Orlando

Hotel reviews summary
4.5

Our guest rating from 8 reviews

Overview

Where else in the world can you soar on a broomstick with Harry Potter and get a hug from Mickey Mouse?

Central Florida is one of the world's top tourist destinations, thanks in part to a visionary named Walt Disney. Once Walt Disney World opened in 1971, Universal Orlando and dozens of smaller attractions followed, all vying for visitors.

Thrill-seekers can ride roller coasters, get friendly with gators or get behind the wheel of a Richard Petty race car. While Orlando is considered an ideal family destination, singles and couples will love the more than 90 attractions as well!

Spend your time relaxing in a spa, shopping, indulging in fine dining or playing a round of golf at a championship course. Some 176 courses and 23 golf academies earn Orlando top marks on the golf circuit.

Most visitors book a room in the southwest tourist corridor, but it's also worth exploring beyond the major attractions. The area has a rich history and a sense of community. The town of Winter Park, for example, has a beautiful collection of stained glass by Louis Comfort Tiffany, best known for incorporating his stained glass into the iconic Tiffany lamps.

The Little Vietnam neighbourhood, northeast of downtown Orlando, offers delicious tastes of Asian culture. Just north of Orlando, you'll find Eatonville. It was the first African-American municipality to be incorporated in the U.S. and is on the National Register of Historic Places. These areas are best explored by renting a car.

Though much of the focus is on the man-made attractions, Central Florida has a natural beauty. It has clear springs for swimming and lakes for boating, windsurfing and fishing. For a real look at old Florida and the alligators who call it home, take an airboat ride through the swamps.

If a trip to Florida seems incomplete without a day at the beach, head an hour west of Orlando to the Gulf of Mexico or go east to the Atlantic.

Orlando is a fantastic destination for:

  • shopping and dining
  • outdoor adventure
  • golf

Airport served by: MCO

Destination basics

The winter months are delightful for visitors to Central Florida, with some of the balmiest weather in the U.S. from November until May, when temperatures range from 21 C to 31 C, with little rainfall. In December and January, the thermometer may drop to freezing overnight, but that's rare for these parts. In June, temperatures heat up and by July, the high humidity arrives. The summer heat eases in October.

Pack a poncho or umbrella in the summertime and a light jacket in the winter months. And always wear sunscreen, even on cloudy days.

 

Weather charts

What makes it different?

Orlando is known for family fun - a fantasyland of theme parks, roller coasters and waterslides. But while Central Florida's roots reach back to the days of cowboys and Native Americans, its reputation as a world-class tourist destination is relatively new.

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What makes it different? cont'd

The two world-class theme parks along Interstate 4 – Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando – set Central Florida apart. Nearly 50 million tourists a year make this city the most-visited destination in the country.

But with its lakes for water skiing and wakeboarding, rivers for fishing, crystal-clear springs for swimming, snorkelling and diving, there's also plenty of ways to enjoy this region's natural beauty. You can hang-glide, skydive, horseback ride or take a thrilling trip on an airboat.

Orlando has plenty of restaurants known for quick, convenient meals, but it also offers a wealth of gourmet experiences. The area has three master sommeliers, while Disney's Epcot theme park offers a one-of-a-kind experience where you can sip, snack and stroll your way around the globe with pavilions featuring 11 different countries.

Central Florida is also home to a permanent show by Cirque du Soleil, the world's largest Hard Rock Café and the world's largest collection of Tiffany stained glass.

For sports fans, the Amway Arena in downtown Orlando is home to the NBA's Orlando Magic, while Disney's Wide World of Sports hosts spring training for Major League Baseball's Atlanta Braves. Orlando is also a golfer's dream, with courses here hosting more professional tournaments than any other U.S. city. If it's hockey your after, a short two-hour drive to nearby Tampa Bay, Florida can get you to an NHL game with the Tampa Lightning.

Geography

Metropolitan Orlando is sandwiched between the breezy Atlantic and peaceful Gulf coasts of Florida – about 240 km south of the Georgia border and 600 km north of the Florida Keys.

