The ultimate guide to International Drive

The ultimate guide to International Drive

The ultimate guide to International Drive

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International Drive has served as a major corridor for Orlando visitors since 1972. It was originally conceived by a lawyer and real estate developer, Finley Hamilton, and his partner, Jack Zimmer – the story goes the two named it “International Drive” because “it sounds important.”

It would be difficult to dispute that I-Drive is, in fact, an important piece of the Orlando area puzzle – it is an ideal region for lodging and offers plenty of attractions and incomparable dining experiences along its very long 11 miles.

The bulk of its fun is concentrated in multiple pockets or zones, though – the biggest of which we’re going to take a look at right now.

International Drive near Universal Orlando Resort

I-Drive near Universal Orlando
International Drive near Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando Resort has sprawled out its web to include International Drive over the years. First, the development of the Volcano Bay water theme park, Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Sapphire Falls Resort, and Aventura Hotel extended its reach closer to the tourist corridor, and, now, the new campus of Endless Summer Resort has made Universal’s presence in the area complete.

What does I-Drive offer closest to Universal’s ever-expanding empire? To start with, there are plenty of regular American chain restaurants within walking distance of Endless Summer – an Applebee’s, IHOP (International House of Pancakes), Red Lobster, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Denny’s – but that’s definitely not what makes this stretch fun and interesting. Attractions and activities near Universal Orlando on I-Drive vary from classic mini golf to an unconventional sporting activity:

1. Lost Caverns Adventure Golf

Address: 6306 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number: (407) 264-0560
Website

This mini golf location has a fun adventure theme. There are two courses, with the second one being half off when you play the first. It is within walking distance of Universal’s Endless Summer Resort, and some holes overlook the lake on which the hotel complex sits.

Price: $12 for adults, $10 for children.

(For more on Lost Caverns Adventure Golf, click here.)

2. Congo River Golf

Address: 5901 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number: 407-248-9181
Website

A chain of putt putt courses, there are eight locations in the state of Florida. This mini-brand of mini golf only exists in Florida and is a family-run business. Besides an elaborate, well-themed golf course, there is also a videogame arcade and a gem-mining station.

Price: $12.25 for adults, $10.95 for children (when purchased at least one day in advance online).

(For more on Congo River Golf, click here.)

3. Whirly Dome

Address: 6464 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number: 407-212-3030
Website

What, exactly, is Whirly Dome? It’s not exactly any one thing – it combines elements of basketball and hockey while participants steer a WhirlyBug, which is a vehicle that looks similar to a bumper car (though it’s faster and more manageable than one). Note that they are only open Thursday through Sunday; Monday through Wednesday requires advance reservations. There is a restaurant and bar, laser tag, and a laser maze there, too.

Price: $10 per person or $25 unlimited play specials during specific hours.

4. Magical Midway

Address: 7001 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number: 407-370-5353
Website

Magical Midway harkens back to the days of boardwalk attractions. Two elevated wooden go-kart tracks, a fast track, bumper cars, and bumper boats can be enjoyed here, plus Starflyer and the world’s largest Sling Shot.

Price: admission is free; prices per ride range from $3-$8; wristbands are $25-$35.

5. Gator Golf Adventure Park

Address: 6586 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number: 407-363-2001
Website

The name pretty much sums it up: the focus of Gator Golf Adventure Park is American alligators. The course actually winds through their habitats, although there are also animal encounters and live shows.

Price: admission to the park is $4.99. For golf, adults are $9.99 and children (ages three to 11) are $7.99. The Gator Adventure Experience is $10.

The Rest of International Drive

International Drive
International Drive

Beyond the part of International Drive that is near Universal Orlando Resort is a fantastic collection of dining, attractions, and other great ways to enjoy the liveliest tourist corridor in Orlando. Let’s take a look at the best ways to enjoy the area! (For convenience’s sake, we’ve kept this list within about a two-mile stretch of Universal.)

First, let’s start specifically with the dining scene:

1. Cafe Tutu Tango

Address: 8625 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number: 407-248-2222
Website

Share and pass around small plates of delectable Spanish-inspired dishes as art and entertainment surround you.

2. Cuba Libre

Address: Pointe Orlando, 9101 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number: 407-226-1600
Website

Revel in the tropical atmosphere and sink your teeth into authentic Caribbean cuisine and drinks.

