Where to Stay in Orlando for Sightseeing
Most first-time visitors to Orlando come to visit the famous theme parks: SeaWorld, Walt Disney World, and Universal Studios, about 10 to 20 miles from the downtown area. A short drive from the theme parks, the popular tourist area around International Drive is home to large outlet malls, water parks such as Wet 'n' Wild, and other tourist attractions. Below are some highly-rated hotels, with swimming pools, in convenient locations for visiting Orlando's top tourist sites and outlet shopping malls:
Luxury Hotels: Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort, in a gated community at the namesake theme park, ensconces guests in serene rooms and suites with views of the fireworks and an array of enticing spa services. Waldorf Astoria Orlando is another top luxury option, a five-minute complimentary shuttle ride from Walt Disney World. Guests can use the facilities at the more affordable yet still top-notch Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek next door, including a three-acre lazy river pool and waterslide. Also close to the Disney theme parks, as well as outlet shopping malls, Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress is another family-friendly and more affordable luxury option.
Middle-Range Hotels: A free shuttle whisks you to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure from Drury Inn & Suites, a good value mid-range option. Close to Walt Disney World and outlet shopping, Marriott's Cypress Harbour has two-bedroom suites and villas with fully-equipped kitchens that are great for families, while Homewood Suites Orlando/International Drive/Convention Center sits in a convenient location 15 minutes by car from Walt Disney World and only 10 minutes by car from Universal Studios and SeaWorld.
Budget Hotels: In a fantastic location, about four minutes by car from Walt Disney World, Hampton Inn Orlando/Lake Buena Vista offers great value with free parking and a complimentary shuttle to the park. From the Fairfield Inn & Suites Orlando Universal Studios, you can take advantage of the free shuttle to Universal Studios or walk to the park in about 15 minutes, and the Comfort Suites near Universal Studios offers large, clean rooms within walking distance of restaurants.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Orlando
Helicopter Tour: One of the most unique ways to see Orlando and the surrounding area is from the air. A Helicopter Tour from Walt Disney World Resort Area offers a chance to gain a bird's-eye view of the theme parks and get a true picture of their size and layout.Day Trip to Kennedy Space Center: One of the biggest attractions in Florida can be easily visited on the Kennedy Space Center Day Trip with Transport from Orlando. This comprehensive tour allows plenty of time to explore the many exhibits at this large complex and includes IMAX films, a tour of NASA's Launch Headquarters, a private tour of the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit, and hotel pickup and drop-off. For a slightly shorter and more economical tour with a few less perks, try the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral Tour.
20 coffee shops you should visit in Orlando that aren’t Starbucks
Yeah, so there's a Starbucks on every corner, in your hotel lobby and even inside most of the theme parks. But you're on vacation! It's time to treat yourself to a really amazing, unique and non-corporate cup of coffee. These seven selections will leave you warm and toasty and with enough caffeine to get you through another round of roller coasters.
Barnie's: This Winter Park coffee shop is the perfect pick-me-up with its microroast and rare small-lot coffees. Over the holidays, coffee drinkers can't get enough of Santa's White Christmas; a blend of coconut, caramel and vanilla. And there's also Barnie's Blend—a go-to favorite year-round. Take your cup to-go for boutique window shopping along the charming, cobblestoned Park Avenue.
Lickety-Split: Just inside the beautiful lobby of the new Four Seasons Walt Disney World Resort is this gourmet coffee shop. Guests can order a refreshing cold brew that's been dripping for eight hours or get a freshly made, French-pressed cup of joe along with a house-made pastry. It's the perfect way to get a jolt before hitting the theme parks.
Credo: Not as polished as the Four Seasons, and the hipsters in this neighborhood of College Park like it that way. It is after all, the former ’hood of Jack Kerouac. Credo brings a fresh concept along with incredible Guatamalan coffee. Established in 2010, Credo asks customers to name their own price, with proceeds going back to the community. Since its founding, the coffee shop with a conscience has distributed over 2,000 pounds of direct-trade coffee for donation. After your fix, check out some of the funky consignment shops and local boutiques along Edgewater Drive.
Le Café de Paris: French natives Claude and Chantal have brewed up quite the following at this little bistro in a Dr. Phillips neighborhood strip mall, not far from Universal Orlando. Patrons linger over their perfectly poured cups of café du jour paired with a chocolate croissant.
Pho 88: This family-run Vietnamese restaurant is located in the eclectic Mills 50 district near downtown Orlando where some of the city's most authentic Vietnamese, Thai, Korean and Chinese eateries cater to customers seeking the real-deal. While Pho 88 offers some of the best beef noodle soups around, its Cà Phê Sữa Ðá, or iced coffee with condensed milk, is out-of-this-world. The rich coffee blended with the creamy milk is the perfect ending to a flavorful meal.
Black Bean Deli: Just around the corner is this popular eatery where locals fight over parking spaces and wrap around the building to get a taste of the daily special and the Cuban coffee. The café con leche makes the perfect dessert and will leave you buzzing around for the rest of the afternoon
Benjamin French: This French bakery in downtown's charming pocket of Thornton Park is worth a visit. The owner herself will pour your cappuccino served with whipped cream or frothy steamed milk. Take your perfect cup for a walk down the bricked streets to admire the 1920s bungalows or around Downtown's Lake Eola for the outdoor sculpture garden and skyline views. C'est magnifique!
Victoria & Albert's: This special-occasion restaurant is the only in town to receive the AAA five-diamond rating. After devouring seven courses paired with wines, you're going to need a pick-me-up, and this coffee service is extraordinary. The coffee brews at the table in a Cona glass vacuum pot for the richest and purest of flavors. After waiting eight minutes for the perfect concoction, it's served in delicate China with a silver spoon.