A Few Shocking Surprises | Other Orlando

  • If you were visiting here from somewhere in Europe, say England, you might already know that you have to drive on the wrong side of the road. But would you be prepared for the climate?


    Hot, almost all of the time. But not always.

    So much so that you need a light jacket, at least at times.

    But you probably are not a foreign visitor from, say, somewhere in Europe.

    Still, there are still a lot of things that might surprise you -- even if you are far more familiar with the generally chilly climate of Boston, Mass than rain-dominated London, England

    Let’s say you are coming here for the very first time?

    Not discouraging

    What might surprise you or even…dare we say the word?...shock you?

    This is not meant in any way to discourage visitors, and it probably will not and should not.

    After all, almost 60 million tourists a year come here, making it the theme park-visitors capital of the world.

    But on the other hand, why not consider the realities…shocking or otherwise?

    Not all of these surprises are bad, however.

    Some very positive things you’ll find here are the range of cuisines, the beer selection (a great craft beer scene) and the fact you only need casual clothes not just in Orlando but anywhere in Florida. T-shirts and shorts are “in,” out are “ties and tuxedos.”

    Even more important perhaps...

    Friendly people

    The vast majority of people here are accustomed to visitors (not really surprising, since most residents are strangers themselves, immigrants from other states).

    If you need directions, or just a friendly chat, you don’t have to visit a theme park to find it. Given cheerfully.

    So you need to never be afraid of asking for any help.

    And let’s also face this: some things are both bad and good.

    On the roads, for example, you will find the access ramps for getting onto the area’s main street, I-4, are often too short to keep up and blend into fast-moving traffic. But on the other hand, drivers can turn right after a full stop (a definite time-saving convenience).

    And the sunshine is justly much advertised. But it can be wet as well. And sun protection is as necessary as food and water.

    So now let’s get to the climate now.

    Hot, hot, hot

    It is hot much of the year (why do you think the inventors of air conditioning are regarded as heroes in the entire so-called Sunshine State?).

    In fact, it’s hot practically all of the time.

    Sure, the guide books tell you it is sunshine all year round. And it is.

    In nearby St. Petersburg, the local newspaper used to give away free copies when the sun failed to make a daily appearance.

    But it’s also hot, almost 100 degrees in the long summers that stretch into what might be fall or even early winter months in climates such as Boston or New York.

    Don’t take our word for it.

    Let’s consider what British people tell other brits at a Web site just for visitors from there.

    “British tourists and sun starved Europeans may be somewhat bemused to see large numbers of locals heading for the shade at the first sign of a few rays. Life without air conditioning is for many here unthinkable and breaking sweat walking around town is strictly for the birds. Make no mistake, the locals love their sunshine, but perhaps more in January and February than July and August.”

    For anyone visiting in the long summer, you will simmer unless you have good sunblock applied more often than once a day. SPF 30 is recommended for those with milk-bottle-coloring.

    Heat AND rain

    Then, there’s the rainy season.

    The best advice: Don’t forget to bring an umbrella or raincoats or just buy one of those plastic, foldable, slip-on raincoats during almost half of the year.

    Do you now want the best time to visit? Not the least expensive time, but the best?

    For climate, try March, which is less crowded. Or October, when there are months without any regular afternoon rains.

    Then, there’s shopping.

    You will fail to find more of it just about anywhere in the world outside of the 13-story Mall of America in the US or the city of Hong Kong, where its gazillion shops not long ago replaced New York City’s claim of “most expensive.”

    (If you wonder how stores here compare in price with NYC or Hong Kong, no immediate formula is available but prices generally cover the gamut from inexpensive to you-know what).

    All the tourist attractions are also rich with shopping options, but even when you’re away from it, there are air-conditioned malls to ease your strolls at The Mall at Millenia, Florida Mall or lower-priced Premium Outlets, Pointe Orlando or The Loop, and many others.

    They are typically open for shockingly long hours, seven days a week with admittedly great buys for SOME jeans, sneakers or cameras or whatever else you don’t need but must have.

    Traffic jams

    If you’re coming here from NYC or Boston, you might poo-poo the traffic on the major highways. But otherwise, you will certainly become aware of it.

    Traffic is not just at rush hour in downtown, where many people commute to work, but also as you near the theme parks. Slowdowns are particularly sticky in the morning and afternoon (reflecting worker patterns, though these are from visiting tourists).

    This may be a surprise, but not to residents.

    One blogger says his 20-mile commute to work near Disney takes him three times what it used to. No wonder. The culprit: rapid growth.

    He writes:

    “Whole neighborhoods were created where cows were grazing three years ago. Most of these new neighborhoods are beautiful, with gorgeous new homes, lots of green space, and easy access to major highways and roads. But that is where the ‘well planned’ part ends. What’s the benefit of having easy access to major highways when those are not built to handle all this extra traffic and are congested all the time?”

    Well, maybe not all of the time but certainly some of it.

    For transportation while in the theme parks, there are many attractive choices that include water taxis, buses, and easy-to-follow walking paths. But again, those regular afternoon showers can make you feel very wet.

    Then, there’s the crime issue.

    Yes, it does happen here, though tourist attractions don’t like to admit or acknowledge it.

    Transportation not the only problem

    Now just to make this clear: there is no more crime here than most areas. And much of it revolves around property theft such as stolen credit cards.

    And putting this in perspective, most crimes are confined to certain areas.

    Tourist areas are generally immune from anything but minor thefts and petty crimes.

    The safest area of all is the theme parks like Disney. Why?

    Security cameras are everywhere. And places like Disney even have their own police forces. More advanced technology also helps.

    The next safest places are the malls. Valet parking is a real crime-stopper here though again there are thefts from cars and other issues.

    That is mainly the west side of I-4 in downtown Orlando. Crimes here can get more serious than property, including some bodily harm, but again many people live without problems.

    No shops or theme parks or other distractions to lure you. So you will almost certainly not go there.

    Two other areas to avoid if you are concerned about crime: Tangelo Park just off Sand Lake Road behind International Drive and Kirkman Road. And Orange Blossom Trail south of the Florida Turnpike.

    Tangelo was once adjacent to the defunct US Naval base area in Orlando and still has a lot of middle-class homes. But some nearby stores have closed and dead end neighborhoods have helped foster some criminal activity.

    As for OBT or South Orange Blossom Trail…it is trying to change its identify but it remains best known for prostitution.

    But so as not to end this report on any negative note, keep in mind that almost 60 million visitors come here every year. Their numbers continue to grow.

    And the vast majority say they not only had a great time, but that like the “Terminator,” they will be back.