The Orlando area is now the top tourist destination in
the United States. The growth of the theme parks have led
to the area becoming a busy, entertainment-filled region.
And there's much more than Disney World, SeaWorld, and
Universal Studios to be experienced.
Golfers will find more than 125 golf courses in
Central Florida, including the communities of Kissimmee
and Casselberry. Orlando is home to many leading
professional golfers,and top courses such as Arnold
Palmer's Bay Hill Country Club provide fine golfing
and instruction at some of the country's leading golf
schools. Among the instructors are David Leadbetter of
the Lake Nona Golf Club, Mike Bender and Simon
Holmes at the Timacuan Golf Club, and Dick Tiddy
of the Arnold Palmer Academy at Bay Hill.
Cypress Gardens -- the original "theme" park in
the region still offers incredibly colored gardens, water
skiing exhibitions, and walking through beautiful
scenery. This place provides a more relaxing antidote to
the frenzy of the major theme parks. It's a 45 minute
drive from Walt Disney World.
Nightclub action is easy to find, some of it in huge
nightclub complexes, including Church Street
Station in downtown Orlando. This is a very popular
nighttime dining, shopping & entertainment complex.
The showrooms include Rosie O'Grady's, The Cheyenne
Saloon, and The Orchid Garden. Three restaurants offer a
variety of cuisines, and boutiques are located in the
Historic Railroad Depot. Church Street Station is
conveniently accessed from I-4. Take I-4 to Downtown
Orlando-Exit 38-Anderson St. Turn left on Boone Avenue,
Left on South Street, and Right on Garland Avenue.
Walt Disney World
This is not just one theme park -- it's a collection
of a half dozen theme parks and attractions, each of
which could occupy you for a day and beyond. The Disney
complex of attractions include:
- The Magic Kingdom (the original park)
- Disney-MGM Studios
- Disney's Animal Kingdom
- River Country, Typhoon Lagoon, and Blizzard
- Downtown Disney - shopping & entertainment
Walt Disney World - The Magic Kingdom
Those who have been to California's Disneyland will
recognize familiar vistas and rides in what was Disney's
first theme park at Orlando. It's a large, beautifully
landscaped park -- the site of Space Mountain, Pirates of
the Caribbean, Splash Mountain, and It's a Small World
and many other features of interest to kids of all ages.
The parades evoke an earlier age, as does the whole park,
particularly Main Street USA. Disney characters wander
the streets, greeting guests. It's a place that everyone
should experience at least once in their lifetime, just
for the nostalgic magic it offers.
Walt Disney World - Epcot
Epcot is like a world's fair and science center
combined. It lies next to the Magic Kingdom. The
centerpiece of the park is the 40-acre World Showcase
Lagoon. The science component is called Future World. A
17-story silver geosphere -- Spaceship Earth -- is a
hand's on science exhibit focussing on the future. The
other half of Epcot is the World Showcase, where you can
tour eleven national pavilions, just like visitors to a
world's fair. The pavilions have national exhibits plus a
collection of good restaurants, and an amusement park is
Disney took a long time to build a roller coaster, but
even though the "Rock 'n' Roller Coaster is a recent
addition to the Disney-MGM complex, it's an excellent
ride. The park is a tribute to Hollywood, from Monroe and
Bogart to Spielberg and Henson. It melds movies with
thrill rides, including Star Tours, Indiana Jones, The
Great Movie Ride, and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
You get the idea. There are at least a dozen fine
attractions that will keep the family busy for a long
day. One of the more educational attractions is called
The Magic of Disney Animation.
Disney's Animal Kingdom
It's a wild animal park. It's a zoo. It's a theme
park. Animal Kingdom is the latest of the large complexes
to be built at Walt Disney World. It's full of exotic
animals that roam freely over and through grasslands,
wetlands, and desert areas. The mythical village of
Harambe serves as the focal point of the park, with the
architecture of a coastal African village. And there are
rides here too. You can run white water on the Kali River
Rapids Run. Other parts of the park include The Oasis, at
the entrance, and the Tree of Life which features a 3-D
River Country, Typhoon Lagoon, & Blizzard
Water rides galore, waterfalls, beaches, and more are
found in these three water parks. There are 20 slides at
Blizzard beach, including a bobsled run. Another
(Keelhaul Falls) sends you plunging 400 feet. Other areas
in Blizzard Beach, River Country, and Typhoon Lagoon
appeal to smaller kids. These areas are very popular
during the hottest summer months. Spring and Fall (when
it's still quite warm) are better times to fully enjoy
these rides, the restaurants, and other attractions.
This is a shopping and entertainment complex that
encompasses Disney Marketplace, an intimate open-air
shopping complex; Pleasure Island, a pay-one-price
nightlife complex with a sprinkling of restaurants and
shops -- Disney's answer to longtime local attractions
such as Church Street Station.
