WHY WE LOVE IT
- Between Walt Disney World, Universal, and SeaWorld, Orlando boasts seven of America's ten most-visited theme parks—fantasy is in no short supply.
- Some of the warmest and sunniest weather in America, ideal for sunbathing, swimming, and waterskiing. Newlyweds can also splash around three waterslide parks—Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon, and Wet 'n Wild.
- More than 165 golf courses by renowned designers such as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, and Greg Norman.
- Must buys: Florida-grown oranges, grapefruit, and lemons from the outlets on U.S. 192; giant smoked turkey legs at the theme parks; and those iconic mouse-ear hats—they even come in bride-and-groom versions.
WHEN TO GO
If school's out of session it's crowded, so the bargains usually come in January, September, and early December. The rainy season, with frequent but brief afternoon cloudbursts, runs from late July to late October.
2625 Edgewater Dr.
Once a printing plant, Adair's building is getting ink once again, this time from local gourmet wags as an upscale Southern-inspired charmer. Rehabbed with gleaming hardwood floors, a covered patio, and ceiling fans gently slapping the breeze, its menu is grounded in Charleston traditions, but leans toward the nouveau. Adair's affectionate concoctions include herb-infused johnnycake, Vidalia-onion cream soup, and redeye velouté served with grits and sweet-potato gnocchi.
CAFÉ TU TU TANGO
8625 International Dr.
Within easy reach of the theme parks, Tu Tu Tango doubles as a gallery (and working atelier) for local artists. Artwork on the walls is for sale and often painted on the premises. The extensive tapas-style menu is largely American, with upscale pizzas, meat skewers, and some witty starters, including "scallop BLT soup" and deep-fried "gator bites." Kick off married life with a free tarot or palm reading from a staff psychic who wanders the aisles.
Disney's Contemporary Resort
4600 N. World Dr.
Lake Buena Vista
California Grill attracts a lively crowd of special-occasion diners who park themselves beside its picture windows and gaze down upon Cinderella's Castle. The decor is woefully dated to the early '90s, but the lively open-air kitchen pumps out some showpiece dishes, including Hudson Valley foie gras with brioche French toast, chilled Gulf shrimp-and-pineapple soup, and grilled pork tenderloin with creamy goat-cheese polenta. Service halts while guests enjoy the Magic Kingdom's nightly fireworks display to a piped-in sound track from the restaurant's twin outdoor verandas. Book three months in advance.
EMERIL'S TCHOUP CHOP
Universal Orlando's Royal Pacific Resort
6300 Hollywood Way
Snuggled in the courtyard of Universal Orlando's Polynesian-themed hotel, Tchoup Chop's celebrity chef, Emeril Lagasse, oversees a kitchen serving Hawaiian creations with quiet complexity and grace. A signature dish is the "clay pot," combining the fish of the day with yellow Thai curry-lobster cream, stir-fry shrimp, and fire-roasted sweet-corn rice. The sole dining room is a high-ceilinged chamber with a central granite-lined pedestal pool, yet things never get too noisy. The walls, drenched by David Rockwell in rich orange and cobalt glass, are more a nod to Orlando's hyperreal ethic than an omen of a supersweetened meal.
JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes
4040 Central Florida Pkwy.
James Beard award–winning chef Melissa Kelly is one of the few female marquee chefs among Orlando's mostly man-handled establishments. Her organic Southern Italian eatery marks a departure from Orlando's relentlessly razzle-dazzle dining settings. Couples enjoy a sexy, candlelit room with intimate seating and breathtaking pool views—a welcome respite from the weary shuffle of a long day of theme parks. Kelly's menu is thoughtful, displaying her passion for using fresh, locally grown ingredients (from a garden on the premises) and recipes passed down from her Italian grandparents. Don't miss the wonderful desserts.
