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Orlando, Florida is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. The people are friendly, the streets are clean and there is so much to do it's likely you will want to return again and again. But it can also be overwhelming. I just got back from a family trip to Orlando and have some insight that can help you plan your next trip.
The Big Three
Of all of Orlando's attractions there are three major theme parks: Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Florida and SeaWorld Orlando.
You'll see the famous Disney characters throughout the theme park. Getting their photo taken with them is a big thrill for kids!
Walt Disney World Resort (WDW) is the most expansive and popular theme park resort in the world. It is made up of four theme parks: The Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios as well as two water parks: Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. The resort also has 24 themed hotels ranging from budget-friendly to luxury options. Tickets can be purchased individually. Multi-day park hopper passes or annual passes are also available.
Universal Studios is a theme park and studio, but unlike Universal Studios Hollywood in California - this location isn't a working film and television studio. The plan was a theme park from day one.
Universal Orlando Admission http://www.officialticketcenter.com/discount-universal-studios-tickets.aspx?affid=TC132USA
Disney World Admission http://www.officialticketcenter.com/disney-tickets.aspx?affid=TC132USA
Sea World has always been a favorite attraction for tourists. This theme park has an exorbitant collection of sea life, aquatic attractions and even rides. Sadly, in February 2010 one of the Sea World orcas killed veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau after they both performed in the Shamu Believe show. The Believe show has been extremely successful in portraying the message that anyone can accomplish their dreams - and Dawn was the perfect example of fulfilling her dream to become a trainer. The Shamu show has since resumed.
Seaworld Admission http://www.officialticketcenter.com/sea-world-tickets.aspx?affid=TC132USA
Aquatica is the SeaWorld water park. Various water rides and attractions include traditional water slides, raft water slides, wave pools, two lazy rivers, an eight lane racing slide, and the park's signature attraction, the Dolphin Plunge (two enclosed tube slides pass through a pool containing Commerson's dolphins).
Adjacent to SeaWorld and Aquatica, Discovery Cove is an all-inclusive tropical getaway where guests can enjoy marine interaction, including swimming with bottlenose dolphins. Admission is hefty at two to three hundred dollars. But according to the web site, that fee includes the use of lockers, wetsuit, mask and towels during your stay, free parking, shower amenities, souvenir snorkel, complimentary entry photo, continental breakfast, lunch, all drinks and snacks, and access to the Explorer's Aviary, Tropical Reef, Serenity Bay, Wind-away River and a 14-Consecutive day pass to either SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa, or Aquatica.
Downtown Disney is divided into 3 sections: Downtown Disney West Side, Downtown Disney Marketplace and Pleasure Island. Downtown Disney West Side is free and is ideal for shopping and grabbing a bite to eat. At Downtown Disney West Side you will find various restaurants, a 24-screen AMC Pleasure Island movie theater, Cirque du Soleil La Nouba live entertainment show, the DisneyQuest Indoor Interactive theme park (admission is charged to eat here) and restaurants.
Downtown Disney Marketplace is ideal for shopping for Disney merchandise - especially at the largest Disney character store in the world. T-REX, a Prehistoric Family Adventure is one of the themed restaurants. This dinosaur-themed family restaurant has life-size animated prehistoric creatures leering from all corners. Every twenty minutes a "meteor shower" occurs with flashes of lights. In the center of the restaurant is an ice cave. This restaurant is high stimulation, so if you're looking for a nice mellow dining environment, this may not be for you.
Pleasure Island is currently getting a facelift which will be completed in 2011. Restaurants and shops include Raglan Road Irish Pub & Bar, Fuego by Sosa Cigars, Curl by Sammy Duval, and Orlando Harley-Davidson.
Tip: Expect long waits for dinner. When we were there we encountered an hour at every sit down restaurant.
At Gatorland park, you'll experience the excitement of seeing alligators up close!
The Land of Gators
There are plenty of other attractions to visit outside the theme parks - they are also less expensive. One of our favorite stops was Gatorland - the Alligator Capital of the World. This 110-acre theme park and nature conservatory at the head of the Florida Everglades has been open since 1949. Visitors unfamiliar with "swamp land" will appreciate the Swamp Walk, a self guided tour through an unspoiled native Cypress Swamp. The Very Merry Aviary offers visitors the opportunity to feed the Lorikeets - don't be surprised when they say hello by landing on your head, shoulder or arm.
The 10-acre Gatorland Breeding Marsh Bird Rookery is one of the park's highlights. It contains 130 adult alligators (100 females and 30 males). Visitors can climb a three story Observation Tower and raised wooden walkways allow visitors an unprecedented view of not only alligators, but also many different species of native Florida birds. After being developed in 1991, the area attracted local bird species, particularly Egrets, Herons, Storks, Cormorants, Anhingas, and Ibis. The reason, the alligators protected the birds from their natural predators (raccoons, snakes, and bobcats).
Gatorland admission http://www.officialticketcenter.com/gatorland-tickets.aspx?affid=TC132USA
Pirate Dinner Adventure
Themed dinner settings are quite the rage. One in particular is called the Pirate Dinner Adventure. In the center of the dining area is an 18th-century Spanish galleon replica measuring 46 feet long, 18 feet wide with 40-foot masts. Believe it or not, the ship is anchored in a 300,000-gallon indoor lagoon with six other "ships" (compete with rows of seats and tables for the guests or "voyagers"). Each ship has its own pirate mascot whom they cheer on during the spectacle of drama, songs and dance. Guests who have upgraded to VIP seats have the opportunity to participate in the show.
Food and drinks are served during the show. Be prepared to stand in line to enter, as the dinner show draws hundreds of people.
Pirates Dinner reservations http://www.officialticketcenter.com/discount-Pirates-dinner-show-tickets.aspx?affid=TC132USA
The lazy river at the Omni Hotel at Champion's Gate offers guests a perfect place to unwind after sightseeing.
Disney resorts are a popular lodging choice for obvious reasons - they are convenient if you plan to stay at the Disney. But if you want to get out and explore other area attractions you can consider other options. Off of the Disney property there are an amazing number of options. We stayed at the Omni at Champion's Gate. This resort reminded us of a tropical oasis. With golf, sand volleyball court, pool with cabanas, and a lazy river it is easy to just stay on the property and relax. In the morning hot air balloons take-off nearby and if the wind is right, they will pass by the hotel. If you'd enjoy such a view, be sure to request a room with a balcony. There's nothing like drinking your morning coffee and waving to passengers in a hot air balloon.
Discount Orlando attractions admission http://www.officialticketcenter.com/default.aspx?affid=TC132USA
Theme Park Tickets - which ticket is right for me? Use the Ticket Wizard to find out!
Written by: Elizabeth L. Blair
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