The Ultimate Orlando Trip Planning Guide From a Local

Table of Contents

Swaying palm trees. World class theme parks. Sunshine all year-round. 

Orlando, Florida is best known as a vacation destination for families from around the world, with millions flocking here each year for Disney World, Universal Studios, and more.

What many people don’t know is that “the city beautiful,” as it’s known to locals, isn’t just for families. There are countless romantic things to do in Orlando for couples, as well as museums, historic attractions, and thriving food and wine scene. 

You also might run into business travelers on your trip, even at Disney! With lots of event space at the theme parks and a large convention center, Orlando hosts thousands of business conferences and other events each year.

And when you’re visiting Orlando from somewhere else, don’t be surprised if you run into people from the same state or country as you – even the “locals.” It’s almost more rare to run into a native Orlandoan than someone who moved to the city for the opportunities in hospitality and entertainment. This gives the city a rich diversity and welcoming vibe.

If you’re engaged in some Orlando trip planning, this city guide should help you along your way.

This guide will include:

  • What to know before you begin your Orlando trip planning
  • 5 things to do in Orlando
  • 4 things to eat or drink while you’re in the city
  • 3 great places to stay in Orlando
  • 2 Instagram spots to snap a photo in Orlando
  • 1 insider tip to apply to your trip

This guide was written by a local who can give you all the tools you need to curate the ultimate Orlando itinerary.

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How to Get to and Around Orlando, Florida

The first step of Orlando trip planning is, of course, getting there. Flying into OIA – the Orlando International Airport (called “MCO” in booking engines, as it used to be the McCoy Airforce Base) is the easiest way to get there. 

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This is one of the most used airports in the world, with direct connections to hundreds of locations in the US as well as countries in Europe, Latin America, and Asia. 

The public transportation offerings in Orlando are slim, so visitors should either book a rideshare or taxi from the airport to their hotel. Or, depending on where you’re staying, the hotel may offer their own shuttle for ease.

Your Orlando itinerary will dictate how you should plan to get around. If you’re only staying on Disney property, for example, you won’t need a car and can instead use Disney transportation. However, if you’re planning on doing multiple theme parks like Disney, Sea World, and Universal, or you would like to check out things to do outside of the theme parks, you’ll want to rent a car.

Orlando Trip Planning: The Best Time to Visit Orlando, Florida

orlando trip planning winter robe trotting
Orlando in winter

Planning a trip to Orlando is all about the timing. You can have a different experience in every month of the year. Try to avoid Orlando during peak season, which tends to be the winter holidays and the summer months. Basically, any date when most kids are off of school should be avoided.

In general, the summer months have the worst weather, with soaring heat and humidity in the upper 90’s (30’s C) each day and heavy thunderstorms almost every afternoon.

January, right after the New Year, can be one of the best times to visit Orlando because of lower crowds and mild weather (you’ll probably find yourself in shorts for most of it!).

Also, consider the Spring and the Fall for good weather and plenty of things to do outdoors at the theme parks without melting in the heat.

5 Things to do in Orlando

Orlando is an exciting city with no shortage of things to keep you busy. As you’re deciding what to do in Orlando, keep these five options in the front of mind. They’re hardly the only things to do in this wonderful city, but it’s a good place to start your Orlando itinerary. Where possible we have also included links to book these activities online and help with your Orlando trip planning.

1. Visit the Disney Theme Parks

You can’t go to Orlando without visiting the most famous theme parks at Disney World! With four parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios, you can easily spend a full week at Disney alone when you factor in the shopping and entertainment district, Disney Springs, as well as the spas, golf courses, and more.

Take a spin on the classic Space Mountain at the Magic Kingdom, or visit during Halloween to attend Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party where you’ll get to meet all of your favorite Disney characters wearing their Halloween costumes while you go trick-or-treating around the park.

If you’d prefer more relaxation and less park hopping, visit Disney’s Beach Club resort where you can sit on the sandy beach and take a walk around the Boardwalk with ice cream in hand.

