Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/9/2009 (4020 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In the shadow of its famous theme parks, there's a vibrant city ripe for discovery. But who knew? Orlando has become so synonymous with Disney World and Universal Studios Florida that few visitors know that there's a wealth of arts, cultural and historical attractions not far from the admission gates.
In fact, 85 per cent of international visitors (including Canucks) said visiting amusement parks was their activity of choice for their Orlando trip. While getting folks away from the thrill rides and splashy stage shows hasn't been easy, the charms of the real Orlando are enticing them to explore more.
Case in point is Winter Park, a booming neighbourhood that proves there's much to see beyond Mickey. The community dates back to the 1880s when well-to-do New Englanders flocked south for a dose of Florida sunshine and built opulent summer homes. The Olde Winter Park feels like an undiscovered corner of Europe with oak and camphor trees forming a natural canopy over winding brick streets. It's surprising how much Winter Park packs into a 10-block area.
You can drink your way through the Pinot Noirs and Rieslings at a trendy wine bar like Wine Club, pick up a little something to wear for dinner at a quaint boutique or get a dose of culture at the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, where the world's most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany is housed.
And for those who believe an inland city like Orlando lacks an aquatic component, a scenic boat tour through three of the city's numerous lakes and Winter Park's two man-made canals proves an educational, and eye-opening, experience.
And then there's the revitalized downtown core, a healthy and oh-so-happening area where people in the know come to stay and play. Loch Haven Park boasts a host of attractions in close proximity, including the Orlando Science Center (complete with gator-infested cypress swamp), Orlando Museum of Art (strong on American art), Orlando Shakespeare Theater (a misnomer since most productions aren't Shakespearean) and Orlando Fire Museum (formerly Firehouse No. 3).
Families and romantic-minded couples rent gondolas or swan boats to cruise around Lake Eola. While top eateries Hue (known for its wickedly good appetizers, cocktails and sea bass main dishes) and newcomer Citrus (popular for its "Floribbean" fare, like citrus ceviche and skirt steak with homemade chimichurri sauce) dish out downtown's best meals. By nightfall, the sidewalks of North Orange Avenue fill with club-goers who bounce from Latin-themed dance bars to retro discos pumping out Donna Summer and Bee Gees tunes.
These days, the strength of a destination's culinary scene is enough to make it or break it. Fortunately, Orlando has plenty to offer, enough to please even the most discerning foodie, with more than 5,300 places available. Restaurant Row on Sand Lake Road at Dr. Phillips Boulevard crams in a plethora of dining options in a compact area. The big guys are here -- Morton's The Steakhouse, Ruth Chris and Roy's Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine -- along with indie eateries that run the gamut from French (Press 101) to Cuban (Samba Room), from Italian (Christini's) to Japanese (Amura).
That's not to say you can't get gourmet grub worth raving about at the theme parks.
Disney World, for example, does not just cater to the nachos-and-turkey-drumstick crowd. It takes its food very seriously. Victoria & Albert's, located in Disney's Grand Floridian Resort And Spa, has earned AAA's five-diamond award for 10 years running. Its six-course prix fixe menu is an opulent affair that includes super-attentive butler service and long-stem roses for the gals.
Then there are treasures like the California Grill, sitting atop the Disney's Contemporary Resort. It has a stellar wine list (featuring the best from California estates) and a menu that showcases the best of California fusion cooking. Think Sonoma goat cheese ravioli, grilled pork with Zinfandel glaze, and Pacific halibut in a ginger soy broth.
At Animal Kingdom's Jiko -- The Cooking Place, Disney's puts an international spin on classics like macaroni and cheese, beef short ribs and roasted lamb, then pairs them with selections from the world's most extensive collection of South African wines.
For those made dizzy by the breadth of Disney dining options, the annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival runs Sept. 25 to Nov. 9 and gives nibblers and sippers a chance to sample an United Nations-like array of global cuisines and wines, plus pick up a cooking tip or two from a big-name chef. And if you're wondering about local wine, Orlando's got it. Just outside of the city in Clermont, Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards produces decent bottles of blanc du bois, Chablis and southern red. Before you buy, take a free tour and taste them for yourself.
Craving casual, no-linen-napkins-here cuisine? Orlando has some of the best Vietnamese, Thai and Korean restaurants around, thanks to the ViMi District, just to the northeast of downtown, along Colonial Drive and Mills Avenue. It's a neighbourhood where rarely a tourist is spotted, but well worth discovering for its many cheap and cheerful Asian dining spots, shops and grocery stores.
Still, it's the bounty of thrills available that gets the blood flowing in Orlando. Beyond Universal Studios and its new Holly Rip Ride Rockit high-tech roller coaster or SeaWorld's freshly opened Manta Coaster, adrenalin junkies can get a buzz from up-close encounters with gators at Gator World, or head to SkyVenture Orlando for some indoor skydiving, appropriate for everyone -- from kids as young as three to seniors.
If you believe you've been there and done that when it comes to Orlando, think again. Theme parks are just part of the picture. The city is full of surprises. Did you know that you can find polar bears in Orlando? Once the mascots of a local appliance chain in the '60 and '70s, Baerthoven and Schubaert (the stuffed versions) are on display at the Orange County Regional History Center, along with artifacts from the area's 12,000-year history.
And where will you see the biggest collection of personal items from Elvis Presley outside of Graceland, the house where writer Jack Kerouac lived when his novel On the Road was published, 12 shopping malls, 176 golf courses and 2,000 lakes? You got it. They are all in Orlando.
You could happily spend all of your vacation here without stepping foot into a theme park. But really, why not have the best of both worlds? Theme parks, fine dining, culture, sporting fun and sightseeing. You're on vacation after all. Enjoy.
For more information, see Orlandoinfo.com, or call 1-800-972-3304.
Did you know?
The Greater Orlando area has a population of 1.9 million.
More than 940,000 Canadians visited Orlando in 2008, an increase of 20 per cent over 2007.
Cost of transportation? Zero. The Lymmo bus service has eight stops along its three-mile circuit and in prime daytime hours, pickups are every five minutes. Or catch an Orlando Pedicab, a complimentary bike taxi for up to four passengers, perfect for bar and restaurant hopping downtown.
Among Orlando's famous citizens is Jack Kerouac of On the Road fame who lived in the College Park neighbourhood when his novel was published.
Orlando is second only to Las Vegas for having the greatest number of hotel rooms available of any U.S. city.
Walt Disney World employs more wine sommeliers than any other company in the world.
The world's largest collection of buildings in a single site designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright can be found on the campus of Florida Southern College in Lakeland.
The area has its share of quirky museums, including: Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing; Brave Warrior Wax Museum (American figures like General Custer, Lewis and Clark); Elvis Presley Museum (150 personal items of the King); U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame; and the Water Ski Museum.
Orange County where Orlando is situated was once called Mosquito Country. Smartly that was changed in 1845.
Only half of Disney World is located in Orlando. The other half resides in Lake Buena Vista.
The Winnipeg Free Press invites you to share your opinion on this story in a letter to the editor. A selection of letters to the editor are published daily.
Letters must include the writer’s full name, address, and a daytime phone number. Letters are edited for length and clarity.