As an Orlando local, the abundance of tourism in the area can sometimes be exhausting. No matter where you go, you can expect it to be packed. I-4 is a perpetual hot mess. And if I had a dollar for every time I spotted a mini van with 5 too many people inside, I’d be a rich woman.
Yet, there’s also so much to love. New attractions are being built all the time. You’ll never run out of things to do. And many places offer generous resident discounts – who doesn’t like to have a good time and save some cash money?
So, with the added benefit of living here and thus being able to explore at my leisure, I’ve made a point to explore this great city tourist style. (No mini van in my future, though – I’m not that dedicated.) Here are some of my favorite touristy attractions that are even more fun as a local:
Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Ride with Bob’s Balloons
This is, hands down, one of the best experiences I’ve had so far. This was my birthday gift to my boyfriend a few years ago and we still talk about it regularly. There are plenty of hot air balloon companies but I’m so glad I went with Bob who runs a great operation out of the Davenport area (check his website for pricing and specials). It’s not the cheapest activity, but in my opinion it is totally worth the price. John and I got to help set up the balloon, enjoyed about an hour in the air at sunrise, didn’t have a basket packed full of people, and after the ride we visited a local restaurant for a champagne toast and light breakfast. We also got a USB disk of video clips from our ride and souvenir champagne glasses. So worth it!
This is actually my favorite Orlando theme park (next to Dinosaur World). It’s situated on a natural marsh which a variety of gigantic alligators and a few crocodiles happily call home. There are several free shows throughout the day including gator wrestling and jumping gators – both fun and entertaining.
If you’re feeling adventurous, there’s a zip line course that goes directly over the alligators which will give you a nice adrenaline rush.
Gatorland scores bonus points for allowing photographers into the park before it opens certain days Feb-June AND for great Florida resident discounts (you can get general admission for $10-$15 most of the time).
Medieval Times Tournament & Dinner Show
“Welcome to Medieeeeevvvaaallllll Timessss!” I don’t know what it is about this place but I just can’t get enough. I’ve been 5 or 6 times even though the show is always the same. The show is best enjoyed if you embrace some of the cheesiness and cheer loud enough to lose your voice the next day. Surprisingly the food is really great – so long as you don’t mind eating with your hands medieval style. Like Gatorland, Medieval Times is almost always running a promotion – I’m signed up for their emails so I get alerts. There’s not a bad seat in the house, so don’t bother upgrading your tickets. This is something John and I love to do when we have family in town.
The Themed Restaurants of Disney Springs
Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) is currently getting a major makeover but it’s worth a visit even if parking is kind of a pain in the ass right now. Raglan Road is a fun spot to grab a few beers – the live band is fantastic and the Irish dancers are fun to watch. If Jurassic Park is your favorite movie, you don’t mind some seriously inflated tourist prices, and you want to get back in touch with your inner child, check out the T-Rex cafe. Think Rainforest Cafe except with a meteor shower and dinosaurs.
Pointe Orlando and The Orlando Eye
For being a touristy spot, the restaurants and bars in this area have really reasonable pricing compared to Disney Springs and City Walk. New restaurants are popping up all over the place along this stretch of International Drive and some of my favorite spots to eat are located here. Brick House, Marlow’s Tavern, Yard House, and Tin Roof are all great choices for lunch or dinner.
The Orlando Eye is also worth a visit. The intro video before the ride and the souvenir photos for sale are a slight annoyance for a local, but the ride gives you a great vantage point for viewing most of the theme parks and a view of downtown. If I go again, I’ll go at night. You pick a time slot when purchasing tickets, and I’d love to line things up just right for viewing the nightly fireworks at Disney.
Hitting up touristy spots may mean larger crowds and a little more traffic than you’re used to, but some of them can be so much fun.
On my list to check out next? The annual Food and Wine festival at Epcot – I can’t believe I’ve lived in Florida for 4 years and still have never been to one of the Disney parks! Do you have a favorite touristy spot in the city beautiful?