Spotlight on Orlando, Florida, USA


            Orlando, Florida is an important destination for any tourist because it has attracted some of the premier amusement parks in the world. Its initial success, with Disney World has created a spiraling type of growth, with new venues moving in to capitalize on the overflow from the more established parks.

            Disney World is the world’s most popular theme park for many reasons.  It offers so many options that it is truly a complete vacation destination.  It is certainly not just for kids, although there is probably no place that kids would rather go.  Because of its popularity, the entire area around it has developed into a major tourist area, with many venues surviving on the “leftovers”.  Besides the “Magic Kingdom”, the original theme park, fashioned around the places and characters found in Disney movies and cartoons, there is Epcot, a combination theme park, focused on technology and education, and world showcase, which features miniature world travel destinations allowing the visitor to experience a mock visit to that particular country. There is also a Disney-MGM theme park which is based on the movie industry and Animal Kingdom, which is basically a combination zoo and theme park portrayed with Disney style and imagination.

            Besides these areas, there are additional places, such as Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon and River Country (three separate water parks), the Wide World of Sports Complex, which allows the visitor to participate in various sports, Downtown Disney, an entertainment, shopping, and restaurant complex, and Discover Island, another zoo of sorts.  Add to all this the Disney Resort Hotels which also revolve around various themes and which offer many activities for their guests, and the five championship golf courses, Fort Wilderness Campground, and more, it is easy to see why this is a world travel destination for more than Americans. 

            Must-sees in Disney World include the following: 

                        1.  Cinderella’s castle in the Magic Kingdom (a great experience is to eat lunch in the castle, since waiters and staff are in knightly costume and the interior is decorated like a medieval castle).

                        2.  The “Tree of Life” in the Animal Kingdom has over 300 animals carved into its bark and is both interesting for kids (try to find as many creatures as possible) and impressive to adults who often cannot believe the intricacy and cleverness of the carvings.

                        3.  “Tower of Terror” dominates the skyline of Disney-MGM because of its height, and comes with the inevitable screams of delight and terror from the riders of the free-fall elevator

                        4.  World Showcase in Epcot offers a look at Mexico, China, Norway, Germany, Italy, Japan, France, Morocco, England, Canada, and the USA and visitors can sample them all by foot without leaving Florida. The buildings are replicas of attractions or typical villages of the countries, and food stalls and restaurants offer native dishes and snacks.

            Sea World is one of the premier adventure parks in the world.  Like Disney World, it attracts people of all age groups.  The basic theme here is the marine environment and many marine organisms are featured.  There are several venues around the country: Orlando, Florida, San Antonio, Texas, and San Diego, California.  Perhaps the most popular activities involve the sea mammals, such as killer whales and dolphins.  The organization which operates Sea World, besides being in the entertainment business, has also established educational and conservation links.

            A great excursion from the Orlando area is east to the Kennedy Space Center, in Cape Canaveral, Florida, the major spacecraft launch site in the United States. It has become a major tourist destination because it pays tribute to the US Space Program and its many milestones and accomplishments.  Take the Red Tour to see Complex 39 and the launch pads. The Visitor Center offers IMAX films which pertain to space.  Outside are full-size rockets on display which detail the history of the space program.


            Gary’s Gem: 

                        1.  For the best experience at any of Orlando’s theme parks, get to the parks early (when they open) and head for the most popular exhibits first before the crowds arrive.  Save the browsing and less popular places for later in the day. 

                        2.  If you are staying in Disney World, take a break (especially if you have kids) during the heat of the day and then return around suppertime when many people leave.

                        3.  Always check out the daily events, such as parades, fireworks, special shows, etc. and get to these places early for the best seating.   

                        4.  Some events or eating establishments require reservations.  If you are interested in any of these, make plans early in the day.                        


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