Although Orlando had become incorporated as a city in central Florida already in 1885, it remained a sleepy southern town surrounded by swamps and citrus groves until the mid 1960s. That all changed when Walt Disney purchased great masses of land in preparation for what was going to become the site of the largest theme park resort on planet earth – Walt Disney World. The resort opened in 1971.
Within months of opening the resort just 20 miles southwest of downtown Orlando, the park attracted visitors from around the country and finally put Orlando on the map. The population of greater Orlando exploded and many auxiliary businesses, like hotels, roadside attractions, and tours, settled nearby the Disney resort. Today, about 240,000 people live in Orlando proper and over 2 million in the greater area.
Tourism remains Orlando’s core industry even today, with numerous additional resorts, amusement parks and water parks having been built ever since. This spotlight on tourism also is reflected in Orlando’s character as a city. Particularly the northern end of International Drive and also the town of Kissimmee offer an array of wacky attractions and sights to visitors amidst a flood of chain restaurants that reflect little city charm and cater strictly to tourists. The man-made resorts and surrounding swamps and wetlands remain the attraction, versus the city itself.
However, recent upgrades to Downtown Orlando have made it a worthwhile visit. From the Walt Disney Amphitheater, to the cobblestone paved streets, more shops and restaurants, and new luxury condo towers, downtown becomes increasingly urbanized and livelier than in the past. Also the town of Winter Park, north of Orlando, has its charms with small town streets filled with restaurants and shops. It also features the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, home to the one of the largest Tiffany collections in the world.