The Best of Walt Disney World and Orlando
Some notes on visiting Walt Disney World in Orlando, based on my personal observations and preferences. Listed under each park are the best things to see. The other attractions throughout the facility are fun, too; these are just the cream of the crop.
Quick scroll links:
Pirates of the Caribbean. At one time the best attraction at Disney, still a blast to see.
The Haunted Mansion. This is not scary at all, but uses fascinating technology to do some pretty amazing effects. Try to figure out how they did everything, and consider this ride is decades old, so it wasn't done with state-of-the-art computers.
It's a Small World. One of the oldest rides at the park, a Disney visit wouldn't be complete without riding this. The small dolls are singing the catchy (or irritating, depending on your opinion) theme song in a host of different languages.
Mickey's Philharmagic. The newest 3-D movie in Disney World.
Peter Pan's Flight. There is one scene in this ride when you are flying over London at night, very pretty.
The Enchanted Tiki Room - Under New Management (Adventureland). The very first audio-animatronics ride ever. Overhauled a few years ago. Watch the walls come to life in this one.
Splash Mountain (Frontierland). A blast. Not as scary a drop as it looks from outside. You might get rather wet, sit in back to minimize this. In cold weather, the employees turn off some of the splash effects (most of them are not the result of the vehicles but are generated), so you can stay reasonably dry and warm.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. A nicely themed, not too fast roller coaster. More picturesque at night.
Hall of Presidents (Liberty Square). Impressive technology, animated versions of every president.
Country Bear Jamboree. A Disney classic.
Jungle Cruise. Another Disney classic.
Space Mountain. A great indoor roller coaster, mostly in the dark. The slower first part of the ride, and even the queue area, have great theming. Not too scary, unless you are terrified of roller coasters. This ride is the huge white building in Tomorrowland.
Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin (Tomorrowland). A great ride, lots of fun, the kids love this (so did we).
Carousel of Progress (Tomorrowland) (11-5 seasonally). Sort of a classic.
Tom Sawyer's Island. You take boats to this. A great place for kids to run around and explore. There are 2 or 3 caves you can walk through.
Other notable attractions: WDW Railroad, Swiss Family Treehouse, Diamond Horseshoe Saloon, Liberty Bell Riverboat, Cinderella's Golden Carousel, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Mad Tea Party, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Snow White's Scary Adventures, Toontown Fair area with the Barnstormer roller coaster, Astro Orbiter, Tomorrowland Speedway, Tomorrowland Transit Authority, Cinderella's Surprise Celebration, The Timekeeper (open seasonally).
Recently opened rides include Magic Carpets of Aladdin, a Dumbo-style attraction that allows riders to maneuver their vehicles to avoid the water-spitting camels, and Stitch's Great Escape.
Try to stay in this park until closing. The view at the park entrance (Main Street, with the castle at the end) is spectacular at night. The short fireworks at park closing are very nice.
On some nights they have the Spectromagic parade. In off-season this is only presented on weekend nights. The predecessor to this, the Main Street Electrical Parade, was an absolute must-see, one of the best attractions in all of Disney World, and worth re-configuring your plans around if necessary to see. I have not seen the newer parade but understand it is equally compelling.
Food: Cinderella's Royal Table (reserve early). This is a very nice restaurant on the second floor of Cinderella's Castle. Reserve early if interested.
Food: Crystal Palace (Main Street). A nice place for breakfast or lunch. The breakfasts are all you can eat 'character' meals (costumed versions of Winnie the Pooh and friends come around to each table, dispensing hugs and posing for pictures). There are a number of these meals on the property, and they are immensely popular with the kids.
Honey, I Shrunk the Audience. One of the best 3-D movies with great physical special effects.
Test Track. A new attraction. Very high-speed at the end, but straight and flat, so not really frightening like a roller coaster. The longest lines at Epcot currently (by far), this is a good one to ride early. There is also a shorter single riders line, if you are riding alone.
Wonders of Life pavilion (open seasonally):
Body Wars motion simulator
Cranium Command (very cute and entertaining show)
The Spaceship Earth (the huge globe that is the symbol of Epcot) is right at the front of the park. Lots of people head for this, lemming-like, first thing. Better to ride this late in the day, the lines are much shorter. It is worth riding but isn't as spectacular as most people think it is going to be.
