Cheers to my Sippin Gypsy Team Tequila! This blog post comes to you while enjoying my Jalapeno Margarita inspired by my favorite sip from Fontera Cocina in Disney Springs.
Conquering Orlando as a tourist takes a blend of strategy mixed with flexibility. Between the restaurants, clubs and parks (nature and themed), one could try to fill every second of the day with something and you can still leave feeling you missed a great option. I've lived in Orlando for the better part of a decade and still haven't exhausted this town. I feel quite certain I am not alone in having my mood and tolerance change within the hour when it comes to this tourist destination. One day I might be up for a day at Disney with the kids, then two hours in I feel hot, tired and stressed out. Other days I'm the one pulling my kids from ride to ride anxious to get in that one more experience. (The latter may have been assisted by various libations greatly improving my tolerance for heat, long lines and general attraction congestion.)
1. Orlando is spread out in her offerings of entertainment. If you drive in or rent a car while here, give yourself time between destinations. Going 10 miles up the street can take you 30-40 minutes only to find you have parking to deal with also...then the walk from the parking lot to your attraction. Just breathe, and take your time.
2. Plan out what you want to do and try to stay in that general are for the whole day. For example if the family wants to do some shopping, then grab dinner and a movie consider just planning on your whole day down near the Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets and Disney Springs for the day.
3. Stop to eat and hydrate. Our heat and constant stimulation from everything to do can catch up with you. Plan on at least one meal a day (either late lunch or early dinner) where you stop, sit and recharge yourself and your family. I see too many over exhausted families that are rushing to try to get in every experience possible that they ruin their own vacation by being run down, over heated and drained. We have a lot of unique dining options that still make the 'Orlando Experience' magical and memorable, I've listed a few on my blog: Sippin Gypsy Quick Tips for Sippin': Orlando post.
4. Many of the places you can go offer a one stop experience where the family could split up to do individual interests then come back together for a shared experience. For example, Universal's City Walk, Disney Springs and Pointe Orlando all offer shopping, dining with live music and movie theaters. Set the kids up with a movie, then you and the honey go and enjoy a cocktail and live music for a bit.
5. Orlando offers so much more then the lights and excitement of the tourist areas. If you have a car and the time, take a drive to experience some of the charming city centers in our neighborhoods like Winter Park, Kissimmee, and Baldwin Park. You can read more about my suggestions outside of the theme parks here.
As I stated above, the options are endless here in Orlando. My list below are things that may take more planning within your trip, but don't forget the quick fun things you can sprinkle in like the movies, laser tag, miniature golf and real golf (on world famous courses)!
1) Disney Springs at Walt Disney World.
This is one of the only places in Orlando that is open container. I love the option to shop and sip! Disney Springs has truly something for everyone. My kids enjoy the Lego Store, Splitsville and the AMC movie theater, and I enjoy the shopping, live music and cocktails especially the margaritas at Fontera Cocina...the spicier the better!
2) EPCOT at Walt Disney World
Visit Orlando in the spring to enjoy the Flower and Garden Festival or the fall for the Food and Wine Festival. EPCOT sets up additional themed booths where you can try beer, wine or cocktails and food from literally 'Around the World'. I try to get Fast Passes for Soarin' and Mission Space or Test Track as soon as we know when we are going, but EPCOT usually isn't a place I recommend for thrill rides. This park is designed for tasting and sippin and exploring. If your travels bring you here in the winter, EPCOT is beautiful at the holidays and sets up a sort of holidays around the world experience, to see and taste what other countries do during the winter festivities. Cocktails are available at every country around the World Showcase, but my favorite is the la Cava del Tequila in Mexico for their jalapeno margarita...extra spicy. For quick service food, our family favorite is Sunshine Seasons in The Land Pavilion . But for a nice sit down, cool off cocktail and tapas just for adults, please visit Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar, it's a great getaway from the tourist traffic.
3) Dr Philips Center for the Performing Arts
Orlando is a destination for aspiring artists. The talent that migrates to this city to perform and get recognized is humbling. Sure you can see great shows while staying on Disney or Universal properties, but the Dr. Phillips Center hosts shows and performs them with the passion and quality of Broadway. Check out what is playing while you are in town and enjoy our charming downtown in the City Beautiful! For dinner before your show, try Ceviche or The Rusty Spoon.
