skydiving
This indoor skydiving attraction has two all-glass wind tunnels in an open, single-story floor plan that allows passersby to see skydivers in action.
Bring your kids to Crayola Experience, which has 26 hands-on activities including a color playground and “doodle in the dark.” Kids can also name and wrap their own Crayola crayon and learn how crayons are made in a live show starring animated crayon friends and a meet resident Crayonologist.
Sea Life Orlando
This aquarium has a 360-degree Underwater Tunnel with up close views of sharks and stingrays swimming overhead. There are themed habitats with places to pop up in bubble-tanks for close views.
Main Event Orlando
Main Event combines a restaurant, virtual and interactive games, high-rope adventure courses, pool, 61 big screen TVs and bowling.
This indoor golfing attraction features 230 high-definition TVs, more than 100 climate-controlled hitting bays that can fit up to six players at one time, and the ability to track the accuracy and distance of players' shots.
Madame Tussauds Orlando
Just like the one in London, this museum is filled with detailed wax figures of celebrities from film and television, sports stars, musicians and people from history. The museum also has Orlando-specific statues, including Pitbull and Walt Disney, plus Beyonce, Taylor Swift and Jennifer Lopez.
Learn how chocolate goes from the bean into a chocolate bar in this interactive museum. You’ll get a personal chocolate tour guide, a handsome prince and a dragon sidekick as you go through a Cacao Tree Greenhouse, a Chocolate Museum, a Mystical River of Chocolate and a Bean-to-the-Bar Factory using old world machinery.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Orlando Odditorium
This whacky-looking building hosts a 10,000-square-foot “Odditorium” that looks like it’s falling into a Florida sinkhole. There are exhibits and artifacts ranging from shrunken heads, an authentic vampire killing kit, a shooting gallery and a wild spinning vortex tunnel.
You can also try dinner and entertainment at a range of dining shows, including Mango’s Tropical Café Orlando, Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament and Sleuth’s Mystery Dinner Show.
No. 2 Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes
The relative isolation of this property on 500 acres of undeveloped, well-tended land about two miles east of SeaWorld results in a pleasing quiet otherwise unknown in these parts. A businesslike hotel with a surfeit of Italianate pink marble, the Ritz has 584 rooms spread through a U-shaped tower. Large California-meets-Italy rooms have king-size beds, chaises, and balconies; bathrooms have separate bathtubs and showers and Bulgari toiletries. Outside, there’s a pretty pool lined with spouting statues, a 40,000-square-foot spa, a Greg Norman–designed golf course, and an elaborate free-form swimming pool.
Universal Is well-known for its Halloween Horror Nights, the fright-filled nighttime extravaganza hosted at Universal Studios Florida each fall. The theming of its scare zones, live entertainment and haunted houses changes each year, but regularly highlights popular horror films and television shows, mixing classics like The Exorcist and The Shining with newer entrants like American Horror Story and The Walking Dead. Universal Orlando Resort also celebrates Mardi Gras in a big way, with New Orleans-style food, oversized floats and one-night-only concerts from popular celebrity bands. Christmastime will bring Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s famed balloon floats and the first-ever festivities at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2017 with themed eats, wintertime decor and holiday entertainment.
As one of the most popular family destinations on earth, Orlando isn't exactly synonymous with sophisticated accommodations. Yet, some of the world's best hotels can be found right by the city's famed theme parks.
Those looking for something more removed will appreciate a California-meets-Italy resort on 500 acres of undeveloped, well-tended land about two miles east of SeaWorld. You can also choose to stay downtown, where one decidedly grown-up property is filled with more than 100 pieces by artists like Odell Etim, Jean Claude Roy, and Mitch Kolbe.
Whether you're a Disney fan or not, let T+L simplify your search with this essential guide to the Orlando properties that will make your trip. Read on for the top hotels in Orlando—and their special amenities—based on readers' votes in our annual World's Best Awards survey.
No. 4 Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
From your balcony at this African-themed Orlando lodge, you just might spot a giraffe, bongo, or wildebeest roaming the surrounding savannah. Dinner stars Kenyan-coffee-braised short ribs and Swahili shrimp curry. At dusk, don night-vision goggles and tour the grounds by open-air truck. Don't miss the safari at the resort's companion Animal Kingdom theme park.
Universal City Walk
This collection of shops, restaurants and bars just steps from Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure offers up numerous dining experiences and entertainment stops before or after the parks. The new Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen is a crowd pleaser, as are Antojitos for Mexican food and The Cowfish for sushi and burgers; for nightlife, Pat O’Briens and Hard Rock Live Orlando are reliable picks.
