The city of Orlando is the county seat of Orange County, Florida. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 185,951 (metropolitan area 1,644,561). A 2004 U.S. Census Estimates population count gave the city had a total population of 205,648 (metropolitan area nearly 1.8 million). It is the sixth-largest city in Florida, and its largest inland city. It is also at the head of the state's third-largest metropolitan area, behind Miami-Fort Lauderdale and Tampa-St. Petersburg. Additionally, Orlando is home to the second largest university in Florida, the University of Central Florida.
The city is best known for the tourist attractions in the area, particularly the nearby Walt Disney World Resort, which is in the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Other area attractions include SeaWorld and the Universal Orlando Resort, the latter of which is in Orlando proper. Despite being far from the main tourist attractions, downtown Orlando has recently seen much redevelopment, with many more projects currently under construction or planned.
The city's nickname is "The City Beautiful", and its symbol is the fountain of Lake Eola. The current mayor is Buddy Dyer. (See a complete listing of the Mayors of Orlando.)
Some historians date Orlando's name to around 1836 when a soldier named Orlando Reeves allegedly died in the area, during the war against the Seminole Indian tribe. It seems, however, that Orlando Reeves (sometimes Rees) operated a sugar mill and plantation about 30 miles (50 km) to the north at Spring Garden in Volusia County, and pioneer settlers simply found his name carved into a tree and assumed it was a marker for a grave site. They thus referred to the area as "Orlando's grave" and later simply "Orlando."
During the Second Seminole War, the U.S. Army established an outpost at Fort Gatlin, a few miles south of the modern downtown, in 1838. But, it was quickly abandoned when the war came to an end.
The first permanent settler was cattleman Aaron Jernigan, who acquired land along Lake Holden by the terms of the Armed Occupation Act of 1842. But, most pioneers did not arrive until after the Third Seminole War in the 1850s.
Orlando remained a rural backwater during the Civil War, and suffered greatly during the Federal Blockade. And, most of the early residents made their living by cattle ranching. But, the Reconstruction Era brought a population explosion. This led to the city's incorporation in 1875.
The period from 1875 to 1895 is remembered as Orlando's "Gilded Era," when it became the hub of Florida's citrus industry. But, a great freeze in the latter year forced many owners to give up their independent groves, thus consolidating holdings in the hands of a few "citrus barons" which shifted operations south, primarily around Lake Wales in Polk County.
The years between the Spanish American War and World War I saw Orlando become a popular resort, as Florida's largest inland city.
During World War II, a number of Army personnel were stationed at the Pine Castle AAF, now the site of Orlando International Airport. Some of these servicemen stayed in Orlando to settle and raise families. In 1956 the aerospace/defense company Martin Marietta (now Lockheed Martin) established a plant in Orlando.
In addition, Orlando is close enough to Patrick Air Force Base, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and Kennedy Space Center for residents to commute to work from the city's suburbs. It also allows easy access to Port Canaveral, an important cruise ship terminal. Because of its proximity to the innovative "Space Coast", many high-tech companies have shifted to the Orlando area.
The most critical event for Orlando's economy occurred in 1965 when Walt Disney announced the plans for Walt Disney World. The famous vacation resort opened in October, 1971, ushering in an explosive population and economic growth for the Orlando metropolitan area, which now encompasses Orange, Seminole, Osceola, and Lake counties. As a result, tourism became the centerpiece of the Orlando economy.
In the hurricane season of 2004, Hurricanes Charley, Frances, and Jeanne battered the Orlando area, causing widespread damage and flooding and impeding tourism to the area.
The Orlando area is home to a wide variety of tourist attractions, including the Walt Disney World resort, SeaWorld Orlando, and Universal Orlando Resort. The Walt Disney World resort is the area's largest attraction with its many facets such as the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios, Disney's Animal Kingdom, Typhoon Lagoon, Blizzard Beach, and Downtown Disney. SeaWorld Orlando is a large adventure park that features numerous zoological displays and marine animals alongside an amusement park with roller coasters and water park. Universal Orlando, like Walt Disney World, is a multi-faceted resort comprised of Universal Studios Florida, CityWalk, and Islands of Adventure theme park.
