I’m going to pull a Golden Girls real quick and quote my girl Sophia. “Picture it: Fort Lauderdale, 2013”. It’s December. I had a huge vacation to New York I had saved the last days of my PTO for. A huge snowstorm was on its way to hit the Northeast and thus, an unintentional annual Christmas tradition was born.
Rather than go to NYC, I ended up in the city of my alma mater (go Knights), Orlando. It’s a 3-hour drive up the turnpike and I ended up celebrating “Christmas in the City” with my closest friends. The next morning at a drunken brunch, one suggested we do this every year and that we’d reconvene in 52 weeks. Sure enough, we’ve reunited every single December since, and just wrapped up our fourth year.
Now that you have some background, I will be the first to tell you there’s more to do in Orlando than just Disney World. Orlando is a GREAT city to live in, and even I think about moving back every now and then. So what’s there to do if you’re adulting and ran out of days on those Disney/Universal park passes?
Places to Check Out
1. Lake Eola (Attraction)
Orlando’s awesome city park. We don’t have a Central Park. We don’t have a Grant Park. But we have Lake Eola. Seasonally, there are food and wine festivals, a park-side bar that’s open on weekends throughout the year to take in the scenery over drinks with friends, and of course- the Lake that has OOC (out-of-control) swans. Walking around this park is definitely a stress reliever and even a good date idea. Even better, is my personal favorite: the Swan Rides. Basically, you can pay to pedal around the lake for half an hour, with or without friends, and watch the real swans in the Lake fight each other and be belligerent. Just beware of drifting toward the huge fountain, especially if you just got your hair done. I know this firsthand.
2. Artisan Cafe (Restaurant)
I make it a point to get brunch here before I head back to South Florida every time I’m in town. My usual order is the Egg Sandwich with a Fluffernutter Latte (yes, a peanut butter & marshmallow latte <3), and if I have time- the Artisan Mary (house Bloody Mary). Yes, it has bacon in it. Yes, it’s amazing.
3. The Grand Bohemian (Hotel, Bar & Restaurant)
So this is where all of the NBA teams stay whenever they’re in town playing the Magic (Amway is right next door). The first three Bohemian years in a row, I’ve run into players from the Cavs, Hawks, and Sixers. I’m a huge basketball fan so imagine my excitement every year lol. There are HUGE rooms, even if you grab a standard with double beds. Literally, most of the rooms I’ve had here are bigger than the size of my first apartment. As for the vibe… it’s a high-end hotel with a lot of art. Aka it’s kind of dark and old world glam. A few pieces in the hotel halls are questionable, so beware if it’s late at night and you get easily creeped out. Again, I know firsthand. There’s also a Starbucks (a real one; not the “we proudly brew” level #blessed) right off of the hotel lobby. It’s also a great place to grab drinks and tapas too if you’re going out that night. This is where my group congregates to pregame every year before a weird night out in Downtown Orlando. Which brings me to my three next favs!
4. Lizzy McCormack’s Irish Bar (Bar)
If you’ve never had a Birthday Cake Pudding Shot…you need to do 1 of 2 things. 1. Google “Birthday Cake Pudding Shots” and find one closest to you immediately. OR 2. Go to www.southwest.com and book a cheap flight to get one at Lizzy McCormack’s. It’s always one of the first bars on our route in Downtown Orlando and a great place to kick off the night. There’s a small selection of pudding shots that also include Rocky Road if you’re feeling froggy. Basically, I would equate this to a vodka-soaked ice cream that’ll get you weird in 5 minutes of downing it. Tried and true, you’re guaranteed to have a good night. You can also hear your friends talk in this bar. Kind of.
5. The Lodge (Bar)
My friends that are reading this right now will laugh because they know I’m obsessed with this bar. If you want a 2-story dive bar that’s Christmas-themed all year round. This is your mecca. As it is mine. I’ve heard everything from Sussudio, to Golddigger played (regardless if I am the one that requested each of those) and have left my dignity on this dance floor manyatimes.
6. Wall Street (Bars)
One of the places I’ve occupied the most (again, that pun wasn’t intended until I typed it), BUT you know how your college may or may not have had a strip where every night you can just wander in and out of this team of bars and they’re all in cahoots? You only really get carded once to roll through? This is the same premise. Bar crawl, block party, call it what you want. There’s a mix of bars here with everything from 90s hip-hop, to electronic, to every remixed hit that’s topped the charts over the last 30 years. This is another one of my favorite places and can suit everyone in your group’s needs, esp if you have a larger crew. As a UCF grad, there’s ALWAYS someone to run into whenever I visit. In the daytime I heard you can get food… but I’m a retired downtown rat so the jury’s still out as to whether that’s true, or just myth.
7. Disney Springs (Shopping)
The revamped and rebranded Downtown Disney. Instead of a million souvenir shops of Disney memorabilia and outdated restaurants (I’m looking at you Rainforest Cafe, sorry)… Downtown Disney now has some pretty quality premier shopping, and this comes from a shopaholic. I approve. There are food trucks, a HUGE Starbucks, a Zara- which supplied a few pieces in an upcoming post- a Free People, and the list goes on. There is also a Sprinkles, which is as far as I know, only the second other location in Florida (first being in Tampa). This is indeed the brand that created the Cupcake ATM, and you can find it here at this location. The restaurants have more of a gastropub selection, and it’s just overall a pretty good experience if you want something outside the outlets, or my old stomping grounds (and location of employment for 3 years): Mall at Millenia.
And yes, that last one is of me and my boyfriend in the heart of Downtown Orlando. xo