I believe that people tend to erroneously think of Orlando as a place designed just for kids. But while the theme parks certainly cater to youngsters, the city is very adult-friendly too, with lots of world-class restaurants, entertainment offerings and nightlife options. Event management firm Cvent consistently names Orlando one of the top three convention destinations in the nation, and in fact, we boast the second-largest convention facility in America, which means tons of annual grown-up visits to the City Beautiful. On top of that, even without tourism, we’re a huge and thriving metro area—one of the top thirty in the United States in terms of population. One third of our over two million residents are between 20 and 44, and we tend to both work hard and play hard. Whether you’re planning to go where the locals go or stick closer to the tourist or convention areas, here are Central Florida’s best nightlife choices.
This is one of the areas that locals flock to for a night out. Catch an Orlando Magic game at the Amway Center or a live show at the Social. Enjoy a meal at one of dozens of restaurants or a drink at one of a huge variety of nightclubs and bars. Favorites include Casey’s, FinnHenry’s and Vixen Bar. Park in a garage—my favorite is across from the library at 112 E. Central Blvd.—and walk this vibrant district.
Just north of Orlando, the suburb of Winter Park boasts a popular and upscale nightlife scene centered around both Park Avenue and nearby Hannibal Square. Park Avenue has more offerings, with boutique shopping, upscale restaurants (Try Luma or Prato!), sidewalk cafes, and trendy wine bars lining the picturesque street.
The nightlife district at Universal Studios is a little touristy, but locals love it too. Park in the Universal garage and ride the moving sidewalk in for a huge variety of restaurants, bars and nightclubs. It’s also the home of a movie theater, Hard Rock Live and Blue Man Group. Don’t miss the late-night dueling pianos at Pat O’Brien’s or the live reggae music at Bob Marley: A Tribute to Freedom.
Disney’s entertainment district is in the midst of a major renovation, but it’s still a thriving center of fun. This is where you’ll find La Nouba by Cirque de Soleil, the House of Blues, an AMC movie theater, plenty of shopping and a bowling alley as well as many restaurants, including Raglan Road and Paradiso 37, which stay open late and offer live entertainment.
Popular with convention-goers thanks to its proximity to the Orange County Convention Center, this sprawling compound offers a movie theater, a comedy club, and lots of shopping, dining and imbibing options. B.B. King’s is a great place to hear live music while you dine; Taverna Opa offers a raucous Greek environment; and Adobe Gila’s has tons of outdoor space to enjoy the fresh Florida air.
No. 8 Peabody Orlando
As with its sister properties in Memphis and Little Rock, the Peabody Orlando (adjacent to the seven-million-square-foot Orange County Convention Center) employs a Duck Master to care for the North American Mallards that frolic in the lobby's marble fountain. The hotel combines traditional Southern style with eclectic notes like the cascading waterfall, duck-shaped soaps, and duck-shaped butter sculptures in Capriccio Grill. The high-rise tower—overlooking more than three acres with cabanas, terrace waterfalls, and sparkling zero-entry pools—has 1,641 rooms and common spaces decorated with palm trees, live orchids, and contemporary art by Alice Fellows and David Hockney. The Peabody Orlando underwent a $450-million facelift in 2010, adding 300,000 square feet, 105 meeting rooms, and a 22,000-square-foot spa and fitness center. Aromatherapy sessions, complimentary wine, and gourmet treats from the exclusive lounge are included in the 52 loft rooms on the Mallard Tower's top three floors. Be sure to be in the lobby at 11 a.m. when the Peabody Ducks descend from their penthouse palace via special elevator (accompanied by the strains of Sousa's "King Cotton March") to swim in their fountain.
No. 10 Grand Bohemian Hotel
Art is everywhere in the 247-room Grand Bohemian Hotel in downtown Orlando, which has received numerous accolades, including the T+L 500. The Grand Bohemian Gallery features more than 100 pieces by artists like Odell Etim, Jean Claude Roy, Richard Hill, Danielle Miller, and Mitch Kolbe. The hotel is basically a white tower with curved corners, leading into a lobby with a barrel-vaulted ceiling inlaid with red glass Italian tile.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure
Islands of Adventure hosts two of Universal Orlando Resort’s biggest thrill rides: the newly improved The Incredible Hulk Coaster as well as the intertwining tracks of Dragon Challenge. 3D-enhanced rides (The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, Skull Island: Reign of Kong) are crowd favorites, while younger guests will revel in the delightfully themed Seuss Landing as well as the soaring Pteranodon Flyers. Jurassic Park River Adventure makes for a thrilling flume ride, but Islands of Adventure has two additional water rides as well, ideal for hot Floridian afternoons.
Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure offer VIP Experiences in guided group tours that offer “skip-the-line” access for attractions during and after the tour, reserved seating for shows and entertainment and two meals included. If you’d prefer to go solo, the Private VIP Experience is a fully customizable take on the tour with unlimited access to all the parks have to offer.
