Orlando, Florida
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Orlando, Florida

Ride a floorless roller coaster, and help Spider-man save the day in this thrill-seeker's paradise.

Latest and Greatest

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Orlando, Florida, Universal Studios
copyright Orange County CVB.

You've finally paid off the charge card bill from last year's Orlando vacation. Guess what? The kids are ready to go back. Don't they ever get tired of saying hi to Mickey, or getting splashed by Shamu the Killer Whale?

No, they don't. And now, there are even more reasons to return. Like helping Men in Black save planet Earth from intergalactic marauders. Or turning upside down in the largest, scariest (did we mention there's no floor?) roller coaster in town.

Whatever it may be, there's always a new attraction to help you part with your money. So start saving. Orlando, here we come -- again!

Disney World

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Four theme parks, four water parks, six golf courses, Downtown Disney, and Wide World of Sports make Disney a world -- maybe even a universe -- unto itself. Here are the best new attractions worth adding to your "must-see" list:

  • The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
    The pre-teens in your family will love this ride in the Adventureland section of Magic Kingdom. Sixteen four-passenger "carpets" circle a giant Genie's bottle, moving up and down, pitching forward or backward at riders' commands. Make sure to duck when you see the camels. They have a tendency to "spit" water at carpet passengers.
  • TriceraTop Spin
    Take a dizzying, up-and-down journey around a giant spinning toy top that opens to reveal -- what else? -- a dinosaur. At the new Dino-Rama area in Animal Kingdom, your pre-teens will whirl with delight.
  • Tapestry of Nations and IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth
    Two well-received celebrations honoring the millennium have been extended indefinitely at Epcot. Tapestry is a twice-daily parade featuring colorful and very tall puppets and gigantic percussion units that resemble colossal timepieces, all marching around World Showcase Lagoon. IllumiNations, meanwhile, is a nightly extravaganza of fireworks, lasers, comets, fire torches, and other pyrotechnics that light up the sky around the lagoon.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for Buccaneer Gold
    DisneyQuest, an interactive arcade in Downtown Disney, is more than just virtual reality and video games. The new 3-D Pirates experience is a 5-minute journey through plundered towns, fortress islands, and erupting volcanoes to a final showdown with Jolly Roger and his Ghost Ship. SongMaker, another new attraction, lets guests create their own tunes by combining lyrics, energetic beats, and rhythms in a variety of musical styles. And you can buy the CD to take home.
  • FastPass
    It's not a ride, but it'll get you onto one faster. The free service is available at 13 rides across all four Disney theme parks. Insert your admission ticket into a turnstile at one of the attractions. The ticket prints out a free pass with the time to return. You'll proceed directly to the pre-show or boarding area with little or no wait.

Universal

Here are some popular attractions at Universal's two theme parks:

  • Men in Black: Alien Attack
    From the people who brought you the exciting Terminator 2: 3D and Twister rides comes Men in Black at Universal Studios. Will Smith and Rip Torn, two stars of this 1997 movie, lead hardy bands of guest-trainees in saving the world from intergalactic invaders. The interstellar pursuit, billed as "the world's first life-size, ride-through, interactive video game experience," is the first-ever attraction where guests (and aliens) determine a ride's outcome as a team.
  • Spidey Adventures
    Kids too short to handle the G-forces of the super popular Incredible Hulk coaster at Islands of Adventure, now have their own superhero thrill: The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. In the Marvel Super Hero Island area of the park, this 3-D ride will take you swinging high above the city with everyone's favorite web-slinger. Also worth checking out: The Flying Unicorn, a child-size roller coaster ride through a mystical forest in the Lost Continent area of the park.

SeaWorld

Home to Shamu and his many seaworthy friends, SeaWorld has long been noted as a wonderful place to introduce children to marine life. Check out these new attractions:

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  • Discovery Cove
    Kids can get up-close and personal with animals at this reservations-only park that opened last summer. They'll swim with dolphins, play hide-and-seek with thousands of tropical fish, and snorkel within inches of sharks and barracuda housed behind clear partitions. In a quiet, protected area called Ray Lagoon, everyone can snorkel, wade, and play with hundreds of rays measuring up to four feet in diameter. There's also an aviary with thousands of brilliantly-plumaged birds and an enormous pool with a sandy beach.
  • Kraken
    The newest, highest, fastest, longest -- and only floorless -- roller coaster in Orlando is terrifying thousands of visitors every day at the main SeaWorld park. The ride has a 140-foot drop and reaches speeds up to 65 mph. As one roller coaster aficionado put it, "It's like sitting in your favorite chair, going 65 mph, and turning head over heels." This ride is not for young children or scaredy-cat adults.

