I know this is a break from my usual beauty posts, but as many of you know, I have spent quite a bit of time holidaying in the sunshine state and in particular Orlando. I often get emails, messages and snaps from readers asking me to recommend things to do in Orlando, so I decided with holiday season starting, what better way to kick things off then highlighting all my favourite things to see and do in Orlando.
If you haven’t already booked your holiday, I would suggest renting a house with a pool, rather than going to a hotel. It can work out around the same price and sometimes slightly more, but in the long run it is better because firstly you have your own pool, but you can also cook for yourself and you’re not reliant on eating out. Eating out in Orlando gets tiring very quickly, as all the food is drowned in salt!!
A car is also worth renting, as Orlando is massive and the public transport is not great at all!! Even if it is just for a few days, rent a car so that you can get to the shops and a few of the more out of the way attractions. Make sure to book at least a mid size. One year we ordered a compact car and lost our car in the car park countless times!!!
I have shopped in quite a few cities in American and without a shadow of a doubt, Orlando has some of the best shopping there is. Ok so you’re probably not going to get top fashions ( it is hard to find on trend stuff in American without spending a small fortune), but what you will get is loads of brilliant basics and a serious amount of beauty!!!
There are two big shopping malls in Orlando, The Florida Mall and The Mall at Millenia. While both have similar anchor stores, each centre offers something different.
The Mall at Millenia
The Mall at Millenia has 3 anchor stores. Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus and Macys. While there is also a Macys in the Florida Mall, I find that the Macys in The Mall at Millenia is far better stocked and not as picked over. There is also a far better selection of brands in both the clothing and beauty departments and the store itself if a lot more modern and cleaner than the one in the Florida Mall. I tend to pick up more bargains in the clothes and shoes department in the Millenia Macys than in the Florida Mall Macys. TIP: Make sure to bring your passport to Macys customer service desk. They will give you a voucher for 10% off store wide. ( This discount does not apply to the beauty hall).
When it comes to all things makeup related, you will find an excellent and well stocked Sephora here. I find the staff the Sephora in The Mall at Millenia far more willing to help and in fact, in my experience are also a lot more knowledgeable than in the Florida mall. There is also A Mac Pro store, along with the beauty halls in Bloomingdales, Nordstroms and Macys. I should note that the Macys in the Mall at Millenia has Inglot, which can not be found in the Florida Mall. There is also an Ulta within a few minutes drive of the Mall at Millenia.
The Stores that are located in The Mall at Millenia are far more high end than that of the Florida Mall, but the fact that this is a quieter and easier to navigate mall, makes it my first stop for shopping. You can find a list of stores here.
The Florida Mall
The Florida Mall, is enormous. I mean absolutely massive, with lots of nooks and crannies. Be warned, this is a very busy mall and not one to bring the other half or gangs of kids with you, as you will lose patience with people very quickly. Ship them off to the parks for the day and take some time to yourself for wandering around here. You will need a good few hours to get through this Mall.
The Florida Mall has 4 anchor stores. Macy’s, Dillards, Sears and JC Pennys. You’re more likely to get bargains in Dillards than any of the other stores and if you go upstairs, they have a good selection of BGBG Generation clothes that are always discounted. I’ve picked up some nice going out clothes from this section. I wouldn’t be a big fan of the Macys in the Florida mall, as it is far too messy and the clothes are a lot more dated here than the selection in the Mall at Millenia.
When it comes to beauty, the Macys beauty hall is excellent in the Florida Mall. This is where I buy all my Anastasia Beverly Hills products!! There is also a large Sephora, but it is very busy. However, if you go into JC Pennys, they have a smaller Sephora in store that not too many tourists know about, so it is quite a lot quieter.
The Loop at Kissimmee
This is a little bit of a random place and where you will find a lot of locals rather than tourists. You will need a car to get here, as it is located in a residential area.
There are a few stores here that pull me back again and again. The first being Ulta. For those of you that don’t know about Ulta, basically it is a makeup store that stocks both high end and budget brands. This particular Ulta is always well stocked and quiet, so you can roam around the aisles in peace. The Loop also has a very big TK Maxx, Ross, American Eagle, Aerostople, Beals and a DSW. DSW is another store you need to hit up if you’re a shoe fan. DSW basically stands for discount shoe warehouse and it is just rows and rows of branded shoes!
There are two major outlets in Orlando. Orlando International Premium Outlets and Vineland premium Outlets. The Vineland Outlets are closer to Disney, while the International Premium outlets are closer to the Mall at Millenia and downtown Orlando.
The Orlando International Premium Outlets in my opinion are far batter than the Vineland outlets. It is way bigger and has a far greater selection of stores, including, Victoria Secrets, Saks off 5th Avenue, Banana republic and so much more. I always get far better bargains at the International outlets. However, my husband seems to find better deals in the Vineland outlets. If you don’t have time for both, I would personally put a preference on the Orlando International Premium Outlets.
A few tips when shopping in the outlets. Your heart will be broke with the amount of people that are there, so either go early in the morning are late in the evening. The outlets are open until 11pm and I tend to head there around 7 or so, as the majority of the crowds have gone at this stage.
Don’t worry about bringing a suitcase with you. The bag will drive you made and you’re better off just running out to the car and dropping off bags when you can. People with suitcases get in the way!!
Best shops for bargains, Banana republic, Express, Victoria secrets, Saks off 5th Ave. Don’t be afraid to scour the sale rails. The Americans seem to ignore a lot of the styles that we love, so I have found some incredible deals by taking my time and rummaging through sale rails.
