International Drive – the most famous entertainment area (outside the parks). Here you find the best budget hotels and a bustling night life.
“The Orlando strip” is in a phase of many changes. For example I-Drive 360, with the Orlando Eye, has given the area a new look.
International Drive is a long (and sometimes winding) street, lined with hotels, shops, restaurants and activities. It is synonymous with the Orlando hotel and nightlife venue.
The giant Orlando Eye symbolizes the new I-Drive 360 and is the new landmark for International Drive. Here you find Sea Life (a Sea World attraction), Madame Tussauds, and much more.
I-Drive is for Orlando what the “strip” is for Las Vegas. Same neon lights, but with the difference that Orlando is family fun while the competitor in Nevada has more of an adult audience.
Long before Disney came to town (1971), the foundations were laid for International Drive. A foreighted hotel owner understood what Disney’s arrival would mean for Orlando and constructed a road to his Hilton hotel. People laughed at his project, since the area is far from downtown Orlando. We know better today when we can see modern Orlando from a historical perspective.
READ MORE: Best area for bargain deals on hotels
The part of I-Drive we cover here, approximately 7 kilometres, is a third of the entire length of the street. The Magical Midway entertainment area is the benchmark in the north and we set Sea World as the southern border.
Since we are are convinced that the center of I-Drive is moving south, to the I-Drive 360 attractions (and more projects in the same neighborhood), FloridaUSAguide adapts to this reality, giving Orlando Eye and its future side attractions some extra space .
International Drive – like a theme park of its own
International Drive is almost like its very own theme park, with three major entertainment areas to focus on: I-Drive 360, Magical Midway and Fun Spot America. There is plenty to do here after the visits to the parks.
The street runs along the east side of the I4 highway, starting in the south at Hwy 192 and extending to the Orlando International Premium Outlet Mall (Oak Ridge Rd.), not far from the Universal Resort.
Starting in the south (the Sea World area), we first encounter Orange County Convention Center followed by Pointe Orlando which is a big shopping center with Wonderworks (“the up-side-down house”) next to a huge parking garage.
Less than one kilometer north is I-Drive 360, with its main attractions – The Coca-Cola Orlando Eye, Sea Life Orlando Aquarium, Madame Tussauds Orlando and the odd museum Skeletons. The center has several restaurants and shops. In the same district we also find Ripley’s Belive It or Not and Sleuth’s Mystery Dinner Show.
From I-Drive 360 it is only 500 meter northwards to Mango’s Tropical Cafe, which is the beginning of a much larger center named Skyplex which will house the world’s highest roller coaster (and much more).
My guess: Although Skyplex (when completed) will have several own attractions and other veneus there will be an invisible connection to the surrounding attractions making them form a new I-Drive center.
Crossing Sand Lake Road and heading one kilometer north we reach an Orlando classic: Magical Midway with a lot of things to do.
Still the most visible landmark along I-Drive, because of the the colorful illuminated pillars, is The Sling Shot – a “must-do” for all adrenaline junkies. With a force of five G you will experience total weightlessness, rocketing almost 150 meter above the ground. An attraction marketed as “the Worlds Largest Slingshot”.
Fun Spot America, next to Orlando Outlet Marketplace, has similarities with the Kissimmee cousin: many rides for kids, but also some more thrilling adventures.
Orlando Eye added color to a previously gloomy area
The Orlando Eye has already set its mark on new International Drive. The landscape of Orlando looks different since the enormous ferris wheel opened in May 2015.
I-Drive 360 means a lot of fun activities in an area that earlier was both dark and dull, without any real magnetism, mostly small outdated souvenir shops.
Several times FloridaUSAguide has had reason to point out how the wind of change blows around International Drive. The simple summary as we see it: The center is moving south.
The reason is the combination of I-Drive 360 and The Skyplex.
It might be difficult for Magical Midway to compete with these giant attractions.