Beyond Mickey

Looking for a break from the mouse and whale? Check out these other new Orlando attractions:

  • Holy Land Experience
    This new, 15-acre "biblical museum" recreates historical sites from the time of Moses through the Romans' destruction of Jerusalem several years after the death of Christ (between the years 1450 B.C. and A.D. 66). It combines costumed guides, dramatic enactments, theatrical events, high-tech presentations, and an inspirational film shot in Israel.
  • Merry Mystery Dinner Adventure
    The Sleuth's Mystery Dinner Show has a series for children. Guests enjoy an interactive fairy tale mystery while feasting on dinner with unlimited beverages. The mysteries feature a medieval land with a mystical forest, a pastoral town, and a majestic castle.
  • Masters of Magic Show
    This show takes visitors through 90 minutes of world-class illusions hosted by magician "Typhoon Lou." Be prepared for a high-energy, Las Vegas-style spectacle complete with special effects.

Dashboard

Type of travel: Theme park and entertainment

Best ages: 3 and up

Ideal trip length: 3-7 days

Distance: Tampa (84 miles); Jacksonville (145 miles); Miami (232 miles)

Best time to go: Fall and spring are best weather-wise.

Weather: 90-degree F highs in summer with considerable humidity, 80/65 in fall, 70/50 in winter, 80/60 in spring

Lodging: From $80/night (roadside motels) to $250 and up (resorts)

Squirm factor: None

If You Go...

Favorite local spot:

Church Street Station 129 W. Church St. at I-4 Phone: 407-422-2434 Expect: A downtown-Orlando nighttime entertainment/dining development featuring real passenger and freight trains.

 

Best souvenir: Photos, photos, and more photos.

Traffic alert: Watch out for traffic jams on International Drive, a gaudy strip of hotels, restaurants, shops, entertainment emporiums, and the Orlando/Orange County Convention Center. Heavy traffic is also likely at peak times of the day and evening around all major theme parks.

Theme parks/ attractions:
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Chester & Hester's Dinorama,
Disney World

Walt Disney World Lake Buena Vista Phone: 407-824-4321 Admission: A wide variety of admission passes and packages, including lodging in Disney-owned and other hotels are available.

 

Universal Orlando Universal Studios Plaza Phone: 888-837-2273 or 407-363-8000

 

SeaWorld SeaWorld Drive Phone: 800-4-ADVENTURE or 407-351-3600

 

SeaWorld's Discovery Cove SeaWorld Drive Phone: 877-4-DISCOVERY or 407-363-2280

Holy Land Experience 4655 Vineland Rd. Phone: 866-872-4659 (toll free) or 407-872-4659

Sleuths Mystery Dinner Train 7508 Universal Blvd. Phone: 800-393-1985 or 407-363-1985

 

Masters of Magic Show 8815 International Dr. Phone: 407-352-3456

Contact:

Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau Phone: 800-551-0181 or 407-363-5872

 

The Inside Scoop

Annual events:

  • Walt Disney World Marathon
    Several areas of Walt Disney World
    Phone: 407-939-7810

  • Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities
    End of January

 

  • Bay Hill Invitational
    Bay Hill Country Club and Lodge
    Phone: 407-876-2881
    March
    Note: This event attracts all the top golf players.

 

  • Florida Film Festival
    Various locations
    Phone: 407-629-1088
    Spring

 

Side Trips

Wekiva and Eatonville

Had enough of the Mouse and his friends? Cool off in the clear waters of Wekiva Springs, 15 miles northwest of Orlando. The main spring pumps out 42 million gallons of water each day, making it a great place for wading and swimming on hot summer days. Picnic tables, shaded by oaks and cypress trees, surround the main spring, and there is a concession stand if you didn't pack lunch. Other popular activities in the 8,000-acre park include canoeing on the springs-formed river (rentals are available) and easy hikes on 13.5 miles of trails.

Families will also enjoy a short trip to Eatonville, the oldest African-American municipality in the US. Take a stroll on the recently opened historical trail highlighting 15 significant sites. You'll get brief summaries of each through graphics, artistic renderings and excerpts from the writings of Zora Neale Hurston, a local author. Wekiva Springs 1800 Wekiva Circle, Apopka Phone: 407-884-2008 Hurston Festival College Ave. and Ruffell St., off the Hwy 438A, about 10 miles north of downtown Orlando, 407-647-3307

 
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