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Like Alice, who ate cookies that made her grow bigger and bigger in Wonderland, Orlando has grown in leaps and bounds since Walt Disney World opened its doors in 1971. And, what amazes me most about Orlando is that every time I visit -- living in nearby Vero Beach, I have been coming to Orlando in Central Florida at least a half-dozen times each year for nearly four decades -- I find plenty of new attractions to see and explore.
Known worldwide as "theme park central," Orlando has seven major theme parks that are constantly adding new attractions, shows, shops and restaurants. Four of the parks are at Walt Disney World Resort: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom. Two are at Universal Orlando Resort: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. The seventh major themed attraction is SeaWorld Orlando.
Since Orlando is both a port of call and pre- or post-cruise destination, we are presenting a wide variety of possibilities that may be of interest both to the traveler who has one day and the one who has multiple days.
Whenever I sail on a cruise from Port Canaveral (the nearest port to Orlando, less than an hour's drive from the city's international airport), there is so much to do in Orlando that I try to spend a day or two, pre-cruise, relaxing and unwinding prior to setting sail. (Cruise lines that market to travelers from the U.K., Europe and beyond often offer fly-stay programs.)
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Other U.S.A. Cruise Ports:
Baltimore • Boston • Charleston • Fort Lauderdale • Galveston • Honolulu • Houston • Jacksonville • Key West • Los Angeles • Miami • Mobile • New Orleans • New York • New York (Brooklyn) • New York (Cape Liberty) • Norfolk • Orlando • Philadelphia • Port Canaveral • Portland, Maine • San Diego • San Francisco • Seattle • Tampa
Any drink that includes orange juice (mimosas and screwdrivers are popular choices) is a sure winner, as Central Florida has numerous orange groves for an abundance of fresh fruit and juice. Or, perhaps, try a beverage that's a bit more exotic like a "Burnt Orange" (brulee orange muddled with agave nectar, Don Julio Tequila, Anejo Tequila, Grand Marnier, orange juice and flaming orange). It's one of the signature cocktails ($13) at Todd English's bluezoo, a trendy restaurant and bar at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort.
Plush Disney characters, T-shirts and anything emblazoned with the image of the world's most famous mouse are the most popular souvenirs. Invariably, I buy Disney cloisonne pins, depicting the parks, attractions and characters, as they are small, easy to pack and they always remind me of my adventures, like the first time I visited the Haunted Mansion at the Magic Kingdom. The pins typically cost $7 to $9 each, with the exception of limited-edition pins that go for a few dollars more.
English is the primary language, spoken everywhere. Polyglots will also be able to practice their French, Spanish, German, etc. at Epcot's World Showcase (http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/parks/epcot/attractions/), where the international pavilions of 11 nations (Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, the U.S., Japan, Morocco, France, United Kingdom and Canada) are staffed by people from those countries.
Those who would like to use their Spanish will find many opportunities, as Orlando has a large Spanish-speaking population, and many Spanish-speaking individuals are employed in the tourism industry.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The U.S. dollar is the currency. ATM's are available at major hotels and resorts in Orlando and at all the theme parks. (For example, at Disney's Magic Kingdom, there is one at City Hall, near the entrance/exit to the park.) Other handy places with ATM's include the Mall at Millenia and downtown Orlando.
Where You're Docked
Cruise ships dock at Port Canaveral, about 54 miles from the Orlando International Airport, less than an hour's drive.
Port facilities are contemporary but offer no services. Jetty Park is located at the east end of the port, near the Southside terminals. It has an oceanfront beach with year-round lifeguards, a snack bar, campground, children's playground, a bait-and-tackle shop and a lighted 1,000-foot-long fishing pier. In addition, the Cove area at Port Canaveral offers waterfront dining, and Cove Marketplace offers shopping.
For those who fly to their cruise, renting a car is an excellent choice, both for day-trippers and for those who are staying multiple days, because attractions are spread out.
Avis, Hertz and Budget have rental offices close to the pier. There are free shuttles at the pier for pickup, and passengers can drop their cars off at the nearby rental office. The rental companies also have free shuttles back to the pier. Those staying in Orlando post-cruise can return rental cars at the Orlando International Airport.
