Lake Buena Vista is famous for being the home of Walt Disney World, but there’s more to this East Central Florida area than cartoon mice and rides. Discover all this municipality has to offer when you spend time in the city.

Early Morning: Fuel Up Before a Big Day

A big day in Lake Buena Vista calls for a caffeine hit and a generous breakfast. You can find both at Letterpress, a charming restaurant inside the Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace. Hotel guests and visitors can enjoy their choice of an a la carte breakfast or impressive buffet while admiring the lake views. The a la carte menu features American favorites like buttermilk griddled pancakes, biscuits, and omelets with your choice of fillings. The buffet features an appealing selection of hot and cold treats like fruits, cereals, freshly baked breads, pastries, and eggs, including omelets cooked to order.

Sundays are fun days for little diners, when all their favorite Disney characters stop by Letterpress in the morning hours.

Midmorning: Discover Animal Kingdom

Some say that if you’re not at Walt Disney World, you’re not really in Lake Buena Vista. You’ll need the whole day to see Walt Disney World’s parks properly, so make sure you’re already enjoying the fun by midmorning. Many guests make Animal Kingdom an afternoon destination, so you can avoid the crowds and the lines if you head there first.

Get really savvy and head to the back of the park first for Kilimanjaro Safaris. This popular attraction is much quieter in the morning than after lunch. Then enjoy the Avatar-inspired Na’vi River Journey, and, if you’re a real fan of the James Cameron blockbuster, Flights of Passage. These are Animal Kingdom’s biggest draws, so you’ll want to hit them before the lines get too long. Then wander around, meeting creatures like the macaws of Discovery Island and the cotton-top tamarins at Habitat Habitat! until your tummy rumbles.

disney springs
The Disney Springs Area of Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista.

Noon: Enjoy a Light Lunch

Hunger pangs might hit hard, but don’t make the mistake so many tourists make and load up on a heavy lunch. This will only make you drowsy and sluggish for the afternoon. Instead, choose one of the lighter lunch options in Lake Buena Vista.

You’ll save money and avoid the crowds if you leave the theme parks and choose one of Lake Buena Vista’s standalone restaurants. Sweet Tomatoes is a popular favorite among locals. Its soups and tantalizing salad bar can fill you up without making you feel bloated. There are plenty of options for vegetarians and vegans, too, unlike many local eateries. Sweet Tomatoes is an easy 15-minute walk from downtown Walt Disney World.

Seafood is always another good light option. You’re spoiled for seafood choices at Paddlefish, located in the Disney Springs area of Walt Disney World. It gets its name because the restaurant actually began life as a steamboat. After a chic makeover, it now sits on the shores of Lake Buena Vista, ensuring guests enjoy enviable views with their meals. Paddlefish is the kind of place where you could happily linger over luxurious dishes, but remember that you have a schedule to keep. Light lunch choices like the crab ceviche and lobster roll are perfect when you’re short on time.

Afternoon: See a Show

Walt Disney World offers stage show spectaculars at all times of the day. Afternoon shows are typically less crowded than the morning ones, so plan to hit the ones you’re interested in after lunch. This will give you a chance to digest your food and rest your legs before you start being active again.

The “Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away” show, at Hollywood Studios, is a must for fans of the sci-fi adventure film. The show features all the hottest Star Wars characters, like Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren, and BB-8, alongside some old favorites.

If you’re traveling with a princess fan, you can’t miss the Festival of Fantasy parade. Held at midafternoon every day in the Magic Kingdom, this colorful procession features all the Disney princesses. As it’s only held once a day, you’ll need to arrive early to secure the best position.

epcot
The Epcot Ride at Walt Disney World.

Late Afternoon: Go On the Most Popular Rides

You’ve been waiting all day to try the rides you’ve heard so much about. Now your moment arrives. By late afternoon, the lines have dwindled to next to nothing. Many children and adults, tuckered out from an early start, have headed back to their hotels for a siesta before dinner. This reduces your wait time significantly. No Fast Pass required!

So which rides should you hit? Epcot’s attraction Spaceship Earth, which takes you on a historic journey from the Stone Age to the contemporary computer age, is a must. Fantasyland favorites like Peter Pan’s Flight and Dumbo the Flying Elephant also get quieter as kids are napping.

Dinnertime: Enjoy a Special Meal

After a busy day on your feet, you deserve a few hours to really pamper yourself. However, if you have kids in tow, you also know you’ll need to choose somewhere family-friendly. That might seem like an impossible combination in many parts of the country, but Lake Buena Vista has many restaurants offering just what you’re looking for. You’ll find many of the best Lake Buena Vista eateries inside local hotels.

