True Orlando


Published in Wild Blue Yonder

The City Beautiful is much more than roller coasters and Hollywood pixie dust. Poke beyond the theme parks (which are plenty fun) and you’ll find an action-packed city that’s equal parts natural wonders and manmade excitement.

Thread Count

Check into The Peabody Orlando (9801 International Dr, 407-352-4000) for posh rooms with plush beds, 42-inch flat-screen TVs and mini LCD TVs installed in the bathroom mirrors. Don’t worry about the ducks waddling through the lobby; they’re part of the hotel. // Nestled among 482-forested acres, the Waldorf Astoria Orlando (14200 Bonnet Creek Resort Ln, 407-597-5500) provides butler service, deluxe suites and private, air-conditioned pool cabanas. // Book a room at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Lakes (4012 Central Florida Pkwy, 407-206-2400) for access to on-site activities galore, including kayaking and ecology tours.

Food Fix

Taverna Opa (9101 International Dr, 407-351-8660) is the place for tasty Greek food and the breaking of plates—Opa’s energy will have you dancing in your seat, or on the table. // For a more laid-back evening, duck into HUE Restaurant (629 E Central Blvd, 407-849-1800) for a menu of inventive American cuisine. When it comes time for dessert, order the chocolate soufflé topped with crème anglaise and fresh berries. You’ll thank us. // Chow down on local fare at K Restaurant (1710 Edgewater Dr, 407-872-2332), a converted bungalow that serves up tasty soul food like the fried green tomato dinner (the tomatoes come from its own garden) or the mac ’n cheese parmesan.

Night Out

When it comes to hearing live jazz tunes head to B.B. King’s Blues Club (9101 International Dr, 407-370-4550). // Another crowd pleaser: Dandelion Communitea Cafe (618 N Thornton Ave, 407-362-1864). Borrow a guitar, harmonica or drums and sit under the Bodhi tree and jam the night away while nibbling on the cafe’s creative organic fare.

Don’t Miss

Pick up your wand and put on your spectacles at the relatively new Wizarding World of Harry Potter (6000 Universal Blvd, 407-363-8000). From the shop selling chocolate frogs to the villagers roaming about, every nook of the $250-million-plus attraction is enchanting. // Feeling the urge to fly after Harry Potter? Take a class at Orlando Aerial Arts (5390 W Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy, 863-414-8061) and pick up some skills worthy of a Cirque du Soleil aerialist. // On the opposite spectrum, anglers can hire a guide for a 3-hour fly-fishing class at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes (4012 Central Florida Pkwy, 407-206-2400). If you’re lucky, you’ll snag a bass.

Stone’s Throw

Paddleboard Orlando (Rollins College, Winter Park, 407-592-3489) offers floating yoga or YOW on, you guessed it, stand-up paddleboards. // Continue your relaxing day at DeLeon Springs State Park (601 Ponce de Leon Blvd, 386-985-4212) with an afternoon of kayaking or canoeing through the fresh water springs that dot the park (A ’gator sighting is all but guaranteed). // That night, grab a seat at Maitland’s Enzian Theater (1300 S Orlando Ave, 407-629-0054) for indie films paired with gourmet dishes and cocktails—try their cucumber mojito.

The Lowdown: Local Kristin Harmel, author of Italian for Beginners and other chick-lit tomes, always has Orlando’s inside scoop. When she’s not working on her seventh novel, she’s on the town.

Hidden Gem
The old Victorian house, Highland Manor, complete with wild peacocks on the grounds, is one of the prettiest places in Orlando and also one of its best new restaurants (604 E Main St, 407-886-6226).

Retail Therapy
For special finds, I like Thread (356 Park Ave S, 407-622-7600) and Tuni on Park Avenue (301 Park Ave S, 407-628-1609). I also admit to an unhealthy amount of outlet shopping. There’s a good one, Orlando Premium Outlets, that’s less than 10 minutes away (4951 International Dr, 407-352-9611).

Chill Time
The outside space at Ember (42 W Central Blvd, 407-849-5200), a restaurant/bar in downtown Orlando is my perfect place to meet a friend and relax in the fresh Florida air.

What $100 Buys You In Orlando

A chance to boost your culinary cred with a cooking class at Truffles & Trifles (711 W Smith St, 407-648-0838) plus fabulous kitchen must-haves and drool-worthy gourmet cookies.

Two hours of reckless abandon for three adults at Orlando Watersports Complex (8615 Florida Rock Rd, 407-251-3100), known by locals as O-Dub. Its two cableways allow you to ski or wakeboard without a boat.

A heap of Polynesian-style treats, like Hawaiian chicken and Polynesian-style barbecue ribs, for two at SeaWorld’s Makahiki Luau (7007 SeaWorld Dr, 888-800-5447).

A body treatment using tropical extracts and a manicure at Eõ Inn & Spa (227 N Eola Dr, 407-481-8485) that will leave you blissed-out and feeling beautiful.