Known as O-Town
to hep natives and Magic Mouse Land
to skeptical outsiders, Orlando (pop. 185,000 city, 1.5 million metro) is America's largest tourist attraction (43 million arrivals annually), and also happens to be one of the largest and fastest-growing metropoles in Florida
The town of Orlando was first incorporated in 1875, although the area has been settled since the late 1830's. The exact origins of the name are unclear, although all versions of the story say that Orlando was named for a person: either a native Seminole or a character from As You Like It. Some versions say that Orlando was an underling of the judge, while other versions say that Orlando was a Seminole who died in an American ambush.
Lockheed Martin brought some industry to the region in the 1930's and 1940's, but like most of Florida, Orlando was a land of cows and oranges until a Yankee investor arrived. In Orlando's case, the Yankee was a certain fellow named Walt Disney. Through the 1960's, Disney quietly and systematically purchased vast amounts of farmland southwest of the city, eventually incorporating their territory as two independent towns (Lake Buena Vista and Bay Lake) under the auspices of the Reedy Creek Improvement District. After Walt Disney World opened its doors in 1971, Orlando began its incredible rise to sprawl.
The enormous tourist influx brought by Disney spurred many new theme parks in Orlando: Sea World in 1973 and Universal Studios in 1990 led the pack, and around them you can find places like Splendid China, Holy Land, and what claims to be the world's largest McDonald's. US 192 in Kissimmee became a solid strip of hotels, chain restaurants, and tourist attractions, catering to the stream of families flocking to Orlando. These visitors fill over 100,000 hotel rooms in the city, and bring over $17 billion to the area every year.
Orlando is home to many kinds of people, in addition to mouseketeers. The tertiary sector of hotels, resorts, and restaurants employs a huge portion of the population: Disney alone provides 55,000 jobs. Lockheed and the nearby Kennedy Space Center have helped to foster a fledgeling high-tech economy in the Orlando area, and the University of Central Florida is making the transition from notorious party school to serious academic power. Delta Air Lines operates a hub at Orlando International Airport.
The city's only professional sports team is the NBA's Orlando Magic: the Orlando Rage of the XFL supplemented them for a brief period. For baseball, football, or hockey, Orlando's home teams are in Tampa, not too far away on Interstate 4.
I-4 is the only freeway leading into the Orlando area: most of the area's expressways charge tolls, including Florida's Turnpike, the Bee Line Expressway, and the East-West Expressway. US 27 and US 192 provide cheaper entryways into the Happiest and Most Magical Place on Earth, although if you're planning on driving there by yourself, you might find it cheaper to buy a ticket on Southwest Airlines.
Depending on your views about urbanization, Orlando can be the coolest place on Earth, or it can be the most hellish pit of suburban dystopia imaginable. Proceed with caution.