Orlando Spring Break is Still Warming Up

This week AOL Travel contributor Terry Ward will be road tripping across Florida to check out how spring break is unfolding across the state. Bookmark our Florida spring break 2013 home page to follow along. Today, she checks in from Orlando's spring break scene.

* * *

Full disclosure: For several years after college, and over the course of more than a decade, I lived on and off in downtown Orlando. And not once during that time did I ever venture to the theme parks or parkly "entertainment districts" for spring break. Florida's awesome beaches are far more my scene than the neon-lit worlds of theme parks like Disney and Universal. But college kids, it turns out, do venture to Orlando for spring break – although they're largely outnumbered by the predictable family crowds.

"I personally don't like the beach," said Sha' Quora Britt, 23, who was taking a break from child and family development studies at Benedict College in South Carolina. She was staying with her mom and sister at a hotel on Disney property and planned to have dinner at Downtown Disney before catching some sleep for the next day's park hopping. "As long as it's Florida for spring break, I don't care where I am," she said, "Everyone migrates to Florida. I wouldn't even mind moving here someday."

The crowds at Downtown Disney, mostly families and gaggles of teens, were a long way from "Girls Gone Wild." Outside the Team Mickey store, I met Kairy Alvarez ("Spelled like fairy!" she said) from Riverview, Florida, who was sporting a mouse-eared conductor's hat and on high school spring break with two friends. The girls were waiting for night to feel the full Disney magic of the place. "We come here all the time," she said, "I like walking around, shopping, trading pins. After dark the lights come on and it looks way cooler and gets more crowded." Teenage loitering never seemed so G-rated.

Kairy pointed to Pollo Campero, a Latin American fast food chain at Downtown Disney, as the best spot for cheap and tasty eats ("Especially the chicken sandwich."). And her favorite store is TrenD at Downtown Disney Marketplace, where I had to admit the Mickey and Minnie-emblazoned shirts and backpacks look for more funky and stylish than the alternatives at Orlando's ticky tacky tourist stores.

I strolled toward Downtown Disney's West Side and came upon a sort of park by the lake, where the grass was fake but everyone was lounging on it as if wasn't. Popping balloons, screaming kids and one of those human statue performers that you normally feel guilty passing by without tipping added to the street scene (Disney street performers don't solicit tips, of course). When I thought I'd had about all the artificial atmosphere I could handle, I noticed a huge flock of ibis – white birds with beautiful curved beaks – doing passes over Planet Hollywood. "Incoming!" yelled a crowd of people as the birds swooped in close. And I smiled, because Florida can never truly be tamed.

Over on International Drive, Orlando's seedy hotel and convention center corridor, the sidewalks were noticeably empty of pedestrians. Where was everyone, I wondered. Inside Bargain World - where kitsch souvenirs like taxidermied alligator heads and shot glasses emblazoned with dolphins fill the shelves - I found just two shoppers, a father and daughter duo from Memphis browsing the mesh Spring Break 2013 tank tops.

I had an urge to escape the tourist corridor, so I headed nearby to what's informally known to Orlandoans as Restaurant Row, a strip of great restaurants on Sand Lake Road that draws a largely local crowd for excellent Lebanese food, sushi and seafood.

Then I steeled myself for more theme park action at CityWalk, Universal's answer to Downtown Disney that's composed of more neon and even louder non-ambient music – Taylor Swift swearing she'll never ever get back together and Kenny Chesney crooning about what happens when the sun goes down - blasting from speakers you see (and many you don't).

Two spring breakers from Sarasota were looking forlorn in the parking lot as I entered. "We can't find our car," said Denis Prokopchuk, 19, a waiter from Sarasota who had Lana Del Rey lyrics freshly tattooed on his right bicep. He and his friend, Demetrio, had already been searching for their black Eclipse for an hour. But the day hadn't been a total loss, at least. "We went to both the Universal parks," said Denis, "It's pretty fun. I found the theatrical stuff kind of boring but the rollercoasters were really fun, especially the rocking rollercoaster."

"And there's a lot of hotties," he added, smile cracking despite the missing car mayhem, "I was raised in New York where there are pretty good looking people, I don't normally see that many here."

I left the boys to their car search and headed into City Walk's world of moving sidewalks and bag inspections (it felt like an airport) to check out nightlife spots like Red Coconut Club and Rising Star Karaoke. But everywhere was pretty dead. "Things might pick up after the Tenacious D concert lets out at Hard Rock Live," a woman checking IDs at Pat O'Brien's told me. She was carding hard, she said, as the spring break crowds were just starting to arrive in Orlando.

"It's the calm before the storm," she said, "And my manager doesn't use big words, but tonight he said 'Be vigilant.'"

Previous: St. Petersburg: 'I Want to Chill and Party'
Next: Daytona Beach's Parallel Universe: Spring Break Meets Bike Week
Read Full Story

Sign up for the Travel Report by AOL newsletter to get exclusive deals and wanderlust inspiration delivered straight to your inbox every day.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.