As one of the most popular ways to travel, car hire is a great option for families wanting to explore the city and surrounding areas on their own. Orlando International Airport has several car hire companies to choose from, while Alamo is Disney World's official agency. Although reasonably priced, be aware that gas and parking are expensive and you will need a map.
When driving, be aware that the region has many different toll systems with costs ranging from 25 cents to several dollars depending on location and vehicle type. The distance between toll gates can be frustrating, as can the traffic. Orlando's main highway, the I-4, becomes very congested during rush hour between 6.30-9.00am and 3.00-6.30pm, so avoid it if you can.
The I-Ride Trolley service operates from 8.00am to 10.30pm, with a single fare costing US$1.25 per ride and children riding for free. Exclusively for destinations within the International Drive Resort, passes can be obtained in advance for $4 per person on a daily basis. Make sure you have exact change ready for single fares as drivers do not carry cash.
With services from the north eastern states, get to Orlando by the Amtrak Railway. With journeys starting in New York, passing through Orlando to reach Miami, you can get there in under 22 hours – a great idea if you want to extend your trip in the US. The Amtrak Auto Train service is also available if taking your motorbike or car.
When planning your visit to Orlando, be aware that the climate in central Florida is semi-tropical with hot and humid summers and regular afternoon thunderstorms. Winters however, are mild and sunny. Generally avoid going between August and December. The off-peak seasons in the autumn and spring are the best times to visit to avoid the humidity and US school holidays.
Tipping is generally expected when visiting Orlando, normally 15 to 20 per cent for waiters and taxi drivers, and $1 to $2 for bartenders and valet parking attendants. Hotel doormen and porters should also be tipped around $1 to $2 if taking care of luggage. Wherever possible tip in dollar bills, as it is more discreet than fumbling for coins.
Orlando uses the US dollar. Exchanging and withdrawing money is easy to do with ATM, banking services and currency exchange stores available at the Orlando International Airport and in the city. Currency Exchange International at the Florida Mall promises to beat the exchange rates of the airport and local banks with a service seven days a week.
If holidaying with the family, staying in resorts in and around Orlando can quickly become an expensive experience. Try to plan a budget before you travel as you can get sucked into the tourist spending trap. If buying theme park tickets, don't wait until you arrive at the gates to pay. Look for discounted park passes on the internet and book ahead.
Fly out of Sydney on one of several daily flights with Qantas, Cathay Pacific or United Airlines and get to Orlando in just over 19 hours with one stopover.
Leave Melbourne and reach Orlando in just over 19 hours with Qantas or Virgin. Depending on who you fly with and when you will have at least one enforced stopover.
Get to Orlando from Perth with Qantas, Virgin or Cathay Pacific in around 24 hours, with two stopovers.
If you're staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel, take advantage of the free shuttle bus service from Orlando International Airport to your accommodation. Offering a complimentary roundtrip transfer, simply reserve your seats in advance to eliminate the hassle of arranging transport on your arrival. Note that you cannot arrange for luggage to be transported exclusively.
Offering a 24-hour service seven days a week, if you're not a guest of a Disney World Resort a typical shuttle bus transfer will cost from US$19 per person each way from Zone 1 up to Zone 5. Affordable and convenient, their service from Orlando International is always prompt and makes life easier with no maps or tolls to argue over.
A taxi ride will cost around US$35 to Downtown Orlando, $60 to Disney World and $105 to Port Canaveral. A taxi saves money on parking at many hotels and theme parks. Mears Transportation is Disney World's preferred taxi company for its reliability. Avoid hailing taxis off the street and always pay on the meter so you're not ripped off.
Orlando is operated by the LYNX local bus service, offering transport throughout central Florida. Standard fare is US$2 per person one-way, but a free service also operates within Downtown Orlando called LYMMO. If traveling to more than one location, a day pass can be bought for $4.50 or a weekly pass for $16. Great for those on a budget with more time.
A great day out for all ages that love to create a splash. With numerous waterslides, experience a thrill on The Black Hole: The Next Generation, the new Brain Wash ride or Disco H2O, complete with 'aquadisco'. For adrenaline seekers, try the ultimate free-fall Bomb Bay or alternatively soak up the sun by the Surf Lagoon pool.
Explore the wetlands of the Central Florida Everglades at night in search of turtles, bald eagles, exotic birds and alligators. Venture through swamps to witness these magnificent predators hunt their prey. If you're after a different experience away from the theme parks and nightlife, enjoy a ride with the whole family without the queues. Book in advance due to popularity.
