Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Orlando, Florida

Happy February!
There are few places more popular for tourism than Orlando with 34 million visitors annually. The Disney Corporation has turned Orlando into a fantasy destination for kids of all ages but what else does the area have to offer? Situated in the very heart of Florida and within driving distance to both coasts you could spend a week in Orlando without ever being tempted by cartoon mice and that's exactly what I did in December of 2007.

Orlando - the QT
Orlando, like much of Florida, has a very short history. Inhabited by Seminole Indians the area only really began to develop in the 1960's with the space programme at Cape Canaveral. Shortly after Disney began buying up huge areas of land in the Orlando area and in 1971 the doors of Disney World sprung open and the building of rival theme parks, various themed dinners and wacky attractions has gone on unabated ever since. The area does not boast any interesting scenary and is very flat and uninspiring but no visitors are in Orlando to take in the natural sights. The greater Orlando area is totally dedicated to the entertainment industry, interspersed with malls, you won't be short of something to do. If you do feel overwhelmed by the glitz and show, trip out to Daytona and the Space Coast for Florida reality.

People visit Orlando for the big parks, Walt Disney World, Sea World and Universal Studio's so we will cover them in some detail. However there are some other great excursions and arguable better theme parks to visit during your trip. Orlando is exceptionally temperate all year round and you can expect 20°c in winter and 35°c in summer. We recommend Autumn and Winter as the best times to visit Orlando.

Who flies to Orlando?
Orlando has two International Airports, and as the world's favourite holiday destination, getting to Orlando should not be a problem regardless of where you live. Direct flights from Newcastle, Manchester, Gatwick, Birmingham, Cardiff and Dublin make access to Orlando very easy from the UK.

What hotel deals can you offer me?
The are many Orlando hotel deals including villa options and with so many choices you have some excellent prices to take advantage of. Below prices are based on one week in April in a double room.

Click to see all ORLANDO HOTELS

What can I see and do in Orlando?

Disney World of Tampa, Clearwater and St Petersburg has a wealth of attractions spread out over a very large area. Whilst transport isn't poor, we highly recommend you rent a car. Tampa itself is the financial, business and cultural centre of the area. The city is home to several museums, including the excellent Tampa Bay history centre, the Children's museum and theTampa Museum of Art. If you prefer exploring a city by foot, the areas of Ybor and Hyde Park are the most interesting for a stroll.

Clearwater is a laid back small city of around 100,000 inhabitants and is most famous for its beautiful sandy beaches and being the seat of new religion, Scientology. Clearwater is home to some interesting events throughout the year including the Ford Ironman competition, Hispanic Heritage festival and the Imagine International Film Festival.

St Petersburg, the sunshine city, is the most popular holiday destination of the 3 cities making up this metropolitan area. St Petersburg also has some great beaches and a fantastic harbor where million dollar yachts are lined up in all their glory. The city has a great Baywalk area with shops, cinemas and a small aquarium. However, it is the beaches of St Petersburg that are its true attraction with Fort Desoto beach ranked as the number 1 beach in America by Dr Beach in 2005.

Universal Studios - Florida is obsessed with sports and the good folk of Tampa Bay are no exception. The pride of the area is the Super Bowl 2002 winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers, owned by Manchester United supremo Malcolm Glazier. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play at the Raymond James stadium in Tampa.

If you prefer your Baseball you can catch the Tampa Bay Devil Rays who play their major league baseball at Tropicana Field in St Petes.

Tampa even has a major league Ice Hockey team in Tampa Bay Lightening, however, they are currently bottom of the Eastern conference. The Lightening play at St Pete's Forum.

Sea World Centre of the Tampa Bay area are varied and of a very high quality. The museums we would most highly recommend to you would be the Ybor City Museum, Tampa Bay Historical Centre, Museum of Science and Industry, Tampa Museum of Art, The Childrens Museum in St Petersburg, Museum of Fine Arts (St Petes), The Holocaust Museum (St Peters) and the Salvador Dali Museum (St Petes).
We visited the all these museums but the Tampa Bay Historical Centre really gives you the best overall view of Tampa and how the area grew up. The best "museum" is centro Ybor itself. The area is a treat with many bric a brac shops, great restaurants and funky nightlife. Spend an entire day and night in Ybor to get a true feel for the area.

Attractions - As good as they are, nobody goes to the Tampa Bay area for its museums. People coming to the area are looking, for sea, sand and nightlife and this is what Tampa does best. With a student population keeping the town young and funky, the city has loads of gay and straight bars and nightclubs.

Tampa Bays main attractions are the beaches. Fort De Soto is heralded as the best in the area and it's very hard to argue. However, for nightlife, St Petes and Clearwater beaches are where it is at with plenty of bars and nightclubs to keep you going into the wee hours. The best nightlife in a 100 mile radius is Ybor City, check out Club Prana, Empire & Climax and Orpheum.
Tampa's #1 event is the annual Gasparilla Pirate Festival (on this weekend, late january each year) celebrates the apocryphal legend of José Gaspar (Gasparilla), supposedly a Spanish pirate captain who operated in southwest Florida.

The theme is an "invasion" by Gasparilla and his men, which begins when the "Krewe" (made up of residents of the city) arrives on a 165' long pirate ship, the Jose Gasparilla, in Tampa Bay and land near downtown Tampa. The mayor of Tampa then lends the key of the city to the pirate captain and a parade ensues down Bayshore Boulevard, one of Tampa's major streets. The krewes throw beads, coins and other items while shooting blank pistols from floats during the parade. The average attendance for the event is over 400,000 people.

Can we write about Florida without mentioning Theme Parks? We nearly did it. That would be a huge disservice though to the fabulous Busch Gardens. Busch Gardens is a grown up and FUN Disney, real rides, less queueing and less expense. If you don't enjoy heart stopping white knuckle rides then Busch Gardens also has excellent and educational Safari trips and great 3D shows. Tickets for Busch Gardens are $64,95 for adults and $54.95 for children under 10, however, look out for discounts and coupons that can be found everywhere from Walmart to your hotel.

Where can I eat in Tampa Bay? There is a very strong Caribbean/Mexican influence in Tampa and so the traditional regional cuisine could be considered to have a certain hispanic flair. Floridians like to eat, and they like to eat cheaply. You will be fed very well for surprisingly little in the Tampa Bay area.
Here are some recommendations (£ - Inexpensive - under £10 for a main course - ££ - Reasonable £10-£15 for a main course - £££ - Pricey £15-£24 for a main course- ££££ - Expensive £25-£35 for a main course - £££££ - Daylight Robbery - £35+ for a main course)

  • Berns - The areas best restaurant for wine freaks, huge cellars. Steak House - £££

  • Columbia - Spanish/Cuban flamenco dancing but exceptional quality - £££

  • Dockside Daves - Excellent fish restaurant in St Petersburg - £

  • Frenchy's Cafe - Excellent Surf and Turf in Clearwater- £

  • Bernini - Outstanding Italian restaurant in Centro Ybor- ££

You can easily spend a full week in the Tampa area and not be tempted over to the Disney Corporation! Consider Tampa for your own "spring break".

Ciao for now HotelClickers!

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