Hemingway’s, conveniently located inside the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, takes inspiration from Ernest Hemingway’s travels from Cavo Hueso to the Cuban coast. Duvall Street Shrimp Scampi and the American Wagyu Burger are among the signature specialties. But if you’re a real fan of the jewels of the ocean, it’s hard to pass up Hemingway’s Grand Plateau, with Maine lobster, oysters, jumbo shrimp, crab legs, and other seafood delicacies. If steak and seafood aren’t your thing, you’ll be impressed by the restaurant’s vegetarian menu. Children are spoiled for choice with a kid’s menu featuring breaded chicken strips and grilled cheeseburgers.

To indulge more exotic tastes, try Capa at the Four Seasons Walt Disney World Resort. This sophisticated restaurant serves Spanish-influenced cuisine in a friendly but elegant setting. Dishes like American Wagyu from Ocala, Florida, and lamb rack from Brownsville, Oregon, will please carnivores. Lobster with seasonal vegetables and seasonal fish with salsa verde and lemon also take some beating. Young diners aren’t overlooked, with a unique children’s menu featuring classic kids’ meals and more gourmet fare. If you love your wine, you’re in luck. Wine Enthusiast magazine named Capa among its Best 100 Wine Restaurants in the U.S.

Late Night: Soak Up the Nightlife

If you’re visiting Lake Buena Vista with children, chances are you’ll find yourself spending your nights in your hotel room. However, if you do get a chance to party, you’ll find several good options. This area doesn’t have the numerous nightclubs of Miami or Orlando, but that doesn’t mean you’ll spend your nights twiddling your thumbs.

Latin music lovers adore Bongo’s Cuban Café in Disney Springs, the brainchild of esteemed singer Gloria Estefan and her husband, Emilio. The kitchen serves Cuban cuisine until late, but after your dinner, you’ll probably be more interested in the exotic cocktails. The Havana punch, Cuban daiquiri, or Guantanamero will quench your thirst as you enjoy energetic performances from live Latin bands and dancers.

House of Blues also has some star power behind it. Dan Aykroyd and Isaac Tigrett developed the Lake Buena Vista club famous for attracting top bands. You can enjoy live music most nights, including acts in the Blues Kitchen until late every Friday and Saturday. The tap beers are the perfect complement to the bar’s Southern American cuisine.

boathouse
The Boathouse Restaurant at World Disney World.

Orlando International Airport Guide

As a small municipality, Lake Buena Vista doesn’t have its own airport. Most people visiting Lake Buena Vista will fly into Orlando International Airport, located approximately 20 miles from Lake Buena Vista and 6 miles from downtown Orlando.

Approximately 40 million people pass through Orlando International Airport’s two terminals every year, making it Florida’s second-busiest airport. Only the Miami Airport attracts more air travelers.

Orlando International Airport is a major travel hub for local air carriers Silver Airways, Frontier Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and JetBlue Airways. It also welcomes international carriers including Aer Lingus, Emirates, British Airways, Lufthansa, and Virgin Atlantic. These carriers utilize the airport’s four runways. Through its airline partnerships, Orlando International Airport connects travelers directly to destinations across the United States, South America, and Europe.

Orlando International Airport Facilities

Orlando International Airport makes guests comfortable with facilities catering for all tastes. Level 3 of the landside main terminal has the widest range of restaurants. The large food court boasts popular fast food options like Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, Panda Express, and Quiznos for people short on time. If you want a more substantial meal, try the sit-down restaurants on the western side of the main terminal, including Chili’s, Macaroni Grill, and Fox Sports Bar.

The Hyatt Regency, on the east side of the main terminal, also has two restaurants. McCoy’s Bar and Grill on the fourth floor serves American favorites, while Hemisphere Steak & Seafood on the ninth floor has more gourmet fare. The hotel is the perfect place to stay if you’ve got an early morning flight.

Dining options are a bit more limited once you pass through security, but each airside terminal has one sit-down restaurant and a handful of fast-food outlets and cafes. You’ll find On the Border Mexican Grill and Cantina in Airside 1, the Caribbean-themed Kafe Kalik in Airside 2, Ruby Tuesday in Airside 3, and Outback Steakhouse in Airside 4.

Orlando International Airport is also the perfect place to find a last-minute souvenir before you board your flight. Level 3 has a small shopping mall, with a Universal Orlando gift shop and two Disney outlets. Del Sol, with its color-changing apparel, is another excellent choice for unique gift ideas. International travelers may also like to hit the duty-free outlets in Airside Terminals 1 and 4.