7700 Sand Lake Rd.
Over the past few years, an oasis of quality dining has developed about a mile west of the tack-tastic fray of International Drive. This California-style cocktail lounge and oak-fired grill—one of five in a burgeoning Florida chain—is a rare Orlando offering that serves health-minded food that you'd actually want to eat: cedar-plank salmon, charred asparagus, and double-garlic chicken breast flatbread are among the favorites. The menu changes with the seasons, no dish clocks in over 475 calories, and desserts are served in portion-controlled shot glasses.
VICTORIA & ALBERT'S
Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
4401 Grand Floridian Way
Lake Buena Vista Tel: 407-939-3463
Disney has many middling restaurants and many more that are mere meal mills for undiscerning families. But it pours considerable energy into ensuring that this entry earns the starch in its napkin. Expect officious service, a multihour complement of French-American courses—from amuse bouche to intermezzo to dessert—and at every stage, a wine pairing. Even if some of its patrons need to be told why the white truffles cost $35, and even if the music by Andrew Lloyd Webber caters to the hoi polloi, the final flavors usually please. V & A is the only AAA five-diamond restaurant in Central Florida, and perhaps one of the most romantic, with harpists performing nightly and long-stem roses on hand for the ladies.
DISNEY'S ANIMAL KINGDOM LODGE
2901 Osceola Pkwy.
The Lodge is perhaps the only hotel outside of Africa where you can wake up to see a giraffe peering back at you through your window. The best of its 1,293 African lodge-style rooms face one of three "savannas" stocked with game more often seen at the zoo, including ostrich, zebra, and kudu. If all that wildlife doesn't awaken your primal passions, cleanse yourself of wedding-prep stress in the lodge's Zahanati Massage & Fitness Center, which offers facials, body treatments, and other therapeutic rubdowns.
DISNEY'S GRAND FLORIDIAN RESORT
4401 Grand Floridian Way
Lake Buena Vista
Tel: 407-824-3000 or 407-939-6244
Disney's flagship hotel, a valentine to San Diego's Hotel del Coronado, is smack next door to the fabled Magic Kingdom and to Disney's popular wedding pavilion—where Mickey can even serve as best man. But sleeping on its ultrasoft beds won't come cheap. The decor, a riot of lace and gingerbread, could best be described as ersatz Victorian, and service as lackluster. But its 867 rooms are larger than average and boast verandas, and many have a view of Cinderella's Castle, an ideal backdrop for your own romantic fairy tale.
OMNI ORLANDO RESORT AT CHAMPIONS GATE
1500 Masters Blvd.
One of the few luxury resorts to develop land south of Walt Disney World, the 730-room Omni takes advantage of its spacious off-corridor location with stirring wetland views, an elaborate swim area (including private cabanas and an 850-foot lazy river), three sit-down restaurants, and a 10,000-square-foot spa. But this is really a golfer's destination, boasting two Greg Norman-designed courses and the headquarters of the prestigious David Leadbetter Golf Academy. It caters more to couples and conference-goers than to families with kids.
PORTOFINO BAY HOTEL
5601 Universal Blvd.
Universal's most prestigious hotel is a meticulous, pastel-colored re-creation of the Italian port town of Portofino, down to the angles of the side streets and the placement of the docks. The conceit, while weird&mdas;it was filmmaker Steven Spielberg's idea, so blame him—ultimately carves a tranquil, if rambling, 750-room oasis of luxury that is well protected from the nearby theme-park frippery. Opera singers serenade the quay nightly, and the staff is surprisingly attentive for a tourist hotel. There's a Mandara Spa and three pools, one of which is essentially adults-only. Although standard rooms are small, the Portofino Bay also houses one of the city's most genuinely swanky honeymoon suites.
