Orlando, FL is a prime vacation spot in the summer because there is so much to see and do. It’s full of both tourist attractions and fun local areas that are appealing to every person imaginable.
It’s something that started with Walt Disney World and never stopped. In this article,
I’m going to explain the basics of what you can see in Orlando, including the tourist spots that are required at least on your first trip. If you’re taking a longer trip, you can squeeze in the local areas that I mention in the bonus section.
If you don’t plan on seeing any tourist attraction and only want to see local areas, I would advise against going to Orlando in the summer. It’s not worth your while for these reasons..
- Pricey travel
- Heavy traffic
- Crowded areas
- Expensive hotels
- Very hot
- Rain almost every afternoon
People wanting to see local areas should opt for the slow seasons (Fall and Spring). But there’s no reason why you can’t see both local and tourist areas during the summer. It’s part of the fun! Night life, theme parks, restaurants open later… Orlando in the summer just has a lot to offer.
- Walt Disney World
If you hate Disney, skip reading this one as nothing I say will convince you to go here. If you’re on the fence about going, the only thing that should stop you is the price. Otherwise, it is a MUST see. Here’s why..
You don’t go to Disney solely to be nostalgic about your childhood and Disney movies.
You don’t go just because you have a family and it will be a good all-around spot everyone.
You don’t go because it is the go-to location in Florida.
You go because of the experience Disney provides the moment you step foot on Disney property.
Disney is built upon delivering an experience, the magic, whatever you want to call it.
Every detail is well thought out from a business perspective. The rides are designed so that when you go to the top you can only see Disney property.
The queue lines are interactive or designed with ornate details to distract you even if you have to wait hours. The snacks and treats are all Disney-related, which doesn’t make them taste any better, but it makes it better in the moment.
It’s all about sensory overload and appreciating the details while you walk through the parks.
If you stay at one of their many resorts, you’ll experience top-notch customer service.
You’re greeted at every corner and provided help from some very patient employees, known as cast members. Sometimes I just go to the resorts to eat breakfast or lunch, and I’m in awe with how pleasant the staff is.
The resorts are designed to give you a getaway. The lobby, hallways, tables in your room, and even the parking lot are designed to make you feel like you’re already on vacation.
The resorts, as well as the parks can be pricey.
And you have to watch out for blackout dates at the parks, particularly Magic Kingdom.
It will get crowded, and hot (expect mid to high 90s) during the summer. Most queue lines are covered or indoors, but when a line gets long, you may be forced outside.
Be prepared for Florida’s afternoon showers every day in the summer. They may last for 5 minutes, or 5 hours. Bring ponchos ahead of the time, even if it means you buy them at Walmart for a few bucks, because they’re about $10 each at the parks if I remember correctly.
Every park is a must see, but if you can only see one, go to Magic Kingdom.
Make sure you reserve Fastpasses (up to 3 per day per guest).
Try to use them for the main rides such as Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Space Mountain. If a ride you’re on shuts down, then they will make your Fastpass eligible for another ride of the same type. So either of those will usually work for another one. But if you get a Fastpass for the Speedway and it goes down, it will not be eligible for Splash Mountain.
If you go early enough (when they open), the wait times for It’s a Small World, Peter Pan, Haunted Mansion, Winnie the Pooh, and similar rides are pretty short.
Also, stay for the fireworks if you haven’t already seen them. Getting out of the park afterwards will be high-traffic, but it’s worth it at least once in your life.
Note: Animal Kingdom is adding a new night show to their park. Expect it to be crowded, but also expect an amazing show.
Bonus: Make sure you try Le Fou’s Brew in New Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom. Best cold treat in the park.
I can do a very in-depth guide to Disney if you guys request it. There is a lot do and see. It’s a great vacation spot for families, couples, and even just a bunch of friends.
2. The Eye
Orlando’s latest attraction is the Eye on International Drive. It was built in order to give a similar experience to what London has.
The entire circle takes about 20 minutes with a short 3D show beforehand.
The units are AC cooled and tinted so you don’t have to worry about burning up inside with Florida heat.
Orlando doesn’t have a spectacular skyline like other major cities. You can, however, get a great view of I-Drive and Universal Studios as well as get a glimpse of Downtown Orlando.
Disney is pretty difficult to see but you can see the general area where it is located.
The views are the best at night, especially if you can catch the fireworks from any one of Orlando’s theme parks.
That’s really the best way to spot Disney. I recommend it because it’s really relaxing, especially if you have a long day going around Orlando.
