Orlando

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Welcome to Orlando

Orlando

The most famous resident of this central Florida city is Mickey Mouse, the cartoon creation of animated movie tycoon, Walt Disney, whose vision has turned Orlando, and the adjacent Lake Buena Vista and Kissimee areas, into the world's busiest, biggest and best-known concentrated tourist Mecca. Disney bought up land in the area with the aim of establishing his dream theme park back in the 1960s. He died before the first park, the Magic Kingdom, officially opened in 1971, but his legacy has taken root and is still growing. Currently the Disney empire in Orlando includes four theme parks, dozens of smaller attractions, thousands of hotel rooms and holiday apartments, hundreds of restaurants and snack bars and even two cruise ships. It is not only the Disney dazzle that draws visitors to Orlando. There are other attractions here too, like Universal Studios and Sea World, all adding to the maelstrom of thrills and pleasure palaces that this city is now renowned for. Just a trip down attraction-rich International Drive is a mind-boggling experience.


Information & Facts

Climate

Orlando experiences jolly holiday weather all around, with its subtropical and very humid climate. Summertime temperatures can be uncomfortably hot though. Winter is dry and temperate, and occasionally night time temperatures can plunge surprisingly low. Thunderstorms are common between May and September and tend to be short but heavy, offering some respite from the heat. Summer is also hurricane season from June to November.

Eating Out

Floridian food is a melting pot of flavours, spices and taste sensations owing to the state's geographic position and visitors to Orlando will notice that restaurants boast old American classics as well as fusion cuisine with strong Caribbean and Spanish influences. From fast food to fine dining, Orlando has it all.

Home to 'Floribbean' cuisine which incorporates flavours and styles from the neighbouring Caribbean islands, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago and even the American Deep South, dining out in Orlando is an experience for the senses where lemongrass, ginger, scallions and fresh tropical fruits like pineapple, papaya and mango are combined with gentle flavours of almond, rum, key lime and coconut milk in many dishes and red curries and seafood can be found on most menus.

Peppered around the city, many of Orlando's restaurants cater to younger children and dines will find kids' menus at most eateries. Head to International Drive for the trendiest restaurants in town, or spend some time in Downtown Disney or Universal's CityWalk where loads of restaurants cater to the tourists. With so many options and types of cuisine, diners will be spoilt for choice when it comes to eating out in Orlando.

Getting Around

Anyone staying at a Disney resort or official Disney hotel need have no qualms about getting around the Orlando magic kingdom. An unlimited free transportation network runs throughout, with buses, monorails, ferries and water taxis connecting all the parks and attractions before, during and for a couple of hours after opening hours. The I-Ride Trolley operates exclusively in the busy International Drive resort area; the fare is $1 per ride, and various passes are available. Those wishing to take a break from the world of Disney and travel elsewhere are advised to hire a car, particularly as during peak holiday seasons, buses are likely to be crowded. Mears Transportation runs a bus service covering all Orlando's surrounding attractions, even as far away as Busch Gardens in Tampa. Taxis queue for passengers in front of most of the resorts in the area; they can also be ordered by telephone. Fares tend to be high, however.

Kids Attractions

The home of Mickey Mouse, it goes without saying that Orlando is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the United States for families travelling with kids. With plenty of sunshine and boasting such attractions as Sea World, Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, Orlando is a children's playground and very often tops the list of places kids would most like to visit.

Universal Studios is great for older kids too as there are plenty of thrilling blockbuster-themed rides to enjoy as well as games and other interactive activities to enjoy, while the 'littlies' can enjoy a Fieval's playground, Woody Woodpeckers Nuthouse Coaster and a 'Day in the Park with Barney' a live stage production for little ones to sing along to their favourite songs. Kids will also love a visit to Gatorland, a theme park and wildlife preserve that is nicknamed 'the Alligator Capital of the World', where thousands of crocodiles and alligators can be viewed from a boardwalk suspended above the marshy swamps below.