Florida Sunshine Shuttle offers pre-arranged transportation from Port Canaveral to Orlando for $115 one way, $215 roundtrip (for up to four passengers, so perhaps you can enlist tablemates or other friends to come along with you and share the fare). Elite Transportation also offers pre-arranged, private transportation for up to four people in a town car ($285 roundtrip plus 20 percent gratuity); one-way from the port to Orlando runs $145 for up to four people in a town car. Enlist others to share the cost.
Taxis are available at the pier but are expensive (approximately $160 per taxi), so again, it would be good to get together with a few fellow passengers to share costs if you select this method of transportation.
Once in town the I-Ride Trolley runs up and down International Drive or "I-Drive", as the locals call it. This major road is the site of many restaurants, attractions, nightclubs, hotels and shops. It costs $1.25 per adult to ride one way ($4 for an all-day pass). The trolley operates from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and makes 100 stops, stopping every 20 minutes or so. Children, 12 and younger, ride free with a paying adult.
Lynx offers public transportation to theme parks and tourist destinations in Orange, Osceola and Seminole Counties. (Seven-day passes are available.) It also provides the free Lymmo Bus in downtown Orlando. The bus goes back and forth from the Central Plex area to City Hall.
Many Orlando hotels offer complimentary shuttles to the Disney theme parks and/or Universal Orlando parks. Guests staying at Disney resorts have complimentary bus, launch and/or monorail transportation to all the Disney theme parks; water parks; Downtown Disney shopping, dining and entertainment complex; and other attractions on Disney property.
Editor's Note: Guests staying at Disney resorts have an added bonus: "Extra Magic Hours," when the parks open early or stay open late for guests of the Disney resorts. (Hotels have schedules that vary each week. Disney resort I.D. cards must be presented at the park.)
Watch Out For
Summer can be hot, with temperatures averaging from the upper-80's to the mid-90's. The summer and school holiday periods, in general, are the busiest seasons. The parks are naturally more crowded then, and lines for rides are longer -- an hour or more in some cases -- which can be frustrating, particularly on a first visit when you want to "see it all."
I prefer to visit Orlando in the fall, when temperatures, crowd numbers and hotel room rates go down and there is a variety of special events, including the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. It is also the time when area restaurants offer special fixed-price menus
during "Magical Dining Month" (typically September).
Not all taxis in Orlando are metered. Before getting into an unmetered taxi, settle on a fare with the driver. If you request a taxi through your hotel, note that sometimes they use nonmetered, limo-service cars that may be more expensive. Clarify that you want to get a taxi, not a limo car.
If you're driving, try to avoid Buena Vista Drive and Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway, as the traffic lights are synchronized in a way that you have to stop at multiple red lights.
Also bear in mind the distance factor, and keep an eye on the time if you need to get back to the port the same day.
First-timers to Orlando, who have the opportunity to visit only one park, should go to Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. The park that started it all back in 1971, Magic Kingdom is the flagship of the 30,000-acre Walt Disney World property. It is divided into seven sections with attractions for all ages: Main Street U.S.A., Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Mickey's Toontown Fair, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.
Main Street U.S.A. is a Victorian-style American town center, where visitors find a City Hall, fun vehicles like a fire truck, the Walt Disney World Railroad station and the view of Cinderella Castle at the end of the street that nobody leaves without snapping a few shots of (also a great vantage point from which to watch the nightly fireworks). Highlights of Adventureland include the Pirates of the Caribbean with Captain Jack Sparrow, as well as the Jungle Cruise, a "safari" with Audio-Animatronics figures and humorous moments by boat.
At Frontierland, not-to-be-missed rides include the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad -- a milder coaster, relatively speaking, with "runaway" trains -- and Splash Mountain, with Brer Rabbit and a five-story-high plunge. Liberty Square is home to the ghosts and goblins of the Haunted Mansion -- they even "dance" in an impressive ballroom -- and to the Hall of Presidents, an Audio-Animatronics presentation with all the U.S. presidents represented.