Enjoy a day snorkelling with the endangered Florida manatee, the gentle giants of the Crystal River. Take lunch overlooking the sanctuary followed by an airboat adventure spotting dolphins and more. Encounter bears, panthers, alligators and hippos at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park, famous for its rehabilitation of injured animals. Children will love the interactive feeding session with the Park's friendlier residents.
Experience a fascinating insight into the world of an astronaut. Tour NASA's launch headquarters and view a space shuttle launch pad from the four-story observation point. Put yourself in Neil Armstrong's moon boots for a day by taking a virtual moonwalk and feeling the 4-G pull in a G-Force Simulator. Stand in awe at the largest rocket ever built at 363 ft.
Seasons 52's menu is reflected by its name, with a seasonal-inspired menu using fresh and healthy ingredients. Unlike many other dining experiences, you won't feel underwhelmed when your plate arrives, nor will you feel the urge to burn it off as every meal is low-calorie. Delicious food, an extensive wine selection and a great atmosphere to match.
A trendy gastropub situated in one of Orlando's more affluent areas. Serving delicacies such as Berkshire pork porterhouse with broccolini gratinée, the menu changes daily and includes less expensive pub meals such as lobster tacos. All charcuterie is made in-house and could make a meal in itself, however leave room for the Pig Tails: doughnuts served with a delectable chocolate-espresso sauce.
One of Orlando's best kept secrets, Chatham's Place is hidden away from the usual tourist network. Popular with the locals, Chatham's serves a seasonally-driven menu with an old world elegance and charm. For an intimate setting and fine dining experience, enjoy a romantic meal with attentive service and a cosy atmosphere. A restaurant worth looking for.
One of the best pizza joints in Orlando, the smell of fresh bread baking and home Italian cooking will hit you as soon as you walk into Cariera's. Popular with the local crowd, if you fancy something deliciously comforting, you can't go wrong with a humble pizza. Great for taking the family, the extensive menu means there is something to suit every taste.
Orlando's premier nightclub and ultra lounge, with DJ sets and live music. With three bars spread across two levels, choose from their signature drinks. The decor is a bit of a mash-up of Vegas, Cuban and Tiki retro style. For the ladies, Thursday Nights are where it's at with free admission.
The Monkey specialises in muddled martinis rather than the traditional shaken and stirred. A cosy lounge with a hint of the tropics, overlook Downtown Orlando from the outside balcony while you sip on your favourite cocktail. With happy hour Monday to Friday 5-7pm, even the appetisers are half-priced for sharing with friends.
Situated in Orlando's most stylish district, Dexter's is a trendy restaurant and wine bar, showcasing cutting-edge work by local artists. If you love your cocktails, come here to try their speciality drinks including a White Cranberry Cosmo or cinnamon-topped Double Espresso Martini. Happy hour from 3-7pm weeknights.
A hotspot for locals and best kept secret, Rok Room is a sleek, all-white bar with a state-of-the-art-sound and lighting system. A downtown, rock 'n roll lounge playing a contrast of 80s rock to modern hip hop and dance. Get there before midnight when it starts to get packed.
Spend a couple of days exploring Orlando's theme parks and attractions. Disney's original park is best for young families or those who are just young at heart. Take a ride on Space Mountain, explore the Haunted Mansion or take the children to see a live show to meet Mickey and the gang. Alternatively, take a break from the rides at SeaWorld with a dolphin show or shark encounter. Odyssea is a must see Cirque du Soleil-inspired circus performance for all ages.
Formerly the MGM Studios, take a trip down Tinsel Town's memory lane. Experience the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular where the most iconic scenes are recreated in a live performance. Put yourself centre stage with the latest American Idol Experience, witness some of the best special effects in movie history or discover the art behind Disney animation. With live performances and rollercoasters, both children and adults will find entertainment. Finish the day with Fantasmic!: a nighttime firework and water display using hydrotechnics.
Spend a day at the beach relaxing or learning to surf. For couples or those in a smaller group, take a one-on-one private lesson for around US$70 per person for a couple of hours. By the end you should be able to stand up on the board and stay up with a bit of luck! Around an hour's drive from Orlando, hire a car for the day and make a road trip out of it, stopping along the coast for lunch.
While the Disney experience dominates a lot of Orlando's tours, in stark contrast the region also offers attractions of natural beauty. North of Orlando, take a trip to the Ocala National Forest with 383,000 acres to explore and over 600 lakes, rivers and springs. Ideal for hiking, cycling, fishing, canoeing and swimming, if you love the open outdoors Orlando will take you there. If a scenic drive sounds less effort than exploring the forests by foot, you can also take a jeep or ATV on the off-road trails.
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