Take the little ones to Water Mania or Wet 'n Wild to cool off in the hot Floridian sun, take them on a historic and educational tour of the Kennedy Space Centre, spend the day hiking and picnicking in the Turkey Lake Park, check out what's happening round Lake Eola or simply let the kids run around in the nearby playground while you take a breather.

With all these options and more, kids will have a fabulous time on holiday in Orlando, but parents should note that during the spring and summer months the main tourist attractions and theme parks are heaving with visitors and a better time to visit Orlando may be during the slightly cooler months of autumn or winter.

Language

English is the most common language but Spanish is often spoken in south-western states.

Money

The US Dollar (USD) is the unit of currency and is divided into 100 cents. Only major banks exchange foreign currency. ATMs are widespread and credit cards and travellers cheques are widely accepted. Travellers cheques should be taken in US Dollars to avoid hassles. Banking hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 3pm.

Shopping

There is no shortage of shopping opportunities for travellers in Orlando and with luxury department stores and upscale boutiques to antique shops and farmers markets, shoppers will have a hard time deciding where to begin. Many hotels offer free shuttle services to major shopping destinations too - what more could a woman ask for?

Start off at one of the largest single-storey malls in the United States, the Florida Mall, which features more than 250 stores including Macy's Sears, JCPenney, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue as well as an outdoor shopping plaza where shoppers can enjoy all those sunny days. The Festival Bay Mall on International Drive is home to stores, a skate park, and a theatre, the Waterford Lakes Town Center is an open-air mall featuring large chain stores, small shops, restaurants and even IMAXDigital, and the Mall at Millenia boasts designer names like Betsey Johnson, Chanel and Louis Vuitton.

Antique hunters need look no further than Orlando's Antique Row on Orange Avenue in downtown where a wide variety of collectables can be found, while bargain hunters should head over to Flea World in Sanford and Osceola Flea & Farmers Market in Kissimmee where collectively more than 2,600 wholesale dealers can be found providing everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to old books, leather goods, jewellery, souvenirs and beachwear.

Of course the main souvenirs in Orlando are anything Disney or NASA-related so be sure to pick up your caps and t-shirts from the gift shops before you leave.

Sightseeing

Famed for one of the United States' most popular attractions, Walt Disney World, Orlando boasts other noteworthy attractions besides the justifiably iconic Magic Kingdom.

Head a little further into this Floridian city to discover Universal Studios where its two theme parks, an entertainment complex and film sets will keep visitors on the edge of their seats. Visiting during the summer? Wet 'n Wild is a must for cooling off while Sea World has earned itself repute as one of the best marine parks in the world for more than 25 years and is not to be missed.

Florida's second most popular attraction is the Kennedy Space Centre at nearby Cape Canaveral, where visitors can walk through a giant model of the new International Space Station, view authentic rockets and marvel at all the original artefacts from the moon landing.

The Orlando Museum of Art is a must for lovers of fine arts, while adrenalin junkies should make a pilgrimage to the NASCAR Daytona Speedway. For something a little stranger, look no further than the Orlando Odditorium where exhibits of weird and wonderful things, amassed over a period of 40 years by explorer Robert Ripley, can be viewed.

Travellers planning on doing lots of sightseeing might think about buying an Orland Go Card which grants free entrance to various attractions as well as provides a full-colour guide book for as many days sightseeing as you'd like in a three, five or seven day options. Go Cards are available at the Official Visitor Centre or Festival Bay Mall.

In recent years, Discovery Cove has supplanted its sister park Seaworld as the premier marine theme park in the state of Florida. What makes the experience of visiting Discovery Cove so unique, is the level of interaction that it offers: guests can swim with bottlenose dolphins, snorkel alongside a coral reef teeming with exotic fish, and hand-feed tropical birds in a free-flight aviary. Potential visitors should not baulk at the hefty price-tag involved: the "all-inclusive package" certainly is full, and includes breakfast, freshly-prepared lunch, and unlimited snacks, drinks and select alcoholic beverages; as well as a free ticket to Seaworld Orlando, Aquatica, or Busch Gardens in Tampa. Discovery Cove consistently earns rave reviews, and visitors are sure not to be disappointed.