Fantasyland and Mickey's Toontown Fair are ideal for families with young children. Rides in Fantasyland include the Carousel; "flying" Dumbo; Peter Pan's Flight, a "flying" adventure on a pirate galleon with all the popular characters from the Peter Pan fairytale, including mean Captain Hook; and It's A Small World, a voyage with Audio-Animatronics dolls from many nations that sing and dance. In Mickey's Toontown Fair, children delight in visiting Mickey's and Minnie's houses and Donald Duck's boat, which has sprung some "leaks," among other attractions. At the Judge's Tent in Mickey's Toontown Fair, families can meet Mickey Mouse.
Must-see in Tomorrowland is Space Mountain, a coaster that takes the intrepid on a rocket flight into space. If time permits, before leaving the Magic Kingdom and other theme parks, take in some of the daily live entertainment, including shows, parades and fireworks.
Editor's Note: Magic Kingdom and the other three Disney theme parks offer Fastpass, a free pass that helps visitors bypass long lines at the park's most popular attractions, such as Space Mountain. Visitors insert their theme park tickets into the Fastpass machines in front of participating attractions, and a Fastpass comes out (along with the park ticket) with a designated time to return and proceed to the Fastpass entrance, thereby avoiding the long lines at the regular entrance to the attraction. Theme park maps have the designation "FP" next to attractions that feature Fastpass.
Ever wanted to take a trip around the world or get a glimpse of the future? Epcot is the ticket for both. The park is divided into two sections, Future World and World Showcase. Future World includes such attractions as Innoventions East and West, a showcase with innovative products and ideas; and Spaceship Earth, within the park's iconic sphere (looks like a giant golf ball), where you can imagine yourself living, playing and exploring in the future.
Other highlights of Future World include Mission: Space, where visitors blast off to Mars, and Soarin', a wildly popular ride in The Land pavilion that takes participants on a "hang-gliding" adventure over California. (Get a Fastpass early in the day so as not to miss out; they often run out by midday.) The World Showcase has pavilions of 11 nations around a scenic lagoon. Pavilions have typical architecture and landscaping, films, rides, restaurants, shops and entertainment so visitors get tastes of the various countries.
A fun "trip around the world" could consist of lunch and a film about France in the French pavilion, a ride in Norway, shopping for teddy bears in Germany, puppets in Italy, kimonos in Japan, a snack of "churros" (a fried, sweet treat) and another ride in Mexico, an acrobatic performance in China, a stroll in gardens in the U.K. and Canada, a belly-dance and dinner in Morocco. You can cap the day off with IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, a laser, music and fireworks spectacular that closes the day in the park each evening.
Downtown Disney is not a real downtown in the sense of office buildings and business centers but, rather, it is a huge outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment complex at the Walt Disney World Resort. You can easily spend hours just browsing. From there, you can also catch free bus transportation to all Disney theme parks.
From east to west, Downtown Disney is divided into three adjacent areas: the Marketplace, Pleasure Island and the West Side. Parking is free at all three (although finding a parking spot can be difficult, particularly for the Marketplace during the holidays and other busy shopping seasons). If parking spaces are scarce, consider leaving your car in one area and walking to the other two. At a brisk pace, you can cover all three areas on foot in about 30 to 40 minutes. As a rough guide, you can think of the Marketplace as primarily for shopping (although there are plenty of restaurants), while the West Side offers the most entertainment, including the world-famous Cirque du Soleil show La Nouba. Highlights follow:
The best-known of three areas is the Marketplace. (Some people refer to the Marketplace as Downtown Disney, although it is just a part of it, just as the Magic Kingdom is only a part of Disney World.) Originally known as the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village, the Marketplace includes more than 20 specialty shops and restaurants, including the ultimate Disney merchandise store, World of Disney, and well-known eateries like the Rainforest Cafe. The World of Disney store is so big that, if you go with children, you need to keep an eye on them to make sure they don't get lost or separated in the many rooms inside. Most recent additions to the store include the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, themed after the fairy godmother in Cinderella and offering hairstyling, makeup and manicures for girls, ages 3 and older, as well as an Adventure Room, where children can interact with an Audio-Animatronics pirate and buy Disney video games.