The Land pavilion has a ride attraction that is very nice (shows plants being grown experimentally, this is more interesting than it sounds). The Energy pavilion has a 'moving theater' ride with some nifty dinosaurs.
In World Showcase, there are very nice movies in China, France, and Canada. 2 are 360 degrees (wraps all the way around the theater), one is 200 degrees, and the huge angles and screens make it seem as if you are there. There are also decent rides in Norway and Mexico. The American Adventure is good. Some of the countries don't have attractions, just shops and restaurants.
Ice Station Cool (Coke tasting) (near Pasta Piazza Ristorante) (just a small thing, but try the Italian soft drink to experience the worst-tasting drink known to man, called "Beverly").
Other notable pavilions and attractions: Germany, Italy, Japan, Morocco, United Kingdom, Innoventions, Living Seas, Circle of Life (The Land), Food Rocks (The Land), Journey Into Your Imagination (Imagination).
Recently opened is a new pavilion, Mission: Space. The main attraction is an elaborate simulation of a space journey. It causes motion-sickness in many riders, but you can opt for a gentle version if you like. There are also interactive exhibits. Just like Test Track, there is a quicker single rider line. Expect long queues.
Soarin' Over California in the Land Pavilion, just like the attraction at Disneyland in California.
Night show: IllumiNations (usually at closing) ( visible from anywhere in World Showcase). Pretty good show.
Food: Garden Grill (The Land) (breakfast buffet). Nice revolving restaurant.
A number of the restaurants in World Showcase are great. I especially like Les Chefs de France (reserve early, somewhat expensive but worth it). It is run by 3 of the best restaurants in France. Also good are Le Cellier Steakhouse (Canada - get the cheese soup), the restaurant in Italy, and for a snack, Boulangerie Patisserie in France. Other noteworthy restaurants are the San Angel Inn (Mexico) and the Coral Reef (Living Seas).
This is the biggest park. You will probably have to see some of it at the end of the day that you visit Animal Kingdom.
Disney / MGM Studios
First thing to do: get reservations for Brown Derby / Fantasmic combination. This gives you reserved seating for Fantasmic (you still have to get there 30 minutes before showtime). The Brown Derby is probably the best restaurant in the studios park (a little pricey, though); the Cobb Salad is famous here.
Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. A great ride with interesting special effects at start, then a disconcerting up and down ride. Not sure if I would ride it again, but it was worth it.
Rock 'n' Roller Coaster (indoor, fast). Very intense blastoff, 0 - 60 mph in 2.8 seconds, then looping, all indoors with sound and lighting effects. If you can handle fast roller coasters you should be okay. It is relatively smooth for a fast looping coaster.
Star Tours motion simulator.
Jim Henson's Muppet Vision 3D. Another great 3-D movie.
Voyage of the Little Mermaid.
The Great Movie Ride.
The Magic of Disney Animation, featuring Robin Williams and Walter Cronkite.
The backstage studio tour ride is very good. Lines tend to get long, this is a good one to do early.
Toy Story Pizza Planet (arcade games like in movie).
Other notable attractions: Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Backstage Pass, The Making of..., Playhouse Disney Live on Stage, Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, One Man's Dream, and Stunt Show Spectacular.
Night show: Fantasmic! (Hollywood Hills Amphitheater, behind Tower of Terror). Make sure you don't miss this! This is the best nighttime show at Disney. 30 minutes of video projected onto a 'wall of water', plus lasers, fireworks and other lighting effects, and the Disney costumed characters, set on a small 'mountain' surrounded by a lagoon. There is substantial seating (6900 seats, 3000 standing room), yet it still fills up at a certain point, so either get the reserved seating mentioned above or arrive fairly early (ask an employee and they should be able to tell you what would be a good time for whenever you attend). In general, arrive 45 minutes before showtime in off-season or at least an hour when the park is busy. It is much more important to get to this show early than any other show in Disney World. If you arrive late you will have to stand through the show (with a diminished view) or, in the worst case, be shut out altogether. There is a pre-show for the last 30 minutes before showtime. At busy times, they present the show twice a night (three times nightly between Christmas and New Year's); the latest showing will probably be less crowded.
