Summer Guide 2021: Orlando gradually emerges from lockdown into sunshine and springs


Summer Guide 2021: Orlando gradually emerges from lockdown into sunshine and springs
photo by Alison Winterroth

Some of us find it hard to turn on a dime after more than a year of hearing the phrase “an abundance of caution” roughly twice per hour for more than a year, while others can’t wait to get out there and dive into Hot Vax Summer. It feels like the majority of our readers are Team Sunlight, or maybe they’re just the loudest — and we got you, bbs, with a slowly-gathering-steam slate of concerts, movies you need to see in the theater rather than streaming, the hottest new theme park ride of the summer, newly opened restaurants, and even a cosplay con. Bust out the greasepaint and props!

On the other hand, those who are still Team Couch need diversions too; after all, there’s only so long (like, say, 15 damn months) that you can stay indoors without eat- ing the wallpaper. For you, we have new books, new streaming shows, new music, new takeout options, new skills via free online classes, and even a digital version of the Orlando Fringe Festival. Maybe you have an underlying condition that makes it impossible for you get vaccinated, maybe you have — legitimate — fears over whether there’ll be new variants and another wave, maybe you just discovered you like your own company best. We don’t judge. (But we do recommend you start taking Vitamin D supplements, if you aren’t already.)

And after all, it’s not like outdoorsy types can’t read a book, or indoor-dwellers might not carefully venture into a movie theater. So whether you’re surfacing slowly or bursting out of quar like a SeaWorld orca, there’s a lot to keep your ears, eyes, brain and feet busy this summer.


Start the day with news, not doom
Do it. If you're going to wreck your thumbs doom-scrolling, at the very least you can be learning at the same time. Start with Orlando Weekly and the Orlando Sentinel and branch out from there. Hell, pick a random city and subscribe to its paper.

Listen to the locals
Check out the Orlando Weekly Summer Mixtape, a locals-only soundtrack for your summer.

WMFE Tiny Desk Contest
For local musicians and public radio fans, one of the most coveted stages in the country is the "tiny desk" of NPR host Bob Boilen and his NPR music crew. Every year, there's a nationwide open call for musicians to submit a desk-based performance to their local public radio outlet, where a panel of local experts determines the most worthy area entrant to be sent on to the national judging. The Sh-Booms almost took it all one year! Submissions are currently open until June 7. The rest of us can then thrill to the videos of the local finalists.

Read new books! Like ...
Glamour Ghoul: The Passions and Pain of the Real Vampira, Maila Nurmi, by Sandra Niemi (Feral House): Did our innate aversion to sunlight and the great outdoors come from early exposure to Elvira and her spiritual godmother Vampira? We're not saying, but this incredible tome by Vampira's real-life niece goes a long way in shedding some metaphorical sunshine on the inscrutable woman behind the frightwig and talons. At the very least, it's full of pointers on lounging in dim light.

The Thing About Florida: Exploring a Misunderstood State, by Tyler Gillespie (University Press of Florida): After this legislative session, sometimes even we have trouble understanding Florida. Thank heavens for author and, yes, Florida Man Tyler Gillespie's new book about his travels and adventures in his home state. The collected interviews and observations give us some insight, perspective and, even better, welcome levity and wit.

With Teeth, by Kristen Arnett (Penguin Random House): Our very own hometown superstar has a new novel out June 1, and we're willing to bet it will win plaudits and praise on the same level as her blockbuster debut, Mostly Dead Things, did in June 2019. The summer pub dates seem like no accident — this woman truly loves hot weather. Her book may be on the Team Couch list, but there's zero doubt that Arnett herself is Team Sunlight. She may also be psychic, because the protagonist of With Teeth is a work-from-home mother, so: bonus prescience points there.

June 4-18
For all the Team Couchers who didn't make it to Fringe IRL, or Team Sunlighters that just want to relive the best of the fest from their own beds and/or couches, this virtual Fringe Festival has got you sorted.

Stream a summer blockbuster
Let's be frank, it doesn't quite match the authentic movie theater experience, but there's something to be said about not being packed in like sardines with a bunch of strangers in a dark, stuffy room. So why not avail yourself of summer blockbusters like 101 Dalmations spinoff (sure, why not) Cruella on Disney+ (May 28), Ilana Glazer and A24's new exercise in mind-fuckery False Positive on Hulu (June 25), Questlove joint Summer of Soul (also Hulu, July 2) or Marvel's perennially rescheduled Black Widow (also Disney+, July 9).

June 30 (maybe?)
Stream a meta-movie: Zola
OK, this movie gets her own entry because 1) it's set in Tampa, 2) it's a truly insane (true/not true/does it matter?) story of a road trip in which every character chooses chaos and 3) is there anything more Team Couch than a movie about a Twitter thread? We're not gonna say you should live-tweet your watching experience — but we're not not saying it either. The release has been pushed almost a dozen times so who really knows when or where it will show up but you've got time to figure it out, couch wraith.

Order some takeout
What once used to be looked down upon as the lazy human's way of wriggling out of cooking and/or brushing your hair and going to a restaurant has now become a welcome shot of stimulus to our hard-hit restaurant community. And if you tip your delivery driver generously, you're basically a local philanthropist. Bonus points if you try out innovative local takeout concepts like Doshibox, Japango and SheZen Mono.

Take advantage of the library
As of this writing the majority of Orange County Library System's always-impressive slate of events and classes are online, so Team Couch can bask in all the benefits of these free resources. Whether you want to be a whiz at Photoshop or brush up on your conversational Haitian Creole, OCLS has got you covered. And as always, cardholders can check out books for home delivery.