Another fun store -- a great place to buy gifts for grandchildren -- is Once Upon A Toy, with Disney-themed items and classic games and toys, including Star Wars action figures. (You can build your own light saber!) Other Disney-themed shops include Art of Disney, a gallery of limited edition animation art and Disney collectibles; Disney's Days of Christmas, where you can get holiday ornaments year-round; and the recently opened Disney's Design-A-Tee Shop, sponsored by Hanes, where visitors can create personalized T-shirts. Another of my favorites is the LEGO Imagination Center, easily spotted from a distance, thanks to its 12-foot-tall T-Rex and larger-than-life Titan XP Robot models, built with LEGO parts.
Pleasure Island originally was intended as a nightlife area for adults, where every night is New Year's Eve. But, Disney has shut down the nightclubs and plans to replace them with a mix of shops and restaurants for people of all ages.
Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant, Fuego by Sosa Cigars, Curl by Sammy Duval, Orlando Harley-Davidson and outdoor food and beverage locations on Pleasure Island remain open during the transition.
The West Side's big highlight is Cirque du Soleil, a circus and theatrical presentation that combines modern dance, humor and acrobatic stunts. Other entertainment attractions include Disney Quest, an "interactive theme park" that combines elements of a giant arcade and fair, and House of Blues, a restaurant/concert venue that serves Cajun food.
Disney's Hollywood Studios, a working studio and theme park rolled into one, is the place for movie buffs. The Great Movie Ride is a 22-minute ride, showcasing scenes from classic films like "Casablanca" and beloved family movies like "Mary Poppins" and "The Wizard of Oz." The Studio Backlot Tour is a 35-minute combination tram/walking tour that reveals movie-making magic, like how a flash flood is produced for filmmaking. Fans of "American Idol" will want to check out (maybe even audition to perform on stage?) the American Idol Experience, complete with a set like the television show, judges and voting by the audience.
Toy Story Midway Mania is a 4D experience where participants play interactive, midway-style games with the characters of the Disney-Pixar "Toy Story" movies, while wearing 3D glasses. (Get a Fastpass early in the day for this one, as it is hugely popular.) Other must-sees include The Art of Disney Animation, where visitors see how animators bring characters to life and learn to draw a character, as well. Several excellent live shows include Lights! Motors! Action! Extreme Stunt Spectacular, a 33-minute presentation that shows how stunts are made with vehicles. For the fearless, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror features a 13-story drop, and the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith twists and loops at high speeds to the band's music.
Disney's Animal Kingdom offers the opportunity to go on an "African safari" to see real lions, giraffes, zebras, elephants and other exotic animals roaming free in a savannah with authentic vegetation at the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride. Visitors can be on the lookout for tigers on the Maharajah Jungle Trek and for gorillas on the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. The adventurous will want to conquer Expedition Everest, a high-speed thrill ride, where at one point you ride backwards and catch a glimpse of the Yeti. A heads up: Chances are very good that you will get soaked while riding the Kali River Rapids float ride.
Families with young children may wish to check out The Festival of the Lion King, with singing, dancing, acrobatic performances and outstanding costumes, as well and Finding Nemo - The Musical, a stage show themed to the Disney-Pixar "Finding Nemo" animated film.
Universal Orlando is the place where films and television shows such as "Spider-Man," "Shrek," "The Incredible Hulk" and "The Simpsons" come to life in rides and attractions. Universal Orlando has two parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.
