For a destination so strongly associated with one type of visitor attraction, Orlando sure has a lot to offer besides resorts and rollercoasters. Away from its theme parks, the city – known as O-Town by the locals – boasts a thriving arts scene, beautiful natural spaces and high-octane sporting entertainment. If you book a fly-drive with British Airways and Avis, you can catch more than a glimpse of unsung Orlando at your own pace and in your own time. It’s time to find out where your wheels could take you.
Hit the road
Orlando and its surrounding areas deserve so much more than a cursory tour of the theme parks and, if you book a fly-drive holiday with British Airways and Avis, you’ ll be able to find the perfect car to get you from A to beyond. Most of Avis’ cars are less than six months old and, whatever the size of your group, there will be something for you. Big family? Opt for a people carrier to get you around. Couple on a city break? Try a compact hatchback. However, surely the most evocative way to soak in the Floridian sunshine as you cruise down the myriad freeways and city streets is in a convertible. With the right set of wheels, the best of Orlando is just a short drive away.
Grab the keys
Make your base central Orlando, where there are wide-ranging accommodation options, as well as plenty of bars, restaurants and shopping opportunities to keep you occupied until you see fit to get out of town. A short drive north will take you to the Mennello Museum of American Art, on the shores of Lake Formosa. The museum specialises in American folk art and one of its most prominent featured artists is Earl Cunningham, with his signature pop-folk landscapes in vivid colours. A short hop away is the bucolic Harry P. Leu Gardens, where a 50-acre expanse of orange groves, roses and camellias awaits. It’s the ideal setting for a picnic, which you can stock up for in the nearby East End Market’s collection of hip coffee houses and artisan bakeries.
Florida’s many professional sports teams give the state a pedigree to be proud of, and it’s ever so easy to sample their all-American brew of glitz and exhilarating athleticism, with several options within driving distance of O-Town. For Orlando’s finest basketball export, catch an Orlando Magic game at the conveniently central Amway Center. Alternatively, NFL enthusiasts can easily make the hour and a half ’s drive south-west to Tampa, home of the prestigious Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Thanks to their rich history, they make for an impressive team to tick off any fan’s list. Tampa also plays host to a successful ice hockey team: the 2004 Stanley Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning.
Into the wild
For a truly peaceful escape, try Wekiwa Springs State Park, a half- hour’s drive north from the city. It offers many miles of picturesque hiking trails and, after a stroll in the sunshine, you can cool off in the park ’s spring-fed swim holes, relax in a rented boat or kayak on the Wekiva River. Orlando’s repertoire of fun and fascinating natural experiences doesn’t end there. Around 30 miles east of the city lies the Orlando Wetlands Park, with its rugged woodlands, lakes and marshes, where you can spot migratory birds, deer and those ever-fascinating creatures of the American south, alligators.