THE COURTYARD AT LAKE LUCERNE
211 N. Lucerne Cir. E.
This secluded cluster of four historic buildings proves that not only does Orlando still have a few bed-and-breakfasts noteworthy for their Southern grace, but it also has a history that predates the Nixon administration. The wooden Norment-Parry House, built in 1883, is Orlando's oldest domicile, and its rooms are packed with Victorian antiques that evoke the city's nearly forgotten era as a rural mid-state outpost. The Dr. Phillips House, a mansion built by a local citrus magnate in 1893, attracts canoodlers with its four-poster beds and marble whirlpool baths. And Wellborn Suites, in an art deco former apartment building, offers the largest quarters: full self-contained flats with a kitchen and vintage mid-century furnishings.
WESTIN GRAND BOHEMIAN
325 S. Orange Ave.
Let no one say that Orlando hotels lack sophistication. Despite its downtown location near the banking skyscrapers and the Church Street bar crawl, the Grand Bohemian is genuinely stylish by virtue of not being overdone. The common areas are decorated with well-selected art, including six original drawings by Gustav Klimt, and so is the lobby, which features a storefront gallery. An outdoor pool terrace keeps sunbathers far above city streets, and lighting is so subdued in its 250 rooms as to feel downright moody. Dark woods and rich indigo fabrics conspire with the sumptuously soft beds to create a drowsy atmosphere. The bistros of Thornton Park are a short stroll away.
__Walt Disney World Resort
Lake Buena Vista
No matter how much Orlando grows, this park remains the nucleus of the city's mass-tourism boom. You'll find just about everything that's emblematic of the Disney theme-park experience, including Space Mountain, the Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean—and gnarled queues of sunbaked families waiting for all of them. Still, the euphoric energy emanating from the pint-sized guests is so contagious that grown-ups often overlook the usurious pricing of the landlord. There's a mid-afternoon parade, along with fireworks before the park closes. Get those famous mouse-eared hats at the Le Chapeau shop on Main Street, which will also stitch your name—perhaps your new married name?—on the back for free.
Walt Disney World Resort
Lake Buena Vista
Walt's dream of building a self-sufficient, cutting-edge city died with him in 1966. But in 1982, his company riffed on another one of his soft spots: world's fairs. Future World, stocked with rides and exhibits vaguely about technological prowess, gathers around the titanic golf ball of Spaceship Earth, which itself houses a pleasant but creeping ride about the history of communication. The World Showcase offers miniature, slightly stereotyped versions of foreign countries, answering the question: Who needs a honeymoon in France or Italy when you can fit both cultures into one afternoon? After nightfall, catch the breathtaking IllumiNationsfireworks spectacular over the lagoon.
DISNEY'S ANIMAL KINGDOM
Walt Disney World Resort
Lake Buena Vista
Animal Kingdom may be the largest of Disney's four Florida parks, but it takes the least amount of time to peruse because most of the real estate is claimed by a menagerie of African and Asian animals like lions, tigers, and hippos. Here you can join a simulated group safari drive on 4x4 vehicles (Kilimanjaro Safaris), wander one of several walk-through habitat trails, or hang tight to your new hubby on Disney's newest blockbuster thriller, Expedition Everest, a 50-mph coaster ride through an enormous mist-cooled mountain. Most days, Animal Kingdom closes well before dinnertime, leaving the evening open to do, um, other things.
UNIVERSAL STUDIOS FLORIDA
A theme park devoted to the mystique of Hollywood blockbusters, Universal Studios is divided into two areas: one a faux back lot housing a number of high-tech interactive shows, and one a lagoon lined with more aggressive thrills. Cleverly, almost all of the attractions (even the high-tech roller coaster, Revenge of the Mummy) are indoors, where it's nice and cool, and the park's designers have thoughtfully devised a variety of diversions to keep guests busy while they wait in line. Several of its attractions, including the Jaws shark-attack boat tour and the Twister indoor-tornado spectacular, are unique in concept and execution—it's just too bad their movie inspirations are so old.