The big news here is the long-anticipated opening in spring 2010 of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, inspired in the books and films of the popular Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling and billed as a "park within a park." Located at Islands of Adventure, the attraction enables guests to visit iconic places from the books and films, including Hogwarts Castle. Visitors walk past the Hogwarts Express into the streets of Hogsmeade, dine at The Three Broomsticks, sip a butterbeer or a pumpkin juice at the Hog's Head Pub and visit Ollivander's, where they can have a magic wand choose them, like one did Harry. Rides include the Dragon Challenge, twin coasters that engage in a high-speed chase in the sky, and the Flight of the Hippogriff, a smaller, family coaster. Visitors can join Harry and his friends on the Forbidden Journey, where highlights include finding themselves in the middle of a Quidditch match. The line for this ride takes guests through Hogwarts Castle, where they will see such familiar haunts as the Griffindor Common Room and Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom.
Other Islands of Adventure highlights include The Incredible Hulk Coaster, where you go from zero to 40 miles per hour in two seconds flat, and the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man 3D to experience soaring above the city streets with the superhero. Seuss Landing is a magnet for families, featuring characters from the pages of Dr. Seuss' children's stories -- including the Cat in the Hat and the Grinch, of course -- and such rides as the Caro-Seuss-el.
Other Universal Studios offerings include the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit coaster, a multimedia thrill ride, where guests can pick the soundtrack, and cameras record every second of the pulse-pounding experience. The Simpsons Ride lets guests join animated stars Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie on a wild and funny ride through Krustyland. Visitors can also join Shrek as the beloved ogre saves Fiona in Shrek 4D.
CityWalk is a dining, shopping and entertainment district between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, offering cinemas, street performers, Blue Man Group theatrical shows and such eateries as Emeril's Restaurant Orlando and Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, among others.
At SeaWorld Orlando, you can feed dolphins; observe marine life in tanks; enjoy shows that feature sea lions, dolphins and other animals; and view penguins in a Penguin Encounter habitat that combines snow, ice and water -- you can see the tuxedoed creatures swimming through the water and torpedoing out of it onto the ice. In the Wild Arctic section, visitors can see polar bears and beluga whales. Shamu Stadium presents shows several times a day with orcas.
A must for thrill-seekers are SeaWorld's roller coasters, including the newest, Manta, where visitors can ride, glide, skim and fly -- face down! This coaster has four inversions and spins, and along the way, riders get to explore 10 aquaria with more than a quarter million gallons of water and 3,000 animals, including hundreds of rays of various species.
Even though Orlando is not on the coast, there is water, water, everywhere -- in a variety of aquatic parks. Visitors can swim with dolphins or stingrays, snorkel to see tropical fish and feed exotic birds in an aviary at Discovery Cove. An all-inclusive experience, providing continental breakfast, lunch, beverages, snacks and free parking, Discovery Cove has tropical landscaping and a lazy river ride.
Other water parks with slides, lazy rivers, wave pools, kid's water fun areas and rides include Blizzard Beach (themed like a ski resort, where the snow has melted and left pools, and including such attractions as a "ski-lift") and Typhoon Lagoon (where the theme is what has remained after a storm has blown over), both on Disney property; Aquatica SeaWorld's Water Park, where Omaka Rocka, a new family water slide, opened recently; and Universal Orlando's Wet 'N Wild, where The Storm thrill ride invites the daring to drop from a chute into a spinning bowl and where other attractions include multipassenger tube rides.
Been There, Done That
The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park is a short drive from downtown Orlando. It features a large collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany glass. The collection includes stained-glass windows, the famous Tiffany lamps, vases, jewelry and other objects. A highlight is the Tiffany Chapel, in Byzantine style, which includes stained-glass windows, a baptismal font, altar, tabernacle, and a glass mosaic behind the altar. The chapel interior was created by Tiffany for the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. Before or after the museum visit, walk up and down Park Avenue to enjoy its sidewalk cafes, boutiques, and Central Park with a pretty fountain by Albin Polaseck of a lady playing the harp -- the strings of the harp are tiny water jets.
Gatorland is a 110-acre park where you can see alligators and crocodiles galore, plus birds and other animals. Shows include alligator-wrestling and reptilian spectacles. You can see the park's collection of giant white alligators -- yes, white! -- and pet a baby alligator. (Relax, they tape its mouth.) If it's hot, there is a Splash Water Park to cool off.
