Cheap Orlando Vacations


Cheap Orlando Vacations

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Orlando Attractions



As significant as air conditioning in making the state what it is today, WALT DISNEY WORLD turned a wedge of Florida cow fields into one of the world's most lucrative vacation venues. The immense and astutely planned empire also pushed the state's media profile through the roof: from being a down-at-the-heel mixture of cheap motels, retirement homes and tacky alligator zoos, Florida suddenly became a showcase of modern international tourism.


Walt Disney World is the pacesetter among theme parks: it goes way beyond Disneyland, which opened in Anaheim, California, in 1955 - delivering escapism at its most technologically advanced and psychologically brilliant across an area twice the size of Manhattan. Its four main theme parks are quite separate entities and, ideally, you should allow a full day for each. The Magic Kingdom is the Disney park of popular imagination, where Mickey mingles with the crowds - very much the park for kids, though at its high-tech best capable of thrilling even the most jaded of adults. Known for its giant, golfball-like geosphere, EPCOT Center is Disney's celebration of science and technology; this sprawling area involves a lot of walking, and may bore young children. Disney-MGM Studios suits almost everyone: its special effects are enjoyable even if you've never seen the movies they're based on. The newest of the four, Disney's Animal Kingdom , brings all manner of African and Asian wildlife to the theme park setting, perhaps the lone entry that can be explored fairly quickly.

For some years, it seemed that US TV and film production would move away from California to Florida, which, with its lower taxes and cheaper labor, was more amenable, and the opening of Universal Studios Escape in 1990 appeared to confirm that trend. So far, for various reasons, Florida has not proved to be a fully realistic alternative, but that hasn't stopped the Universal enclave here, now known as Universal Studios (park opens daily at 9am, closing times vary; one-day pass $48.76, children 3-9 $39.22, under-3s free; two-day pass $84.75/$68.85; parking $7; tel 1-800/837-2273, ) from becoming a major player in the Orlando theme park arena. While Disney still holds court, Universal has drawn much attention, adding the hi-tech, special effects-laden Islands of Adventure and CityWalk , an earthier lure for nightlife dollars than Downtown Disney. Universal is also aspiring to full-fledged resort status with the Portofino Bay Hotel and plans for other accommodation. For access to all areas, park in the garage half a mile north of exits 29 and 30B off I-94.


Sea World , at Sea Harbor Drive, near the intersection of I-4 and the Bee Line Expressway, the cream of Florida's sizable crop of marine parks, should not be missed; allocate a day to see it all (daily 9am-7pm or later; longer hours in summer; $50.83, ages 3-9 $41.29; tel 1-800/327-2424, ). The big event is the Shamu Adventure show - beginning with a pre-show film attempting to justify the twenty minutes of tricks then performed by killer whales. The Wild Arctic complex, complete with artificial snow and ice, shows off beluga whales, walruses and a couple of claustrophobic-looking polar bears; the experience is topped off by a thrilling simulated helicopter flight through an Arctic blizzard. The park's first thrill ride, Journey to Atlantis , is part fantasy, part waterslide, part roller coaster, and has a sixty-foot drop. You will get drenched - by the ride and by other tourists who pay for the privilege of spraying you. With substantially less razzmatazz, plenty of smaller tanks and displays explain more than you need to know about the undersea world. Among the highlights, the Penguin Encounter attempts to re-create Antarctica with scores of waddling birds scampering over an iceberg; the occupants of the Dolphin Pool assert their advanced intellect by flapping their fins and soaking passersby; and Terrors of the Deep includes a walk through a glass-sided tunnel, offering the closest eye-contact you're ever likely to have with a shark and live to tell the tale.



Of the three Disney-owned waterparks, Blizzard Beach , on World Drive north of the All-Star Resorts , is the most creative, based on the fantasy that a hapless entrepreneur has opened a ski resort in Florida and the entire thing has started to melt. Star of the show is Summit Plummet , which shoots you down a 120ft vertical drop at more than fifty miles per hour. Gentler rides include toboggan-style slalom courses and covered raft rides. As well as the slides, Typhoon Lagoon , at Lake Buena Vista (one-day pass, one-park $28.57/$22.79), features geysers and a rainforest, a huge surfing pool and a shark reef, where you can snorkel among tropical fish. River Country is older, smaller and quieter (one-day pass $16.91/$13.25)


Wet 'n' Wild , 6200 International Drive (hours vary, tel 1-800/992-9453, ; $29.95/$23.95, parking $4), defends itself admirably in the face of the Disney competition, with a range of excellent slides including the challenging seven-story Bomb Bay and the almost vertical Der Stuka. Lines are shorter, too.


Discovery Cove , the second of Sea World's theme parks, is a much more exclusive venture, limiting visitors to those with reservations (and who can afford the high admission prices that start at $109; tel 1-877/4DISCOVERY, ). This will entitle you to swim and play with dolphins, snorkel up to sharks and barracudas behind a clear partition and feed tropical birds in a resort-like setting.