Be warned. Orlando is full of a serious amount of chains and it can be hard to find good food. It can also be expensive to eat out constantly, so if you are renting somewhere, try and get to a Publix supermarket and stock up on some essentials.
Kobe’s Japanese steakhouse
This is my favourite place to eat in Orlando. It is a teppanyaki style restaurant, where you sit around a hot plate and the chef cooks in front of you. Each chef puts on a show as they cook and I get such a laugh out of the shenanigans that they go on with. The food is decent quality and isn’t drowned in salt like elsewhere. You can pick from a selection of beef, chicken and shrimp and everything comes with rice, noodles salad and veg. A sitting takes around 90 minutes and each table seats 10 people, so you will be mixed in with others, which can make it even more entertaining. When we are in Orlando, we go here at least once a week. I can’t get enough of the food and I could recite the lines each chef comes out with, I have been there that much. There are a number of Kobe’s around Orlando, but I find the best one is in Kissimmee at 2901 Parkway Blvd.
Cafe Tutu Tango
This is one of very few non chain restaurants to be found in Orlando. Cafe Tutu Tango is a tapas restaurant and the food is extremely tasty. It has a huge choice of food on the menu and is well priced. They also have belly dancers, fire eaters and artists on display while you eat. Cafe Tutu Tango is on International drive and very easy to get to.
One thing you will notice when you go to Orlando is that Americans go to bed pretty early!!! On top of that, Orlando is a family centred holiday, so if you’re looking for some wild nights out, you’re not really going to find them here.
Downtown Disney is close to Magic Kingdom and well worth going to some evening. It is free in and is basically like a little town with lots of shops and restaurants. Contrary to what you might think, it isn’t very over priced either and eating out costs around the same as the rest of Orlando. There are a few bars knocking about here, but they are all very tame.
There are a few things to do here, including a cinema where you can have your dinner as you watch your movie and a bowling alley. The Bowling alley is called Splitsville and is a great night out for a family or even a couple. Myself and my husband had great crack here.
Universal City walk
If you’re looking for a big night out, you’re going to find it here, over anywhere else in Orlando. City walk is basically a long strip of bars and shops that you walk through to get to Universal theme park. It is opened until 230 every night and it seems to be where a lot of people go out.
It is free in, but as far as I can remember you will pay around $15 for your parking.
One place worth going to on CityWalk is the Rising Star bar. You will pay into this bar and drink is a little on the saucy side, but my god the laugh you will get. Rising star is a karaoke bar with a difference. Each singer gets up and sings with a live band. Some of the talent will blow you away, while some people will have tears streaming down your face. I even got up and sang one year!!
This is where all the locals go. Church street is the main area with all the bars and is busy at the weekends. As downtown Orlando is about a 30-40 minute drive from most hotels and taxis are very expensive, you will probably need to stay over night here. We stayed in a cheap hotel for the night and it cost about $20 each with 3 or 4 to a room.
How can I do a post about Orlando and not include the Theme parks!!
This is my favourite park in Orlando and if you’re a thrill seeker or a Harry Potter fan, then you’re going to love this!!!!! The Park is divided in two. Islands of Adventure and Universal studios. You will have plenty of time to do both parks in the one day and they are right beside each other, you literally walk from one park to the other. When buying your tickets, make sure that they cover both parks. If you’re going at peak season, it is also worth splashing out on the fast pass, otherwise you will spend your day in long queues. Universal is a very expensive day out, but it is worth it if you’re into the rides.
There is a Harry Potter attraction in both parks and even if you have never read a single page of a Harry Potter book, these really are worth seeing, as the attention to detail is mind blowing!!! Sadly the day we went there it rained all day long!!!!
There are quite a few Disney parks in Orlando and in all the times I have visited Orlando, I have only ever gone to Magic Kingdom! Don’t worry about being too old for Magic Kingdom or going without kids. I promise you, you will morph back into your 10 year old self and love every single second of it. Make sure to stay to the end of the night, as every night they have a parade of lights, where all the characters put on a fabulous parade, with a massive firework display at the end of the night.
NASA wasn’t my favourite place to go to, but my husband loved it!! In saying that it is worth the trip and if you can time it with a day that there is a rocket launch, it really is a once in a life time thing. The day we went we saw a live rocket launch and it really was a once in a life time experience. We even got engaged on the way home, making the day all the more special.
Pay the extra little bit to get the guided bus tour, otherwise you won’t have breeze what is going on around you. Also bring food with you. It is scandalous what they charge for food out here.
Depending on what time of the year you go, there are lots of different sporting events taking place. One event I would recommend going to is a baseball game in Tampa. The Tampa bay Rays are the local team and they play in Tropicana field in Tampa, which is about an hours drive from Orlando. Ticket prices can vary, but we have gotten tickets as cheap as $20 and it really is a great day out. Again food and drink can be expensive, so either bring your own, or just take the hit and enjoy the hot dogs and corn dogs.
Towns to spend an afternoon in
Celebration is the most beautiful, white picket fence town, not too far from Downtown Disney. This is as close to a Disney movie town that you’re ever going to get. The houses are to die for and worth having a nosey drive around. While the town of Celebration itself is full of tiny little restaurants and bars. We have gone here quite a number of times and Kobe’s is within a 5 minute drive, so it could be worth tying the two in together.
This is a quite a drive from the attractions but this is where you will find a lot of the locals. Winter Park is a beautiful Town north of the city of Orlando. Full of a mix of high-end boutiques and trendy bars and restaurants, Winter Park is worth spending a Friday or Saturday evening wandering around and grabbing a spot of dinner. You will find some nice non chain restaurants here.