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Geography cont'd

The city and surrounding areas sparkle with 1,200 lakes, swamps and freshwater springs dotting the mostly flat terrain. The wet habitats are home to thriving wildlife made up of alligators, turtles, herons, cranes and hundreds of other species.

If you want a feel for "Old Florida," you can paddle a kayak or canoe along cypress- and oak-lined waterways. Or charter a fishing boat for some of the best bass fishing in the state. Adventurers won't be able to resist an airboat ride with a practiced pilot. The boats cover wide areas of wetland while showing off impressive gators, wading birds and water snakes.

The subtropical climate is also friendly to a wide range of plants and flowers—grandfather oaks draped with Spanish moss, palm fronds rustling in evening breezes and bright bougainvillea vines that add colour to the landscape. Long before Walt Disney introduced the tourism industry, citrus was king here. Today, you can still inhale the sweet scent of orange blossoms in outlying areas and nosh on juicy honeybells in the winter. Though cattle ranching has declined over the years, herds of cows still roam rural Kissimmee and other Central Florida outposts.

If you're looking to get out to the beach, Orlando is less than an hour's drive (about 80 km) from popular Daytona Beach, Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach on the Atlantic. To the west, the drive is about 120 km to the more peaceful beach areas of Clearwater and St. Petersburg.

Culture

Many Orlando residents hail from other states and countries, so you hear plenty of accents, twangs and drawls. You'll also hear Spanish, Creole, French and Portuguese.

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Culture cont'd

Years before it officially became a city in 1885, Orlando was home to small groups of Native Americans. After the Second and Third Seminole Wars, European settlers established cattle ranches and the citrus industry followed soon after. Today, Orlando is known as a major centre for both tourism and the high-tech industry, attracting residents from around the world.

Just north of Orlando, the nation's first entirely African American town, Eatonville, was the home of celebrated author Zora Neale Hurston. Each winter, locals stage the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities, headlined by celebrities like poet laureate Maya Angelou.

Orlando's ethnic communities include an Asian population near downtown teeming with busy Thai and Vietnamese restaurants, markets and tailor shops. Farther east, Cuban, Puerto Rican and other Hispanic and Latin specialty stores and bakeries offer a variety of treats. Even if you’re not venturing far from popular tourist sites, you can discover authentic eateries offering tastes of Turkey, Greece, India and Lebanon as well. Of course, you won't have trouble finding fresh seafood or good Southern barbecue and soul food.

Close to Eatonville, historic Winter Park oozes with a picturesque, cultural vibe. A haven for wealthy northerners seeking to escape harsh winters in the early 1900s, the city remains a charming diversion. Its 60-year-old Scenic Boat Tour Company offer trips on board a pontoon boat along Lake Osceola, cruising through narrow canals built for 19th-century loggers. The captain may tell stories about the fancy lakefront estates spotted along the way and point out sleek cranes, herons and anhingas (also known as snakebirds) diving for fish.

Other Winter Park and Orlando art museums showcase everything from folk art to Native American artifacts. The Orlando community also boasts great live theatre, ballet, symphony and chorus groups.

Orlando treasures its ties to the land and the lakes that support local tourism. Central Florida fish camps serve up large helpings of fried catfish and southern specialties. Boat captains in Orlando and Kissimmee help eager tourists catch trophy-sized bigmouth bass. Kissimmee's Lake Tohopekaliga (known to locals as "Toho") flows into the Kissimmee River and then onto Lake Okeechobee and the Florida Everglades. It is a treasure trove of creatures including osprey, eagles, snowy egrets, blue herons, wood storks, turtles and alligators.

Transportation

In Orlando, scheduled shuttles run between most hotels and attractions which make it easy to travel to Disney World and Universal. Check your hotel description to see if your hotel offers a free shuttle to the parks you're looking to visit. For transportation service from the airport to all of our partner hotels, Mears transportation service is available and can be pre-booked with WestJet Vacations.

