Orlando, Florida, is regularly one of the top travel destinations in the country for families, couples, and seniors. Allison recently took her two boys, Brooks and Wesley, for a winter getaway in Orlando to visit Disney World. She loved her trip so much we knew we needed to do a #travelwithcompass series on this great place to visit. We re-connected with Compass agent Jesse Rottinghaus to get the low-down on all things from Orlando. With Jesse’s help, we’ve mapped out a handy guide on where you should stay, eat, and what local items you should be sure to check off of your bucket list for your next trip to Orlando.
Where would you recommend people stay for a visit to Orlando? Any specific hotels you really like or areas to stay in?
Jesse: This definitely depends on the type of trip. There are tons of short-term rental homes that can offer 5-10 bedrooms with pools and water park amenities. Then there are wonderful hotels; Waldorf Astoria, JW Marriott Bonnet Creek, Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton, and the new Wave Hotel in Lake Nona all of these are close to the city’s big attractions. We also love The Grand Bohemian in downtown Orlando, which is a boutique hotel downtown.
Allison: This totally depends on your goals for the trip. Are you planning to spend most of your time at the parks? Are you planning on going back and forth a lot between your hotel and the parks? Are you planning to spend downtime at your hotel? Is watching the fireworks important to you at the park or would you rather watch from your hotel? These are all things to consider when picking where to stay. I stayed at the Four Seasons based on some recommendations from friends and was not disappointed. I wanted a little bit of an “escape” from the madness of the park and some downtown to play at the pool. The fabulous pools at our hotel- two infinity pools – one an adults-only pool, the other for all ages with a small waterslide for little ones – were the deciding factor in picking our hotel. There is also a waterpark with two large slides (42 inches to ride) and a large splash pad for kids. The service was impeccable across the board, and they even had a “character breakfast” for the kids with Goofy, Mickey, and Minnie. The hotel worked out great for us – but if you are planning to go back and forth between the hotel and parks, you may want to stay at one of the Disney Resorts! Overall, there are a ton of hotels in and around Orlando and the big parks, keeping prices relatively low and manageable for families.
What are the can’t miss restaurants or dining experiences in Orlando?
Jesse: This also depends on the location of where you’re at for your trip. The newest Newest MUST try is Bacán in the Wave Hotel, a restaurant with flavors of Central and South America centered around a dramatic open theater.
For sushi, we love Kabooki, which has two locations in Sand Lake and East Colonial. Be sure to check out their social hour.
For the best local wild night, we recommend Rocco’s Tacos. They have a variety of Mexican dishes at a great price. Be sure to check out their happy hour every day from 4-7 pm at the bar, including $5 margaritas. For steakhouses and things that are a bit more upscale, try Eddie V’s and The H.
If you’re not familiar with the I-Drive, the I-Drive is an 11-mile commercial area that includes the 2nd largest convention center in the United States; Orlando’s convention center. There are miles of outlet malls, restaurants, and amusement-park-type activities. The Wheel at ICON Park Orlando is a 400 ft tall giant ferris wheel, Orlando Starflyer, and Fun Spot America. When it comes to dining, I-Drive has everything you could be looking for, a great spot to check out, especially if the weather is crummy and you want to spend some time indoors. One of our absolute favorites is the experience at Del Friscos.
If you’re checking out Disney Springs, we love to visit Jaleo for authentic Spanish food or Morimoto for Pan-Asian cuisine. For those that haven’t been, Disney Springs is a themed retail, dining, and entertainment center inspired by Florida’s charming waterfront towns, historic architecture, and natural beauty. For food, Disney Springs has everything from excellent sit-down restaurants to quick service delicious pizza and the Disney classics, churros. The sprawling promenade features four distinct neighborhoods―The Landing, Marketplace, West Side, and Town Center—built around bubbling springs.
Obviously, Orlando is known for its parks experience at Disney and Universal. As a local, what are your big tips for people coming into town to check out the parks?
Jesse: Get your tickets well in advance and bring your bottle of PATIENCE. Also, the new Epcot light show is a MUST to see.
Allison: Be sure to pack in some time for transportation to and from the parks. Our hotel was about a 7 minute Uber or shuttle ride from the transportation center. From the transportation center, you can take a monorail or a ferry to Magic Kingdom which takes about 5-15 minutes depending on how long the wait is for either. If the ferry is accepting passengers, this is a faster and more enjoyable experience than the monorail! For the parks, try to map out a rough plan of the rides and attractions you want to see before you actually get to the park (ps I highly recommend the Genie Plus option for skipping lines). The Park Hopper option for Disney is also nice if you want to go to multiple parks in one day. The nice part is your ticket to the park is valid for the whole day, meaning, for instance, you can go to Magic Kingdom in the morning and go back at night for the fireworks.
The fireworks at Disney are always a must-see. We watched the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the rooftop balcony of our hotel on the first night. The fireworks were easily seen, and it was convenient to stroll outside after dinner with a glass of wine. However, the next night we went to the park and the experience was second to none. The combination of the fireworks (there are many more you can’t see from outside of the park that are lower), the light show on the castle, the music playing, and the excitement of the people in the park was truly moving. Some of the resorts on the property do pipe in the music for the fireworks so that is also a good middle option. If you are not staying at one of those hotels, make sure to make a dinner reservation in advance! There are other ways to see the fireworks, too, including a dessert cruise.
What are some other fun or interesting things to do in the Orlando area that people may not think of?
Jesse: Ironically, many people do not consider Disney Springs because they are staying on-site somewhere or because it’s NOT an actual amusement park. BUT, to me, it’s a must for adults or families. They have tons of shopping, entertainment, dining experiences, from street cart food to 5-star dining. It truly is an epic way to spend a day and night. One of the best parts about Disney Springs is that the parking and admission are free, unlike Universal’s City Walk. At Disney Springs, you can also walk around with alcohol, with the restaurants and bars offering drinks to-go. As a local, who lives just 3 miles away from Disney Springs, we go quite often, and it’s always a GREAT time.
Is there anything our readers should know about you?
Jesse: I love being with Compass. This corporation of absolute professionals all working together (in a sense) to bring the best experiences and knowledge to the consumers of Real Estate has been the best career move for me in the last 21 years in this industry. I am thoroughly passionate about bringing more awareness to the consumer about one specific product that Compass has that is an absolute game-changer in this industry; Compass Concierge!
I have used Compass Concierge more than any other agent in the state of Florida but that is not my goal. My goal is to make more consumers aware of all the money they are leaving on the table by NOT utilizing this program to put more money in their pockets. Compass Concierge is a program specific to Compass, where home sellers can have updates and renovations paid for by Compass interest-free to help sellers make their homes more marketable and net more money for their sales. If you have questions about Compass Concierge, please reach out to me on my website here.
We are so thankful to Jesse for sharing his expertise in the Orlando area with us. If you need any real estate assistance in Orlando, please let us know, and we would be happy to connect you. You can also follow him on Instagram here! We encourage you to check out the rest of our travel with Compass series by clicking here. Please remember that we can connect you with real estate professionals around the country, so don’t ever hesitate to reach out with any real estate questions in the DMV or anywhere in the USA.
Want to stay in the know about our Travel With Compass Series? Sign up for our newsletter below.