Midway between Tampa and Orlando, about 20 minutes drive west of Walt Disney World, the Fantasy of Flight resort is billed as the world's greatest aircraft collection. The attraction began as a vision of aviation enthusiast and historian, Kermit Weeks, as a tribute to the pioneers of flight, and today it features many rare and vintage aircraft, which actually take to the skies. Visitors are treated to an 'Aircraft of the Day' flypast, as well as the chance to fly themselves in a simulator. The site also offers tours of the aircraft collection in hangars, a sight and sound presentation detailing the history of aviation, a tour of the 'back lot' where vintage aircraft are restored, and an Exploration Centre.

In true Florida style, Orlando's Museum of Art is not just another gallery but a fascinating world of creative themed exhibitions showcasing its permanent collections of American Art, Art of the Ancient Americas and African Art. The Museum also has an active programme of visiting exhibitions on display in the elegant building with its marble floors and glass ceiling. Group tours are made memorable and educational with commentary about art appreciation and the lives of the various artists represented.

Housed in an odd-looking building that is tipped to one side and apparently sinking into the ground, the Orlando Odditorium contains a remarkable collection of weird and wonderful exhibits, amassed over a period of 40 years by explorer Robert Ripley. Examples of the exhibits are shrunken heads and a scale model of a Rolls Royce made entirely of matchsticks. Ripley's 'Believe it or Not' collection is world-renowned and has been documented in television series and best-selling books.

Spread out between the Disney parks at Lake Buena Vista and the downtown Orlando area is the renowned Sea World attraction, which has been making a major splash in central Florida for more than a quarter of a century. The park, owned and operated by Annheuser-Busch, is designed to give an interactive look at the sea and all its facets, featuring themed animal habitats from tidal pools to iceberg lakes. In addition visitors can hug a dolphin or kiss a killer whale, and watch the famous aquatic Sea World stars go through their paces in various shows. The park also features fun rides like the very popular water roller coaster thrill ride called Journey to Atlantis. Neighbouring Discovery Cove (part of the Sea World group) offers visitors a chance to swim with dolphins, view wildlife, sunbathe on gorgeous beaches and snorkel amongst the coral.

Experienced theme parkers recommend that it takes at least two days to fully appreciate all the delights on offer at the Universal Orlando entertainment complex, which includes two theme parks: the Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. The movie-themed park with its thrilling, innovative fun-rides, production studios and film sets also has three superb luxury on-site hotels so spending a night is a good idea. At Universal Studios visitors are invited to go behind the scenes and become involved in the movie action, while Islands of Adventure offers thrilling rides, shows and attractions from five different islands.

Orlando's most familiar landmark is undoubtedly the turreted Cinderella Castle that stands in the centre of the original Disney Florida theme park, the Magic Kingdom, at Lake Buena Vista. The park was opened in 1971 and has been making childhood fantasies come true ever since. Today it is just one of four Disney parks that cover more than 28,000 acres of Orange and Osceola counties in central Florida, with accompanying resorts, shopping complexes, hotels and waterparks. Apart from the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World Orlando now includes Epcot, a futuristic showcase of the world's different cultures and traditions; MGM Studios, a working animation and television studio; and Animal Kingdom, where a huge variety of animals are kept in themed surroundings along with a cast of Disney characters.

One of Orlando's numerous water parks, Wet 'n Wild has the distinction of being the most popular water attraction in the area and also the world's first amusement park devoted solely to water flumes, pools and slides. The park was designed by George Millay, creative genius behind the Sea World parks in San Diego and Orlando, and has been operating since 1977. Thrilling rides like The Storm, The Surge and The Bubba Tub are there to be enjoyed, along with numerous other attractions and facilities.

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