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Orlando City Guide

Orlando Special Events & Attractions

Most people come to Orlando for its theme parks, which just keep growing. The Walt Disney World Resort area now includes the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Disney-MGM Studios. It also operates two water parks, more than 20 resorts, Downtown Disney, and Disney's Boardwalk.

Anheuser-Busch operates SeaWorld and the more exclusive Discovery Cove, where you can swim with the dolphins. Just up the road are Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, and sandwiched between is City Walk with its nightclubs, themed restaurants, shops, and theaters. All of these parks stage several annual events such as Universal's Halloween Horror Nights and Epcot's International Flower and Garden Festival.

Insider's Guide: The Best of Special Events & Attractions in Orlando

Orlando has a multitude of attractions and theme parks to visit. The key is to know how to experience them without wearing yourself out or putting a dent in your pocketbook.

Orlando is not a cheap destination, but there are several ways to save money. You can buy discount tickets for attractions in advance, either online or at one of the many licensed outlets. This will help you save money and avoid long lines at attractions. Pick up discount coupon books available everywhere to save even more money.

Remember that planning is important if you want to get the most out of your visit. Download maps of the different attractions and decide what you want to see and then how best to do it. At SeaWorld Orlando (707 SeaWorld Drive), for instance, many people plan the Shamu (the killer whale) Show for the end of their visit, so you should do it first.

At Epcot, most tourists visit Future World first because it's just inside the entrance, and then they make their way to World Showcase with its national pavilions. Visit the pavilions first and there will be fewer crowds both there and when you get to Future World later.

Plan to go to Disney's Animal Kingdom early because the animals sleep or take shelter from the sun during the hottest parts of the day, so there's less to see. This theme park has more than 1,000 animals roaming on a 500-acre complex and offers shows and Expedition Everest, its latest thrill ride.

The best theme park for families with young children is Disney's Magic Kingdom (off of Interstate 4). If you love the movies, you should to visit Universal Studios Florida (100 Universal Studios Plaza) or Disney-MGM Studios, which mixes film themes and characters with rides and shows.

SeaWorld Orlando (707 SeaWorld Drive) is a mix of marvelous marine exhibits and an adventure park. It is also the park where you have to do the most planning because there are great shows running throughout the day and you need to work out an itinerary in order to see them all and still take in all the other exhibits. One of the true pleasures of SeaWorld is that you can touch many of the creatures, especially dolphins and giant sting rays. It also offers a couple of scary rides, but there's a lot more to see and do if this isn't your thing.

Epcot is a lot tamer with few white-knuckle rides but lots of great attractions that offer glimpses into the future world of technology. Its national pavilions provide interesting information on the culture, cuisine, and characters of 11 countries.

If you're a roller coaster freak, however, you should go to the Islands of Adventure (1000 Universal Studios Plaza), which features innovative thrill rides galore, such as the Dueling Dragons, the world's first inverted, dueling roller-coasters that pass within inches of each other. The most popular rides include Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, Storm Force Acceleration, Incredible Hulk Coaster, and Jurassic Park River Adventure.

Discovery Cove (6000 Discovery Cove Way) allows you to swim with dolphins, stingrays, and tropical fish. Numbers are limited, and everything, including unlimited food and drink, is included in the price.

The Holy Land Experience (4655 Vineland Rd) is Orlando's latest attraction. The 15-acre "living Biblical museum" features replicas of historic Jerusalem buildings and multimedia musical presentations. Visitors can stroll through the Jerusalem Market, watch a re-enactment of Jesus' ministry, or visit the Dead Sea Quamran Caves, a replica of where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947.

In addition to biblical re-enactments, The Holy Land Experience offers replicas of historic buildings in Jerusalem and musical presentations.
©2006 Orlando CVB
In addition to biblical re-enactments, The Holy Land Experience offers
replicas of historic buildings in Jerusalem and musical presentations.

If you want to get a look at some extraordinary items, make sure to stop at Ripley's Believe It or Not! Orlando Oddities (8201 International Drive). You can see a Rolls Royce made in 1901 with 63 pints of glue and more than 1 million ordinary matchsticks, or a portrait of Van Gogh made from 3,000 postcards depicting 115 different Van Gogh paintings and drawings. Hundreds of unusual and entertaining exhibits are on display in 16 galleries.

Ever see an upside-down building? You can explore one at Wonderworks (9607 International Drive). This museum has more than 100 hands-on exhibits that are unusual, unexplainable, and mind boggling. It also lays claim to the world's largest extreme laser tag arena/arcade.

If go-carts and arcades are more your speed, you should visit the Fun Spot Action Park (5551 Del Verde Way). Its 10,000-square-foot arcade holds many popular and new games, four tracks are available to test your go-cart driving skills, and rides like a 100-foot Ferris wheel or bumper boats will keep you entertained.

If you have any interest in space exploration, you should drive over to the Kennedy Space Center. Exhibits tell the story of the U.S. Space Program. Visitors also can explore a Shuttle and touch a piece of moon rock.

Apart from being great fun, a day at a major attraction can be pretty grueling with so much to see and do, especially if you have young children. It's best to plan to visit an attraction one day followed by a more relaxing day, perhaps visiting a museum in the morning, and shopping in the afternoon before returning for a swim before dinner.

While most visitors come for the major attractions we noted in this section, there are many other things to enjoy in Orlando, such as the city's arts and culture. See the next page for information on Orlando's arts scene.