Postcard from the Orlando You May Not Know
If you're an Orlando newbie like me, the first thing you think of when someone mentions the city is, without a doubt, Disney World. However, I recently had the amazing opportunity to see Orlando for a few days with Visit Orlando and not only did I have an incredible time, I had it without visiting Disney World. I'm not knocking Disney World by any means, I love me some Disney and I have a deep seated desire to be a princess (specifically Ariel). Sometimes you need a little quiet time, a more refined and relaxing vacation (not dealing with line ups and sugar rushed children running around). As it turned out, Orlando was a surprising place to find that relaxation and I snuck some fun in there too. I definitely suggest thinking of Orlando next time you're planning a trip. No matter what I was looking for (a little luxurious 'me' time or a bit of adventure), I found it there.
Take a peak at what I got to experience while I was in this wonderful city!
I stayed at the J.W. Marriott Grand Lakes which was nicely situated about 15 minutes away from Disney World. I didn't get the crowds or the noise but if I had wanted to visit, I was still close. On our first day we had a tour of the property. Check out the view from my hotel room! I was spoiled. The Marriott is attached to the Ritz Carlton, which had some gorgeous suites. One even had a television in the mirror, which is clearly the coolest thing ever and the height of sophistication. We had dinner at the Ritz where I had some delicious risotto and lettuce wedges as an appetizer.
I think we can all agree that there is no better way to start off your day than with a massage at the Ritz. The amenities were absolutely wonderful. The staff was attentive and personal and suggested some products they use and that will work for you at home. My massage had me so completely relaxed, which was in part due to the smell of the lavender oil. We went to 4 Rivers Smokehouse for lunch, a popular BBQ spot and I cannot stop thinking about that food. They’re famous for their brisket (delish) but I was a fan of their mac 'n’ cheese side and the pulled pork slider. Canada, I have a message for you: sweet tea needs to become a thing here. In the afternoon, we took a short trip to a nearby city called Winter Park. There, we had a lovely afternoon with a scenic boat tour. It was refreshing to see the lush green of Orlando. The houses in Winter Park were absolutely amazing and most of them were gorgeous estates with huge properties.
Before dinner, we made a quick stop at The Wine Room which has a pretty cool concept. You buy a ‘debit card’ and load it up with a few dollars, then you can taste test any wine available by purchasing an ounce or two (usually costing around $1.50 - $3.50). We went to a well-known restaurant called Luma in Winter Park for dinner. Luma focuses on fresh and seasonal ingredients. The coolest thing by far was one of their appetizers - popcorn with truffle oil.
This day started at 5:30 am and I wasn’t too thrilled about it. We had a hot air balloon ride scheduled with Orlando Balloon Rides. and it was still dark out, but I will reluctantly admit it was worth it. The view was unlike anything I had ever seen before. You’d think it would be scary, being so high up, but balloons move so slowly and smoothly that I barely felt anything at all. The most nerve wracking part is the landing and how it descends depends on the wind. Our balloon was blown to the left and we weren't able to land where our pilot had planned. He looked for a place to land as we drifted towards the right and we ended up landing in the backyard of a gated community. Of course, all the neighbours came out to see exactly what UFO had just invaded their community. After our balloon ride, we toasted with champagne (clearly needed) and had breakfast provided by the balloon company.
Discovery Cove was our next stop and probably my favourite one. Discovery Cove is owned by Sea World and offers a more secluded, less hectic theme park. The park is all inclusive, and they only let in 1000 guests a day. With your admission, you get food, drinks and best of all, you get to play with dolphins! I was really into swimming with the dolphins (as you can see in the photos, I was very excited to play with them). I also got to snorkel with fish and touch sting rays and had some fun with an ant eater and a sloth! I swear, you could be in the worst mood but when you watch a dolphin do a back flip you'll automatically feel better. Discovery Cove is on the pricier side for a family, but it is so unique. They can provide so much of what people look for in a vacation. That night we had a scrumptious fresh sushi dinner at Dragon Fly Sushi.
On my last day in Orlando I spent the morning at an eco-tourism attraction called Forever Florida. They concentrate on being as environmentally friendly as possible and the park admission goes towards preserving the park. I saw my very first gator there (the native Floridians were not as impressed as I was) and I also saw some peacocks (my favourite animal)! At this park, I had the chance to try out a few zip lines. They are the owners of the only zipline roller coaster, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Lots of twists, turns and jumps. I was terrified. However, I sucked it up and zipped down clutching my ropes. You know, it was pretty fun in the end. For a more laid back ride, you can try their cycles. It's like a ski lift/bike combo where you ride amoung the tree tops. After another awesome BBQ lunch (seriously, I would move to the Southern US just for the BBQ), we treated ourselves to a little outlet shopping at Orlando Premier Outlets. I purchased some floral patterned skinny pants (maybe I'll bust 'em out in a pose off). That night I was lucky enough to witness a Cirque de Soleil show "La Nouba" in Downtown Disney. It was my first ever Cirque show, so I finally understand the hype. I would recommend seeing Cirque de Soleil no matter where you are. The magic is incredible.
On Day 5, I woke up bright and early and said goodbye to the Orlando that I had come to know and (really) love. It seemed that no matter what type of adventure I was in the mood for, Orlando had something to offer. I loved the laid back vibe of this trip. It proved to be just the right amount of relaxation, offered a grown up appeal yet I still had tons of light hearted fun at Discovery Cove and ziplining. Orlando can be a quick but exotic getaway and is great for any age. I am already planning my next trip, if not to see the dolphins again, just to eat some more yummy BBQ!
More by Alexandra C.
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Thanks for sharing your trip diary!
This looks like so much fun! I love the pictures. They really show your adventures!
Oo Discovery Cove and Forever Florida sound the best! I don't think I would try the zipline coaster though!
This looks so fun! I might go to orlando soon because my brother lives in Florida and the balloon rides and discovery cove seem like a great idea!
You got some great pictures Alex!It looks like you had a wonderful and relaxing time..I have never been to Orlando it looks amazing there!I have always wanted to swim with dolphins you must have been in awe watching them.
So jealous right now! I have been to Orlando twice and both times it was primarily to visit the theme parks. Good to know about all of those other options, and I would definitely be interested in that nature park and swimming with dolphins!
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