Around Christmas the Disney / MGM Studios is home to the Osborne Family Lights. The backlot is decorated with millions of Christmas lights in a spectacular display. Disney also makes it 'snow' (or at least it really looks like snow) on the nearby streets.
Food: The Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater is really nifty, you sit in a 'car' seat and watch stuff on a drive-in movie screen. At the 50's Prime Time Cafe, you will be served home-cooking type foods by 'Mom', who will scold you for putting your elbows on the table and the like. Other noteworthy restaurants are Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano and Hollywood and Vine.
See first: Muppet Vision 3D, Star Tours, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, backstage tour.
This park closes earlier than the others, often by 5 p.m.
The Tree of Life:
It's Tough To Be a Bug. One of the best 3-D movies with great physical special effects.
Kilimanjaro Safaris. This takes you back into the African savannah areas with much of the park's wildlife. Best early in day.
Kali River Rapids (very wet).
Dinosaur! (via Dino Institute).
Finding Nemo - The Musical.
Maharajah Jungle Trek. A walking tour with tigers, bats and other Asian wildlife. Best early in day (not because of crowds, but because the animals are more active).
Other notable attractions: The Oasis, Safari Village Trail, Festival of the Lion King, Pocahantas and Her Forest Friends, Cretaceous Trail, Rafiki's Planet Watch, Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, Flights of Wonder.
A new area of the park, Dino-Rama, features the Dumbo-style ride Tricera Top Spin, the Primeval Whirl roller coaster, and some midway games.
Expedition Everest, a major new roller coaster.
Food: There is a Rainforest Cafe accessible from inside or outside of the theme park. The Tusker House in Africa is one of the best fast food outlets in Disney World, specializing in rotisserie chicken (soon to be transformed into a buffet).
Take a camera to this park. Will probably see it all by mid afternoon, unless the lines are long.
2 water parks: Typhoon Lagoon (probably the better of the two), and Blizzard Beach. Typhoon Lagoon has a huge wave pool with spectacular 6 foot waves, lots of water slides, and a family raft ride. The newest, Blizzard Beach, has the biggest water slides (one rockets you down the slope at 60 mph), a nifty family raft ride, plus a smaller wave pool. Both are surrounded by a lengthy lazy river ride; the one at Typhoon Lagoon is covered by a canopy of vegetation most of the way. Off season usually only 1 of these parks will be open. The pools are heated in winter. The oldest and smallest of Disney's water parks, the charming River Country (adjacent to the Fort Wilderness campground), is now closed.
Downtown Disney complex (shopping, restaurants, and clubs):
World of Disney. 12 rooms with lots of character stuff. The biggest Disney merchandise store in the world.
Cirque du Soliel. An exotic European-style circus. Rather expensive tickets. 407-939-7600
Disneyquest. This is a huge arcade with lots of virtual reality games as well as the latest arcade games. The admission gets you free play on almost everything all day. Highly recommended for arcade game fans. Open until midnight or later.
Lego Center, with lots of Legos outside for the kids to play with, plus some outdoor Lego sculptures
Ghirardelli, the famous chocolate and ice cream store based in San Francisco
The clubs are in an area called Pleasure Island; there is an admission charge at night. They have nightly fireworks at midnight which last about 15 seconds, so don't go out of your way if this is all you are interested in.
Notable restaurants here: House of Blues, Wolfgang Puck, Bongos (owned by Gloria Estefan), Planet Hollywood, Rainforest Cafe.
Boardwalk (entertainment complex) (near Epcot):
Flying Fish Cafe and Spoodles restaurants
Big River Grille and Brewing Works, a brewpub
Wildwood Landing (carnival games)
There are other nightclubs and some shops here. This is a nice area to see if you are staying nearby (the Boardwalk resorts, Yacht and Beach Club, Swan or Dolphin), or specifically wish to visit a particular restaurant or nightclub; otherwise it is probably not worth the trip.
Electrical Water Pageant. This is a lighting show in the lagoons near the Magic Kingdom. Very nice to see. It is visible at different times from the various hotels and the campground, ask someone.