Disney's West Side has other attractions including a
scaled down Cirque de Soleil troupe of performers, and
several restaurants with different themes. There's also a
bit of Branson here with a country show, and outdoor
activity including championship golf courses. You'll also
find the Disney Institute here. This is an educational
experience offering courses in cooking, sports and
fitness, entertainment, and lifestyle subjects.
Tickets: One day admissions for adults cost almost
$50, and less for children. You can buy a four-day Value
Pass to all Disney parks, or a 4-day Park Hopper Pass for
a single day at all four parks. There are five and
six-day Park Hopper passes, and a seven-day All In One
Pass including admission to the water parks. Parking at
all Disney parks costs $5 per day. For park information,
including dinner reservations, call (407) 824-4321. For
Disney hotel reservations, call (407) 934-7639
Universal Studios Escape
Coming to Orlando after Walt Disney World, Universal
Studios built a more modern, glitzier theme park that
combined thrilling and scary thrill rides with stories
from some of the most action-oriented movies. The more
recently opened park, Islands of Adventure, provides
roller coasters, wet adventures, and a great place for
Universal Studios Florida
Far from being a "me-too" version of Disney-MGM
Studios, Universal Studios Florida has long been a theme
park with plenty of hip originality and a saucy, sassy
personality of its own, not to mention Back to the
Future...The Ride, a simulator ride to end all simulator
rides--and the special effects star among theme park
rides--Terminator 2 3-D, which combines a spectacular 3-D
film, live Arnold look-alikes whizzing around on
motorcycles, bone-chilling fog, and more. Bloodcurdling
screams are also the order of the day at Jaws, where 40
ft of teeth come in for the kill and almost wind up in
your lap, and Twister, Earthquake, and Kongfrontation.
Power Rangers may have backed Barney onto the Gymboree
set's B-list, but Universal has injected new energy into
the vaunted Purple One's A Day in the Park with Barney, a
boppin' musical revue and a hands-on educational
Islands of Adventure
Universal's is guaranteed to produce screams that will
be heard all the way down I-4 to Walt Disney World. Tops
on the scream meter should be the Incredible Hulk
Coaster, Dr. Doom's Fearfall, and the Adventures of
Spider-Man. There will be plenty of opportunities to get
wet, too: Jurassic Park River Adventure's climax is an
85-ft plunge; Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls is the first
flume ride to include an underwater portion. Little ones
have a land all to themselves: Seuss Island, where they
can enter the world of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue
Like the CityWalk in Los Angeles, the Florida version
offers a combination of restaurants and entertainment
attractions, including a Hard Rock Cafe, CityJazz, NASCAR
Cafe, Emeril's of New Orleans, Pat O'Brien's, Marvel
Mania (the comic books), Bob Marley: A Tribute to
Freedom, and a 16-screen cinema complex. Parking is $6.
Moving sidewalks take you to CityWalk and to the two
Universal Studios Escape is in southwest Orlando, at
1000 Universal Studios Plaza, phone 407-363-8000.
Universal Studios Escape is open every day 9 a.m - 6
p.m. (summer hours). A one-day pass to either Islands of
Adventure or Universal Studios costs $44.52 (tax
included) for adults, and $36.04 for children. Three-day
passes cost$105.95 for adults, $84.75 for children.
For tickets, call (407) 363-8000.
There is also the FlexTicket that gives you seven days
at Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Sea World and
Wet & Wild. It costs $159.95 for adults, and $127.95
for children. Add Busch Gardens in Tampa, and the cost is
$196.95 for adults, and $157.95 for children. For
FlexTickets, call 800-711-0080. Parking is $6 in the huge
Universal parking lot.
The world's largest zoological park, SeaWorld is
almost entirely devoted to aquatic life. The main venue
is Shamu Stadium, where the dramatic shows are performed
by killer whales and other water animals. Be sure to get
there early and sit in the front 12 to 14 rows to get the
best views and an active experience (including getting
The newest attraction here is a fast action ride,
Journey to Atlantis. The ride takes visitors to the Lost
City of Atlantis through waterfalls and special effects.
A second park is expected to be opened in 2002.
Tickets: $42.00 adults, $34.00 for children ages 3-9,
free for children age 2 and under. A two-day pass to Sea
World and Busch Gardens (90 minutes west in Tampa Bay)
costs $79.00 for adults, and $34 for children. (plus
tax.) Parking costs $5 for cars,$7 for RVs.
Location: 7007 Sea World Drive.
For information, call (407) 351-3600 or
Sitting beside Sea World, the brand new Discovery Cove
offers visitors the experience of swimming with dolphins.
Visitors snorkel through colorful reefs teeming with
tropical fish, explore underwater shipwrecks and grottos,
and swim down a tropical river with rocky waterfalls and
a freshwater lagoon. Snorkelers glide among stingrays and
get a close look at sharks and barracuda - while being
After swimming under a tropical waterfall, you see a
huge aviary holding more than 300 exotic birds.
