Orlando is the theme park capital of the world – the city destination everyone associates with when they think of Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort, and Sea World Orlando. But perhaps Orlando should be better thought of as an urban oasis. Orange trees are found in every backyard, the houses of which are fronted by beautifully laid out brick streets. And everywhere you look, you’ll see picturesque lakes – whether it be Lake Ivanhoe, Lake Concord, Lake Eola, or Lake Lucerne to name just a few of the 300 lakes within the metro area. Indeed, Orland is a beautiful city park. With ready access to some 100 attractions, 115,000 hotel rooms, 4,500 restaurants, and 53 million square feet of retail space, it is easy to see why Orlando attracts 52 million visiting tourists every year – a number few destinations in the world can match.
Over the past decade, Orlando has been one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the U.S.; it has doubled in the span of a decade and is now approaching two million people. The sprawl can be attributed largely to the city’s proximity to Disney World, but there is more to the city than its association with this Walt Disney creation.
Orlando’s attractions are mainly themed and full of crowds, highlighted by the Walt Disney World Resort. If you want quieter alternatives, however, you can take a scenic boat tour of the city’s canals and lakes, which offer passing views of the lovely countryside. You can also take hot air balloon flights. Otherwise, the bulk of your vacation will be spent on amusements.
Walt Disney World Resort
The Walt Disney World Resort is actually outside of the city limits of Orlando. The resort features Magic Kingdom and its rollercoaster rides, Epcot Center, which is a theme park based on culture and technological innovation, the Disney-MGM Studios, which is a theme park based on Hollywood’s heyday in the 1930s and 40s, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which is an animal conservation theme park with animal habitats.
Sea World Orlando
Sea World Orlando is one of the most popular attractions in Orlando, located at 7007 Sea World Drive around International Drive, which is just before reaching downtown Orlando. Sea World is considered one of the premiere marine life theme parks in the world. It has shows featuring dolphins, killer whales, and sea lions. One of the highlights of the park is a ride running through a tunnel built with thick acrylic, which protects visitors from the shark-infested tanks the ride passes through. Another park highlight is the “Wild Arctic”. It is one of the newer attractions and features a thrill ride amid arctic animals of the north. Sea World also has a series of restaurants and gardens.
Universal Orlando Resort
Universal Orlando Resort at 1000 Universal Studios Plaza off Kirkman Road is centered around Universal Studios Florida. Outside of Hollywood, Universal Orlando is the largest television and motion picture complex. It features over 40 thrill rides, realistic sets, dozens of film shows, and a backlot with famous recreated scenes from television and movie history.
The Universal Orlando Resort also includes Universal CityWalk, which is a large entertainment and retail complex featuring a cineplex with 20 screens and several restaurants, shops, bars, and clubs.
Also part of the resort is Islands of Adventure which opened in 1999 and consists of six distinct islands each with its own theme. The islands are Jurassic Park, Marvel Super Hero Island, The Lost Continent, Toon Lagoon, and Seuss Landing.
Mystery Fun House
The Mystery Fun House is located at 5767 Major Boulevard and is exactly what its name suggests it is – a house of haunting effects, including holograms, moving floors, and mirror mazes.
Wet ’n Wild
Wet ’n Wild at 6200 International Drive is a waterpark complex measuring 25 acres. It is complete with huge water slides and wave-creating devices.
Fun n' Wheels
Fun n' Wheels at 6739 Sand Lake Road at International Drive is a nice place to ride go-karts and go crazy in bumper cars.
Church Street Station
Church Street Station at 129 West Church Street is an entertainment complex that fills up at night with music, from bluegrass, to Dixieland, to folk music. The rhythms come from the complex’s dozens of restaurants and discos.
Lake Eola Park
Lake Eola Park off Orange Avenue has kept the same tranquil setting of old Orlando over the years. At night, there is a water and light show created by the Centennial Fountain – a dazzling spectacle.
Cartoon Museum at 4300 South Semoran Boulevard is a museum with an interesting collection of comic books and cartoon art. Its collection of super-hero comics includes rare pieces dating back to the early days of the genre.
Orlando Science Center
Orlando Science Center at 810 East Rollins Street has a series of science exhibits and interactive displays. It boasts a computer that can analyze your risk of a heart attack and another machine that is able to convert your body energy into electricity.
Orlando has an NBA basketball team, the Orlando Magic, which you can watch play from November until April. Golfers can play at the Walt Disney World Resort’s six golf courses. Three of them are championship golf courses included on the PGA tour while three of them are non-championship courses.
The Florida Mall at 8001 South Orange Blossom Trail, near International Drive, Orlando, offers an extensive selection of merchandise shops – over 160. Another 50 plus shops are also found nearby at the Mercado Shopping Village, located at 8445 International Drive. This complex of Mediterranean-style stores lined along brick streets focuses on jewelry oriental goods, and arts and crafts. Quality restaurants give the complex an upscale décor and street entertainers give it a charming pulse.
The first inhabitants of the Orlando area were American soldiers in 1838. They founded Fort Gatlin, a military outpost they used in the fight against the local Seminole Indians. By 1875, the Seminoles were no longer a threat and more and more settlers poured into the region, creating communities around and beyond the fort and calling the metropolitan area “Orlando”. Economically, the city prospered early on from the production of citrus and the raising of cattle. Although cold weather in 1884 and 1885 killed citrus harvests in the area, local farmers made up for the shortfall by growing cereal and vegetables as replacement crops.
Tourism in Orlando had its beginnings in the 1880s after the railroads were completed connecting central Florida to the north. Visitors came to enjoy the lakes, springs, and rivers in the region, but their numbers were limited due to the lack of hotels in the area. The city has grown steadily in the last century and there are more than 120,000 hotel rooms today in the Greater Orlando area.
Carroll, Donald. Insider’s Guide Florida, 2nd Edition. Edison: Hunter Publishing, Inc., 1995. ISBN: 1556504527.
“Mystery Fun House.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mystery_Fun_House>
“Orlando, Florida.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orlando%2C_Florida>
“Universal Orlando Resort.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Orlando_Resort>
“Walt Disney World Resort.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walt_Disney_World_Resort>
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