O-TOWN

Lonely Planet (UK) - - Life In Svalbard - CLOCK­WISE FROM ABOVE Down­town Or­lando, Wekiwa Springs State Park, na­tive Florid­ian al­li­ga­tor, cruis­ing in a con­vert­ible

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.

Play­ing ball

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.

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