UNIVERSAL's ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE
When Universal was preparing Islands of Adventure for its 1999 opening, it poached dozens of Disney designers and let them off the leash, granting them an unprecedented level of creative control. The result, down to the lampshades, sidewalks, and trash bins, is a park that pleases those with a hankering to get the adrenaline flowing. Its three top-rated roller coasters and two stomach-juggling water flumes are eclipsed only by the multimedia wizardry of The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, a senses-fooling indoor ride that's one of the most original attractions in the world. While the park might lack that intangible aura of "magic," to spunky couples, the rides can be a real turn-on.
__6000 Discovery Cove Way
It's hard to believe that a theme park could be romantic, but this one is. Guests make reservations to gain admittance to this tropical idyll, where a maximum of 1,000 people a day are granted unfettered access to aviaries, sandy beaches, lagoons stocked with live stingrays, reefs teeming with colorful fish, a lazy-river tube ride, and, at a prearranged time, a half-hour swim with a dolphin and its trainers. There are no lines to contend with. A high-quality lunch comes with the deal (strangely, fish is on the menu), as does a snorkel set, animal-friendly sunscreen, and a seven-day pass to SeaWorld next door. For honeymooners and prospective question-poppers, the park even offers several romance packages, which include such amorous amenities as Champagne, chocolatesmdash;and even a specially personalized buoy delivered by a dolphin.
__SEA WORLD ORLANDO
__7007 SeaWorld Dr.
Not all Orlando parks are frenetic, crowded carnivals. SeaWorld has a slower pace than its competition, and it puts an emphasis on animal conservation and education instead of fantasy, with huge habitats for dolphins, seals, walruses, flamingos, manatees, and killer whales. The grounds are green and spacious, the freshly prepared food a cut above the usual griddled-up theme-park fare, and the Anheuser-Busch beer free-flowing. (In fact, at the Hospitality Center, next to Shamu Stadium, it literally flows for free.) It's not all business, though—SeaWorld's Kraken coaster is one of Florida's fiercest, and of course, Shamu, the park's killer whale, performs several times daily.
__PLEASURE ISLAND AND DOWNTOWN DISNEY
__Walt Disney World Resort
Disney's lakeside nightlife district is two parts shopping plaza (the West Side and the Marketplace) and one part ticketed-nightclub zone (Pleasure Island). Here, honeymooners can get their groove on to tunes galore, including disco (8 Trax) and techno (Mannequins Dance Palace), as well as hip-hop and R&B (BET Soundstage). Couples can also enjoy a night of laughs at the Island's Comedy Warehouse. The one unique tenant is the Adventurer's Club, a simulated-colonial members-only clubhouse where the maids burst into song and the hunting trophies themselves are rigged with funky robotic surprises. This is Disney World, of course, so everything here, while energetic and upbeat, tends to attract a clean-cut crowd.
UNIVERSAL CITY WALK
Universal Orlando's outdoor entertainment area is not only less expensive than Disney's, it's also considerably more liquored up. Carts ply guests with rivers of booze, while inside, Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville and Pat O'Brien's Hurricane bar ladle generous servings of their signature drinks. CityWalk's Hard Rock Cafe is the world's largest, and it frequently hosts major concerts and TV tapings. Add to that a jazz club, a weekend comedy club, a few more restaurants, and a dance club outfitted with several VIP areas, and you've got the setting for a clientele that's slightly younger, slightly more active, and slightly more ready to rumble than the one at Disney's Pleasure Island.
CHARLES HOSMER MORSE MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART
445 Park Ave. N.
As the repository for the world's most comprehensive collection of glassworks by Louis Comfort Tiffany, the Morse Museum ought to be one of Orlando's star attractions. In fact, better-heeled world museums are constantly borrowing important works from it. Yet the galleries are hushed and sparingly lit, the better to showcase the iridescence of Tiffany's famous chapel, crafted for the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. Following your museum visit, take a stroll down Park Avenue, a tree-shaded street lined with folksy cafés, bric-a-brac shops, and galleries. Its homey shoe shops (like Shou'Ture) and clothing boutiques (Auke, which has its own men's label) provide welcome opportunities for exploration in a region otherwise dominated by chain stores.