Orlando may be the most pigeonholed city in America (or mouse-holed, as the case may be), seemingly unable to shake its Disney draw. But to write the place off as having little more than a tourist district filled with larger-than-life critters and amusement parks is to overlook its patchwork of historic neighborhoods, each more charming than the next and all surprisingly full of independent shops and restaurants. A local wellness movement is underway, too, in a region already known for waterskiing, wakeboarding, and wakesurfing on its numerous freshwater lakes. With spring break season upon us, now is the time to visit, and the following guide will ensure you take in everything Orlando has to offer (including a Mickey Mouse sighting, or two).
Friday: Check into the Four Seasons Resort Orlando, which does Disney right by catering to kids and adults alike. While mom sips a cocktail in view of the 21-and-over pool and dad plays the Tom Fazio-designed golf course enveloped in a nature preserve, junior can spend the day at a complimentary camp with activities like a climbing wall and lazy river that meanders through tropical gardens so lush that parents may want to come along for the ride. Standard guest rooms—the area’s largest—sleep four comfortably, but splurge on a 1,700-square-foot Grand Suite overlooking miles of wetlands and treetops. Watch Magic Kingdom’s nightly fireworks from the hotel’s rooftop restaurant, Capa, which serves matador-worthy steaks and tapas that elevate Disney World’s otherwise pedestrian cuisine.
Saturday morning: Character breakfasts with real-deal Mickey and Minnie are a breeze at Ravello, at the Four Seasons, which transforms into a trattoria come sundown. Work off the buffet by cycling the paved West Orange Trail with a rental from Bikes and Blades, a racket 35 minutes northwest by car, inside the former railroad’s Killarney Station. The trail, surrounded by ancient live oaks heaving with Spanish moss, transports riders to “Old Florida.” Pull off to hike Oakland Nature Preserve, or continue to Winter Garden, a citrus packing powerhouse turned booming bedroom community. There, Plant Street Market, a new food hall comprised of red brick warehouses made to look turn-of-the-century, is home to local establishments like Axum Coffee (named after the Ethiopian city), Paleteria Original (known for its dulce de leche-stuffed coconut popsicles), and Crooked Can (the brewer of High Stepper IPA and seasonal suds like Ruby Waves, a sour beer with hints of grapefruit and sea salt).
Saturday afternoon: Restore at the Florida Everglades-inspired Spa at the Four Seasons, which channels John James Audubon by naming each of its 18 treatment rooms after a different native bird. Pink grapefruit makes another appearance in its exclusive La Floridian treatment: a sugarcane body scrub and shea butter body polish and wrap that’s literally topped off with a jasmine-scented hot oil hair and scalp massage. The spa’s lagoon-side amenities include his and hers whirlpool baths and a solarium so tranquil, it induces a million-dollar nap. Freshly pampered, visit Wardrobe, an onsite men’s and women’s clothing boutique that carries resort collections and exclusive collaborations, like Missoni mouse ears.
Saturday night: No culinary maven visits Orlando without dining with the Swine Family, otherwise known as James and Julie Petrakis’s restaurant empire. The Ravenous Pig, recognized for humble, homestead fare, turns ten this year and marked the occasion with a move into new digs at the Petrakises’ Cask & Larder Brewery, just up the street from the pig’s original Winter Park pen. The everchanging menu isn’t limited to porcine plates—dishes like duck confit and monkfish served with freshly foraged morels and peas round out its offerings. Four Seasons-based visitors, take note: the restaurant and brewery are about 45 minutes by car from the resort; those looking for a closer alternative should check out the just-opened Polite Pig in Town Center, an upscale shopping and dining section at Disney Springs. The sister eatery specializes in fast-casual salads, sandwiches, and barbecue and pours house beers, like Lone Palm golden ale, on tap.
Sunday morning: Sweltering summers aside, Orlando’s otherwise temperate climate is ideal for the area’s many outdoor activities. Amid Lake Bryan’s towering bald cypress trees, Buena Vista Watersports rents paddleboards by the hour (a perfect core strengthener after a decadent dinner). Those who prefer a racquet to a paddle can perfect their tennis game with the help of Four Seasons’s resident pro Alain Labrecque on one of the resort’s many courts, or make the short trek to play a match at the sparkling new USTA National Campus. Located near Orlando International Airport, its 100 illuminated courts—including several technology-equipped SmartCourts and six with red clay imported from Italy—opened to the public in January. Refuel with brunch at Canvas Restaurant & Market, on the waterfront of nearby Lake Nona. Chef Bryan Thoman’s fried shrimp and oyster po’boy and sweet potato kimchi pancakes are worth the workout.
Sunday afternoon: Stay on Orlando’s east side and explore the area’s string of distinct neighborhoods. Audubon Park Garden District’s Corrine Drive (the address of another bustling food hall, East End Market) ends at Harry P. Leu Gardens, where exquisite roses are just starting to bloom. Vintage collectors should mine local institutions The Lovely (for apparel and homegoods) and Park Ave CDs (for all things music), both located in the same midcentury-modern building. Serious shopaholics can continue on to Retromended Vintage + Fashion, a favorite of haunt of costume designers in the nearby Mills50 District. A short walk north, newcomers Black Rooster Taqueria and Guesthouse add to Mills Avenue’s vibrant taco and cocktail scene. Wherever you end your trip, don’t forget to tell your friends about what a great time you had in Orlando—even if they won’t believe you.