Ready to join the resistance? Star Wars fans should head to Galaxy’s Edge at Hollywood Studios for the most immersive Star Wars experience around.

orlando trip planning star wars robe trotting

2. Step Into Hogwarts at Universal Studios

Whether you’re in Hufflepuff or Slytherin, Harry Potter fans of all ages should put Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure to the top of their bucket list.

Here, you can visit Hogwarts, try ButterBeer, join Harry and friends on a journey through the Forbidden Forest and so much more. The parks are connected by the Hogwarts Express, so get 2-park tickets to make sure of this transportation option and to enjoy the Harry Potter-themed attractions in each park.

Buy a wand and robe from Hogsmeade or check out the candy shop for some chocolate frogs.

3. Check Out Downtown Orlando

Downtown Orlando has that friendly local vibe as it’s where many Orlando residents eat, shop, and hang out.

Take a stroll around Lake Eola, or get up close to the fountain while you paddle a swan boat with a gorgeous view of Orlando’s cityscape.

Enjoy food and drinks downtown near Lake Eola, or head to Church Street where you’ll find the Orlando nightlife district with plenty of bar hopping to be found.

4. Spend the Day at ICON Park

Visitors to Orlando usually end up in ICON Park at some point because of the Orlando Wheel, an iconic Ferris Wheel that takes you high into the Orlando sky in your 360 degree capsule. It takes about 20 minutes to rotate all the way around, and you can get some gorgeous photos of Orlando from a bird’s eye view.

ICON Park is also home to the Sea Life Aquarium and Madame Tussauds, if you’re looking for something to do in the air-conditioning, or check out the bars and restaurants in this area.

ICON Park is a family-friendly park but turns into a more adult atmosphere with the bars late at night, so plan to come in the daytime or early evening with the kids.

5. Do Some Museum-Hopping

Yes, there are educational things to do in Orlando! But in true Orlando style, the exhibits are often interactive and colorful, as “show quality” is always important in this entertainment mecca.

Visit the Orlando Science Center to enjoy its IMAX screen or experience the force of its hurricane tunnel. The Orlando Museum of Art is more low-key, featuring everything from ancient to contemporary art. And if you’re interested in the history of Orlando before it became a theme park destination, visit the Orange County Regional History Center.

Make sure to read our Tips for Visiting a Museum before you go.

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4 Places to Eat and Drink in Orlando

Travel and good food go hand in hand, and when you visit Orlando you’ll want to eat well. The good thing is there are plenty of wonderful Orlando restaurants waiting for your visit. Add these four delicious restaurants to your Orlando trip planning and make sure that you stay well-fed on your vacation.

1. The Stubborn Mule

100 S Eola Dr Unit 103, Orlando, FL

There’s nothing better in the Sunshine State than a great brunch on a late Sunday morning, and the Stubborn Mule is the best place in Orlando for that. 

Walk into the eclectic atmosphere and enjoy classic brunch dishes like chicken and waffles or twists on classics like scallops and biscuits. The steak and eggs dish is also incredible.

And of course, there’s a full cocktail menu because it’s not brunch without it!

2. Kadence

1809 Winter Park Rd, Orlando, FL

It’s got just nine seats, making it one of the most coveted reservations in Orlando, but this sushi bar is totally worth it.

You’ll watch the sushi get prepared right in front of you as you interact with the chefs and learn about the art of sushi making. 

Book all nine seats for family and friends, or book on as a couple to meet some new people while enjoying one of Orlando’s best foodie experiences.

3. Ale & Compass

ale and compass orlando trip planning

1700 Epcot Resorts Blvd, Orlando, FL

At Disney’s Yacht Club resort, Ale and Compass is a popular restaurant in Orlando for romantic nights out. With a menu featuring the best seafood around, as well as an upscale atmosphere and gorgeous lighting, it’s a nice way to slow down on your Orlando vacation.

Try the lobster mac and cheese, or opt for a vegetarian flatbread with fresh ingredients and a stone-baked crust. 

Afterward, you can walk around the outside of the resort to visit the lighthouse and put your toes in the sand.

