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Spring Conference Season: Fun in Orlando

November 30, 2013

In a random twist of planning, there were about five higher education conferences in a row on International Drive in Orlando, Fl this past spring. And I was at two of them. Drove about eight hours down on Friday, drove eight hours back on Tuesday night. Drove back down the next Monday through Friday. That is a lot of time on International Drive. So for those of you traveling there anytime soon, here is my review of the area.

Hotels

Trip number one had me staying at the Rosen Center Hotel, not to be confused wit the Rosen Plaza, Rosen Inn or any of the other Rosen hotel chains on International Drive. It was a really good location for a conference. We were in the Rosen Center conference space, but it was directly next to the Orlando Convention Center too. The rooms were really nice and spacious, we had a lovely view and could see all the way to downtown Orlando. There were several places to eat in the hotel… a Starbucks, a deli and pizza place, a buffet restaurant, a sushi place and a sit down restaurant. It was all easy access and the staff was super helpful. I only had two complaints the whole time… there was one light bulb out in the bathroom they never changed and they could never seem to be consistent in the time they would clean the rooms, which messed up some down time. But really, I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars for comfort and convenience. I would definitely stay there again.

Trip number two had me staying at the DoubleTree Orlando at SeaWorld and it was by far the worst hotel experience I have had since a random hole in the wall back in college when I went to a DMB concert and we all piled in a room and I hardly slept. The DoubleTree was awful from the moment we checked in. Across the board the staff were rude and unhelpful, even after the fact when I emailed to tell them about how horrible it was, they never responded. Even as a smoke-free room, it smelled like smoke because people would step out onto the open walkway to smoke and it would seep into the rooms. The walkway was grooved, so when the housekeeping staff would push their carts down the path it sounded like a plane taking off. This went on from 5:45am-7pm ALL DAY. Plus, we were by the pool, which had music blasting from 9am-9pm everyday, and then people out hanging out after that. The showers were nasty and the staff just rude across the board. Do not stay there, avoid if you can. I know I’ll never go back.

Shopping and Entertainment

So many great options! Universal Studios is right there and all the Disney parks are just a bit further than that. I’ve been to all of them now, and I definitely prefer Disney over Universal. Disney just had more rides and is a lot more fun for me… no matter what park I go to. The Harry Potter section at Universal was cool, but that was about it. The rest of the park just wasn’t that exciting and it just didn’t pull me. Sea World is there as well as a few water theme parks. Lots to do.

Entering Harry Potter World

Entering Harry Potter World

There are two separate outlet malls, one on each end of International Drive. Orlando Premium Outlets on International Drive is on the north end. I got a great wallet at Kate Spade. They also had a Victoria’s Secret outlet, which was a little overwhelming. There were sooo many lotion and perfume spells, I couldn’t take it… but they did have a lot of deals. This mall was really big, we ended up spending most of the morning and early afternoon there! The second outlet mall is on the way south end of International Drive and it is the Orlando Premium Outlets on Vineland. This was great, it had a lot of non-outlets, like Prada and Tory Burch… but they were fun to look at anyway!

I did some good shopping

I did some good shopping

Food

Lots of chain restaurants on International Drive, not so much local. But this whole road is full of hotels catering to tourists or people like me that are at a conference. Here were four of the highlights that I found memorable.

  • Maggianos -My all-time favorite chain Italian place. We had a big group so we did the meal family style, passing around plates and devouring the food. The chopped chicken salad is by far one of my most favorite salads ever, and is my most favorite thing on this menu. Everyone loved this place and I will always make a point to eat at this place if I can find one!
Family Style at Maggiano's

Family Style at Maggiano’s

  • Ming Court– Chinese. It was pretty good, very elegant. It wouldn’t be my first choice to go to again, but I would go back.
  • Copper Canyon Grill– AMAZING. American style food… I had a half-roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and something else…. amazing. The servers shared the tables, so the service was excellent. Nothing but good things to say about this place.
  • Tommy Bahama’s Restaurant Bar and Grill- Good, but way overpriced. I had some stuffed shrimp with a spicy sauce. The place was just a bit pretentious. It wouldn’t be my first choice of a place to go back to eat.

    Stuffed Shrimp at Tommy Bahama

    Stuffed Shrimp at Tommy Bahama

 

As I mentioned, International Drive is really designed for conference folks and people on vacation. It is easy to navigate, and all the parking is hid in garages behind the hotels and shopping places. There is a little trolly that will take you up and down the road and it is perfectly safe to be out there at night (I felt safe). International Drive is VERY long though, so I don’t recommend trying that. We drove everywhere. I’m sure I’ll be back there sometime in the next few years for another conference… but you can bet I won’t stay at the DoubleTree!

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