Fantasia Gardens miniature golf, near Boardwalk
Disney's Winter Summerland miniature golf, adjacent to Blizzard Beach. This is the better of the 2 mini-golf attractions.
Wide World of Sports complex. Go if you are interested in a particular sporting event that is taking place. They have many of these, including minor league baseball and various other sports. If no event is taking place, there is little reason to visit.
The Walt Disney World Speedway features occasional races and the rather expensive Richard Petty Driving Experience.
Six golf courses are on the Disney property: Palm, Magnolia, Osprey Ridge, Eagle Pines, Lake Buena Vista, and Oak Trail (9 holes).
Lots of outdoor activities are available as well, including tennis, boating, nature trails, horseback riding, fishing, hayrides, a petting farm, volleyball, and basketball. Many of these are at the Fort Wilderness campground. Some are only available to on-site resort guests.
Staying on property (at a hotel within Disney World) is very nice. You can charge everything to your room, and the wake up call is from Mickey himself. All use of property transportation is free for on-site guests (buses, boats, monorail). Most of the resorts have big, nice, themed swimming pools which are heated in winter.
The All-Star and Pop Century hotels are the cheapest, and are nice places with absolutely great theming. 3 more resorts are in the next category; the beautiful Coronado Springs resort; with its spectacular Mayan pyramid waterfall and pool complex; Caribbean Beach; and Port Orleans.
Taking luxury and grandeur a step higher are the Disney timeshare resorts. These themed resorts offer guests indulgences such as private balconies and Jacuzzi tubs, large master bedrooms with king sized beds, and personal concierge services to help guests plan the perfect Disney vacation.
Probably the most spectacular Disney timeshare resort is the new Animal Kingdom Lodge. It is surrounded by an African savannah filled with grazing wildlife, including giraffes and zebras. If you get a savannah-view room, you can relax on your balcony and enjoy the wildlife. You won't see animals at all times from every location, but you can walk around the resort and utilize the many viewing decks. The lobby is beautiful, a smaller scale version of the one at the Wilderness Lodge (they were both designed by the same person). The pool is the largest at Disney, there are 2 hot tubs and a health spa, and excellent restaurants are located here. Room rates are high but worth it.
The Wilderness Lodge is the most beautiful resort on property. Rather expensive to stay at, but you can go there and look around for free. There is a large atrium inside the building, and a pretty waterfall that flows down into the pool outside, plus a 'geyser' area at the back of the pool area.
The Grand Floridian is the most expensive resort at Disney World. It has a beautiful white and pastel atrium, and is very convenient to the parks (it is on the monorail route; most of the hotels only have bus transportation to the parks). The restaurants here are outstanding (and expensive). The Polynesian has beautiful theming and gorgeous views across the lake to the Magic Kingdom.
Here is the complete list of Disney on-site resorts, roughly in order from least to most expensive: Fort Wilderness (campsites), All-Star (Movies, Sports, and Music), Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans, Coronado Springs, Wilderness Lodge, Animal Kingdom Lodge, The Villas at Disney Institute, Fort Wilderness (cabins), Contemporary, Old Key West, Boardwalk Villas, Villas at the Wilderness Lodge, Boardwalk Inn, Yacht and Beach Club, Polynesian, Beach Club Villas, Swan, Dolphin, Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa and Grand Floridian. The Swan and Dolphin are operated by hotel chains, not Disney, but are considered on-site resorts with most of the privileges of the others. Shades of Green is also an on-site resort that is owned and operated by the U.S. military; you have to be an active or retired employee of the military to stay there. Single room rates vary from about $75 to $615 depending on the resort and time of year. Multi-room suites are available at rates up to $1500 a night and more. Call 407-934-7639 for reservations.
If you stay on property be sure to purchase a refillable mug at your resort. It's about $10. You can refill it for free all week long (with any soft drink at your resort or tap water elsewhere), then take it home with you, so it is quite a bargain.
You can save money by staying at any number of cheap places off property. You will have to drive in each day and remember where you parked in the massive lots (gee, did we park in Mickey or Pluto today?) There is a daily charge for parking, and it's not cheap. Make sure you don't stay very far from Disney. Orlando has over a million people, and they all use I-4; it can take awhile to drive through town.
