Footloose & Car-Free
Walking is the name of the game in the Orlando-Kissimmee area. Some visitors actually go into training weeks before their vacation. Besides the theme parks, where most do their foot travel, the two cities invite you to explore sans car their downtown areas and attractions strips. Here we explore one of each.
Orlando's world-famous International Drive, along with Universal Boulevard, forms a five-mile loop of the state's most concentrated conglomeration of sights, shops, entertainment, hotels and restaurants. A mile-and-a-half from each end of the loop lie major theme parks. I recommend breaking up the tour into several days and using the I-RIDE Trolley to reach the theme parks.
For contrast, spend a half-day touring downtown Kissimmee by foot to discover the roots of this once-rural region. Its Lakefront Park on Lake Toho makes for leisurely strolling and lies only a couple of blocks off Main Street and Broadway, where shops, galleries and restaurants span a six-block stretch.
Those who like to park and lose their car keys for the sum of their vacation days will find a number of accommodations - Holiday Inn, Sheraton Vistana Villages and more - right on International Drive. Others lie within a block or two of the loop and territory serviced by I-RIDE Trolley.
In Kissimmee, several motels and vacation homes dot Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway (Highway 192), which intersects with Main Street.
Walk This Way - International Drive
The route begins where many Orlando days do, at a theme park. Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure start the route out in typical Orlando style, surrounded with a flurry of shops and places to eat and stay.
Take the I-RIDE Trolley south to International Drive proper to begin your trek at Prime Outlets Orlando. There's nothing ordinary about shopping in this city where everything has been super-sized and dramatized, so continue along in the shopping mode, hitting the various mega-malls and outlet complexes. For the kids' sake, do Wet 'n Wild or the mini-golf parks. You won't lack for food options along the way - there's everything from McDonald's World's Largest Entertainment and Playplace to a Brazilian grill and Japanese steakhouse.
Three of Orlando's trademark dinner show extravaganzas are situated in and around International Drive: Pirate's Dinner Adventure and Sleuths Mystery Dinner Shows. You'll find entertainment from movie theaters to a skydiving wind tunnel. Hop the trolley to visit SeaWorld, Discovery Cove and Aquatica parks before heading back north along Universal Boulevard.
Hot spots along this route include good-time clubs and restaurants. The neighborhood buzzes with excitement nightlong. Attractions stay open late and a wealth of restaurants draws the theme park crowd for relaxed casual to fine dining in a setting of bright lights and big city.
Walk This Way - Kissimmee
If you prefer the shimmer of lake waters and the reality of a hometown to the region's brand of fantasy, steal away for a few hours to hike around downtown Kissimmee, just off the city's thoroughfare of glitz, Highway 192.
Park it at Kissimmee Lakefront Park and walk around the waterfront, stopping for ice cream, some splashing in the fountain pool and perhaps a cast into the lake known for bass and black crappies. Walk past the Monument of States, made of minerals from every state and many nations, on your way into the heart of Kissimmee at Broadway. Watch for murals depicting the town's past as a cattle-rustling capital, where rodeos and cattle auctions keep the town rooted to this day. A good place to get a sense of the cow-town heritage, and an inexpensive burger, is Joanie's Diner. Newer restaurants with art and fine Italian fare offer other options for hungry visitors.
Two of my favorite stops along the row of historic storefronts on Broadway and adjoining Main are old-fashioned Makinson's Hardware Store and Lanier's Historic Downtown Marketplace, stuffed with antiques and nostalgia. A block away, bells toll from lovely houses of worship along Church Street.
Footloose & Car-Free