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7760 West Sand Lake Road

Orlando & Kissimmee - Florida

America's Theme Park Capital

Orlando's location at the center of Florida's land mass puts it about the same distance from the Atlantic and Caribbean coasts. It's an hour's drive to the Space Coast and Cocoa Beach, and just a little more time to get to Daytona Beach. The Tampa Bay area, including Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater, are a little under two hours drive, and less if you're staying outside of Orlando, closer to Walt Disney World. If you drive west to the Gulf Coast, you'll relax on pearly white sand beaches, and see such Tampa Bay attractions as Busch Gardens, and the barrier island communities.

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.

Theme Parks

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 Beach
  • Downtown Disney - shopping & entertainment complex

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 nearby.

Disney-MGM Studios

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 film.

River Country, Typhoon Lagoon, & Blizzard Beach

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.

Downtown Disney

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.

More Information:

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 tiny tykes.

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 playground.

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 Fish.

Universal CityWalk

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 theme parks.

More Information:

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. 

SeaWorld Orlando

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 wet).

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.

More Information:
Location: 7007 Sea World Drive.
For information, call (407) 351-3600 or 800-327-2420. 

Discovery Cove

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 totally protected.

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 Cove visit.

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.

Suggested Itinerary

If you have four days to spend in the Orlando area, and wish to have a fun-filled family vacation, we suggest the following:

Day 1:
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).

Day 2:
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 all.

Day 3:
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 Disney-MGM Studios.

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.

Day 4:
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.

Where to Eat

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 Disney Marketplace.

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 Resort
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 mole sauce.

Rainforest Café
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.

Numero Uno
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.

Little Saigon
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 dishes.

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.

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