According to Lillian Aguirre, clinical nurse specialist for the trauma/burn critical care unit at Orlando Regional Medical Center, Orlando instantly conjures images of theme parks, family vacations and a blissful suburban paradise.
“When people hear Orlando, they think of the theme parks or I-Drive, where the convention center is located,” she says. “Our metropolitan area spans across portions of several counties: Orange, Seminole, Osceola and Lake. It is for that reason that our Metropolitan Orlando Chapter today is 300 members strong. Our ‘downtown’ area is about nine miles away from the convention center.”
Roberto Rivera-Olmo, corporate resource nurse, Orlando Health – ORMC Level 1 Trauma Center, agrees.
“Don’t let our size fool you,” he says. “Because we are a tourist destination, our highways get congested frequently. Around the convention center, SR 528 and I4 are under construction, so expect traffic. Orlando is most accessible via car, but note that many of our roads are toll roads — so either bring change or a toll booth transponder.”
He also says to come to Orlando expecting hot weather.
“Central Florida practically has two seasons: a dry, cool fall-like ‘winter’ and a long, rainy, hot summer that starts early in the year,” he says. “Thunderstorms are common in the late afternoon, so don’t forget your umbrella. Pack with the heat in mind.”
Aguirre says that aside from the theme parks, there are many sites to visit and things to do.
“In the downtown area, we have the Orlando Science Center, Orlando Art Museum and Lake Eola, where you can rent a swan paddleboat,” she says. “There are several eateries, clubs and bars along Church Street.”
“We are also the home of a couple professional sports teams,” Aguirre says. “It is MLS Soccer season, so if you are a fan there are two games taking place around the time of the conference. The City Lions take on Cincinnati on the 19th at 3 p.m., and the L.A. Galaxy on the 24th at 7 p.m. The soccer stadium is located downtown — prepare yourself for a fun time, and see the stadium go purple!”
So how do locals spend their time in Orlando?
“Orlando is a multicultural community and change is constant,” Aguirre says. “I love trying new restaurants and ethnic-influenced venues. We have many to choose from. If I want something relaxing but interesting, walking the downtown area fits that bill. It is usually the site for weekend festivals.”
“If you’re looking for some fresh, unique food, don’t miss Orlando’s restaurant row, located on West Sand Lake Road in the Doctor Phillips area,” he says. “Or visit Winter Park’s Central Park area — accessible via SunRail, a nice way to skip the I4 traffic — with some of the best restaurants in the Orlando metro area. And if you’re looking for food after strolling downtown Orlando, don’t overlook Mills Avenue, Little Ivanhoe or the Audubon Park area, the “uptown” of Orlando, where you can find delicious restaurants that will cost you a lot less than Restaurant Row or Central Park.”
He also offers some advice for shoppers.
“For the ones who like to shop,” he says, “Pointe Orlando is just up the road from the convention center, where you can shop, dine or catch the latest movie. I also recommend checking out Disney Springs, which has a great amount of shopping and food, where you easily can spend a day.”
Aguirre offers more shopping suggestions: “My favorite place to shop is at the Mall at Millenia. It has four anchor stores (Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Bloomingdales), many smaller national stores and several specialty boutiques. My other favorite shopping spots are the outlet malls close to the tourist corridor.”
And where would you most likely find Rivera-Olmo in Orlando?
“I love to travel, so when I can’t experience a new city, you’ll find me at Epcot. With multiple festivals year long, there is always something good to try. My family and I are also big Star Wars fans, so Hollywood Studios is another favorite thing we tend to do on the weekends — especially May 4th weekend.”
Aguirre says she also likes to drive a little bit to get to the beach.
“If the beach is what’s calling me,” she says, “Orlando sits right in the middle of the state. One hour to the east I can go to Cocoa Beach or New Smyrna Beach, depending which interstate I take. When I am willing to drive just a little longer, the gulf beaches to the west are beautiful. The water is blue and the sunsets are breathtaking. If I want a water activity that’s closer than the beaches, kayaking at Wekiwa Springs is very relaxing.”
On a more somber note, Aguirre reminds us that a few attending the conference may wish to visit the interim Pulse Memorial, a sanctuary of quiet reflection dedicated to honoring the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting, which occurred about three years ago. It’s located about nine miles from the convention center and information can be found on its website. Whatever you decide to do, Aguirre and Rivera-Olmo say that Orlando has something to satisfy just about everybody.