Things to do at the Airport...and Close By | Other Orlando


  • If you have ever missed your plane, chances are one of three things happened:

    (1) You overslept and could not get to the airport on time, or (2) The TSA line was several hours long, making you miss your flight, or (3) You had a layover or long delay for various reasons.

    Sorry, we can’t do anything about 1 and 2…leaving too late or security issues…other than recommend you get a better alarm clock and leave earlier for the airport.

    But when it comes to number 3…those earthbound delays…we can definitely help you.

    This is a timely issue if you are aware of the recent record of the TSA (Transportation Security Administration).

    Airline passengers across the country have been missing flights as TSA attempts to process record passenger numbers. Various explanations are given.

    But some delays have involved several hours. Some delayed travelers have spent overnights at airports.

    That’s bad enough anytime of the year…even during lighter travel periods…but there are always layovers and long delays.

    Any and all seasons of the year.

    But this can be OK. For you, anyway.

    Let’s say you have exhausted your Disney World Orlando tickets…or Universal Studios Orlando tickets…or LEGOLAND tickets…or Busch Gardens Tampa tickets…and have already been to the theme parks.

    You have had enough.

    You are ready to go home.

    You are ready but airlines are not

    Say you have a half day or more delay. Several hours.

    No question of going back to the parks, where you want at least a one-day time period to experience even the most basic things.

    So you’re at the airport.

    What can you do for those hours of waiting?

    We suggest two areas.

    First, if you still have money left over, there is a category for you.

    That is to stay at the airport itself.

    Which does not sound great but if you know more about it, you might change your mind.

    Secondly, there’s an entertaining option just about 13 miles from the airport that is not a theme park. But it has a lot of entertainment options.

    And though only a few are free, they are mainly low cost. They can be viewed in just a few hours if you choose just a couple options. And they don’t require an entire day or more (though you can choose to spend more time there if you have it).

    Since you presumably have been to the theme parks already…and have little or no money left over in your budget… what can you do?

    Waiting at the airport can be fun

    You can wait at the Orlando International Airport (which is the most likely arrival-departure for most airline visitors here).

    OK. That hardly sounds like the best part of your trip. But hold on.

    Orlando’s airport attracts 40 million visitors now, making it one of the biggest in the US.

    MCO or Orlando International is the second busiest airport in Florida and 14th busiest in the U.S.

    It has long been praised for is practical design in getting passengers around with a minimum of fuss.

    But it also is almost like a city itself…with a lot of options.

    Besides just waiting…with a book or phone or I-pad.

    Just to give you an idea of its size. It has

    ---Over 120 places to eat and or shop.

    ---Financial services include a full service bank, and a currency exchange.

    ---There’s spas, shoe shine places, USPS and Express Shipping drop-off boxes.

    ---Free airport wide Wi-Fi.

    ---And a 445-room AAA Four Diamond Hyatt Regency inside the main terminal.

    About that Wi-Fi (which you can’t find everywhere):

    It’s available in all public areas of the airport. Free.

    Free Wi-Fi is among amenities

    Access Points provided by the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority use the SSID “MCO Internet.”

    If you have any problems with networks, airport officials suggest simply moving to another location.

    Cellular/PCS wireless is also available from AT&T, Cingular, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.

    There are also several kiosks which offer travelers internet connections, in addition to the standard dial service offered by the phone company via the RJ-11 jacks in the pay phones.

    You’re non-technical or simply don’t want to connect right now?

    The airport has a long reputation for supporting art. And its collection includes huge paintings and striking sculptures.

    They’re found everywhere (including a life-like sleeping passenger figure who is so realistic-looking that some passengers have tried to wake him up).

    Well-known national figures are among artists represented here.

    It’s hardly as large as the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art but you should be able to easily pass a few hours walking around to view it all.

    No cost or TSA issues here.

    Dining and art viewing are other options

    Of course, there’s also a major standby for airport waits: eating.

    Some of the latest offerings at the Food Hall includes Villa Italian Kitchen, Green Leaf’s & Bananas, The Market by Villa, Jersey Mike’s Subs, Asian Chao Oriental Eatery and Chipotle Mexican Grill.

    That varied bunch alone should satisfy most tastes and budget.

    The Food Hall is on the Airside Terminal 2 for gates 100-129.

    Most restaurants close at 10 pm or earlier. But if want a McDonald’s, guess what? Twenty four hours a day.

    For quieter moments, Orlando International Airport has a chapel inside the terminal, located just beyond the west security checkpoint (Gates 1-59), which can be accessed by any passenger holding a boarding pass

    It’s not unheard of as a place for a quiet through short nap.

    If you do demand a nap, seating is not really designed for that much comfort but there are sofas scattered around.

    The Orlando facility, in common with most, was hardly designed to give you a better sleep. But there are some couches available if you look around.

    The Food Court also has some padded benches (warning: hard to score because they are so often already occupied).

    TSA stations close after the last flight of the day but you can spend the night here.

    Another alternative is one day memberships in one of the various airport lounges. But expect to pay at least $50.

    A nap is nice but bring earplugs

    Wherever you might find to crash, do bring earplugs. The televisions go on all night.

    Other quiet places include a “city park” atmosphere in the hotel atrium between the A-Side and the B-Side of the Main Terminal.

