Rose is a Florida native and enjoys recommending experiences only a local may know about.
Amidst the joyous shrieks and swirling scents of Disney World and Universal Studios lies an altogether different kind of park in Orlando, Florida. ICON Park, perhaps most famous for its Orlando Eye, is an array of lively music, authentic and surprising food, exciting nightlife, and specialty cocktails. (My advice: Bring the Advil with you for this experience).
My friends from South Florida visited me during my final days stateside, and we took a last-minute trip for an unforgettable—or should I say iconic—night. When visiting, here are three things to be sure you look up in ICON Park.
1. The Orlando Eye
The Eye is nearly impossible to miss, even from the freeway. Standing at some 400 feet, the Eye spins at approximately one mile per hour, ensuring guests a full view of the city at every angle.
Buy a Ticket and Snap a Photo
To ride the Eye, visitors enter through an enclosed, upscale dining area, (complete with its own virtual reality game) and head to the back for tickets. Before boarding, guests are invited to take a professional photo shoot, in which a staff member directs you where to stand, when to look terrified, and when to smile for the camera.
Grab a Drink or Snack to Take on the Ride
While waiting in line, drinks and snacks are available for purchase to take on the ride itself, including (but not limited to) large soft pretzels, chips, soda and beer. The enclosure that you will ride in is much more spacious than a standard ‘Ferris Wheel,’ with seating available in the center and thick, crystal-clear glass surrounding all sides.
Ride at Night for a Spectacularly Illuminated View
I can imagine the beauty of seeing this eclectic city during the day, when the sun glints off every passing car, and parents with their excited children look like happy ants from afar. But I experienced the magic of riding at night. The sheer volume of lights in this city is breathtaking, lighting up nearly every corner of the concrete world below. In the distance, a massive attraction that spins guests in an open carnival-style ride highlights every individual brave enough to take the plunge. Below, a dinner theater called Sleuths Mystery Dinner Shows pulls the coos from every observer’s throat, all asking if they should go there for dinner.
An Experience Worth the Price Tag
While the Orlando Eye isn’t quite as tall as, say, the London Eye, it is certainly an experience not to be missed. For residents, there is a discount available at purchase, and for all others, the tickets run around $40 USD.
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2. iCafé De Paris
Guests of the park are indeed spoiled for choice when it comes to dining. It is hardly an exaggeration to say there is a restaurant or café at every turn. As an open caffeine addict, I can admit that I was craving coffee more from habit than an actual need for an energy boost (it’s nigh on impossible to feel tired when the streets are pulsing wild energy into you). So, we chose to go for dessert and coffee at iCafé De Paris, a unique French-inspired café filled with specialty baked goods and positively flooded with the scent of espresso.
From Coffee to Cheesecake, You're Spoiled for Choice
My friends and I had a difficult time deciding what to get and spent the better portion of ten minutes trying not to be underfoot of ready customers. Finally, we settled on pistachio ice cream, macaroons, and I traded in my desire for coffee for a slice of Belgian chocolate cheesecake. If in the mood for luxurious deserts and an atmosphere as cozy as home, this is can’t-miss.
The cheesecake was richer than any I’d ever had, topped with chocolate drizzle almost gooey enough to melt even before entering your mouth. The crust was a perfect blend between hard and soft, and rendered a most satisfying, unassuming crunch. (When I make it to Belgium, I will be doing a full comparison of this chocolate to see how they compare. I’m more than a little excited for this one).
3. ILounge Istanbul
To close off the night, dancing was an absolute must. While there was no shortage of variety at ICON Park for music, ILounge Istanbul immediately caught our ear for its incredible selection of Latin music.
Amazing Latin Music and Dancing
With a $10 entrance fee, ILounge is not only a full-service bar but a hookah lounge as well. The room was bathed in blue and pink neon lights, and mango-scented smoke danced in tufts. A live D.J. played an impressive selection, from Celia Cruz to Luis Fonsi. The girls and I were on the floor for hours, with the D.J. giving us special shoutouts for our ‘moves.’ (The girls are true-blue, bonafide Latin dancers…I’m just a gringa who enjoys twirling her hips).
Note: There was a moment when a heavily intoxicated gentleman got a little too close for comfort, but the bouncer responded immediately, and somehow, not a beat was missed nor the mood soured.
Delicious (and Sizeable!) Cocktails
The cocktails here are NO JOKE. There is a full range of beer and wine, both imported and domestic, but I can’t recommend the margaritas enough. Coming in a glass big enough to fit your head in, topped with an upside-down Corona and a full salt rim, it’s a sight to behold and a memory to be made (or forgotten by the next day).
Orlando at Night
There’s something extraordinary about this city at night. Whether viewing from high above or experiencing from the ground, Orlando is a place where magic lives, especially after the sun has set. Aside from the many theme parks that mark the top of many a tourist’s checklist, ICON Park embodies a certain electric frenzy that both excites and spellbinds. Captivating as it is youthful, it truly is a gem among gems in U.S. cities.
© 2019 Rose Rossi