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Transportation cont'd

Renting a car provides an enhanced sense of flexibility and is ideal for younger families, shoppers and golfers looking to get around the city. Renting will also allow you to discover other areas of Orlando, outside of the major attraction and resort areas. In addition, when staying in villa and vacation home rentals which don't offer shuttle services, you'll need a car. When booking a car with WestJet Vacations, all rentals can be picked up at the airport.

If you're planning to rent, expect parking costs around CAD$10 to CAD$12 per day (Disney resort guests receive free parking within the Disney theme parks). You'll also need to pay for any tolls you cross on toll roads—so be sure to carry some U.S. change.

Currency

When visiting Orlando, you'll want to have some U.S. funds for general expenses and transit. For entertainment and shopping, your credit card will give you the exchange rate at the time of purchase. There are also numerous ATMs inside banks and public spaces where you can withdraw funds at your convenience. Just be aware that transaction fees vary by ATM.

Once upon a time, Orlando was a small town surrounded by cow pastures and citrus fields. With the development of Walt Disney World and the Universal Orlando Resort and a host of smaller attractions, those cow pastures turned into planned communities that now house a wide range of residents, from Disney's 55,000 cast members to sports celebrities and millionaires.

Downtown Orlando
Often overlooked in favor of the theme parks nearby, Downtown Orlando offers a wealth of entertainment and charm. A bustling central business district by day, each evening, the sunset casts a magic spell on Downtown transforming it into a booming nightlife destination. There's a plethora of nightclubs, bars and restaurants to explore, most of which are clustered around the stretch of Orange Avenue that runs between Washington and Church Streets.

Centered around the CityArts Factory is Orlando's Downtown Arts District. Public art and street sculptures abound around every corner, often tucked away in unexpected places. The galleries at CityArts itself and the many that surround it boast an ever-changing array of exhibitions of regional, national and international artwork.

Nearby, Lake Eola and its park are an oasis amid the urban landscape, where visitors thong to enjoy a boat ride across the water, shop at the weekly farmers market or to simply join locals as they stroll along the lakefront.

Those with a taste for live entertainment are sure to relish the diverse programming showcased at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. The Amway Center nearby doubles up as a sports arena and a concert venue for large-scale events. Nearby, the Bob Carr Theater hosts ballets, musicals, symphonies and film screenings, while in the heart of Downtown, the Social caters to those with a penchant for indie music.

Just Beyond Downtown
To the north, the neighborhoods of Loch Haven Park and Ivanhoe Village are known for their antique shops, museums and vegan restaurants. In a cluster to the south of Lake Estelle, you'll find the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, the Orlando Repertory Theater, the Museum of Art, the Fire Museum and the Science Center.

To the east lies the Mills 50 district where a proliferation of Asian restaurants, primarily Vietnamese and Thai, draw foodies to its streets. This neighborhood stretches north from the intersection of Colonial Drive and Mills Avenue. Nearby, Northeast Orlando and the Colonial Town Center are home to the Colonial Plaza Mall and the Orlando Fashion Square; a one-stop destination for shopping, dining, and entertainment near the Orlando Executive Airport. Look further east to find Baldwin Park. This leafy neighborhood is best known for its miles of trails and verdant parklands.

Winter Garden, Winter Park and the University
Winter Garden is one of the city's more quaint suburbs where brick-lined streets are lit by faux gaslamps that inspire nostalgia. There are restaurants, cafes and bars aplenty as well as a weekly farmers market that is a great place to shop for fresh produce, artisan goods and crafts.

Winter Park is a more upscale enclave, settled in the 1800s by wealthy northerners craving a reprieve from the harsh winter chill. Park Avenue forms the lifeline of this suburban neighborhood, speckled with independent boutiques, al fresco cafes and art galleries. Winter Park is also home to Rollins College and the Morse Museum of American Art, renown for its exhaustive collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany's stained glass.

To the extreme east of Downtown is the University of Central Florida and its many attractions.

