Best Of 2020

Best Reawakening to the Joys of the Outdoors

Every Public Park in Orlando

For those of us who may not always take advantage of sun and such, rediscovering the natural world has been an oasis of serenity throughout the pandemic. Want to check in and say hi to friends in a neutral spot? See you at the park. Want to talk about a work idea? Think outside the box and convene at a park. Picnic? Park. Pet walk? Park. The cast of The Bacchae needs a space to do a socially distanced rehearsal? You guessed it, a park (Greenwood Urban Wetlands, to be exact). Our personal favorites are shady Dickson Azalea and the aforementioned Greenwood – and its adjoining cemetery – but really it's a full-on tie for first among all of them. Shout-out to the City of Orlando Parks Division and the Orange County Parks department.

Best Local Pride

Orlando City SC at the MLS Is Back tournament

orlandocitysc.com

Orlando City has finally given its devotees and supporters something to believe in, justifying our love at the best possible moment during the MLS Is Back tournament at the MLS bubble in Disney's Wide World of Sports complex. New coach Oscar Pareja and captain Nani led the team through their best performance in years, and they came thisclose to winning the whole damn thing in a final nail-biting match against the Portland Timbers.

Best Must-Have Sports Gear

Joel Embiid arriving at MCO in a hazmat suit

nba.com/sixers

Philadelphia 76ers power forward Joel Embiid arriving at the Orlando Airport in July wearing a full hazmat suit on his way to enter the NBA bubble was simultaneously funny as hell, a heartbreaking commentary on how capitalism won't stop for health, and a perfect performance-art reminder of how surreal the current moment is that no one even blinked. (Real talk, though, Embiid walks the walk: He worked with Sixers front office to fund COVID-19 antibody testing for front-line health care workers. Trust the process, indeed.) 

Best New Theme Park Attraction

Social Distancing Skunk Ape

gatorland.com

The most timely addition to local theme parks' array of attractions was not Universal Orlando's Bourne Stuntacular show; paws down, it was Gatorland's zeitgeisty new mascot, the Social Distancing Skunk Ape. Straight from the pages of a cryptozoologist's guidebook, the native Floridian Skunk Ape emerged just in time for Gatorland's reopening in May. And wouldn't you know it, the Skunk Ape's armspan is just over 6 feet wide, matching the recommended CDC guidelines for physical distancing.

Best Silver Lining to Social Distancing

Historically Short Theme Park Wait Times

For years, we kvetched about the overcrowded conditions and confusing queue-cutting schemes at Orlando's attractions. It turns out that social distancing was the solution all along: Since the parks reopened with restricted capacity, guests have been walking onto popular E-Tickets like Flight of Passage at Disney's Animal Kingdom, and Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure at Islands of Adventure, with wait times measured in minutes or seconds instead of hours. It might not be economically sustainable for the parks, but it's great for guests while it lasts.

Best Escape Room You Won't Want to Escape

The Bureau

thebureauorlando.com

Creativity and high production values trump bad timing at the Bureau, the escape room that opened on I-Drive just in time for the entire world to go inside and get glued to the couch. Sure, it may seem counterintuitive to leave your house only to get locked in again, but the Bureau, which says it's more an "adventure game" than a typical "escape room," might be just the sanitary entertainment you're seeking. Its cleverness, craftsmanship and mostly seamless technology will allow you to escape into an alternate reality for an hour or so. And if you still can't bear to leave your bedroom, look for the Bureau's live remote games, launching this month on their website.

Best Zoo Comes to You

Wild Florida Safari Park drive-through

wildfloridairboats.com/drive-thru-safari-park

Another way to enjoy the outdoors at just a small remove is Wild Florida's 85-acre wildlife park, where you can see giraffes, zebras, American bison, and all the elands and oryxes you can shake a selfie stick at. Smile and wave from the safety of your own car as you s-l-o-w-l-y traverse the two-mile path.