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Orlando for grownups: beyond theme parks

Orlando may be the theme park capital of the world, but this sunny, easy-access destination in central Florida also has plenty to offer couples traveling without kids — including some historic treasures and sophisticated flavors. In Part 1, I recommended several places to stay. Here’s where and how to play without ever setting foot in downtown or a theme park:

Wander Winter Park
If there is a “park” for grown ups in the region, this charming city on the outskirts of downtown Orlando is it. Dating back to the 1880s, Winter Park is Central Florida’s oldest (and easily most photogenic) community. At its core is an oak-shaded, 10-block district anchored by Park Avenue and lined with boutiques, galleries, restaurants, cafes, and wine bars. Across from Park Avenue is 11-acre Central Park, filled with fountains and gardens and home to arts festivals and celebrations throughout the year, including the upcoming Sidewalk Art Festival, March 18-20 (shown above at left; courtesy of the Sidewalk Art Festival). The city is also known for its must-see Morse Museum and its series of seven lakes and canals, three of which can be explored on a one-hour Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour that meanders past the landmark 65-acre Rollins College campus, the Kraft Azalea Gardens and the mansion-lined Isle of Sicily.

Marvel at the Morse Museum
If you’re a fan of Tiffany glass, you’ll find nirvana (and if you’re not a fan, you will be) after visiting Winter Park’s newly expanded Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, a local institution since 1942. Home to the most comprehensive collection of lamps, leaded-glass windows, vases, pottery, furniture, and more by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933), the privately funded museum is a dazzling yet refined space worthy of a leisurely visit. You’ll marvel at Tiffany’s vibrant genius and “pursuit of beauty” in everything from the most delicate bowl to an entire chapel designed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The newest addition to this collection of hundreds of works is a gallery (opening Feb. 19) dedicated to architectural elements (such as the Pumpkins and Beets window shown at right; courtesy of the Morse Museum), objects and pieces salvaged from Laurelton Hall, Tiffany’s 84-room turn-of-the-century Long Island mansion (which, after being abandoned in the mid-20th century, now lies in ruins). While Tiffany’s artistic legacy is the museum’s centerpiece, it also houses impressive examples of American decorative arts, including Arts and Crafts works by Stickley and more than 500 pieces of Rookwood pottery. After your tour, be sure to visit the wonderful gift shop for a fabulous selection of art glass, jewelry, and textiles.

Wine and dine
I suggest you spend at least half a day in Winter Park and plan to savor lunch or dinner, as the city’s food scene is quite impressive. Recommended restaurants include: Luma on Park, where Chef Brandon McGlamery offers a rotating dinner menu of fresh and seasonal American cuisine (Tip: A regular tells me that if you ask, your waiter may bring you the restaurant’s secret truffle popcorn to munch on over cocktails); Bosphorous for authentic Turkish cuisine, such as puffy lavash bread with tarama (whipped caviar) spread, grilled fish, and an interesting selection of Turkish wines, for either lunch or dinner; and The Ravenous Pig, a gastropub open for both lunch and dinner and run by Culinary Institute of America grads James and Julie Petrakis. It’s one-part pub with an interesting selection of microbrews and all wines available by the glass, and one part restaurant with tasty treats as varied as lamb burgers (shown at left; courtesy of The Ravenous Pig) and pastrami-spiced veal cheeks— as well as truffle fries that some claim are addictive.

If wine’s your thing, check out The Wine Room, offering pour-yourself tastes by the ounce (1, 2.5 or 5) of up to 150 wines and a selection of cheeses for nibbles. Down the street is Eola Wine Co., a more traditional spot with 70 wines by the glass, water service, flight tastings, craft beers, and a more extensive menu of light bites.

More from ShermansTravel: Romantic getaways

Go green
With 176 courses to choose from in greater Orlando, golfers have a wealth of options — from upscale resort courses at the Waldorf Astoria Golf Club or The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Orlando, Grande Lakes to the scenic, lakeside Timacuan Golf Club or the challenging links at Shingle Creek Golf Club.

Shop in style
Fashionista couples can shop till they drop — and buy each other surprise gifts — at The Mall at Millennia, which houses 150 stores (including anchors Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s) in a central (just off of I-4 at exit 78) enclosed mall (shown at right; courtesy of The Mall At Millennia) or Orlando Premium Outlets, home to 180 outlet stores from Ed Hardy and Juicy Couture to Hugo Boss and Michael Kors (also located off of I-4 at exit 75A).

Of course, you can always simply kick back over poolside cocktails at your resort, since romance and relaxation go hand in hand — even in Orlando.

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