Orlando, Florida Travel Guide

Planning to relax, sunbathe, sleep in, and read magazines on vacation? Then Orlando vacation rentals may not the greatest idea. Of course you can do all of those things here, but why would you when you can hang out with manatees at SeaWorld, train a crocodile at Gatorland, and go from 0 to 42 miles per hours in less than five seconds on the Incredible Hulk Coaster? Oh and there’s also that little amusement park with the mousy mascot (along with many other Orlando theme parks). If you’re just catching a tan by the pool, you’re missing out. (Though, we do have some awesome Orlando pool homes up for rent.) Read on as Vacation Rentals.com’s Orlando Travel Guide turns an eye-popping playground into a reasonable and navigable place to visit with the family. Help us guide Orlando visitors by sharing your insider tips.

What to Do in Orlando, Florida

In Orlando, tourists have approximately 95 attractions (including theme parks) to choose from. That’s a lot. Let’s widdle down those choices, because if you’re looking for things to do, Orlando residents have one piece of advice for you: "Be careful what you wish for."

Top Orlando Attractions

  • Universal Studios OrlandoUniversal Studios Orlando and Islands of Adventure – This pair of Orlando theme parks has been stealing the spotlight from Disney World for a while now, and rides like the Jurassic Park River Adventure and Revenge of the Mummy keep thrill seekers coming back again and again. If you’ve got more teenagers than tots in your group, Universal Orlando is a great alternative to Disney World. Seeking respite from a hot summer's day? Head to Universal’s acclaimed Wet ‘n Wild Water Park.
  • SkyVenture Orlando – If Universal’s Spider-Man ride just doesn’t do it for you, find out what it’s really like to fly through the air at this indoor skydiving experience.
  • Sea World Orlando – Manatees, dolphins, sharks, whales; all of the word’s most spectacular and entertaining marine animals are here at SeaWorld. And so are heart-pounding rides.  For a day of scenic snorkeling and maybe even a swim alongside a dolphin, visit SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove.
  • Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium – Get weirded out by Orlando’s oddball collection of mysterious artifacts. Ever heard of shrunken heads? You’ll know all about them after visiting Ripley's Orlando.
  • Orlando Museum of Art – From American paintings to African artifacts, this museum is full of fascinating things to look at.
  • Orlando Science Center – Milk a (fake) cow, digg for dinosaur eggs, and for a limited time, learn about gross stuff and why it’s, well, gross, at the “Grossology” exhibit.
  • Titanic the Experience – Fans of the movie and trivia collectors will love this meticulously detailed exhibit, which includes life-size replicas of the Titanic's most elegant rooms, before the ship sunk, of course. 
  • Wonderworks – Design your own roller coaster ride and try to land a space shuttle at this family-friendly, hands-on museum.
  • Cypress Gardens Adventure Park – Cool off at Splash Island Water Park, see the sights and then see them again on the Boardwalk Carousel, or feel the thrill of the Triple Hurricane at this fun-filled world of rides and shows.
  • Fun Spot Action Park – Go-karts are taken pretty seriously here, but even if you’re not into that kind of thing, there are loads of arcade games and bumper boats to keep you busy. Your day's not complete without a ride on the giant Ferris wheel, though. 
  • Kennedy Space Center – Take your seven-year-old aspiring astronaut (or just yourself) to NASA’s premier attraction. View rockets up close and ask a real-live astronaut about their experiences in outer space!
  • Holy Land Experience – This 15-acre biblical musuem is strange for some and spiritual for others.
  • Disney World Orlando – We didn’t forget. For all things Disney, read our Disney Travel Guide, packed with information about everything from Epcot to fastpasses.

Orlando Outdoors and Nature

  • Orlando Blue Spring ManateesCentral Florida Zoo – Meet cheetahs, Asian elephants, and many more amazing animals, at this endangered wildlife habitat.
  • Forever Florida – Go on a horseback or zip line safari through this 4700-acre nature preserve.
  • Harry P. Leu Gardens – This botanical wonderland features the largest rose garden in the world, as well as many other plants and trees that look as good as they smell. You just might feel inspired to write a novel after touring these gardens.
  • Gatorland – If reptiles don’t give you the heebie jeebies, come to the “Alligator Capital of the World” to observe, and even touch, them. If you’re looking for a more interactive experience, shell out some extra dough to be a trainer for a day.
  • Jungle Adventures Nature Park and Zoo – Black bears, tropical birds, and alligators… that’s Florida for you. Discover the state’s native plants and animals in this intimate habitat.
  • Blue Spring State Park – Swim, snorkel, canoe, and fish in the river! Even when it’s too cool to swim, you just might spot a manatee passing by.
  • Orlando Watersports Complex – Work on your wakeboarding and waterskiing skills along with other sporty types.

Orlando Golf Courses

Putt putt has never been so fun than at Orlando’s world-class Pirate's Cove Adventure Golf. But if you prefer a bigger challenge, there are lots of championship courses to pick from, including the Magic Kingdom Palm Golf Club and the Ventura Country Club.

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What to See in Orlando

Here are a few favorite things to see on Orlando vacations.

  • Stop by the Peabody Hotel and watch the Peabody Ducks march down the red carpet at 11 am and 5 pm every day.
  • See Florida’s fastest drivers race around the track at Orlando Speedworld.
  • Get caught up in the hype of an exciting hockey or basketball game at the Amway Arena.
  • Let Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba blow you away.
  • The Orlando Ballet will sweep you off your feet. 
  • Check out a concert at the world-famous House of Blues Orlando.

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Where to Shop and Eat in Orlando

Taking the kids out to eat is no problem in Orlando, as most restaurants – even the finest ones – cater to young families. In Orlando, you can pig out at the largest Hard Rock Café in the world, or try oriental cuisine at Mikado’s Japanese Steakhouse. Your options for food are all over the place. Here are a handful of our favorite Orlando dining experiences.

Sampling of Orlando Restaurants

  • Orlando restaurantsIf you don’t happen to have kids in tow, make reservations for two and set the mood for romance at Victoria & Albert’s
  • Like French food? Order something at Le Coq Au Vin.
  • Light and tasty; that’s the idea behind Sweet Tomatoes, Orlando’s favorite salad bar.
  • Grab a quick bite to eat at McDonalds and plan out your itinerary while the kids go wild on the largest McDonalds PlayPlace in the world.
  • It’d be a shame to miss out on Florida’s savory seafood, so eat at least one meal at Fulton’s Crab House.
  • Watch out for the occasional thunderstorm in Downtown Disney’s Rainforest Café.
  • Find out what mom’s cooked up for you at Prime Time Café, a restaurant designed like a 1950s kitchen. Enjoy a classic, black-and-white TV show while you’re eating.
  • Watch an entertaining pirate show while you eat at the crowd and tummy-pleasing Pirate’s Dinner Adventure.
  • At Gloria Estefan’s Bongos Cuban Café, you’ll be living the Havana high life.
  • For a truly enchanting meal, head over to Cinderella’s Castle and dine with the rags-to-riches princess herself.

So, there are lots of places to eat, but what about places to drink? The Blue Martini and the Winter Park Wine Room are all great spots for a cocktail or glass of wine.

Orlando Shopping

Orlando Shopping

It's hard to overlook the shops in Downtown Disney and Disney’s Boardwalk. But if you prefer to steer clear of Mickey’s turf (and we don’t blame you), you’ve got plenty of opportunities to spend money. Like the Orlando Premium Outlets, where you can snag up all kinds of discounted clothes and accessories. If you’re okay with spending extra cash on a designer purse, go to Mall at Millenia instead.

For unique finds, Florida’s flea markets offer up something special and hopefully cheap for just about every member of your family. You can also pick up a piece of jewelry made by a Floridian artist at the Grand Bohemian Gallery.

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When to Visit Orlando

Because the summers are so hot and the winters are so comfortable, why not avoid the extreme temps and book an Orlando vacation home rental for the off-season? You’ll enjoy smaller crowds and significantly less frenzy. Several Orlando attractions will be partially closed or totally shut down, but you’ll still have tons to do. After all, you’re in Orlando! Note, though, that some of Orlando’s theme parks don't really have an “off season” – like Disney World. So, in many cases, you’re better off just planning your trip around your schedule.

Florida’s got several special festivals and events lined up every year and you can base your vacation around one. For instance, why not attend the Florida Music Festival in May and see musicians like Third Eye Blind and Taylor Swift?

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What to Know About Orlando

Orlando’s expensive. Although you could never see or do it all in one vacation, you just might try. And that will cost you. So, be financially prepared, or on the other hand, rent a cheap Orlando condo rental and reserve a large chunk of your budget for theme park admission, souvenirs, and dining out. Pack along as many necessities as possible, so you’re not forced to buy them at Disney World or in Disney World’s vicinity. May not save space in your suitcase, but it will save money in the long-run.

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What to Bring to Your Orlando Vacation Home Rental

The more you bring, the less you’ll have to buy in Orlando. Pack as much as you can, without going overboard. Tip: purchase Disney World, SeaWorld, and Universal Studios merchandise in your hometown and then divvy it out to the kids when you’re at the parks. That way, you won’t waste money at the gift shops!

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Orlando Tourism Services

If you’re getting married, Mickey Mouse is nice enough to be your Best Man. If you need someone to watch the kids, you’ll have dozens and dozens of safe child care options. Because Orlando is the family vacation destination, all of your needs and wants can be swiftly taken care of here. Whether you’re looking for bait and tackle supplies, Disney World tickets, or a pet sitter, you’ll have no trouble finding what you need in Orlando.

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Getting to Orlando, Florida

Unless you’re driving to your vacation home rental, Orlando International Airport will be the first thing you set your eyes on when you arrive. Flights to Orlando aren’t anything unusual, so you'll join a set of back-to-back tourists as soon as you step off the plane. Good news is you’re right where you need to be. Just rent a car or take a taxi for a short ride to your vacation rental.

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Why Orlando Vacation Rentals?

As you think about Orlando accommodations, you probably feel tempted to rent a room at a mega resort. However, this is not the way to go! Especially if you’re looking to save money on lodging. Orlando vacation rentals are scattered all over the town – near Disney World, outside Disney World, riverside, on the golf course – and they’re just as luxurious and spacious as those resort hotel rooms. In fact, they’re actually bigger and full of more amenities. What’s the catch? Well, there isn't one. Orlando condo rentals and homes are in fact, cheaper than hotel rooms. And since Orlando is the Sunshine State’s most family-oriented city, it makes sense to rent a family-oriented house for your stay. The kids will have lots of room to run around, without you losing track of them. You’ll have an impressive kitchen to cook in and a dining room to share a meal in. And your rental's bound to be close to all the cool attractions. Best of all, lots of money will be saved.

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