Bonus: Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, and the Sea Life aquarium are in the same venue as the eye. You can buy a package to see all 3 or just what you prefer. If I had to choose one, it would be the Eye. Also, you can find some pretty good deals on Groupons for any of these.
3. Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure
The other major attraction in Orlando. Kong is opening up this summer so expect wait times to be long.
Universal is notorious for having long wait times in the summer.
I only go to their parks in the Fall or Spring, in which case I can pretty much walk on to rides without having to wait in line. I’ve done both parks in one day in 6-7 hours.
Also, you have to purchase a pass to get to the front of the line a la Disney’s Fastpass. It is not included in your ticket. For summer visitors, I would recommend it.
Both parks are full of mostly thrill rides and only a few shows.
You will find most of the park’s traffic at the 2 Harry Potter areas. I suggest riding the Hogwarts Express train as early as possible between parks because the wait times can get very long. It’s probably my favorite ride in the park. It’s so well-done you just have to see it to believe it.
4. Disney Springs + La Nouba Cirque du Soleil
Disney Springs (*cough* Downtown Disney *cough*), has been seriously revamped over the past year and a half. They’ve added numerous shops and restaurants to make it more appealing at all times of the day.
There are bakeries, food trucks, and cafes scattered across the area in addition to fine dining like Morimoto Asia and Portobello Country Italian.
There are always musicians and performers outside at different areas putting on a show.
The movie theater has been upgraded to include AMC Dine-In. You get reserved seating (now becoming a standard in most theaters) but with a menu of some really good to choose from.
When it comes to theater food, AMC Dine-In beats out most large-scale restaurant chains in the US like Chili’s or TGI Friday’s for instance. The prices aren’t astronomical, and you get free refills with your drink. Expect to spend $30 for tickets and then around $8-$10 per food item. The quantity of food is actually more than I thought it would be and the taste/flavor is pretty darn good.
La Nouba, while not cheap, is highly recommended. It’s arguably the best show you can find in Central Florida at all times of the year. It doesn’t matter where you sit because there is so much going on. So go for the cheaper tickets and you won’t be disappointed. Try and buy ahead of time because the lines get pretty long close to show times, if not sold out.
5. Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center and other concerts
When you’re going to Orlando, check the dates and see what is showing at the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center.
There are always incredibly talented and popular guests. This new performing arts center is state of the art, so while some shows aren’t cheap, you can always opt for the lower-priced tickets and still see a spectacular show.
The acoustics in here are unbelievable.
Also, Amway Center, House of Blues (Disney Springs), and other locations have awesome concerts and comedy shows during the summer. See if the shows line up with your vacation and book it asap.
If you leave your bathing suit at home and need to get one, don’t worry. You will find one on the first day.
Or maybe you won’t because there are just too many stores to search. My girlfriend ran into that issue searching for one for this reason.
There are two massive malls, Florida Mall and Millenia Mall. Then there are two outlet malls, Premium and Vineland Outlets.
Try and shop on Monday-Thursday, as that’s when I find the best sales at the outlet malls. Then there are more malls scattered at the other ends of Orlando.
And if you just venture down International Drive, you’ll find endless stores to choose from.
It really is outrageous.
BONUS: Random fun areas
Fun Spot – I-Drive
Wonderworks – I-Drive
Gatorland – Near Florida Mall
Orlando Science Museum
There are so many places you can go to in Orlando and it’s surrounding areas. I didn’t even touch the beaches or neighboring cities, only the adjacent towns.
There are tourist spots and then spots that locals frequent.
For instance, Winter Garden is a very small historical town an early 1900s America feel. You can grab lunch there or go for a bike ride. It’s a peaceful place away from the hustle and bustle of International Drive. And it’s not the only one like it.
I only listed a small fraction of the places. You can take a day or two just exploring the surrounding areas and finding some really nice spots. Also, be prepared of the traffic on Sand Lake road, Semoran, and E. Colonial from 4- 7 PM.
There is so much in Orlando that I could write an in-depth guide on it.
This article was originally designed to be about Florida in general, but I got carried away with Orlando.
I’ll have to write a second article on the beaches and nearby places you can visit. I listed mostly tourist attractions and only briefly mentioned the local spots.
I imagine most of you will prefer the local areas, but don’t ignore the parks and attractions for the sake of ignoring them. They really do provide an incredible getaway that you should experience at least once if you’re traveling to the area.
Most of what I post on social media are the hidden spots around Central Florida and Orlando, but I always post about Disney and some of the major areas. I really love what they have built and the fun they provide.
Are you traveling to Orlando any time soon? Let me know in the comments.