Use AAA for hotel reservations if staying on property to get a discount.
Can charge to room, and get stuff delivered to it (next day) if staying on property.
Many notable eating locations in the parks and entertainment complexes are discussed in other sections of this document. Here is a roundup of the best places in the resorts, and some general notes about dining.
The Animal Kingdom Lodge has one of the best restaurants in Disney World, Boma's. The breakfast buffet is probably the best around, but for a real treat go for the dinner buffet. The quality of the food is outstanding. The Artist Point restaurant at the Wilderness Lodge is very good; the specialty is salmon. The Grand Floridian Cafe at the Grand Floridian has outstanding food. It's somewhat expensive, although less so than the other restaurants at this resort. O'Hanas at the Polynesian is a great Polynesian buffet. The California Grill at the Contemporary on the 15th floor is highly regarded. If you're not hungry, go here just for drinks to see the beautiful view of the Magic Kingdom. The Trail's End Buffet at Fort Wilderness (Pioneer Hall) serves a good country breakfast.
There are 2 dinner shows. The Hoop-Dee-Doo at the campground (Fort Wilderness) is entertaining. It's a cute little show, plus all you can eat fried chicken, ribs, salad, vegetables, and dessert (they bring buckets of this food out to you). Somewhat expensive ($49 adults, this includes tax and tip). You have to drive to the campground, then take a bus back to the other side of the campground, so allow time for this (if traveling from the Magic Kingdom, consider the boat ride to Fort Wilderness, it may be quicker). Get reservations ahead of time if interested. The Luau at the Polynesian is the other dinner show. Pretty nice, but not as good as the Hoop-Dee-Doo. From April to October, on Tuesday and Thursday nights, the All American Barbecue is held at the Fort Wilderness Campground.
For snacks, standout locations include the Territory at the Wilderness Lodge (a bar, microbrewery and specialty coffee outlet), Beaches and Cream Soda Shop at the Yacht and Beach Club (featuring the collosal 'kitchen sink' sundae, served in a small kitchen sink), and the Dolphin Fountain at the Dolphin, with their large sundaes.
Food on site is expensive. The higher end places cost $20 - $40 a person. Even a modest fast food meal for 2 can easily be $10.
Reservations: 407-WDW-DINE (407-939-3463) These are not true reservations, but 'preferred seating'. You get in ahead of anyone without them, but may still have to wait a few minutes. They worked well for us. Most of the better places use these. Get them either in advance of the entire trip (if you are good at pre-planning) or the day you want to eat, but the later you wait the fewer the times that will be available. The Hoop-Dee-Doo and Luau use true reservations for their shows, which you have to pre-pay.
General info line: 407-WDISNEY.
Note all the shrubbery around the resort that has been grown into the shapes of various Disney characters.
One of the parks opens one hour earlier than usual each day for visitors staying on property. Ask for a schedule when you arrive.
Make sure you see all the 3-D movie attractions. Disney's 3-D is so real it has to be seen to be believed, and now they have enhanced the movies with 'physical' special effects (like spraying a few drops of water at you at strategic times - I would be more specific but it would ruin the surprises).
I recommend scheduling an 'off day' after 2 days of park visits. You need to get to the parks fairly early to see everything (and get on some popular rides with short lines), and you tend to stay until the evening to see the night shows, so after 2 days of this you are dead tired unless you are Superman. On off days you can sleep in, then check out some non-park stuff like Downtown Disney, the Boardwalk, or the miniature golf courses. Alternately if it is warm you could go to a water park.
You will need at least a 4-day park hopper pass; you might want to get 5-day ones to allow more time to see everything. The 'Plus' passes are a little more and allow you to do some more things included with the price, such as see one of the water parks. I recommend the regular park hopper passes, not the ones offered only to on-site hotel guests, even if you do stay on property. The regular tickets never expire. The passes sold to on-site resort guests are good only for the duration of your stay; however, they do get you into just about everything in Walt Disney World for no additional charge (the 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, Disney Quest, Pleasure Island, and Wide World of Sports). When leaving one park for another on the same day, get your hand stamped. The park hopper pass alone is not good enough. They do this to prevent multiple people from using a pass on the same day. If you need extra days, one-day admissions are about $50 for adults, but are restricted to one park only. On certain nights the Magic Kingdom has E-Ride Ticket Nights, where for an additional $10 you can stay in the park for 3 hours past normal closing and ride 9 of the most popular attractions with little waiting. This is a great way to extend your park hours if you have a limited number of days to work with, or you hate long lines.