1 Bull & Bear Steakhouse
Since its opening at the glamorous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel (next to the Hilton), Bull & Bear has been consistently ranked as one of the top fine dining restaurants in Orlando, as well as the wider Central Florida region. Although actually located outside of Disney World, the amusement resort is very nearby; so close, in fact, that if you get a table by the window here you can admire the famous nightly firework display over Cinderella’s Castle in the distance. Being a steakhouse, the pièce de résistance here has to be the 32-Day Dry-Aged Tomahawk Rib Eye, good for two people. There’s also other standout dishes such as the wagyu sirloin, filet mignon and melt-in-the-mouth Chateaubriand, again for two. Expect many of the cuts to come in around the $100 mark... expensive, but tasty.
Opening Hours: 18:00-22:00 daily Location: Waldorf Astoria Orlando, 14200 Bonnet Creek Resort Ln, Orlando, FL 32821 Tel: +1 407-597-5500
No. 7 Loews Portofino Bay Hotel
A re-creation of the exclusive Italian fishing village, right down to the jut of its ferry dock and the rusty hue of the buildings, Portofino Bay has some of Orlando’s largest rooms (at least 450 square feet apiece), with terrifically soft beds. The 750 rooms, decorated in a combination of Italian-villa and southern-plantation style, have curvaceous, carved- and inlaid-wood headboards and armoires, and elegant fabrics. It’s no more than a 10-minute remove from the theme parks; however, the hotel is less suited to families than to romance, also evidenced by the Mandara Spa and the nightly opera performances on the quay. Guests here can skip the lines at both Universal parks' attractions.
Universal’s Volcano Bay
With two kinds of lazy rivers, an impressive wave pool and 18 water slides in all, Universal’s Volcano Bay earns its title as a “water theme park.” New as of 2017, it hosts a 200 foot man-made mountain in its center that explodes with water during the day and features fire effects at nighttime, with Krakatau Aqua Coaster, a truly thrilling ride that’s easily the park’s best, tucked inside.
No. 6 Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
With gas lamps and wicker chairs in this sprawling neo-Victorian manse, Cindarella, Prince Charming, and the wicked stepsisters feel right at home. There are, or course, thoroughly modern elements: suites big enough for eight, a walk-in pool with a waterfall, and after-dark kids' activities. Don't miss the dingin at Citricos or Victoria & Albert's (one of the best restaurants in Florida) and take advantage of the hotel's proximity to Disney's Magic Kingdom.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Attractions
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts takes guests on a treacherous mine cart ride through the bank’s underground vaults at Universal Studios Florida, while Islands of Adventure plunges park goers into a Hogwarts adventure on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and lets little ones in on the fun with a Flight of the Hippogriff family coaster. Both have queues that are as impressive as the rides, complete with a bank lobby full of goblins at Gringotts and a trip through Dumbledore’s office and the Defense Against The Dark Arts classroom among them.
2 Victoria & Albert's
This fine dining institution is located inside Walt Disney World Resort at the luxurious Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. Victoria & Albert’s isn’t exactly the kind of place you can just rock up to any time of day in your shorts and crocs; reservations are required in advance and the dress code is 'smart' (meaning guys need to wear a jacket). On the six-course tasting menu, you’ll find the likes of ‘Masago-crusted Maine Scallop’, ‘Quail with Cardamom and Sunchokes’, ‘Veal with Black Truffles and Sauce Périgord’ and ‘Onion Ash-crusted Niman Ranch Lamb’. Prices start at $150 per head – which on the face of it seems quite reasonable for what has been dubbed ‘Orlando’s best restaurant’, although that final bill at the end will be a lot higher once you add on drinks and service charge.
Opening Hours: Dinner reservations available from 17:00 Location: Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, 4401 Floridian Way, Orlando, FL 32830 Tel: (407) 939-3862
For an additional fee, guests can “skip the line” at most Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure attractions one time, or with Universal Express Unlimited, as often as they’d like. Do know that this add-on differs from Virtual Line, the new digital queueing system used on Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon and most attractions at Universal’s Volcano Bay that comes complimentary.
5 Flying Fish Café
Fresh seafood (obviously), as well as prime cuts of steak, are the name of the game at this highly rated spot on Disney’s BroadWalk, which is actually more of a restaurant than a café. High ceilings, funky light installations and high-energy service all make the dining experience complete at the Flying Fish Café, although do expect prices to be a little tourist-inflated (this is inside Disney World remember).