At the Richard Petty Driving Experience at the Walt Disney World Speedway, visitors don flame-retardant suits and helmets and board a racecar with a 600-horsepower engine to spin around the track at white-knuckle speeds. There are several options -- including the Ride-Along, which involves riding shotgun in a two-seat NASCAR-style stock car that's driven by a professional racecar driver for a three-lap Qualifying Run at high speeds. (I tended to keep my eyes on the track but glanced over once and saw we were doing 135 mph during the beginning of the second lap and increased speeds after that!) Another option, the Rookie Experience, puts visitors in the driver's seat for eight laps around the track.
Florida EcoSafaris at Forever Florida is a 4,700-acre ranch, with zip-lining over the canopy of cypresses and other trees of a natural forest at heights of up to 55 feet (about the equivalent of a five-story building). Others may prefer guided horseback-riding excursions or a coach tour. While touring, it is common to spot groups of deer; many birds including sand hill cranes, ibises and blue herons; as well as many of the ranch's heads of cattle.
History buffs may wish to check out the Orange County Regional History Center in downtown Orlando. The museum is housed in a historic courthouse, dating from 1927, and has three floors of permanent exhibits chronicling the region's history. It also hosts visiting exhibitions.
Hot-air balloon rides usually begin at dawn, and flights take visitors over the Magic Kingdom or other areas, depending on the prevailing winds -- ours took us over fragrant orange groves and swamps, and our pilot took our basket down so low to the swamp we actually heard the gators growl! Among the companies that offer hot-air ballooning are Bob's Balloon Flights and Orlando Balloon Rides.
Cocoa Beach is the closest beach to Orlando, about 45 minutes to an hour from the city, though just a couple of miles from the cruise terminal in Port Canaveral.
Orlando has some 5,300 restaurants, ranging from chain restaurants to fine-dining establishments. Here are some choices, including fast food for a quick bite and table-service restaurants for when you want a more leisurely, relaxed meal:
Lunching at the parks: At
Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Pinocchio's Village Haus in the Fantasyland section of the park, is convenient to such attractions as It's A Small World, Cinderella's Carousel and Dumbo and offers burgers, fries, sandwiches and such. Prices are less than $15 per person. It opens for lunch at 10:30 a.m.; closing hours vary, depending on park closing times. For table service, Tony's Town Square Restaurant serves Italian fare -- the chicken parmesan is delicious. It's open for lunch between 11:30 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. and is also open for dinner. Prices range from $15 to $29.99.
At Epcot, a good spot for a quick lunch is the Lotus Blossom Cafe (11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.), in the China pavilion; try the egg rolls and beef rice bowl. We also love the Nine Dragons Restaurant (noon to 9 p.m.) for Chinese gourmet fare, including peppery shrimp with spinach noodles, vegetarian stir-fry and strawberry red bean ice cream.
At Universal Orlando Resort, Mel's Drive-In (noon to 7 p.m.) is a 50's-style eatery with golden oldies in the jukebox and burgers, fries, milkshakes and root beer floats on the menu. Try Lombard's Seafood Grille for Victorian-style surroundings, a large aquarium and great seafood, including New England clam chowder, Bay Shrimp Cobb Salad and a yummy seafood salad.
Editor's Note: When spending the day at one of the theme parks, get a map/program at the entrance. The maps have dining locations, both for fast-food and table-service restaurants. In some instances, like at Magic Kingdom's Crystal Palace on Main Street, visitors can also get breakfast -- in this particular restaurant, you'll get appearances by Winnie the Pooh characters.
In Downtown Disney's Marketplace, options include the Rainforest Cafe, where you can have lunch or dinner while watching animated gorillas, cheetahs and live birds. There's also Fulton's Crab House, located in a replica of a 1900's riverboat. Quicker and less expensive choices include Earl of Sandwich, an outlet of the national chain, and McDonald's, next to the LEGO Center. Other places in the Westside area include Bongo's Cuban Cafe, co-owned by singer Gloria Estefan, offering authentic Cuban cuisine; Wolfgang Puck Cafe, with an outdoor dining area and indoor seating; and Planet Hollywood, with movie memorabilia.
