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How to make the most of Orlando's tourist district 

We’ve all heard the conventional wisdom about our city’s world-famous attractions: Nobody goes there because it’s too crowded. Certainly, there are longtime Orlando residents who only venture into the tourism district in search of a paycheck, or when family visits from out of state. But ignoring all that Orlando’s theme parks and their surrounding strips offer would be as senseless a New Yorker refusing to patronize Broadway, or a New Orleans native never setting foot in the French Quarter. Learn to navigate the hellish traffic (Palm Parkway and Universal Boulevard are your best bets for avoiding gridlock on I-4 and I-Drive), take advantage of discounts for residents, and you too can enjoy what millions of visitors travel from around the globe to see, for a fraction of what they’re spending per day.

GO

Walt Disney World

Lake Buena Vista, 407-939-5277, disneyworld.disney.go.com

Mickey radically revamped the park-going experience with FastPass+; book reservations 30 days in advance or you'll wait hours for popular rides. Disney debuts Pandora, the long-awaited Avatar land, at Animal Kingdom in May, and Magic Kingdom's fireworks are getting a major makeover, while Epcot now hosts seasonal food and booze festivals year-round; skip Hollywood Studios until the Star Wars land opens in 2019 and visit the refreshed Disney Springs shopping district instead.

Universal Orlando Resort

6000 Universal Blvd., 407-363-8000, universalorlando.com

Orlando's No. 2 theme park destination continues to expand at a rapid rate; Islands of Adventure (home to the recent Kong ride and revamped Hulk coaster) and Universal Studios Florida (site of Jimmy Fallon's new simulator), will be joined in May by Volcano Bay, billed as Universal's first "water theme park." Universal's most popular attraction is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but beware: You can't ride the Hogwarts Express train without paying extra for a park-hopper pass.

SeaWorld Orlando

7007 Sea World Drive, 407-545-5550, seaworldparks.com

Despite animal rights controversy and declining attendance, SeaWorld still offers quality live entertainment and killer roller coasters at a lower cost than the other big resorts; their new Mako coaster delivers extreme seat-raising airtime, and their new seasonal festivals are a better value than Epcot's. If you've got the dough, don't overlook the all-inclusive Discovery Cove, where you can swim with dolphins and fish, or just drink like one.

Fun Spot America

5700 Fun Spot Way, 407-363-3867; also 2850 Florida Plaza Blvd., Kissimmee, 407-397-2509; fun-spot.com

Closer to a cleaned-up carnival than a true theme park, the two Fun Spots – one near Universal, the other next to Old Town – feature a mix of thrill rides, kiddie rides and multi-level outdoor go-kart tracks for half the daily price of the major attractions. Orlando's location is currently superior, thanks to a great wooden coaster and the area's first Virtual Reality coaster, but that may change when Kissimmee opens its new Mine Blower woodie this summer.

I-Drive 360

8375 International Drive, 407-601-7907, i-drive360.com

It's hard to miss International Drive's newest entertainment complex, thanks to the huge honkin' observation wheel – dubbed the Coca Cola Orlando Eye – that serves as I-Drive 360's centerpiece. If dangling in a glass capsule 400 feet high doesn't appeal, a Madame Tussauds wax museum and SeaLife aquarium occupy the wheel's base, with a skeleton museum and several restaurants (unrelated, we hope) adjoining.

EAT

Sleuths Mystery Dinner Shows

8267 International Drive, 407-363-1985, sleuths.com

Lots of legitimate local actors work at the attractions, but many of Orlando's very best stride the boards at Sleuths, which has been serving up slyly silly whodunits alongside surprisingly good prime rib for over 25 years. If you're apprehensive about interacting, fear not; the beer and wine is bottomless.

Nile Ethiopian Restaurant

7048 International Drive, 407-354-0026, nile07.com

Ethiopian food is fantastic, and this cozy restaurant in the heart of the tourist strip is the best (only?) place it town to try it. Order a combo platter (meat or veggie) and scoop it with spongy injera bread instead of utensils. First-timers may want to go easy on the kitfo, a spicy steak tartare.

Soupa Saiyan

5689 Vineland Road, 407-930-3396, facebook.com/soupasaiyan1

This Dragon Ball Z-themed noodle house near Universal makes an animated argument for uninhibited slurping, and has become a destination restaurant for anime fans and cosplayers.

Hanamizuki

8255 International Drive, 407-363-7200, hanamizuki.us

If you want sushi rolls stuffed with cream cheese and hamburger, go to Cowfish at Universal's CityWalk; Hanamizuki upholds the traditions of authentic Japanese cuisine, from tempura and tataki to donburi and ishiyaki. Their unctuous tonkotsu ramen is only available at lunch and on Mondays.

SHOP

Gods and Monsters

5421 International Drive, 407-270-6273, godmonsters.com

This massive comics and collectibles shop survived the untimely demise of Artegon Marketplace and moved across the street into Orlando Crossings strip mall. It doesn't have quite the cavernous space for events anymore, but you'll still find plenty of four-color fantasies to fill your longboxes. Visit their neighbor R&R Records for vintage vinyl.

Orlando Premium Outlets

4951 International Drive, 407-352-9600; also 8200 Vineland Ave., 407-238-7787; premiumoutlets.com

Tourists throng to the two Orlando Premium Outlet Malls in search of bargains on big brand names, but read the price tags carefully; unless it's truly a closeout item, it may cost the same as at the Mall at Millenia.

DRINK

Player 1 Video Game Bar

8562 Palm Parkway, 407-504-7521, player1orlando.com

This arcade's cozy confines offer up late-'80s/early-'90s nostalgia alongside the latest and greatest in modern gaming, all washed down with A-list craft bottles and drafts.

Tin Roof

8371 International Drive, 407-270-7926, tinrooforlando.com

Located in the shadow of the Orlando Eye, this bar offers a simulacrum of a legit live music venue with a great bar staff, a decent drinks selection and good food. A solid option in the tourist district.

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