All this personal experience comes at a cost.
The all-inclusive package is priced at$179 plus tax.
This includes swimming with dolphins, and all the park
excitement, including a meal. Also, a SeaWorld pass is
valid for up to seven days before or after your Discovery
For those who want to explore Discovery Cove but do
not wish to participate in a dolphin swim experience, an
$89 plus tax admission is available.
The dolphin swim experience is not available to guests
under the age of six. Children ages three to five may
visit Discovery Cove for $89 plus tax. Children under
three are free.
For information and reservations,
call toll free: 1-877-4-DISCOVERY.
If you have four days to spend in the Orlando area,
and wish to have a fun-filled family vacation, we suggest
You might as well start at the theme park that started it
all -- Walt Disney World, and this provides a nice
historical perspective. If you only have time for one day
here, be sure to visit EPCOT, and spend half the day
visiting the national pavilions and eating in one of the
superior restaurants (San Angel Inn -- Mexican Pavilion
-- is an excellent one).
For a newer type of thrill experience, spend the second
day at Universal Studios Escape -- Islands of Adventure
in particular. This is the latest and greatest in theme
park design, with much more than enough to do in a full
day's visit. Any of the major theme parks could consume
two or three days if you wanted to see and experience it
Have a little break from the overexciting thrill rides.
Take the kids to one of the two movie studio theme parks:
Disney-MGM Studios, or Universal Studios Florida. The
latter is larger, scarier, and more taxing than
Or -- if you're a water person, head to the pricey but
exiting Discovery Cove, and swim with dolphins. And your
ticket also includes admission to SeaWorld.
Spend some time with animals. Choose from SeaWorld
Orlando, or Disney's new theme park: Animal Kingdom. Both
provide quite a different experience from the big thrill
parks, although both animal parks have rides now.
In Orlando and the Theme Parks
Wolfgang Puck GrandCafé
Downtown Disney West Side
This is the famous Puck cuisine, made very popular in
California. There is a well decorated informal
restaurant, with a smaller Wolfgang Puck Express
attached. A sushi bar is downstairs and elegant meals are
served in the more elegant upstairs level. It's standard
Puck fare: gourmet pizzas, pastas, and other dishes
featuring fish, shellfish, and chicken, plus an excellent
kids menu. There's another Puck Express in Downtown
Victoria and Alberts
Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Disney World
The grand dining room of Disney World is an elegant, elite restaurant in decor and cuisine. It's basically up-scale American food, but done very well and the service is sophsticated and. It's definitely a place to celebrate special occasions. Queen Victoria's Room is very fancy and so are the prices. You might also think of reserving the chef's table for a different experience.
San Angel Inn
Mexican Pavillion, in Epcot - Walt Disney World
407-939-3463 or 407-560-7277
Set in a lush tropical setting in the courtyard of the
Mexican Pavilion, the San Angel offers a great atmosphere
for dining -- day and night. During the day you can
escape into the cool restaurant, while at night the
colored skyscape above the tables resembles a fabulous
sky -- stars aglow. Try the dishes with their very fine
Downtown Disney Marketplace
A masterpiece of special effects while managing to serve
good and relatively inexpensive meals, the Rainforest is
a very popular restaurant which mixes American cuisine
with Latin American dishes including some Caribbean fare.
The kids will love this place. There's a 3.5 story
volcano in the center of the restaurant, blowing up
regularly, shaking the room and scaring you out of your
wits -- unless you know about it in advance. You've been
warned. For pure atmosphere, this is the place -- and it
has a not-too-subtle ecological message.
2499 S. Orange Ave. in Central Orlando
Numero Uno has been a popular favorite of locals for a
long time, and is generally packed for lunch and dinner.
The featured cuisine is Cuban, and you'll find many
traditional Cuban dishes on the menu. The restaurant is
known for its paella. Their paella takes a long time to
prepare, so be prepared to stay a while or make your
order in advance.
1106 E. Colonial Dr., in Central Orlando
As advertised, Little Saigon serves Vietnamese food --
delicious, nutritious, and very satisfying. They offer
all the traditional Vietnamese specialties from spring
rolls to soup, to grilled pork and egg, and vegetable
Fulton's Crab House
Downtown Disney - Lake Buena Vista
This high-class seafood joint is situated in a pretend
riverboat in the Disney Marketplace complex. You can
surely obtain crab (several varieties), and other seafood
dishes. You get a good view from the various decks of the
artificial lake. Fish steaks and oysters are on the menu
along with a couple of non-seafood dishes.
Roy's Hawaiian Fusion
7760 West Sand Lake Road, Orlando
This unusual restaurant offers a fusion of Hawaiian cuisine and standard American dishes. Both the food and the service stand out as one of the best restaurants in the Orlando area. Seafood, prime rib, a special prix Fixe dinner, and comfort food including a pineapple upside down cake. the fish dishes that reflect the Hawaiian food experience are also outstanding.