Disney is attempting to cut down on your time spent in line with the Fastpass system. You insert your admission tickets (you did keep these, right?) into a machine at certain popular attractions, and you get paper passes that allow you to come back to that attraction later in the day (during a set window of time) to get into a much shorter line than everyone else. Note that you can only have one set of Fastpass admissions at any one time , so you can't just run around the park and get a bunch of these. Also, they only issue a set number of these per day, so they sometimes run out in the afternoon (or even the late morning on crowded days). People have differing reactions to this system; some love it and others feel it is not worth the bother. Try it on a few rides and see it you like it.
Entertainment Schedules: 407-939-4636
When there are 2 lines for a ride, the line to left is usually shorter.
Official website: www.disneyworld.com
The older park (Universal Studios Florida) is the better of the 2. The new Islands of Adventure park here is more thrill-ride oriented, very similar to Six Flags parks, but with better theming. Universal is nice but not as good as Disney, so only go if you have time, energy, and money left over. There is also a shopping area connecting the 2 parks (CityWalk), plus 3 on-site hotels (with more to come). Take the exits off I-4 to Universal Orlando (just northeast of the Disney exits).
Universal Studios Florida
Terminator 2: 3-D. The best attraction at Universal, a great 3-D movie.
Earthquake: The Big One.
Twister: Ride It Out.
Back to the Future: The Ride. Motion simulator.
Men in Black: Alien Attack. Similar to the Buzz Lightyear ride at Disney, but you do not control the spinning (and you will get spun around a few times). Some of the spinning is due to the creatures in the ride firing back at you, and some is from the other riders.
Jaws. An outdoor water ride (no hills or speed, just special effects).
Dynamite Nights Stuntacular. This is the show presented at park closing in the bay at the park's center. Lots of explosions and fast boats.
Other notable attractions: E. T. Adventure, Horror Make-Up Show, Animal Actors Stage, A Day in the Park with Barney, Nuthouse Coaster, Beetlejuice's Graveyard Revue, Wild Wild West Stunt Show, Nickelodeon Studios Tour, Lucy: A Tribute. Recently opened are Jimmy Neutron's Nicktoon Blast and a Shrek 4-D movie.
Islands of Adventure
Note: The roller coasters and Fear Fall rides have somewhat tight-fitting seats. To see if you fit, try out the test seats just outside the attractions.
Spider Man. Probably the best ride in the park. 3-D effects on a ride, it seems like you are scaling buildings and falling straight down at times.
Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls. A better than average log flume. Instead of a straight incline, it is in the shape of an arc, so at one point the log goes slightly airborne. Rather wet.
Jurassic Park River Adventure. Similar to Splash Mountain at Disney. A nice peaceful ride through the dinosaurs, then an 85-foot drop. Somewhat wet.
Popeye and Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges. A river raft ride, wettest in the park.
Incredible Hulk roller coaster. A huge coaster with 7 inversions and 2 trenches. Blasts off from 0 to 40 mph in a couple of seconds. Fans of major-league roller coasters give this ride high marks.
Dueling Dragons roller coaster. A huge inverted dual coaster (you ride beneath the tracks). Lots of inversions, and the 2 sets of cars narrowly miss each other several times. Again, roller coaster fanatics will love it.
Fear Fall. One of those up and down rides. Outdoors.
Other notable attractions: Cat in the Hat, Poseidon's Fury (a walking attraction with special effects), Eighth Voyage of Sinbad (stunt show), Triceratops Encounter (skip if the lines are long), Pteranodon Flyers (children and their parents only), One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. Recently opened are two new rides, the spinning Storm Force Accelatron and a small coaster, the Flying Unicorn.