4) Islands of Adventure at Universal Studios
Fun! This is your park for thrill rides and immersing into the sets of your favorite movies. If you ever enjoyed a Harry Potter book or movie or not, you will be impressed with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I recommend this park once you have children of age (and height) to truly enjoy this park. You can start early morning and power through all day and get to most everything in this park, but then you are missing out on details and probably hot, sweaty and tired. With any theme park in Orlando I really recommend giving it two days, or picking the five or six things that are really important to try to get to. Plan your day to visit Three Broomsticks for quick service food and the world famous Butter Beer (non alcoholic). However, if you need a libation to enhance the fun, grab the Bloody Mary from from Backwater Bar.
5) Sea World
Sea World is one of the few parks that is honestly perfect for every age. There are informative shows and exhibits as well as thrill rides, and who doesn't love the chance to interact with animals and smell fishy for the rest of the day! I grew up in Ohio and enjoyed Sea World every summer as a kid so when we moved to Florida, this was a nostalgic mecca for me (especially since my childhood one closed). My kids have enjoyed as toddlers the chance to press their little faces against a shark tank wall, and feed the sea lions, and now its a day of roller coasters and the Pets Ahoy show. Keep sippin and enjoy some of the refreshing cocktails with lunch at Sharks Underwater Grille, this is one of the few places I order a frozen cocktail, usually the raspberry Lighthouse Margarita.
6) Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World
Oh how to choose! If you can do both, please do! If Animal Kingdom is you only destination, I must say, Disney has finally blended the perfect experience for family theme park enjoyment. The quick service food in this park is one of the best in their four Orlando resort parks, I like the Harambe Market in Africa. There are also little spots to grab cocktails or a beer as you enjoy your day, and there are fun rides and exhibits! I try to get Fast Passes for Flight of Passage in Pandora (ride a banshee!!), Mount Everest and Kali River Rapids. We enjoy the Kilimanjaro Safari ride at night, and use the Dinosaur ride as our chance to cool off (its inside and air conditioned). There is a petting zoo that requires a train ride to get to for your younger travelers. If possible, splurge and enjoy the Wild Africa Trek for a more in depth behind the scene experience of the animals at Animal Kingdom. Try to arrange your visit for Pandora at night. The lighting is spectacular and breathtaking. Disney may charge an arm and a leg for tickets, but you won't be disappointed in experience immersion, details and quality.
If Hollywood Studios is your destination, make sure your audience loves Star Wars or Pixar. Disney really takes you into the center of these beloved worlds. Dining in Hollywood Studious is themed and a real delight. We have enjoyed the 50's Prime Time Cafe as well as Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano many times. Don't worry Sippin Gypsies, this park is also well stocked with libation watering holes to keep you refreshed. The easiest is the Hollywood Brown Derby Lounge. Walk up (or sit and enjoy) the outdoor bar, grab a cocktail and keep going... ah the magic of Disney! As of right now, this park is under a lot of construction. I will keep my Sippin Gypsy teams posted as more exhibits open up and the park grows. But don't pass on this park just because its a work in progress!! Fast Passes should be planned for the Rockin' Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror. Do not miss the Star Tours ride, even if you aren't into Star Wars, the ride is fun and the details Disney has put into this exhibit is really 'stellar'.
7) Cocoa Beach
Cocoa Beach is a short 45 minute drive from Orlando. There are several spots along the coast to park and access the beach. For a quieter experience Lori Wilson Park is a beautiful clean location with pavilions to eat at and showers to rinse off. Our family enjoys the Cocoa Beach Pier. Clean bathrooms and showers to rinse off help make this an easy spot to spend the day. Bring cash for parking, and make it easy on yourself, just pay to stay in the lot all day. Instead of packing the car full of chairs, cheap umbrellas and tents, we simply rent chairs and umbrellas right on the beach. We only bring a cooler for ice and our beverages (no glass!!) and snacks. There are several restaurants and bars on the pier that offer fresh catches and other entrees and dangerously delicious beachy concoctions.