Orlando area – not only “The Theme Park Capital of the World”, also the most visited place in Florida.
Disney’s entry almost 50 years ago was followed by Universal, Sea World and other parks and activities. A small town became a multi-million city.

You actually need to see the Orlando area from a perspective before and after Disney: From 30,000 inhabitants to well over two million in Greater Orlando – and the area continues to grow.

Orlando area
©GETTY IMAGES

Tourists normally only visit part of Orlando area

But you have not come to visit the big city. Few visitors have reason (or even desire) to see Downtown Orlando. I would say that visitors rather want to explore some of the area’s beautiful scenery than visiting Lake Eola and Church Street in the city center.

Over 72 million visitors annually. They are here for having fun at the world-renowned theme parks.
As a tourist, you are in a limited area quite far from Downtown Orlando. With International Drive as the benchmark we hardly move further north than the Universal area (15 kilometers from downtown). In the southwest Disney World (20 kilometers), possibly Kissimmee and Celebration to the south and to the east Orlando International Airport.

Within this “tourist triangle” southwest of Orlando you find hundreds of hotels and all parks and most other entertainment.

Mix of big city pulse, theme parks and nature

Most Florida visitors stops in Orlando (from a brief one day excursion to a full week of park visits). As many as 8 out of 10 travelers want to see this remarkable mix of the world’s largest theme parks, the chaotic metropolitan area and its scenic surroundings.

The Orlando area is the perfect starting point for a Florida trip. Airline communications are excellent, and you can easily get to the west and to the east. Less than an hour’s drive from both coasts. Daytona Beach and New Smyrna Beach to the east and Tampa Bay with Clearwater Beach to the west.

From Miami it is about four hours non stop driving on the Florida Turnpike. Same time to Naples or Fort Myers in the southwest.

READ MORE: Best tips about car hire in Florida

Central Florida is dominated by lakes, large and small. Southwards mostly agricultural land is found, such as huge orange groves. A trip northwards offers some small rolling hills and the impressive Ocala National Forest. This nationally protected forest has the world’s largest contiguous sand pine scrub forest and more than 600 lakes, rivers and springs. Here visitors can swim, snorkel and dive in crystalline waters year round.

Recommendation: Drive to idyllic Mount Dora, then follow US 19 to Palatka. If you want a shorter trip, head east on SR 40 south of Lake George to Astor and chose US 17 to get back to Orlando.

Orlando area is the hub for all tourism

The Orlando area is the hub for all tourism activities in the state of Florida. A destination for everybody – from golf-playing retirees to families with children. (Plus a growing market for conferences.)

READ MORE: The shortcut to best park tickets in Orlando

Hotel rooms are cheap (look for specials!). Entertainment options are endless and the region has thousands of restaurants, from fast food, diners and buffets to upscale eateries owned or operated by master chefs.

The fact that the city has grown with lighting speed has affected the traffic situation. Highways are criss-crossing in all directions, enveloping the city. Be prepared for Interstate 4 to be jammed during rush hour traffic.

Can I make it without a rental car in Orlando?
The simple answer: Only if you only have one park area in mind and are staying at a nearby hotel. Like our favorite Disney hotels or the Universal hotels.

Although there is public transport, a trolley along I-Drive, a new hop-on & hop-off bus, hotel and park shuttles you should expect spending a lot of time planning and waiting to get by without your own vehicle.

GUNNAR HEDQWIST
PETER SUNESON

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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.

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