(For more on Pointe Orlando, click here.)

3. Hash House a Go Go

Address: 5350 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number:407-370-4646
Website

With locations throughout the USA, Hash House a Go Go presents their twisted and often outrageous interpretations of American farm food.

4. Pepe’s Mexican Cantina

Address: 5415 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number: 407-317-6649
Website

This Mexican eatery is one of the few International Drive restaurants that got its start right here in Orlando (rather than being a big chain that subsequently moved in). Enjoy authentic Mexican dishes and reasonable prices.

5. Venezulan Burger

Address: 6316 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number: 407-601-0089

Venezulan Burger may be cheap, but good eats are the name of the game at this little burger joint. They are open late – usually 3:00 am or 4:00 am.

6. Tapa Toro

Address: 8441 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number: 407-226-2929
Website

Enjoy a lively-but-sophisticated tapas bar and paella pit. Your experience is elevated by the hourly flamenco dancer performances.

7. Itta Benna

Address: Pointe Orlando, 9101 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number: 407-757-2910
Website

Head to the second story of Pointe Orlando for a speakeasy-like experience. Itta Benna is named for blues legend BB King’s hometown. Savor upscale Southern cuisine as the warm glow and ambiance puts you at ease.

(For more on Pointe Orlando, click here.)

8. Taverna Opa

Address: Pointe Orlando, 9101 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number: 407-351-8660
Website

It’s always a party here! Authentic Greek food is coupled with a celebratory vibe all night long thanks to the zorba and belly dancers.

(For more on Pointe Orlando, click here.)

9. Tin Roof Orlando

Address: Icon Park, 8371 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number: 407-270-7926
Website

Not only will you chow down on delicious Southern and classic American fare, but you’ll be entertained by some of the best live music around!

That’s it for I-Drive’s highlighted food stops, but we’ve got plenty more in way of the attractions:

The Wheel at Icon Park
The Wheel at Icon Park

1. Pirates Dinner Adventure

Address: 6400 Carrier Drive, Orlando (just off International Drive)
Phone number: 407-206-5102
Website

Cast off for an adventurous and rambunctious dinner show experience. These swashbuckling pirates will impress you with their fighting skills. The show takes place on a large indoor lagoon and features exciting stunts and effects.

Price: $64.95 for adults, $37.95 for children.

2. Fun Spot America

Address: 5700 Fun Spot Way, Orlando
Phone number: 407-363-3867
Website

The family-run amusement park has really made a name for itself over the years – they’ve continually reinvested in the park. There is Orlando’s only wooden roller coaster here, as well as a family-friendly inverted steel coaster, plus multiple go-kart tracks, a Ferris wheel, bumper boats, an arcade, and other classic carnival-style rides.

3. Icon Park

Address: 8375 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number: 407-601-7907
Website

Icon Park has changed names over the years, but it has remained a fantastic addition to International Drive. It is free to park and to enter if you want a fun, energetic destination to stroll around. There are also some outstanding attractions and restaurants here, so be sure to explore.

4. The Wheel at Icon Park

Address: 8375 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number: 407-601-7907
Website

Once known as the Orlando Eye, the Wheel is the reason Icon Park has the word “icon” in its name. Upon the Wheel, you’ll gently rotate 400 feet into the air. This is a great opportunity for those unfamiliar with just how spread out Central Florida is, as well as for those who love their city, like me, to admire it all. If you go in the summer, wait generally until sunset to avoid afternoon thunderstorms. And take your experience to the next level with their open bar package to enjoy while in flight.

Price: the cost is $27.95, but there are lots of package and discount offers, including Fly and Dine and half off with valid theme-park admission.

5. SeaLife Aquarium at Icon Park

Address: 8375 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number: 407-601-7907
Website

What makes SeaLife Aquarium so great is its focus on smaller sea life rather than larger sea mammals, and the habitats have lovely accents like ancient-looking statues and figures. The crown jewel is the 360-degree tunnel, affording you breathtaking views of sea creatures all around.

Price: $25.50 for adults and $20.50 for children. There are also packages for multiple Icon Park attractions and restaurants.

6. Skeletons: Museum of Osteology at Icon Park

Address: 8375 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number: 407-601-7907
Website

Truly a unique experience, you can examine 500 different skeletons at this museum. This is certainly bound to be an unforgettable memory of your time in Orlando.