Priority Seating is available at 407-224-9255. Works just like its counterpart at Disney. Notable restaurants: Hard Rock Cafe (largest in the world), Emeril's, Margaritaville, Nascar Cafe, NBA City, Motown Cafe. The famous New Orleans bar Pat O'Brien's has a location here. For fun shopping there is the imaginative Captain Crackers store.
Three hotels are located within Universal: Portofino, Hard Rock, and Royal Pacific Resort. The latter includes an Emeril Lagasse restaurant, Tchoup Chop. Two more hotels are planned. Staying on the Universal property gives you some of the same benefits at their parks as Disney offers, such as early park admission, charging to your room, etc. A great benefit offered to guests at the on-site properties is all-day priority access to the rides at both Universal parks. Just show your room key to get into the short line at each attraction. Regular park visitors can take advantage of the Universal Express program, similar to Disney's Fast Pass. If you have a multi-day admission ticket, you can obtain up to 3 quick passes at once.
Info line: 407-363-8000
Use AAA for a 10 percent discount in the restaurants and shops of the parks. Use Discover Card for 10 percent off admission.
If you are in line for a ride, and it breaks down, get a re-entry pass for fast admission to that ride once it is working.
Official web site: www.universalstudios.com
Other Attractions in Orlando
There is a Sea World park featuring Shamu and other sea life. In recent years they have added a flume type ride, a motion simulator, and a major roller coaster - Kraken, a floorless 149 feet tall attraction with 7 loops and a top speed of 65 mph. An aquarium with an underwater walk-through tunnel features sharks, eels, fish and rays. There is also the Penguin Encounter, the Sea Lion and Otter Show, a manatee exhibit, a playground, and daytime shows. Also within the park is The Waterfront, a section of dining and entertainment attractions. Seasonally there is a nighttime show (Shamu Rocks America), fireworks, and a dinner show (the Aloha Polynesian Luau). A separate small park, Discovery Cove, allows you to swim with dolphins and snorkel; the hefty $180 admission does include entrance to the main park as well. Both of these parks are on International Drive. Official website: www.seaworld.com.
There are also 2 more water parks. Wet 'n Wild has lots of water slides, a wave pool, and a lazy river, and is located on International Drive. Official website: www.wetnwild.com. Water Mania is a little smaller and is located on U.S. 192 in Kissimmee. Official website: www.watermania-florida.com.
A number of smaller attractions, such as wax museums, miniature golf, and many of the country's major chain restaurants, can be found along International Drive or in the Kissimmee area. Located on International Drive are Factory Outlet World, Sleuth's Mystery Dinner Show, Pirate's Dinner Adventure, Ripley's Wax Museum, Orlando Premium Outlets, and the Fun Spot (a small amusement park). Along US 192 into Kissimmee are the Arabian Nights Dinner Show, Medieval Times jousting and dinner show, Capone's, and Old Town (a small amusement park). A Dixie Stampede recently opened just off I-4.
Next to the Disney property a new hotel and resort has opened, the Gaylord Palms. It has a spectacular huge atrium. The company that owns the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville operates this facility. Another notable resort in Orlando is the 1500-acre Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, with a pretty atrium, 45 holes of golf, a lake with beach, an equestrian center, racquetball and health clubs, and an elaborate water recreation area, featuring waterslides, a grotto, 3 whirlpools, and 'dive-in' movies in the summer.
About 80 miles southwest of Orlando, in the Tampa Bay area, is Busch Gardens, a major amusement park and zoo. See www.buschgardens.com for details.
Timing Your Visit
Orlando is in central Florida, and it gets hot and humid during the summer months. The rest of the year tends to be pleasant, although surprisingly cool weather can occasionally occur during the winter. The parks are most crowded between Christmas and New Year's. Don't go during this time unless you can tolerate huge throngs and very long lines. The next busiest times are the summer months and Spring Break, which lasts from mid-February to Easter. The parks are relatively uncrowded from November through January (with the notable exception of holiday periods during this time), and also September. Orlando is the site of an annual gathering of gay people the first weekend of June. If you don't like the idea of being amongst a large number of gays, don't go to Orlando in early June.
Other Concise Guides:
The Best of Myrtle Beach
The Best of Las Vegas
Back to Myrtle Beach on the Net Homepage: www.mbsc.com