Kissimmee

Kissimmee is a nice city along the U.S. 192, which is a long strip of highway along an east-west route from the small but sprawling towns of Kissimmee and St. Cloud to Walt Disney World and beyond. There are also inexpensive restaurants including Golden China.

Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World is so large that it can be considered its own district. You will find everything from hotels to shopping, restaurants, sports and nightlife within this huge park. There are also thousands of hotel rooms to fit a wide range of budgets, and all provide shuttle transportation that gets you to its many theme parks. Disney's Animal Kingdom, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Epcot are all here. Visit the nearby Magic Kingdom. A monorail zips passengers to many destinations; boats and buses serve all the others, and the wait is rarely more than a few minutes for transportation.

Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando is a fantastic area that includes Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure. Universal Studios is a family-friendly theme park has rides based on your favorite films as well as entertaining shows. Universal Orlando also features restaurants and a great nightlife. Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, Emeril's Restaurant and the Universal CityWalk attract visitors year-round. You can also have a magical time at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

If you're looking for amusement in Orlando, the fun doesn't stop at the parks. Orlando's nights are just as jam-packed as its days. Orlando definitely has something for everyone, from comedy clubs to a Texas two-steppin' rodeo bar with live bull riding, from Polynesian luaus to cartoon character dinners. Families can check out fireworks and parades, themed dining events and high-stepping Lippizaner stallions. Music-wise, local and national talent runs the gamut from rock 'n roll, disco and blues to jazz, country and DJ music.

Nightlife
Much of Orlando's nightlife is centered around Downtown and International Drive, with its many bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Live music can be had at the Social, the Independent Bar and the SAK Comedy Club, while Ono is among the top choices for dancing in Downtown Orlando.

You'll find plenty of nighttime entertainment at Downtown Disney, Disney's Pleasure Island, and the Universal Studios CityWalk as well.

Museums and Galleries
History buffs will find much to their liking at the Orange County Regional History Center, one of Orlando's very few museums dedicated to history. A visit to the Orlando Fire Museum, on the other hand, offers insight into a niche aspect of local history.

The Orlando Science Center
thrills both young and old with its hands-on exhibits, while the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art dazzles with its collection of Tiffany glass. Arts enthusiasts should head straight to the galleries at the CityArt Factory and take time to also explore the smaller establishments that are scattered throughout Orlando's Arts District.

Amusement Parks

There are obvious entertainment diversions to be found at the massive Walt Disney World and equally-impressive Universal Studios Florida. There are rides, restaurants and shopping abound in these two places. It's enough to keep you entertained for the whole weekend, if not longer.

Navigate through the swamps and trails at Gatorland, where visitors get the chance to get up close and personal with the alligators themselves.

Shopping
Downtown Disney Marketplace, a cluster of restaurants are joined by a host of shops and a games center filled with virtual reality machines and video challenges, plus lots of purveyors of Disney memorabilia. Pointe Orlando is a large shopping mall where you can find several stores, restaurants and entertainment options. You'll also find smaller boutiques, such as Bijou's Boutique, selling stylish, unique creations.

Top shopping destinations within Orlando include the Mall at Millenia, The Florida Mall, and the Orlando International Premium Outlets.

Performing Arts
Outside of the fabulous shows that dazzle audiences of every age at Disney World and Universal Orlando, much of the city's performing arts scene is centered around Downtown Orlando. The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts is the city's premier destination for live entertainment, hosting everything from ballets, musicals and plays to symphonies and dance recitals. More intimate venues like the Mad Cow Theater are also quite entertaining and make for a nice contract to mammoth alternatives like the Amway Center. The Bob Carr Theater is also much-acclaimed with its diverse array of live performances.

The Central Florida Ballet company performs at various venues throughout the year. The Ormond Beach Performing Arts Center is a community theater dedicated to bringing quality live theater to the Central Florida area.