Price: $33 for adults and $28 for children. There are also packages for multiple Icon Park attractions and restaurants.

7. Madame Tussauds Orlando at Icon Park

Address: 8375 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number: 407-601-7907
Website

Get your camera ready – you’ve never seen so many photo opportunities. The realistic wax figures of Madame Tussauds have a 200-year history of impressing the public. Your Instagram pics will never look better!

Price: $25.50 for adults and $20.50 for children. There are also packages for multiple Icon Park attractions and restaurants.

8. Nomadic Virtual Reality

Address: Pointe Orlando, 9101 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number: 407-574-4565
Website

This virtual-reality attraction contains far more than just a really cool VR headset – you’ll encounter tactile elements and effects that envelope you in the experience.

Price: $21 weekdays, $25 weekends. Must be age 13 or older.

(For more on Pointe Orlando, click here.)

9. Main Event Entertainment

Address: Pointe Orlando, 9101 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number: 407-352-3300
Website

Have all the fun you can handle between bowling, billiards, hundreds of arcade games, laser tag, a ropes course, and virtual reality.

(For more on Pointe Orlando, click here.)

10. WonderWorks Orlando

Address: 9067 International Drive, Orlando (next to Pointe Orlando)
Phone number: 407-351-8800
Website

From the moment you lay eyes on this upside-down building, you know you’re in for a good time. There are over 100 hands-on activities and exhibits.

Price: $33.99 for adults, $24.99 for children.

(For more on WonderWorks, click here.)

Finally, here’s a rundown of the nightlife at this particular swath of International Drive:

IceBar Orlando
IceBar Orlando

1. IceBar Orlando

Address: 8967 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number: 407-351-0361
Website

This is, indeed, the coolest spot in the City Beautiful. IceBar Orlando is far more than a bar – it is an attraction that happens to have really cool drinks and awesome bartenders. It’s built of ice sculptures, including the bar itself and the glasses the drinks are served in. Warm up in the Fire Lounge before and after – they even have flaming libations!

2. Mango’s Tropical Cafe

Address: 8126 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number: 407-673-4422
Website

Mango’s is a mega nightclub, unlike anything else on I-Drive. It has been voted Orlando’s best nightclub and the best live music in the city multiple years in a row by Orlando Sentinel readers. Every night, guests are entertained by a non-stop show that is family friendly. After 10:00 pm, Mango’s transforms into an energetic nightclub. Caribbean drinks and food are served all night long.

3. Howl at the Moon

Address: 8815 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number: 407-354-5999
Website

More than dueling pianos, Howl at the Moon offers all kinds of live music throughout the week. This come-as-you-are, live music bar is a great way to let loose.

4. Improv Comedy Theater and Restaurant

Address: Pointe Orlando, 9101 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number: 407-480-5233
Website

When the big names in comedy come to Orlando, this is where they perform. Laugh out loud all night long at Improv.

(For more on Pointe Orlando, click here.)

5. 3Nine

Address: Rosen Plaza Hotel, 9700 International Drive, Orlando
Phone number: (800) 627-8258
Website

3Nine is located inside the Rosen Plaza Hotel and is open for dining and dancing from 9:00 pm to 1:00 am, Thursday through Saturday (unless it has been booked for a private event).

International Drive: tips and information

Here are just a few quick pointers to help make your time in and around I-Drive the best it can be:

  • It is a good idea to make reservations for most restaurants on International Drive.
  • You can often save some money by purchasing attraction tickets online in advance.
  • Universal Boulevard, home to the forthcoming Epic Universe, is a good cut-through to escape some of the traffic on I-Drive – that is, until things really get moving with the new theme park.
  • Pointe Orlando and a few other venues charge for parking. Icon Park does not.
  • International Drive is a very busy roadway, so be patient and make sure to give yourself plenty of travel time.
  • The I-Ride Trolley is a great way to get around.

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Dani Born and raised in the land of sunshine and dreams-come-true, Dani has always had a passion for tourism and hospitality. She is a proud Orlando native who loves sharing her hometown with others. With work experience in theme parks, hotels, and reputation management she brings this background to her freelance writing endeavors. Follow her adventures on Twitter at @thisfloridalife.