Former no man's land on Orlando's I-Drive gets a new lease on life

Susuru Photo by Rob Bartlett

Not too long ago, International Drive was little more than a no-man’s-land of second-string attractions and sketchy motels separating the major theme park resorts. But with Universal leading a construction boom along the I-Drive corridor, there’s now new life (night- and otherwise) to be found, from the outlet malls on the north end all the way south past the Convention Center. Just remember, you don’t have to fight through International Drive’s legendary traffic to enjoy its attractions: Seek out parallel streets like Universal Boulevard and Palm Parkway to avoid the worst of the congestion.

Orlando Starflyer

8265 International Drive, 407-640-7009,

If riding the 400-foot-tall observation wheel at Icon Park didn't get you high enough, spinning around the neighboring Starflyer swing ride at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour is guaranteed to give you a buzz. At a record-setting 425 feet tall, the Starflyer is the biggest thrill on I-Drive; at least until (or if) the long-delayed Polercoaster ever rises.


8548 Palm Parkway, 407-778-4813,

Lewis Lin of College Park's Jade Sushi & New Asian and managing partner Kenny Ly came together to create a "retro-themed izakaya" offering exquisite ramen, yakitori and takoyaki. Inspired by Showa-era style, this Japanese gastropub stays open until as late as midnight on the weekends to satisfy your slurping needs, both noodle and boozy.

Nomadic VR at Pointe Orlando

9101 International Drive, 407-574-4565,

Since Nomadic opened their first virtual reality location – joining Pointe Orlando's Zero Latency and The VOID at Disney Springs – Orlando has officially been crowned America's VR capital. Arizona Sunshine, Nomadic's first game, cleverly combines tactile effects with tactical combat for an impressively immersive zombie-slaying adventure.

Fun Spot America

5700 Fun Spot Way, 407-363-3867,

It may not boast the high-tech E-tickets of the big theme parks, but Fun Spot's roller coasters, carnival rides, and go-karts deliver where it where it counts with safe, clean fun. For 2019, the I-Drive park just debuted a kid-friendly splash pad right next to their alligator enclosure (try not to confuse the two).

Bawarchi Biryanis

6315 International Drive, 321-400-5998,

Fragrant spices saturate the air inside this first Orlando location of a nationwide franchise focusing on the seasoned yellow rice that is the staple of Indian weddings and other special occasions. Top your biryani with boneless chicken or goat slow-cooked with ghee, and heed the spiciness warnings, lest you require a cup of chai or three to wash it down.

Mango's Tropical Cafe

8126 International Drive, 407-955-5488,

Want a taste of South Beach nightlife without the long drive down the turnpike? Mango's Tropical Cafe brings the Miami club scene to the corner of I-Drive and Sand Lake, complete with Copa-worthy floor shows and fruity drinks that pack a powerful punch. What's new? An 880-spot parking garage makes it easier to drive there, but you'll likely need a Lyft home.

Hopdoddys Burger Bar

9101 International Drive, 321-251-4500,

The Austin-based chain opened its first Florida location at Pointe Orlando, where you'll find burgers crafted from specialty meats like Angus beef, Kobe beef and tuna, along with a full bar.

Pirates Dinner Adventure

6400 Carrier Drive, 407-206-5102,

The swashbuckling stars of I-drive's longest-running stunt show weathered a rough year, with their theater shuttered first by Hurricane Irma and then by fire. But Captain Sebastian the Black and his buccaneers are back to swinging swords (and slinging pirate puns) on their newly rebuilt barge, to the cheers of chicken-chomping audiences. Save some booty by buying tickets through Groupon.


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