4. Try a Mickey Bar Anywhere in Orlando

Some cities have local cuisine, Orlando has a local ice cream bar: the iconic Mickey bar is such a popular treat to try and get photos with when you’re at the parks. You can get them at Disney, of course, including at the resorts and Disney Springs, but you can also find them in many grocery stores around Orlando.

It’s vanilla ice cream in a chocolate coating, which might not sound fancy, but when it’s shaped like Mickey Mouse and you’re enjoying one in the Florida summer heat, it’s truly magical.

3 Best Areas to Stay in Orlando

Deciding where to stay in Orlando isn’t easy, because there are many options and each will present a different travel experience. While conducting your Orlando trip planning, consider these three areas to stay in while you visit the city.

1. International Drive

Known to locals as “I-Drive,” this is the main thoroughfare for many Orlando visitors, as it contains about 11 miles of attractions including Wonderworks, ICON Park, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, the shopping outlets, and more shops and restaurants than you know what to do with.

If you want to be in the center of the action, but not within the theme parks, staying near International Drive will make sure you’re close to what you want to see and do, and you’ll have your pick of hotels and budgets.

2. Downtown Orlando

If you want a more authentic Orlando feel, try to stay in Downtown Orlando. This will put you close to Orlando’s nightlife and some top-tier restaurants, but you’ll also experience a more local vibe as this is also home to plenty of apartment complexes with Orlando residents, as well as offices nearby. 

Here you’ll find the Orange County Regional History Center, Lake Eola, and the Orlando Public Library.

lake eola orlando trip planning
Lake Eola and Downtown Orlando

3. Stay in an Orlando Disney Property

With dozens of hotels to choose from, many Orlando visitors like to stay on Disney World property, and then rent a car and drive to other destinations if they have other plans. This gives you perks at the Disney resorts with extra hours, as well as use of free Disney transportation.

Splurge with a stay at Disney’s Grand Floridian, the flagship Disney resort across from the Magic Kingdom, or try one of their Value Resorts like the Art of Animation, where all of your favorite Disney characters come to life.

2 Iconic Instagram Spots in Orlando

It’s no secret that snapping photos to post online is a major part of modern travel. Orlando is a destination that will fill your Instagram and social media profiles with countless amazing photos. These memories can be snapped all over the city, but here are the two most iconic Instagram spots in Orlando.

1. Cinderella's Castle

The most iconic place for a photo in Orlando is undoubtedly Cinderella’s Castle. There are a few vantage points from around the park, but the classic “I’m in Orlando” picture is facing down Main Street with the castle behind you.

Get creative by getting a photo of the back of your head wearing Mickey ears while looking at the castle, or you can also get some great views while riding the People Mover in Tomorrowland. 

The most magical photo is late at night, when the park is closing, as all of Main Street and the castle will be lit up behind you. Have a Disney photographer take your photo with your camera (they don’t have to use their professional one, they will gladly use yours if you ask) and let them get you some stunning memories.

2. The Orlando Wheel

orlando wheel trip planning

Another popular Instagram-worthy spot is the Orlando Wheel, whether you’re on it or getting pictures from below. In the daytime, you’ll get the best pictures while you’re riding on it, as the views over Orlando are incredible.

At night, however, the best view is from below and of the Wheel itself, as it lights up in the night with vibrant colors and stands out brilliantly against the night sky.

1 Local Tip for Your Orlando Trip Planning

You don’t have to pay for Disney admission to enjoy the fireworks shows for free (legally!)

For Epcot fireworks, head to Disney’s Boardwalk Resort during showtime (which you can find listed on Disney’s calendar), and walk to the bridge that takes you to the back entrance of Epcot. You’ll have a clear view right over the water.

For Magic Kingdom fireworks, visit Disney’s Contemporary Resort and find the glass-sided walkway in between the main building and the Bay Lake Tower. During the fireworks, the music is piped in and you’ll have a clear view of the highest fireworks over the castle.


Kalyn Franke

Kalyn Franke is the voice behind All-American Atlas, a USA-based travel site. An Orlando native, she spends her time exploring this vibrant city and riding Space Mountain over and over again.

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