Other attractions in the Orlando area includes:
Arboretum of the University of Central Florida
Space Coast beaches
Central Florida Zoological Park, located in Sanford on Lake Monroe. This 100 acre (400,000 m²) zoo is home to a butterfly garden, herpetarium, and numerous tropical animals. This zoo originally started as a collection in the Sanford Fire Department, but grew into a regional zoo in 1975. It is currently in the planning stages of expansion and renaming the facility to "Zoo Orlando at Sanford".
Church Street Station, a multi-level shopping mall and entertainment center that features specialty shops, restaurants, nightclubs, and bars.
Cirque du Soleil, in Downtown Disney West Side, features its renowned blend of acrobatics and special effects with more than 70 artists from around the globe performing in a custom-designed, 1,671-seat theater.
Cypress Gardens Adventure Park
Discovery Cove, part of the SeaWorld Adventure Park complex. This attraction features tropical fish in a coral reef, snorkeling with stingrays, and interacting with birds in an aviary, as well as swimming and playing with dolphins during a half-hour dolphin encounter.
Gatorland is home to thousands of alligators and crocodiles. A few of Gatorland's residents have made wrangling appearances in movies, television shows and commercial spots. The 54 year old park combines a petting zoo, bird sanctuary, mini-water park, eco-tour and outdoor entertainment, including daily alligator wrestling.
Hard Rock Live & Hotel is the Hard Rock Café chain's featured location in Orlando. It features a concert venue and large restaurant with typical rock style memorabilia. The Hard Rock Hotel is a featured resort hotel with a California-style restaurant called The Kitchen.
Jungleland, featuring 300 animals, including a pair of Himalayan bears born in 2002, plus leopards, tigers, lions, gator wrestling and a petting zoo. The seven acre (28,000 m²) zoo also has a path nearly a mile (1.6 km) long winding around a natural lagoon with black swans and white ibis.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is 45 minutes from Orlando and south of Daytona Beach. Visitors can tour launch areas, see giant rockets, "train" in spaceflight simulators, and much more. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is open every day except Christmas and certain launch days. Apart from the Astronaut Hall of Fame, Space Center bus tours run every 15 minutes with stops at an observation gantry and the Apollo / Saturn V Center. Other guided tours include NASA Up Close, Cape Canaveral: Then and Now, and Lunch With An Astronaut. Combo tickets offer maximum access admission, plus one guided tour.
Old Town features 8 restaurants, 15 amusement park rides and 75 shops along its brick-lined streets. Classic car shows every Friday and Saturday feature hundreds of vintage automobiles. Admission and parking are free.
Orange County Regional History Center
Ripley's Believe It or Not! Orlando Odditorium is located in a building artfully constructed to appear as if it were collapsing to one side, along with a sly reference to central Florida's infamous sinkholes. Explore artifacts, collections, weird art/hobbies and interactive exhibits in 16 odd galleries. For more than 40 years, Robert Ripley traveled the globe collecting the unbelievable, inexplicable, and one-of-a-kind. His collections are housed in 27 museums in 10 countries.
International Trolley and Train Museum features 14 model railroad trains with sound and lighting traveling through an indoor garden with 12 foot (4 m) high mountains, waterfalls, and more than 30 trestles and tunnels. Also on display are toy trains from the 1920s to the present. Visitors can catch a ride in a California Victorian Style half open/half closed trolley or the 5/8 replica of an 1880 locomotive (a Mason Bogey) with its passenger cars.
Orlando Museum of Art, which has ongoing exhibitions of American portraits and landscapes, American impressionist works, and art of the ancient Americas.
Orlando Science Center, a 207,000 square foot (19,000 m²) hands-on learning center with hundreds of interactive exhibits for visitors of all ages. Images surround visitors on the giant screen of the Dr. Phillips CineDome. Other attractions include the Body Zone, teaching health and fitness, as well as an observatory.
