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  • Portia Jones

I did Orlando Florida and Disney Orlando without the kids – it was even better

Portia Jones went to the famously kid-friendly city of Orlando Florida without any in tow – and found so much more to do beyond the rides

While Orlando is famously a big-ticket family holiday destination, the world’s theme park capital offers much for adults to get excited about. From terror-inducing rides to shopping, dining, and outdoor adventures, there is plenty to do in Orlando if you’re on a kid-free vacation. In fact, I’d argue the city is even more magical when you leave them behind! Away from all the obvious stuff, Orlando surprises: from leafy neighbourhoods packed with gourmet restaurants to upscale resorts with adult-only pools close to contemporary galleries.

STAY AT THE FOUR SEASONS RESORT ORLANDO The Four Seasons brings dreamy, fivestar luxury to Disney World Resort. It’s easily the best stay in Orlando for adults, balancing shades of Mickey and pals with grown-up sophistication. (Kids are allowed but there’s an adults-only pool where I spent many hours.) The building has a Spanish revival style throughout the contemporary décor, and there’s a decent spa, Michelin Star dining, a 18-hole golf course and adult-only pool with lounger service. Sat under swaying palms and after a long day exploring the resorts, thoughts of screaming children felt impossibly far away.

How to do Disney Orlando without the kids (and the stress)

EPCOT IS BETTER THAN EVER Epcot is for adults who want to think about ideas about our future, and what that might look like, with all the fun stuff thrown in too, like roller coasters and immersive attractions. Epcot has seriously upped its park offerings, with new worlds and rides designed to take you deeper into culture from around the world as well as outer space. Travel through 11 nations and don’t miss HarmonioUS – a nighttime spectacular with lights, lasers, and floating set pieces, as well as Epcot’s newest ride offering, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind – I may have ridden it for a good few hours’ straight and it is, in my humble opinion, one of Disney’s best rides. If you want to go to Disney World Resort’s Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, the Lightning Lane passes allow you to pre-book queue jump for certain rides so you don’t have to queue with the masses.

The Park Avenue area of Orlando, where locals eat, shop and relax, ten minutes from the theme parks

WORLD-CLASS DINING Forget fast-food outlets and allyou-can-eat buffets, Orlando has become one of Florida’s hottest dining destinations. Michelin Guide Florida recently added eight new recommended restaurants in Orlando and Tampa for 2023. Make a reservation at the Michelin starred Capa Steakhouse & Bar, the sort of space you’d want to hang around in and while away the afternoon (you can’t always be on the coasters!) With Spanish influences and fine cuts of meat, it’s the pillar of the plush Four Seasons Resort. For casual dining, Sticky Rice in the heart of Orlando serves authentic Laotian street food with coveted Michelin star status and Orlando’s newest celebrity chef restaurant, Four Flamingos, serves freshly caught seafood and flaming steaks.

THE ORLANDO MUSEUM OF ART Located in downtown Orlando, this flagship museum has been a centre for art and culture in the city for nearly a century. Wander around its impressive collection and discover a diverse range of art, including contemporary, American, and African art—with a focus on showcasing the work of emerging and established artists.

CATCH A FILM AT LEU GARDENS Enjoy a classic Hollywood film in a botanical oasis in the centre of Orlando – Leu Gardens. There are regular outdoor screenings of some of your favourite movies where you can snuggle up on the lawn with snacks and a few drinks. Fresh popcorn stalls and food trucks are on hand, and most films are aimed at adults or families with older children. Check their event schedule for film listings.

ENJOY DINNER AND A SHOW AT DISNEY SPRINGS Disney Springs has become a must-visit shopping, dining and entertainment destination. Feast on tapas at Jaleo, an awardwinning restaurant founded by worldrenowned Chef Jose Andres. Enjoy a glass of vino in their multi-level dining space and experience the essence of Spain with classic tapas, bold wines, and contemporary Spanish dishes. Then wander over to Drawn to Life, a Cirque du Soleil cabaret-circus spectacular after-dinner event that stuck in my mind long after my holiday. The imaginative show celebrates Disney animation in collaboration with Cirque du Soleil.

GO WINE TASTING While Florida is not typically considered a wine-producing state, several taprooms and upscale wineries in the Orlando area offer tours and tastings where you can swill like a pro. Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards offer complimentary tours and tastings where you can sample their awardwinning Muscadine wines. In downtown Orlando, the Eola Wine Company offers over 100 blends by the glass. On its lively patio, I ordered a charcuterie board to pair and whiled away the afternoon. Quantum Leap Winery is a sustainable winery and cidery offering flights and tastings with a reduced carbon footprint. In addition to wine room tastings, they have a program of events, including cheese and chocolate pairings.

ZIPLINE OVER GATORS Zipline high above wildlife enclosures and get a bird’s eye view of giant alligators and crocodiles in the Gatorland Park. The Screamin’ Gator Zip Line adventure takes you across 1,200 feet of zip lines – including a 350-foot-long journey across a crocodile pit.

EXPERIENCE BROADWAY IN… FLORIDA Who needs New York when you can experience a Broadway show in the Sunshine State? Orlando’s performing arts centre the Dr. Phillips Center programmes an exciting array of live performances, entertainment, and smash Broadway shows. Alongside the 2,700-seat Walt Disney Theater, there’s a smaller 300-person venue for experimental theatre and more innovative performances.

VISIT THE SUBURB OF WINTER PARK A charming community just a few miles north of Orlando, Winter Park features tree-lined streets, boutique shops, and hipster cafes. It’s more suburban New York a-la Carrie Bradshaw than chaotic Orlando and I loved my afternoon here away from the chaos.

The city’s historic district features cobblestoned streets and many well-preserved buildings, including the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens. Rent a swan boat to explore the nearby lake to admire the world’s most extensive collection of works by leading American artist-designer Louis Comfort Tiffany at the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum.

If you’re a confident paddler, there are plenty of nearby places to explore independently. I went paddleboarding just one mile from downtown Orlando with Epic Paddle Adventures. I spotted otters, turtles, and birds, while simultaneously working my core. Paddleboard on the blissful waters of Lake Eola in the heart of downtown Orlando, float along the Wekiva River or check out Winter Park’s Chain of Lakes.

AMAZING STREET ART Photographers will love the selection of street art around the Mills 50 neighbourhood, located north of the Downtown area. This bohemian area is packed with small museums and quirky restaurants and is home to murals and street art. Bring your camera and get ready to snap ever-changing urban art that plays homage to Floridian vibes, LGBTQIA+ themes and diverse cultures. For post-art eats, check out Hawkers Asian Street Food on N Mills Ave for Singaporean-style noodles and craft cocktails. there’s a smaller 300-seat venue for experimental theatre and more innovative performances. It felt like seeing the city totally afresh.

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