Finding magic beyond Disney World: Postcard from Orlando, Florida

Writer and avid traveller, Reetika Khanna's keen observations of all things design come together in a series of postcard entries from quaint quarters across the world.

by Reetika Khanna Published on : Jun 29, 2020

While a global pandemic has clipped our wings indefinitely, we are perforce learning to find magic in the seemingly mundane. This necessary enterprise is perhaps best at play in Orlando — a theme park paradise.

Since 1971, when Disney World opened its gates in Orlando, the city has been a landmark destination for people of all ages. With fairy dust seemingly infused in the warm Florida air and Harry Potter’s wizardry on display at Universal Studios, Orlando is the polestar for all things enchanting. But as the quarantine era directives shut down bewitching lights and thrilling rides, bringing frenzy to a fast stop, much else has come to light.

  • A statuette is the centrepiece of a small pond nestled in a park downtown | Postcard from Orlando | Reetika Khanna | STIRworld
    A statuette is the centrepiece of a small pond nestled in a park downtown Image Credit: Peter Porter
  • The tiered, rainbow coloured facade of the Walt Disney Amphitheater, a landmark venue, are visible in the distance | Postcard from Orlando | Reetika Khanna | STIRworld
    The tiered, rainbow coloured facade of the Walt Disney Amphitheater, a landmark venue, are visible in the distance Image Credit: Peter Porter

The Walt Disney Amphitheater at Lake Eola in the heart of downtown resembles a tiered collapsible cup. It is woefully empty and still. But behind it, the dancing lights of a majestic fountain take centerstage as city folk emerge from their homes for a breath of fresh air, maintaining a safe distance from one another. Fast-paced runners, stumbling toddlers, expecting mothers, couples holding hands, greying denizens and gleeful pet (some in buggies!), circle the almost mile-long lake in collective harmony. As though cast in a theatrical production, the vividly illuminated office buildings of downtown Orlando brighten the molten evening sky like a supporting cast. An elderly man, a regular at the lake, smiles peacefully as he weaves wondrous flowers out of palm leaves for a passerby. Amongst bars and restaurants along the lakefront that offer take out and carefully scrubbed and spaced seating, Relax Grill is a no-frills eatery. Their lavishly salted, French fries-shaped fried pickles are a hot favourite with patrons.

  • A mural showcases the highlights of the city | Postcard from Orlando | Reetika Khanna | STIRworld
    A mural showcases the highlights of the city Image Credit: Peter Porter
  • A mural in downtown Orlando celebrates Florida’s most notable denizens | Postcard from Orlando | Reetika Khanna | STIRworld
    A mural in downtown Orlando celebrates Florida’s most notable denizens Image Credit: Peter Porter

The approximately 50 swans that live on the lake are the cynosure of this urban oasis. These trumpeting birds even have their own Twitter account! Close by, the Church Street District—a landmark for sporting events and buzzing nightlife—is almost deserted, allowing a clear view of the impressive brick-lined promenade itself. While the museums and theatres remain closed in the eclectic Mills 50 neighbourhood, the murals across storefronts and back-alley walls are receiving newfound admiration. Unlike the edgy, bombastic, alfresco art in Miami that lassos one's attention with chromatic overtures, Orlando's murals unfold gently, like fairytales narrated at bedtime. These are stories of diversity and bonhomie artfully chronicled on an urban canvas of brick and concrete.

  • Lush orchids for sale at a Farmer’s Market | Postcard from Orlando | Reetika Khanna | STIRworld
    Lush orchids for sale at a Farmer’s Market Image Credit: Peter Porter
  • A message of peace baked into loaves of artisan bread| Postcard from Orlando | Reetika Khanna | STIRworld
    A message of peace baked into loaves of artisan bread Image Credit: Peter Porter

A similar tale of gathering occurs during the weekend farmer’s market in the quaint Winter Garden neighbourhood out west. As the city tests the waters for a new normal, vendors selling local produce and honey, stuffed olives and pickles, fresh mozzarella, and robust orchids assemble loosely in the majestic umbra of Spanish Moss trees. Eclectic shops and eateries flank a central promenade with benches and swings set amidst fountains and flowers with a European flair.

Local brews in the Mills 50 District, a hotspot for libations | Postcard from Orlando | Reetika Khanna | STIRworld
Local brews in the Mills 50 District, a hotspot for libations Image Credit: Peter Porter

The Rogers Building, a Queen Ann style structure built in 1886, is a historic site on the South Magnolia Avenue. Perhaps better known as the English Club, the structure seems like it has been teleported from the streets of London! Given that Orlando was established in 1875, and doesn't boast of a rich architectural heritage like Prague or Paris, the English Club shines through like a delightful anomaly.

  • An inviting entrance to a home decor store tucked away in Ivanhoe Village| Postcard from Orlando | Reetika Khanna | STIRworld
    An inviting entrance to a home decor store tucked away in Ivanhoe Village Image Credit: Peter Porter
  • A dramatic entrance to a store in Ivanhoe Village | Postcard from Orlando | Reetika Khanna | STIRworld
    A dramatic entrance to a store in Ivanhoe Village Image Credit: Peter Porter

With over a hundred lakes in the city, walking trails, and micro-neighbourhoods with distinct identities, Orlando is an oasis for organic adventures that don't require a ticket. The Ivanhoe Village, once famous for finding antiques, is a charming area on the edge of the urban trail with contemporary home décor stores. A store owner points to a bicycle fashioned as a foyer table that has become a fast seller during the recent upsurge in home improvement projects.

Steel birds take flight in an installation celebrating the outdoors | Postcard from Orlando | Reetika Khanna | STIRworld
Steel birds take flight in an installation celebrating the outdoors Image Credit: Peter Porter

As families huddle together in these uncertain times, it is heartwarming to see generations congregate on private docks along the sprawling lakefront homes around Lake Sue. Across the street, wraparound porches enveloped by lush foliage are alive with laughter. It almost feels like Thanksgiving!

The stars shine bright in Orlando even when the fairy dust settles.

Comments

Comments Added Successfully!

About Author

Reetika Khanna

Reetika Khanna

Author of Kismetwali & Other Stories, Khanna is an Atlanta-based freelance writer with an eye for style and a palate for adventure. A former flight attendant, she honed her writing skills at Emory, and Georgetown University, US. She has worked with ELLE as a Senior Features Writer, and as an Associate Features Editor with ELLE DÉCOR, Mumbai. Khanna, who likes to document her travels around the world, is currently working on her second book.

Recommended

LOAD MORE
see more articles
1243,1080,1254,1076,1155

stirworld.com becomes

join the celebration CLICK HERE

Collaborate with us

This site uses cookies to offer you an improved and personalised experience. If you continue to browse, we will assume your consent for the same.
LEARN MORE AGREE