Morse Museum of American Art, which houses a permanent Tiffany collection featuring an impressive array of Tiffany glass, an exhibit on the Tiffany home, and American paintings from the 19th century.
Cornell Fine Arts Museum, which is situated on the campus of Rollins College, this free museum features significant loans, recent acquisitions, and items from the Cornell's renowned permanent collection.
Blue Spring State Park, which is the winter home of large numbers of Florida Manatees that come upstream from the St. Johns River to bask in the warm 72 °F (22 °C) waters of the springs. Canoeing, swimming and fishing are popular activities at Blue Springs.
Wekiwa Springs State Park, which comprises around 700 acres (2.8 km²) of wild Florida. The springs pump out 42 million gallons of crystal clear water a day. Popular activities at the park include canoeing, swimming, picnicking and fishing.
Harry P. Leu Gardens, which is an inner city oasis covering 50 acres (20,000 m²) and features colorful annuals, palms, an orchid house, a floral clock and a butterfly garden.
World of Orchids, featuring thousands of blooms in an enclosed tropical rainforest. World of Orchids is a working greenhouse shipping orchids and other plants nationwide. A greenhouse covers nearly an acre (4,000 m²), and in this controlled climate of warm, humid air some 1,000 orchids are displayed in a natural jungle setting, with streams, waterfalls, and squawking parrots. World of Orchids also has a 1,000 foot (300 m) long boardwalk meandering off into nearby wetlands. Admission is free.
Orlando is home to the Orlando Magic, an NBA pro basketball franchise that plays at the TD Waterhouse Centre in downtown Orlando. The team made it to the NBA Finals in 1995.
The Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League also play at the TD Waterhouse Centre. Since joining the league in 1991, they have become one of the legendary franchises in the young league, having a historic rivalry with the Tampa Bay Storm, two ArenaBowl titles (1998 and 2000), and several historic moments including the league's only shutout to date and a procession called the Miracle Minute where they scored two touchdowns with two-point conversions and forced a safety to come from behind in the final minute of a game to win.
Orlando was a stronghold of minor-league ice hockey throughout the 1990's, being home of the Orlando Solar Bears of the now-defunct International Hockey League. Historically successful, they won the Turner Cup championship in 2001 to end the IHL's final season. In 2002, the Atlantic Coast Hockey League formed with Orlando forming one of the charter franchises, the Orlando Seals, which won their Commissioner's Cup in 2003. They moved to the World Hockey Association 2 in 2003, then the Southern Professional Hockey League in 2004. The City of Orlando revoked their lease for the TD Waterhouse Centre, forcing them to sit out the 2004-05 season. They moved to Kissimmee and became the Florida Seals in November 2004.
The Citrus Bowl is the home of the Capital One Bowl (formerly the Florida Citrus Bowl) and the Champs Sports Bowl (formerly the Tangerine Bowl). It also hosts regular-season football games for the University of Central Florida (NCAA Division I-A) and Jones High School, as well as the annual Florida Classic played between the NCAA Division I-AA Football teams from Florida A&M University and Bethune-Cookman College. It hosted soccer games for the FIFA World Cup '94 and the 1996 Summer Olympics when each were hosted by the United States.
The Orlando Renegades were a USFL team playing at the Citrus Bowl in 1985. They folded with the league in 1986. The Orlando Thunder were a charter team in the World League of American Football in 1991 and 1992. They lost the World Bowl to the Sacramento Surge in 1992. Like all other American teams, it was dropped in the World League reorganization of 1995. The Orlando Rage were a member of the XFL that played at the Citrus Bowl, and only played in 2001. That team has since been revived in the minor-league Southern States Football League (SSFL).
The Orlando Sundogs were a minor-league soccer team in the A-League that played in the Citrus Bowl. They were disbanded in 1997 after only playing one year.
Tinker Field, named for baseball hall-of-famer Joe Tinker, is an old baseball stadium next to the Citrus Bowl, currently out of use. It was formerly the Spring Training home of the Minnesota Twins (and the Washington Nationals/Senators before them) and AA Southern League affiliates of the Twins, Chicago Cubs and Tampa Bay Devil Rays.