Opening Hours: 12:00-23:00 Location: Disney BroadWalk, Walt Disney World Orlando, Florida
No. 3 Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek
While most guests book their stay at Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek to visit neighboring Disney World, anywhere else, the hotel would be a destination unto itself. Eighteen rounds at the adjacent Waldorf Astoria Golf Club, a three-and-a-half hour Serenity ritual at the Guerlain spa, or endless circuits of the lazy river pool are a few of the ways you can easily while away an entire day (or even several days) at the Hilton. You’ll be well-fed, too: La Luce by Donna Scala was named Orlando’s best hotel restaurant by the Orlando Sentinel and is popular with locals as well as hotel visitors.
No. 5 Disney’s Boardwalk Inn and Villas
The time: 1940. The place: Walt Disney World's version of the Jersey Shore, complete with a boardwalk, surrey bikes, and saltwater taffy. The rooms: think old-fashioned floral.
3 The Dining Room at Wolfgang Puck
Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck’s mini-empire of restaurants haven’t missed out on Orlando – far from it. In fact, he now has two separate venues at Disney World that present multiple dining options. The Dining Room has to be the most highly-rated, if not the most expensive, with a far-reaching menu of creative Asian-Californian fusion food served up in an intimate dining room at Disney Springs West Side. You’ll need a reservation in advance and do note the restaurant’s relatively strict smart-casual dress code. Fine dining in Orlando doesn’t come cheap, so best plan onwards of $100 per person (excluding the wine).
Opening Hours: 17:00-24:00 Location: Disney Springs West Side, Walt Disney World Resort Orlando, Florida
This swanky lounge, set in the lobby of the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort with a veranda overlooking the pool, is what you might expect an eccentric rock star’s living room to look like. This is where Orlando’s premiere rock n’ roll cocktail party takes place each month.
On the ground floor of the Grand Bohemian Hotel—Orlando’s downtown jewel—this lounge is a popular after-work spot for well-dressed Orlandoans. The walls are hung with eclectic artworks, and on Friday and Saturday evenings, guests can enjoy live soul and jazz performances while sipping wine or specialty cocktails.
California Grill Lounge
The premiere restaurant of Disney’s Contemporary Resort overlooks both the Magic Kingdom and the Seven Seas Lagoon, offering some of the best fireworks viewing in Orlando. In the busy tourist season, it’s tough to get a table here without booking in advance, so try an early evening or off-season drink here.
Tucked away in the soaring Hyatt Regency Orlando on busy International Drive, Rocks is an upscale cocktail bar that’s almost always bustling. Popular with business travelers, it offers live music, big-screen televisions and a signature cocktail: Rocks Burning, made with vodka, serrano peppers and freshly squeezed orange and lemon juices.
Sir Harry’s Lounge
Leather banquettes, a beautiful dark wood bar, and an exclusive ambience make this Waldorf Astoria Orlando spot feel like a private club—or, more accurately, like the bar of the same name that sits in the New York City Waldorf Astoria. To get the full Park Avenue experience, order a Rob Roy—Scotch, vermouth and bitters—which, legend has it, was invented at Harry’s New York.
10 ESPN Wide World of Sports Grill
For a no-nonsense, no gimmicks diner at Disney World, the one and only ESPN Wide World of Sports Grill provides exactly what it says on the label: live sports streams and a meat-centric menu that’s cooked to order on the grill. The spacious diner has a genuine sports bar feel to it – almost as if you’ve left Micky Mouse and co behind and headed into Downtown Orlando. The main room is spacious and bright, with sports memorabilia plastered on the walls in between the flat-screen TVs. Food is much more wallet-friendly here too, certainly compared to some of Disney’s other restaurants. For example, generously-sized hot and cold sandwiches come in at the $10 mark, while sports-bar classics like nachos, hot dogs, pizzas, chicken nuggets and wings are all around the same price.
Opening Hours: 10:30-20:00 daily Location: ESPN Wide World of Sports Grill, Walt Disney World Resort Florida, Orlando
Dining at Islands of Adventure
With a visit Thunder Falls Terrace for BBQ, a multicultural menu at Confisco Grille or quick comic-inspired eats at Toon Lagoon, there are plenty of options. The top-rated Mythos Restaurant is one of the more popular dining destinations, but Islands of Adventures is home to the beloved Three Broomsticks within The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which connects to Hog’s Head Pub for thematically relevant brews.
In a city like Orlando, which welcomed a record 59 million visitors in 2013 alone, a good hotel bar can be a vital respite. If you’re on vacation, it’s a place to cool down and relax after a long day at the theme parks. If you’re here on business, it’s a great place to unwind with colleagues or to host an important meeting. And if you live in the Orlando area, a hotel bar offers a great opportunity to shake up your routine and to mingle with visitors from all over the country and world. Whatever your reasons, you’ll find dozens of resort hotspots throughout Orlando, all of them offering different types of perks and specials. The five on my list, below, are beloved by locals and visitors alike; whether you’re planning to stay in the hotels they’re located in, you may well find them worth a visit all by themselves.