Sunday, January 4, 2009
GETTING THERE: Orlando is about 850 miles from Washington, a trip that involves more than 13 hours of driving. The good news is that the journey requires only a few interstates and -- unbelievably -- no tolls. From Washington, take Interstate 395 south for about 10 miles, then I-95 south for 790 miles to Daytona Beach, Fla., then I-4 west for about 50 miles. For an estimate of gas costs based on your vehicle and current prices, visit http://www.mapquest.com.
WHERE TO STAY: Rooms at the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate (1500 Masters Blvd., 888-444-6664, http://www.omnihotels.com) start at about $219 a night. I bid $79 on Priceline.com and was rewarded with a nice-size room on the 14th floor. Be advised that upon checkout a resort fee of $15 per night will be charged to cover such amenities as WiFi, parking and a morning newspaper.
WHERE TO EAT: Orlando has no shortage of fast-food options, and several chains (including Shoney's and Denny's) advertise kids-eat-free nights. Contrary to popular belief, visitors to the Disney parks are allowed to carry in food items ("such as snacks or foods that do not require heating," according to the Disney World Web site, http://www.disneyworld.com). Even if you decide to eat in the parks, bring along a few empty water bottles and fill up at park water fountains to cut down on expenses while staying hydrated.
WHAT TO DO: For free fun outside the Disney parks, consider a trip to downtown Orlando, where Lake Eola Park is sure to be a hit with younger children (195 N. Rosalind Ave., 407-246-2827). Close by is the neighborhood of Thornton Park (near the nexus of Summerlin Avenue, East Central Boulevard and East Washington Street), home to lots of terrific-looking restaurants, bars and bungalows.
About 23 miles south of downtown Orlando, Celebration (http://www.celebration.fl.us) is a "neo-traditional" town (that basically means a real town center and lots of porches) of about 3,000 that was founded by Disney in the '90s; it boasts a fanciful mix of architectural styles, some reminiscent of the Magic Kingdom, as well as a business district with quaint shops and restaurants on and near Market Street.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, 800-972-3304, http://www.orlandoinfo.com.