At first glance, Orlando would appear to be the world nucleus of the fast food industry. On seemingly every thoroughfare, in and around every theme park, mall and neon neighborhood, they are there. However there is a lot more than fast food, including fine cuisine and theme restaurants.

Walt Disney World
There are many options within the park to satisfy your appetite. Casual American options include Hemingway's, while Italian can be found at Citricos. Try tropical Polynesian at 'Ohana, and some of the best sushi at Dragon Court, which features an all you can eat option. For something equally as exotic, try Maya Grill, which has contemporary South American dishes on its menu.

Universal Studios
Universal Studios' response to Disney's entertainment center is Citywalk, which packs 'em in every night. Sprawling across 30 acres, CityWalk is a lively cluster of dining, shops, cinemas and entertainment options ranging from the popular Hard Rock Cafe/Live. Famed chef Emeril Lagasse's dining spot, Emeril's Orlando, whisks up a roux to create Creole cuisine straight from the Louisiana bayous. Margaritas and "Cheeseburgers in Paradise" pour from the bar and kitchen at singer Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, and everybody gets into the groove at a club called, well, The Groove.

Downtown Orlando
Although not as visited as the amusement parks, downtown Orlando has much to offer those staying in the area. The menu at Lac-Viêt Bistro features colorful Vietnamese cocktails and traditional noodle dishes. While the Celt Irish Pub serves delicious pub fare and a wide variety of beer on tap. The Ceviche Tapas Orlando is a downtown gem that offers small plates and features colorful flamenco shows.

Orlando


State: Florida


Country: United States of America


Orlando by the Numbers
Population: 270,934 (city); 2,387,138 (metropolitan)
Elevation: 82 feet / 25 meters
Average Annual Rainfall: 53.2 inches / 135 centimeters
Average January temperature: 60.3°F / 15.7°C
Average July temperature: 83°F / 28.3°C

Quick Facts

Electricity: 120 volts, 60 Hz, standard two-pin plugs

Time Zone: GMT -5; Eastern Standard Time (EST)

Country Code: +1

Area Code: 321; 407


Did you Know?

Orlando ranks only behind San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and Miami as the most visited United States city by foreign travelers.

Orlando ranks only behind Las Vegas for most number of hotel rooms.


Orientation

Orlando is located right in the center of Florida, about 77 miles (124 kilometers) northeast of Tampa and 204 miles (328 kilometers) north of Miami.

Florida's history stretches back to the 1500s. On Easter Day in 1513, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon came ashore at what is now St. Augustine in the northeast corner of the state. What Ponce de Leon and the early settlers found in the Sunshine State—mosquitoes, swamps and native tribes with little interest in sharing the land—was sufficiently daunting to discourage the growth of other settlements.

As so often happened in the Americas, the Seminoles who settled in Florida weren't thrilled with the bands of newcomers. In the early 1800s, the Seminoles fought two bitter wars to retain their land. When the second of those ended in 1842, Orlando's history began. Settlers followed soldiers into Central Florida, and a settlement grew around an old Army post known as Fort Gatlin, located at what is now Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando. Originally named Jernigan after an early settler, Orlando changed its name in 1857 to honor soldier Orlando Reeves, who, while on sentinel duty at the fort, was felled in 1835 by an Indian arrow as he raced to warn of an oncoming raid. .

In Orlando's early days, the three C's drove commerce in the city: cattle, cotton and citrus. As Cuban demand for Florida beef grew, cattle ranches spread across the flatlands, cattle rustlers fought gunfights in the streets, and little Orlando became a rough-and-tumble town.

Soon, tired settlers turned to cotton, a considerably less threatening crop, and the town became the center of a thriving cotton industry. When the U.S. Civil War began, however, workers moved away to pick cotton throughout the South to replace soldiers away at war.

Until air conditioning was invented life in the Sunshine State was no picnic. Summer heat, sandy soil and sporadic torrential rainfall made for tough living, but it also proved to be the perfect conditions for citrus crops. Orange, grapefruit, tangerines and limes all thrived in the sandy soil. By 1870, orange fever had struck Central Florida, and the citrus industry grew rapidly.

