While most of the country is bundled up in winter coats, Orlando residents enjoy average temperatures in the mid-70s January through March. It’s no surprise that the metro area ranked No. 8 in the country in population growth this year—more sun means more time to enjoy the outdoors.
You don’t have to move to the Sunshine State to enjoy the best attributes of its fourth-largest city. Though Orlando doesn’t boast the beaches of Miami and Jacksonville, it offers many attractions that allow you to pick your pleasure—whether that’s reconnecting with nature, indulging your palate in the area’s farm-to-table cuisine, experiencing an adrenaline rush high atop a roller coaster or a combination of them all.
A lovely oasis to call home during your visit is Grande Lakes Orlando, comprised of two hotels, The Ritz-Carlton, Orlando and JW Marriott Orlando. The former features a newly renovated lobby, complemented by a large fountain and rows of palms outside the porte cochere that culminate an empathic sense of arrival. Though it’s only 15 minutes from the airport, the resort feels a world away from the busy highways leading into downtown.
Hop in a golf cart from Grande Lakes Sports, and in five minutes, you’ll be surrounded by cypress trees draped in moss along Shingle Creek, known as the headwaters to the Florida Everglades. With the eco-tour experience, you’ll kayak or canoe down the creek for a blissful hour of feeling one with nature, wrapped up with a little history lesson from a guide (fun fact: the creek got its name in the early 1800s from settlers who transported logs down it to be fashioned into roof shingles). If you’re feeling adventurous, strap on a helmet and hit the two-mile mountain bike trail on property. Golfers would be remiss not to take advantage of the stunning 18- hole Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, home to the PGA Tour’s annual PNC Father/Son Challenge every December. Ask for Gaia as your caddie; she knows the greens better than anyone.
Though it hasn’t really been known for inventive cuisine in the past, Orlando now has a burgeoning food scene. In fact, celebrity chef and host of the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” Andrew Zimmern recently filmed an episode at Orlando’s East End Market—a hub for farm-to-table cuisine with a cheese shop, juice bar, several bakeries and a coffee roaster. Restaurants like The Ravenous Pig in nearby Winter Park, helmed by two James Beard nominee chefs; Luke’s Kitchen & Bar, a new spot from James Beard nominee chef Brandon McGlamery in Maitland; and Highball & Harvest, located inside The Ritz-Carlton, are standouts.
No visit to Orlando would be complete without a day at a famous theme park. At Walt Disney World Resort, don’t miss the new Toy Story Land, with coasters like the Slinky Dog Dash popular among adults and children alike. Harry Potter fans will enjoy Universal Orlando Resort’s new Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle, a spectacular display of lights and music themed after the book series. For a major thrill, try the new Infinity Falls ride at SeaWorld Orlando. Debuted last fall, it plunges down the world’s tallest river rapid drop amid a rainforest canopy.
If you haven’t visited Orlando in a while, this growing city may surprise you—and when you find time for adventure and relaxation here in equal parts, you might head home with a little sunshine in your soul.