Orlando: Like No Place Else
Most people are familiar with Disney World and the many theme parks and tourist attractions Orlando has to offer. The following features also make Orlando unique:
The Kennedy Space Center. What’s perhaps most incredible about what was, until not too long ago, a sleepy rural region, is the fact we’ve been preparing space missions from here for close to five decades. The Kennedy Space Center, which sits on 140,000 acres on Merritt Island, off the Atlantic coast, is used by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to run missions on an ongoing basis. It also happens to be a hyper popular tourist attraction. Featuring a Rocket Garden (where clunky relics from days past are displayed), IMAX Theater, bus tour providing limited access to actual launch facilities and more, the center is a treasure trove of information for space junkies or anyone remotely interested in how we’ve managed to send people and machines years and millions of miles away from earth.
Motorcycle and car racing culture. Half a million visitors descend on Daytona Beach in February and March each year to ride motorcycles, party and enjoy several days of motorcycle racing at the Daytona Beach International Speedway. Hotel rooms are sold out months (sometimes years) in advance in Daytona, so many riders now opt to stay in Orlando and travel some 60 miles north to the event. NASCAR, also in Daytona Beach, attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors during Speed Weeks, with most of those trying to catch a glimpse of the Daytona 500, the biggest car race of the year. Besides these big events, Orlando enjoys a car and bike culture year-round: smaller tracks offer entertainment for less affluent fans and bike clubs catering to specific riding tastes are plentiful. These hobbies do come with a price, however: Florida law allows bikers to ride without helmets, resulting in a high death count during Bike Week, where alcohol and fun often mix. Illegal drag racing on city streets has also created a host of problems for authorities.
Golfing. Orlando is, without a doubt, a premier golfing destination, so much so entire “golfing communities” are built around courses for the benefit of those who love to tee. Courses are less crowded from May to October, when many private clubs are open to the public. Stoneybrook East, in East Orlando, and the Dubsdread Golf Course, a College Park institution, are favorites. Locals also frequent the Forest Lake Golf Club in Ocoee (favored because of its "away from it all" feel and affordability) and the North Shore Golf Club, between Lake Nona and Narcoossee, which is less secluded but also affordable. At the higher end of the spectrum, the MetroWest Golf Club and Kissimmee’s Falcon’s Fire Club, are popular options, as are all the courses at Disney. Grand Cypress in Lake Buena Vista, ChampionsGate on the Osceola-Polk county boundary, and the Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge, in West Orlando, would also be at the top of any serious golfer’s list.
Fishing and birding. Fishing is so big in central Florida, even some city parks are stocked (catfish and largemouth bass are common). Fish camps, places from which to launch a boat or put in good fishing time in a river or lake, are found throughout the region, as are marinas and fishing clubs. Birding, meanwhile, attracts thousands of tourists in search of a vast array of migratory species and wading birds. Lake Tohopekaliga (locals refer to it as Lake Toho) in Kissimmee is great for both fishing and birding. As you drive through the area, pay special attention to large nests. After years of concerted conservation efforts, bald eagles are making a comeback here and are not uncommon. For an extravaganza of birdwatching opportunities, check out the Canaveral National Seashore, on the Atlantic coast.
Wakeboarding. It may not come as a surprise when one considers the many lakes found in this region, but wakeboarding is an extremely popular sport here. A combination of surfing, water skiing and skateboarding, the sport often requires an engine-driven watercraft, which pulls a rider who maneuvers the craft's wake or other obstacles. The Orlando Watersports Complex is the place to be for those interested in following competitions or taking lessons, but there are several other parks catering to the sport as well.