Harry Potter World. My inner teenager was dying to stroll Hogsmeade and sip butter beer but the thought of going to Orlando left me cold. What is there to do in the land of amusement parks other than tour the parks, eat overpriced food and dodge worn out crying children? Well I can admit when I’m wrong and I was wrong about Orlando. There’s plenty to do. I was able to enjoy great food, creative cocktails and interact with super friendly folks. Add in the nonstop, cheap flight from RDU and Orlando made for a really great option for a long weekend away. Below are a few things I loved. I can’t wait to get back to discover more about this great diverse city.
The Reason for the Trip: Harry Potter World & Universal Studios
There are 2 parts to this park – Hogsmeade & Daigon Alley. It’s worth it to do both. They are connected by the Hogwarts Express and the ride is different each way so make the roundtrip. We visited on a Monday and found the park full of adults in wizarding capes drinking beer – both butter and craft. Lunch at The Three Broomsticks (fish and chips, $15) was surprisingly good. There were 3 huge pieces of lightly breaded, flaky fish and a pile of thick cut steak fries. The meal was big enough to share between 2 hungry adults. After Harry Potter World we moseyed over to Universal Studios. There you can take a stroll through Springfield and ride the Simpsons ride (awesome), check out Marilyn Monroe wooing the crowds and visit Cannery Row. There’s a ton to do and going on a weekday served us well as we waited on average 20 minutes to board rides as compared to the hours folks wait on weekends.
Eat & Drink: A few of my favorites
Hawkers Asian Street Fare, Pan-Asian small plates and a great assortment of beer. The dishes are actually sized for 2 people to share. None of this 3 items on a plate garbage that makes me so angry with tapas/small plates. Monday – Friday from 3-6 is Happy Hour with $3 craft beer and $3 small plates. Wednesdays you can bring your own bottle of wine with no corkage fee.
Linda’s La Cantina which confusingly is a steakhouse. 4721 E. Colonial Drive, around $30 for a massive ribeye, salad and baked potato. I had 4 meals from this steak. When I travel I want to visit the spots that have become institutions. Open since 1947 and consistently ranked as one of the best steakhouses in Orlando, Linda’s didn’t disappoint. It’s the sort of place I love – diner friendly service and perfectly prepared food with no frills. This spot isn’t fancy. I had planned to dress up for dinner since it was my birthday but looking around the room I’d have been the only person not in jeans. Spend the day touring Universal and then stroll in for a great steak dinner. Look at that char!
Il Pescatore, 651 N. Primrose Drive, around $15.00 for entrees that are shareable. This is the spot for no frills, homestyle Italian food. My eggplant parmesan was quite good and my boyfriend’s lasagna was also delicious. The eggplant wasn’t too heavily breaded, was cooked through but not mushy and wasn’t greasy. The ratio of eggplant to cheese and sauce was perfect and the sauce was really delicious. The meat in the lasagna was actually well seasoned which I attribute to the use of meatballs in the dish rather than plain ground beef. There was a range of options for wine and I chose the house wine which paired perfectly with my meal. What made the meal however was our server. He was fantastic. He clearly took pride in the food, made great recommendations and I admit it, his heavy NY Italian accent was endearing. I was reminded of the Italian restaurants we went to in Little Italy when I was a kid.
Pho Vinh, 657 N. Primrose Drive, $10 or less for giant steaming bowls of pho. I had no idea Orlando had a large Vietnamese population. The result of this concentration of Vietnamese residents is that there is an area, Little Vietnam, full of stores and restaurants. We passed about 5 banh mi shops in a row interrupted by Asian markets and then there were noodle shops left and right. Heaven I tell ya. I can’t wait to return to Orlando to spend time eating my way through Little Vietnam. Pho Vinh offered steaming hot pho with the usual accompaniments. With so many places to choose from I imagine there are other spots for delicious pho as well but this place hit the spot. For more about Little Vietnam check out this blog post from Orlando Magazine. Sorry there’s no picture. Sometimes I am so focused on eating I forget the camera. That is a good thing.
The Courtesy Bar 114 N. Orange Avenue. A fantastic whisky bar. This spot looks swanky but the bartenders are more dive bar than diva. This is not to say the service is any way lacking. It isn’t. Service was impeccable and blissfully came with no attitude. These folks were concerned with making sure I got the proper drink for my palate and that I had a good time. The cocktails were creative and delicious. They served a Sunday punch as well. It was citrusy, refreshing and had a well-balanced boozy bite. I could have spent hours hanging around the punch bowl and it made me realize I’ve really underestimated the beauty of a well made punch. Next party = punch bowl. An added bonus was that we were there on a Sunday afternoon when they have a regular barbecue buffet. To call it barbecue is not quite correct though. It was a free buffet of delicious barbacoa from Pig Floyd’s. The buffet had buns and tortillas, delicious well seasoned Cuban black beans, rice, cole slaw, various hot sauces and traditional barbecue sauces. This bar was fantastic!
Winter Park – skip over to this scenic manicured town for the day.
I love Tiffany glass and was surprised to learn the Morse Museum in Winter Park houses the world’s largest collection of Tiffany glass including Tiffany’s chapel interior.
When it’s time for lunch head to 4 Rivers Smokehouse, 1600 W. Fairbanks Boulevard. Two words – BURNT ENDS. Smoked, charred, chewy chunks of brisket with bits of fat nestled in a soft bun and drizzled with sauce. HOLY COW! My boyfriend got the Burnt Ends and I got the pork BBQ thinking we could share. My pork BBQ was good but hands down the burnt ends were the way to go. If I could I would pay money for them to ship me burnt ends. The sides were also delicious.
After lunch head back to Park Avenue and pop in and out of boutiques making sure to walk down Welborne Avenue to visit the independent bookstore, Writer’s Block. Wrap up your afternoon at The Wine Room on Park Avenue. Buy yourself a tasting card and sample from the 156 available wines.
Stay: Homewood Suites, 8745 International Drive, Orlando
Conveniently situated near Universal Studios and a stones throw from wonderful restaurants, this hotel was a great home base. Rates were reasonable and included breakfast and afternoon receptions. What made our stay even better though was the staff. My boyfriend gave me a birthday card which I had displayed on a table in the room. Housekeeping saw the card and we returned that night to find the room decorated for my birthday, a card from the hotel and a basket of goodies. A customer service win!