(Photo: Malgorzata Litkowska/Shutterstock.com)
What separates Orlando from most other cities is its ability to separate tourists from their dollars. We’ve worked hard to make sure no one leaves disappointed, but a few local attractions have a little more work to do. Here are seven tourist traps to avoid, along with their more worthwhile alternates:
- Hash House a Go-Go. This I-Drive restaurant seems to exist just for the Instagramming of its absurdly large portions of the signature dish — sage fried chicken and bacon waffles — which is served two feet high and pinned to the plate with a broadsword-sized steak knife. The food is tasty enough, but if you’re a lifetime member of the Clean Plate Club, your post-brunch to-do list will read simply, “nap.” Try this instead: Find a Waffle House, where you can gorge yourself for a third of the price.
- Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Who didn’t love that shelf of the public library that held the Ripley’s books, with their scary photos and weird tales? But now we have the Internet, and anyone with Wi-Fi and a taste for the odd has heard every story that Ripley’s puts on display in their museums. Many of the exhibits here are replicas (and are replicated in other Ripley’s “Odditoriums”), and some are of questionable veracity. Two points for it: it’s indoors, and it’s air-conditioned. Try this instead: Take the family to Orlando Science Center, where the exhibits are interactive, educational and — sometimes — just as hard to believe.
- Gatorland. Nothing says Florida like a 14-foot alligator with a mouth like a cutlery drawer. And you’ll see plenty of them — along with some actually informative explanatory signage — at Gatorland, but it’s almost ruined by the cornpone shtick of the shows. Does anyone still find humor in overalls and trucker hats worn by guys named “Bubba” and “Cooter?” Try this instead: Take an airboat ride on Lake Jessup with Black Hammock, and try the gator tail tacos at the restaurant.
- Medieval Times. So you sit around eating half a chicken with your fingers, waving a drumstick as you cheer on your randomly assigned knight in feats of chivalry. And you cheer, and cheer and cheer. Really, if you’re going to be shouting during dinner, it should be because you’ve been waiting 15 minutes for a Manhattan. Still, it has to be better than Pirate Dinner Adventure, which is the same thing without horses. Try this instead: Bite into some courtly intrigue at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, which isn’t afraid of a little blood. There’s also a nice snack bar.
- Ming Court. At first, this seems like a great place for an exotic meal: there are koi ponds, Chinese musicians on traditional instruments, and some nice topiary. But once you’re seated, you realize you’re just eating generic General Tso-Tso’s Chicken in a gymnasium. Still, the fish are fun to look at. Try this instead: Head to Orlando’s Mills 50 district for incredible and authentic cuisine from Vietnam, Korea and China (like at Ming’s Bistro, no relation).
- The Florida Mall. It’s a really big mall that’s really crowded with locals and out-of-towners. But there’s nothing here that you can’t find in a smaller, nicer, newer mall. Here, you can stand in line at a Starbucks while looking at another Starbucks, or travel from one Victoria’s Secret to the other and stop by the PINK store on your way. Legend has it that if you walk in a circle, you will pass 32 Auntie Annie’s Pretzel stands. Try this instead: Check out vintage clothing, artsy gifts and antique stores in Orlando’s neighborhood shopping districts — and have a salted caramel brownie from Bluebird Bake Shop.
- Rocco’s Tacos. This place has lots of bars, with lots of tequila drinks. It’s like a Disney World of tequila, really. You’ll lose count of the pitchers (except for the jalapeño margarita, which you will count at “1”) before you get around to the food, and even though you just want nachos, you’ll end up with something sputteringly hot served in a big stone bowl. It might be delicious, but you probably won’t remember. Try this instead: Grab a few brown bags full of taco goodness at Mi Mexico #2, and eat it while you get borracho or your own bottle of Sauza.