Best Of 2016

Best Tree
Photo by Rob Bartlett

The Mayor

Loch Haven Park 900 E. Princeton St.

This 200-year-old live oak outside the Mennello Museum is the best tree on Orlando's Significant Tree Tour. (Yes, that is a real thing; download the map at The Mayor is one of the oldest trees in the area and is a testament to its species. Live oak limbs grow upward and outward as they get older, touching down to the ground for added support and then curling back up into the air, creating a dome of resurrection-fern-filled goodness. This is one of the only trees on the map that has had enough uninterrupted space to extend its canopy outward naturally, and reach out to wiggle its branches freely. It's had only two major breaks in its lifetime – one time in 1998 and another in 2008 – though recently two teens managed to break off a branch by jumping up and down on it. Not cool.

Best Bugs in the Teeth

The Iron Lilies Harley group

Motorcycle clubs have come a long way from their scary stereotype of meth-dealing white supremacist biker gangs. These days you'll find riding groups made up of every kind of people: accountants, AARP members, church pastors ... all bound by the need for speed and the desire to feel the wind in their hair. The Iron Lilies are one such group: Eight women who ride Harley-Davidsons, inspired by three historic "Lilies" – Lillian LaFrance, who became a "wall of death" rider in 1924; Lillian Hauerwas, who logged more than 65,000 miles on her Harley by 1921; and Lillian Farrow, who became the first female motorcycle dealer in the world in 1927. Among the eight are a scientist, a psychologist, a journalist, a hairdresser, an MBA, a burlesque dancer and a few Harley techs – they may come from different walks of life, but they're all badasses.

Best Theme Park Ride That's Not Even a Ride Yet
Photo via Walt Disney World

Star Wars Launch Bay

When Star Wars Land was announced for Disney's Hollywood Studios last summer, even casual Star Wars fans got excited about it. The prospect of 14 acres devoted to rides and attractions from everyone's favorite galaxy far, far away is something that plenty of people have been dreaming of for nearly 40 years. But Disney isn't exactly known for completing attractions in record time. Remember when the still-unopened Avatar attraction was announced for Animal Kingdom, way back when people actually gave a shit about Avatar? Thankfully, the Star Wars Launch Bay attraction opened up back in December to let fans check out life-size sets and props from the franchise, as well as interact with the likes of Darth Vader, Kylo Ren and Chewbacca. It may not be quite as much fun as a ride in the Millennium Falcon, but it definitely whets the appetite for more sights in the future. Plus, you can trade junk with Jawas for special droid parts, and there's nothing not fun about that.

Best Memorial at a Sporting Event
Photo by Jeremy Reper


June 18, Orlando City Soccer Club at Camping World Stadium

On Monday, June 13, OCSC fan Jonathan Van Dyke's Facebook group of just about 100 people came up with the idea of turning Camping World Stadium into the largest Unity rainbow of all time, a grass-roots idea that spread so fast it surprised even its organizer. Rainbow colors filled the bowl during June's Orlando City vs. San Jose game, with more than 15,000 OCSC supporters shirking the signature purple in favor of designated section colors to create a moving tribute we can all be proud of.

Best New Team to Cheer For

Orlando Pride

Two years after Orlando City Soccer Club took the city by storm, the all-women team Orlando Pride has come to steal our hearts. Led by team captain and U.S. Women's National Team striker Alex Morgan, this squad is poised to finally make Orlando the soccer capital of the South. Currently in seventh place in their inaugural National Women's Soccer League season, they have some building to do, but they also have a lot of support behind them.

Best Shade
Photo by Rob Bartlett

Dickson Azalea Park

100 Rosearden Drive

We're not talking about the side-eye kind of shade here; we're talking about the most amazing little pocket of serenity hidden in plain sight, right on busy Robinson Street. Long-leaf pines, palms, oaks and lush azaleas surround a trickling brook, crossed over by a charming timber bridge; picturesque (if sometimes slippery) steps lead down even further into the cool green tranquility. And when you're done drinking deeply of the natural splendor, it's walking distance from Whiskey Lou's and Gringos Locos in the Milk District.

Best King-Sized Comeback
Photo courtesy Universal Studios

King Kong at Universal Orlando

6000 Universal Blvd., 407-363-8000,

Theme park fans frequently pine for the return of childhood favorites like Mr. Toad and Horizons, but when Disney reboots an old ride (like Journey Into Imagination with Figment) it often goes awry. So it came as a relief when Islands of Adventure's Reign of Kong proved a worthy resurrection for the resort's original King-sized mascot. Some story issues aside, Skull Island's amazing animatronics and 3-D effects restore Universal's top banana to the apex of area attractions.

Best Yoga Trend
Photo courtesy of OMA

Classes in art galleries and museums

As much as we count on yoga to unknot our minds and muscles, sometimes it's so hard to just "focus on your breath." So we really appreciate being able to focus on some great art instead while we padmasana and tadasana; anything that helps soothe our daily stress is a win, and being able to cross "visit new exhibit" off our list at the same time is a bonus.

Best Vote of Confidence

The Magic sign Serge Ibaka

Magic fans (both of 'em!) were up in arms over the decision to trade shooting guard Victor Oladipo, forward Ersan Ilyasova and the 11th-round draft pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for power forward Serge Ibaka. But general manager Rob Hennigan thinks that 27-year-old Ibaka is just what the team needs to provide a boost to defense. It definitely seems to be a big risk for the struggling team, especially since Ibaka could very well become a free agent after the next season. But after nearly half a decade of "rebuilding years," what do the Magic really have to lose?  

Best Fake Spring
Photo by Rob Bartlett

Disney Springs

Ever since River Country, the first water park on Disney property, closed in 2001, there's been a dearth of manmade water features that mimic nature down in Touristan. But with this year's renovation of Downtown Disney into the all-new, all-different Disney Springs, the Imagineers reinvigorated a vision of fake nature by incorporating the titular "spring" into the lagoon buttressing the former Pleasure Island area. The expertly sculpted faux limestone under clear, blue water looks almost exactly like the real thing. Now tourists won't have to leave Disney property to visit any of our old-school analog springs, and they can save that $6 per vehicle fee to help pay for a $115 steak at the Boathouse. What a time to be alive!