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A gaggle of swan boats await pedalers as Lake Eola’s grand fountain gurgles. Credit: Joe Shlabotnik.

By Amy Drew Thompson

In the wake of a successful, post-Thanksgiving Small-Business Saturday, more travelers are keen to shop local. So there’s no better time to mix the majesty of Florida’s theme-park area with a stay in the hip, downtown digs of some fabulous Orlando hotels. The area’s showy centerpiece is lovely Lake Eola Park, the Sunday home of the colorful, musical Orlando Farmer’s Market.

Peruse and sample the wares of local artists, farmers, chefs and craftspeople. Relax in the shadow of massive, moss-draped live oaks in the wine and beer garden – where pets are welcome and children are happily engaged. Grab abite and enjoy local musicians play crowd favorites; they take requests! Then walk off the meal with a few laps around the lake and its grand, glittering fountain.

Recent years have seen numerous sparkling additions to Orlando’s skyline and with them new residents who’ve boosted a downtown renaissance, with restaurants and nightspots ranging from cozy to chic. In fact, look no further than the Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando’s Bösendorfer Lounge for sophisticated sips (the martinis are superb) in sleek confines. Cool jazz complements the sultry vibe on Friday and Saturday nights.

The Courtyard at Lake Lucerne lies less than a mile outside the condo zone, but in terms of atmosphere it’s more like time travel with a romantictwist. Comprised of four historic homes, its intimate setting, with grand verandas and lush tropical gardens, make it a bed and breakfast oasis away from the downtown bustle.

On the south side, the Eõ Inn & Spa offers boutique luxury in 17 rooms and sits on a quaint, cobbled street just opposite Lake Eola Park’s lovely tree-shaded playground – which recently underwent a complete renovation. Couples can take turns with the kids on the swings or in one of the lake’s signature swan boats while the other enjoys a relaxing spa treatment. Important to note: though downtown’s atmosphere is a world away from the parks, Mickey and pals reside just a half-hour away. And Universal CityWalk and SeaWorld are even closer.

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Freelance travel writer Amy Drew Thompson adores shopping local at the Orlando Farmer’s Market. Especially for kettle corn. Check out more of her work at www.amydrewthompson.com.

Tagged: Florida

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