We're going to be in Orlando for 7-8 days at the end of September. Of course we know everything there's to know about the theme parks, but is there anything interesting and worth seeng in Orlando itself? interesting night life?
and something else - weren't Busch Gardens in Tampa botanical gardens like those in Vancouver Island, Canada? I was surprised to find out that it's yet another theme park. not that we don't like theme parks but no need to drive all the way to tampa. right?
(by the way, are the gardnes in Vancouver Island still what they were or are they transformed too?)
The gardens you are referring to on Vancouver Island are the Buchart Gardens. They are still the same as they ever were--quite beautiful and impressive.
The place in Tampa, while it's called Busch Gardens, it's really an amusement park--not a gardens. The highlight, however, is their African safari areas--you can take a monorail through the area as one of the rides or I think you can drive through as well (not positive about this). But the "park" consists of about 5 different theme areas--all with different varieties of rides, but hardly any gardens. If you go to the Disney Wild Animal Kingdom, you kind of get the same thing as Busch Gardens, so drive to Tampa only if you want shorter lines--since Disney is known for overselling their admissions--which Busch Gardens doesn't do--or if you are interested in going to the beaches at Clearwater or St. Petersburg.
Forgot to mention some nightlife spots. Two places to consider:
(1) Church Street Station in downtown Orlando has some very interesting spots--one jazz place, one country-western, one fine dining establishment and one-top forty place--and probably other stuff by now. I also think there's some shopping outlets nearby called the Church Street Station Exchange.
The second place to consider is called Paradise Island and is actually located on the Disney property, though not in any of the amusement parks. At this location they have a long block of different clubs, activities, and restaurants, and then at midnight they celebrate as though its New Years Eve with fireworks and madness all up and down the block--they do this 364 days a year (every day but Christmas).
Lastly, don't knock some of the Disney parks for nighttime entertainment--though mostly the family variety. Epcot in particular does a great fountain and light show in their International Lagoon followed by fireworks. There are also fireworks at the Magic Kingdom each night. And I think at both these spots they have nighttime parades--all lit up and done reasonably well. However, for regular nightclubs, stick with the first two places mentioned above.
Sorry to keep posting, but I keep remembering things.
Two other places to consider while in Orlando.
(1) Visit the Kennedy Space Center on the east coast--and take a tour through the Vertical assembly building where they put the rockets together for the space shots.
(2) The most unusual thing to see is at the Peabody Hotel. Every day (I think around 2 PM, but I don't really know the time for sure), there is a parade of all the ducks in the area into the middle of the lobby where they all jump into the giant fountain there. The Peabody encourages the ducks to do this--and provides them with grain as part of the trip. Everyone who has seen it tells me its real cute and quite amusing. (Don't know if they still do this or not--so call the hotel for information.)
I don't know if you already booked a hotel in Orlando or not, but I would suggest you to rent a vacation rental instead of a hotel. They are cheap and you will feel like you are at home. We rented a 4 bedroom house with a swimming pool for $120 a night last Chrismas. And for those people who don't like to eat out, renting a house is perfect.
[ Edit: No promotional website links, please. ]