ORLANDO – For a lot of Central Florida residents, the cry-out-loud words in the past few days has probably been, “Where’s the rain?”
Summer is the wet season in Central Florida, when the heat and humidity builds up throughout the morning, until massive downpours sweep across the region during the afternoon and late evening.
And while those downpours are no fun for anyone caught outdoors at a theme park, playing a round of golf at the local golf courses, or driving in heavy traffic on the interstate, one clear benefit is those storms drop the temperatures and provide some relief from the intense heat.
At the moment, though, Orlando is stuck in a different weather pattern, one where the temperatures have soared into the mid-to-high 90s, but it’s very dry and there’s no rain in sight. That means virtually no letup from the high heat index.
Anyone who loves the heat and hates the rain is probably thrilled this week. But for those who find the heat makes being outdoors an endurance test of sweat-soaked shirts and low energy levels, keep in mind that the Orlando region is well aware of the heat potential during the summer months, and has plenty of options for beating the heat.
Here are some options for staying cool during the region’s hot spells.
1. Water parks.
Unlike in many northern states, water parks in the Orlando area can stay open nearly year round, with folks in bathing suits riding the water slides in December. These attractions allow guests to stay in the cool waters as the heat index soars.
Water parks are popular attractions at the local theme parks. Walt Disney World offers the Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach water parks, while SeaWorld Orlando lets guests cool off at its Aquatica and Discovery Cove water parks. Disney also offers the Kali River Rapids ride at its Animal Kingdom theme park.
The International Drive tourism corridor also hosts Wet ‘n Wild, another popular water park.
2. Shopping malls.
Indoor shopping malls offer the opportunity to spend an entire day doing some shopping, finding elegant places to eat, taking in a movie – and all of it indoors, and very cool. There are a number of shopping malls in the Orlando area that pick up in popularity when the heat is on, but their air conditioning is working full volume.
The Mall of Millenia is located at 4200 Conroy Road in Orlando, and has everything from Abercrombie & Fitch to Crate & Barrel, to Forever 21. Dining options are just as diverse, including California Pizza Kitchen, Earls Kitchen & Bar, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro and Panera Bread.
The Florida Mall, at 8001 S. Orange Blossom Trail, also draws in those escaping a high heat index.
3. Ice cream delights.
Frozen treats were made for combating the summer heat, and Orlando has plenty of options for those who crave the best in ice cream.
The Orlando area has many of the best known ice cream shops – Haagen Dazs, Stone Cold Creamery, Twistee Treat and Ben & Jerry’s are all located on International Drive alone. A popular new additional is Florean Fortescue Ice Cream Parlor at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando, where the menu includes the Butterbeer ice cream.
Not to be outdone, Walt Disney World has Mickey’s Premium Ice Cream Bar, and SeaWorld sells its Shamu Ice Cream Bar.
4. Indoor attractions.
If it’s special attractions you’re looking for, Orlando has quite a few that are not located inside a theme park, but operate independently. These attractions pull in visitors looking to avoid the long lines that are common in the summer months at the major theme parks.
Wonderworks is best known as the “upside down” building at 9067 International Drive. This attraction features more than 100 hands-on science exhibits, as well as laser tag, a ropes course and a 6D motion ride.
Not far from Wonderworks is another indoor attractions, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, a museum at 8201 International Drive with a wide collection of kitschy oddities, including shrunken human heads, skeletons of rare and exotic animals, and a part of the Berlin Wall that was toppled in 1989.
Close to both – and offering truly frigid cold for those fed up with the heat – is Icebar Orlando, a lounge at 8967 International Drive that has two floors. On the bottom floor is a lounge with a bar and dance floor, kept at normal room temperature. But upstairs is a bar built entirely from ice – including the tables and chairs that patrons get seated at, the bar itself, and the glasses that patrons drink from. To keep those items frozen, the bar is kept at a below-freezing temperature of about 23 degrees. Guests are given a parka to wear on their way inside, and only allowed to stay in there for about 40 minutes at a time.
Without a doubt, Orlando can get very hot this time of year – just ask anyone sweating it on the city’s streets.
But it’s also clear that there are still plenty of things to do here that are really cool – literally and figuratively.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..