When Henry Flagler and, later, Henry Plante pounded spikes into railroad tracks that extended down the east and west coasts of Florida, orange fever reached its peak. Although stymied for a decade or so by the Great Freeze of 1894-1895, which destroyed nearly all the citrus crop in the region, by the 1950s Florida had more than 80,000 acres of citrus trees spread across the flatlands and rolling hills, stretching to the horizon.

Orlando's fascination with entertainment stretches as far back as 1895. Proving that it really is possible for a little creative thinking to turn lemons into lemonade, (or, oranges into orange juice) citrus grower John B. Steinmentz watched the freeze turn his crop into worthless mush and started working on a comeback. He turned his packing house into a skating rink, set up some picnic tables and a bathhouse, and built a toboggan slide that whooshed visitors into a cool spring. Voila—Orlando's first entertainment center!

Central Florida acquired electricity in 1900, then telephones and, in 1903, cars that chugged around at the terrifying speed of 5 mph. In 1922, the first airport opened as a cargo center; in 1928, the Orlando Municipal Airport opened. Today, that facility is the Orlando International Airport, welcoming hundreds of thousands of travelers each year.

A major economic force in the region, the Martin Marietta missile factory—now known as Lockheed Martin—arrived in 1922 with its facilities spread over 10.6 miles of Central Florida and staffed with thousands (it's the area's largest employer).

But 1971 was the seminal year in Orlando. After looking at many Florida sites, including Miami, Walt Disney and company decided that the vast acreage and accommodating local leaders were just what they needed to build the company's first theme park outside California. Thus was born Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, which welcomed its first visitors in 1971.

As the Mouse's fame grew, others saw the possibilities inherent in thousands of tourists.

In 1990, Universal Studios arrived to add still more competition, more visitors and more entertainment. In 1999, it grew again with the addition of Islands of Adventure, featuring a host of thrill rides guaranteed to knock your socks off. Meanwhile, Orlando just keeps on growing, there are over 90 attractions, 3,800 restaurants and 99,000 rooms, topping 100,000 even as you read this.

You will still see citrus groves, although many have been usurped by sprawling housing developments. A host of other entertainment facilities and high-tech industries continue to play a major role in the region's economy, but it is tourism that is the pile-driving force of Orlando's finances, contributing more than USD17 billion to the economy annually. Today's Orlando is unquestionably the epicenter of the state's tourism industry, a place where billions of dollars change hands every day amid a fantasy land of neon and nightlife.

Arrival

You'll know you're flying into Orlando International Airport when you see a vast spread of palm trees growing among large terminal buildings and parking lots.

Orlando's airport has multiple terminals, all conveniently accessible via tram. You'll also see plenty of helpful signs directing you to gates, baggage claim and arrival areas.

If you've booked a hotel transfer with WestJet Vacations, you'll want to proceed to the arrival zone after passing through immigration. There, look for a Mears Transportation representative holding a WestJet Vacations sign. Identify yourself as a WestJet guest and hop into the shuttle waiting to take you to your destination. Welcome to the magical city of Orlando!

Departure

Upon departure, friendly WestJet staff will be ready to assist you at the WestJet check-in counters, located in section A of the main terminal (next to the Southwest counters). Our counters open three hours prior to departure and close 15 minutes after departure time. Guests can check in and select their seats ahead of time by using the convenient WestJet Web check-in service.

Once through security, you'll head to the gate indicated on your ticket. WestJet regularly flies out of Gates 1 to 29 and 100 to 129 in Orlando.

If you have some time to walk around before your flight, you'll love the wide variety of places to get food and duty free goodies before your trip home.

In Orlando, scheduled shuttles run between most hotels and attractions which make it easy to travel to Disney World and Universal.

Departing from:

ˆTotal price one-way per guest. See terms and conditions. *Prices are per guest, based on double occupancy and are limited; may not reflect real-time pricing or availability. See terms and conditions.

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