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Visiting Orlando: Life Outside the Parks


One of the perks of living in South Florida is that we are close to so many travel destinations. Being just a few hours away fro Orlando makes it an easy and logical place to visit often. But is there more to Orlando that amusement parks?

The answer is a resounding Yes! There are things to do in Orlando that do not involve the many great amusement/adventure parks. On a recent trip there for a conference, we checked out a few places in Winter Park and we also found some cool places to eat.

Loew's Pacific Resort: Polynesian vibes in Orlando.

Polynesian Vibes at Loew's Pacific Resort

The conference was at the Loew’s Royal Pacific Resort at Universal. It is Polynesian from the moment you get out of your car, entering across a wooden bridge across a tropical waterfall and garden under a giant tiki thatched roof. The Polynesian theme carries throughout the resort, from lobby to pool to bars and restaurants. So if you need a tiki fix, this is the place to get it.

Tons of Options for a Great Dinner at "The Epicenter of Awesome"

The resort is walking distance to Universal, or you can take a bus or boat to the parks. We chose to walk to City Walk, or as they call it, “The Epicenter of Awesome” to explore and find dinner. If you want to go to a particular restaurant for dinner, reservations are highly recommended. 

There are tons of choices, from fast food grab ‘n go to Margaritaville, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company and the Burger King Whopper Bar. There are so many choices, you are sure to find something, well awesome! 

We wandered around and grabbed a couple of bites from Bend the Bao, delicious fast Asian food. We ended up eating at the bar in Big Fire, where almost everything comes from the grill or the hearth oven. Not to be missed are the freshly baked bread, the roasted mushrooms and of course the steaks. If you are looking for something lighter, try the heirloom tomato burrata salad with hearth smoked eggplant and honey tangerine vinaigrette.

Wandering Around Winter Park

Our primary target the next day was the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park (441 N Park Avenue 407-645-5311). This museum has the world’s largest collection of Louis C. Tiffany’s work. Tiffany was an American artist and designer. If you are wondering if he has anything to do with Tiffany and Co., well yes he does! It was his family’s company and he was the first director of design for the now world famous jewelry brand. 

I must admit, I thought I would mostly see Tiffany lamps and art glass and maybe a few stained-glass windows. The truth is Tiffany was very prolific and worked in so many more mediums than I ever imagined. On display you will find his jewelry, pottery, paintings, art glass, leaded-glass lamps and windows, and the chapel interior he designed and built for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Also on display are many works of art and architectural objects rescued from his home on Long Island, Laurelton Hall, which was nearly destroyed by fire.

You can follow a program on your phone as you tour through the museum or there are printed guides explaining the works on view.While Tiffany’s work makes up most of the exhibits, there are works he designed, works created by fellow artists from his studio, works that inspired him and that he inspired.

After the museum, we strolled Park Avenue, an area full of shops and restaurants to appeal to any taste. We wandered into The Secret Garden and stumbled upon Fuss & Garp, a truly eclectic gastropub and bar (348 N. Park Ave, 407-960-5560, closed Mondays). We sat in the atrium, bright and airy with lots of sun. The menu is divided into Start & Share, Handhelds, Greenery and Fork & Knife. We opted for the Caesar with Meatballs, two meatballs in marinara atop a crisp Caesar salad. The atmosphere is definitely local here and you feel right at home.

By the way, the name comes from the owner’s sisters’ childhood nicknames – one looked like the baby in The World According to Garp and the other was apparently quite fussy. They have grown up into a great restaurant.

Fun places to Eat in Orlando

Back in Orlando, we met some friends for dinner at Istanbul Grill (9428 South Orange Blossom Trail) for some outstanding Turkish Halal food. Definitely try the mixed cold appetizer plate with ezme, tabouli, hummus, baba ghanoush and cacik (similar to tzatziki with a garlic kick) and the Lavas fresh out of the oven are perfect for dipping. Entrees feature a variety of kebabs, kofta, and mixed grill. Truly something for everyone here and they have a children’s menu.

We tried Sofrito Latin Café (8607 Palm Parkway) for breakfast and dinner. You order at the counter from the menu displayed on the wall and your food is brought to your table. The menu features dishes from all over Latin America, from Argentina to Puerto Rico to Venezuela and Colombia – and that is just the empanadas! Breakfast features Small Bites (empanadas), Arepas (traditional Venezuelan baked white corn sandwiches),  Handhelds (think breakfast on Cuban bread), and the Main Event. The lunch and dinner menus start with the same Small Bites and Arepas but adds Soup and Salad, heartier Handhelds (like Cuban sandwiches), Classics like Lomo Saltado and Main Events featuring favorites like roast pork, pollo a la plancha and churrasco. Cocktails are plentiful and there are traditional sweets for ending your meal.

So there you have it a little taste of life outside of the amusement park culture in Orlando. The parks are of course and will always be the main attraction, but if you want to venture beyond their bright lights you will find that in and around Orlando there is plenty to do and see and of course eat! 


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