Orlando is full of hundreds of amazing and fun attraction options. It doesn’t matter what you love doing — mini golf, eating, riding rides, playing games — there’s something you’ll enjoy. It’s the tourist capital of America, and one day there is enough to see why.
One day in Orlando is also enough to see that not all attractions are created equal. For every awesome themed land and museum, there’s also an awful, trashy tourist trap. For every genuine thrill, there’s also a slightly-too-real fright. For every exciting instagram opportunity, there’s also a tacky knock-off.
You might enjoy the things on the following list — and you know what? That’s totally fine! Different strokes for different folks, and all of that. But, hey, this is my list.
After visiting the area dozens of times, I think I’ve finally landed on a list of things I’ll either never do or won’t try again.
Chartering a small plane or a helicopter and flying high above the Orlando tourist zone is something that seems exciting in theory. After all, there are quite a few accounts and websites that cover Disney and Universal who’ve made their name by doing just that.
But, at the end of the day, this thrill is maybe a bit too real. Small helicopters like the ones in Orlando’s tourist district are perfectly safe — really, they are. That said, come on! I’m not one who’s general scared of heights or even of flying — but a helicopter ride taking off next to a fast food joint on I-Drive isn’t quite what I have in mind.
On top of that, what exactly do you intend on seeing from up above? Florida is as flat as a crepe, and even the exciting areas — like Disney World and Universal — are meant to be seen from surface level. High above, yes, you’re greeted to a unique perspective. Unfortunately, that perspective is mostly just industrial show buildings and parking lots that have been hidden from view.
Try Google Earth instead. It’s cheaper (read: free), and you won’t have a pit in your stomach the whole time.
At the risk of blaspheming, here’s the thing: The very best dinner theater production in Florida is the Hoop-De-Doo Musical Revue. And it is, at best, fine. The food is good, yes! But, you can get it next door at the Trail’s End Restaurant — so, really, the show is the main event. And it is totally fine — but hardly broadway.
I get that it’s iconic, and I get that many of you are going to stop reading right here and grab your pitchforks. But hey, I actually don’t dislike the Hoop-De-Doo Revue. My bigger issue is that, like I said, that is as good as it gets. If this was the only show in town, that’d be great. Sadly, it’s not.
Dinner theater is a way of life in Orlando. There are tons of options: Medieval Times, a dinner murder mystery, a 1930s gangster dinner show, a pirate show. There are so many, but the all have that highly kitschy vibe and overpriced entry cost.
Theater is great. Dinner is also great. I understand the impulse to want to combine them — but the whole is far worse than the sum of its parts. Go watch a show at one of the major parks and then do dinner afterward.
Image: Senor Frog's
Either you are a Senor Frog’s person, or you are not. I am, decidedly, not.
If you’ve never been and have a kind of morbid curiosity about the experience — with its debaucherous spring break antics and free-flowing alcohol — I can sort of get the appeal. After all, it’s the sort of drunken, ne’er-do-well sibling of Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. That kind of escapism can be fun.
But the reality is far more dire. The food is intensely mediocre, the drinks are overpriced, the vibe is headache inducing. There are other places in the area that offer a similar experience without the stress. I cannot recommend them enough.
If you are a Senor Frog’s person, that’s great! Enjoy! If you don’t yet know if you are one, you probably aren’t — and it’s best to avoid.
Hash House A Go Go
Image: Hash House A Go Go
Instagram has changed our lives in countless ways. It’s made travel increasingly visual and experiential — with destinations needing to be photographically stunning in addition to culturally interesting. It has also, sadly, increased bullying among teenagers and even some adults — with the performance of reality being far more important than reality itself.
But, above all, Instagram has also changed the way we eat. Namely, it has turned food into a meme.
Restaurants like Toothsome Chocolate Emporium, Planet Hollywood, and Beaches and Cream have become Instagram famous for their ridiculous milkshakes — with pieces of cake, pies, and other insane toppings exploding off the top. Others serve food in ridiculous vessels like martini glasses or miniature clotheslines.
The king of such meme cuisine in Orlando is the Hash House A Go Go mini-chain — a comfort-food eatery that you will no doubt see on a list of must-try Orlando dishes. The gimmick is, of course, taking a normal dish like a burger or fried chicken and turning it “twisted.”
For example, most dishes are served with a steak knife stabbing through the middle — whether it’s the platter-sized pork tenderloin, the fried chicken, or the burger. Most are also topped with with several different garnishes and colors, turning them into must-photograph entrees.
The food is, ultimately, fine — but it doesn’t live up to the hype, nor the spectacle. Food doesn’t need to be a meme to be good, truly.
The premise of a wax museum is rather simple — walk among wax replicas of the famous stars of stage and screen. You can get your picture taken with Lady Gaga! Or LeBron James! Or Abraham Lincoln!
But, the Orlando outpost of Madame Tussaud’s lays bare just how shallow this premise truly is. Just next door, at Walt Disney World, you can visit the Hall of Presidents and see a lifelike, moving vision of Abraham Lincoln. You can get your picture taken with Darth Vader or Queen Elsa — and they’ll pose and interact with you.
And most importantly, the Disney and Universal characters don’t look as though they were hand-sculpted out of mashed potatoes.
Even the best wax characters have a kind of uncanny valley element to them. And yes, it can be kind of kitschy fun to get your picture taken with them and explore them, but that fun generally wanes fairly quickly. If you’re visiting Orlando, it’s likely only for a short time — do you really want to spend some of that time looking into the glassy eyes of faux Tony Stark?
The Outlet Malls
If you were a bad person in life, then upon your death, you are immediately transported into an Orlando Premium Outlet mall for all eternity. They are the circle of hell Dante forgot. They are so bad, you’d think the Geneva Convention would have banned them.
I have been to the outlet malls on quite a few occasions, lured in by the siren song of the Disney Character Warehouse — an outlet store that sells Disney Parks merchandise at deep discounts. Several years ago, this was a decently well-kept secret. Now, the secret is out and it’s simply not worth it.
If the outlet mall experience was composed simply of fighting with a random person in the Disney store after you both tried to grab the same $10 Expedition Everest T-shirt (marked down from $30!), then it might be tolerable. Sadly, it’s so much worse than that.
First, you have to find parking — no easy feat with thousands of tourists having the same idea as you. You can give in and pay for parking, but then, you’re paying for the privilege of shopping. Who wants to do that?
Secondly, these outlet malls were seemingly built on the surface of the sun. If you visit in the summer, they pose a genuine health hazard with such intense heat. If you visit in the winter, you’ll wonder what cruel trick you pulled in a past life that required you to be cursed with such horrible heat, even in January.
Lastly, the crowds are genuinely insane. Hotels within walking distance provide a steady flow of people to the malls, as do chain restaurants nearby that serve as beacons to exhausted travelers just looking for something the whole family can agree on. Tour groups from other countries clearly make these outlets a destination, and even if you arrive super early, you likely won’t be alone for long.
I’ve done the outlet thing before. I totally get why you’d want to do it. But trust me, just don’t. At this point, I wouldn’t be caught dead doing it — or, more specifically, if I tried to go to the outlet malls one more time, it just might kill me.