Orlando International Airport Transport

If you’re staying at one of the Disney World resorts, you can take one of the free Magical Express shuttles from the airport to your accommodation and back again. Many other hotels also provide free airport shuttles. If your hotel doesn’t provide this service, there are plenty of other transport options at the airport.

Big-name rental companies, including Avis, Budget, and Enterprise, have outlets inside Orlando International Airport, making it easy for travelers to organize car hire when they touch down.

Taxi ranks on Level 1 of the A and B sides of the main terminal cater to travelers who prefer catching a cab. Orlando lifted its ban on ride-sharing services several years ago, so you could also call an Uber or Lyft. Just note that only high-end services like Select XL and Uber Black can collect passengers from the Express Pickup Tunnel on Level 1.

The city’s Lynx buses also collect passengers from Level 1 on the A side of the main terminal. The Link 111 bus will take you to Lake Buena Vista. Fares are very affordable at $2 a ride. If you intend to catch a lot of buses while you’re in the city, consider a day pass or seven-day pass.

Look for the signs by the airport’s exits to direct you to your preferred transport option.

Orlando International Airport Tips

As Lake Buena Vista and other nearby areas, such as Orlando, are such popular vacation destinations, airport security lines can be very long. It’s not unusual to stand in line for an hour or more, especially during the summer tourist season, so make sure you leave extra travel time to allow for those delays. Arriving two to three hours before your planned departure time is ideal.

Tech junkies are also well catered for at Orlando International Airport. Don’t use your own data; you’ll find free Wi-Fi throughout the airport. If your smartphone or tablet has a low battery, take advantage of the charging stations in each airside terminal wing. If you prefer a PC to catch up on your emails, head to the internet kiosks in the landside and airside terminals.

Temple of heaven
The Temple of Heaven at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista.

Where to Stay in Lake Buena Vista

Since Lake Buena Vista is such a popular vacation destination for families and couples, there are many different places to stay within the area. These are just some of the options available to you.

Luxurious Local Resorts

When you want to pamper yourself in Lake Buena Vista, look to Disney World resorts. These hotels feature first-class facilities and extra perks for guests, including complimentary shuttle service to and from the airport and theme parks.

Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista features 394 guest rooms overlooking its manicured pool, courtyard area, tennis courts, and other facilities. Its sister hotel, Wyndham Lake Buena Vista, is a little more intimate with 232 lakehouse-themed guest rooms. Both hotels share the same resort amenities, including the Oasis Aquatic Pool Playground and a pedestrian bridge leading to the Disney Springs resort area.

Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace is another excellent option for travelers wanting easy access to the Walt Disney World theme parks. There are regular and accessible guest rooms, but if you need a bit more space, try an Island or Tower Suite. All rooms feature the luxury you’d expect from Hilton accommodations, with plush bedding, soft linens, and modern entertainment options. Pools with private cabanas, several restaurants and bars, and special Disney character breakfasts every Sunday make sure all members of the family have a wonderful time at the Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace.

Budget-Friendly Family Hotels

When you’re on a budget, look to some of Lake Buena Vista’s more modest hotels. They don’t have the five-star features of the resort, and they’re often a little further from the theme parks, but they’ll leave much more money in your pocket.

Clarion Inn Lake Buena Vista, located less than 2 miles from the Walt Disney World parks, is recognized as one of the best value hotels in the area. All rooms feature plush bedding with pillow-top mattresses, microwaves and refrigerators, flat-screen TVs, and free Wi-Fi access. Young guests are never bored with two seasonally heated swimming pools, a splash zone, and a video arcade game room that never closes. Kids 9 years and younger eat free at the Boardwalk Buffet Restaurant whenever they visit with a paying adult.

Holiday Inn Orlando-Disney Springs Area is another popular choice among frugal travelers. The rooms are modest but always clean, and feature all the facilities you really need, including comfortable beds and TV sets. There are two pools, including one that’s heated for the colder months, along with an outdoor whirlpool spa. Enjoy classic American meals in the onsite Palm Breezes Restaurant. Families find it easy to save money eating in because kids 12 and under ordering from the Rainforest Adventure menu eat free. If you don’t have time for a buffet breakfast, you can choose pastries and sandwiches from the Grab and Go outlet on the way to the theme park.

Is Lake Buena Vista beckoning you? Organize the theme park vacation of your dreams, from your hotel to your itinerary, right here on GoDoTrip.