SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment
By Lindor Reynolds
Let’s face it: The Mouse dominates the Florida amusement park scene. Walt Disney World is synonymous with Orlando to many visitors and for good reason. It’s the world’s most-visited entertainment resort, drawing millions of visitors annually. But Walt Disney World isn’t the state’s only amusement park. Travel a little further afield and you can commune with dolphins, dinosaurs and even visit a theme park version of the Holy Land.
Walt Disney World Resort/David Roark
It’s Still Magic
Let’s start with the main attraction: Walt Disney World is made up of four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom), two water parks; and Downtown Disney, a dining, shopping and entertainment Mecca. Add in accommodations that range from a campground to luxury villas and you’ve got every budget, age group and interest covered.
It’s possible to hit the Walt Disney World highlights in three days if you plan carefully and are prepared to skip some of the classic attractions. Still, it would be tough to miss Space Mountain and Splash Mountain, even if it gives you extra time for the thrills of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror or the magnificent Expedition Everest. Older attractions are well-maintained and there’s always something new and fabulous opening. The Magic Kingdom is probably the park most people think of first, home to Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Tomorrowland, and the recently expanded and revamped Fantasyland. There’s pixie dust in the air.
Stay for at least one parade, watch the fireworks and gape at the castle. In-the-know visitors search for the hidden Mickeys subtly placed around the parks and hotels. disneyworld.disney.go.com
© 2013 Universal Orlando Resort
Once you’re in the Orlando area, a trip to Universal Studio’s Orlando Resort is a must. The park is made up of Universal’s Islands of Adventure (where you’ll find the Wizarding World of Harry Potter), Wet ‘N Wild water park, and Universal Studio for thrill rides like Men In Black Alien Attack and Transformers: The ride – 3D opening this summer. The Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster takes riders straight up 17 storeys and plunges them back down again. The backstage movie peeks are fun, and the rides are unparallel in their sophistication and technical wizardry. A bonus in hot summer months is the movie theatres, featuring new films and lovely air-conditioning. If you’re a movie buff, you’ll love wandering around the back lot sets. Plan for at least two days of fun. universalorlando.com
Under The Sea
SeaWorld is another classic Orlando-area attraction. You’ll see sea lions up close, watch dolphins at play and maybe work up the nerve to caress a stingray. Insiders book the behind the scenes tour, a 90-minute educational experience. SeaWorld also has thrill rides (Journey To Atlantis is a favourite). Expect to get wet (often, very wet) at some point. Pack a rain poncho and a waterproof camera. seaworldparks.com
Marineland Dolphin Adventure, located near St. Augustine, offers guests the chance to swim with dolphins in its 4.9 million-litre tanks. If you’re not up for the swim, you can observe the dolphins through windows. You can also touch and feed the dolphins.
Kennedy Space Center
To Infinity & Beyond
Kennedy Space Centre is not really an amusement park, but it is endlessly entertaining to anyone with a fascination for space exploration. The centre, a short drive from Orlando, offers live theatre, interactive experiences and multimedia presentations to teach visitors about worlds beyond our own. Book well in advance for the half-day Astronaut Training Experience (ATX) or the very cool Lunch With An Astronaut. kennedyspacecenter.com
Chip Litherland Photography
Blocks Of Fun
LEGOLAND, a 45-minute drive from the Orlando theme parks, is a 60-hectare theme park designed for families with kids aged 4 to 12. There are more than 50 rides, shows, attractions and a LEGOLAND water park. Visitors can build their own LEGO raft and float on it down a lazy river. Little ones can drive LEGO cars and boats. Guess what they sell in the gift shop? legoland.com
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment
Out Of Africa
Busch Gardens is the pre-eminent Tampa area attraction. It’s an African animal-based theme park with a thrilling sky ride over the grounds and the popular Serengeti Railway taking visitors around the exotic animal-filled plain. There are traditional adrenaline-pumping rides, like the log flume Stanley Falls screamer, and the up close (but behind thick glass) Edge of Africa animal viewing. buschgardens.com
Lion Club Safari (in West Palm Beach) calls itself a cageless zoo. Visitors drive through the theme park to see giraffe, antelopes, bison, rhinos and other animals. The park is divided into sections designed to resemble famous wildlife preserves. You can drive through the Florida equivalent of Ruaha National Park, the southwest African plateau of Kalahari Bushveldt and Mozambique’s Gorongosa wildlife area. lioncountrysafari.com
Out Of The Ordinary
Silver Springs theme park (and Wild Waters Water Park) is east of Ocala, a 90-minute drive from Orlando. Visitors can take a glass bottom boat ride over dozens of species of fish, alligators, clams, ands crawfish. The Lighthouse Ride offers a birds’ eye view over Silver Springs and a playground recreates a 1800s riverboat. The “reptiles of the world” show introduces visitors to crocodiles, alligators, turtles and other cold-blooded creatures. silversprings.com
Another slightly offbeat attraction is Weeki Wachee Springs State Park (45 minutes north of Tampa, two hours west of Orlando), best known for its live mermaid shows. Women dressed in fins perform underwater in an aquarium-like setting. The park includes a Buccaneer Bay water park, animal shows and boat rides. This is Florida mythology at its best, an attraction that should be past its prime but still reeling them in. weekiwachee.com
Dinosaur World (Plant City, about an hour from Orlando) offers 150 life-size dinosaurs in its outdoor theme park. The animatronics dinosaurs are the main draw, but visitors can also see fossils in the indoor museum, including dinosaur eggs and raptor claws. The fossil dig lets you search for your own relics. dinosaurworld.com
The Holy Land Experience near the major Orlando theme parks, bills itself as “a living, biblical museum that takes you 7,000 miles away and 2,000 years back in time.” It may be the only theme park selling healing anointing oil in its gift shop. holylandexperience.com