When people ask me where they should stay when visiting Walt Disney World, I always tell them at a Disney hotel (on property). I believe the perks offered here, such as Extra Magic Hours, the dining plan, and the close proximately to the Disney theme parks makes these resorts an excellent choice. However, there are many good reasons for staying at a non-Disney resort (off property). First among these is cost.
There is no way around it. Disney resorts are expensive. Even the Value resorts such as the Pop Century, Art of Animation, and the All Stars can cost $100 a night or more. For just a few dollars extra, a person can stay at a full-fledged non-Disney hotel. And with some sort of discount card they can get a mini-suite off property. If you want to be pampered and spoiled, there are other, more luxurious choices than the Grand Floridian – and many don’t cost nearly as much.
Another good reason to stay in a non-Disney hotel is that it puts you in a better frame of mind to visit Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Sea World, and LEGOLAND. All four of these parks are outstanding and offer fantastic experiences that are well worth your time and money. In additions to these mega parks, the Orlando area has literally hundreds of other, lesser known attractions that are also a lot of fun. If you’re not sure what these other attractions are, just about any non-Disney hotel and eatery will have a rack of brochures in their lobby to help plan your time.
Two guides I would suggest picking up are “Orlando Quick Guide” and “Experience Kissimmee Florida.” Both offer a comprehensive overview of the many opportunities to be had in the area.
Today I’m going to talk about one of the major, non-Disney lodging areas in the Orlando area – or should I say, the Kissimmee/Saint Cloud area. US Route 192, also known as Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway, runs from the middle of the state beginning at US Route 27 and ends one block from the Atlantic Ocean at State Road A1A. About 20 miles of this 75 mile thoroughfare are populated with a dizzying array of hotels, motels, timeshares, restaurants, souvenir shops, and attractions.
Before I talk about the current US Route 192, or just 192 as the locals call it, I’d like to give you an abbreviated history of this highway. The Florida's State Road system was defined by law in 1923 and this was the first time this roadway was given an official designation. Over the years, road numbers were assigned and reassigned until finally in 1945, three State Roads were combined and assigned the designation of what is now, US192.
Irlo Overstreet Bronson, Sr. was a prominent cattle rancher in the Kissimmee area. He also served in the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida State Senate. But he is perhaps best remembered as one of the local land holders who sold a large portion of his property to the Disney Company for a mere $100 per acre. Though his family felt he had relinquished the land for far less than its true value, Bronson believed that Disney would offer better career opportunities to the community and incentives for the local youth to remain in the area. Following his death in 1973, a large stretch of US192 was named the Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway.
After the Walt Disney World project was announced to the public, Disney executives hosted an event in Anaheim for many of the Central Florida local politicians. At this event, Disney drove the dignitaries up and down Harbor Blvd, the main roadway that borders Disneyland. The Disney people told these dignitaries, “Don’t let this happen in your cities.” What they were referring to was the unchecked and unplanned growth that had sprang up along Harbor Blvd in the wake of Disneyland. Everyone wanted to cash in on the Disneyland bonanza and an array of tacky establishments grew around the theme park.
I have no idea what restrictions may or may not have been implemented on US192 once everyone returned home from Disneyland, but judging by the mismatched growth that sprang up in the years that followed, the planning codes must have been lax – or nonexistent. US192 became Harbor Blvd East.
I’m happy to report that when construction began on Disney’s California Adventure in the late 1990’s, Disney entered into an agreement with the City of Anaheim and much of Harbor Blvd. was reimagined and improved to give the street a unified and well-kept look.
Also beginning in the 1990’s, the tourist areas of US192 began an extensive reconstruction. Two lane roads were widened to four and four lane roads widened to six. The streets were lined with palms and lampposts were given a singular, stylish design. Traffic signals that once hung from overhead wires were replaced with more attractive solid pylons. Bus stops were also unified, covered, and given a tasteful look. Well cared for grass strips were situated along the road to soften the harsh look of the asphalt and buildings. And imaginative mile markers were positioned up and down the roadway to help tourist find the various venues along the route.
When traveling along US192 today, you see an odd collection of strip malls, standalone eateries, souvenirs shops, attractions, fast food restaurants, and tourist information booths. However, the beautification of this thoroughfare is apparent and it doesn’t seem to be the mishmash that it once was. Credit should be given to the cities’ leaders who did their very best to update and modernize this tourist area.
Don’t get me wrong, there is still plenty of inconsistency in the caliber of the businesses offered here. For example, there are many, new and modern strip malls.
But there are still a few holdovers from the past.
One of the great things about US192 is the vast selection of souvenir shops and their outrageous architecture. Take a look at just a few.
Actually, visiting these gift shops can be a lot of fun if you enter with the right frame of mind. To begin with, these are not the “sanitized” shops you’ll find at Disney. Here you’ll discover a much larger array of merchandise, including t-shirts and bumper stickers with racy sayings. You’ll also find that the prices are considerably less than what Disney offers. But be sure to compare quality. Sure, you can buy t-shirts for $5, but examine the fabric thickness. Will they stand up to multiple washings?
You will see Disney characters plastered on everything, but you will not find the words “Walt Disney World” on t-shirts, towels, and bric-a-brac. The merchandise here may sport the words “Disney,” “Orlando,” or “Florida,” but NOT “Walt Disney World.” These words are restricted to Disney World venues.
You will also find a lot of non-Disney merchandise at these shops. Some of it relates to other Orlando attractions and some of it is just plain ol’ tacky souvenirs that can be seen at any gift shop across America. But there are also quality items that can’t be found on Disney property if you take the time to look.
Be aware, most of these gift shops have stationed a salesperson near the exit. When leaving, you will be asked if you want to buy tickets to any of the Orlando attractions. These salespeople can be persistent, but they are easily ignored if you just keep walking and don’t engage them in conversation.
