Health + Fitness

Orlando Au Naturel: How to Travel Green in the City Beautiful

(Photo: Hero Images Inc./Alamy)

Eco-travel has morphed from a buzzy trend to a bona fide phenomenon. Many environmentally conscious travelers check out a resort or restaurant’s green cred before visiting, and Orlando has caught on big time.

No matter if you’re staying near the theme parks or in central Orlando, it’s easy to find restaurants, hotels and attractions that care as much about the environment as you do. Below is a sampling of the greenest places to eat, stay and play in the City Beautiful.

Eat and Drink

In 2007, local chefs James and Julie Petrakis changed the Orlando food scene forever when they opened their casually elegant gastro pub The Ravenous Pig. Since the beginning, the restaurant has worked (almost exclusively) with local farmers, sourcing the eponymous pig from Palmetto Creek Farms in Avon Park, Florida, and produce from Plant City, Sebring and Mt. Dora.

The duo has opened two more Florida-focused spots since then — southern public house Cask & Larder (where they brew their own beer) and the brand new Swine & Sons Provisions, which offers locally sourced artisanal charcuterie and daily pastry specials.

If you’re looking for a few foodie souvenirs to take home, you can’t get much more local than the East End Market in Orlando’s Audubon Park neighborhood.

A former church, the building sat empty for six years until undergoing a transformation in 2013 into a sort of indoor farmers’ market. It now houses all manner of eco-friendly, locally sourced food stalls selling items like local veggies and raw, unfiltered honey.

Stay

Although you can see the nightly fireworks at the Magic Kingdom from the bucolic, 500-acre Grande Lakes property — home to both JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes and The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes — you’ll feel worlds away from the tourist bustle.

Fully committed to sustainability, both properties have put in place multiple eco-friendly practices, including a reclaimed water-distribution system for irrigation, a storm-water capture system, energy-efficient lighting and rooms and a full recycling program.

The onsite 18-hole Greg Norman signature golf course has been designated as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary for creating natural habitats for wildlife, including birds-of-prey nesting areas, butterfly gardens and birdhouses.

Designers also left 35 acres of the land untouched to create a natural corridor for animals. You can learn more about the resort’s natural surroundings on educational eco-tours led by certified Florida Master Naturalists.

Play

Around 50 minutes away on Florida’s east coast, the 140,000-acre Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Titusville encompasses coastal dunes, saltwater estuaries and marshes, and hardwood hammocks, which provide habitat for more than 1,500 species of plants and animals.

Get a unique perspective on the area’s natural beauty by participating in a bioluminescent night tour via kayak, wherein every dip of your paddle into the water stirs tiny dinoflagellates in the water, causing them to glow. Although the bioluminescence is only present from June to early October, there are moonlight paddles available year-round.

If you’d rather paddle by day, the Ritz-Carlton’s onsite concessionaire, Adventure Experiences, offers an eco-kayak or canoe tour of Shingle Creek, which take you around the headwaters of the Everglades to see alligators, osprey and bald eagles.