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Orlando is most famous as the home of Disney World and many other attractions, but it was once a modest residential community with roots in pioneer days. It had some attractions, like Gatorland, before Disney came to town, but its popularity exploded when the Magic Kingdom opened and other theme parks followed.
Orlando is a Central Florida city best known as the home of Walt Disney World and other theme parks like Universal Studios Orlando and Islands of Adventure, but its history harkens back much farther than Disney's arrival in 1971. Originally home to Native Americans, it became the site of Fort Gatlin, a U.S. Army fort built to protect settlers from attacks by the natives. At the time, the surrounding settlement was called Jernigan, named for the first family to make their home in the area.
Over time the settlement spread northward, and its name was changed to Orlando in 1857, with incorporation following in 1975. The names origins are not clear, although folklore puts forth four possible explanations. Judge James Speer plays a role in two of them. One story says he named Orlando after a friend, while another claims he got the name from the Shakespeare play "As You Like It." A third tale claims that a man named Orlando died in the area while on his way to Tampa. After his burial, his wife said, "There lies Orlando," and the name stuck. However, the story with the most credence involves a sentinel named Orlando Reeves, who was killed warning others of an Indian attack.
Orlando was a popular residential spot in the early 1900s, although development slacked off in the 1920s due to hurricanes and financial issues caused by the Great Depression. However, its fate as a major tourist destination was sealed when Walt Disney World opened in 1971, starting the Disney Empire. The first of the Disney parks was the Magic Kingdom, eventually followed by Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Disney's Animal Kingdom.
Other parks like SeaWorld, Universal Studios Florida, and Islands of Adventure, which features the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, soon followed. Some older pre-Disney attractions, like the Gatorland animal park, which opened in 1949, are still there, too. Other areas like Winter Haven, which is about an hour away from Orlando, also benefit from the tourists it draws. Winter Haven is home to Legoland Florida, a theme park that took over the site of the defunct Cypress Gardens.
Orlando is a very diverse area because it is so dependent on tourism. However, it does have some other industry, like a thriving medical research corridor. People are attracted to the area, both to visit and to live, because of its mild climate, but it's customary to be prepared for daily afternoon thunderstorms in the summer. Always carry a rain poncho or umbrella if you're outside during the summer months.
Another Orlando custom is avoiding I-4 whenever possible or allowing plenty of extra drive time. I-4 is the fastest route between Disney World, SeaWorld, Universal, and downtown Orlando when traffic is moving, but the road gets clogged and congested at rush hour and peak tourism seasons.
The Orlando economy is very much dependent on entertainment and tourism, which sometimes spawns scams. It's customary to see kiosks offering cheap theme park tickets lining the streets and Disney World, but ignore the temptation, The tickets are sometimes forgeries or previously used tickets that don't have any remaining days.
People visit Orlando for many reasons, with the theme parks being number one, especially for people looking for family friendly activities. There are other draws, like its proximity to both the east and west coasts and their beaches, as well as to places like Kennedy Space Center.
Orlando is easily accessible by driving, on an Amtrak train, or by flying into either Orlando International Airport, which is the primary spot, or Orlando Sanford International Airport. There are plenty of hotels on Walt Disney World and Universal property and near other landmarks and attractions. You can take a shuttle or trolley to the various attractions if you don't bring your own vehicle or rent a car. You'll need to drive to visit farther-flung areas like Winter Garden, Maitland, Azzlea Park, Pine Hills, and Winter Park. Downtown Orlando itself is 20 to 30 minutes away from Walt Disney World.