One Flight Wonder - Orlando, Florida

One Flight Wonder - Orlando, Florida: Summertime adventures that are only a plane ride away
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In the Sunshine State, the theme park capital of the world is home to big names in entertainment: Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, and more. And with good reason, since Orlando’s average temperature stays above 70°F year-round. In May, Asheville Regional Airport’s inaugural nonstop flight to the city kicked off a season of travel and fun. Although there are plenty of theme parks to enjoy, try exploring some of the other treasures of Orlando, like its vast expanses of natural beauty, outdoor activities, and cultural affairs.

Florida is home to the Everglades, an ecosystem of subtropical wetlands that covers more than 2 million acres. Although the bulk of the ecosystem is found in the southern part of the state, its waterways start just outside of Orlando. Boat tours along the Kissimmee River are a must for wildlife enthusiasts and thrill-seekers alike. More than 300 different avian species live in the Everglades, including egrets, storks, herons, and others that are threatened or endangered, like the snail kite or the Cape Sable seaside sparrow, making this a birder’s paradise. Alligators and crocodiles, cranes, deer, pigs, and possibly even the ultra-rare Florida panther (there are fewer than 100 left) can be spotted on a ride in the swamp. 

Boat rides aren’t the only places to observe the area’s diverse wildlife. At Lake Louisa State Park, just 30 minutes outside of the sprawling metropolis, visitors can venture through more than 20 miles of trails for the chance to spot a variety of wild critters such as bobcats, gopher tortoises, fox squirrels, bald eagles, and osprey. Spanning more than 30,000 acres and fed by natural springs, Lake Apopka is the state’s fourth-largest lake, and has a very unique feature perfect for observing wildlife: an 11-mile one-way road that allows for up-close observation of local wildlife from the comfort of your car. Wildlife Drive takes about 2 hours to complete, but it’s a great way to see a large area of land in a short amount of time.  

There is plenty of wildlife to see around Orlando, but with the area’s roasting summer heat, it’s important to stay cool and hydrated while exploring. Like most nearby parks, Wekiwa Springs State Park  offers hiking, biking, and equestrian trails for determined wildlife enthusiasts. But what sets this one apart is its brilliant blue lake. Fed by nearby streams, the spring’s water is uncommonly clear—swimming and snorkeling to cool off and explore are highly encouraged. 

Take a human-powered boat to Winter Park, which contains a chain of lakes reaching all the way to the city. Lake Virginia is a great place to launch a human-powered boat or paddle board for a day on the water, but Lake Eola is found in the heart of Orlando, and is a great access point to and from the conveniences of the city and the expanses of Florida’s wilderness. Eola is home to iconic black and white swans—you can even rent a swan-style boat to explore the water.

Once in the city, there is plenty to do. Besides visiting the city’s six dining districts—which boast Michelin star restaurants and James Beard awarded chefs—there’s plenty of history and culture to be found The Orlando Museum of Art, now in its 100th year, showcases the work of ten outstanding local artists in the tenth edition of the Florida Prize in Contemporary Art. 

The Orange County Regional History Center takes curious visitors through the region’s compelling history; notable themes include the economic importance of citrus groves and cattle herds, the indigenous people of Orange County, the city’s role in aviation, and its history as a tourism destination. 

Foodies can rejoice at the plethora of options available when visiting Orlando. A standout dining destination is International Drive Entertainment District, the main connector between the city’s largest theme parks and downtown Orlando. High-profile eateries like Ole Red, a venue-restaurant hybrid serving classic Southern fare and live performances by up-and-coming artists, and Gordon Ramsay’s Fish & Chips, which showcases fast-casual British cuisine, can be found on the thoroughfare.

Because of its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, Florida is one of the largest producers of seafood in the United States, which means many of the city’s top restaurants feature fish. Chef Henry Moso of Kabooki Sushi is a James Beard semifinalist with a fascination for Southeast Asian cuisine. The Laotian native incorporates locally-sourced and seasonal ingredients into all his dishes, from sushi rolls to nigiri, sashimi, moriawase, and more. Menu standouts include the the ghost roll (a combination of tempura eel, tobanjan aioli, and kaiware sprouts topped with scorched salmon, sweet chili, and the Japanese togarashi spice blend), the booki booki roll with fried shrimp, avocado, and spicy tuna all topped with bubu arare rice crackers, and daily trappings served raw and infused with tamari and freshly-grated wasabi.

Flight: Allegiant Airlines offers affordable round-trip tickets to Orlando International Airport (MCO). Flight time is just under two hours. 
Local Transport: The I-Ride trolley offers inexpensive rides around the city, but renting a car or snagging a ride-share is best to access destinations outside of city limits. 

Orlando At a Glance
Population: 324,429
Average Summer Temp: 91°
Find Out More: Visit Orlando has great resources for planning your vacation. visitorlando.com