Florida has an array of amazing destinations, and many are famously LGBTI-friendly. Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Key West to name but a few.
But there’s something special about Orlando; a magical draw that sets it apart it from its beachside brothers. If you’re anything like me, you’ve been desperate to go since you were four years old.
It’s known worldwide for being a friendly and welcoming place. Which in part explains why last year’s horrific massacre shocked in the way it did.
Almost exactly one year ago, on 12 June 2016, gunman Omar Mateen stormed Latino night at gay nightclub Pulse. Some 49 people were shot dead and another 58 wounded during the atrocious incident.
But one year on, local LGBTIs are defiant, and visitors continue to descend on the city in droves. In fact, last year Orlando celebrated record tourism: 68 million people to be exact. (To put that into perspective, only around 262,000 live here!)
The only logical conclusion is that Orlando is, and always will be, amazing. Here are just 8 examples of that amazingness – starting with rollercoasters, obviously.
1 It’s the theme park capital of the world
Naturally. The big daddies are, of course, Universal Orlando Resort and Walt Disney World Resort (the latter is in part responsible for this). For our rundown of some of the biggest and best coasters in the former, click here.
Aside from these two, be sure to also check out Legoland – the second largest after the one in Windsor in the UK.
2 Plus, Universal’s Volcano Bay recently opened
Centered around a a 200-foot tall (imitation) volcano named Krakatau, Universal Studios’ newest water park opened last month.
Therein you’ll find three drop slides, including the Ko’okiri Body Plunge – America’s tallest drop slide, at 125 feet. For this and other rides, you in theory need not queue, thanks to the Tapu Tapu digital bracelet queueing system, although reception has so far been mixed.
3 Not to mention Pandora – The World of Avatar at Walt Disney World Resort!
Also only open a couple of weeks is this mini world based on James Cameron’s Avatar (the highest-grossing movie of all time). Word online is it doesn’t disappoint.
Found in Disney’s Animal Kingdom park, the area comes complete with fantastical flowers, floating mountains – and an actual 3D flying simulator that allows you to swoop around the planet’s vivid landscapes on the back of a mountain Banshee. We can only imagine how incredible Star Wars Land is going to be!
4 It has over 100 lakes
Orlando isn’t just about theme parks. There are also miles of open water. How about an airboat through a swamp, or hiring a boat for a spot of fishing? Or perhaps exploring the city’s architecture by paddle-boarding the canals?
Of course, many are home to alligators; there are 1.3 million in the state. However, despite the headline-grabbing tragedy involving a child last year, attacks on humans are rare. Only 13 people have died so far this century.
5 The weather
There are 11 hours of sun a day in June in Orlando. (Although, at the time of writing, it’s going to be raining all weekend!).
The hottest month is July, with average temperatures hit 28°C. The coldest is January, which averages out as 15°C.
6 The wealth of things to do
Now, if you’re the kind of adult who isn’t partial to rollercoasters and kids’ characters, there’s plenty for you here too.
Take in the views in a hot air balloon. Get a culture fix at the Orlando Museum of Art. See Diana Ross (!!!) at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on the 27 June. The options are endless.
7 The thriving gay scene
8 It’s perfectly-located
Sitting almost in the central of Florida, Orlando is driving distance from most of the state’s other major cities. Fort Lauderdale is 220 miles, or 3.15 hours by car, while Miami is 236 miles, or 3.5 hours by car.
Furthermore, Key West is a longer drive, clocking in at almost 400 miles and over six hours in the car. But we can attest that at least part of it is a highly scenic drive!