Speaking of tickets, you will also see a number of standalone shops offering “cheap tickets.” I cannot speak with any authority on this subject, but I have always lived by the adage, “If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.” These places may be 100% legitimate, but buy with caution.
EDITORS NOTE: AllEars has a long time relationship and recommends MapleLeafTickets for discount tickets at the Orlando theme parks. The link takes you to special pricing for AllEars readers!
In the years before air travel brought fresh fruit to supermarkets year round, citrus baskets from Florida were a required gift for those back home enduring a harsh winter. Today, most of these roadside stands are gone, but there are still a few along US192. Here you can purchase a large selection of oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit. Also available are citrus plants to plant once back home. Be aware, some states like California and Hawaii have strict restrictions on the import of plants, fruits, and vegetables.
Besides citrus products and souvenirs, these stands also offer foodstuffs like honey and specialty sauces.
An interesting phenomenon happened along Harbor Blvd. after Disneyland was built. In an effort to capitalize on the park’s popularity, local establishments tacked on the word “land” to their business name. So you now had names like “Motel Land” and “Grocery Land.” The same thing happened in Orlando. Many businesses tacked on the word “world” to make an association with themselves and the theme park.
And it’s not just the little guy who does this. One of the largest hotels in the Orlando area has effectively used the word “world.”
Speaking of names, you will encounter the terms “West Gate,” “Main Gate,” and “East Gate” along US192. You will also find these terms when searching for hotels and motels online. They are used to fool the uninformed tourist into thinking their establishment is close to the theme parks. For the most part, they are not. All of the parks are at the very minimum, a 15 minute drive away from any business on US192 – when the traffic is good. Note, US192 has dozens and dozens of signals and congestion is common during busy periods. Realistically, you should plan on a 30 minute drive to get to the Disney parks and longer to get to Universal and Sea World.
There is one stretch of US192 that is free of any business and is lined with thick growth on both sides of the road. This portion of the road is crossing Disney property and in essence, is a mini-freeway. The only sign of activity along this section of highway is the backside of ESPN Wild World of Sports. Traffic usually moves well in this portion of road as it has no signals, cross traffic, or turnouts to slow distracted drivers.
Speaking of distractions, US192 has dozens of billboards, benches, and towering signs to grab your attention.
Near Mile Marker 8, you’ll find the entrance to Celebration. This is the master-planned community that Disney orchestrated on their southern property beginning in the early 1990’s. As this is an entire subject onto itself, I will save this topic for another article on another day.
Just down the road from Celebration is Old Town. This amusement center offer shops, restaurants, taverns, carnival-type rides, and live entertainment. However, this spot is best enjoyed in the evening when guests returning from the Disney parks arrive. Combine these enthusiastic patrons with the hundreds of blinking lights that bring the buildings alive and you have a very festive atmosphere. Note, although there are some rides suitable for young children, there are others that only the bravest individuals would dare attempt.
I have to admit, I’ve always been a little disappointed with Disney’s miniature golf courses, Fantasia Gardens and Winter-Summerland. Although imaginative, they lack the wow factor found in many non-property courses. That’s not the case when looking for putt-putt spots along US192. Here you’ll find real creativity and fanciful challenges.
For those of you who have money to burn, may I suggest a helicopter tour over Disney World? I did this once and found the experience to be exhilarating. It really is fantastic to see some of your favorites spots from the air. Although the company I used is no longer in business, there are several helicopter tour offices along US192. Note, the more you spend, the longer you stay in the air. Don’t be fooled by the $20 come-ons. This amount of money will not afford you a tour of the entire Disney property.
When it comes to lodging, US192 has it all. Bargain motels and deluxe hotels can sit side-by-side and everything in between is right at hand. In addition, many resorts are located just off of the main drag. This allows them the space to create a relaxed atmosphere removed from the hustle and bustle of the busy street nearby.
EDITORS NOTE: AllEars has long term relationships with several hotel/villa/vacation home providers not on Disney property. The following hotels offer readers special pricing:
Many of the larger hotels offer shuttle service to the Disney parks. However, these may or may not work well with your schedule and in all probability, will not be as convenient as what Disney offers. Renting a car is most likely a good idea if staying along US192. And for those of you who do drive, remember, your Disney parking ticket is good all day at all four Disney parks.
Dining options are even greater than the lodging choices along US192. Almost every US chain restaurant has a presence here – many multiple times. And if you’re not a fan of chain restaurants, a number of independent options are readily available. Once again, here is just a small selection of well-known eateries that will beckon you.
Boston Lobster Feast
Joe’s Crab Shack
Papa John’s Pizza
If you want more than just a meal, there are a number of dinner adventures to choose from. Here is just a sampling.
Medieval Times offers a show featuring a king, queen, and six armor-clad knights riding valiant steeds in an exhibit of pageantry and competition.
Pirate's Dinner Adventure features a 46 foot long Spanish galleon afloat in a 300,000-gallon indoor lagoon. Each of the six sections of the audience cheers for their pirate as the adventure unfolds in front of you.
The ad for Capone’s Dinner & Show reads as follows, “Knock three times, give the secret password and discover the mysterious world of 1931 gangland Chicago. Our entertaining show delivers loads of laughs, gangster action, audience interaction and toe-tapping musical productions.”
That’s about it for my discussion of US192. I have to be honest, my advice to Disney World vacationers is still to stay on property if you can afford it. But if you choose to stay off property for any reason, this area of Central Florida has a lot to offer.
As always, I will be happy to answer any questions you may have regarding this article. But in reality, I don’t frequent US192 often and I really don’t have much detailed information about any particular business or attraction offered here.
Disclaimer: I am not endorsing any business mentioned in text or seen in any of my pictures.
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