Best Of 2019

Best All-Time Champions

Orlando Apollos go down in history as the winningest team in the AAF

The Alliance of American Football – an attempt to create an NFL off-season alternative for football fans – was plagued with problems from its inception in February 2019: Funding shortfalls, contract disputes and low attendance numbers hurt the league's viability. Shoot, the Orlando Apollos weren't even able to secure the proper workers' compensation insurance in Florida, resulting in the whole team having to hold practices in Georgia. So no one was that surprised in April when the league announced that it was folding before the championship game of their one and only season could happen. The only bright side is that the Apollos – under the direction of famed former UF coach Steve Spurrier – ended the season with a best-in-league win-loss record of 7-1. Maybe the end of the league was for the best, though; we all know what happens to winning teams once Orlando fans latch onto them.

Best Welcome to the 21st Century Catch-up

Disney bans smoking in the parks

Starting on May 1 of this year, Disney banned smoking and vaping inside the parks for the first time. Previously, you could still puff away in designated smoking areas – and the number of those areas had shrunk considerably over the past 20 years. But even those of us who are still deep in the throes of nicotine addiction can admit that this latest move to discourage the exposure of families to an ever-less-acceptable habit is the right thing to do.

FIFA Women's World Cup champion Ali Krieger of the Orlando Pride

Orlando Pride games

orlandocitysc.com/pride

There are plenty of reasons to go watch the Orlando Pride play soccer. They fall down less, play equally as hard (next step: equal pay!) and there's rarely a line for beer or the bathroom. Need more than that? OK, how about four major World Cup stars, including Alex Morgan, 2019's winner of ESPN's Best Female Athlete. Alongside Morgan, you'll see fellow U.S. Women's National Team colleagues Ali Krieger and her fiancée, goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris. The three of them won it all in France this summer on the USWNT. Their Brazilian teammate, the forward Marta, holds the record for most goals scored at any FIFA World Cup tournaments with 17, and is the first soccer player ever to score in five World Cup competitions. Best of all, since attendance is generally lower than it is for the mens' games and feels more intimate, the players are more likely to stick around after the match to sign autographs and fist-bump fans.

Best Catharsis

Epic Axe Throwing

47 E. Robinson St., epicaxethrowing.com

Politics got you down? Boss on your case again? Caught your partner sexting an ex? Forget your anger management group therapy session and instead throw axes at a target for fun at Epic Axe Throwing on East Robinson Street. Guaranteed you'll feel better after hitting that bull's-eye a few times. If you've got skills, you can join a league and meet others, potentially with similar angst, and even become eligible to earn a spot to compete in the world championship of axe-throwing, the WATL. What's a better team-building exercise than hurling sharp weapons into a wall together? Practice your battle cries, people.

Best Advertisement for a 
Resort Chain We've Never Heard Of

Exploria Stadium

655 W. Church St., orlandocitysc.com/stadium

Orlando City Soccer Club's stadium – formerly known as Orlando City Stadium – has provided a home for both men's and women's soccer teams and helped revitalize the West Church Street neighborhood where it's located. But on June 4, we were all surprised to learn that the naming rights had been sold to Exploria Resorts, which immediately had us asking: "Who?" The vacation club and timeshare company operates properties in four different states, including five properties in Florida, and apparently their status as a homegrown Central Florida company was a big factor in awarding them the naming rights. Exploria CEO and president Thomas Morris was aware of his company's dark horse status, stating in the official press release, "Exploria is not a household name and our goal all along was to provide some grand credibility."

Best Worst Kept Secret in Theme Parks

Epic Universe

blog.universalorlando.com/whats-new

When Universal announced on Aug. 1 that it's building a third theme park a few miles away from its existing property, the only thing we really learned about the park was its weirdly redundant name: Universal's Epic Universe. That's because theme park insiders and permit-watchers had already scraped up plenty of rumors about the park, such as possible intellectual properties to be used – a Nintendo-themed area seems all but confirmed – as well as the location of the site – hard to hide the fact that they'd already started clearing land on the 750-acre site. Concept art has continued to fuel the rumor mill, along with the suggestion that Epic Universe will use a mixture of ticketed areas and open-to-the-public retail space.

Best New Twirl-N-Hurl

Orlando StarFlyer at Icon Park

8375 International Drive, starflyer.com

It's impossible to miss the LED-lit tower smack-dab in front of the Orlando Eye these days – even less so when the swing chairs go flying through the air at 45 miles per hour, 450 feet up. It's the tallest StarFlyer in the world (we're supposed to be proud of that, I suppose), and caps off the attractions at the newly renamed (yet again!) Icon Park, formerly Icon Orlando, formerly I-Drive 360. The StarFlyer's website even suggests imbibing a few alcoholic beverages at the Star Bar before riding so you can find out how fast puke falls from 40 stories up. Science!

Best Public Park Renovation

Winter Park Tennis Center

1075 Azalea Lane, Winter Park, cityofwinterpark.org

The 16-court complex has been a popular tennis facility for nearly a century, and the City of Winter Park wants to ensure it sticks around for a century longer. A thorough refresh last fall bestowed the aging Winter Park Tennis Center not only with newly reconstructed hard courts and resurfaced clay courts, but also, heavens to Betsy!, an outdoor pickleball court. And the enhanced landscaping and lighting is country club-worthy, making the grounds just as appealing to spectators as they are to weekend Federers.

Best Replacement for Kaká

Nani

orlandocitysc.com

In 2015, the biggest name on the Orlando City Soccer Club squad was Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, better known to soccer aficionados worldwide as Kaká. Widely accepted as one of the best players of his generation, the Real Madrid and A.C. Milan player made his way to the City Beautiful to grace us with his beautiful game. But last year, the Brazilian maestro retired, leaving a fame vacuum on the field. We needed a new "designated player," as MLS calls their stars (who earn far more than the league's salary cap). Enter Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha, better known to soccer aficionados as Nani. (Sensing a trend here?) Our No. 17, formerly of Manchester United, has made his mark as a playmaker and goal scorer, drawing crowds to see his fancy footwork and on-field theatrics week after week.