Orlando: Top Attractions
|SeaWorld, Orlando (courtesy, Orlando CVB)|
Orlando, a family-travel mecca, draws the fun-loving with its major theme parks. But beyond its banner attractions lie some more interesting, and less mainstream, adventures.
Walt Disney World Resort
Walt Disney World charms kids at four theme parks: Magic Kingdom, home to such classics as Pirates of the Caribbean; Epcot, divided into Future World and World Showcase; Disney-MGM Studios, a look at movie-making through rides and attractions; and Disney's Animal Kingdom, featuring real and imaginary animals.
Walt Disney World Resort: 407.824.4321, www.disneyworld.com
SeaWorld Adventure Park Orlando
Blue Horizons, an animal adventure theme park debuting in May at SeaWorld, mixes the animal show antics of dolphins, whales, and macaws with the theatrical spectacle of aerialists and animal trainers. You can see more critters at Manatee Rescue, feed stingrays and watch turtles at Key West, and admire the Clydesdales in their hamlet. Want thrills? Speed along a track at 65 miles per hour on Kraken, a floorless roller coaster.
SeaWorld Adventure Park Orlando: 407.351.3600, www.seaworld.org
Universal Orlando Resort
Ride the movies at Universal Studios. Attractions like Men in Black, Alien Attack, Terminator 3-D, and more cinema-inspired rides turn blockbusters into immersive experiences spiked with special effects. Islands of Adventure, a sister park, adds more thrills with stomach-churning coasters based on comic books. The park's Seuss Landing aims at younger kids with gentle rides based on Seuss' books.
Universal Orlando Resort: 800.U.ESCAPE, themeparks.universalstudios.com
Orlando Science Center
The themed halls at this kids' museum feature hundreds of hands-on exhibits. Science City's arches, pendulums, and bridges demonstrate how science is part of everyday life. NatureWorks focuses on the coral reefs, salt marshes and swamps of central Florida. And at Dr. Dare's Laboratory, part of TechWorks, parents and kids follow computer displays to perform experiments.
Orlando Science Center: 800.OSC.4FUN, www.osc.org
Wet 'n Wild
This popular water park has acres of ways to get wet from thrill rides to lazy rivers. On Blast, the new tube attraction, you swirl around curves and get soaked by bursting pipes. The Black Hole, a two-person raft, twists you through 500 feet of darkness. At the Children's Playground, those under 48 inches splash in shallow pools and float on tube rides.
Wet 'n Wild: 800.992.WILD, www.wetnwild.com
Sometimes lost amid the myriad theme parks is Discovery Cove, SeaWorld Orlando's sister park, which delivers animal fun in a resort-like setting of pools and sandy beaches. During the shallow water dolphin swim for ages six and over, kids rub, kiss, and learn about these playful mammals. Children even get to reward the dolphins with fish for following your hand signals. Dive into the Coral Reef for a bit of snorkeling, touch the velvety backs of stingrays in the Ray Lagoon, splash in one of Discovery Cove's pools and encounter brilliantly colored birds in the aviary.
Discovery Cove: 877.4.DISCOVERY
Harry P. Leu Gardens
Tranquility begins at the Harry P. Leu Gardens, where it is natural, quiet, and filled with flowers. Maybe the kids won't appreciate as much as you, but treat yourself nonetheless and diverge from the raucous theme parks. Leu Gardens is a 50-acre oasis that offers various gardens strolls among 1,000 roses, wildflowers, and ponds with water lilies. Also dotting the acreage are scores of palms, the country's largest outdoor display of camellias (in bloom October through March), and other distinctive plants and flowers.
Harry P. Leu Gardens: 407.246.2620, www.leugardens.org
Cirque du Soleil
Cirque du Soleil mixes fantastical characters, hypnotic music, and expert acrobatics in creating an engaging show that amazes and delights. La Nouba, the resident theatrical experience at Downtown Disney, contrasts the black-and-white world of Urbanites with that of the colorfully ruffled, feathered, and outrageously bedecked Cirques, the circus people. The story is secondary to the eye-catching muscular and ballet-like moves.
Cirque du Soleil: 407.939.1298, www.cirquedusoleil.com
Richard Petty Driving Experience
The kids might not have been thrilled on the drive down to Orlando ("Are we there yet?") but they'll hate getting out of the car at the Richard Petty Driving Experience. For those teens (and adults) fascinated with fast cars, track time here may top all the thrills in theme park land. Several experiences get you inside the stock car cars. On a Ride-Along, ages 16 and over sit beside an instructor who zooms them around for three quick, but exhilarating laps. Licensed drivers can choose to go solo for eight, 18, or 30 laps.
Richard Petty Driving Experience: 800.BE.PETTY, www.wdwinfo.com
Kennedy Space Center Complex
Located about an hour east of Orlando, the Kennedy Space Center complex is home to a major NASA launch site and interactive experiences about rockets and space. The IMAX films, space flight simulator, and a re-created rocket launch control room detail the excitement of space exploration. Visitors age 14 and up find out if they have "the right stuff" at the day-long ATX Astronaut Training Experience (extra fee), which includes a look at the real launch pads.
Kennedy Space Center Complex: 321.449.4400, www.kennedyspacecenter.com
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication