The history of Florida’s fourth largest city dates back to the mid-1800s when a small town of settlers grew around the U.S. Army fort built in this central Florida location. By the end of the 19th century, Orlando was the hub of Florida’s citrus industry. And when Mr. Disney began scouting locations for his mouse-themed amusement park in the mid-1960s, Orlando was a perfect choice, not only because at the time land was cheap, but because the area provided a year-round climate of sunny, mild weather. The rest is history and in 2022, Orlando welcomed more than 74 million tourists! And it’s not just the theme parks that draw the visitors – but just in case that’s your plan, the area is home to Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld, and LEGOLAND Florida, to name a few.
If you’re planning a trip to Orlando, you should know that thanks to its central location, beach time on either coast can be achieved in about an hour’s drive, off peak months for the theme parks are January, February, September, and November and that there is a lot more to do here than go to the beach or to a theme park!
As we said, there are beaches in either direction so here are a few options. On the Atlantic side, there’s Cocoa Beach, which can be found on Florida’s Space Coast, along with the Kennedy Space Center and the Ron Jon Surf School (they offer lessons and have a great shop)! If you want to relive your spring break days, Daytona Beach is also about an hour away and the town and the beach are worth the drive. Gulf-side you’ll find Clearwater Beach (laid-back vibe, calm waters and crystal white sand) and St. Pete Beach (a consistently ranked Top 10 beach with great sunsets) – both about an hour and a half drive from Orlando.
Learn all about the history of Orlando and the area with a visit to the Orange County Regional History Center. An affiliate of the Smithsonian, this museum has four floors showcasing the history of the area that spans 14,000 years. Speaking of history, the museum resides in the historic, restored 1927 courthouse. For more history, visit the Citrus Tower in Clermont. Before there was Disney, there were oranges and the Citrus Tower, which was built in 1957 to pay homage to the state’s citrus industry. The tower was actually one of the first major tourist attractions in the state and the Observation Deck offers some fantastic views.
If you’ve been here and done the theme parks, you might like to revisit and see some of the newer attractions and exhibits. Recent additions to Disney World include Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, a reverse-launch roller coaster and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, a 4-D culinary adventure at EPCOT. Newcomers to Universal include the Jurassic World VelociCoaster (new in 2021) and the Illumination’s Villain-Con Minion Blast, an interactive blaster game experience. Discovery Cove offers interactive water experiences with dolphins, otters and other fish, plus unique exotic birds as well as Serenity Bay and the Wind-Away River for swim time.
As for a don’t miss list, we suggest an airboat adventure through the Everglades, Old Town Orlando (which has shops and dining opportunities in an amusement park setting), and the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens that has some really unique animal encounter experiences like giraffe feeding and meeting a rhino! A trip into nearby Winter Park could be fun for shopping, the Saturday Farmers’ Market, and a visit to the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, noted for its art nouveau collection.
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- Explore the Thousand Trails Camping Pass and the Thousand Trails Cabin Pass.
- Find more campgrounds at ThousandTrails.com!