What makes Orlando magic - apart from the mouse

by paulelowe

Fifty million tourists flock to Orlando every year to enjoy its world-famous theme parks. But this city of entertainment has plenty to delight guests beyond its massive rollercoasters and Mickey Mouse

Orlando can lay claim to be the vacation capital of the world. Families big and small, young couples, friends, retirees and solo travellerscomprise the 52 million visitors who descend on this entertainment city every year.

Only Las Vegas has more hotel rooms than Orlando, so it's wise to do your homework before you travel. If money is no object, and comfort is paramount, then the Grand Floridian Hotel & Spa in Walt Disney World ticks all the boxes. It has beautiful rooms, impressive facilities and is just a short monorail ride from the Disney parks. It also has it’s own beach!

If you want your money to go further, try ’suite hotels’ such as The Springhill Suites by Marriott at Little Lake Bryan. These are perfectly located for getting to all the main attractions and provide a complementary breakfast and a mini-kitchen with a microwave and fridge.

Large groups will find their money goes a lot further with a villa. Many are big enough to sleep 12 and come with mod-cons such as cable TV, washing machines and a huge fridge. It is worth noting that the locations of these villas do not tend to be as good, with most situated off Highway 27 - nearly an hour’s drive from most attractions. This may put a dampener on a great day out if you have to drive so far to get home but the savings can be huge.

Eating out
The Americans know how to dine, and there are literally thousands of options for all tastes and budgets. Each Disney park and hotels has restaurants catering for any taste and they are some of Flordia's best, serving a la carte menus, gourmet meals from around the world and typical  American favourites.

Ensure you make reservations for theme park dining in advance as they are hugely popular. Alternative recommendations include Wolfgang Puck or the House of Blues at Downtown Disney or the Australian-themed Outback Steakhouse for casual fare. Fast food restaurants are dotted along every major highway, with Sonic a particular favourite. And for 24-hour service and a great breakfast selection try a Denny’s.

If you are on a limited budget, then visit US192 or Old Town in Kissimmee for hundreds of gift shops and souvenir outlets. Premium Outlets or the lesser-known Lake Buena Vista Factory stores provide designer labels at greatly discounted prices or, for more up-market shopping, the stunning Mall at Millennia has a Tiffany's and Jimmy Choo alongside US staples such as Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie and Fitch.

Theme park fun
Most people visit Orlando because it’s a mecca for thrill seekers, with six major theme parks and some of the largest, fastest and highest rides on the planet. The latest offerings include Manta at Seaworld and Universal Studios’ Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. There is a theme park to suit every taste. If animals are your thing, Sea World and Animal Kingdom are a must.

If it’s non-stop thrills you are after, then Disney’s Hollywood Studios or Universal’s Islands of Adventure should fit the bill. If you’re travelling with young children then the Magic Kingdom cannot be missed (but plan to spend long hours queuing as some rides are particular popular).

Tickets for theme parks can be expensive, especially if you buy them from the booths on the day, but there are discounted tickets for British visitors who buy them while still in the UK. Or you can pick and choose your venues, rather than trying to cram them all in. You may try taking a look Gatorland in Cypress Gardens, riding boggy creek airboats through the everglades or spend a day at the fabulous Kennedy Space Centre.