Last Updated: 28th Apr 2012
by – Alex McCarty, Tour Manager, North America
A proper city in its own right, with a population of over 2 million, until a man named Walt Disney made a visit, the only things you would have found in and around Orlando would have been orange and grapefruit groves, with large herds of cattle grazing in fields stretching out as far as the eye could see.
With the construction of a theme park featuring Disney’s brainchild, Mickey Mouse, people from the world over began visiting and eventually settling in what is now Florida’s second largest city.
Today, DisneyWorld (featuring Epcot Center and Magic Kingdom), as well as Universal Studios (featuring Islands of Adventure, with some of the sickest rides at any amusement park! calls Orlando home, making it arguably ‘the happiest place on Earth!’.
The Orlando area (Kissimmee, actually, is the name of the town where Contiki stays) is an outstanding base for several sights and activities that are nearby. Obviously, DisneyWorld (official site), with its attractions, thrill rides, theme parks and shopping and entertainment venues, has been a major draw for over 50 years. But with the addition of Universal Studios, Universal City Walk (an enormous dining and nightlife complex), Islands of Adventure (don’t miss it!), and Downtown Disney (featuring shops, restaurants and Pleasure Island, a hip collection of bars and clubs for the adults), there is something for everyone seeking thrills, chills and Mickey Mouse souvenirs! Also, only an hour’s drive north is the Kennedy Space Center. This is the only place in the entire western hemisphere where you might see a shuttle launched into outer space. And don’t forget that South Beach is just a 3-hour drive to the south!
Outlets, outlets, outlets! If bargains on name-brand designer-label items is your thing, then you’ve come to the right place. There are three major outlet shopping centers in the Orlando area, and all of them are easily accessible by cab, shuttle, or hotel courtesy transportation. Brands like Levi’s, Nike, Polo, Quicksilver and Timberland are all available right next to stores selling Dolce and Gabbanna, Hugo Boss, Miss Sixty and Giorgio Armani.