And so it came to pass that, in 1965, Walt Disney gazed out upon the orange groves, and he said, "Let my great temple of pleasant pleasures be built here." Having spoken thus, he commanded his mighty forces to commence building. And Uncle Walt beheld what he hath wrought, and he said, "This is good."
There's something almost biblical in the way Disney transformed a formerly small sleepy inland Florida town into the nation's most-visited tourist destination. With Walt Disney World attracting hordes of families, others soon followed. Today, Disney, which includes Epcot, the Magic Kingdom, Typhoon Lagoon; Universal Studios' own vast array of theme parks; Wet 'n' Wild Water Park; and a whole lot more have made Orlando home to the largest number of theme parks of any city in the world.
These mammoth complexes dominate Greater Orlando in every way possible. Along with the explosion in population in the past several decades, the city boasts a large LGBT population. The gay men who play cartoon characters, wait tables, act at one of the many production companies or studios, or work in executive suites have made this one of the gay-friendliest cities anywhere. The gay-friendly Hollywood companies set the tone for the way the gay community has become an essential part of civic life.
For most gay men around the world, Orlando means one thing: the dizzying early June schedule of parties that range from taking over the theme parks (the most fun parts, anyway) to hard-driving after-after hours events. But any gay visitor can find plenty to do here beyond the family-oriented fare.
This is a town full of young people. The University of Central Florida is the second-largest campus in the United States. There is a surprisingly active and adventurous theater scene. And, as to be expected in a tourist Mecca, the malls are nearly as big as the theme parks. Any visitor who doesn't venture into the "real" Orlando beyond Lake Buena Vista is missing a city that has somehow retained its small-town charm even as it has grown into a tourism behemoth.