"Florida at Its Worst?" Orlando by bocmaxima
Orlando Travel Guide: 3,246 reviews and 6,605 photos
Just as Las Vegas, as a municipality, has skipped around the iconic, sprawling and often tacky Strip, Orlando's city limits avoid the monuments to over-consumptionism to the southwest of the city. Flanking Disney World's east side and built in the traditions of America's car culture - where a road is built to provide access to parking lots and not to get between two points - lies International Drive. I Drive is the oft-ignored service provider for the Magic Kingdom; a seemingly endless, pedestrian-unfriendly and bike-at-your-own-high-risk stretch of motels, restaurants and strip malls. For many tourists visiting Orlando, this is where the magic happens; where frustrations seethe and boil over into the sort of cold interactions that you often catch among the tourist families in this area, with their sun hats, bermuda shorts and Disney wristbands.
I Drive is why Florida has a bad reputation. In addition to the plastic theme parks and Orlando's swampy airport, this is often all people see of the state. It's unfortunate that we've not only been able to collect this sort of abomination, but that we push so many people through here. I Drive is what's wrong with the US, concentrated in just a few square miles. The case against capitalism and consumerism was never so strong.
And with that more nihilistic view on the city, it's important to re-emphasize that Disney World is not actually in Orlando. It's in two other municipalities, Lake Buena Vista and Bay Lake, both inventions of the Disney corporation. Sea World is also not in Orlando. Universal Studios is, but just barely, on its western side.
Orlando's core is an example of "Old Florida," a term that's come in to wide use now that millions have invaded the state from other regions in the past thirty years, causing the state to mostly lose whatever sense of culture it once had. If the housing bubble did one good thing, it made Orlando's neighborhoods look pretty. These neighborhoods surrounding Orlando's Downtown area, itself awash with glassy new skyscrapers, are picturesque strips of old, modest homes and quiet streets lined with old live oak trees. Whereas the Metro Disney area is the epitome of sprawl and over-development, Orlando's core has employed height restrictions, historic districts and strict development requirements to keep the neighborhoods' charm in tact.
And, for the most part, it works. Much of Orlando is charming, attractive and, when it's not too hot and humid, very pleasant to stroll through. If you can survive the frustrations of I Drive to reach the interstate, and weave through the ever-present traffic on Orlando's only freeway, then it's worth a visit.
- Pros:Charming Florida if you can find it
- Cons:Vicious and frustrating in areas
- In a nutshell:Conscious of the monster in its midst, Orlando is working its way to modernity.
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