    Take the elevator there to the top of the parking garage, even if you have no car parked there, to get a view from one of the highest points around of the Orlando area. It’s a good place as well for nightly Disney fireworks (though you should bring your own chairs if you want to avoid standing).

    You’re probably too old for this…but maybe not.

    It requires some effort but if you are willing to complete some paperwork, you can visit Level 9 of the Terminal Top Parking Garage to shoot panoramic photos of the area. (It’s also a good place for watching airplanes take off and land).

    Security regulations require you to fill out a “Use of Facilities” form. You have to do it in person. From 8 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday at the Public Affairs office. It’s located on the 3rd level of the Main Terminal at the Aviation Authority Executive Offices near the East Security Checkpoint for Gates 70-129.

    Why it’s called MCO

    For the sake of trivia (and perhaps to impress others about your local knowledge), the MCO designation for Orlando obviously had nothing to do with the name of the city…or does it?

    MCO comes from the former McCoy Air Force Base, named after Colonel Michael Norman Wright McCoy (1905–1957). A much-decorated pilot, he was killed during a crash of his B-47 Stratojet. An often-told story is that he guided his crippled airplane away from a local grade school to crash it at the site of what is now near the Orlando airport.

    Booking a room at the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Hotel is getting as close to the airport itself as you can get.

    Rated 4-Diamonds by AAA.

    A check of rates for mid-June found the $150-a-night range, but a more exhaustive search might do better. They offer Day Rooms between 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

    Rooms start at the 4th floor of the terminal. The terminal lobby is on the 3rd floor (as convenient as any airport anywhere).

    Not all airport hotels are quiet.

    But this one has positive reviews for that as well as for its other amenities.

    Said one blogger:

    “We stayed at Disney world and our last night we checked out to stay at the airport Hyatt so we could catch an early flight. Best thing we did. Not only cheaper but so convenient. We went from the room to the security line in minutes. It also gave me the ability to return the rent a car and save a day on the car.”

    Hotels

    Staying a night at an airport after a hard days week of theme park experiences is always a good way to decompress -- whether or not you have an early flight the next day.

    There are other less expensive hotels for well under $100 a night scattered within five miles of the airport itself that also offer free shuttles there.

    The airport hotel itself is designed to appeal to exercise fans.

    The hotel’s “StayFit™ gym features the latest in Life Fitness® Cardio equipment. The complimentary gym has treadmills, cross trainers, weights, exercise bicycles or just about everything you might expect in a well-equipped gymnasium.

    There’s a fitness concierge on hand for advice and to provide any exercise gear desired. 

    There’s also a jogging / walking track. It’s open from dawn to dusk.

    For those who choose to work out in the privacy of their rooms, there’s YogaAway. A variety of programs let you do your workout right there.

    For less strenuous exercise, the outdoor, Roman-style splash pool has a shaded lounge area to view planes soaring across the runway.

    Getting away from the airport

    Now, if you have your own transportation, it’s easy enough to drive to nearby destinations.

    Buses can also get you there for just a few dollars. But factor in waiting time, etc.

    As for taxis, they are easy to get here. But rates are among the highest you’ll find anywhere (blame it partly on a long-standing monopoly of providers).

    If you want to just go from the Orlando International Airport to International Drive, we found a taxi rate of $40-45 for the approximate 13-mile drive.

    An estimated Uber rate was far less: $14.34 (thank local government for approving this far better and less expensive alternative).

    What can you do at International Drive?

    The better question is what you can’t do,

    Shopping, dining attractions, entertainment options and hotels.

    All found here

    I-Drive offers over 42,000 hotel rooms, 22 attractions, 3 entertainment complexes, 200+ restaurants, 550 shops, the Orange County Convention Center and the I-Ride Trolley Service.  

    Take a ride on the I-Drive trolley (no more than $2) to see:

    The Orlando Eye, ala city of London, offers a 400-foot tower view of Central Florida in glass capsules.

    Or the really out-of-the-ordinary at “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” at the Orlando Odditorium.

    Or lie on a bed of nails at “WonderWorks” or simply see how people lived and died at the time of the Titanic.

    Bars like the “Blue Martini” (42 different kinds of martinis if that is your choice or shopping at Pointe Orlando).

    Guess what at “Gator Spot,” an extension of Gatorland with baby examples as well as giant ones (and a white Gator)?

    Glow in the dark miniature golf (Putting Edge), and eat, drink and play at Dave & Buster’s.

    Artistic or Bohemian culture served as a side order at highly rated Café Tu Tu Tango or learn belly dancing at Taverna Opa.

    Flying (really) on your own at Air Raid.

    Belly dancing or bars

    Chill out at the ICEBAR Orlando, named as the largest permanent ice bar in the world (70 tons of the unusual stuff…for Florida, at least).

    Care for a swim outside your hotel pool? You can buy a daily pass at the YMCA Aquatic Center I-Drive (a pool large enough to get lost in).

    McDonald’s offers its largest Play Place here.

    Even a glass blowing shop and studio at Artegon Marketplace Orlando.

    And world class roller coasters? Even that is “Coming Soon.

    More information on the huge variety of activities can be found at the I-Drive information site (www.iridetrolley.com/).

    You can check out “Hot deals” at www. InternationalDriveOrlando.com.

    Not literally a free way to spend spare time. But at least some things to do at fairly reasonable prices while waiting for your flight. ###