Dive into the springs
Whether you're a Blue Springs person, an Ichetucknee loyalist or hey, a Wekiva type, a quintessentially Central Floridian way to while away lazy summer days is drifting down (or paddling down, or dipping your feet in while drinking a beer) one of our many natural springs. The crystal-clear, cool blue water is a perfect antidote to the summer heat, and the views are without par. Arrive early, though, because these springs often hit capacity by mid-afternoon.

Make a floral pilgrimage to Queen Weltin
The night-blooming cereus is a flowering, climbing cactus common in tropical areas, where it's treasured for its fragrant and fleeting beauty. (Flowers bloom just once a year, after nightfall, and are often wilted or gone by the next morning.) Imagine a flower version of a Lord Byron poem, or the height of tropical goth. There are fine specimens to be found in public throughout the city — especially in Mead Botanical Garden and Leu Gardens, of course — but the spectacular mass of cereus vines that has taken over a tree at the corner of Weltin Street and Hardy Avenue (known to her local devotees as "Queen Weltin") has become an annual destination for petal-peepers who anticipate her bloom every spring. Join them.

Make a better city
Check out "Revolution summer" for a list of ways you can support progressive causes in your community. If our lawmakers aren't concerned with constituents who aren't cash cows, it's up to each of us to help our fellow humans.

May 27
Fitz & the Tantrums, Frontyard Festival
This might be one of the last big-time touring headliners to hit the Frontyard Festival since everything is opening back up, so if you haven't yet, you owe yourself an excursion to this unique, outdoors, physically distanced concert experience. And catching these alt-rock superstars in such an intimate space is a perfect excuse. Also, for you Murmur-lurkers out there, don't miss the Indigo Girls playing FF a few days later.

June 3-6
The Woman in Black, Timucua Arts Foundation
Retreat from the punishing sun into the cool confines of the Timucua Arts Foundation house, only to be plunged into eerie darkness during boundary-pushing local director Jeremy Seghers' adaptation of this suspenseful, atmospheric London theater staple.

Opens June 10
Ride the VelociCoaster at Universal Orlando
The long-delayed Jurassic World-themed coaster is finally up and running after long, pandemic-related delays. Does it live up to the hype? "HOLY CRAP, YES!" screamed our theme park columnist Seth Kubersky on his first ride.

June 11
In the Heights
Before everyone in the known universe loved Lin-Manuel Miranda thanks to his monster hit, Hamilton, every theater geek in the known universe loved him for In the Heights. And speaking of monster hits, this film adaptation is directed by John Chu, who dropped a little movie called Crazy Rich Asians in summer of 2019. Just as we went to press we learned that the film will now dual-premiere in theaters and on HBO Max, which kinda takes the wind out of our Team Get Out There sails. But with dance numbers like these, you're going to want to see it on the biggest screen you can find.

June 12
Pulse Five-Year Remembrance Ceremony live-stream, Seneff Arts Plaza
Somewhat fittingly, the lawn in front of the Dr. Phillips Center in downtown Orlando will become — much as it did five years ago — a gathering spot for those mourning the loss of the 49 people killed during the Pulse nightclub massacre. This free event will honor their memory, with words from survivors and family, as well as local government officials, and live performances.

June 24
Ann Wilson, Hard Rock Live
Legendary Heart vocalist and godmother of Seattle rock Ann Wilson is jumping right into the deep end this summer with her solo Floridian tour. A can't-miss event for classic rock heads and those who want to hear that voice, one that arguably helped launch the grunge sound years later by dint of gutsy individualism.

June 26
Villicon, Wyndham Orlando Resort I-Drive
"Unleash your darker side with this celebration of all things evil and vile," reads the description of this brand-new fan convention, and we are here for it. And we have a feeling we'll be seeing a lot of evil surgeons, lucha libre rudos (heels), Hannibal Lecters, Banes and Immortan Joes.

July 3
Rabbit in the Moon, Ace Cafe
If you want some excitement over your 4th of July holiday and aren't a fan of fireworks, consider instead the musical pyrotechnics (and top-level lightshow) of Orlando Breaks legends Rabbit in the Moon. RITM are playing outdoors too, for a bit more peace of mind and/or festival vibes.

Aug. 6
Deicide, The Abbey
Central Florida death metal icons test the live music waters in Orlando ahead of their American tour: This one's sure to be a sellout, and a pretty big indicator as to whether national touring bands will keep making the City Beautiful a port of call, pandemic or not. Should be a crucial night for fans of classic Florida heaviness.

Aug. 21
Cuban Sandwich Festival, Kissimmee Lakefront Park
The annual celebration of arguably one of the greatest sammies ever is back, with vendors from around Central Florida purveying their ham-(salami?)-and-pickle wares along with live music, a noble attempt to construct the biggest Cuban sandwich ever, and an all-star panel of judges crowning a winner for Best Cuban Sandwich.

Try a new restaurant
We've already mentioned how crucial it is to support and celebrate Orlando's restaurant scene; now can we get a round of applause (and an at least 20 percent tip) for the crazy determined ones who actually opened new restaurants during the pandemic? The Monroe, anchoring things over in the Creative Village with the talents of chef Josh Oakley, would be a good start; Shanghai Lane has finally brought fresh-made soup dumplings to Orlando; Colonialtown's Deli Desires simply has to be tried to be believed; and Neon Beach downtown nails the party-hearty-plus-a-grilled-cheese vibe.

Or go stand in line at White Castle
It's the world's largest, and based on the inventory-wiping, traffic-snarling reaction of local tiny-burger-crazed humans, it's Orlando's largest draw after the theme parks this summer. Get steamed, cravers!


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Jessica Bryce Young

Jessica Bryce Young has been working with Orlando Weekly since 2003, serving as copy editor, dining editor and arts editor before becoming editor in chief in 2016.
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