Lunching in downtown Orlando: If you are visiting the Orange County Regional History Center, Lake Eola or other attractions in downtown Orlando, try
Tijuana Flats, which features Tex-Mex specialties like fresh salads, quesadillas and tacos. Try the churros -- sweet, fried pastries -- for dessert. Entrees are less than $10. At City Fish Restaurant, try the lobster roll (sweet Maine lobster, grilled on a New England-style bun, $22).
Dining Destinations Worth an Effort: Those who have a few days pre- or post-cruise in Orlando have a variety of themed dinner shows to choose from, including Medieval Times with jousting knights. Or, try the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, themed to the Old West at Fort Wilderness in Disney World.
Orlando has 450 hotels with 112,000 rooms, according to figures from the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, so cruise passengers who would like to spend a night pre- and/or post-cruise have plenty of options.
In or near Walt Disney World:
On a Shoestring: Pop Century Resort is an economy-class resort with fun, giant icons depicting 20th-entury icons like the yo-yo and Mickey Mouse phone.
Middle of the Road: Dixie Landings is a moderately priced resort with an Old South theme -- it'sgood for families, as well as romantic escapes since rooms are housed in "mansions" that look like they are out of "Gone With the Wind." Free buses take guests to Disney parks and attractions.
Total Splurge: Bay Lake Tower, next to the Contemporary Resort, is within walking distance of Magic Kingdom, so it's excellent for families with small children. It has futuristic architecture and contemporary decor and offers studio accommodations with kitchenettes in one-, two- and three-bedroom villas.
In or near Epcot/Disney Hollywood Studios:
On A Shoestring: There are no economy-class resorts within walking distance of Epcot/Disney's Hollywood Studios, but see Pop Century description above with free buses to the Disney parks and attractions.
Middle of the road: Other options within walking distance of Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios are Disney-owned and -operated and include Disney's Beach Club & Villas, Disney's Yacht Club and Disney's BoardWalk Inn & Villas, all deluxe resorts.
Total Splurge: Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort is a deluxe property (Swan is a Westin, Dolphin is a Sheraton). The resorts have "entertainment architecture" with giant sculptures of swans and dolphins on the roofs. Guests can walk to Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios or opt for free launches to go to the parks. Free buses take visitors to other parks and attractions at Disney World.
In or near Universal Orlando:
Portofino Bay Hotel, themed to Portofino, Italy, is one of three deluxe accommodations on Universal Orlando property. The other two are the music-themed Hard Rock Hotel and the Royal Pacific Hotel, themed to the South Seas, with the most moderate prices of the trio.
Staying in Touch
Internet Cafes abound in Orlando and include the following:
Cyber Cafe, 5545 International Drive
Cyber Shack Cafe, 6438 International Drive
Internet Cafe, 118 East King Street
Best choice for theme-park aficionados who want to spend one day at the park of their choice: Disney World, Sea World and Universal Studios Express Service is a transfer only to the theme parks. Guests are responsible for purchasing admission tickets upon arrival to the park. Guests are given return times for the trip back to Port Canaveral, and it is their responsibility to adhere to the schedule. Duration: 10 hours (driving time approximately one hour each way). Price: $33 per person. Offered by Royal Caribbean International.
Best choice for Disney fans with more time to spare: Disney Cruise Line is able to book Disney World resort rooms, transfers to and from the port and park tickets pre- and post-cruise. Duration: one to five nights. Price: from $172 per night for a room for up to two adults and two children at a Disney value resort during Value Season (generally when schools are in session).
Would you rather go shopping? Some lines offer an Orlando outlets and Downtown Disney shopping tour. Price for the eight-hour tour, which includes the 1.25-hour bus ride to and from the shops, is $60 for adults, $40 for kids.
For More Information
On the Web: Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Florida
The Independent Traveler Message Boards: Florida
--By Georgina Cruz, is a freelance writer who has been on more than 160 cruises and has enjoyed more than 400 days in Orlando. She writes for regional, national and international publications.
--Photos of Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center and Universal Studios appear courtesy of Disney.