By Laura Lea Miller,
It's hard to believe that Walt Disney World first opened its gates some 40 years ago. After the Magic Kingdom's unveiling back in 1971, an incredible upsurge in development immediately followed, bringing not only additional theme parks, but also a slew of smaller attractions, world-class hotels, top-notch restaurants, and premier shopping venues that all combine to ensure Orlando is indisputably one of the world's preeminent vacation destinations.
Things to Do
Disney boasts four major theme parks, two water parks, and a shopping/dining/entertainment district. But the Mouse's House is not the only game in town. Take in the action-packed thrills of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure (the latter home to the wildly popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter), as well as the excitement of Universal's nightclub/restaurant district, CityWalk. If you prefer a bit less hustle and bustle, the eco-adventure parks at SeaWorld, Discovery Cove, and Aquatica feature a more laid-back experience. Gatorland, a throwback attraction, lets you take in the beauty of the natural surroundings at a leisurely pace. And the new LEGOLAND Florida immerses visitors in everything LEGO. Orlando also offers recreational activities galore, among them golf (with some of the country's top courses right nearby), indoor surfing, and zipline adventures.
High-end malls such as the Mall at Millenia feature a dizzying array of designer boutiques, while architecturally inviting open-air outlet malls (most notably the Premium Outlets at Vineland and at International Dr.) and an eclectic array of theme-park shops will all give your wallet a workout.
Restaurants & Dining
Celebrity chefs and themed restaurants ensure that dining out is an experience in itself. Sit back and sip a signature martini, soak up sounds of Sinatra, and sink your teeth into a melt-in-your-mouth filet at Ocean Prime (located along the famed Restaurant Row on Sand Lake Rd.), or experience the exotic Asian-inspired surroundings of Emeril's Tchoup Chop, at Universal's Royal Pacific.
Nightlife & Entertainment
Hang out at the clubs at Universal's CityWalk (including Latin Quarter, Red Coconut Club, and Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville), the lounges at Disney (such as Rix and the Outer Rim), or even as far out as downtown Orlando, where bars and dance clubs can be found along Wall Street and Church Street Station. Comedy clubs (Fat Fish Blue, Sak Comedy Club, and even the theatrical antics at Sleuths Mystery Dinner Show) will keep you laughing well into the night.