Since the Pulse shootings in Orlando earlier this month, I have remained rather quiet on the subject. As an Orlando resident for 20 years, it has hit each of us differently even if we weren’t directly affected by the tragedy and we are all grieving here in one way or another.
There have been dozens of vigils in cities around the world and naturally in downtown Orlando. Even some that were in the theme parks as well. Relief efforts continue as money is raised for the victims and their families who could have never seen something like this coming. People are pitching in everywhere they can.
While I have contributed to several of those efforts myself and while I encourage you to do the same, this article isn’t about that. Something interesting has happened in the media since the attack and I frankly never thought it would happen: Orlando isn’t being recognized for just theme parks anymore.
Truth be told, I adore theme parks and attractions. But after a while, you can only ride Splash Mountain so many times before that pixie dust starts to fade. For thousands of Orlando residents who migrated here from various parts of the globe, I will tell you this simple truth that seems to resonate with many of us: we came for the theme parks, but stay for the people who reside here.
The fact is, Orlando is an open-minded melting pot similar to other bigger cities who are known for it, like New York or San Fransisco. The reality is, Orlando is a truly accepting community filled with a healthy mix of political beliefs, religions, sexual preferences, and more. What has brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion is just how much people from this city have pitched in to try and assist those in need.
Now maybe your city would have done the exact same thing and let’s hope we never have to test that theory out. Meanwhile, if you come to this town and just visit the theme parks and head home, I implore you to try something new next time: break out of the Orlando bubble for a little bit.
Even if you come to Orlando for three weeks on a yearly basis and all you do is theme park related activities, you are not allowed to claim you “know Orlando inside and out.” Look, there are a decent amount of theme park websites out there who visit Disney and Universal every single day of the week, and that’s great… But so many of them never set foot outside that bubble. If you ever wonder why I don’t cover the parks like they do, it’s because I need a balance in my life of everything Orlando has to offer.
Here is my request. The next time you fly into Orlando and let’s say your flight arrives at 2 p.m. Spend that half day getting to know the city outside of the tourist bubble. Hop on the Sunrail and stop off in Winter Park where you can stroll through dozens of one-of-a-kind bars and restaurants. It’s absolutely gorgeous and the train station is less than a block away from the heart of the city.
If you think the food at Disney and Universal is the best in town, you are sorely mistaken. Sure, there are some really great restaurants inside the bubble, but the real hidden gems lie just outside the tourist corridor. You can’t go wrong with Yellow Dog Eats, White Wolf Cafe, the Rusty Spoon, Ravenous Pig and dozens more.
You know those entertainers that you see at Disney and Universal every trip and think they are crazy talented for what they do? They are and most likely, they have a side gig. Orlando is filled with local theater companies who stage some incredible shows that rival anything you’ve seen in other cities. You’d be hard pressed to see a show that doesn’t star theme park actors in places like Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando Shakespeare Center, SAK Comedy Lab and the Orlando Repertory Theater.
Finally, if you live here and you only visit the parks in your spare time, I beg of you to jump outside that Orlando bubble too. I know far too many people in this town who don’t support their own community and that’s a shame considering there is a ton of unique activities that you can partake in here.
Sorry to ramble for a bit, but for once, a spotlight has been cast on my town, and there has never been a better time to show support for Orlando. Not because of what has happened here, but what its always been. An incredible town filled with incredible things to do that are just a stone’s throw away from the Orlando bubble. It has to be seen to be believed.
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