The Accidental Tourist in Florida
August 12, 2005 8:19 AM   Subscribe

Travel advice needed! Know any good non-Disney, old-school tourist things to do in the Orlando / Tampa area? And why are the hotels so freakishly cheap?

We're going to be spending several days there in late September after a conference. What's to do, if one has zero interest in Disney etc.? We're looking for the interesting, the educational, the off-the-beaten-path goofy, the not freakishly-expensive (OK, we're considering SeaWorld...).

Things on the list so far: NASA, Weeki Wachi Mermaids, the Edison House, Ybor City, dining (and flamenco!) at the Columbia in Ybor City. Is the Tupperware museum really closed? If we can find any Afro-Cuban music, that would be grand.

Also, why are the hotels so cheap? I'm seeing three-star hotels on Travelocity and Orbitz for $40/night. Is there a hurricane due that I'm not aware of, or do they somehow make it up from the theme parks? What's the catch?
posted by mimi to Travel & Transportation around Orlando, FL (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
And why are the hotels so freakishly cheap?

I scored a cheap room (~$40-50) room in Miami Beach via one of those sites. The room was crap (noisy, dirty, threadbare, thrift store furniture). I paid to upgrade. YMMV.
posted by carter at 8:30 AM on August 12, 2005

Can't help you with attractions, but if you want a great dinner, check out the Wall Street Cantina in downtown Orlando. I was there back in February with a friend, and it was fantastic!
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 8:36 AM on August 12, 2005

Response by poster: Food advice is also very welcome! Thanks! We're looking at the Coq au Vin in Orlando...
posted by mimi at 8:41 AM on August 12, 2005

the salvador dali museum in st pete might not be too far away for you.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 8:47 AM on August 12, 2005

Can't help with attractions (last time I was there we did Disney/Universal), but the rooms are so cheap because of the season. We went the third week in September a few years back and it was completely, entirely dead. We'd hit a park around 10am, ride all the most popular rides without waiting on a single line, and be done by 3pm. Which was good, because it poured for 2 or 3 hours -- torrential rain -- every day starting around 3:30 in the afternoon. Just be warned, that's what you might be looking at.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:58 AM on August 12, 2005

Best answer: If you want really old school, go to Gator Land. Silver Springs in Ocala is another venerable (though not as wacky) attraction, but it's about an hour and a half out of Orlando.

If you want to do nature stuff, take a side trip to Deland and try Blue Springs -- you can canoe, hike a bit, etc. Alas, you'll be there too early to see the manatees. There is a Wekiva springs outside of Orlando, but frankly, it sucks.

Also, orlando has an art museum (an Escher exhibit will be running) and the Morse musem, which has loads of Tiffany stuff.
posted by Sangre Azul at 9:50 AM on August 12, 2005

Definately go to the Dali museum, (2nd largest collection of Dali work outside of spain). You have to realize you are visiting off season (Read: Rainy season). It rains almost daily. Don't fret, it usually clears up just as quick as the onset. Ringling Museum in Sarasota is great. See a Devil Rays baseball game at Tropicana Field (indoors, air conditioned). Treasure Island (and area) is great shopping. Oh, and we are called the Lightning Capitol for a reason--if it starts raining, get inside!
posted by 6:1 at 11:09 AM on August 12, 2005

Bern's Steakhouse is acclaimed nationwide, although pricey. They are known for their wine cellar, as well. I'd link it, but I just changed from PC to Mac OS10 and the way one must link is different. University of Tampa has a small museum, supposed to be nice, never been there. Crystal River is nice if you want to snorkel and see manatees up close.
posted by 6:1 at 11:13 AM on August 12, 2005

One reason the rooms are so cheap in the Orlando area is that there is one hotel room for each year-round resident. Competition drives down the price, doncha know (as well as resulting in cut corners).

You may find something cheap and odd here. (No, it isn't my personal ad.) Otherwise, I'll just second the Dali museum. (If you were coming to Miami I could help a little more.)
posted by mkhall at 11:14 AM on August 12, 2005

Things on the list so far: NASA, Weeki Wachi Mermaids, the Edison House, Ybor City,

I assume you realize that Ybor (Tampa/StPete) is the exact opposite direction and more or less distance as NASA, yes?

The Girl and I had to go to a wedding in Cocoa earlier this year and afterwards we drove up the coast to St Augustine, saw some of the forts and lighthouses, stayed in a B&B and drove back for our flight the next day. A good time and an interesting slice of history - those forts reflect a design in a somewhat narrow section of time where you had to defend against artillery, a science rapidly improving at the time, but pre-air support.

I also Nth the Dali museum suggestion if you hit the gold coast. If you've never seen Dali's canvases actual-size you don't gave a real appreciation of the work.
posted by phearlez at 12:23 PM on August 12, 2005

Ybor is not all that interesting, as I recall. There's a nice boat tour of the canals in Winter Park, and you can wander around Park Avenue after you see the Morse Museum. Downtown Orlando doesn't have much going on - there's a historical museum and some other small galleries and things, and you can rent pedal boats in Lake Eola if you like that sort of thing. You can also rent canoes on a number of the rivers around Orlando - the Wekiva is nice in the northern part of town, or if you head west towards Tampa you can go up the coast towards Homosassa Springs - I'm not sure if the manatees will be around in September, but it's a treat to see them if they are.
posted by judith at 12:40 PM on August 12, 2005

Response by poster: I assume you realize that Ybor (Tampa/StPete) is the exact opposite direction and more or less distance as NASA, yes?

Yes :) We'll be starting in the Orlando area and then spending some time in the Tampa area. The Packers are playing the Bucs that very Sunday, but dammit, the game's at Lambeau. I hear that Spinnaker Lounge is a Packer bar, so maybe we have a safehouse...

Ybor is not all that interesting, as I recall
I'm not finding too much, either. Maybe we'll just stick with flamenco/dining at the Columbia?

Good to know about the rain. Does that also mean that it won't be crazy-hot? (Please please please.)
posted by mimi at 1:23 PM on August 12, 2005

In Orlando, check out some of the Vietnamese restaurants on Mills Ave (17-92) near downtown; The Enzian is worth a trip if they've got something good playing. I'll second the recommendations for the Morse Museum and OMART. Cypress Gardens isn't quite what it used to be, but the gardens are still beautiful and they haven't gotten rid of the Southern Belles.

Or you could always go to the Holy Land Experience.
posted by ThatSomething at 1:36 PM on August 12, 2005

Mimi--still hot, just with the rain it will be extra muggy. Ybor is growing, if you are into nightclubs it's okay. I know the Columbia gets a lot of press, I was never that impressed with it. I went once and that was enough. Busch Gardens is an option to Disney.

Oh yeah, go BUCS! ;-)
posted by 6:1 at 1:50 PM on August 12, 2005

I don't know where mkhall gets his numbers, but there are 1 million residents in the Orlando Metro Area and only 100K hotel rooms. Las Vegas, on the other hand, has 170K rooms and 1.7 million residents.... correlation?

As for non-disney things to do .... check out the everglades. Some of the everglades headwaters are in and around Orlando. The Disney Wilderness Preserve is Disney World adjacent and in the trust of the Nature Conservatory.

Drop me an email. I'm 2 miles from SeaWorld and can help you out if you have any other questions.
posted by IndigoSkye at 5:17 PM on August 13, 2005

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