Orlando Eye is no ordinary ferris wheel. Not rocking gondolas. The wheel is larger than its cousin in England (the famous London Eye) and there are also a number of technical features like a 4D experience.
The 30 air-conditioned capsules are like those seen in alpine ski resorts and each can hold up to 15 passengers.
You reach a hight of 120 meters, a considerable height in the generally flat Florida. But the view is not as captivating as the owners (Merlin Entertainment) claim. They say “a view of other attractions in Orlando”, but forget how small everything actually gets from distance. Huge buildings like Cinderella’s Castle or Spaceship Earth become miniatures.
Not worth spending money on a ticket
The side attraction in I-Drive 360 that has had the most attention so far is Madame Tussauds. New characters are constantly arriving, not seldom with the original in company. Facebook reports testify about this and the fact that you can get close enough to take a selfie is a big plus.
Sea Life is part of Sea World, and here is another form of close contact with the water animals than at the park itself.
An odd place is Skeletons, a family-run museum that shows a giant collection of skeletons from dead animals. One asks: Is this cheeky or just unpleasant?
Of the many restaurants we want to mention Outback and Carabbas. We also got stuck at Ben & Jerry’s (as usual).
Not yet visited, but we look forward to the opportunity: Cowgirls Rockbar, with the compulsory bull ride.
The Skyscraper – a too big a project, even for Orlando?
The Skyscraper – the world’s highest roller coaster.
Add a free fall, a surf park, a zip line, a hotel and much more and we can see that the district at the intersection of I-Drive and Sand Lake Road will never be the same when the multi million dollar project Skyplex is finished.
Here is what we may see (all details are not yet confirmed):
- Skyscraper – the world’s tallest “rollercoaster”.
- Sky Fall – the twin attraction to the above, a so-called “free fall”.
- A surf park – in combination with a skateboard park.
- A zip line – the height is already there.
- Mango’s Tropical Cafe – Wallack’s “gold mine” in Miami Beach. The popular latin dance restaurant has already opened.
- World’s largest Perkins – well-known chain of family restaurants. Comfort food, I would say.
- Hotel – no details revealed yet. Businesses – no details yet.
The owner is the father-son-team David and Joshua Wallack, known for their formidable success with Mangos Tropical Cafe in Miami Beach.
The Skyscraper is far from conventional. We are talking about a very tall tower, over 160 meters. Actually the tallest building in central Florida. (There is a similar one at Six Flags in Jackson, New Jersy, but it is not as high.)
Skyplex caused a political battle in Orlando’s city hall, partly created by lobbyists from Universal who wanted to stop the project.
My own spontaneous comment: Nothing is too big for the future Orlando and the fear expressed by Universal officials is enough to prove the Wallack’s are on the right track.
Find the I-Drive Information Center
The official information center for Visit Orlando you find at 8102 International Drive, Orlando, FL 32819. Phone number: 407 363 5872
It is a few hundred meters south of Sand Lake Road, close to the Harley Davidson store.
This information center has knowledgeable staff who can answer many questions regarding parks, hotels, restaurants and much more.
Warning for discount tickets on International Drive
On I-Drive you will see a large number of places offering discount tickets to the theme parks. These offers are usually associated with some kind of counter-performance, often time share sales.
To get the tickets you must attend a presentation. Even though the seller says it only takes 45 minutes, it often takes 2-3 hours and you are exposed to huge pressure. This is a very unpleasant event if you do not intend to buy what’s offered – and you are probably not in Orlando to invest in a condo…
READ MORE: Ticket fraud a common crime in Orlando
General: Be extremely careful with special offers on park tickets. There are no good shortcuts to bargains at Disney for example. Instead, use the Official Ticket Center for all Orlando park tickets and other attractions.This is the most recommended ticket agency and a trusted family company. Our partner since 2013 and FloridaUSAguide is nowadays their authorized sales agent in several countries.
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All content on this page and other parts of FloridaUSAguide is based on information from the Scandinavian online publication Florida.nu, established in Clearwater Beach, Florida, 2006.